Ohhhh my.

Pantry Kitchen Challengers! You pulled out all the stops for Round 5. This was by far the toughest round to judge because there were just so many ridiculously creative entries that thoughtfully incorporated all four ingredients — tofu, spinach, cherries and boxed cereal — and elevated them into something spectacular.

The boxed cereal sparked ingenuity in the lot of you! From Fruity Pebbles to Cheerios, granola, Corn Pops, cornflakes, Rice Krispies and Cocoa Puffs, it was so fun to see the myriad directions this item inspired! The coolest part? This ingredient blend was so versatile that 11 of you made appetizers, 11 made entrees and 11 made desserts. It was practically poetic!

Because of that, I’ve grouped the top 12 finalists into four “three-course meals” — perhaps these menus will inspire your next Zoom dinner party! It’s a fun way to cap off this first season of the Pantry Kitchen Challenge. We’ll conclude with a “Champions Round” that will pit all the top three finishers from each of the five rounds against one another!

Here are the top 12 finalists of Round 5! Entries were judged based on creativity and how fully the four ingredients were incorporated into a dish. See below for details on the Pantry Kitchen Challenge: Champions Round.

Lyra Young wins this round! This 16-year-old blew us away with her appetizer of green pork and tofu shumai with a cherry soy sauce. Whet your appetite and move on to an entreé from second-place finisher Paul Shapiro, who’s no stranger to the Pantry Kitchen Challenge podium, and who made caramelle ravioli with crispy spinach for your gastronomic pleasure. Finally, wash down the meal with reigning Round 4 champ Maria Galvao’s vegan miniature confetti cake that places third!

The Seattle Times Pantry Kitchen Challenge

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Next up: The Seattle Times Pantry Kitchen Challenge Champions Round

New Ingredients: Zucchini, cinnamon, popcorn, peaches (fresh, frozen or canned is fine!).

Rules: You have to use all four ingredients; you can, however, add as many additional ingredients as you choose.

Who’s eligible: All the finalists who placed in the top three of any of the five Pantry Kitchen Challenge rounds. (You should have received an email!) Everyone else is welcome to participate, but we will pick the top three from previous finalists! The Seattle Times food team will judge the finalists’ recipes as a committee. We will then make each of the top three dishes to determine the winner based on taste, presentation, creativity and how fully the ingredients were incorporated into a dish. The champion will be rewarded with a $50 grocery gift card!

Deadline: Create a dish, tell us how successful you were and email photos, a detailed recipe and a description of your dish to food editor Stefanie Loh (sloh@seattletimes.com) by July 17. We’ll pick winners and publish the Champions Round results in the August 2 edition of The Mix.

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Pantry Kitchen Challenge Round 5 Best Reader Submissions

* To download a PDF of the recipes from this round, click here.

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The Winners three-course menu

Green pork and tofu shumai with a cherry soy sauce

High schooler Lyra Young usually does the Pantry Kitchen Challenge with her mom, but forged out on her own for the first time and used tofu, Joe’s O’s cereal, cherries and spinach to create this gorgeous green pork and tofu shumai with cherry soy sauce.  (Lyra Young)
High schooler Lyra Young usually does the Pantry Kitchen Challenge with her mom, but forged out on her own for the first time and used tofu, Joe’s O’s cereal, cherries and spinach to create this gorgeous green pork and tofu shumai with cherry soy sauce. (Lyra Young)

I am usually part of a mother-daughter team, but this time I decided that I would try my own idea. I have never before attempted to make shumai, let alone dough made from cereal. … In my take on this shumai recipe, I used unsweetened Joe’s O’s as flour in the wrapper dough mix, along with minced spinach. I was hoping to give the dough a green hue with the spinach; although once cooked the color turned a little darker. … I immediately realized how much stickier the spinach and cereal made it. It was supposed to “spring back lightly” but it mostly just stuck to my hands. To compensate, I added a couple spoonfuls of regular unbleached flour.

