A Taste of Cowboy
Ranch Recipes and Tales from the Trail
By Kent & Shannon Rollins
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery By The Book Podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Kent Rollins: I'm Kent Rollins. Me and my wife Shannon have a cookbook, A Taste of Cowboy: Ranch Recipes and Tales from the Trail.
Suzy Chase: As a Kansan living in New York City, what struck me about your cookbook was a feeling of Americana, living a productive life off the land. In addition to your fabulous recipes, I love your stories, cowboy lingo, quotes, and gorgeous photos. Can you explain what Chuck Wagon Cooking is and how you got started?
Kent Rollins: Well, first of all ma'am, I think Chuck Wagon Food, it's comfort food with a Southwest flair, I guess in a way. It's something that's been tried and tested by a lot of cowboys across the Southwestern part of the United States. My mother got me started cooking when I was seven, eight years old. I found out sometimes it was a warmer place to be in the winter, instead of feeding cows or being horseback, was to be in there in the kitchen. I took to it pretty easy. I didn't know I was going to have to wash that many dishes when we got through. Definitely remember a lot of them old timers telling my dad, when we'd be somewhere, he said, "You know, that button of yours is, uh, spends a lot of time in the kitchen. There may be something wrong with him." When they got to where they could taste the food that I actually did cook, they thought it was all right.
Suzy Chase: When I think of cooking on the trail, I think of extreme heat. How do you deal in the hot months and extreme weather?
Kent Rollins: Well, when we're on a ranch cooking or even catering, when you're out in Mother Nature's kitchen, our view may be the best, but she can be rather harsh at times. I think the heat is worse than the cold. I had a heat stroke in '98 from cooking and they told me I'd never cook again, and I told them, "My dad said we never could spell that word, never." It took a little doing, but I think it's something in my brain, ma'am. It just clicks on when I walk up there to that fire when it's 110 degrees before you build it and go to throw in meat on the grill.
When you're standing over a Dutch oven, Shannon is, and she's cooking maybe 6-700 biscuits, there's a lot of heat that's just traveling right up to your face. It does take a special breed of people. It's like I told Bobby Flay when he come down there and did the Throwdown chicken fried steak with us and we beat him. He said, "A man would have a be a fool to do what you do in this kind of weather." I said, "No sir, it's job security, Bobby. Nobody else wants to."
Suzy Chase: As a wagon chef, what are three things you can't live without in your kitchen?
Kent Rollins: Well, first of all, I think it would be cast iron, would be number one. Number two would be an old hash-knife that I've had for ever and ever. And the thing that is probably more important than anything in my kitchen is my sweet wife, Shannon. I did this for about 25 years and Shannon came along and she didn't cook a whole lot. She microwaved some stuff. She come to cooking school and learned to cook in cast iron and be around a wagon. When we got together, she become a great baker in the Dutch oven. She cooks nearly all the bread and all the dessert now most of the time. Baking is something that you have to have a love for. It's more a heartfelt deal. It's not something you just throw on the grill and watch it cook. She says she feels more comfortable cooking in a Dutch oven outside than she does in the house in an oven. We're a great partnership. I'm very lucky, ma'am. I get to work with someone that's my best friend that I love 365 days a year.
Suzy Chase: What does your typical day on the trail look like?
Kent Rollins: Well, the alarm clock's going to off in some spring time about three. You walk over and build your fire and go to making some that [inaudible 03:54] good cowboy coffee, and then it's time to start breakfast. We do some breakfast casseroles like is in the cookbook, but also we do a lot of fried eggs, scrambled egg, bacon or sausage. Time you get them in there and get them fed, about five o'clock. They go to the pens and go saddling horses and ride out and then it ain't long before noon. Feed them boys a good casserole lunch or something like that, depending on the time of year. Wash the dishes again. They ride out and we'll be glad to see them come eating in time.
Suzy Chase: Do they have their main meal at lunch or is the biggie in the evening?
Kent Rollins: Well, in the spring we keep it a little lighter for a lunch menu then. Because when it goes to getting around 90 degrees by noon, folks don't each as much because they have to go back and work in them same conditions after lunch. But we don't slack off on much. I would say that the main thing is the night meal, but we do have homemade bread three times a day and fix dessert twice a day.
Suzy Chase: Do you have a favorite ranch to cook on?
