Iowa’s Big Four Cooking Contest Winners

Each year, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation (IALF) honors Iowa’s agriculture industry and its commodities including corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs through our Big Four cooking competition at the Iowa State Fair. “We invite aspiring chefs of all ages from across Iowa to showcase their culinary skills in two different divisions, sweet or savory, they can get as creative as they like and the only requirement is to use at least two of the big four Iowa commodity ingredients or a by-product of them,” stated IALF Executive Direction, Kelly Foss.

This year’s entries were judged by commodity organization experts, Anne Rehnstrom (Iowa Pork Producers Association), Carrie Dodds (Iowa Corn Growers Association), and Lydia Zerby (Iowa Soybean Association). Foss admitted that “we had fun watching the judges as their eyes lit up with each tasty entry, this year the winner of the sweet category was a warm comfort food and got the judges nodding their heads and clamoring for more.”

Iowa’s Big Four Winners – Sweet Category

Maple Bacon Bread Puddin by Jamie Buelt of Polk City is this year’s cooking contest winner. The winning recipe includes bacon and eggs. Sharon Lesan of Ankeny came in second place with Lemon Bar Pie. Our third place winner is Jennifer Goellner of West Des Moines with Chocolate Caramel Bacon Cupcakes.

The Puddin’:

  • 6 cups of dry bread cubed
  • 5 strips of bacon, fried and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 eggs, divided
  • ¼ cup of Baker’s sugar
  • 1 cup of pure Maple syrup
  • 2 ½ cups of half & half
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2-3 tablespoons of bourbon

Arrange bread on a cookie sheet and place in 250°F oven for 10 minutes, just enough to dry out the bread. Cut bread into bite-sized pieces. When dry, increase oven temperature to 350°F. Butter a cast iron skillet and set aside.

Beat the eggs and sugar until light. Add cream and other ingredients, but only half the syrup. Mix ½ cup syrup and bourbon and pour over bread. Distribute bacon pieces on top of the bread and then pour the egg mixture over bread, making sure that all the bread is covered. Allow to set about 30 minutes or longer so that bread can absorb the egg-cream mixture.

Bake at 375°F for 50 minutes or until the pudding is brown and a knife comes out clean.

The Sauce:

  • ¼ cup Maple syrup
  • ¼ cup salted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons of Woodford Reserve Bourbon

Warm the syrup and add the butter. Watching carefully add the brown sugar, bourbon and vanilla extract. When mixture comes to a boil, add the cream. Then turn heat down and continue to cook for 5 more minutes.

Note from the Cook: Bread pudding is the ultimate second-chance food. It allows you to repurpose bread, cake and pastries with yummy egg-cream custard. For this recipe, I had a third cup of mango-peach-ginger compote leftover. It struck me that with some bourbon and cream, it would make a fitting sauce. This particular recipe has evolved over the past several years. I have used apples, raisins, and cherries, but my family prefers the peach.

Iowa’s Big Four Winners – Savory Category

Cowboy Cornbread Salad Cups

The savory category winner in this year’s cooking contest is Cowboy Cornbread Salad Cups made by Ann Gillotti of Ankeny. As Ann states, “This is a great eye-catching salad for your next picnic or potluck and features all of Iowa’s Big Four ingredients – corn, bacon, soybeans (in the mayo), and eggs!” Iowa Girl Breakfast Egg Rolls submitted by Brooklynn Sedlock of Indianola received second place. Jamie Buelt of Polk City received third place with her Iowa Celebration Corn Salad.


  • 15 oz box Cornbread Mix
  • 1/2 cup Unsalted Butter, melted
  • 1 cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 2/3 cup Whole Milk
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 2 Small Jalapenos, diced

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray an 8-inch baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together cornbread mix, milk, butter, and egg until moistened. Stir in cheese and jalapenos. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely and then crumble into pieces to make 2 cups for salad.

Cilantro Ranch:

  • 1 packet Dry Ranch Dressing Mix
  • 1 cup Buttermilk
  • 1 clove Garlic
  • 1 cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 cup Cilantro Leaves

Add all ingredients in a blender and run on medium speed for 2-3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the salad.


  • 15 oz can Sweet Corn kernels, drained
  • 1 small Red Onion, diced
  • 1 Tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup Cilantro Ranch
  • 1 teaspoon Chili Powder
  • 1/2 lbs. Bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 14 oz can Pinto Beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper, diced
  • 1 cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1/4 cup Green Onion, chopped
  • 2 cups Crumbled Cornbread
  • 8-9 oz cups for serving

Combine the cilantro ranch, paprika, and chili powder, set aside. Add 1/4 cup of cornbread to the bottom of each cup. Add a layer of pinto beans, corn, onion, peppers, and tomatoes to each cup. Top each cup with 2 tablespoons of ranch mixture and 2 tablespoons of cheese. Add 1-2 tablespoons of crumbled bacon and garnish with green onion. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.


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