I am on a Quest!

Introduction to the Pioneer Woman Cookbook Challenge

Which is why it has been quiet here lately. That, my work schedule and family events. My kiddo was up from school for a couple of weekends. For those of you who have adult children, you know that those moments when you kiddos come around are so precious. Let me tell y’all about this quest that I am on.

In 2002 a lowly F-bombing Manhattan secretary named Julie Powell got a crazy idea to work her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She then turned to this new fangled internet concept call a Web log [aka: a Blog] and chronicled every trial, tribulation and whatnot into a year long culinary quest to make it through all 524 recipes of Julia Child’s book.

In the end she did complete all 524 recipes which resulted in her Web log turning into a book and later into a movie. For those of you out there who know the movie Julie & Julia, you know exactly where I am going with my quest. The question is whom am I going to pick as my subject? More in a bit.

Although I never had the chance to read Julie Powell’s blog The Julie/Julia Project, I did however, tried to read her book. I felt the same way as Julia Child did, unimpressed, which is a shame too because I loved the Bridget Jones series Philadelphia Inquirer! What turned me off the most about Powell’s book was the whining and cussing (you might find it delightful if you give it a chance). Too much so that I put the book down and I turned to Julia Child’s book My Life in France, which I found absolutely delightful and entertaining. My personal opinion is this, if Nora Ephron did not combine the two stories together by paralleling both women’s lives through their cooking journey, the movie Julie & Julia probably would have been a complete flop. I know it is harsh of what I just said. Nonetheless, it is my personal point of view so please don’t scrutinize me too much. Oh, and for the record, I do cuss, however, there is a time and place for everything. Therefore dropping a multitude of F-bombs on your blog (in my opinion) is almost as equivalent as cussing in church.

Aside from my personal opinion of Ms. Powell’s book, I think her idea of working her way through a cookbook to challenge herself to new culinary heights is an ingenious idea. Not that it is a new idea. Well, at the time Julie did her challenge via web log, that was a new idea. According to the New York Times article; A Race To Master The Art Of French Cooking [August 13, 2003, Section F, Page 1, Hesser, A.] which was written about Ms. Powell and her culinary quest, women (especially young newly wedded women) have been doing this sort of thing for a while. Which is what got myself on this crazy idea as well.

When TW and I decided to move in together I knew that my Rolodex of recipes which included a lot of German/Italian/Asian inspired variations that my daughter and I love would not cut it. TW is not a fan of vegetables, salads, and anything that is more of the lines of healthy eating. TW’s idea of cooking as he told me was the southern style hillbilly cooking that he was raised on which included a lot of bacon grease, red meat, and preprocessed foods. As you can imagine both of our ideals of cooking were going to severely clash. So something needed to be done. That’s when I turned to my library of cookbooks to see what would be best for the clash of the titans. Before we head to the library of my cookbooks, I need to tell a little back and forth story.

Six months previously from this date…..

In early spring my mom and I had planned out my daughter’s birthday weekend. We booked a hotel near my daughter’s college, had a few ideas of what to do and then took her out to whatever she needed to go for personal items. The whatever she needed to go resulted in a Walmart run where I came across The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond cookbooks for …. $10.00 each.

Black Thrusday 2018….

Umm…yep, I am one of those who go out shopping after dinner, and I am not ashamed of it either. Only because I have a good stink’n reason why. I started it in 2017 only because I was single, my daughter was with her dad’s family for the holiday, not to mention it became something to do after dinner was done and everyone parted ways for the evening. On top of it all, it was way better than trying to fight the crowds of people on Friday morning and I still got all my daughter’s Marvel movies that she wanted.

All the same 2018 Black “Thursday” Friday I was not single and I dragged TW along to search for more Marvel movies. He disliked the crowds but was a good sport over all. In the end we did find some of the movies that were on my list at Walmart and I was happy with what we had. I did notice while we were there that Walmart had all five of The Pioneer Woman Cooks cookbooks for $10.00 each. I really wanted to indulge into this sale but I didn’t. I just couldn’t see dropping $50.00 at the time on myself. So the books stayed.

