Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl

This may be a first for the Nonfiction Book Club blog, but I’m throwing caution to the compost—and perhaps tossing humiliation into the cinnamon buns—but I’m doing it. I’m reviewing a cookbook.

Now, in my opinion, this particular book is no ordinary cookbook. You know there are books out there masquerading as cookbooks but really are not. They’re often a forum for a writer to go beyond the cooking experience; to experiment and surmise about wider issues. Authors like Michael Pollan, Jen Lin-Liu and Julie Powell are ones that come to mind, who have looked at the social implications of food, social history and the psychology of cooking.

Alright, this book doesn’t fit into those categories, either.  What I like about this book is that it makes me laugh. And it makes me want to eat. And bake and cook. All of those things I often like to do, but this one also makes me want to invite author Ree Drummond over to hang out at the same time.

Drummond is a very funny albeit humble writer. Her book catches you charmingly off-guard right from the get-go, with her descriptions of favourite ingredients and cooking apparatuses:

“Butter. I’m not afraid to use it. It’s flavourful, versatile and a necessary component in most of my recipes.”

“Iron Skillet. If properly seasoned an iron skillet will become not only your best friend in the kitchen but also your uncle, cousin, grandmother and brother. Iron skillets get nice and hot, perfect for searing a juicy rib-eye steak.”

“Commercial baking sheets. My family considered an intervention this year because I collect these 18 X 12-inch babies the way some women collect Marie Osmond dolls. They’re the perfect size for my Chocolate Sheet Cake and hold more cookies than your average cookie sheet.”

You want to just keep reading, which is a wonderful twist on a “collection of recipes, instructions and information about the preparation and serving of foods.” (Definition from ) Most cookbooks are an essential reference book, used only when you need it and only for particular items of interest: I need to find how many cups of sugar to put into strawberry freezer jam; how do I know when the cream sauce is beyond hope; how do I tell when the brownie is done? How many cookbooks have you read that you just want to keep reading for pure enjoyment?

It isn’t just the entertaining writing style that makes you want to turn the pages. Drummond photographs each step of the cooking process, so it is visually wonderful, too. Many of these step-by-steps are punctuated by groupings of witticisms that could only have been inspired by an accompanying glass of wine:

“2. Place the hot potatoes on a cutting board and dice them into 1-inch-ish pieces. Inch-ish. Say that five times fast. Just for kicks. My goal in life is to tack ‘ish’ onto as many words as possible. Possible-ish.
3. Heat a skillet over medium low to medium heat. Next put a little vegetable oil in the pan. A tablespoon is good.
4. Scrape the pan you used this morning to make bacon. You made all the bacon this morning… right?
5. Then, because I usually straddle the fence between ridiculousness and utter foolishness, I add a tablespoon of bacon fat to the skillet. ‘Cause it tastes good, that’s why.
6. Go ahead and make peace with yourself then add the onion.”

But it was her preamble on the cinnamon buns—sorry; rolls--that killed me:

“If you begin making these for your friends and family for the holidays, I promise you this: you’ll become famous. And, on a less positive note, people will forget everything else you’ve ever accomplished in your life. From that moment on, you’ll be known—and loved—only for your cinnamon rolls. But don’t worry! You’ll get used to it.”

With the pressure of doom upon you, how could you not want to try making them, let alone eating them? Better yet, find some unwitting baker-friend to make them, so you escape the fate but you enjoy the food! 

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