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Ranch Recipes

First a saloon, and now a rotation of new columns from writers across the ranch. Carrot Ranch is gathering in the literary community as the world pauses and hunkers down.

Every Monday, you can expect to have fun with Kid and Pal, creations of D. Avery, who will operate the Saddle Up Saloon where Ranchers and their characters can gather. D. will interview characters and their creators, prompt writers, and generally keep the wit and writing flowing.

Every Tuesday, you can expect a column and a “closed call” in rotation among a fine array of Ranchers, including H.R.R. Gorman, Anne Goodwin, Bill Engleson, Ann Edall-Robson, Susan Sleggs, Norah Colvin, Sherri Matthews and me, Charli Mills.

Columns will vary in topic and include a call to participate. For example, I’m going to ask if any of you have recipes to share today. You can respond in the comments. A “closed call” means we are not link-sharing, blog hopping or publishing submissions. We want to create weekly social engagement and give writers a chance to play in the Carrot Ranch sandbox. Have fun! Be social!

We will continue as normal with the 99-word story challenges on Thursdays to share links, blogs, and publish submissions to the collection. If you want to publish in the collection, remember to enter the submission form. If you want to respond to any Monday or Tuesday prompts, do so in the comments.

Ranch Recipes made use of easily transported food that could feed large gatherings. It was said that my great-grandmother, who was a ranch cook, had no concept of making a small meal. Her recipes include beef and paired well with pinto beans.

Shortages at the grocery store will challenge us to think beyond our standard fixings. A good shift in thinking is to practice substitutions. How can you make a familiar dish from different ingredients? How can you alter it to reduce preparation time? Great-grandma’s enchiladas are time-consuming to make. This recipe is an easy one that alters her original but maintains a similar flavor. It’s also similar to lasagne but doesn’t call for pasta, which might not be in stock.

Enchilada Casserole

1 lb extra lean ground beef
1 medium onion chopped
1/2 cup black olives
1 medium can Enchilada Sauce
12 corn tortillas
1/3 cup cheddar cheese shredded

Brown ground beef and onions together for about 10 to 12 minutes, drain. Spray a casserole or pan (8×12 inches). Place half of tortillas in bottom. Spoon half of beef mixture on top and sprinkle with half the olives. Then layer the last tortillas, beef mixture, olives and cheese. Cover with foil and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree F. oven for 25 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes and serve with beans, garlic bread, and a green salad.

What if you can’t find beef? Try chicken or pork instead. A vegetarian option replaces the meat with 2 cups cooked rice, 1 can of black beans, and 1 can of corn. A vegan option replaces the cheese with a nut “cheese.” If you can’t find enchilada sauce, use any kind of jarred salsa or taco sauce. Corn tortillas last in the fridge much longer than flour tortillas. They make a great substitute if your store is short on bread.

Bottom line is to not panic and ranch forward. What would a chuckwagon boss do? Take stock of what is available, and use your creativity to play with ingredients and alter familiar recipes.

What tips or altered recipes are helping you shop during a shortage? Share in the comments.

Smoking and Writing

Recipes From the RanchSmoking cigarettes or pipes are no longer vogue for writers. And, there was a time in history when writers didn’t smoke: take Homer for instance, who lived pre-tabacco. Of course, he was probably cranking pages with chisel and rock and couldn’t hold a pipe properly.

But there was also a time when writers smoked as prolifically as they typed. Some informal thoughts link smoking to creativity; others to boredom in between re-writes; and others claim it calms ADHD. You’ll find nothing formal here, just an observation from me and one by Mark Twain. Mr. Twain, first:

“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”

For a short spell during summer, the year I hung out with my cousin T., we roped, rode horses and chewed tobacco. We even rode our horses to the country gas station and bought  a can of Skoal despite being only 12 and 10-years-old. My first romantic kiss was with a cowboy who tipped back his hat and shared his lip full of chaw with me.

I never mastered spitting and I never did see that cowboy again. Probably a good thing. And no one ever offered me a cigarette. So I never smoked. I never had to learn what it was to quit a thousand times.

Yet, there are smokers in my life whom I love. I refuse to lecture or give them gruesome tales of their future demise. I grew up in a shame-based family and I’m not about to dose it on others. They go to movies–they see the advertisements and the curl on the lip of the passerby when they light up in their designated areas.

What I learned from the smokers in my life is that smokers readily share stories and camaraderie. I once traveled cross-country from Minnesoto to NYC and back by train with a smoker. Our conductor smoked too, so she promised to knock on our room when we were stopping long enough to light up. I went too, despite hands in pockets. I just listened.

