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Cowboy Cuisine

 

Cowboy Cuisine,
Capturing the Cowboy Spirit in the Kitchen

A Food Writer Goes West
 
Marcy Goldman
This feature is brought to you by www.Levis.Com and www.TheLodgeMfg.com, both of whom helped settled the west.




COWBOY CUISINE RECIPE COLLECTION
 
City Slickers Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Cream Gravy
Stampede Chili
Chicken Fried Steak with Peppercorn Gravy
Chuck Wagon Biscuits
Calico Salad
Country Fair Fried Dough
City Slicker Carrot Cake
Barn Raisin’ Lemonade


 
 
We all have dreams and fantasies. One of my oldest and favorites is that one day, I am going to pack up my bags and my three sons and for the Big Sky. I don’t know why exactly this appeals. Reckon I saw Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and Oklahoma on tv too often in my formative years. Whatever. Urbanite that I am, I get this ‘time to claim the frontier’ fantasy each year just as the spring peeks around the corner. It coincides with the wild geese as they wing homeward - heading north - eager to start their spring and summer sojourn in the wilds they love. Something about it flight triggers some similar quest for adventure and freedom in me, for my mind follows suit - well, except that it goes west.
 
 Real moms are thinking baseball tryouts, camp registration, and gearing up the Weber for the first of a host of outdoor grill nights to follow, but not me. I heed a different call.
 
Something in the spring air puts me in mind of western trails - yet unforged by the railways’ jackhammers or a Peter Seger song. I smell that smell - the ghost of winter-finally-passed and promise of a mellow May, new salmon, budding daffodils and like the geese, something in my spirit similarly takes off for higher ground.
 
Thing is, it is so real, that some days, as I trot out on my sunrise run, I can almost smell the beckoning aromas of the smokehouse chuck wagon fire; scalding and brutishly hot, strong coffee hang thick in the air. Café latte? Mocha Java Mochichino Lite? Hey, like let’s not make me and the trail boss snicker. The boss man don’t hold with no sissy coffee, hear? I can hear bacon sizzling and the floury, honest, simple fragrance of fresh baked bannock (yes, bannock - keep your olive-studded foccaccio) puffing up on a cast iron skillet. Heady, hearty stuff - so real, I can taste it.
 
This western fantasy is so long in my mind that I can even remember when it did not include my boys…..…but now it does, so I have made adjustments. In lieu of a covered wagon, I will rent a big, hunter green American van. We will be packed to the hilt with ‘just the bare essentials” to start our new life in the frontier. My goal is Butte or Cedar Creek or some unknown, undiscovered place like Somewhere, Colorado. Wherever. A place where cowboy boots means horses, not fashion. A place where people say ‘good morning’ and look you straight in the eye. A place where they eat beef unapologetically, play way too much Bonnie Raitt and Garth Brooks, and go to bed early. A place where The Gap is that ravine on the outskirts of town. A place where people dress up for a Saturday night dance. A place where sarcasm is suspect.
 
The first leg of the trip will be junk food city, silly car games, and counting fast food shops on the interstates. By mid trip, I figure we will be in some sort of heartland place - ‘pends where that westerly wind blows us. The van will be quieter, the scenery will have changed. Game Boy will be long forgotten and travel games like I Spy and Count-the-Cows will rule. Holiday Inn will have given way to No Name Motel to Bed-and-Breakfast to Camping Out.
 
As the days roll by, the season and landscape will be unrolling and transforming before our eyes. After years of living in the ‘burbs, the boys will be fascinated. Awed a bit. “Are we in Kansas?” “No, sweethearts, this is Iowa”.
 
Well, early one dewy morning we pull in to our dream berg. The town is barely stirring - the mist is steaming off the pavement. Sunlight streams in on Main Street like a slick of melted butter. There are maple trees, willow and oak trees, with their competing hues of red and gold. Someone is burning leaves. A quick reconnaissance drive reveals that there are some good looking schools, some prime baseball diamonds, a newly built Fine Arts Center and a billboard saying an very off Broadway production of The Fantastiks and Rent is coming soon. I see another sign saying Tango Lessons. This is it. Perfect. We pass a diner advertising, Baker Wanted. I stop - go in to chat and faster than you can say, “Butter my biscuits’, momma’s got work. “I start tomorrow!” I triumphantly tell the guys.
 
