Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cookbook Review: "Cooking The Cowboy Way"

I am going to be honest, when I received a copy of "Cooking The Cowboy Way: Recipes Inspired by Campfires, Chuck Wagons, and Ranch Kitchens" by Grady Spears with June Naylor, I wasn't all that excited. I never really thought or cared how cowboys cook their food and I assumed it would be just a bunch of recipes for barbecue, beef and beans. Well, we all know what happens when we assume and I am happy to admit I was wrong--cowboys eat a lot more than barbecue, beef and beans--and they eat really well too!

Spears, former cowboy turned chef and restaurateur known for taking cowboy classics and making them upscale, along with Naylor, journalist and author, traversed the country finding cowboy cuisine and getting a look behind the scenes at the different ranches and places where the recipes are from. As you would expect, much of the time is spent in Texas but they also visited Arizona, Calgary, Alberta, Florida and Missouri. With stories and gorgeous pictures combined with the recipes, the reader gets an interesting glimpse at the cowboy life. The book manages to fit in close to 100 recipes and there is a big variety of dishes to choose from There are breakfasts, salads, side dishes, baked goods, cocktails and desserts (who knew cowboys eat crème brûlée?). With so many recipes it was hard to pick just a few to road test but I was able to narrow it down to six.

The first recipe I tried was the Cuban Picodillo, from the Bellamy Brothers Ranch in Darby, Florida. Picodillo is a homey classic Cuban comfort-food dish and I had been wanting to try it, even though the combination of ground beef, olives and raisins sounded a bit odd. It really works though--this dish was easy to put together and really delicious with the sweet and salty combination. I used some ground bison/buffalo and served it over brown rice--Yum! I will definitely make this one again. (Here's a link to the recipe)

Next I felt it was my duty to make some kind of cowboy beef recipe and chose the King Beef Oven Brisket from the Perini Ranch in Buffalo Gap, Texas. Owner, cowboy and cook, Tom Perini cooks his brisket in a smoker, but the recipe in the book is for the average home cook and can easily be made in the oven. It is perfectly simple, all it needs is time, and it is so delicious! A beef brisket is rubbed in a mixture of spices, roasted uncovered for an hour, then beef broth is poured in, the pot is covered and is roasted low and slow for about 3 hours. The meat is sliced thin and tender, juicy and nicely spicy from the rub. Perfect for sandwiches the next day too. I don't cook a lot of brisket but this is some of the best I have tried.

Of course I had to make some beans too and chose Tom's Ranch Beans also from the Perini Ranch. Another easy recipe, dried pinto beans are combined with salt pork, garlic and chili powder and they bubble away on the store for a couple of hours until tender and then jalapenos and cilantro are stirred in. The beans are hearty, creamy and have a nice kick to them. You can find the recipe for them here.

Looking for a non-cornbread pairing for the beans, I found this Cheddar Pan de Campo from Fred's Texas Cafe in Fort Worth. It is a cheesy camp bread that can be made with any biscuit dough or the simple crust recipe in the book. The dough is rolled out, topped with red onion, jalapenos and cheddar cheese and then baked in the bottom of a dutch oven or on a pan or pizza stone in the oven until the crust is baked and the cheese melted. Yum!

A simple, delicious side dish was the Baked Acorn Squash with Pistachios from the Rancho de la Osa in Sasabe, Arizona. The squash is roasted, then pulled out, brushed with a mixture of butter and maple syrup and tossed with roasted pistachios. The syrup enhances the sweetness of the squash and the pistachios add a toasty, nutty flavor and a nice crunch.

Finally, since some of the food is spicy, you need a good drink to wash it down with like Grady's West Texas Sunrise, a drink he makes for his own "Texas Tailgate Party". This concoction is made of lemon-infused vodka, lemon liqueur, sparkling water and just a touch of pomegranate juice. Fresh, lemony and just a little tart, it is a great thirst quencher.

Charming writing, beautiful photography, and the opportunity to see what life on the ranch is really like make "The Cowboy Way" a good read, and the variety and quality of recipes makes it a fun and useful cookbook too. It would be perfect for the cowboy, cowboy wanna-be or anyone hankering to try some delicious hearty, accessible, family-style recipes. It would be a fun gift with a few of the ingredients or items listed in "The Cowboy's Chuck Box" resource in the back of the book.

My big takeaway from "The Cowboy Way"? If the recipes in the book are the way cowboys cook and eat, I need to get me some cowboy friends to hang out with!


  1. What a great review, Deb!! You made so many things...just look at that squash!! Everything looks and sounds fabulous. I really would love that bread, too. I'm all up for trying it the Cowboy Way! ;)

  2. Personally, I would not mind a whole book of barbecue. Mainly because I came down with the weirdest craving for barbecue sauce yesterday.

    Great review! Isn't it awesome when a cookbook exceeds your expectations for it. All of your food looks so good. You should submit that CUBAN picadillo to this month's Regional Recipes!

    I especially love the looks of that brisket...meat like that just does something to me ;).

  3. What a fantastic review. I lve how you try a few recipes from each book before giving a thumbs up or down. Great choices.

  4. WOW!! That looks really good. Great pictures!!

  5. Deb - All of those dishes look great! Who would have thought traveling cowboys would eat so well!

    I'm intrigued by the cheesy camp bread and the acorn squash with pistachios, they both look like great side dishes!

  6. Good god, that acorn squash looked sumptuous and lush. Yum.

  7. You've convinced me to get my hands on a copy of the book. The brisket really looked perfectly cooked and you've given us a nice assortment of other recipes as well.

  8. I am rather partial to that leathery, creme brulee eating cowboy on the cover..
    Who knew these guys ate so well?
    Such an interesting combination of dishes in this book, they have really embraced worldly flavours.

  9. I'm with you, I would have had the same first impression of that cookbook, and I even live in the wild west, but with the picture of the first recipe I was pleasantly surprised. Sounds pretty darn good.

  10. Nice recipes here! I love the acorn squash with pistachios one, sounds delicious!

  11. ye' hi, little doggy!

    Deb, these are some terrific recipes. Who would figure that out on the range, one could be dining of these delectable meals? As a former horseman, I eat well while on the horse show circuit; but it was not around a campfire.

  12. I have a barbecue brisket in the oven right now - and that cheddar bread would be the perfect accompaniment. Hmm - better find a replacement, though.

    So cowboys do eat more than beans - good to know!

  13. everything looks so delicious! those cowboys sure do eat well!

  14. You did so much work to give an accurate and thoughtful review. Very impressive and great pics to boot. Great job!

  15. Can I have a cowboy and the book ;) There is just something about a cowboy hat! Sounds like a great book. I really love the way the squash looks with the pistachios.

  16. My husband saw a review of this somewhere and told me he would like it. Just went to purchase it on amazon and saw it's only got one review there, 1 star, so I went looking to learn more. If it's that great, maybe you could "mosey" over there and post your own review. Sad to see a book that you enjoyed with only 1 sad little star. :)


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