Fast forward to my daughter’s birthday weekend 2019.

After trekking all over Dublin, Ohio for the weekend it was time to take the kid back to campus. Before doing so resulted in one last stop to Walmart so that my daughter could get the essentials she needed. While in the store we happen to be browsing through the books and magazines and for some reason I picked up The Pioneer Woman Cooks (book one) and thumbed through it. It was like eureka moment. Even though I have been a low key fan (meaning I am not obsessed) since the beginning of Ree’s blogging career, I never opened any book of her’s or tried any of her recipes. Then it hit me out of the blue, Ree Drummond’s cooking might solve the clash of the titans between TW and I. After all Ree is know for southern cooking. So I scanned the book on my phone for the price and it popped up as $10.00. It accrued to me that these books were left over from the Black Friday sale. Yep, no joke I bought the first book. Then when I found a moment of downtime I started to look over the book with more depth detail. Needless to say I liked the book. It was simple and right up TW’s ally.

Return back to now!!! Please. Thanks!

After a month searching at various Walmarts in my area and collecting every one of Ree Drummond’s cookbooks I finally had them all. I had managed to get four of them for the ten dollar Black Friday price but only one book I ended up paying full price for one and that was A Year of Holidays (that book scares me, tell ya later). I imagine that was the most popular one to sell out. All the same, I now had all The Pioneer Woman cookbooks…now what?

I started to explain to TW about my plan and asked his thoughts on it. I told him that I could choose any cookbook, I had plenty (got a short story on Plenty, later though) but since I had gone out of my way to find someone who could match TW’s culinary acceptance I figured —why not! He said that he was game after I told him that Ree does a lot of southern cooking, food that was right up his ally. Although maybe I should have said that she does more Southwestern style of cooking. More on this in a bit. Don’t worry I’ll tie in all this loose stories in towards the end.

My plan that I told TW about had to do with being honest with myself. All to often many of us out there buy into cookbooks. Some buy celebrities chefs/cooks and others by more traditional names or both. Nine times out of ten we just flip through them, maybe make one or two things from them, but most of the time they just sit pretty on the shelf or end up at Goodwill or a library sale.

I have to say that I am guilty for doing just that. I have a few cookbooks that are amazing but still have not cooked a single thing from them. I have gone out of my way to find them such as Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. Let me tell ya the story about finding it. I was in our favorite Columbus bookstore and the clerk asked me if I needed any help finding something. I said, Plenty. His reply was, well yeah, we have plenty of books to chooses from. I looked at him and said, “How true but I was looking for the book Plenty.” The clerk stopped in his tracks felt a bit sheepish, chuckled lightheartedly and then directed me to the book Plenty.

I have to admit that in the more recent years I have been collecting more cookbooks, especially antique cookbooks. I think it is the nostalgia of reading old techniques, and reading about old recipes. Especially of the ones that my parents and grandparents once knew such as Waldorf salad. Waldorf salad — Nobody makes that anymore, my dad once said. And he is right. Nobody does make Waldorf salad any more. With all the food trends, celebrity chefs, and what not, we tend on the now. The what is hot, and Waldorf salad, well, its not even on the list anymore. So when my mind was churning about this crazy epiphany I had going on in my head, the one thought passed my mind, why buy all these cookbooks if I never use them? Ree’s books are no exception to the rule on this. Nonetheless, I bought the books and by George, I am going to using them! One of the things in Ree’s books that I am not looking forward to is kale. There are quite a few kale recipes in a couple of Ree’s books. And for what I have planned, I am not looking forward to the usage of kale. Kale to me is still the pretty garden flowering cabbage type of plant. It’s like collard greens, its tough.

