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Book Reviews

Review: The Pioneer Woman Cooks

by Nick

Every other weekend, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it’s incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.

There was once a city girl who embarked on a move to Chicago and made a pit stop in Oklahoma, her home town. There she met a Wrangler-clad dude and fell head over heels. Many years, a few children, millions of readers, and one incredible website later, “The Pioneer Woman Cooks” was born.

I’ll be quite honest, I’ve never really gotten into her site, but I’m awed by her Internet empire. She has an incredibly loyal following. I mean, her most recent post (granted she was giving away some Le Creuset gear) had 30K comments. Not hits. Comments. Any blogger will agree that that is literally insane.

Her story about a city girl moving out to farm land is cute and she takes damn good photos and writes really delicious recipes. So while I’m not a regular reader of hers, I was excited to get my hands on her book to check out how she looks in a printed medium.

From City Girl to Ranch Hand

Ree’s is a really endearing story. As a casual reader, it appears as if she walked into a romantic comedy and just decided that that life would work just fine for her. And who can blame her really? I’m pretty sure I would be a horrible ranch hand, but I’d probably jump at the opportunity to re-enact the plot of City Slickers.

Anyway, the first part of the book is devoted to her story. How and why she made the transition from city to country and also how, in the process, she built one of the most popular websites around. She spends a few pages talking about her family, her philosophy behind cooking, and also lists a few kind of eccentric ingredients that she considers essential (Out of the three foods she mentions seasoned salt is one of them. Seasoned salt? Really? Over say… pepper or olive oil?)

On Making the Book

One thing that I immediately loved about this book is that you can tell that Ree did everything. I think she and I may have slightly different views on what constitutes awesome clip art, but you gotta respect someone who takes all their own photos and compiles everything on their own. That’s really cool. As she says:

“I didn’t have a staff of assistants to help me; I took all my own photos for this book, and used nothing but the natural light in my kitchen. I had friends do the illustrations, and used clip art I’ve collected through the years. It’s nothing fancy. But it comes straight from my heart. Thank you for allowing me to share my world with you.”

I’m pretty sure she can get that staff of assistants now if she wants…

Speaking of Photos…

I’ll be completely honest. One of the reasons I don’t regularly read her site is not because the photos aren’t excellent (they are some of the best on the Interwebs), but because there are so many of them. May God help you if you wanted to read The Pioneer Woman over dial-up. One of her most recent recipes had 45 photos which is pretty par for the course. It’s kind of overwhelming to me.

I mention this because I knew this when I got the book and I was curious how that style would translate in print. Turns out it actually translates in a very interesting and unique way. Obviously, each recipe can’t have 45 photos or she’d only be able to have 10 recipes in the book.

Instead she has about a photo per step in each recipe. It makes the recipes incredibly easy to follow and carries over some of her step-by-step (but not frame by frame) methodology on her site. Some recipes have 6 photos and some have 12 or maybe even a few more, but they flow nicely and the pages are laid out well.

I thought it was pretty cool actually.

Pioneer Food

Ok. So let’s talk recipes. The book is laid out in meals of the day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a few bonus chapters thrown in for sweets, appetizers, and some other interesting meals. There’s 67 recipes in all and I’m pretty sure that most of them are new to the book, but some of them are favorites from her site which she acknowledges.

These are serious farm recipes. They are made to be not too much work to make, very filling, and very tasty. You won’t find any light ranch dressing arugula city salads. There’s iceberg wedges with real buttermilk ranch dressing. There’s jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon. There’s fried chicken and chicken fried steak.

There’s some recipes that I’m not really sure I would’ve thought to put in cookbook form like egg-in-a-hole (Take slice of bread, cut hole in it, butter it, fry it, crack an egg in the middle, flip it). But then there are some that are completely original. She makes a pineapple upside-down cake in a cast iron skillet that looks pretty out of this world.

But mostly, I would classify her style and recipes as solidly American. I’m talking heartland America. Kind of like Paula Dean except slightly healthier and a lot funnier. I don’t classify it like that to be insulting, I’m just not really sure how else to categorize it. There’s some exceptions like lasagna and clam linguine, but even those are pretty American these days.

Who is this book for?

Well, for starters I would say don’t buy this book if you’re searching for low-fat recipes. These recipes contain real butter, real oil, and other incredibly delicious things.

But more importantly, I’d give this book a serious thought if you are trying to learn to cook. I say that because even after reading some “Learn How to Cook” cookbooks, this has got to be the most straightforward way to teach recipes I’ve ever seen. If you literally have no idea how to make meatloaf, I have no doubt you could follow this recipe and succeed. The writing is clear and the photos are very helpful.

Do I read her website everyday? Not so much. Do I agree with her choices of clip art? Nahhh. Do I think I could hold my own in a fried chicken battle again her? Probably. Do I think that a huge amount of people in America could learn a lot from this book and be entertained while reading it? Definitely.