I did a traditional pork filling, but replaced some of the pork with tofu. I mixed up both proteins along with some green onion, ginger, shiitake mushrooms, and various sauces; they ended up complementing each other well. Finding how to combine the final ingredient needed, the cherries, was a little more challenging. In the end I decided to make a cherry soy sauce. But instead of having a very thin sauce, I decided it would be more interesting to have a thicker, more syrupy composite. Once assembled and steamed, I drizzled the cherry sauce over the shumai. Delish! I had my mum try some, and she highly approved. Definitely going to try and make this again!

— Lyra Young, 16

Caramelle ravioli with crispy spinach

Paul Shapiro used the four ingredients with both color and taste in mind. The result? A very cheerful multicolored ravioli that will brighten any vegan menu. (Paul Shapiro)
Paul Shapiro used the four ingredients with both color and taste in mind. The result? A very cheerful multicolored ravioli that will brighten any vegan menu. (Paul Shapiro)

I knew right away that I would make pasta of some sort. Fruity Pebbles was colorful and I thought made from wheat, but it’s made from rice. Tofu, spinach, cherries would make a fine vegan filling for pasta, but how to elevate the dish to transform from ordinary to extraordinary? Then I remembered a cookbook that someone gave me years ago. I couldn’t find it but I remembered the rainbow pasta. Presto. Spinach makes green, the Fruity Pebbles plain dough was yellow, and the cherries would make red. Well, I added some gochujang (red chili paste) for a bolder red, and it added a nice kick to the pasta. Caramelle refers to the shape of the pasta, which is shaped like a hard candy wrapped in foil. Finished with fried spinach leaves. Now I need to hide the Fruity Pebbles from my grandson, who thinks I eat only healthy food. 

— Paul Shapiro

Vegan miniature spinach confetti cake

Maria Galvao came up with a noteworthy dessert for Round 5, combining a vegan version of Fruit Loops with tofu, spinach and cherries to make a smooth cake with the texture of Asian bean curd desserts. (Maria Galvao)
Maria Galvao came up with a noteworthy dessert for Round 5, combining a vegan version of Fruit Loops with tofu, spinach and cherries to make a smooth cake with the texture of Asian bean curd desserts. (Maria Galvao)
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I read tofu, I thought “vegan”; I read spinach, I thought “Portuguese spinach cake”; I read cereal, I thought “Fruit Loops,” my son’s birthday cereal; I read cherries, I thought “sweetness.” So I ran with it and created a miniature vegan confetti cake with caramel cherry sauce on top. Fruit Loops are not vegan due to their added vitamin D3, which is animal-derived. I did find a comparable organic vegan cereal, Fruitful O’s. It tastes like fruit! I added sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vinegar and vanilla. Baked in a hot oven for 5 minutes to create an outer crispy shell, followed by 25 minutes in low heat.

I topped the cake with a cherry caramel sauce while both cake and sauce were still hot. That made the sauce run down the sides and create a whimsical design. The beautiful green that the spinach imparts is a reminiscence of matcha and the speckles in the cake is a reminder of years gone by at children’s birthday parties. The confetti comes from the organic, vegan Fruitful O’s mixed in the batter. The sweetness and fruit flavor of this cereal permeates the tofu flour batter. The taste is superb. The consistency reminds the taster of bean curd Asian desserts. I love that consistency and I could eat the whole thing by myself. My husband, for example, does not like the chewiness of those Asian delicacies. [But] he agrees with me — the taste is great! 

— Maria Galvao

The Oh-So-Close Contenders three-course menu

Tarte soleil

Laura Jones has been wanting to make a sun tart for months, but the pandemic kept thwarting her social plans! She finally got her chance this summer, turning tofu into chevré and using cocoa cereal in an Egyptian-style dip called dukkah. The result: this resplendent, sunflower-shaped tart. (Robert Jones)
Laura Jones has been wanting to make a sun tart for months, but the pandemic kept thwarting her social plans! She finally got her chance this summer, turning tofu into chevré and using cocoa cereal in an Egyptian-style dip called dukkah. The result: this resplendent, sunflower-shaped tart. (Robert Jones)

Tarte soleil is a wonderful vehicle for anyone who enjoys cooking. There are so many possibilities: fillings, style, size, the choice of quick and easy or as complicated as one might wish, and the outcome is always impressive. 