So one day, I decided to smoke, too. I went to designated smoking areas and lit up. It’s nice to smoke–you get a break, time to chill and unwind. Non-smokers never get that, always uptight and working on the clock. Smoking lets you light something on fire and watch slowly as it chars. It’s like meditation.

Of course, I don’t smoke cigarettes. I’ve got too much of a sweet tooth for tobac so bitter. I smoke marshmallows. Seriously, I do. I’ve always favored S’Mores, so when I took up the habit Jiffy Puff became my brand of choice.

Smoking & DrinkingIn the first months of quitting my career to write along the south shore of Lake Superior, I posted this photo which I entitled, ‘Smoking and Drinking.” The drink of choice at the time was San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water.

It’s true that such vices are gateways. I now drink Presecco when I can afford it, but I’ve been known to drink Brut champagne when I can’t. I’m hooked on the bubbles. For a while I was smoking the huge marshmallows, but I cut back to the originals.

Now truly I set out to post something worthwhile tonight. But after having a rough day I sat out on the porch to smoke and it reminded me that Australians have been deprived of S’Mores.

Therefore, in enlightenment of my friends down under, this Recipe From the Ranch involves smoking marshmallows. Of course, you don’t have to go full out flames and charcoal. You can daintily toast your marshmallow inches from the flame and let it slowly brown.

That’s what the Hub does, but then again, the Hub gets his smoke fix from a cherrywood pipe.

You can also microwave a marshmallow for 10 to 15 seconds, but that just seems weird. Kind of like, lighting up a Marlborough in the nuker.

The following recipe is courtesy of Hershey’s. Stateside they must sell a ton of bars during the camping season. No child in America goes camping or out to the backyard fire pit without the plea for “some more” marshmallows and chocolate.

Hershey’s S’Mores in Three Acts

1. Top two graham cracker squares each with one chocolate bar half.

SMores (2)

2. Light up two marshmallows on a long metal skewer until the flame dies out and marshmallows are crusty black. Or toast alongside the fire until barely brown.

SMores (3)

3. Carefully slide one marshmallow onto each chocolate-top graham cracker square and top with a second cracker.

SMores (4)

Enjoy your weekend! And remember this clever warning from Brooke Shields:

“Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.”


Celebration Yellow Cake

Recipes From the RanchMaybe because it’s Easter weekend, cake postings seem popular today. They are certainly the go-to dessert for celebrations on the ranch. And my all-time favorite is yellow cake with chocolate frosting.

It might sound like a crazy cowgirl idea, but I think yellow cake with chocolate frosting is more chocolatey than chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Maybe the yellow cake accentuates the chocolate. Who knows? But it’s definitely a bright cake, rich for celebrating.

A California variation is to heavily sprinkle walnut pieces across the top. Walnuts are not found in this ranch pantry because they make my husband’s tongue tingle and swell. Tree nut allergies are serious, so this California-born buckaroo has gone without walnuts for 26 years.

Cakes are easy to make from scratch. Seriously. Ditch the boxed mixes and you will find that scratch-made cakes taste so much better, and are not any harder to make than the boxed kind.

Yellow Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of white sugar
  • 2 tsp. of vanilla
  • 2 farm fresh eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (my favorite is from Montana Wheat)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Pre-heat your oven to 350. Take a smidgeon of oil and coat the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ cake pan. I use a paper towel to keep the coating light. Then sprinkle a little flour and pat and turn the pan until it dusts the oiled bottom. I use a Kitchen Aid mixer and toss in all the ingredients and blend on medium speed for about three minutes. If you only have a wooden spoon, mix your wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls then add the flour slowly to the wet ingredients. Once you have batter, smooth and creamy, pour evenly into your cake pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until you can lightly press on the top with a finger and not make an indentation. Cool on a wire rack.

Chocolate Frosting

  • 1/3 cup butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Beat butter until it’s creamy and fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar and cocoa one cup at a time, beating well for a smooth frosting. Slowly beat in milk and vanilla. You can add tiny bits of more milk if you want a thinner consistency. I frost my cake in the pan, which is informal. If it’s a celebration that calls for polishing up your cowboy boots, then remove the cake onto a platter or foil-wrapped cardboard before frosting. Make sure your cake is cool before frosting or it might tear as you frost.

Happy Easter, everyone! Be reminded that there is hope!

Yellow Cake

Idaho Tri-Tip & Fanned Potato

Recipes From the RanchMeat and potatoes is a recurring theme in a ranch kitchen. When you live in Idaho, potatoes are the official state food. With so many ranches, beef is a close second.

