The Pioneer Woman Cookbook Challenge

FOODIE : Shame Free Food Resolutions

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know that we live on a little urban farmette in the heart of Boise, where we raise chickens, have a garden, and cook from scratch. My husband, Dr. Brown, is not only a chef extraordinaire, but grew up tending to a huge backyard garden. He taught me to love things like curry and was really the first one to teach me to cook complicated meals from scratch when we first met 18 years ago. That, combined with my indoctrination into radical homemaking seven years ago, has resulted in a love of gardening, growing, and spending time making good food for those I love. I also prescribe to the idea of intuitive eating - eating what I want when I crave it and not assigning any sort of moral value to food. I'm also a sucker for taking on big challenges.
My New Year's Resolution for 2015 was to bring back an old favorite. In 2010, I made the pledge to cook every single recipe in the Pioneer Woman's brand new, and first, cookbook, a la Julie & Julia. I've been a fan of Ree Drummond since way back in her beginning blogging days, and now she's a full-fledged celebrity chef. Six years ago I was super successful in making all fifty-something recipes in her book and it was a treasure and a treat. Many of those recipes are now mainstays in our culinary repertoire. I'm a bit of a Food Network Fangirl (see: the Food Network Cookoff I've hosted every year for the past six years). I'm also a bit of a cookbook hoarder. Combine the two and you've got a kitchen revolution in the making.

For 2015, I decided to take on the challenge of making every single recipe in one of my newer cookbooks. I lobbied for Smitten Kitchen, or maybe Paula Deen's classic, but Dr. Brown won me over with his profound love of PW, so I just completed making all the recipes in her second cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier (2012).

 You guys, there are 109 recipes in this book. ONE. HUNDRED. AND. NINE.

But I did it. It came out to be about 2 recipes per week, which wasn't too difficult to keep up with. What I didn't do well on was the promise to continually blog about our favorites and nopes each month. I did it for a few months, then summer happened, then fame happened, and, well...while I continued to cook, I did not inform you all about it.
Ultimately, this cookbook was not as good as PW's first. There were a lot of recipes that we just thought were okay, not great. Admittedly, we're pretty picky with our rave recipe reviews, but still. Our favorites include the three prize winners I made for my annual Food Network Cookoff this year, Billie's Italian Cream Cake, her spicy Asian Hot Wings, and her Herb Crusted Roasted Pork Tenderloin with cornmeal cakes, roasted root vegetables, and preserves. Additionally, we just busted out the final recipes on New Year's Eve, making her homemade donuts for the very first time and OMGYOUGUYS. I highly recommend it if you haven't ever done so. So time intensive, but delicious.
A few weeks ago I read this great article by food blogger Lindsey Leahy titled "10 Food Resolutions that Don't Involve Shame."  Her ten ideas are so spot on and simple and things that we've done in our house for the past two decades. They've made our lives richer and eating more fun. Here are just a few, and the ways I've incorporated them into our home.

Eat locally.

Leahy writes about easing into local: Choose one item you love and frequently buy—maybe it’s milk, eggs, chocolate, honey, or coffee—and commit to buying a locally-produced option in the coming year. To make the experiment even more meaningful, resolve to learn more about the artisan or farmer whose food you’re buying and consider visiting his or her farm or shop. This is such a great idea. We love buying a few new vegetables that we don't grow ourselves, like corn, from the kids produce stand at the Boise Urban Garden School (where Arlo loves to smell the flowers in their Pollinator Garden). Trying out restaurants in your town who make burgers from locally sourced beef (like The Skyvue Grill here in Boise did before they shut down) is another way to support local.

Eat seasonally.
One of the new garden spaces at the Boise Urban Garden School last spring when they were just planting baby tomatoes and herbs.
If you eat with the seasons, your food is going to taste so much better, especially if you're eating vegetables. Tomatoes in the heat of the summer in Idaho are divine, and so much better than the tasteless ones you might buy in the winter at Winco Foods that have been sitting on a truck for weeks making their way up from Southern California. In fact, I hate those so much that we don't eat tomatoes in the winter, with the exception of the ones we roasted, canned, and froze from our own garden this past fall. There are many charts online to what food is grown/caught seasonally in your area which will help with this task. And if you live somewhere in a warm climate where fresh fruit and veggies are seasonal to you all year round DAMN YOU.
Learn to cook.
My Alice, rolling out the dough to make 48 Pioneer Woman Sweet Orange Rolls this past Thanksgiving. We recycled old aluminum pie pans and gifted several trays to family and friends.
You can start simple and easy, like with online recipes that your aunt posts on Facebook or with a simpler chef's cookbook (think Sandra Lee's semi-homemade). Or commit to making just three meals at home per week and planning them out ahead of time. We actually plan dinners for each night of the week on Sundays prior to grocery shopping and buy all necessary ingredients then. Lunches typically consist of leftovers from those dinners, which is perfect. Cooking is such an important lifelong skill and can engage your sense of smell and experimenting with flavor. And once you learn a few tricks and tips by trial and error, you'll be brave enough to take up bigger challenges. I promise, it's worth it.

