A lifelong cook, Verrelli spent hours of her childhood in the kitchen with her mom, making her grandmother's recipes, but also experimenting. "I was the youngest of six, so I got extra time in the kitchen... My mom was happy to let me make the meal, she would let me make a mess and she would help me clean up.
In high school in Methacton High School in Montgomery County, where she managed the swim team, she baked chocolate chip cookies and brownies - from scratch - to bring to the away meets.
"I think I've always enjoyed cooking," she said.
As she got older, she read cooking magazines and watched television cooking shows, long before Food Network, idolizing Julia Child, the Galloping Gourmet, Marianne Esposito. In her 20s, before she had kids, she watched Martha Stewart at the gym.
As a mom with young daughters, she was still always experimenting and trying new recipes. Two years ago, she entered the Pillsbury contest on a whim and, in her first attempt, made it as one of the 100 contestants with Savory & Sweet Breakfast Biscuit Sliders.
"I had a great experience," she said, "so it just became a really cool hobby."
For her prize-winning recipe, Verrelli channelled the memory of rolling out dough like her grandmother. "This recipe reminds me of that," she said. The dough in this case, is a Pillsbury product, the crescent roll dough in sheet form. She covered it with pumpkin and spices, added another layer of dough on top and cut it into ravioli, for something different.
She knew she wanted a dipping sauce because of a favorite dessert, fried doughnuts dipped in chocolate. But the chocolate was too heavy. She knew salted caramel was a popular trend, but still heavy. So she drizzled a little caramel syrup in whipped cream and added a sprinkle of pecans.
And a prize-winner was born.
"Pillsbury wants recipes that people are going to want to make, that are simple and familiar, but also new," she said. The contest rules are many, but, most significantly, hopefuls must create recipes that include General Mills products.
One of the judges, Lynn Blanchard, test kitchen director at Better Homes and Gardens, said Verrelli's recipe was "truly reminiscent of the crispy pie crust my grandmother used to make."
Another judge, Jeff Houck, food editor at the Tampa Tribune, said the recipe "really pushed the boundaries on the definition of a ravioli."
Other local winners included Donna Wolfe of Hamilton, New Jersey, in the "Dinner Made Easy" category, for her Chicken Empanada Cones, and Brett Youmans of Reading, whose recipe for Orange Cream-Macadamia Torte won as the best recipe using Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk.
Verrelli described herself as a stay-at-home mom, though her husband, a musician, recently bought Brownies 23 East, a music venue and bar in Ardmore, which she will be helping him run.
Verrelli said she was a little nervous in the competition kitchen, but that her life as a home cook and mom had prepared her well.
"When you cook at home, you have a million distractions. You have to get someone to piano and make a kid's meal.
"Here I had no one pulling at my pants, saying 'Where are my sneakers?' or 'Can you sign my homework sheet?'" she said.
"I had four whole hours, all my ingredients, no dishes to wash," she said. "It was almost relaxing."
Contact Maureen Fitzgerald at email@example.com.