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

Cowboy spread

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!