The Pioneer Woman Cooks & A Recipe
There are many benefits to being a food blogger. You meet a lot of awesome people for starters. You also occasionally get asked to review a cookbook that you’d already been anxious to get your hands on because it’s written by a fellow food blogger whose work you adore. Bou-YA!
I’ve been a fan of The Pioneer Woman blog just about since Ree Drummond started it in 2007 to document her zany life as the “accidental country girl” wife of a cattle rancher. When I heard tell she was working on a cookbook, I was thrilled to see yet another food blogger join the ranks of “real” (i.e., the kind that make money at it) food writers. I especially love Ree’s honest and sometimes unexpected viewpoint on life and food and how she ties it all together. Her photos of her ranch always take my breath away and make me dream of meeting my own steely-eyed cowboy and saddling up a mustang. Or something like that. It’s escapism at its best, folks. Trust me. Or, better yet, visit her blog and find out for yourself.
Now, to get back to business. I got her cookbook, appropriately titled The Pioneer Woman Cooks, the other day and I promptly sat down to read it from cover to cover. I’ve never seen a cookbook so stuffed full of photos. There are glorious photos of Ree’s ranch, family, and food. It’s evident that Ree, who shot all her own photos, has a serious artist’s eye for nature. In addition, each recipe has a photo for every single step!! That’s right, every single step! And there’s a parade of cute country sketches of butterflies and roosters and such across the pages. Cover to cover, it’s a stunner.
After gobbling it up as a “light read”, I took the book into the kitchen. Here’s where I unfortunately started to lose my love for it. While having a photo inserted with every single step in every single recipe is probably great for new cooks that need lots of visual aids, it makes it rather tricky to use efficiently if you’re an experienced cook who just wants an easy-to-read recipe that you can bang out in a hurry.
The next hurdle for me, and again, this is specific to my own personal style and taste buds, was the lack of vegetable-centric or vegetarian-adaptable recipes. Of course, Ree’s a rancher’s wife so one can’t really expect anything but a meat-heavy book from her. It just meant that it was hard for me to find recipes to test.
In addition…or maybe in conjunction… it was also tricky to find a handful of solid recipes for seasonal use. I had loads of autumn’s glorious produce on my counter, but each one I went to look up in the cookbook index turned up nothing, until I went with the potatoes I’d just bought at the farmers market. There are plenty of recipes for potatoes in the book , of which I decided to make the PW’s Potato Skins to see if they had a unique twist that made them all Ree’s very own. Plus I could easily substitute the meat in this recipe (bacon) with a soy product to make it vegetarian without really compromising the final dish.
The potato skins were really tasty, though maybe a little heavy on the oil. Definitely an indulgence and good party food or game-day fare. It’s a solid basic recipe, one that’s good to have in your repertoire, but not anything very different from what I’ve had many times before.
The Pioneer Woman Cooks is a book you’ll likely either love or not really use. I happen to fall into the latter category because I want cookbooks with imaginative recipes that push me to try something new; recipes in a more traditional format that let me “tick” things off in my head; and fresh seasonal produce as the main subject of the majority of dishes. I also wish, in this particular case, that Ree had developed the memoir portion of her book more. That’s why I love her blog — that glimpse into her unique life and perspective is charming and inspiring. The photos in the book serve to whet the appetite for more “ranch life”, and I found that I really wanted some longer stories mixed into the pages.
All that being said, if you are a relatively new cook who loves a diet of wholesome “meat and potatoes” (or have someone to feed that does) and want lots of step-by-step photos in your recipes and quirky comments and photos of ranch life in between, this is the perfect book for you. If you’re more interested in a more traditional cookbook featuring vegetarian or seasonal fare, The Pioneer Woman Cooks probably isn’t going to ring your dinner bell.
PW’s Potato Skins
Taken from The Pioneer Woman Cooks
8 slices of bacon (the soy variety works too)
8 russet potatoes, scrubbed clean
1 1/2 C. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 C. sour cream
4 green onions, sliced
Preheat the oven to 400 F (I actually increased my oven to 450 as the skins weren’t crisping up).
Rub the outside of the scrubbed potatoes with canola oil. Place on foil lined baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the potatoes are fork tender. Let potatoes cool so they are easy to handle.* Slice in half lengthwise.
With a spoon or small scoop, scrape out the inner flesh of the potatoes, leaving a small margin of potato in the skins.* Brush both sides of the potato skins with canola oil and salt liberally. Place the skins cut side down on the pan and return to the oven. Bake for 7 minutes and then flip the skins over to the other side. Bake for 7 minutes more or until the skins are crispy (mine too nearly 30 minutes, thus I raised the temperature).
Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a skillet and chop into small bits. Set aside. Grate the cheese if you haven’t already.
When the skins are crisp, remove them from the oven and sprinkle each with cheese and bacon pieces. Return to the oven just until the cheese melts (2 minutes). Just before serving, spoon sour cream onto each skin and sprinkle with sliced green onion. Serve piping hot.
*I stopped the process at both of these points, leaving the whole baked potatoes sit from early morning to late afternoon before slicing them. I also then left the scooped out skins, unbaked, sit overnight because I ran out of daylight for shooting the photos and wanted to wait until the next day. Stopping the recipe half way through didn’t seem to hurt the final skins at all.
**While the original recipe doesn’t mention this, I have tried freezing a few of the skins at the stage where they have the melted cheese and bacon in them. I plan to bring them out and pop them straight into a hot 450F oven until they are piping hot again and then serve with the sour cream and onions. Will let you know if this worked by updating the post next week.
(makes 16 )