Ree Drummond began her site The Pioneer Woman back in 2006. Today she gets well over 20 million pageviews, she's published three books (a best-selling cookbook and memoir, as well as a children's book about her basset hound Charlie), plus she's finishing another cookbook coming out next spring. There's talk of a movie with Reese Witherspoon rumored to play her, and this Saturday, her Food Network show premieres. Oh, and because she's not busy enough, she also homeschools her four children on a cattle ranch outside of Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
How do you fuel that kinda lifestyle? Chicken-fried steak. "If you can master the fine art of gravy and chicken-fried steak, you can do most things in life," Ree says in the first episode of her part cooking show, part slice-of-ranch-life reality show, which airs this Saturday, August 27th at 11:30 EST on Food Network. The season will include six half-hour episodes.
And you really can't eat her chicken fried steak without a big slop of mashed potatoes. The Pioneer Woman's version calls for a stick and a half of butter, eight ounces of cream cheese, and a cup of heavy cream. But wait—don't put that butter back in the fridge yet! First smear the stick all over an oven-safe dish, throw the mashed potatoes in there, then dot the top layer with more butter. Now it can go into the oven.
So, let's review: butter, cream cheese, heavy cream, and more butter.
That's the rib-stickin' menu featured on her show's first episode. We chatted with Ree about the show at the Food Network kitchen studios in Chelsea Market yesterday.
Sneak Peek Clip: Pioneer Woman's First Episode
Our Chat with Ree
Will you be watching the first episode? We're actually going to be at a rodeo this weekend, staying at a interstate motel that probably won't have the Food Network. We might have to pull over at a sports bar and ask them to turn off whatever game's on to watch the show!
Do you like watching yourself on TV? Oh, dear. When I watched the episodes, I cringed. Recoiled. It's hard because there's so many things to think about when you're being filmed. Look at the camera. Talk about the recipe. I would say something that I thought was funny then nobody would on the set would laugh. It's silent while shooting. Then I'd get nervous, start to sweat. I had to step out of the room at first and get it together. What really helped was getting to know the camera guy and visualizing my audience, thinking about talking to all you guys to make it feel more natural.
And by the end you felt more natural? When I start belting out Ethel Mermen on camera, that's when you'll know I'm feeling totally like myself. I love Ethel.
What can we expect on the first episode? There are two cooking segments for each show, with some time of us hanging out on the ranch too. On the first episode we make chicken-fried steak, my husband Ladd's favorite, with mashed potatoes, gravy and an heirloom tomato salad with balsamic vinegar. Whoever invented balsamic vinegars is one of my heroes—I love it. My husband's a meat and potatoes kinda guy, but sometimes I try tricking him into being a meat and tomatoes kinda guy.
Was any of the show scripted? Nope. The network gave me a lot of freedom. Most of the shows just followed the natural flow of the ranch. We really wanted to represent the everyday life on the ranch.
The whole series was filmed at the ranch. What was that like? We shot the six episodes at the lodge kitchen, our guesthouse on the ranch, over 15 days. They were long 18-hour days. Some of the crew stayed on the ranch, others rented houses in town in Pawhuska. There were about 15 to 20 people here everyday—still not as many people as when Throwdown with Bobby Flay came out to shoot last summer. The production company for my show also worked on the Barefoot Contessa.
Do you watch Ina? Like her? Oh, yes. I love Ina. I watched her all day while nursing my kids.
Do you consider yourself in the same league as her and the other food show celebs now? No, not yet. I don't lump myself with her, Bobby, Sara Moulton, and the others I've been watching for years. Still gotta earn my spot.
The new cookbook. Tell us about that. It's called Pioneer Woman Cooks Food from My Frontier. I like to call it, the Pioneer Woman steps it up. The recipes are a little more elegant, a little fancier than the first cookbook, but still very accessible.
Are most of the recipes on the show as rib-stickin' as the chicken fried steak? Fancier? A little of both. On one episode, my husband and the kids are gone, so I have my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and sister over to make a fig and arugula topped pizza. [Editor's note: stay tuned for the recipe on Slice soon!] My kids, they only eat pepperoni. They take after their father. So that wouldn't fly if they were around. Me, I never want the same pizza topping twice. I'm working on about five pizza recipes for the new cookbook.
Would you do another season if FN asked you to? Yeah. It would be like having another baby. Have you noticed all my childbirth references?
Tell us something most people don't know about you. I can put both feet behind my head. [Pause.. I was sorta waiting for her to break out and show me right here. Unfortunately, she did not.] I haven't figured out a way to photograph it yet.
"Home on the Ranch" (8/27): Ree whips up Breakfast Punch and Cowboy Breakfast Sandwiches for a crack-of-dawn cattle gathering with the kids and cowboys. She also prepares a favorite ranch dinner: Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy, Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Marinated Tomato Salad with Herbs.
"Surprise Birthday" (9/3): For Todd's seventh birthday the Drummond family plans his first-ever surprise party. First, the baby cowboy is treated to his favorite Lemon Blueberry Pancakes. While Ladd distracts Todd, Ree conjures up a birthday feast of gooey Macaroni and Cheese and juicy Sliders with a toppings bar finished off with a Chocolate Sheet Cake.
"Cowgirls and Cowboys" (9/10): A battle of the sexes goes down on the ranch with a blind taste test to see if Penne alla Vodka can win a coveted spot on Ladd's approved list. Later, Ree throws a cowgirl's dinner the guys would hate (while they're gone): Goat Cheese and Dill appetizers, chilled Sangria and a Fig, Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza.
"The Drummond Bunch" (9/17): Cajun Chicken Pasta for the hungry Drummond kids, then, while they're at a sleepover, Ree does date night frontier-style with Ladd's Favorite Sandwich two ways and Oklahoma style Egg in the Hole for breakfast.
"Frontier Family" (9/24): For a field trip to a local museum and wild life reserve, Ree makes Malted Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies. On Sunday, the family heads to church followed by a dinner of comfort classics like Pot Roast and sweet Blackberry Cobbler.
"Ranchers' Dinner " (10/1): Ree entertains in true Wild West fashion with guns, roping, and a marital shootout. Aside from the fun and games, the menu includes Ladd's Grilled Tenderloins, Twice Baked Potatoes, Corn Casserole and iceberg wedges with homemade Ranch Dressing. For dessert, Ree sets up a Brownie and Hot Fudge Sundae bar that everyone enjoys while watching Ree and Ladd's throw down.