I made Mel's Kitchen Cafe's amazing crustless pumpkin pie cupcakes for Thanksgiving dessert this year and seriously, I don't think I'll ever make traditional pumpkin pie again.

This summer I made simple syrup from seasonal ingredients from the garden - plums and rhubarb both gifted to me from my father-in-law's garden. It made the best ingredient for summer cocktail parties ever.

We love us some homemade ice cream in our house but the more time intensive egg based vanilla from PW proved to be so worth it.
Grow your own food.

While cooking your own food is so gratifying, so is growing it. It's amazing science, really. You drop a tiny seed into some dirt, poor lots of water on it, watch, pick, and eat. Seriously, you can't mess this up, people. And you don't even need a big patch of earth. If you've seen photos of our urban farmette, you'll know we grow in flower beds and large pots and have an herb garden Dr. Brown built on top of our chicken run. Seeds are also so cheap. What a satisfying way to eat, and such an important life skill to teach your kids, how to grow their own food. We don't grow that many crops, but sometimes like to try out something adventurous, like peanuts. Typically, we grow lots of things we love and/or that are really expensive to buy at the store, like tomatoes and herbs.
This year we experimented with pineapple sage, which smells divine, and, as always, grew tons of our own garlic. I entered both in the Western Idaho State Fair and won a third place ribbon for my garlic braid!
Share meals together.

Eating with other people is the best way to eat. Leahy has great easy suggestions in her article:

Commit to sharing at least two meals a week with family, friends, coworkers, or neighbors. Whether it’s a brown-bag office lunch or a three-course dinner party, enjoy your food in the company of people you love.

My favorites are our family dinners each night, which sometimes take place in extraordinary locations like picnic tables atop Idaho mountains outside our remote yurt on camping adventures.

Have a food adventure.

Leahy has some great ideas for a culinary bucket list for 2016:
  • Try a something you’ve never eaten before—a vegetable or fruit, a meat, or a cuisine.
  • Visit a local farm or bakery.
  • Learn a new cooking technique.
  • Learn mise-en-place.
  • Visit that restaurant you’ve heard everyone talking about.
  • Adopt Meatless Mondays for a month.

This suggestion is my absolute favorite of all. I love trying out new things, like mise en place, because it totally jives with my repressed Type A personality need for order in a chaotic life. I got to learn to make these amazing Italian cheese noodles called pasatelli from scratch with my friend Nikki over the holidays. You lovingly feed the dough through a meat grinder and lay them on a cloth tablecloth to dry. It's a day long process that involves lots of eating, drinking, visiting, and sharing stories of Italian grandmothers and traditions and love.

And it brings me to this - my 2016 New Year's Food Resolution to make all 100 recipes in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. This is much more intense than PW's so I'm a bit worried, I've made Deb's recipes before, as I've been following her blog for years, and they are always so worth the time and effort. Wish me luck.

In her article, Leahy writes:

We don’t know about you, but we’re tired of shame-based resolutions and the inevitable failure that comes with them. This year, we’re making changes that count—commitments to food as a joy-filled, whole-health promoting lifestyle that connects us to ourselves, our community, and our world.

I couldn't agree more. Food is not your enemy. It is something that can be enjoyable, nourishing, and filled with ritual and ceremony. I can't wait to share more food adventures with my children this year, take handmade meals to new mothers, and deliver cookies to friends for their birthdays. Food can be a way to show kindness and love to yourself and others.

And food can be so fun! Resolve to eat what you want in 2016.

FOODIE: The Pioneer Woman Cookbook Challenge | March & April

I know I'd hoped to write monthly updates about my 2015 New Year Challenge of making all 109 recipes in the Pioneer Woman's cookbook, but the spring just slipped away from me. Really, though, there was too much other stuff going on. I did, however, continue cooking and baking and making as planned. So here's our favorites and not so favorites from the past couple of months. Well, April and May at least. I know, I'm so behind. But rest assured I'm still cooking up a storm, just not taking the time to blog about it as regularly (read: I've now boarded the toddler crazy train + summer).

Links to the recipes via her website are provided if available.


