Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pioneer Woman Celebrates A Good Kid’s Birthday Plus My Favorite Ina Game

Pioneer Woman with Ree Drummond 

There were lots of repeats on the Food Network this weekend and I had no intention of watching Pioneer Woman. But what could I do when there was so much to say after I watched it for just a minute?

It was daughter Alex’s 15 birthday and “after a morning of ranch work with the family”, Ree was making her Great Granny’s prune cake for the birthday. Interesting choice. I do love prunes with chicken so why not in a cake? But for a 15 year old?

The kids and dad are working hard “shipping cattle”. Let’s not think too hard about that. Maybe they’re being shipped from one bucolic field to another. And, after all, if we’re going to eat meat, we shouldn’t look away from how it gets to our plates. (Although, of course, we can support healthier more humane ways of that happening…if there is such a thing.)

But hold on for a sec. Let’s consider this ranch scene for a moment. One of my favorite games is putting Ina in imaginary settings where she would be ever so out of place. 

Let’s imagine Ina and Jeffrey herding cattle out yonder in Oklahoma…in their twin BMW’s. Would they have the tops down? And would Ina have a jaunty bandanna tied around her neck? She would probably make the best of it by making lots of friends and mixing up a pitcher of lemon drops to serve to the ranch hands. “How easy is that?” (OH! Ree’s ranch hands are teens and younger…Never mind.) Would Jeffrey bring his work with him or would he help Lance barbecue a side of beef for dinner?

And what would Ree do if she found herself at Ina’s? Would she wander around the Contessa’s spread, thinking how many cattle could live out in back forty? She’d probably gaze at Ina’s pantry with the longing of someone who has to drive 45 minutes to buy a bottle of vanilla.

Anyhoo, back to earth. I don’t want to be difficult, but just in the initial few seconds of Ree’s first recipe, she’s given me plenty of things to harangue her for comment on.

PW is taking her flour from a bag with the edges folded down. That’s a smart way to avoid catching the cup of the rim of the bag, but it’s a dumb way to store flour. Get yourself a large plastic container or wide-mouthed jar that can hold a bag of flour. Do the same with the sugar. You’ll save the equivalent of 4000 woman or man hours over the course of your life by not having to fiddle around with a measuring cup in a bag of flour - edges folded down or not. (I admit that time estimate may be just a bit off…depending on how much baking you do.)

Next problem. Ree adds a teaspoon of nutmeg to the cake batter. It looks like she’s gotten it from a bottle. It could never taste as fresh as newly ground. There’s no reason not to have a few nutmeg berries (they're actually called "seeds") in the cupboard. They honestly last FOREVER. Really. Plus most recipes don’t call for that much, so it’s a cinch to grate a small amount. Unless you’re making eggnog in bathtub-sized batches, grate fresh nutmeg every time you use it.

Ree does take the time to sift her flour, spices and leavening. Honestly, I mostly just stir them up (if they’re lucky), but I also don’t compress my flour as I take it from the container.

For the wet ingredients, Ree mixes sugar (it’s not a wet ingredient, but never mind. I’m just happy she’s taken it from a big jar…Yay!) with 3 eggs, a big teaspoon of vanilla and a cup of canola oil. WHY doesn’t she use safflower oil? You know have I thing about canola oil, plus I despise its taste.  (You could also substitute some applesauce for the oil, if you wanted to lighten it up.) She mixes the batter with a little whisk. I would definitely use a fork.

BTW, if you always keep the fork in contact with the bottom of the bowl as you’re beating, it will NEVER splash over the sides.

The wet ingredients get mixed into the dry ones and then Ree stirs in a cup of buttermilk and adds the prunes. She readied the prunes by cooking them in water until soft for about 8 minutes and then draining and mashing them. Frankly, wouldn’t even chopped up prunes be good?

The batter goes into a well-buttered 9 by 13 glass dish. For some reason, Ree feels she has to justify the size of dish she’s using. She says others have made the cake too thick or too thin and this one will work just fine. Hmm. We’ll see about that. It does look kind of flat before baking. Maybe she SHOULD have used a different pan. It bakes at 300°F. for 35 to 40 minutes. That’s low. Definitely make sure your oven is preheated if you’re using such a low temperature. Ree says. “Grandma Iny was adamant. Do NOT overbake this cake,” (which would be hard at that low a heat anyway…)

I HATE baking stuff at 300°, except meringues, which might be baked even lower. I find that cakes and brownies take FOREVER and they never really cook in the middle.