Kent Rollins: I think if I did right now it'd probably be Calthan Cattle Company, down by Throckmorton, Texas. It's a dear friend of ours right between Throckmorton and Seymour. Robb Stewart. They make you feel at home there. They've got a good crew that we fed for four or five years, going on now. And it's a great family time. Robb brings a lot of people out in the evening and instead of feeding the normal ranch crew of maybe 10 to 12 people, there's a lot of nights at Robb's you'll feed 30.
Suzy Chase: Tell me about Red River Ranch Chuck Wagon Cooking School.
Kent Rollins: Well, started it all long time ago doing it on the road at different festivals. Probably 14, 15 years ago. People got to saying, "Hey, you ought to do this at home and make it last a little longer." I started getting them out down here to Red River, south of Hollis, and staying in an old cowboy ranch teepee with a good bedroll and a cot.
Suzy Chase: That's in Oklahoma?
Kent Rollins: Yes ma'am. Students come in on a Wednesday and leave out on a Sunday. I guess last year was, this will be the 11th year that I've been doing them at home. We usually do two to three a year. We've had people from nearly everywhere, had a young lady from London come over one year. She thought it was the grandest thing ever. I think the one that got to me the most was we had a lady last fall come from Michigan, she was 72. Been on her bucket list forever. She said the only thing that would have made it better is if she had brought her mother. I said, "Well, how old is she?" And she said, "92."
Suzy Chase: Oh my gosh.
Kent Rollins: She said she would have really enjoyed it. We teach cooking but we teach a whole lot about the simplicity of life, also.
Suzy Chase: What's your favorite recipe from the book?
Kent Rollins: Favorite recipe from the book. The one that I didn't want to give up until Shannon told me I had to, and that's the bread pudding in a whiskey cream sauce.
Suzy Chase: That was the secret recipe for a long time?
Kent Rollins: For 20-something years. I tasted some of it down around the Gulf Coast, in Biloxi, when I was cooking down there many years ago. I tried to con that chef out of that, I'd trade him a sour dough biscuit recipe, but he never would go for it. It took me a little recreating for it, but I think the thing that makes it stand out is it's made with hamburger buns. They keep their texture the same way and I grew up eating bread pudding that made out of 10 day old biscuits and a little scalded milk and sugar. But this is really light. It's a great dessert. The whiskey cream sauce, as my friend Chris Morton says, out there in the Texas Panhandle, an old cowboy, "Just call it Goes Over," because he says it goes over everything real well. [crosstalk 07:36]. It's great in your coffee the next morning, on your pancakes, anything you want to use it on.
Suzy Chase: Last night for dinner I made your roasted bean stuffed poblano peppers and cheese sauce from page 168. I'm a home cook with an eight year old little boy, and I found this recipe very fast and easy. I didn't have to make a side dish with it. It was a complete meal. We love the contrast of the sweet sausage and the smokey pepper. Do your peppers come out really smoky on the trail?
Kent Rollins: Yes ma'am, because a lot of we'll roast our peppers over a mesquite fire. I love the taste of a poblano anyway. I think they give a little more flavor than anything else. Like you say, it's a one stop shop, ma'am. It's a happy meal. Sort of all of it blends together and it is good eating.
Suzy Chase: I noticed that it didn't call for any salt. And then I started flipping through your book a little more, and I noticed that most of your recipes are salt free or have very little.
Kent Rollins: I like to combine flavors and let the flavors speak for their self. Sure, I grew up eating a lot of salt and I still do. Our recipes that we do a lot on the ranches that are in the cookbook too, we also just use our seasoning that's in there. If you can combine the flavors of different ingredients together, it'll bring a taste that you don't need to season maybe quite as much. But it's a lot of things I think in the blend of salt and pepper world that's out there. There's a line. People under season and people over season.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web?
Kent Rollins: Kentrollins.com. My beautiful wife, Shannon, she does our website and does a great job with it. We have a blog. We have a YouTube page. She has brought me into the modern age, ma'am. Most of my advertising for years was word of mouth and a full stomach, and now it reaches a lot of people.
Suzy Chase: Well, thanks so much Kent, for being on Cookery By The Book Podcast.
Kent Rollins: Why, thank you ma'am. It's an honor. We've had a lot of fun with it and been a lot of places.