|Photo: Andrews McMeel.|
By Grady Spears with June Naylor
Photos by David Manning
Andrews McMeel Universal -- 2009
Buy it on Amazon
Saddle up, hit the trail and light that campfire. In "Cooking the Cowboy Way," Grady Spears lassos hearty recipes from cowboy cooks and ranchers who know what cow folks really want to eat after a long day on the ranch. (And it's not ceviche, as "Top Chef Vegas" contestants quickly learned).
Spears is a native Texan who owns Grady's Restaurant in Fort Worth -- a true cowboy-turned-chef known for creating authentic frontier food and bringing the spirit of the cowboy to the masses.
Takeaway tips: Cowboy fare has a no-frills reputation. This book embraces the honest food of that rustic lifestyle, but it's not all pork 'n' beans and cornbread. The book contains a recipe for kumquat pie, blackened grouper, roasted oysters and even crème brûlée. There is also a glossary in the back -- aptly named the "Cowboy's Chuck Box" -- that defines unfamiliar terms, dishes and ingredients like pan de campo and cocinero, which are fixtures in the cowboy-cooking philosophy. In addition to a collection of campfire-friendly recipes and tips, Spears' also shares a rare, realistic glimpse at the often-glamorized American cowboy with his half-narrative travelogue, half-cookbook.
Quality of pictures: Not every recipe has a photograph, but those that do are usually close-up comfort-food pics. The true photography stars are the landscape shots of the people, places and livestock Spears encountered on his recipe-collecting journey -- these offer an authentic portrayal of cowboys, their horses and the ranching culture.
We tested: Candied Bacon with Goat Cheese and Baked Acorn Squash with Pistachios
While a little worried that we would have to go to Central Park, cast-iron skillet in tow, and light up a fire, we soon learned the recipes have been adapted for standard kitchens. We couldn't review a cowboy cookbook without frying up some thick-cut slab bacon. For all those who "heart" bacon, the candied bacon is an easy recipe for a delicious twist on the beloved breakfast side. A dollop of goat cheese on the crisp, sweet glazed bacon added a nice tang.
The acorn squash dish, a rare vegetarian find in cowboy cooking, had a delightful sweet-savory flavor profile. Winter squash are rather painful to peel and slice; luckily, these are simply halved and baked, then topped with a maple-butter glaze. Toasted pistachios are added at the end for a nice, nutty finish. It may sound funky and your guests may be skeptical, but it'll warrant a "yee-haw!" from even doubting diners.
Worth the investment: Spears went all over the country, with a logical and heavy focus on the Lone Star state, to pull together his collection of nearly 100 down-home recipes of the Old West. Whether a city slicker, rodeo sweetheart or true cattle hand, these recipes and stories are sure to transport you back to the simpler cowboy way of life. If you've ever had the strange urge to grab a big iron triangle and ring in the dinner crowd, this one's for you.