How did you become interested in cooking and developing your own recipes?
When I was in middle school my oldest brother, Vince, opened a restaurant. This was the first time I was exposed to food that was not your typical Midwest home cooking. I've been interested in food ever since. My husband and I like to travel and we always like to try new things. We love traveling to food cities like San Francisco.
Who gets to taste-test your recipes?
I teach at Colorado University- Boulder, so I always have college students who are willing to taste-test.
What types of ethnic cuisine do you find most exciting?
North Indian, Thai, I love it all! North African food was part of the inspiration for my winning dish. I think it's a kind of cuisine that isn't explored as much as other cuisines.
What are your kitchen must-haves?
I always have an extensive stock of spices -- about three-dozen wide-ranging global spices. You can add spices to something common, like chicken, and take people all the way around the globe. Beyond that, I always have mushrooms, olive oil, and polenta.
Living in Colorado, do you find it hard to adapt recipes to the higher altitude?
I still haven't figured out how to make a meringue that doesn't fall. I think baking at a high altitude in general is a lot more challenging.
What has been your biggest kitchen disaster?
My husband loves pie and we had grown gooseberries in our garden one year. They are very tart and have thorns, so we spent all afternoon picking them and removing the thorns. I made a beautiful pie, but after baking the pie I realized that I forgot to add the sugar. It was practically inedible!
For a quick-fix meal, what do you turn to?
Probably shrimp tacos. We have those about once a week at my house. I always have frozen shrimp and tortillas on hand, and with some veggies added in, they're fast and good.
Is there anything you make from scratch that might surprise people?
Mustard. It's super easy. You just get the mustard seeds in bulk, add vinegar, honey, and salt and you can make the texture as smooth or coarse as you like.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Honestly, I love to just cook for my friends and family. They are a fabulous audience, but I wouldn't mind having Rick Bayless over, and I would have loved to have cooked for Julia Child.