First, the NAWS.

Eggs Florentine: No recipe, except it's exactly like the Eggs Benedict one below but wilted spinach in place of the Canadian bacon. Ugh. I hated it. Plus, leftover hollandaise sauce is not good, at least we didn't think so.

Chicken Parmesan: I thought we'd love this basic recipe, but we didn't. Like, at all.

Fancy Mac and Cheese: PW says this is one of her all-time favorite recipes and so I thought for certain it would be mine, too, but no go. It has several kinds of fancy cheese and bacon in it and STILL. Not that great. Arlo loves it, though. But that baby eats anything and everything and a lot of it.

Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce: Another ugh. Just okay. I also thought we'd love this simple dish, but no.

Quesadillas de Camarones: Shrimp quesadillas that I thought the kids would like due to their extreme love of shrimp, but nope. We thought them just okay, but we're looking for really good here.

Panfried Kale: Just olive oil and garlic and kale. I'm still not a huge fan of kale, made into those healthy chips or otherwise. It was just okay.

Panfriend Spinach: Same as above, although I like spinach more than kale. I think I still prefer both fresh and in salads instead.


Eggs Benedict: I've never made my own hollandaise sauce before, and it was pretty good. It made a ton of it, though, so we made those Eggs Florentine which I thought were yuck. Also, I am not a fan of poached eggs, so we fried ours for this. Pretty good.

Pizza dough: This is a good one and easy and handmade. It makes two pizzas and keeps in the fridge. A new favorite!

Breakfast Pizza: She's got a handful of homemade pizza recipes in the book using her pizza dough, and this breakfast one with bacon, eggs and hashbrowns is yummy! It makes a ton, though, so best made for a crowd.

Thai Chicken Pizza: This is probably our favorite of her recipes these past two months. We all loved this! Chicken with sweet chili peanut butter sauce? My kids love them some Asian foods, and we'd make this a million more times.

Sloppy Joes: We loved these, even the girls and they are the pickiest. They aren't as saucy as Sloppy Joes I've had in the past, which I was so glad for. Don't forget to drain the grease, though, after frying the hamburger.

Cherry Limeade: No recipe on the blog, but basically it's lemon-lime soda, fresh lime juice, sugar, and a jar of maraschino cherries. Shake and serve. With our without vodka. We did it without vodka for March Mother/Daughter Bookclub and of course the girls loved it. A fun, fruity sweet drink.

Pasta with Pesto Cream Sauce: Holy moly, Alice and Lucy couldn't get enough of this. Arlo, too. Eric and I thought it was pretty good as well and super easy. I used the last jar of homemade pesto from the freezer from last summer making it that much easier.

Fried Chicken Tacos: After the Thai Pizza, this is definitely our second favorite recipe. So simple, but the frying in oil with the corn tortillas sends this over the edge of decadence. It makes your house oily and smelly, but in the best way.

Beef Stew: Great flavor, and even better the next day. Would totally make this again and it quickly became a family favorite! Best use of simple ingredients like carrots, potatoes, onion and beef. Her spices are spot on here.

Buttered Rosemary Rolls: These are so easy. Rhodes frozen dinner rolls in a pan with butter on the bottom and top and sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt. The butter makes the crispy and decadent and we all love rosemary. Yum!

Strawberry Shortcake Cake: Lawd have mercy, this was Lucy's 11th birthday cake, and while it wasn't as much like traditional strawberry shortcake as she'd liked, it was divine. Especially the leftovers with coffee the next morning.

FOODIE: The Pioneer Woman Cookbook Challenge | February Update

Friends, it's month two of my 2015 New Year's Resolution Revolution to make every recipe (all 100+ of them!) from The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier, her second cookbook. A few years ago I took on her very first cookbook, and made all those recipes. (Yes, my family is SO LUCKY.) Here are the recipes I made in the month of February, with our family and friends weighing in on each one.

(Links to the recipes via her website are all provided.)


First, let's start with the NAWS. Because there are so few this month!

Beef & Bean Burritos: These were just alright. She makes them up a few at a time and microwaves them for lunches, but that's a bit too much work for easy lunches, in my opinion. But, I'm also not feeding ranch hands, so there's that. We made them for dinner, rolled them and put them in a baking dish, and baked with cheese and enchilada sauce on top instead. That made them better, Dr. Brown says. Neither of us are fans of ground beef in burritos, but my girls loved these. (But our votes count more, because we are the bosses of this family, dammit, so it's listed in the naws. I probably should've done a just okay category this month because I could've listed these there.)

