VT's 2010 Reader Recipe Contest: Holiday Flavors

Every recipe tells a story in this year's winning collection
VT's 2010 Reader Recipe Contest: Holiday Flavors

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When we chose holiday favorites from around the world as the theme for VT's 2010 Reader Recipe Contest, we expected to receive internationally inspired holiday recipes that would whet our appetites. And we did—hundreds of them. What we didn't expect was that so many of the recipes would come with personal stories that make them even more special. From a beloved grandmother’s bread recipe to a classic Czech Christmas meal that a homesick expat vegified, the dishes that wowed us and the stories behind them will win you over too. 1st PlaceCelia Ozereko, Ashburn, Va. Prize: $500

This bread is based on an old Swedish family recipe that my mom used to make during the holidays when I was little,? explains Celia Ozereko. I modified it to get rid of all the eggs and butter, then I got into the no-knead bread thing. With two little kids, I don'??t really have the time to do 10 minutes of kneading. No-Knead Swedish Cardamom BraidMakes 2 loaves (8 slices per loaf) The VT staff will be talking about (and making) this recipe for years to come. The veganizing of a recipe traditionally rich in eggs and butter is an inspiration, and the easy, no-knead technique is a stroke of genius. Celia’s modifications to the original recipe work so well that none of the rich texture of the holiday bread is lost in translation. 2 cups almond milk, plus more for brushing loaf top 2 Tbs. Bob's Red Mill flaxseed meal 1/3 cup agave nectar or Lundberg Farms Sweet Dreams organic brown rice syrup 1/3 cup canola oil 1 Tbs. active dry yeast 1 1/2 tsp. salt 1 1/2 tsp. whole cardamom seeds, coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle 5 1/4 cups Bob's Red Mill unbleached white flour 2 Tbs. Florida Crystals Demerara sugar, for sprinkling 1. Stir together almond milk, flaxseed meal, agave nectar, oil, yeast, salt, and cardamom in large nonreactive bowl with lid. Add flour, and mix thoroughly with wooden spoon. Cover with lid or plastic wrap, and let stand 21/2 hours at room temperature. Transfer to refrigerator, and let rest overnight. 2. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray, or line with parchment paper. Remove half of dough from refrigerator; reserve remaining dough for second loaf. (Dough will keep in refrigerator up to 5 days.) Divide dough into 3 equal pieces, and gently roll each piece into 18-inch-long rope on floured work surface. Place dough ropes side by side spaced 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Pinch ends together on one side, and tuck under. Loosely braid dough ropes, then pinch tail ends together. Cover braided loaf loosely with kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let rest 30 minutes. 3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F. Brush top of braided loaf with almond milk, and sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake 30 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown. PER SLICE: 233 CAL; 5 G PROT; 6 G TOTAL FAT 2nd PlaceSarah Skopek Kohlstedt, Madison, Wis. Prize: $300

After her Gramma Skopek passed away last year, Sarah Skopek Kohlstedt went on a mission to find this recipe. "?My dad's side of the family is Czech, and his mom's hoska had always been his favorite of all the holiday treats she made",? Sarah explains. She contacted two aunts to find the original recipe, which she made and mailed to her dad: ??He called immediately to thank me. I could hear the huge smile on his face. Gramma Skopek's Holiday HoskaMakes 2 loaves (8 slices per loaf) Hoska is a Czech braided bread studded with nuts and dried fruit. 5 tsp. Bob's Red Mill active dry yeast 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 1/2 cup sugar 2 large eggs, at room temperature 1 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. Simply Organic nutmeg 1 tsp. grated lemon zest 4 cups Bob's Red Mill organic unbleached white flour 1/2 cup golden seedless raisins 1/2 cup chopped or slivered almonds 1 large egg yolk Florida Crystals organic powdered sugar, for dusting 1. Dissolve yeast in 1 cup warm water, and set aside. Combine butter and sugar in bowl with electric mixer until smooth. Blend in eggs, salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Alternately mix in yeast mixture and flour, adding more flour, if necessary, so that the dough is elastic, but not too sticky. 2. Shape dough into ball, cover with towel, and let rise 1 hour. Knead raisins and almonds into dough. Divide in half, then divide each half into 6 equal pieces (you should have 12 pieces). Roll 3 dough pieces into 1/2-inch-thick ropes. Braid together on floured work surface, pinching together braid at both ends. Repeat until you have 4 braids. 3. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 2 braids on baking sheet. Place remaining 2 braids on top, so there are 2 double-stacked loaves. Cover with towel, and let rise 1 hour. 4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat egg yolk with 1 Tbs. water in bowl. Brush loaves with egg wash. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar. PER SLICE: 239 CAL; 6 G PROT; 9 G TOTAL FAT (4 G SAT FAT); 36 G CARB; 55 MG CHOL; 157 MG SOD; 2 G FIBER; 10 G SUGARS 3rd PlaceSonya Sargent,Los Angeles Prize: $200

