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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.

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17 comments on “Review: The Pioneer Woman Cooks

  1. Great job on a balanced review. I am impressed that you are able to recognize the merits of this book for the right audience, and who that audience would be, even though it is not to your taste. If this book helps one person to cook more at home then I think it is wonderful! It is not what I personally am looking for ina cookbook but I think many folks will love it.

    -Robin

  2. Great review. I actually do follow PW's site, but I also tend to skim right over all those step-by-step photos. There are just too many of them. I enjoy her writing style and her ranching stories, but I'm not sure if I'd buy the book or not. Thanks for such an impartial review.

    1. I haven’t tried any yet, but I think I’m pretty good at spotting faulty recipes these days… I have very little doubt that hers are pretty spot on.

      I have a few bookmarked though… I usually try to make at least one recipe from each book I review.

      1. I don't think its a real "review" of the cookbook if you haven't tried ANY of the recipes. I don't think that's fair to the author.

  3. You pretty much summed up my thoughts. I am very impressed with what she has created from her blog. She’s become an institution, everyone knows her. She’s in print media, television, everywhere. Ree has done very well.

    Just the same, I looked at her blog last year and never looked at it again. It just wasn’t for me. Based on your review, I might pick up a copy for a coworker who is trying to learn to cook. Thanks for the review.

  4. I love her! Maybe it’s because I am a midwest girl, I don’t know. Maybe because she is a Mom and I am a Mom so I can relate.

    I do follow her site from time to time.

    Love Paual Deen. LOL I think she is a hoot.

  5. Nice review. I’ve yet to pick up a copy for myself, it’s ok since I read the website daily. I, being a city girl, never learned to cook. I tried my hand at it in college, but quesadillas and grill cheese was much quicker than chilaquiles or a whole roasted chicken. Now that I’m in the working work (or well have been for the past few years) I’ve tried my hand at cooking, with top priority to baking. Both always made me nervous. I wondered: what should it look like, what utensil do I use to “mix”, then I came across PW a year ago and that was it. My nervousness decapitated with all the step-by-step pictures she puts on there. It makes it easy to cook because I feel like (super cheese ball coming) she’s here helping out. And to give you an example, last might my roommate and I (who is also terrified of cooking) hooked up her lap top in the kitchen and made PW’s “Life by Chocolate” cupcakes for our neighbors (we’re new to the neighborhood), then her Cajun Pasta Chicken for dinner. I’ve made countless of her recipes (mainly the desserts) but after a year of going to her website, picking a dish and going for it…I finally feel confident enough to improvise on my own dinner and desserts. Plus, I just love her writing and what city girl wouldn’t love the story “Black Heels to Tractor Wheels”?

  6. um so yeah…google spelling…not so good:
    working *world
    *decipitated, not decapitated. but maybe there is no word for “decipitate.”
    I’ll stick to cooking (and re-re-re-reading my entries.)

  7. For the most part, I agree with your thoughts on PW. I personally don’t feel I have all that much to learn from her recipes, but man do I have respect for what she’s done with her website! Do you realize her website is not just food, that there are five additional sections to it, including a community where people can submit their own recipes? I just can’t imagine how she has the time! It’s pretty amazing, and you have to give her props for that.

    Also, even if I don’t really use her recipes, I find her posts are usually a lot of fun to read. She’s funny–at least, I think so. I agree that there are just too many pictures, but if you can manage to pick through those and find the words, they’re worth a look to brighten your day!

    I haven’t looked at her book yet, but I’d be interested in skimming through it, just to see what it’s like. Thanks for drawing my attention to it!

    1. All the time to cook, write, blog and take pics of her cooking and kids, etc. She says she home schools her kids. Where does she find the time. What is the quality?

  8. I love Ree’s website and have read her online romance story, Wow is all I can say about that. Her recipes are always great and feed an army.Your recipes are always much more correct for a smaller family to try.

  9. I think she has a very unique POV. A talented POV even, however…. and get ready to hate me more than you already do! You’ve heard of “ChickFlicks” this is the cookbook version. Which (of course) means it’s genius bit of publishing… (if you’re a “chick”). GREG

  10. I have lots of respect for your ability to pan a book gently. But don't you just feel like coming out and being an asshole about it sometimes? At least I do. I guess that's why I'll never be a book reviewer.

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