It’s funny where you meet fellow foodies. I met Wyatt Zimmerman, a clerk at the Shell station on Hwy. 47 in Rhinelander, a few months ago, and from the beginning of our friendship I’ve been impressed with how courteous and friendly he always is. I frequent this establishment on a regular basis because it is on my way home from work and Wyatt’s smile and good hearted joshing are like a balm after a hard day at the office. In fact, all the employees at this station are great but it is Wyatt who always asks about what’s up in my kitchen. This all started when I handed him a check for a purchase one day and he told me my name looked familiar. “Hey, I know,” he said with a big smile, “you’re the lady that writes the food column in the Star Journal. I read that all the time.”
To say I was impressed would be an understatement, and quickly our conversations about weather, the price of gas or other small talk, turned to food and recipes whenever I stopped in. And Wyatt wasn’t just accommodating a frequent customer; he was sincere in his love of preparing meals and trying new dishes.
Seems this 21-year-old learned to cook at a young age from his parents. Dale, his dad, is a retired dialysis nurse and his mom, Glenda, teaches preschool in Minocqua. His older sisters, Elly and Hannah, also like to cook, so spending time in the kitchen is a family affair at the Zimmerman’s.
This family enjoys meals that are wholesome and based on fresh food. “My entire family likes the Mediterranean type of cooking,” Wyatt said. “We use a lot of olive oil and fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs.” While Elly lives in Eagle River and Hannah lives in Illinois, Wyatt and his parents take turns preparing meals these days.
Wyatt uses a lot of creativity when he chefs up a meal for his family. He enjoys the freedom of cooking, adding a pinch of this or that when the mood strikes, but really doesn’t find the regimented measuring necessary for baked goods inspirational. “Cooking for me is a creative outlet,” he said. “I like the freedom of it. Sometimes it blows my mind how some people are so confined with their cooking methods. I like to experiment.”
In fact Wyatt himself created the mushroom and pasta recipes featured this week. The Strawberry Shortbread recipe is a family favorite, and was given to Wyatt’s father from one of his dialysis patients.
At this point in his young life Wyatt isn’t sure what the future holds. A couple of years ago, after graduating from Lakeland Union High School, he enrolled at Nicolet College in the culinary program. “I thought taking a culinary course would be fun,” he said. “I did learn a lot but I’m still looking at other career choices.”
Another one of Wyatt’s favorite hobbies is playing his guitar. In fact he has toyed with the idea of building them for a career. And yet, he knows that someday his future plans will land him in a kitchen. “I enjoy working at the Shell station and meeting new people, but someday I really would like to maybe open a restaurant of my own,” he said. “Cooking is definitely in my future.”
Stuffed Baby Portabellas
1 pint baby portabella mushrooms
1 Tbs. pine nuts
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 Tbs. butter
4 ozs. soft goat cheese
1 Tbs. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. capers, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Clean mushrooms and remove stems. Arrange the caps stem-side up on a greased cookie sheet. Chop the stems finely and reserve. Toast pine nuts in a dry pan over medium heat. (Take care not to burn them, it can happen quickly.) Remove the pine nuts. In the same pan, sautè the chopped stems and oregano in the butter. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Stuff caps with mixture and bake for 10 to 20 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft and the filling is slightly browned.
1 head garlic
extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. penne pasta
1 pint grape tomatoes.
1 pint small mushrooms, halved
1 packed cup fresh basil
1 packed cup spinach
6 ozs. shredded parmesan cheese
Fill a large pot with enough water to boil the pasta and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the top off the head of garlic, leaving the head whole and the cloves exposed. Drizzle with olive oil and season. Place garlic in a roasting pan and cover, then bake for 20 minutes. Cook the pasta. Remove pan with garlic from oven and add tomatoes and mushrooms. Drizzle with oil and season. Leave the garlic covered and return to oven for about 20 minutes or until the mushrooms and garlic are tender. Uncover the garlic, squeeze out the roasted cloves and discard the hull. Add spinach, basil and garlic cloves to the pan and return to the oven for only a few minutes, until the greens are slightly wilted. Toss with pasta and cheese, then season. Before serving drizzle with balsamic vinegar or serve it on the side.
2 vanilla beans
11/2 cups heavy cream
1 pint strawberries, chopped
11/2 cups red wine
3 Tbs. honey
1/2 lb. butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. dried, ground rosemary
1/4 tsp. ground anise
Using your knife, split the vanilla beans lengthwise. Scrape the contents into a bowl along with the cream. Gently mix then add vanilla bean pods. In a separate bowl combine the chopped strawberries, wine and honey. Mix well. Refrigerate both bowls for at least an hour. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Thoroughly combine the butter and sugar. Stir in flour, rosemary and anise. Gently finish combining the dough by hand. Press into a slightly greased 9×9-inch pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until lightly golden. While the shortbread is baking, remove the refrigerated bowls. Remove the bean pods from the cream mixture and whip until fairly stiff. Gently fold together the cream and strawberry mixture. While the shortbread is still warm top with strawberry mixture and serve.
Associate Editor Mary Ann Doyle is available at email@example.com.