If you haven’t guessed it by now this northern gal was going to take on Ree Drummond’s cookbooks. Well, why not!!!! I know that the way to TW heart is through his stomach, and southern food is his favorite. Therefore, I believe Julie Powell had one amazing idea. Not only to cook the food but to tell about the adventure of getting those dishes on to the table. Now I have already started this challenge back in September after being fed up with going to the grocery store with no plan. Tired of randomly picking up items that sounded good for dinner and half of that very food goes to waste before it even gets cooked. Not to mention we were really clashing on the what to eat. Plus we were unaware of where the money goes when buying groceries. On top of the entire schabang was my health. My weight is a major topic among my family members. The health issues are private but I had to do more than anything was to break away from the fast food diet. So I broke down and started The Pioneer Woman Cookbook Challenge.

Like Julie Powell I am giving myself one year to get through all 573 of Ree’s recipes. That’s 49 more recipes than what is in Mastering the Art of French Cooking Book One has. Yep Ree, in a way you surpassed Julia Child on this one. Although between Julia’s two books I believe that she had well over 700 recipes. But who is counting. I just want to make one thing clear, I for some reason kept coming up with Five Cookbooks, 573 Recipes, 52 Weeks, One Tiny Apartment. I then realized it was the tagline for Julie Powell’s blog. Crap! It sounded so right and fitting. So I changed it up. I hope that I don’t get sued over it. Truthfully, TW and I do live in a townhouse (I call it an apartment) where the kitchen is tiny, cabinet and countertop space is limited, there is no dishwasher except the manual ones, the sink is not even a double one, and the stove sucks. At least we don’t have any neighbors above or below us. That’s the nice thing about townhouse living. Same space as an apartment just done vertically.

My next thing that I started to do was menu planning and making a grocery list. There are a lot of folks out there who have YouTube videos on how to do a menu plan and how to make out a grocery list. If you have the urge to do this process and don’t know how, look them up and find one that fits your needs. For me I am using the same method my mother uses. Thumb through a cookbook or two find something that sounds great. Write a list of 14 well balanced meals, make a budget, then make out a list of needed items, and then go shopping.

Even though I hate to admit that my mom has been right about this all along (don’t tell her I said that) with the menu planning, grocery list, etc. It has been nice to have some structure when it comes to the food buying/making process. Even if it has driven TW absolutely bat crazy, it has been nice to have that structure. However, he is seeing the difference of where the money is going. How much I am feeling better, and it is something we can do together if our schedules permit it. Which was another reason why I started this challenge. TW and I have a crazy work schedule on our work days. We work for completely different companies and yet they have the same work schedule philosophy. Start a before the butt crack of dawn and you can’t leave until your work is done. Which often times results in 10 to 14 hour days. Rarely are we out on what is considered “on time.”

Getting started with this challenge was a bit of a rough start. About two weeks in TW asked me if I felt it was necessary to keep on going. I said it was and once I had gotten the whole process down and got it going with our routine, it will be like if we had been doing this all along. In the end I (hate to say it) was right. I had to find a way to work this challenge into our routine and once I did things have been smooth sailing ever since. My only hitch is the A Year of Holidays book. Only because my family really isn’t into the holidays like we used to be. And with our individual families shrinking in size because everyone is growing up, large portions or unnecessary extra expenses that the holidays bring can be a bit stressful. Daunting even. Somehow like everything else that I ever take on, I will manage through it. I’ll figure something out and before I know it, it will all be over.

In the mean time Ree’s cooking has brought on a whole new meaning to southern cooking. Food Network and anyone else who says that her cooking is southern cooking better redefine what southern cooking is. At least that is what TW says. Ever since I have started this challenge TW’s colon has been whistling Dixie ever since. I didn’t realize how much of Ree’s food was more southwest over what he and I know to be southern cooking. Sorry TW my love, Ree is no Paula Deen.

Thank you for stopping by and as always….

Love ya Victoriously,

Alex Victoria