I recently acquired a thoroughly used copy of Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl from an online auction site for around five bucks with the idea to, in an absolute Julie & Julia move, recreating to the best of my ability every recipe from Drummond’s cookbook.
Flipping through the slight tome, I was trying to find a couple of starter recipes that not only exemplifies the Pioneer Woman, but much of Oklahoma as well, eventually settling on, what else, chicken-fried steak with “PW’s” creamy mashed potatoes. Now I never claimed to be a good cook—or even a mediocre one—but that seemed easy enough, right?
After piecemealing the various ingredients together, I decided to prepare the dinner at my ladyfriend’s house, mostly because my multi-use house with its multi-use kitchen was no place to concoct a clean, decent meal, or at least one that wouldn’t be sampled by roommates or mice when my back was turned.
Laying out the ingredients, I began by boiling the potatoes, with the idea to leave the skin on them, probably for the additional nutrients and definitely because I hate peeling them. As they bounced about in the hot water, I laid out the makings of the chicken fried steak, including a plate of tenderized cube steak, a plate of egg whites mixed with milk, and a plate of spiced flour, a little extra on the cayenne and smoked paprika.
With a couple of cups of olive oil (instead of canola or vegetable as recommended) in the cast iron skillet, I tenderly laid the prepared steaks in, gently to avoid anymore spills and splatters that would leave further damaging scars like the frybread incident earlier this year. As those sizzled with all their might, I drained the hot water from the potatoes and started mashing them like a beast.
Per the instructions, I added a couple of sticks of butter and a whole fucking block of cream cheese, the American Neufchâtel kind, mostly because it apparently has one third the fat content than the regular. I poured a cup of half and half as I read the Pioneer Woman’s directions aloud, all of which included the outright threat to “feel guilty.”
I have a feeling she wants to stick a whisk in my heart and spill it all over the kitchen.
Turning the steaks to the other side, a bit of the crispy coating came off, gathering at the bottom of the skillet, frying browner than the rest of the eats. When I took them out of the oil, even more of the golden outsides came off, most of which I gathered with a spoon and clumsily covered the top of the steaks with, now resting on a paper towel on yet another plate.
The potatoes achieved the kind of clumpy creaminess that I’m sure PW would spit a wad of chew at. I then attempted the final part of the recipe that called for cream gravy made with the unused oil but, honestly, it wasn’t a success, coming out as thick as the potatoes and nowhere near as smooth.
Still, I made plates for my ladyfriend and myself as we sat at the table in the dining room. She politely smiled and said it was alright first try; as I sampled my own cooking, I mostly agreed with her, the steaks resembling a skinned knee and the potatoes exuding a cream cheese flavor. And let’s forget about the gravy, okay?
Even though I’m sure that in this needless contests of Oklahoman concoctions between Ree and I that she would easily win, I’m going to give it another shot next month and, I swear by the Marlboro Man’s blackened lungs that, eventually, I will best her or die trying, possibly from a massive heart attack.
Pioneer Woman 1, Louis Fowler 0.
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