I began with the image of a sunflower. I was also curious about working with frozen puff pastry, and while I love making pastry from scratch, this streamlined the process and worked beautifully. The tofu became a creamy vegan cheese that mixed quite well with the lemony spinach; olives and cherries pulsed into a savory/sweet tapenade; and, last but not least, sprouted brown rice cacao crisp cereal was ground with spices, pistachios, and macadamia nuts and transformed into a dukkah — a wonderful Egyptian spice blend that also has an amazing number of variations. I’m not sure that a dukkah purist would approve of adding boxed cereal, but I thought it added a really nice cocoa finish that worked especially well with the olive cherry tapenade.

— Laura Jones

The Grateful Enmolada

Who looks at cocoa cereal and thinks “enchiladas”? That’s exactly what Pantry Kitchen contenders Steve Venard and Cathy Martin did, and the result was delicious. (Steve Venard)
Who looks at cocoa cereal and thinks “enchiladas”? That’s exactly what Pantry Kitchen contenders Steve Venard and Cathy Martin did, and the result was delicious. (Steve Venard)

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If Ben & Jerry, of wild flavors ice cream fame, made enchiladas, The Grateful Enmolada would already be on store shelves. While pondering how to make cherries and cereal the stars of our pantry challenge entry without going into the dessert realm, we laughed and thought, what if we used chocolate cocoa cereal? Cue angelic music… “MOLE”! Chocolate, raisins and bread are common mole ingredients, easily swapped with chocolate cereal and cherries, right? 

Smoky from the dried peppers, complex from the spices, nuts and “chocolate,” the mole was delicious just spooned into our mouths. But, when poured over corn tortillas filled with tofu, veggies (including spinach, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and onions) and a little cheese, we had a gooey and delicious dish. We also had our first excursion into the world of mole. We will return.

— Steve Venard and Cathy Martin

Douhua

Who needs to buy things ever? Micaela Ellison made her own tofu and her own homemade cereal for her take on douhua — a Chinese sweet tofu dessert with a custardy texture. (Micaela Ellison)
Who needs to buy things ever? Micaela Ellison made her own tofu and her own homemade cereal for her take on douhua — a Chinese sweet tofu dessert with a custardy texture. (Micaela Ellison)

It took me well into adulthood to realize I don’t have to eat cold cereal just because everyone else loves it. Suffice to say, I was not going to the store during COVID-19 to buy something I hate. So … I made the tofu and cereal from scratch. This was worth it. My husband and I loved the douhua I made. (Editor’s note: Douhua is a Chinese sweet tofu dessert with a soft, custardy texture.)

I first tasted douhua in Hong Kong (called tofu fa there). It was the classic style with only two options: warm or cold topped with ginger syrup. I liked it immediately but it was in Taiwan that I became a bit obsessed with it. There we found specialty shops making flavored syrups and adding toppings. That was my inspiration for this version. Anyone interested in trying out this dish could buy silken or custard tofu. Serve it cold with toppings, or warm for a minute or two in the microwave first. It won’t be quite the same as homemade, but still worth it. Some people also make it using store-bought soy milk for a middle-of-the-road approach. I topped mine with cherry sauce, spinach-mint jelly (inspired by grass jelly) and homemade rye-emmer-coconut flakes for something crunchy. And because I had to use cereal. In Taiwan, my favorite topping was tapioca pearls. 

— Micaela Ellison

The Light Summer Meal three-course menu

Tofu vichyssoise with spinach pesto, Rainier cherry gastrique and cornflake tuile

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Wendy Kan made a light, summery cold tofu soup as her entry to this round of the Pantry Kitchen Challenge. It was so good that even her tofu-hating husband approved. (Wendy Kan)
Wendy Kan made a light, summery cold tofu soup as her entry to this round of the Pantry Kitchen Challenge. It was so good that even her tofu-hating husband approved. (Wendy Kan)

