The Cowboy Day Cook-Along

Happy Cowboy Day everyone!

To celebrate the day, my sister Lenora and I hosted our own Cowboy Cook-Along at the ol’ Taylor homestead.  Yup, we gathered Ma and Pa and a couple of friendly cowpokes, and plied them with drink while we rustled up some favourite cowboy eats.

A good number of the recipes we used came from the fantastic Recipes for Rebels cookbook by Greg Swenson – our immensely talented and charming Cook-Along host – while a few others were passed down (cowboy to cowboy) through the years.

Our menu was:

  • Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus Water)
  • Ronald Reagan’s California Rice
  • John Steinbeck’s Old-Fashioned Slaw
  • Cowboy Corn
  • Frijoles de Olla
  • Barbecued Ribs
  • and Vinegar Pie for dessert

Because Lenora made the beans and Agua de Jamaica,  I’ll have to let her tell you about those herself – but in the meantime I’ll tell you about some of my dishes.

John Steinbeck’s Old-Fashioned Slaw

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Steinbeck’s slaw in the company of some Cowboy Corn and Chicherons (pork rinds.)

Steinbeck’s recipe suggested having the slaw sit for 24 hours, so I started it the night before the party.  This I managed just fine – though I did hit an unforeseen glitch when it turned out that I’m a goofball.  You see, the recipe called for one green pepper.  I looked at this and said “Okay, I need one green pepper.”  Then later, as I strolled through the aisles of the grocery store, this somehow became “I need one cucumber.”  And that’s exactly what I bought.  Can you believe that?  No matter who’s slaw you’re making, this doesn’t really make sense.  Anyhow, so fixated was I on purchasing this odd ingredient that I also entirely forgot to pick up the olives with pimentos that define the whole dish.  See? Goofball.  Anyhow, I prepared the sliced cabbage and dressing anyway, and then added the olives and pepper (I ended up using red and orange instead) the following day.  And it worked out beautifully.  After all, it’s really only the cabbage that needs to soften in the dressing – the olives and peppers meld together much faster.

Result:  This ended up being my dad’s, er, Pa’s favourite dish.  He must’ve had three helpings!

Cowboy Corn 

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For this year’s Cook-Along I decided to try a different version of the corn I made last year.  Last year’s L. Q. Jones’s recipe featured bacon – which was, of course, super delicious.  But the thing is, this year I’m a (whispering now) pescaterian.  Which means I only eat fish.   So if I wanted corn – and c’mon, who wouldn’t? – the bacon was out.  So instead, I made a very simple version of Cowboy Corn which consisted of only sweet corn heated with softened cream cheese mixed in.  Add a little salt and pepper, and you’ve got quite a nice little side dish.

Result: Everyone really enjoyed the corn and I didn’t have to mention that whole pesc-you-know-what business.  Which is for the best – it’s a thoroughly un-cowboy word.

Ronald Reagan’s California Rice

(We entirely forgot to take a photo of the rice – so just picture a casserole dish filled with baked rice with cheddar grated on top)

I’ve always had trouble separating the actor from the politician but, as is the case with this rice, I have no trouble separating the food from the man.

What I did have trouble with, however, was the dadgummed rice.  Now, this was entirely my own fault, and I cannot blame Reagan for it, because I was very silly and decided to use brown rice for this dish.  Not because I was trying to be healthy or anything awful like that – but just because I had so much of it.  In any case, it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to cook – and even longer to dry out.  Eventually I just gave up and added in the sour cream, cottage cheese, the seasonings Greg so helpfully suggested, and topped it off with the grated cheddar before popping it in the oven with relief.  (Alas, one of our cowpokes has a hard time with spice so I opted to leave out the chiles.)

Result: A surprisingly nice dish – if a bit bland.  Though the blandness was probably the fault of the brown rice which stubbornly would not absorb water, but easily absorbed and nullified every seasoning I threw at it.  On the plus side, Ma enjoyed it a lot and said it was like “an American version of risotto.”

Vinegar Pie

vinegar pie

(Sadly, I forgot to take a photo of it after it was sliced, so this will have to do, I’m afraid.)

Now there was not one person who I mentioned this pie to who didn’t make a kind of gagging expression upon hearing its name.  And I can understand that.  It does not sound at all like something you would willfully put in your mouth.  But the fact is, it’s really just a poor-man’s lemon meringue.