Rib-Eye Steak with Onion-Blue Cheese Sauce: First off, steak is super expensive. Second, I am, admittedly, not a fan of red meat. I never have been. The sauce was pretty good, but it was just okay. Dr. Brown even agrees, and he loves a good, medium-rare steak. (Gross.)

Twice-Baked New Potatoes: I've made these several times in my life, albeit someone else's recipe. PW's is similar to all the rest. Nothing to write home about.

Let's move on the to the FOREVER AND EVER AMENS.

Lemon Blueberry Pancakes: I love homemade pancakes (and can I get an AMEN for heated up maple syrup?! None of that cold stuff). These were a fun twist, but came out a bit flat (not as fluffy as the photo, but whatevs). And so good. Arlo's very first pancakes, and he loved them.

Best Grilled Cheese Ever: This has been called PW's favorite sandwich recipe in the past, and I have to agree with her, because there is nothing I love more than a good grilled cheese. Therefore, I'm giving this two big thumbs up. It's messy and yummy and while it might not technically be the BEST ever, it's still a fun twist. (Also, rye bread is my favorite, and no one else in this house likes it, so any chance to buy it is a win in my book.)

Perfect Spinach Salad: We made this as a side dish with the above sandwich for dinner. Not a good pair, though, because both dishes are super rich, so it was a bit too much. Warm bacon and red onions with hard boiled eggs make this a winner. Even the girls liked it. Would be great served with a meaty main dish.

Simple Sesame Noodles: Admittedly, we have been making this for years, from the recipe on PW's website. It's so quick and easy and delicious. We always have the ingredients on hand, so it's one of those raid the pantry type meals. The whole family approves. We can't recommend this recipe enough.

Sesame Beef Noodle Salad: This is basically a version of the above recipe. We added leftover steak slices from the blue cheese onion dish above and it turned out great. The best thing about PW's Simple Sesame Noodles is that you can add any kind of meat and veggies to it. Or not, if you're not a carnivore.

Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork: This, I think, was the clear winner in February. Also an expensive dish (we picked up a pork butt at Meats Royale for almost $40), but great to feed a crowd, with enough left for freezing for later. We served it on rolls with coleslaw for my mother-in-law's 70th birthday dinner. You can adjust the heat a bit by using only one can of chipotles and taking them out before shredding the pork if you're serving kids, like we were. But the flavor is wonderful.

Pots de Crème: My friends always host an annual Oscars Party with a movie themed dinner buffet. This year I picked The Grand Budapest Hotel and served these alongside tiny store-bought chocolate eclairs with pink and blue sprinkles a la Mendl's bakery from the film. To serve a crowd, I made mini pots in small glass baby food jars topped with fresh homemade whipped cream. They were so good, and set right up on the cold back patio in just three hours. I heard lots of yums from the audience on hand. What a sweet treat!

FOODIE: The Pioneer Woman Cookbook Challenge | January Update

Whew, this is so much easier than I thought it would be. I've decided to make at least two recipes a week from the cookbook, which really helps me feel less overwhelmed when thinking about 109 recipes to get done in 2015. I've stayed right on top of it for this first month, but haven't felt strong love for most of the recipes (except one, which I'll save for last here). I have, however, been thrilled to find a compelling reason to finally open the box of vintage Lenox china c. 1960 that haven't been used in at least ten years. Every Sunday night is Pioneer Woman dinner, and we bust out the gorgeous gold leaf china. What a fun new tradition!


Let's start with the NAWS.

Chicken Tortilla Soup:  My Lucy is the biggest soup fan and she loved this. Dr. Brown and I both thought it just okay. We make a version of this ourselves that we've perfected over the years, and we think it's better. The addition of cut up corn tortillas, though, is a brilliant idea.

French Onion Soup: Meh. Julia Child's is SO MUCH BETTER. I think it's the addition of chicken broth in this one that just makes it blah to me.

Hummus: So garlicky that it gave me a super upset stomach. Admittedly, I'm way sensitive to garlic (unless I'm pregnant - I know, weird), but Dr. Brown has a stomach of steel and eats ALL THE THINGS and it did the same to him. Also, Dr. Brown is Greek, so we are a bit snobbish about the Middle Eastern foods and we have a Mediterranean cookbook with a killer hummus recipe that this one does not beat.

Brie-Stuffed Mushrooms: We made these for Katy Bowl Sunday (football WHA?!@#) when our friends the Zehnas were in town from Utah, along with the hummus above (and PW's bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers which were in her first cookbook and we will make for the rest of time they are THAT GOOD). These were the best of the naws, but not amazing. Fine, but I'm not searching for just fine in this quest.

