Monday, March 14, 2011

The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond

The Pioneer Woman Cooks
by Ree Drummond

Anyone who picked up this cookbook and expected a straightforward, recipes-only affair must not be all that familiar with the internet presence that is Pioneer Woman. Since 2006, Ree Drummond has blogged away, chronicling her life on her husband’s family cattle ranch, her cooking adventures, her children and pets, photography, and whatever else catches her fancy along the way. I started reading around 2008, when a friend recommended her site as a great place to find recipes. I made her ‘Marlboro Man Sandwich’ as soon as I could get my hands on some cube steak.

Marlboro Man — also known as her husband, who remains unnamed unless one looks at the author bio on her cookbook. Her children, likewise, are her “four punks,” differentiated mostly by their age and birth order alone. It’s one small bit of privacy afforded to otherwise well-documented lives, and is also just another way for Drummond to let her silliness shine through. Writing a cookbook, inspired by the most popular section of her website and its spinoff, Tasty Kitchen, would be no different.

[E]very man I know, with the exception of strict vegans (and even some of those have come around), loves this sandwich. It uses very simple ingredients and is so incredibly rich and satisfying that a man will forgo food for weeks (okay, hours) if he knows one is one the horizon. Just try it out — make it for a group of hungry guys and you’ll see what I mean. Eyes will roll back in heads. Engagement rings will be thrown your way. You’ll be carried on a litter the rest of your life. Love songs will be composed. Sonnets written.

I have been known to sing love songs to sandwiches, after my eyes have rolled back into their customary position. Hungry, meat-eating sandwich lovers across the land will appreciate this sandwich, although I have one particular trouble when it comes to Pioneer Woman recipes...

I can’t eat butter. Or cream.

Lactose intolerance requires me to tinker with her dishes a fair amount because, like Paula Deen, P-Dub is not afraid of full fat dairy. Her family burns (give or take) eleventy-billion calories working cattle every day, and so they can get away with it, but my lactase enzyme-less stomach cannot. With lactose-free milk and margarine, I can fake things pretty reasonably, but I’m never going to be able to eat her Creamy Mashed Potatoes as intended:

5 pounds russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) butter, additional 4 tablespoons ( ½ stick)
One 8-ounce package cream cheese
½ to 3/4 cup half-and-half
½ teaspoon seasoned salt
Salt and pepper to taste

Yeah. Not happening. I’m sure they’re good though.

Sprinkled throughout her recipes are photos showcasing life on the ranch, including her kids helping with the cattle, her famous basset hound Charlie flopping around, and even the mountain of dirty dishes in the kitchen during the making of the cookbook. She talks about the evening she met Marlboro Man, and how their romance brought her back to Oklahoma, rather than move to Chicago as planned. She talks about the other women in her life — her mother-in-law, her best friends, her sister Betsy — and gives credit to the people who inspired her recipes. For her, food is not just about the mechanics of creating a dish; it’s the environment in which the dish is needed. The necessity of having “cowgirl food” (food the pickier cowboys won’t touch) and sangria is just another way to talk about creating her own community within such a sparsely populated area.

Each of her recipes have step-by-step photos documenting the process, which can be tremendously helpful for beginning cooks. Drummond takes all the photos herself, and it has been fun to watch the evolution of her photography reading her site over the years. She’s the first one to admit she’s no photography expert, but she’s no slouch either. Her photos use natural light well, and though not a professional “food stylist,” her dishes always look fantastic. If the success marker of a cookbook is making the reader hungry, then she’s done her job.

While I enjoyed her asides about daily life, I do wish that more of the material had not already been published on the blog. This is a small complaint, sure, but regular readers will not find a wealth of new material. However, the cookbook would make an excellent introduction for someone not familiar with her work — and it is only an introduction. At around 240 pages, she doesn’t offer an overflow of recipes, but the ones she does offer define her cooking style well.

The main reason why I wanted to buy the book was so I could have easy access to her recipes that I always mean to make, but never get around to printing. The Marlboro Man sandwich, pico de gallo, onion strings, pizza crust, and chicken fried steak — I hate to have to look things up on my laptop all the time. (This where the iPad users get all smug, but I’m a dino who is just not there yet, all right?)

One of Drummond’s prevailing mantras regarding everything, in life as well as cooking, is “whatever makes your skirt fly up,” and she is quick to offer suggested variations on her recipes, even accommodating those who do not drink alcohol. It’s a nice touch, and one that is recognizing of the way people really cook in their own kitchens. Though I’m sure she’d gasp at the idea of not being able to eat butter, I reckon she’d be just fine with my recipe alterations.

Ree Drummond will be appearing in Great Falls, MT as part of Western Art Week. She will hold a talk and book signing at the Heritage Inn this Friday, March 18. Look for additional coverage of her appearance over at GLL sister-site Electric City Creative.


This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read III, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. In order to make up for last year’s 51 books, I’m aiming for 53. The challenge ends December 31, 2011.

(And as an aside, this site can now be reached by typing in -- No blogspot necessary! Shiny.)

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