In a short while, we settle. The boys find friends, catfish, frogs, girls and autumn fairs. My chocolate chip cookie recipe is sought after at the bake sale table at the Saturday flee market. I get a deal on an almost new Pentium and spend some June nights writing my screenplay that I started back east.
 
Within weeks, the diner’s business has picked up immensely. Everyone says, ‘Heck, I dunno where the new baker girl is from - some ways East, I expect, but darn, if she does not make the best biscuits! Soon, we start selling muffins and scones too. Hell, she even makes fried dough. Man-O-man.”
 
One day I surprise my boss and make real chicken and dumplings. “Geez, she cooks too!”. I get a night off and see that off-Broadway production of Rent. I think I see Bill Pullman in the audience. Next day, I hear my screenplay has been optioned. I share the news at tango class. Jonathan teaches his new friends the finer points of street hockey. Gideon finds someone to star gaze and launch his homemade rocket with. Benjamin spends each and every minute at that little stream or swinging on a giant tire beside our neighbor’s barn. He comes home with eggs every other day. We send back oversized oatmeal raisin cookies.
He tries to sneak a baby chick into his bed one night.
Life is good.
 
Ah - dreams. Can’t always live them, gotta have ‘em.
 
 
Some days, life a food writer’s test kitchen can be real grueling. I get to thinking I am George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life. I think I may never leave Bedford Falls. So, I go west in my head. One day, I will get to that place that sits side saddle on far side of my horizon. But until then……I bring the cowboy spirit to the cook. I bake up biscuits and chili, big fat apple rhubarb pies, and country fried chicken. It celebrates the cowboy that lives in all of us - that decidedly denim mindset - the only one that can properly collide with a new age headspace and come up smiling. The food is homespun classics, bolstered by that uncorraled spirit that says never say die, and never give up the chance of something new and adventurous around the bend.
 
In spring, when the sun sets a little later and comes up a crisp and scarlet with promise. The cowboy spirit reigns supreme. Embrace it in your heart and in the kitchen. Dreamers and dreams - may they never quit or be tamed.
 
                                                -30-
 
COWBOY CUISINE RECIPE COLLECTION
 
City Slickers Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Cream Gravy
Stampede Chili
Chicken Fried Steak with Peppercorn Gravy
Chuck Wagon Biscuits
Calico Salad
Country Fair Fried Dough
City Slicker Carrot Cake
Barn Raisin’ Lemonade


 
BUTTERMILK FRIED CHICKEN
Soaking chicken in buttermilk is the best way I know to compete with the “Colonel”.
Buttermilk tenderizes and fluffs up the chicken. Oven fry or classic fry in a cast iron Dutch oven - both ways work well - especially if you're preparing large batches. However, the original frying method is pretty well unbeatable. This is great chicken - even cold as picnic hamper fair on an apple picking excursion.
 
 
1-2 quarts buttermilk, or as required to cover chicken pieces
2 teaspoons salt
1 3 pound chicken - cut into 8-10 pieces
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup stone ground corn meal
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon, scant, black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery powder
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning, optional
scant pinch curry powder
scant pinch ground hot red pepper
 
In a large bowl, cover chicken with buttermilk and salt. Refrigerate a few hours or overnight. Drain.
 
TO OVEN FRY:
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a large cookie sheet with a wire rack or baking paper.
Mix all coating ingredients together in a large bag. Shake chicken pieces, a few at a time in the bag to coat. Lay on rack or cookie sheet. Coat once more.
Bake until chicken is well-browned, about 45 minutes.
 
To FRY:
Heat a generous quantity of half oil and half shortening in a large cast iron skillet. The fat should reach half way up the side of the pan (a deep-sided cast iron skillet or chicken fryer from The Lodge is best). Heat to 375 - 385 F. Fry a couple of pieces at a time. Reduce heat so that chicken fries briskly but not so fast as to burn. Turn once. Each piece should take about 8 minutes to cook (4 minutes per side).
Keep warm in a 300 F. oven or serve chilled.

 
4-6 servings
 
 
 
 
CREAM GRAVY FOR FRIED CHICKEN

2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup warm chicken stock *
1/4 - 1/2 cup half and half or light cream
salt, pepper to taste
pinch of sage or poultry seasonings or Bell’s seasoning
 
Kitchen Bouquet or Baker's Caramel (to color gravy)
·         Can use instant chicken bouillon mix
·          
·         Heat butter to melt in a small saucepan. Stir in flour mixture and cook until mixture is browned slightly (it will be crumbly). Over medium heat, stir in warm chicken stock, whisking all the while to thicken mixture and avoid lumps. Lower heat and stir in cream and gravy colouring, if using. Adjust seasonings to taste.
 