Pork Chops with Apples & Grits: Much like garlic doesn't agree with my stomach, grits do not agree with MY ANYTHING. Listen, I've even lived in the South for a short time (I went on exchange during college to Charleston, SC) where grits were served at every single meal (sigh) at my college dorm lunchroom. I've tried and tried and tried and even made them homemade myself to no avail. I ain't doin' it. Also, the pork chops weren't that great, and I do usually love them with apples. Dr. Brown did like the grits (he thought them better the next day), so he gives this one a higher ranking than I.

Let's move on to the FOREVER AND EVER AMENS.

Rigatoni and Meatballs: I made this for my grandma's 85th birthday party dinner and OMG WE ALL LOVED IT. Seriously, those meatballs?! We used tomatoes we had roasted with garlic and herbs from our own summer garden and frozen in the sauce and they truly made the difference. This recipe is not on PW's website (which is where I've linked all the other recipes here), so you'll just have to get the book if you want to make it. Also? Kid-approved. Even Arlo loved his teeny tiny bite sized pieces.

Meatball Sliders: PW directs you to use the leftover meatballs and sauce from the recipe above for these and holy moly, we almost loved these more than the rigatoni above. Paired with baked French fries, it was a super easy leftover kind of meal for a weeknight. Alice and Lucy also loved this one.

Classic Hot Wings: These are spicy as hell, but Dr. Brown is the wing connoisseur and he gives a big stamp of approval. It makes a ton of sauce, though, so you could probably cut back on that, or else more wings than the recipe calls for.

Roasted Cauliflower: We made this as a side dish to Dr. Brown's BBQ ribs and both agreed that this was the best way we've ever eaten cauliflower, hands down. So yummy! (Again, no recipe on PW's site for this, sorry!)
Billie's Italian Cream Cake: This, my friends, was January's crowning jewel. The best recipe I made all month. This cake is a winner. It took hours, was three layers high, and was my grandmother's 85th birthday cake. It was even better the next morning with coffee. Super rich and lovely. I'm a huge cake snob, and once you've had homemade cake, you'll never, ever, ever be able to eat store bought or boxed cake mix cakes again in the same way. We all give this the highest ranking. Grandma-approved!

FOODIE: A New Year's Resolution Revolution, Take Two

Resolution, resosmultion. I don't resolve to do most things, but I can totally get behind the desire to evolve. So I never do New Year Resolutions, but New Year Revolutions.

This year I'm taking on an old favorite. In 2010, I made the pledge to cook every single recipe in the Pioneer Woman's brand new, and first, cookbook, a la Julie & Julia. I've been a fan of Ree Drummond since way back in her beginning blogging days, and now she's a full-fledged celebrity chef. Five years ago I was super successful in making all fifty-something recipes in her book and it was a treasure and a treat. Many of those recipes are now mainstays in our culinary repertoire. I'm a bit of a Food Network Fangirl (see the Food Network Cookoff I've hosted every year for the past five years). I'm also a bit of a cookbook hoarder. Combine the two and you've got a kitchen revolution in the making.

For 2015, I decided to take on the challenge of making every single recipe in one of my newer cookbooks. I lobbied for Smitten Kitchen, or maybe Paula Deen's classic, but Eric won me over with his profound love of PW, so I hearby announce that I'll be making all the recipes in her second cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier (2012).

I'm really excited. But also a bit worried. Because there are 109 recipes in this book. ONE. HUNDRED. AND. NINE.

Rest assured, I'm aware that means I have to make at least two recipes a week for the entire year. Or have several parties where I make, like, ten of them. A handful of recipes are cocktails, and some are side dishes, so that should help. But, STILL. And, if you've ever made PW's recipes before, you know they can be massive, home-cooking, comfort food undertakings. And so, so worth every minute and ingredient.

A few recipes from this book are tried and true family favorites already, so I'm scratching those from the list: Simple Sesame Noodles, Restaurant Style Salsa, and her Apple Dumplings. Not because they aren't amazing, but that they are SO AMAZING that we make the all the time already. They've been a staple in our house for years, as I first discovered the recipes on her blog. (In fact, the year I took on the Pioneer Woman in my Food Network Cookoff I won first place with those Apple Dumplings in the dessert category because MOUNTAIN DEW is the secret ingredient.) Also, two recipes at the end are canning recipes and while canning pushes me outside my comfort zone in a good way, the recipes are for sweet pickles and strawberry jam, two things I do not love. So, 104 recipes it is.

Wish me luck.

(PS I'll be grammin' all this over here and posting regular updates on the blog. Last night I made the Roasted Cauliflower and it was truly the best cauliflower I've ever eaten. Eric agrees. And, yes, I always write notes in my cookbooks for future chefs and memories sake.)

