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Amy Meiers of Santa Rosa has been a finalist in more than a few nationwide recipe contests, a situation she compares to being “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.”

But earlier this year, Meiers finally grabbed the gold ring, a Grand Prize worth $10,000 in cash from the Make it Delish Recipe Contest sponsored by Carl Buddig & Company, a family-owned deli meat company based in Illinois. The busy working mother ended up entering her hors d’oeuvres recipe at the last minute, during the final countdown to 2016.

“It was New Year’s Eve, and I realized, ‘Shoot. The deadline is today,’” she recalled. “I had to run to G&G for our New Year’s Eve dinner, and this was our appetizer. I whipped it up, took a picture of it and entered it, about an hour and a half before the deadline.”

Her award-winning Ham and Pepper Twisters, made from store-bought puff pastry and a savory filling of roasted red peppers and cream cheese topped with ham, needs to be cut into strips and then twisted before it is baked to crispy perfection in a hot oven. Since it only has six ingredients, the appetizer doesn’t take long to assemble, especially if you make the roasted pepper cheese filling in advance.

As part of the contest, Meiers’ favorite grocer, G&G Supermarkets, was awarded an additional $10,000, which they donated to the Redwood Empire Food Bank on behalf of Buddig. Meiers, who grew up in Santa Rosa and works as an escrow assistant for Fidelity National Title, has been shopping at the West College Avenue market since she was a little girl.

“My grandparents always shopped there,” she said. “My grandmother and I would walk there, and then I would ride on the little horse outside as a reward.”

Meiers used to have the Buddig ham in her lunch as a kid, and her husband, Aivars Meiers, often takes it for lunch while working as a firefighter for the Dry Creek Rancheria (River Rock Casino) Fire Department.

“I was trying to think of something creative for the ham,” she said. “This recipe would be good for an hors d’oeuvres at a tailgate party ... We do a lot of sports watching, and I love the flavor combination of the ham and the bell pepper.”

The prize money from the contest is going to help the Meiers family subsidize an extended trip to Washington, D.C., where Amy and son Cannon, 8, a budding cook is own right, have been invited to dinner this week at the White House for a “kids’ state dinner.”

Cannon was the California winner of first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.

Obama and her national partners host the annual challenge as a way to encourage kids 8 to 12 to experiment with nutritious foods and create recipes that could help lead the nation away from a high-fat, high-sugar diet.

With the help of his mom, Cannon came up with Cannon’s California Rolls, a healthy version of a chicken salad wrap featuring a dressing of avocado and Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise. The salad is made with chicken, celery, apples, raisins, toasted almonds and chia seeds, then is wrapped in La Tortilla Factory whole-wheat tortillas or thinly sliced cucumber strips, with red grapes served on the side.

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Another recipe contest veteran, Laurie Figone of Petaluma, has invited Cannon to the Sonoma County Fair to make his award-winning recipe with her. The pair with demonstrate Cannon’s California Rolls at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on July 29.

Cannon attends Steele Lane School and has an extremely rare genetic disorder, Mosaic Trisomy 14. He requires good nutrition to minimize the disabling effects of his condition.

Meiers entered her first recipe contest under Figone’s mentorship, competing in her first World Wrapped Competition at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. Meiers went on to win the 2014 World Wrapped Competition and was invited back to judge the competition the following year.

Also in 2014, Meiers was one of three finalists at the annual Big Burger Battle, a national contest sponsored by Weber and Harley-Davidson and held at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. Her entry, Nacho Average Burger, came in second, but she said winning the trip to South Dakota was its own reward.

In 2015, Meiers was named a Top 10 finalist in Newman’s Own Greens for Good Salad Recipe Contest, entering an original recipe for Steele Lane Super-Star Salad, inspired by the fruits (watermelon and strawberries) and vegetables (arugula and baby kale) grown at the Santa Rosa school’s garden. She didn’t win the $35,000 grand prize, but took home $1,000 for the school’s foundation.

A lifelong baker, Meiers also was a finalist in the Rolls Category at the National Festival of Breads last year. For the finals of that contest, she and her family drove to Manhattan, Kan. (“The Little Apple”), where she baked her Rosemary-Cardamom Twisters. They were a twist on the rosemary cookies she often bakes at the holidays and her mom’s favorite, the cardamom rolls from Village Bakery in Santa Rosa.

“We drove to Kansas and got to see the Grand Canyon,” she said. “Competitive cooking has been a great way to travel.”

To decide what contests to enter, Meiers said she looks over a list compiled by the website, contestcook.com, then enters the ones that inspire her. She tests her recipes on her own family, and she often relies on her neighbors as well.

“You have to buy the special ingredients and then practice and work all the kinks out of the recipe,” she said. “But when you find out you’re a winner, it validates everything.”

This appetizer recipe, from Amy Meiers of Santa Rosa, won the Make It Delish Recipe Contest hosted by Carl Buddig & Company. “You want to defrost the puff pastry enough so that it’s pliable to twist but not too warm,” she said. “If it gets too warm, I just pop it back into the freezer before baking it.”

Ham & Pepper Twisters

Makes 4 servings

2 red bell peppers, roasted

2 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

9 slices of Buddig ham

Roast red bell peppers (in a hot oven or on grill) until the outsides are charred. Place the bell peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove charred skin and seeds from the peppers and place the flesh in a food processor. Add the cream cheese, salt and pepper and pulse until you have a smooth mixture.

Lay out the puff pastry and spread half of the bell pepper mixture over it. Lay ham over the bell pepper mixture. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the puff pastry in half horizontally, then into 10 slices vertically (you’ll end up with 20 twists.)

Twist each piece twice and place on a cooking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with the remaining pepper mixture as a dipping sauce.

For this recipe, Cannon and his mom like to use Rocky chicken from Petaluma Poultry, Greek yogurt from Clover-Stornetta and whole wheat tortillas from La Tortilla Factory. If you can’t eat wheat, you can use thinly sliced cucumber. Just be sure to secure each piece with a toothpick.

Cannon’s California Rolls

Makes 5 servings

2 cups water

11/2 teaspoon salt (divided)

2 lemons (divided)

11/2 pounds chicken breast (about 3 breasts)

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

1 large avocado

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1/2 apple, diced small

1/2 cup raisins

2 teaspoons chia seeds

1/4 teaspoon pepper

5 large whole wheat tortillas or 5 cucumbers, thinly sliced lengthwise

— Red grapes, for garnish (optional)

Combine the water, 1 teaspoon salt and juice of 1½ lemons in a pot and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken breasts and cover, cooking for about 15 to 20 minutes (or when a food thermometer registers 165 degrees.) Shred by hand using two forks, or place in a stand mixer and mix for 10 to 15 seconds. Set aside to cool.

Toast the almonds in a 350 degree oven for about 5 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.

In a large bowl, mash up the avocado with the Greek yogurt. Add the green onions, celery, apple, raisins, chia seeds, pepper, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and juice of a half lemon. Add the shredded chicken and stir thoroughly to combine.

Spread about 1 cup of the chicken salad evenly over one tortilla. Roll up, slice into 8 pieces. Repeat for other four tortillas. Garnish with red grapes, if desired.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.