For pioneer families living a hardscrabble existence on the plains, lemon and cream were tough ingredients to come by.  But they figured out that with vinegar, sugar, flour, water and eggs, you could come up with a reasonable version of a lemon meringue.

Result:  After having made my own for our Cook-Along, I can attest that it’s fairly close to a traditional lemon meringue – though perhaps a bit more caramelly (is that a word?).   In any case, everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Okay, over to Lenora for the run down on her dishes…

Since moving to Mexico I have started watching and learning about Mexico’s golden age of film.  They too loved Westerns.  So I decided to make two recipes loved by one of their most beloved actors, Pedro Infante.  He played the handsome hero most of the time.  He was a down-to-earth guy but quite the daredevil, which ended up killing him.  He died in a plane crash on April 15th, 1957 at the age of 39.

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Pedro Infante

In the movies he often played a drinker, but in real life he didn’t drink.  So I made one of his favourite non-alcoholic drinks, Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus water).

Jamaica water

Recipe:

  • 1/2 cup dried Jamaica (Hibiscus) flowers
  • 2 quarts of water
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Instructions:  On medium heat bring to a boil.  Turn down low and let simmer for 15 minutes.  Let cool and strain to remove the flowers.  This recipe is a concentrate so you will need to add water according to your taste.  You may also want to add extra sugar if it is too tart.

I chose this drink because it is light and refreshing.  It is a great non-alcoholic summer party drink.  Having said that, I chose to add ice and a shot of vodka and it made a perfect cocktail.

Frijoles de Olla (Pot of Beans)

(I’m afraid we forgot to take a photo of this dish too (see above mention of vodka).  Please picture a pot of delicious black beans).

  • 1 can of black beans, liquid and all
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onion
  • 1 tbsp epazote (Mexican herb), optional
  • 1 cup water

In a medium sized pot, saute the onions and garlic in oil till soft.  Add the beans, then simmer and mash with a potato masher.  Cook down to resemble a thick soup – approximately 20 minutes.

I had a blast throwing together our Cowboy Day feast.  Nothing better than a theme to spice up a barbecue.  I especially loved the recipes my sister chose to make.  My favourite was the coleslaw – it went perfect with our barbecued ribs.

Back to Kitt …

Well our Cook-Along was a great success and everyone really enjoyed themselves.  We also had a lot of fun just planning our dishes and working together in the kitchen.   We sure laughed and laughed.

We’d like to thank Greg for hosting this terrific event – we’re already looking forward to doing it again next year!

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The Strange Beauty of Ferry Signs

Today is, for me, that most wonderful of days – the first day of vacation.  Of course, every day of a vacation is great, but none is sweeter than the first because, you know, it’s all ahead of you.  Likewise, the last day of vacation is generally the worst because you get that gross “Sunday afternoon and it’s raining and you have to go to school in the morning feeling” – or at least I do.  … But let us not think of that now.

Anyhow, this vacation is all about the women in my family spending time together – something that has become an annual tradition.  It’s not so much about where we go but that we go together and drink an awful lot.

This year we will be staying on Wolfe Island, one of the Thousand Islands, just across from Kingston.  As you might imagine, there’s a bit of water between the two and so taking a ferry is required.  (Or rather, it is if you haven’t your own boat or aren’t keen on swimming with luggage.)  And truly, taking the ferry is one of the real treats in visiting the island.  Not only is it fast, free and offers marvelous views but it also features the greatest collection of safety signage I’ve ever come across.  I mean, these things look like they were designed by Saul Bass:

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I love that the flames look like they’re applauding the extinguisher. As for the groovy snowsuit and Mr. EEBD, while I don’t really know what they want me to do with them, I do know that if you see them, nothing good is happening.

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This would appear to be kind of a repeat of the extinguisher sign above, but it’s actually imparting something new – a hose is another good way to fight fire.

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I can’t say I’ve ever seen a boat like this but I like it – it’s looks like a super buoyant tent.

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This one is all to do with ‘mustering’ but for me somehow always cues the Henry Mancini theme for Charade.

I imagine that these lovely graphics aren’t unique to the Wolfe Island ferry, but I haven’t yet come across the same grouping anywhere else.  It feels almost like it’s been curated to be as charming as possible.  And why not?   If you’re looking to impart information, something that interests the eye is definitely the way to go.

Cowboy Day Cook-Along!