AMY & REE: Mission Accomplished!

And here we have it, my 2010 New Years Resolution, to cook the entire cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl, completed. Done. Over. And I know I'm 11 days late. But, you know what? I'm cool like that. I've decided to give myself some slack, in life in general, but specifically in this goal. Because I loved this challenge.

I loved pushing myself way outside of my culinary comfort zone and learning how easy and rewarding it is to make things like your own whipped cream and pie crust and fried chicken. The Pioneer Woman makes cooking fun and easy, but at the same time teaches you down-home skills that should be part of every person's kitchen tools. And while her recipes were filled with necessary skills, they were also filled with fat. And butter. And sugar. I felt myself packing on the pounds with her solid, country foods and, sometimes, I eliminated some of the salt, butter, and replaced whole wheat flour for white. This challenge made me feel brave that way - able to take a recipe and change it up to my liking. And certainly not all the Pioneer Woman's recipes are like these; she's got an amazing website filled with lighter fare and even vegetarian recipes.

For the last two weeks of December, I cooked like crazy, making recipes out of the book. And I have to say, spending hours in the kitchen over the holidays with the Pioneer Woman was a blast. I really wanted New Years Eve to be my final hurrah, and invited lots of families to join ours in a celebration of 2011 and my big accomplishment. I planned to make the last seven recipes that night for all my friends. I did, in fact, make seven recipes and they were great, by all accounts. (We had so many guests and I had drunk so much sangria by that point that I had but a bite of each one.) The party was great fun, but I was still left with a few recipes to conquer. Here's some pics of the goodness that has been the past month of my life:

The Roasted Beef Tenderloin was a little too rare for my taste, but I'm a wussy red meat eater. The marinade was delicious, primarily because it included bacon grease (yum). Recipe link here (which also includes the recipe for PW's Burgundy Mushrooms which I served on New Years Eve but did not get a photo of because they went fast and I was too drunk. They are good, but cook all day (seriously, like nine hours) and take a whole liter of wine).

The Buttermilk Fried Chicken was kind of a greasy mess, but the breading was crunchy and tasty. I'd give it a shot if I were you, but I make a yummy oven baked version that is just as good.

This, my friends, is really damn good. It's Marlboro Man's Favorite Sandwich, with grilled cube steak slices and onions on a crusty roll. We added mushrooms and melted swiss on the top and served it with a green salad on the side. We now call this Our Favorite Use for Cube Steak Sandwich.

This was the first time I've ever made homemade buttermilk biscuits, and I couldn't believe how easy they were. And how much I adore using my pastry cutter and my biscuit cutter in the same recipe. Even better with homemade raspberry jam on top.
New Year's Eve menu signage taken the next morning. Yeah, you can't hardly read it now, but it listed the seven (supposed to be) final recipes: BBQ Jalapeno Poppers, Simple Perfect Chili, Potato Skins, Sangria, Guacamole, Burgundy Mushrooms and Creme Brulee.

Creme Brulee dishes, completely scraped clean, the morning after. It was THAT good.

Sangria pitcher with fruit remnants. I believe all the orange vodka, orange rum, red and white wine concoction ended up gone within the first hour or two of the party. In my glass alone. (There was more than one pitcher, okay?)

This photo of the fried Onion Strings wasn't blurry because I had drunk too much beer, but because my other hand was busy shoving handfuls of these into my mouth. One of my favorite recipes in the book, these are better than I've ever purchased at any state fair. And that's sayin' a lot.
I just thought the Cowboy Calzones were good, but my inlaws and Eric loved them. Since I was running out of time in 2010 and, quite frankly, was busting my buns in the kitchen around the holidays already, I cheated and used store bought pizza dough instead of making it from scratch.

Iny's Prune Cake was so hyped up in the book that I expected more. It was good and moist, but a little too moist, to the point of soggy. Could be my mixing of the caramel topping, but it didn't last more than one night.

I made the Breakfast Bowls for Christmas morning with my inlaws. They were easy and really dang good. Sorry, but I can't find a link to them.

Along with the Breakfast Bowls, I made the Marmalade Muffins for Christmas morning. Topped with a marmalade and brown sugar melted topping, these are too die for. They made way more than 24 mini muffins, which was good, because my father in law and I each downed about 7 fresh out of the oven.

