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Food with flair

By Staff | Sep 5, 2014

HOLLY WIERDERIN, a central Iowa-based freelance food stylist assistant, prepares garden-fresh zucchini and other ingredients for her farm-inspired zesty straw and hay pasta.

PROLE – When Holly Wiederin was growing up on a Carroll County farm west of Mount Carmel, she dreamed of becoming an artist or a chef.

Today, she has combined the best of both worlds in her career as a freelance food stylist assistant.

“I love the creative process and experimenting in the kitchen,” said Wiederin, who works with clients including the Meredith Corporation, whose flagship title includes Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

Food stylists work on photo shoots for magazines, cookbooks and special publications for a variety of companies, including large grocery store chains.

As a food stylist assistant, Wiederin handles the grocery shopping, food preparation and other duties that contribute to an array of mouthwatering food photos that typically appear in print six to 12 months after the shoot, once the magazine or cookbook is edited and published.

THIS ZESTY RECIPE — hay and straw pasta — offers a light, yet fulfilling, late-summer meal, thanks to a combination of flavors from zucchini, garlic and chipotle chilies in adobo sauce.

Wiederin focuses on the little details that make food photography “pop,” such as a grate of cheese or fresh ground pepper on top of pasta, a drizzle of oil on a salad or a garnish of fresh herbs with grilled meat.

“If food looks appealing, you’ll enjoy it more,” said Wiederin, who noted that a typical work day includes photo shoots for eight recipes.

Wiederin learned many food stylist techniques during her 10-year career at the August Home Publishing Co., in Des Moines, where she served as senior graphic designer for Cuisine at Home magazine.

Not only did she work closely with trained chefs, but she served as a hand model for many of the how-to features in the popular cooking magazine.

Growing up on the farm also inspired an interest in all things culinary for Wiederin, who fine-tuned her baking skills as a member of the Mount Carmel Merry Makers 4-H Club.

“My mother, Dorothy, is a wonderful cook,” Wierderin said, “who made food not only taste good, but look beautiful, too.

“Instead of adding the filling for deviled eggs with a spoon, she would pipe it in to make it prettier.”

Those little extras make a meal special and show the cook’s care, said Wiederin, who said she loves cooking for her husband, family and friends.

“I call it adding the love,” she said.

Zesty straw and hay pasta

(Serves 6)

3/4 pound spaghetti (regular, whole wheat or enriched)

1 7-ounce can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 cups zucchini (about 1 1/4 pounds), coarsely shredded or cut into long strips with a julienne peeler

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, shaved

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.

Meanwhile, remove 1 chili pepper (smaller for less spice, larger for more) and 1 tablespoon of sauce from can.

Reserve remaining chiles and sauce for another use see note below. Caution: These chiles can stain a cutting board, and you may want to wear gloves if you are sensitive.

Remove seeds from chili pepper (for extra heat, leave seeds in); mince chili pepper.

Heat oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chili pepper, sauce and garlic.

Saute 1 minute.

Add zucchini; cook, stirring constantly, for 4 to 6 minutes.

Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Toss pasta with zucchini mixture, salt and pepper. Add reserved cooking liquid if pasta mixture needs thinning, and toss again.

Place in a serving bowl and sprinkle with shaved cheese.

(Note: Chipotle chiles can be found in the Mexican section of grocery stores. After using what’s needed for the recipe, pour the remaining chiles and sauce in a freezer Ziploc bag. Seal the bag and remove air. Flatten and squish the seed pods with hands. Place flat in freezer. Once frozen, break off what’s needed for the next recipe. There is no need to thaw chilies before using.).

Chocolate zucchini


(Makes 24 cupcakes)

1 1/4 cups butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon instant coffee crystals

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour

3/4 cup dark baking cocoa

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 ounce-container plain yogurt

2 cups grated zucchini

1 can (16 ounces) prepared chocolate frosting

3 ounces cream cheese, softened

Line muffin pans with paper or foil liners makes up 24 cupcakes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and coffee crystals.

In bowl, combine the two types of flour, baking cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt with a whisk.

Add flour mixture alternately with yogurt, beating well after each addition. Mixture will be thick.

Fold in the grated zucchini, mixing thoroughly.

Distribute batter evenly between muffin cups. (An ice cream scoop works well.)

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

Beat together the prepared frosting and cream cheese for the frosting. Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Caprese corn salad

(Makes 4 cups)

2 ears fresh sweet corn, husked (about 1 cup kernels)

2 cups grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup fresh Mozzarella, cubed

2 tablespoons fresh basil, snipped into small pieces

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

Pinch sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Blanch ears of corn in boiling water for three minutes. Drain and cool.