In honour of National Day of the Cowboy, we here at the K-Double-T Ranch held our own Cook-Along dinner party on Saturday – and boy, did we eat up a storm!   The menu was entirely composed of recipes from Greg Swenson’s marvelous Recipes for Rebels: In the Kitchen with James Dean cookbook.   The only hitch in our plans was that it became a party of two, as some plans had to be changed last minute.  But that was fine by us, because we have healthy appetites and don’t often leave leftovers.  So without further ado, here’s how our cook-along dinner unfolded …

THE GRUB-STAKERS:

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Rustlin’ Ryan rustles up a cocktail

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Kornball Kitt dug out her best red ribbons for the occasion

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Keepin’ an eye on matters was this ol’ fella

THE COCKTAILS:
I made the Giant cocktail for Ryan as he likes sweet drinks and I had the Bull Shot because, frankly, I like trying oddball things.  Ryan loved his cocktail and, I have to say, the taste I had of it was yummy. (Though the fact that I now have a can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup in the house may prove dangerous.)

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I used the Texas shot glass on the left to measure out my drink – and the one on the right for Rustlin’ Ryan’s.

… Okay, that was a lie.  The one on the left in this pic is the one I actually used:

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Liz Taylor and Rock Hudson’s Giant cocktail (Vodka, Kahlua, Chocolate Syrup):

Giant

Our ranch is so fancy, we use a mason jar for our cocktail shakin’.

Musso and Frank Grill’s beefilicious Bull Shot cocktail (Vodka, Beef Consomme, Worcestershire sauce):

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Don’t be fooled by that Tequila bottle in the background – this novel cocktail was made with a slug of vodka.

As for the Bull Shot, it was actually pretty good!   It was only towards the end of the drink that I thought “I think I’ve had enough consomme to last me a bit.”  My one note:  I think if I make it again in the future, I will rim the glass with the celery salt rather than mix it right into the drink.  It might help distribute the salt more evenly.

salvador

After her Bull Shot cocktail, Kornball Kitt was emboldened to vamp with a blade of grass – alas, the overall effect is more like a Salvador Dali moustache.

THE APPETIZER:
I made Eddie Albert’s Guacamole and very sadly it was the one failure of the night – but through no fault of the recipe.  I was cursed from the start by my avocados.  I’d bought some several days beforehand to be sure they’d ripen in time.  Now, I don’t know what alien planet these avocados were from but they never got soft!  The mere act of separating the halves caused the firm flesh to pull the skin off the pit inside – can you believe that?  That’s how hard they were.  Mashing them with a fork was impossible,  so instead I used my food processor.  They refused to yield even then and, rather than being creamed, they broke up into hard, tiny pellets.  Oh the shame…  In the end, what I had bore more semblance to a salsa than a guacamole.  
 
THE MAIN EVENT:
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For the side, I made L. Q. JOnes’ Cowboy Corn and boy, was it incredible!  The bacon fat I used was from Maple Smoked Bacon and I think it added an extra depth to the sweetness.  In a flash, Ryan ate two thirds of the entire bowl.
 
Chill Wills’ Chili was the main and I can’t say enough good things about it.  This one impressed us both.  We couldn’t get over how tender the beef was.  I don’t believe I’ve ever succeeded in cooking such beautiful, melt-in-your-mouth beef before. 
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Chill Wills’ Chili in the skillet.  Ain’t it purty?

As I was bringing out some plates before dinner, I caught Ryan rustlin’ a piece of it (hence his nickname) and he stopped, dead in his tracks, not even bothering to look guilty and said “Oh my god, that’s so tender.”  If you’ll notice, in the main photo of all the dishes, the amount of beef looks rather scant.  That’s because he was sneaking pieces while I was prepping.  Sigh…

Anyhow, because the recipe was so simple and bare bones, I was concerned it wouldn’t be much of meal on its own.  As pointed out in Greg’s recipe note, it’s really just stewed meat – so I decided to serve it on warm corn tortillas.  We garnished the little tacos with jalapeno cheddar, diced onions and cilantro.  I even managed to find a use for my sad (but still tasty) guacamole by using it as a salsa on them.  Incredible.  I will definitely be making this again very soon and very often.
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All in all, the dinner was a great success!   My only wish is that I’d had a larger gang to share it with.  Though, come to think of it, we managed to polish it all off ourselves – so I don’t know what I’d have fed anybody else.