So, now that I've made everything in the book, here's our votes for best of the best:
Eric's top five favorites are:

1) Creme Brulee
2) Rib-Eye Steak with Whiskey Cream Sauce
3) Marlboro Man's Favorite Sandwich
4) Edna Mae's Sour Cream Pancakes
5) Marmalade Muffins

And mine:

1) Creme Brulee
2) BBQ Jalapeno Poppers
3) PW Breakfast Burritos
4) Cinnamon Rolls
5) Olive Cheese Bread

While the cookbook sits next to me on the couch as I type, I lovingly look at how tattered it's become. And also how loved; the book has wandered around the house with all of us over the past year. Eric's taken it to bed, choosing a recipe for me to make for the next night's dinner. Lucy and Alice have laughed at the pictures of PW's puppies and cows. I've pretty much lugged the book from room to room, studying baking times and ingredients. The pages are tagged and grease splattered and covered with penned notes. Just how a cookbook should be.

AMY & REE: My Favorite Meatloaf

I made PW's favorite meatloaf with her creamy rosemary potato recipe (posted above) one night for dinner. It is a big hamburger loaf made the traditional way, except it's covered with bacon and a spicy ketchup topping. We thought it was pretty good, but, like all meatloaf, much better the next day. I almost love meatloaf sandwiches better than the warm night-before dinner version. This meatloaf was fine, but my favorite version of this classic is still my mozzarella turkey one.

AMY & REE: Flat Apple Pie

This flat apple pie recipe actually makes two pies, but I cheated a bit and used premade pie dough because, friends, I'm on a deadline here, with just a few days to so. It's pretty small, but boy is it delicious. And easy. I took PW's advice and drizzled caramel topping on the top. Add to that some homemade whipped cream and OMG, people. I took this to the BSU bowl game party and those folks couldn't stop raving about it. Highly recommended.

AMY & REE: Chicken Pot Pie

This recipe for turkey pot pie on PW's website is exactly the same as the chicken pot pie recipe in her cookbook, just substituting chicken for turkey. I made this last night for dinner for the inlaws who just got in for the holiday. It was a perfect winter night recipe. The addition of thyme is perfect and she's right about salting it to taste. Again, I cheated with the pie crust, and used pre-made since I'm short on time. Give it a shot, it's worth it! Would be a perfect use for Christmas dinner turkey leftovers.

AMY & REE: Basic Breakfast Potatoes & Breakfast Burritos

PW's Basic Breakfast Potatoes are a super easy way to make homemade hashbrowns and are basic enough to make a huge batch of and use in other recipes, like her Breakfast Burritos which I made with them. (The potatoes are also a perfect use for a few leftover baked potatoes from another dinner, by the way.) Anyhow, they are good alone, but are great with the breakfast burritos, which are really basic - salsa, sausage, cheese, egg and potatoes. The recipe makes a big batch, enough for a Saturday morning family breakfast and leaving you with 8-10 to freeze for later. Microwave for about 3 minutes (probably less if you don't have a 20 year old microwave oven like I do) and take them on the go. I love them.

AMY & REE: Olive Cheese Bread

Okay, ladies, PW calls her Olive Cheese Bread 'cowgirl food' and I couldn't agree more. While Eric didn't love it, I did. And Alice did. While we all had a slice or two with our dinner that night, the next day she and I ate a half loaf of the stuff. It is rich and yummy and olive-y goodness. Perfect for noshing all day and is especially complimentary to wine. So, of course, there wasn't enough time to take a picture of it between shoving it's melty, salty crispiness into my mouth.

AMY & REE: Beans and Cornbread

Sometimes we're just too busy eating to take pictures of the food. I always remember afterwards, though, and think, "I'll get pics of the leftovers tomorrow." Then Eric eats the leftovers as an almost-midnight-snack well before tomorrow comes, or we pack them into lunch sacks and I totally forget. This was one of those meals.

I grew up on beans and cornbread - it was a staple in my mom's kitchen repertoire and her childhood as well, which she imparted on us. I have fond memories of those pinto beans soaking for what seemed like days, and the salty, smoky hamhock falling to pieces once they were finally done. While my childhood cornbread usually came from a box (and, honestly, mine often still does), it was delicious with the meal and later with dark Karo syrup on top as a sweet treat.

PW's beans were great and easy and made a ton, so much that I still have a carton in my freezer. The skillet cornbread had a weird taste to me - I think it was the use of Crisco - so I didn't like it that much. My vote? Beans - yep. Cornbread - pass.

AMY & REE: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (in an iron skillet)

I had never made cake in an iron skillet nor had I ever made pineapple upside-down cake before, so this was new to me on two levels. It was easy and fun, but a bit stressful at the flipping the cake out stage, as it always is for me. But look how beautiful! And vintage! In my cake carrier! (I could've upped the kitsch quotient if I'd added maraschino cherries, but I dislike them so.) I took this to the ladies with babies at playgroup and we enjoyed it with coffee. I think pineapple upside-down cake is something you either love or hate, but think it was a good recipe.