Ree moves on to Iny’s icing. She stirs together a cup of sugar and a cup of buttermilk in a medium saucepan. Then she adds butter, baking soda and just a bit of corn syrup and vanilla. I don’t approve of adding the vanilla at this point. Add it after the sauce or icing has come off the stove.

Ree says to use a candy thermometer to check the temperature because she doesn’t want it to go as far as the caramel stage. She “stops the cooking process before it gets to the soft ball stage”. She doesn’t tell us what temperature that is, but I will. 235°F. is the beginning of the soft ball stage, so take the sugar mixture off the heat right then or JUST below that. Remember it keeps cooking after it’s removed from the heat.

The icing looks really foamy, which is from the baking soda. That will make a softer mixture which will be easier to pour.

Ree takes the cake out of the oven. It does look really thin. The kids and dad come home. Ree says to pour the icing over the cake right when it comes out of the oven. (The only reason I can see to have a cake that thin, is that there’s more real estate to benefit from that yummy icing.)

Ree puts one candle in and lets Alex blow out the candle. She cuts the birthday girl a piece of cake and serves it on a pretty yellow plate. No garnish? Not even a berry or two? Eh! I used to give my kids a beautiful breakfast in bed for their birthdays. (Don’t be that impressed. I made THEM do the same for me.)

Next we see Alex with her friends opening birthday presents. She IS a sweet girl and I like how she says she loves everything with lots of thank-you’s. That’s good training and it DOES take a lot of that. (Before my kids’ birthday parties, I used to practice situations of what to do if the birthday kid hated something or if he or she got duplicates. So we had a secret signal and whenever I put anything on top of the mantel - so it would stay pristine and unopened - that was their sign that we’d exchange it for something else AFTER the party. BUT they had to be gracious in that moment.)

There are a few other things that I appreciated that Ree DID do. She proofed her yeast before mixing up her focaccia dough. Actually, it was good that she MADE focaccia dough in the first place. I do wish, though, that she had thrown some whole wheat flour in there.

Oh, I spoke too fast. She’s losing me again. After the dough is mixed and risen, she says, “I LOVE sticky dough.” NOW we know she’s a poser. Sticky dough is necessary sometimes, but does anybody really LOVE it? It’s a big pain.

Ree kneads half the dough with fresh chopped rosemary. (The other half is being put away for another time.) She drizzles olive oil on a baking sheet and put the dough on top. She drizzles over a bit more olive oil, covers it and lets it rise for another hour.

I also like that she’s making a real ranch dressing with lots of fresh herbs. 

She chops chives, parsley, basil and oregano. C’mon Pioneer Woman disparagers, THIS is a perfectly good recipe. No tricks or flourishes, probably just like your grandmother made (if she had ever heard of ranch dressing.)

Actually, it may be a little gloppy. Mayo, sour cream and buttermilk with herbs, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Now I can’t decide what I think. Is it garbage or homemade goodness? (…which I know can be the same thing.) Basically, they’re eating white bread (with rosemary and lots of olive oil) with a salad doused in mayonnaise. Maybe that isn’t so great.

Well, these kids get an amazing amount of exercise, so I guess they can have any salad dressing they want.

Ree finishes the focaccia by putting fingerprints all over the top, adding more olive oil plus salt. She bakes it at 400°F. for 30 to 40 minutes.

Ree is making chopped salad because she and Alex had it in New York where it was chopped up tableside. So PW is pulling together lots of ingredients for the girls to have what they want. The girls pick their fixin's and PW chops them up with two knives on a big cutting board and then dresses the salad with the ranch dressing. Not a bad idea, but the only protein is hard boiled eggs. And there are so many other healthy things she could have added -shredded red cabbage, snow peas, edamame. And, seriously, why couldn’t she have added some seared chicken breasts and/or grilled shrimp? AND where is the bacon??? Maybe Alex doesn’t eat meat? Good luck to her on the ranch.