For this recipe, Sonya Sargent took inspiration from the Danish pastries sold in Solvang, Calif., a Danish village in the Santa Ynez Valley, where she goes to escape the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. ??I love the pastries I'??ve had there, so I tried to figure out how to make this cake healthier and less fattening but still reflect what they do in Solvang, she explains. Sonya'??s own vegetarian cookbook should be finished by the time you read this. Danish Almond Streusel CakeServes 10 Serve this lightly sweet cake for brunch or with afternoon tea. Streusel 1/2 cup slivered almonds 1/2 cup Florida Crystals organic brown sugar 1 1/2 Tbs. all-purpose flour 1 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces 1 Tbs. Simply Organic ground cinnamon Cake 3/4 cup Florida Crystals natural cane sugar 1/4 cup Spectrum organic virgin coconut oil, warmed until liquid 1 large egg 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1/2 tsp. baking powder 1/8 tsp. salt 3/4 cup low-fat milk or soymilk 1/2 Tbs. Simply Organic vanilla extract 1. Preheat oven to 350°F. To make Streusel: Stir together almonds, brown sugar, flour, butter, and cinnamon in small bowl. Set aside. 2. Coat 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray, and sprinkle one-third Streusel mixture over bottom of pan. 3. To make Cake: Beat sugar, coconut oil, and egg with electric mixer in bowl until smooth and creamy. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; beat until smooth. Slowly add milk and vanilla. Beat 4 minutes at medium speed until batter is smooth and creamy. Remove 1 cup batter, and set aside. Pour remaining batter in prepared baking pan. Sprinkle half of remaining Streusel over batter in pan, then add reserved cup of batter. Sprinkle remaining Streusel on top. Bake 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before serving. PER SLICE: 280 CAL; 5 G PROT; 10 G TOTAL FAT (6 G SAT FAT); 43 G CARB; 25 MG CHOL; 139 MG SOD; 2 G FIBER; 26 G SUGARS Honorable MentionVal Falstad, Evanston, Ill.

My family is Russian and a lot of traditional recipes have been lost over the years,? says computer programmer Val Falstad. ??I have been trying to redevelop a lot of them to maintain the recipe heritage, and also make them my own. Her greatest compliment on this recipe came from her brother, who, between bites of his third slice, said, I don'??t even like dark breads, but there'??s something about this bread and I can'??t stop eating it! Russian Black BreadMakes 1 loaf Serve this dense, satisfying bread with a meal, or slice for sandwiches. 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast 3/4 tsp. sugar 2 cups Bob's Red Mill dark rye flour 2 cups all-purpose flour, divided 1 1/4 Tbs. caraway seeds, crushed 1 tsp. finely ground coffee beans 1 tsp. Simply Organic onion powder 1 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. Simply Organic fennel seeds, crushed 2 Tbs. Fleischmann'??s white vinegar 2 Tbs. dark molasses 1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate 2 Tbs. margarine Vegetable oil, for greasing bowl and pan 1/2 tsp. cornstarch 1. Stir together yeast, sugar, and 1/4 cup warm water in bowl. Let stand 10 minutes. Whisk together rye flour, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, caraway seeds, coffee, onion powder, salt, and fennel seeds in bowl. Combine 1 cup water, vinegar, molasses, chocolate, and margarine in saucepan, and heat over low heat until margarine and chocolate are melted. 2. Stir molasses mixture into rye flour mixture. Add yeast mixture, and stir with wooden spoon 2 minutes. Add remaining all-purpose flour 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms. Transfer to floured work surface. Let rest 15 minutes. Knead 15 minutes. Place dough in bowl coated with vegetable oil. Let rise 1 hour, or until doubled in size. 3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat baking sheet with oil. Shape dough into ball, and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake 50 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when tapped. 4. Bring cornstarch and 1/4 cup water to a boil in saucepan. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Brush cornstarch mixture over top of loaf. Bake 2 to 3 minutes more. Cool on wire rack. PER SLICE: 281 CAL; 8 G PROT; 5 G TOTAL FAT (1 G SAT FAT); 51 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 328 MG SOD; 9 G FIBER; 5 G SUGARS Honorable MentionElisabeth Redman, Atlanta