I did a couple of the challenges, so maybe this third time will be the charm! (Editor’s note: Indeed, it was!) Dessert came to mind (with the four ingredients), and so did a spinach salad. I didn’t want to make something so ordinary, so I tried to step it up a notch! I made tofu vichyssoise with spinach pesto, Rainier cherry gastrique and a cornflake tuile. I used soft tofu combined with veggie broth, some onion and garlic powder, some dried chives and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, plus salt and pepper. I made pesto out of the spinach with garlic and extra-virgin olive oil. The cherry gastrique was made with caramelized sugar, apple cider vinegar, bourbon, a smidgen of grenadine and of course the pitted Rainier cherries! I cooked the gastrique for 45 minutes on low. The cornflake tuile was just smashed cornflakes and Italian shredded cheese, spread in an even layer and baked for about 5 minutes, cooled and cut into squares.

I served the soup in a low bowl so that you can see the pesto and drizzle of gastrique with pieces of the cherry and garnished with the cornflake tuile.
My husband is not a fan of tofu and does not like cherries! He ate and said it tasted almost as good as real vichyssoise!

— Wendy Kan

Veggie cherry chili pie

Greg Squires pays homage to the Texan creation Frito Pie, with this healthier take on it that replaces Fritos with crispy toasted cornflakes. (Greg Squires)
Greg Squires pays homage to the Texan creation Frito Pie, with this healthier take on it that replaces Fritos with crispy toasted cornflakes. (Greg Squires)

My home growing up was in the heart of Texas, where a Frito Pie was as common as the sky. In this homage to my monthly childhood dish, I lightly oiled some organic cornflakes and tossed them in sea salt before broiling on a sheet pan to create a twice-baked homemade Frito stand-in. As for the chili, a remarkable flavor springs forth from the combination of fresh-picked cherries and chipotle chili peppers. The soft, smoky spice from the chilies with the sweet tartness buried in the black cherry chunks was strangely complementary. These flavors were enhanced by simmering in a stock base of yellow onion, carrots, garlic, Great Northern beans, roasted tomatoes and some cooking sherry for good measure. The cubed tofu was quickly fried and tossed in a touch of magic, before being added to the pot, along with a bowl of fresh cut baby spinach. 

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To serve it up, drop two ladles of cherry chili in a bag full of fake-Frito flakes, top it all with a dollop of sour cream, add cilantro — and off you go! Straight to the bottom of the bowl. All three kids had seconds … and I may have had thirds.     

— Greg Squires

Popeye’s pavlova

Amanda Goss’ first few attempts at pavlova resulted in failure — apparently tofu just doesn’t make pavlova. But, when she switched focus and used the tofu in the Chantilly cream instead, things turned out much better! (Amanda Goss)
Amanda Goss’ first few attempts at pavlova resulted in failure — apparently tofu just doesn’t make pavlova. But, when she switched focus and used the tofu in the Chantilly cream instead, things turned out much better! (Amanda Goss)

I have no idea why I immediately thought “tofu pavlova” when I saw the list of ingredients. But after three failed attempts to make pavlova out of tofu liquid and down to my last cup of extra-fine sugar, I instead made dried cherry and chocolate chip pavlova, topped with orange zest cherry sauce and cardamom and silky tofu Chantilly cream, with Popeye brittle! Although Popeye likes spinach, I find it bland, so I made a candied spinach brittle with grape nuts, pistachios, dried cherries and lots of spinach chopped itty-bitty small.

— Amanda Goss

The Hearty Eater 3-course meal

Vegan spanakopita with cherry balsamic and almond tahini dipping sauces

Alea Abrams turned tofu into a vegan version of feta and encased it in filo to make spanakopita. The cherries and cereal went into two different dipping sauces to round out the meal. (Alea Abrams)
Alea Abrams turned tofu into a vegan version of feta and encased it in filo to make spanakopita. The cherries and cereal went into two different dipping sauces to round out the meal. (Alea Abrams)

I saw the ingredient list and thought of spanakopita, but rather than use feta in the pastries, I challenged myself to make vegan cheese using the tofu. I did not have high expectations from this experiment, but it turned out great. Often I find vegan alternatives to be lacking in flavor and texture, but this cheese and the spanakopita I made with it were really good and tasted a lot like the real thing.