Serve with chicken.


STAMPEDE CHILI
Texans make a face if you mention tomatoes or beans when it comes to chili. Cincinnati aficionados add cinnamon to theirs and it often appears atop spaghetti. Californians, well, Californians do what they like: beans, tofu, chocolate. Here's my version of a 'bowl of red' - it is quite garlicky. This is most special if you round up some rustic ceramic bowls (try Pier 1) and furnish all the fixins’. Don’t forget to offer up some corn bread or tortillas.
 
2 pounds ground beef
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 garlic cloves - minced
1 small onion - minced
1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne
1-3 tablespoons (or to taste) chili powder
2 teaspoons (or to taste) salt
ground pepper to taste
pinch oregano
pinch sage
pinch sugar
1 bay leaf
6-8 sundried tomatoes, drained and plumped and minced
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-oz. can stewed tomatoes - lightly drained
1 can black beans - drained
 
Garnishes:
sour cream
shredded colby or cheddar
minced jalapeno
minced fresh coriander, parsley
shredded lettuce
finely chopped black olives and sundried tomatoes
steamed basmatic rice
 
In a large Dutch oven, sauté the meat in the olive oil. Drain a bit and move meat to sides, leaving space to sauté onions and garlic, til they soften. Add beef stock, wine, vinegar, garlic, onions, spices, canned tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, tomato paste. Simmer until meat is fully cooked and flavors meld, about 45-90 minutes on lowest heat. Adjust seasonings.
Serve in ceramic bowls with choice of garnishes on side: minced herbs, a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheese and a side of corn bread or tortillas.
8 generous servings
 
 
CHICKEN FRIED STEAK
A trademark Western way of tenderizing a tough steak.
Wiener schnitzel with a Rio Grande spin.
.
2 pounds round steak
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
oil for frying
 
GRAVY:
1 tablespoon oil or butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
salt, pepper, to taste
gravy browning (such as Kitchen Bouquet, optional)
 
Cut steak into serving pieces - about 4 ounce potions. Pound with a meat tenderizer, between parchment or wax paper to flatten slightly.
 
Beat eggs with milk. Mix flour with salt and pepper. Dip steak in flour, then milk egg mixture, then flour. Fry in hot oil until browned on both sides. Drain. Serve with gravy.
 
For Gravy, heat oil or butter in same skillet after draining most of the oil. Stir in flour and whisk, reduce heat, then stir in milk. Return to heat and whisk until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and add a few drops of gravy browning (if using).
 
3-4 Servings


BUTTERY ANGEL BISCUITS
A trio of leaveners - yeast, baking powder and soda, tweak basic bannock into a treat and a half. A basket of these, fresh and hot, is just the thing to serve with a Buttermilk Fried Chicken and boiled corn-on-the-cob supper. These are tender and flaky and awe-inspiring! Best dang biscuits you’ll ever make. Definitely a kinder, gentler bannock.
These can be made on a gas barbecue too or over a camp fire.
 
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
4 tablespoons cold, vegetable shortening
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
½- 1 cup warm buttermilk
 
Flour for dusting
 
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, soda and sugar. Cut shortening into dry ingredients until crumbly and well distributed. 
 
In a small bowl, sprinkle the dry yeast over the warm water and stir briefly. Allow to dissolve and swell. Add warm buttermilk to dry ingredients, then dissolved yeast mixture and toss with a fork to blend and moisten, creating a ragged mass. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead gently to make a soft dough, about 8-10 seconds. Cover with a tea towel bowl and let rest 10 minutes.
 
Preheat oven to 425 F.
 
On a lightly floured board, roll dough out to a thickness of ¾ - one inch and about 6-8 inches by 6-8 inches. Cut into 8-10 2 ½ - 3 inch round biscuits. Arrange in a seasoned 9 or 10 inch cast iron skillet or lightly greased 10 inch square or round baking pan (granite ware is also good for these). Cover with a clean tea towel for 20-30 minutes.
 
Dust biscuit tops lightly with flour. Bake until lightly golden, about 12-15 minutes.
 
8-10 biscuits
 
To bake on an outdoor gas bbq, preheat grill to medium and use a cast iron skillet.
Place some terra cotta tiles on grill and when grill is properly pre-heated, set skillet on top and close grill cover. Bake 11-14 minutes until golden.