When Elisabeth Redman feels homesick for her native Czech Republic, she likes to re-create this traditional Christmas meal from her homeland. With the sweet pickles and root vegetables, the potato salad is different from American potato salad, which is usually a spring or summer side dish. I'??ve made my version vegan too.? Christmas Chick'n Filets and Potato SaladServes 8 Traditional Christmas dinner in the Czech Republic is fried carp or fried chicken and potato salad. Here, the chicken is replaced by Gardein Chick'??n. 1 small celery root, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (2 cups) 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (1 cup) 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (1 cup) 1 cup frozen peas 6 large white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (4 cups) 1 large onion, finely chopped (2 cups) 1 cup Follow Your Heart Original Vegenaise 1/2 cup finely chopped sweet pickles 2 Tbs. yellow mustard 2 Tbs. Fleischmann's organic white vinegar 1 tsp. Florida Crystals natural cane sugar 2 7-oz. pkg. Gardein Chick'n Filets or 2 9-oz. pkg. Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders 1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges 1. Cook celery root, carrots, and parsnips in large pot of boiling water 10 minutes. Add peas, and cook 5 minutes more. Drain, and cool completely. 2. Meanwhile, place potatoes in large pot of cold salted water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain, and cool completely. 3. Stir together onion, Vegenaise, pickles, mustard, vinegar, and sugar in large bowl. Add cooled vegetables, and stir until combined. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. 4. Prepare Chick'??n Filets according to package directions. Serve warm Chick'??n Filets with potato salad and lemon wedges. PER SERVING (1 CHICK'??N FILET AND 1 CUP POTATO SALAD): 387 CAL; 14 G PROT; 20 G TOTAL FAT (2 G SAT FAT); 39 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 612 MG SOD; 6 G FIBER; 9 G SUGARS Honorable MentionAndrea Love, Phoenix

Andrea Love discovered crepas through her husband'??s family, who make the Mexican casserole for special occasions. For this veg version, she replaced the meat with a mixture of mushrooms and spinach. Crepas FiestasServes 8 This dish is assembled like enchiladas, but instead of corn tortillas, the fillings are rolled into crêpes. Crepas 2 large eggs, beaten 1/4 tsp. sea salt 1 cup Bob'??s Red Mill unbleached white flour, sifted Filling 3 Tbs. olive oil, divided 1 tsp. Simply Organic cumin 1 tsp. Simply Organic oregano 2 large portobello mushroom caps 1/2 cup chopped onion 1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.) 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped (1/2 cup) 1 16-oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed 2 jarred roasted red peppers, sliced 1 cup reduced-fat shredded pepper Jack cheese 1 Mexican Avocado, chopped (1 cup) 2 Tbs. chopped green onions Sauce 1 Tbs. unsalted butter 2 Tbs. Bob's Red Mill unbleached white flour 1 cup 1% low-fat milk 3/4 cup grated manchego cheese 1 1/2 Tbs. chopped cilantro 1 pinch Simply Organic nutmeg 1. To make Crepas: Whisk together eggs, salt, and 1 cup water in bowl. Whisk in flour. Coat nonstick skillet with cooking spray, and heat over medium heat. Swirl 1/4 cup batter in skillet to coat bottom. Cook 2 to 3 minutes. Flip, and cook 1 minute more. Transfer to paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining batter, placing paper towel between each Crepa to prevent sticking. Set aside. 2. To make Filling: Combine 2 Tbs. oil, cumin, and oregano in bowl; add mushrooms, and toss to coat. Heat skillet over high heat. Cook mushrooms 7 to 10 minutes, or until soft. Cool, and slice each mushroom into 5 strips. 3. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion, and sauté 4 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, and spinach. Cook 5 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. 4. To make Sauce: Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour, and cook 2 minutes. Whisk in milk, cheese, and cilantro. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until sauce thickens, whisking constantly. Stir in nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper, if desired. 5. To assemble: Preheat oven to 350°F. Ladle 1/4 cup Sauce in bottom of large glass baking dish. Spoon 2 Tbs. spinach mixture onto 1 Crepa. Top with 1 portobello strip, 1 roasted red pepper strip, and 2 Tbs. pepper Jack cheese. Roll up, and place seam-side-down in baking dish. Repeat with remaining Crepas and Filling, packing Crepas tightly together. Top with remaining Sauce, and bake 15 minutes. Garnish with avocado and green onions. PER CREPA: 291 CAL; 14 G PROT; 17 G TOTAL FAT (6 G SAT FAT); 23 G CARB; 76 MG CHOL; 357 MG  SOD; 4 G FIBER; 4 G SUGARS