Tri-tip is a west-coast cut. When this buckaroo lived in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, few butchers knew the cut. Even if they did, they cut different styles from that portion of beef so it was never available. Tri-tip is a favorite for those who smoke and barbeque, but it is also a quick steak.

My husband often works contract out of state and my kids are grown and flown. At times it’s just me and the dogs. Left to my own devices, I’d just write and poke about the pond all day, neglecting kitchen duties. But I’m not a fan of canned or boxed meals so I try to fix things that fit my tastes and my writer’s life.

That’s one reason why I like to bake potatoes. In the oven it takes about one hour. That means I can fix the potato then forget about it and write some more before prepping the rest of the meal.

Another reason I like baking potatoes is that I can prepare one at a time for my single meals, but easily add to the count when I have a full house. Same with tri-tip steak. I can slice up a tri-tip roast into writer-buckaroo sizes or prepare the roast for more guests. Versatility is desirable in the ranch kitchen.

This recipe serves up well with a side of asparagus because it’s spring and asparagus is tender and fresh at the stores. My husband grew up in northern Nevada and picked asparagus along the ditch banks. It’s still one of his favorite vegetables, but he missed out on this one!

Fanned Potato

  • 1 medium Idaho
  • 1 generous pat of butter
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • sprinkle of smoked paprika
  • sprinkle of sea salt
  • sprinkle of shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Chop garlic and melt butter (easy to do in 20 seconds in the microwave or a few minutes in a frying pan). Scrub the skin of the potato and set on a cutting board between two wooden spoons. Cut the potato as if you were slicing it, but stop when the knife hits the wooden spoons. This allows the potato to stay intact but  “fanned.” Place fanned potato on a piece of tin-foil (enough to securely wrap the potato). Drizzle the garlic butter between slices and sprinkle with salt and paprika. Seal the foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.


Super easy–during the last 15 minutes of the potato baking, heat garlic butter in a pan (cast iron or steel is ideal). When I chop the garlic for the potato, I chop two more cloves and reserve for the steak. If you really like garlic (as I do, chop even more and roast it with the asparagus in the oven that last  15 minutes of baking the fanned potato). Once the garlic butter melts, slather both sides of the steak in it. Fry each side about 6-8 minutes (depending upon your preference). Salt and pepper with freshly hammered (cracked) black pepper.

Every kitchen buckaroo needs a hammer for cracking pepper!

Serve and eat and then go write some more.

Cowboy Tri-Tip & Fanned Potato (3) Cowboy Tri-Tip & Fanned Potato



Buffalo Chicken and Potatoes

Recipes From the RanchA friend in Minnesota regularly posts anything-bacon on my Facebook wall. She knows that a buckaroo likes her bacon. One recipe looked hot–as in spicy-hot-wings-hot. The first time I fixed it, my husband insisted that it required at least two beers to finish eating his plateful. Yep, it’s hot and you can tone down the heat by reducing the amount of Tabasco Sauce. But don’t skimp on the bacon.

Buffalo Chicken and Potatoes

  • 1/4-cup melted butter
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1Tbsp. crushed black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp. smoked Spanish paprika
  • 5 cloves minced garlic
  • 5 Tbsp. Tabasco Sauce (reduce if needed)
  • 2 pounds boneless chicken, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 10 medium red potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
  • 8 slices of bacon
  • 1 bunch green onions, diced

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Any recipe that calls for crushed peppercorns, get your hammer. Seriously. Place the measured amount into a small baggie and set on a stout cutting board. Hammer the pepercorns until crushed.

Using a large mixing bowl, mix butter, garlic, seasoning and hot sauce. Toss the potatoes in the bowl, coating them well with sauce. Spread potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven for 25 minutes. Turn potatoes with a spatula after 15 minutes.

In the meantime, cut up the bacon into small squares and fry until crisp. Drain on a paper-towel draped over a plate. Chunk the chicken, shred the cheese and dice the green onions. When the potatoes are ready to come out of the oven, carefully slide the potatoes and sauce into a rectangular 2-quart casserole. Layer the chicken, then cheese, then bacon, then onions on top. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is bubbly, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Heed this ranch kitchen warning: the sauce the potatoes are roasting in is mighty hot. When you open the oven to flip the potatoes, there will be steam and there will be Tabasco laced in that steam. Be careful not to singe off your eyebrows, scald your face or blind your eyes.

And don’t let that warning frighten you. If you like buffalo chicken and bacon, you will love this casserole. Serve it with a wedge of iceberg lettuce, celery stalks and cool, ranch-dressing. When your mouth gets hot, swallow some  cold amber lager or lemonade.

Buffalo Chicken & Potatoes