Sunday, December 17, 2017
Human Interest

Tampa Bay women clear first Pillsbury Bake-Off hurdle

Part of Bethany Perry's dream has come true. Whether it's fully realized is up to the kindness of strangers.

Perry's Chicken and Spinach Biscuit Gyros is one of 60 semifinalists in the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off's Amazing Doable Dinners category. And for the first time in the competition, the public will decide the finalists. To become a finalist and compete at the bakeoff in Las Vegas Nov. 10-12, the recipe has to do well in an online popular vote that's being conducted now. From 180 semifinalists in three categories, 100 will make it through to the finals.

(Voting in the dinner category will continue through March 28 at Two more categories will follow.)

Perry isn't the only one in the Tampa Bay area who's got dreams of going to the bakeoff. Marie Valdes of Brandon and Debbie Reid of Clearwater also made it to the semifinals. Valdes got a spot with her Honey Chicken and Corn Rafts and Reid with Sweet Pulled Pork Pizza. Valdes' rafts are made from squares of refrigerated thin pizza crust filled with a mixture of chicken, honey-roasted sweet corn and bacon. Her dish, she says, was inspired by a TV program she saw recently on the White House gardens and beehives, and first lady Michelle Obama's healthy-eating initiative.

"That was what made me think of vegetables and honey," says Valdes, 53, who works in the human resources department at Express-Scripts Pharmacy in Tampa.

Reid also used the refrigerated thin pizza crust in a more traditional way and spread the base with apricot preserves then topped that with sharp white cheddar cheese, walnuts, pulled pork, crumbled blue cheese and red onion. Reid, 49, who works in administration for the Clearwater Parks and Recreation Department, is something of a cooking contest pro, in the past year having won contests sponsored by St. Francis Winery, Fage yogurt and a joint competition sponsored by The Chew and Bush's beans. Her winnings have included trips to New York and the wine regions of Northern California and Oregon.

She entered 15 recipes in the Pillsbury dinner category, of which Sweet Pulled Pork Pizza was one of her favorites. If she doesn't make it to the finals for her dish, she'll enter the other two categories.

"It kind of gets addicting," Reid says of her competitive cooking hobby.

For her Chicken and Spinach Biscuit Gyros, Perry made her own sausage with ground chicken, garlic and chopped spinach then nestled the cooked pieces into flatbread that she made by rolling out a refrigerated biscuit and cooking it on an iron skillet.

What would Perry, 38, do if her simple dinner took the $1 million grand prize?

The Largo homemaker, mother of seven children ages 5 to 16, is practical, planning to pay off the mortgage and help fund college educations, she says.

"But even just going is something that I've dreamed of since I was 12," she says. "If I could just go, that would be great."

Valdes also has been a longtime dreamer of bakeoff glory though this is the first year she's submitted a recipe. If she makes it to the finals, she'll be toting a Pillsbury cookbook on appetizers, snacks and beverages that her mother gave her in 1984.

Like Perry, she thinks of family when she ponders the big cash prize. She'd help pay for her son's upcoming wedding and then contribute to the couple's first home.

"But really, it's just a dream come true," she says.

Recipe entry periods for the remaining categories are:

Simple Sweets and Starters: April 4 to May 9.

Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts: July 4 to Aug. 8.

Voting periods are announced on, where rules and the list of eligible ingredients can be found.

Besides the $1 million grand prize, which has been awarded since 1996, other prizes include cash and GE appliances.

Information from Times files was used in this report. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.

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