When cool enough to handle, cut kernels from cob; set aside.

Combine tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and corn in a large bowl.

Stir in vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Serve at room temperature or chill until ready to serve.

Blue-plate special

(Serves 4)

2 small carrots, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1/4 medium onion, chopped

1/4 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

1 large egg white

1 pound ground beef sirloin

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup purchased barbecue sauce

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 / 2-inch chunks

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup buttermilk

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound green beans, stem ends removed

1 teaspoon olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Process carrots, celery, onion, panko and egg white in a food processor until finely chopped and combined, about 1 minute.

Transfer to a large bowl.

Mix in beef, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. On a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, divide meat mixture into 6 portions.

Shape each into oval loaves about 5 inches long and 3 inches wide.

Combine barbecue sauce and mustard. Brush the loaves with half of the barbecue mixture.

Bake loaves until an instant-read thermometer inserted in loaf registers 160 degrees, about 20 to 25 minutes, brushing halfway through with the remaining sauce.

Meanwhile, cover the prepared potatoes with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil; add salt.

Reduce to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 15 to 20 minutes.

Drain; return to pan. Stir over medium heat until a starch film forms on bottom of pan, about 1 minute.

Remove from heat.

Mash potatoes with buttermilk until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.

Steam green beans in a steamer basket over 1 inch simmering water in a pot. Cover and cook until crisp-tender and bright green, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Transfer to a bowl. Toss beans with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Serve individual meat loaves with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Smoked barbecued beans

(Makes 12 servings)

Wood chips, soaked

4 slices bacon, cut in 1 / 2-inch dice

1 cup yellow onion, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 cup prepared ketchup

1/4 cup molasses

1/4 cup prepared yellow mustard

1/4 cup bourbon (optional)*

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

3 to 4 dashes Tabasco sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 28-ounce can baked beans, undrained

1 16-ounce can pork and beans, undrained

1 16-ounce can navy beans, rinsed and drained

1 16 ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

1 16-ounce can light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Prepare smoker with charcoal and heat to 225 to 250 degrees.

Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally until crisp, about 10 minutes.

Add onions and garlic. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add ketchup, molasses, mustard, bourbon (if using), brown sugar, Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add all of the beans; stir to combine. Place bean mixture, uncovered, on prepared smoker.

Add a small handful of soaked wood chips to hot charcoal and close lid. Smoke beans for 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally when adding more coals and wood chips.

Remove Dutch oven from smoker and return to stove top. Simmer uncovered for about 1 hour or place covered in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes until desired thickness.

(Note: Small bottles of alcohol sometime called airline bottles- are available at most grocery stores. They are equal to 1/4 cup.

Lighter chicken-fried steak and gravy

(Makes 4 servings)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 large egg whites, lightly beaten

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup white whole wheat flour

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided

1 teaspoon paprika

1 pound cube steak, cut into 4 portions

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided

1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium beef broth

1 tablespoon water

1/4 cup Half and Half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray; set aside.

Place all-purpose flour on a large plate. Place egg whites in a shallow dish.

Whisk cornmeal, egg white, whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1 teaspoon paprika in another shallow dish.

Season both sides of steak with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Dredge the steak in the flour, shaking off excess; dip into egg whites, then dredge in the cornmeal mixture.

Set aside. Repeat with remaining pieces of steak.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and add 2 pieces of the breaded steak; cook until browned on both sides, turning carefully once, 3 to 5 minutes total.

Transfer the steak to the prepared baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 2 pieces of steak. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add broth to the saucepan and boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 cup, 3 to 5 minutes.

Whisk water and the remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cornstarch mixture.

Return to the heat and cook, stirring, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in Half and Half; season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

Serve the steak topped with the gravy.

Garlic mashed cauliflower potatoes

(Makes 4 servings)

2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 cups cauliflower, cut into small florets

2 gloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/4 cup 1 percent milk or evaporated skim milk

2 tablespoons butter spread

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cover potatoes, cauliflower, and garlic with cold water in a 3-quart saucepan by 1 inch.

Bring to a boil over high heat.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until vegetables are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Drain; return to pan. Stir over medium heat until a starch film forms on bottom of pan, about 1 minute.

This removes excess moisture. Remove from heat.

Mash vegetables with a potato masher or hand mixer to desired texture with milk and butter.

Cooks may choose to use a stick blender for extra creaminess.

Stir in remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning.

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