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And it was really easy to make. I just marinated the tofu overnight and it took on the salty acidic flavor of feta. When I tasted the “feta” I knew that a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce would go great with it. The cherry balsamic sauce was my favorite because it made the whole thing a nice balance of flavors; the spanakopita was salty and full of umami, and the sauce was sweet and sour. The hardest ingredient to incorporate into the dish was the cereal. I opted to make another dipping sauce. I bought a granola and used the nuts in it (and some of the oats as a thickener) to create a vegan tahini sauce. This sauce was rich, garlicky and delicious. Each bite with the different sauces was so different. I think I will try to make more vegan food now!

— Alea Abrams

Tofu-spinach enchilada bake with Corn Pops street corn and a spicy cherry salsa

Laird Elizabeth Nelson managed to use not one, but two kinds of boxed cereal in her dish. Apparently Corn Pops go well with regular sweet corn in an elote-style. Who knew? (Laird Elizabeth Nelson)
Laird Elizabeth Nelson managed to use not one, but two kinds of boxed cereal in her dish. Apparently Corn Pops go well with regular sweet corn in an elote-style. Who knew? (Laird Elizabeth Nelson)

Tempting as it was to go in the dessert direction (vegan ice cream and a cereal cookie?) or breakfast (a tofu, cherry and spinach smoothie with a cereal garnish?), dinnertime was fast approaching. The tofu was sauteed with garlic and oil, before being combined with baby spinach and mushrooms for a tofu-spinach enchilada bake. The simple stack consisted of: a layer of sauce, corn tortilla, tofu and vegetables, then repeated and topped with cotija cheese. That went in the oven to bake for 20 minutes while I threw together a quick elote-inspired corn side dish.

Fresh corn came off the cob and into the pan, sauteed with a little crema, spices and cotija. The star of the side dish, the sweet crunch of Corn Pops, was added just when it came off the heat. Corn, two ways! Meanwhile, I chopped up some fresh tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro and cherries for a Rainier cherry salsa to serve on the side. And because I’d worked up quite a thirst, a cherry-inspired cocktail also found itself on the menu — a cherry kombucha margarita, to be precise. A splash of tequila, triple sec, cherry kombucha and a cherry and lime for garnish. The enchiladas came out of the oven and got a garnish of Rice Krispies and tortilla strips for a crunchy topping, and dinner was served! We’d make the enchiladas again for sure (and we’re having Corn Pops for breakfast tomorrow!).

— Laird Elizabeth Nelson

Fruity “nice” cream cereal sandwich

Jingmei Helm-MacLeod was one of several entrants who turned tofu into vegan ice cream. The cereal than became the base for the “sandwich” component of her ice cream sandwich — perfect for a hot summer day! (Jingmei Helm-MacLeod)
Jingmei Helm-MacLeod was one of several entrants who turned tofu into vegan ice cream. The cereal than became the base for the “sandwich” component of her ice cream sandwich — perfect for a hot summer day! (Jingmei Helm-MacLeod)

Once I saw the ingredients I immediately thought of using silken tofu to make a vegan ice cream. In a blender, I combined the silken tofu, spinach, frozen bananas, frozen cherries, frozen blueberries and some maple syrup. I added almond milk to help it blend. Then I transferred it into a freezer-capable container. I added some fresh cherries into the ice cream after it had been freezing for about 30 minutes.  

I still needed to incorporate the cereal. I found this fruity, star-shaped cereal and thought it was perfect. I smashed them up, combined with coconut oil, formed into cookie shapes and put it in the freezer. After about 6 hours of freezing, I scooped the “nice” cream onto the cereal cookie. It turned out to be quite tasty and perfect for a hot day. The coconut oil added flavor to the cookies and the fresh cherries added texture to the ice cream. I would probably add more sweetener to the ice cream next time. Also, I would make a sort of Rice Krispie treat-type cookie to help it bind better. Check out my food Instagram @jhm_eats for more vegetarian/vegan food inspo!

— Jingmei Helm-MacLeod