November 11, 2009 12:00 PM

When Ree Drummond left Los Angeles after college for “a brief pit stop” in her Oklahoma home, she was schooled in sushi and high style—and determined to return to the big city. But a chance run-in with a blue-eyed cowboy in a smoky bar changed everything. “I never would have pictured myself married to a man who wore Wranglers and living in such a remote place,” says Ree, who in 2006 launched her blog, thepioneerwoman.com, about her life on a cattle ranch in northeastern Oklahoma with her heart-stealing cowboy, Ladd, and four young children. She wrote in her pajamas in the early morning, her goal simply “to share pictures” with family and friends. But the wider world soon fell in love with the romance of it all—not to mention her delicious efforts to feed the most finicky of eaters: the cowboys working her husband’s ranch. In her new cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, she whips up mouthwatering meals with easy-to-find ingredients (she’s miles away from restaurants and supermarkets) and shares what living in a not-so-little house on the prairie is really all about. “I’ve found that in entertaining, as well as in life, it’s best to surrender to the natural chaos around you,” says Drummond. “You’ll have so much more fun.”

CHICKEN-FRIED STEAK

Serves: 8

Hands-on time: 45 min.

Total time: 45 min.

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

3½ cups milk, divided

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 tbsp. seasoned salt

1½ tbsp. black pepper

¾ tsp. paprika

¼ to ½ tsp. ground red pepper

3 lbs. cube steaks (8 to 9 steaks)

Salt and pepper

½ cup vegetable oil

Garnish: fresh thyme sprigs

1. Combine eggs and 1½ cups milk in a shallow bowl; set aside.

2. Combine 3 cups flour and next four ingredients in a shallow bowl; set aside.

3. Sprinkle steaks with salt and pepper. Dip steaks in egg mixture; coat with flour mixture. Dip again in egg mixture, and coat again with flour mixture.

4. Cook steaks, in batches, in hot oil in large skillet over medium-high heat 2½ minutes on each side or until browned. Drain on paper towels. Place steaks on wire rack in rimmed baking pan; keep warm.

5. Drain drippings, reserving ¼ cup for gravy. (Do not clean skillet.) Return drippings to skillet; heat over medium-low heat. Whisk in remaining 1/3 cup flour until mixture is smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 4 to 5 minutes or until mixture is golden. Gradually whisk in remaining milk; bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer, stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes or until mixture thickens. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. Serve with gravy. Garnish if desired.

SANGRIA

Serves: 8

Hands-on time: 20 min.

Total time: 4 hrs., 20 min.

1 Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped

1 cup pineapple chunks

1 lemon, thinly sliced

1 lime, thinly sliced

½ orange, thinly sliced

½ cup red seedless grapes

½ cup green seedless grapes

1 (750-ml.) bottle dry white wine, chilled (pinot grigio, chardonnay or sauvignon blanc) 1 (750-ml.) bottle red wine, chilled (merlot, cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir)

½ cup orange-flavored rum

½ cup orange-flavored vodka

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

1. Combine first 11 ingredients in a 1-gallon container.

2. Combine sugar and water, stirring until sugar dissolves; add to fruit mixture, stirring to blend. Cover and chill 4 hours. Serve over ice; top with fruit from sangria.

For less kick, substitute club soda for half of the wine.

RED VELVET CAKE

Makes: 1 (9-inch) cake

Hands-on time: 45 min.

Total time: 2 hrs.

1 cup shortening

1¾ cups sugar

2½ cups cake flour

½ tsp. salt

2 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp. baking soda

1½ tsp. vinegar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 (1-oz.) bottle red food coloring

1½ tsp. unsweetened cocoa

Cream Cheese Icing

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray two (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray for baking. Beat shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Set aside.

2. Sift together flour and salt; set aside.

3. Whisk together eggs, buttermilk, soda, vinegar and vanilla; set aside.

4. Add flour mixture to shortening mixture alternately with buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed until blended after each addition, stopping to scrape bowl as needed.

5. Stir together food coloring and cocoa; add to cake batter, beating on low just until blended. Pour batter into prepared pans.

6. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 20 minutes; remove from pans and let cool completely on wire racks. Spread Cream Cheese Icing between layers and on top and sides of cake.

Cream Cheese Icing

2 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, softened

1 cup butter, softened

2 (16-oz.) packages powdered sugar, sifted

¼ tsp. salt

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar and salt, beating until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks out Oct. 27

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