Dessert is weird…for 15 year olds. Ree serves up pound cake in flower pots with chopped up Oreos as dirt. Remember the dessert that Friday’s (I think) used to have (maybe still does?) on their kid’s menu? It was called Cup O’ Dirt and it had gummy worms and chopped up Oreos over pudding. 

Ree starts with a clay flower pot (she didn’t even say it should be clean OR new…ew) She puts some disks of bought pound cake on the bottom that she had cut out with a cookie cutter.

Next Ree sticks a straw the height of the flower pot into the middle of the cake. She spoons in softened ice cream right up to the top of the pot and freezes them. Just before serving, Ree puts gummy worms on the top and covers them up with ground-up Oreos. A very pretty Gerber daisy gets stuck into each straw as a final flourish, and, voila, a dessert fit for…an eight year old.


But you know what? I’m not going to give her a hard time, because what mother doesn’t want to keep her kid young forever? For all I know, my son is still eating Cups O’ Dirt, but he probably wouldn’t want it publicized all over the place. So let’s pretend for Alex’s sake that dessert was a bit less jejune.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I think PW would be quite at home at Ina's. The country girl thing is just a made up persona. She grew up in a wealthy suburb on a golf course,took ballet lessons, vacationed at the Jersey Shore in the summer, and made frequent theater trips to NY (this is all in her blogs and books). I think she would be happy for a day with no cows.

Prune cake? Yuck! I'd protest till the cows came home if that were my birthday cake. I recognize it and the flowerpot thing from the days when I used to read her blog. She's bringing up some blasts from the past. Maybe that's why she is serving kids' food to a teen. She just needs an excuse to bring up those recipes?

Sue said...

You're right, Rach,
I don't know why, but I just decide to suspend disbelief and comment only on (mostly on) what PW does in the kitchen. There's enough to go around in that category.

Interesting about her recycled recipes... But if folks were pilloried for that, I'd have been brought into custody ages ago for rehashing Chicken Marbella and Ina's Orzo with Roasted Vegetables more times than I can count (including last weekend).

The prune cake (THAT prune cake) was kind of an odd choice. There are so many other things one could make for a festive breakfast. Being served a flat brown piece of cake with prunes just doesn't say PARTAY to me.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I have to give PW a pass! First on the wet ingredients bit, since I have seen sugar listed as a wet ingredient in baking books. And maybe the prune cake is a family thing that they all like for sentimental reasons. (Of course, this being PW it would be uncharacteristically reserved of her not to say so a dozen times.) The flower pot thing is awful, though.

Sue said...

Hey Tom,
I hear you about the sugar.

And I don't have a problem in principle with a prune cake. I have a problem with Ree giving her darling daughter this sad looking old lady cake for her birthday breakfast. She could have jazzed it up somewhat, couldn't she?

Abandoned By Wolves said...

As always, my own kitchen techniques are improved quite a bit when I read your critiques of how a supposed food celebrity superstar gets sloppy in the kitchen. Keep up the great work!

Sue said...

You are too kind. I think many folks pick up Ree's "eccentricities" in the kitchen. Maybe they're just too nice to comment on them. Having said that, I do try to limit my remarks to her cooking (mostly).

Sheila said...

How fun would a flower dirt pot dessert be for my son's 3rd birthday party?

Sue said...

Ummm, Sheila,
Perhaps think twice about that. Don't you think a 3 year old's instinct will be to turn the flower pot upside down and have all the "dirt" go everywhere?

I still remember what a bad idea it was to have do-it-yourself sundaes and I think my son was A LOT older, like 6 or 7. I had different sauces, gummy worms, m&m's, sprinkles, and whatever else you can think of. The little monsters, I mean kids, put EVERYTHING in their ice cream, stirred it up to be like soup and then thought it looked so gross that they didn't want to eat it. Oy! Maybe the flower pot IS a better idea. But frankly, I don't think they make flower pots to be food-safe, so be careful.

AND have a great time! Little kids are the greatest, even if they don't know how to eat ice cream.

john henry said...

I like Alex’s 15th birthday party theme. Food is very important to increase excitement of Birthday parties
but I would prefer frozen items like: ice-cream, fruit salad etc.