.
CALICO SALAD
This colorful salad is as sunny as the southwest and serves up grains and legumes in a delightful way.
 
1 can white kidney or black beans - drained
2 cups fresh or canned corn - drained
1 cup minced red pepper
1 cup cooked rice (such as basmatic)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic - minced
pinch sugar
black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch ground coriander
2/3 to 1 cup olive oil
fresh coriander and fresh parsley - minced
 
 
Toss vegetables together. Whisk dressing ingredients. Toss with vegetables. Garnish with minced coriander and parsley.
 
Serves 4-5
 
 
 


FRIED DOUGH
Fresh from the fryer, these are the next best thing to being at a country fair. A bread machine does a great job with this recipe.
 
DOUGH
1/2 cup warm water
5 teaspoons dry yeast
pinch of sugar
1 cup warm milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1/3 cup oil
4 1/4 - 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

 
Oil for frying
granulated sugar for dusting
cinnamon
 
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the yeast, warm water and pinch of sugar. Allow to stand a couple of minutes to allow yeast to swell or dissolve.
Stir in remaining sugar, milk, vanilla, eggs, oil, salt and most of flour to make soft dough.
 
Knead 5-8 minutes (by hand or with a dough hook), adding flour as needed to form a firm, smooth, elastic dough. Place in a greased bowl. Place bowl in a plastic bag and seal. (If not using right away, you can refrigerate the dough at this point). Let rise in a covered, lightly greased bowl, about 30-40 minutes. Gently deflate dough, (if dough is coming out of the fridge, allow to warm up about 40 minutes before proceeding).
 
Pinch off a golfball-sized piece of dough. Roll out into an 5 inch oval and let rest, covered with a tea towel, while you are preparing the remaining dough. Let dough rest about 20- 30 minutes total.
 
Heat about 4 inches of oil in fryer (a wok works best but you can use a Dutch oven or whatever you usually use for frying). Temperature of the oil should be about 385 F. Toss in a tiny bit of dough and see if it sizzles and swells immediately. If it does, the oil temperature is where it should be.
 
Add the dough to the hot oil, about 1-2 at a time, stretching the ovals out a bit to thin and enlarge just before frying.


 
Turn once to fry until the undersides are deep brown. Lift finished pieces out with tongs and drain on paper towels.
 
Fill a large bowl with a few cups of white sugar. Toss fried dough in sugar (with a little cinnamon if you wish) and shake off excess. They are also delicious with a smear of jam or apple pie filling.
 
About 2-3 dozen, depending on size
SIDEBAR ON CAST IRON, and GRANITE WEAR COOKWARE
Heritage cookware suits city dwellers too
 
Cast iron
Cast iron is synonymous with honest, old-fashioned cooking and is billed as the original "non-stick" cookware, due to its ability to clean up easily and release food well. Out of vogue for awhile, cast iron is now the trend in cookware and most homes sport one or two cast iron items, garnered from country cottages or yard sales. Even stainless steel manufacturers will concede that nothing does eggs better or bakes up cornbread quite as well as old-fashioned cast iron. Cast iron requires seasoning and a little care to maintain, but it is an excellent retainer of heat. As well, strangely enough, you can improve your dietary iron intake by cooking with this metal. Avoid imported cast iron. Look for authentic cast iron such as The Lodge or Wagnerware, both widely available. Lodge has more than a century of experience in the production of cast iron cookware and offers the widest assortment of cooking and baking vessels that do double duty as serving dishes.
 
Granite Ware
You know those blue speckled, enamel on steel turkey roasting pans?
Well, their official name is granite ware. Much like cast iron, this usually-reserved-for-camping cook and bakeware, is making a come back and is ideal for baking pies and cobblers or pretty as to serve country style meals. Available in culinary stores or via
The Cumberland General Store (1-800-334-4640), a yesteryear sort of catalogue that offers vintage kitchenware. 
 
 


 
COWBOY COOKBOOKS
 
A Taste of Ranching, Tom Bryant and Joel Bernstein, Border Books l993
 
New Cooking From The Old West, Greg Patent, Ten Speed Press
Berkley l996
 
A Cowboy in the Kitchen, Grady Spears, Ten Speed, Berkley l996
 
Home On The Range, A Culinary of the American West
Cathy Luchetti, Random House l993
 
 
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