AMY & REE: French Breakfast Puffs

So, I just sent out our Christmas e-greeting, which captures some fun accomplishments from each of our family members throughout the year, like Lucy losing three teeth, Alice eating too many eggs, Eric watching the sun set over the Tetons and my successfully completing my Pioneer Woman cookbook challenge. Only, I lied. About myself. I'm not done with the cooking, not even close. You guys, don't judge. It was more of a 'publish a dream and it will become your reality' sort of idea. You see, I'm not going to be made a fool or a liar. I will get 'er done. Because I'm obsessive and a procrastinator and my husband will help me and I plan to cheat. Just a little teeny tiny bit.

But not yet. You see, I've been baking and broiling and beating for months now, and am just finally getting around to posting about some of the recipes. So beware, the rest of my posts for 2010 are likely to be a flurry of frantic kitchen tidbits about all the cooking that's bein' done up in here.

I made these muffins that are dipped in butter and rolled in sugar and cinnamon after baking them a while back, but they didn't last long. I've said it before, but PW sure knows her sweet stuff and I think baking is really her strong suit. These things are yummy and tasted a bit like donuts so, duh, um, I LOVE THEM. And you will, too.

AMY & REE: Chicken Spaghetti

So, while my mad cooking skillz are on a roll, my photography ones seem to be lacking. Not to mention that the girls (read: probably Alice) destroyed our good digital camera. Like, ripped-the-pop-up-screen-off-the-hinges destroyed. So, we are now using an old one that uses batteries and sucks the juice out of them like crazy, leaving us, most days, with a dead camera. Therefore, no photos of this dish because everyone ate it so fast I wasn't able to recharge the batteries in time!

PW's Chicken Spaghetti is basically a creamy chicken casserole with spaghetti, a very yummy comfort food dish. While PW calls for boiling a whole chicken and cutting it up and using it, we used a store bought rotisserie chicken instead. (TIP: saving the carcass to boil down with some fresh herbs into chicken stock for soup is highly recommended!) Eric's conclusion: delish. Mine: just okay. Kinda reminds me of a casserole a church might provide for a funeral service.

AMY & REE: Patsy's Blackberry Cobbler

I made PW's blackberry cobbler last week to take over to a friend's house. I was feeling bad that the dinner portion I brought was take-out Papa Murphy's pizzas, and I'm on a Pioneer Woman roll here lately. The deadline looms in my future to finish out my new year's resolution to make every recipe in the book. Plus, it's fall and I always love to cuddle inside next to a warm stove in this weather. Anyhow, I had frozen blueberries my inlaws picked in the freezer and used those instead. This dish came together so quickly and easily, but it has to bake one hour, so be sure to allow for that time. I whipped some heavy cream with agave nectar for a quick and easy sweet homemade topping. By far, this is the best cobbler I've ever made. Can't wait to try it again with our frozen huckleberries from Idaho Falls!

AMY & REE: Sherried Tomato Soup

This is the perfect fall soup to make for a fancy ladies lunch. Or, who am I kidding, any lunch really, as my girls loved it, too. It is so easy and the sherry just makes it too die for. I got all silly in the head and thought I needed (much more expensive) real sherry from the liquor store, but really, you can use cooking sherry as well. It gives it an extra punch of loveliness. Paired with a fresh baguette and a simple salad, it could be lunch or dinner any day of the week in my book!

AMY & REE: Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy and Creamy Mashed Potatoes

I got all antsy to make these two dishes from PW's cookbook once the weather started cooling off. And, trust me, I know they are a heart attack waiting to happen. But a delicious one, if I do say so. We just happen to have some cubed elk steak in the freezer, a gift from last hunting season, which worked perfectly for her Chicken Fried Steak. The roux gravy was easy and yummy as well. Her Creamy Mashed Potatoes, though, are really time consuming, as you basically make traditional mashed potatoes then mix in a lot of butter, cream cheese, and cream and bake them again. All extra steps which take too much time and don't really enliven the flavor all that much, in my opinion. And I'm back on a roll with baking and cooking, my friends, since we just celebrated the 2nd Annual Food Network Cookoff, where I spent the last several months all about the Barefoot Contessa. And, as the weather makes my bones ache for comfort food and indoors, you can be expecting more PW cookbook posts soon. Also, I'd better get my ass in gear if I'm to make my December 31st deadline!