Maker: Christina Verrelli, Pillsbury Bake-Off® winner
Homebase: Devon, Pa.
The Scoop: As a child, Christina Verrelli was always by her mother’s side in the kitchen. While she may have had an idea that those hours together would eventually pay off, she couldn’t have known then just how much. Earlier this year, Christina’s cooking skills and talent at creating new recipes earned her a spot at the 45th Bake-Off® Contest — where she clinched the $1 million grand prize with her recipe for Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream.
Even though a sweet treat was the winning dish for Christina, she’s more of a comfort-food cook at heart. Her go-tos include personal twists on hearty favorites such as Cincinnati chili, meat loaf, soups with meatballs and pastas. She claims the days of cooking with her mother have “ruined” her, as she hasn’t gotten out of the habit of making things big. Whether she’s cooking for a crowd, creating prize-winning desserts or simply whipping up new ideas for the family table, Christina says the key is finding balance amid the bustle. We caught up with her for inspiration and tips.
What inspired your winning dish?
CV: I loved this recipe for sopapilla Crescent bars: a combination of cream cheese, Crescents and cinnamon sugar. At first I experimented with the same flavors plus dipping sauces — inspired by a dessert at a local Asian fusion restaurant — but it wasn’t coming together. Eventually pumpkin entered the mix, and my team of chief testers (husband Lou and daughters Lauren, 8, and Samantha, 10) helped select the winning combination.
What does making mean to you?
To me, making is a combination of using your hands, head and heart to make something — whether that’s in the kitchen, in the garden or just doing something with the kids. I’m not the perfect maker, either. I combine handmade items with shortcut ones; it’s good to have balance. It’s great to be a maker, but you can’t do it all homemade.
How would you describe your approach to making?
I’m inspired by my family and my upbringing. We were a middle-class suburban family, and my mom stayed home to raise us kids. I want my kids to have the homey experiences I grew up with: handmade, lopsided birthday cakes with squiggly writing and neighborhood campouts.
Who is your favorite maker?
My mom, Pat. She grew up during the Depression, so she was a definite maker. She was into handmade, do-it-yourself, thrifty projects. She refinished furniture. She made macramé purses. At 83, she’s still doing and trying new things; she’s currently in a drawing class and plays Mahjong.
What are some gadgets or tools you can't live without?
The computer is a great resource, whether it’s going to Pinterest for ideas or quickly looking up a recipe from an old issue of a magazine. I also use it to read reviews before buying new tools. If something’s going to take up space in my kitchen, I want to make sure it’s the best tool for the job. I’m also a big list person.
I’ve thought about going back to teaching in an elementary school, but I’m still trying to figure out what’s next. Until then, I have a lot of projects on my list. There are some supplies for wall art that have been under my bed for a year. I recently tried canning, too. I like to dabble in a lot of things.