Review: The Pioneer Woman Cooks + Comfort Meatballs

A few weeks ago, I attended the Blogher Food ’09 conference with Ree Drummond as one of the speakers. As she sat in her chair during one of the breaks, everyone stared across the room at this tall woman from Oklahoma. The conversation flitting around the room went something like this:

“There she is. Just sitting there. She’s not talking to anyone. Oh god! She’s one of those snobby, stuck up bloggers!”
“Do you think that’s her real hair color?”
“I’ve heard she’s nice…”
“How the hell did she have eight kids and stay that thin? Oh, four kids. Whatever. Still.”
“Oh my gosh! Look how tall she is!”
“Does she really cook with that seasoned salt stuff?”
“No, YOU go talk to her!”

For some reason, people were really, really intimidated by this woman. I’d never met her, and I was endlessly amused by the insecure chatter around the room. I think that the cattiest of these folks were just jealous, because without really trying, Ree had managed to curb the market on food blogging, beating out even our SF hometown heroes.

Ree’s blog, The Pioneer Woman, gets over 13 million pageviews a month, according to the LA Times. Her site is split into several sub-sites, including pages on cooking, photography and homeschooling, among others. The popularity of her food blog, The Pioneer Woman cooks has grown so fast and furiously that she’s already got a cookbook out: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl. And guess what? It’s on the New York Times Bestseller List.

How the hell did Ree gain such popularity in a world where everyone and their mom blogs? What is her magic formula? Well, here’s the ticket – she doesn’t have one, and that’s precisely what makes her popular.

In a universe with an untold number of blogs, people are knocking themselves out trying to create a gimmick that will bring people to their sites. It’s almost like walking down the street in the Red Light District, with hot women reaching out from every door way, wrapping their feathery scarves around the neck of anyone who passes by. “Come on in,” they breathe. “I’ve got what you want right here.”

But readers don’t want gimmicks, at least not for their everyday reading. They want something they can relate to, something comfortable, something familiar. Readers want their mom, their sister or the girl next door. Ree is all of these things.

A country-girl-turned-city-girl-turned-country-girl-again, Ree Drummond oozes friendliness. Her writing voice is easy breezy and offers to wrap you in a big old country-girl hug. Her food does the same thing; lacking the pretentiousness that many foodie blogs capitalize on, her recipes remind you of the stuff your mom used to make back in the 70s and 80s, when Lowry’s Seasoned Salt was all the rage and no one was afraid of butter yet.

Some turn up their nose at the idea of putting ketchup in their meatballs, but not Ree. Her cookbooks says, “Hey, it’s food. And it tastes good, so eat it.” Her book also says, “I like cowboys because they have damn fine asses.” Well, alrighty then. I can’t really argue with that.

Her recipes are so down-home while still hinting at an LA food-scene past that you can’t really resist them. I made three recipes – Huevos Hyacinth on page 70, Comfort Meatballs on page 172 and the Creamy Rosemary Potatoes on page 204. All were simple dishes that packed a lot of flavor, though this flour-heavy book might be tough to stomach for those of the gluten-free persuasion. That said, I’m thinking most of the stuff here would be simple to de-glutenize with a decent flour mix.

When it comes down to it, I love Ree’s book because it’s fun, chatty, colorful and stands out against today’s market of books that detail uppity global cuisine. Her cookbook pays homage to a dying breed: collections of American recipes that our mothers would have bought 20 years ago and actually made.

And by the way, I did finally meet Ree. After the conference Jaden, Elise and Ree threw a big crazy party, and Arnold and I ended up hiding from the crowds out on the patio. Out came the Pioneer Woman herself, who apparently doesn’t like crowds either. We sat outside, talking blogging for a while and then someone whisked her away.

All those catty biddies squawked for no reason – Ree was super nice and down to earth. Just like her cookbook.

Ree Drummond’s Comfort Meatballs

Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 3/4 cup quick oats (gluten free!)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons finely minced onions
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup flour (or gluten free flour mix)
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 tablespoons minced onions
  • Dash of Tabasco sauce
  1. In a bowl, combine beef and oats. Pour in the milk, then add the diced onion, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
  2. Roll the mixture into tablespoon-sized balls and stick in the fridge for 45 minutes to firm up.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  4. Dredge the meatballs in the flour, then brown in the hot skillet until light brown. As they finish, place them in a 9×13 baking dish.
  5. In a bowl, stir together ketchup, sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire, onions and Tabasco. Drizzle evenly over each and every meatball in the pan.
  6. Bake for 45 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Serve hot!
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Comments from other ninjas:

  1. Almost Slowfood says

    What a lovely analysis and post and everything. I haven’t read Ree’s blog – is that a terrible thing to say?!?! – but I love your description of her. How nice you got to meet her and have a little convo.
    .-= Check out Almost Slowfood

  2. Mrs. Accountability says

    Great review! I got to meet PW in Phoenix, but just for a minute while she signed my cookbook. She’s awesome!

  3. Stephanie says

    The whole Pioneer Woman phemomenon is amazing. Good review of the cookbook. I enjoyed your take on the buzz surrounding her at Blogher Food. I’m guilty of being a little bit (a lotta bit) in awe of her success.

  4. Alisa Bowman says

    I’ve been thinking about buying her book for a while–ever since it hit the best seller list. Your review just convinced me to buy it. After all, this is the kind of food my entire family loves to eat. I love your description of the uppity food culture. So true.
    .-= Check out Alisa Bowman

  5. Lana Doan Kanis says

    Thank you for this. I read Ree everyday – I haven’t even bothered to add her to my RSS feed b/c I know she’ll post often, almost everyday. I love how she’s genuine and very relatable. You nailed it about her success secret – she doesn’t really have one. She’s just herself.

  6. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart says

    That is so funny. I can only dream of that kind of traffic. Good for her. And, good for you for getting to meet her.
    .-= Check out Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart

  7. Alexandra says

    Thanks for this information, which I found really interesting. I loved the comparison to women in doorways, attracting clients. My husband loves meatballs, so I will try Ree’s version. It must have been fun meeting her!
    .-= Check out Alexandra

  8. Jennifer Margulis says

    I haven’t heard of Ree but I was very intrigued by your post and description. She and her book (and blog) all sound great. Off to check out the blog…
    .-= Check out Jennifer Margulis

  9. Christine says

    mmm…..those pictures make me want to go cook up some meatballs right now! I agree with what you say about Ree’s blog. I read it occasionally – more often for the photography section – and love her friendly and accessible style.
    .-= Check out Christine

  10. Susan Johnston says

    Funny you mention Lowry’s Seasoned Salt. My boyfriend swears by it, and until I met him, I hardly knew the stuff existed. It is quite tasty on a baked potato, though. Must have been fun meeting the Pioneer Woman at BlogHer!
    .-= Check out Susan Johnston

  11. Kara Williams says

    I read Ree before she got big! Don’t know why I stopped… had no idea she had a cookbook out. Off to check out her new-and-improve-sub-categorized blog now. Thanks for scoop.

  12. Katherine Lewis says

    How *do* you get such amazing photos? They almost jump off the page into your mouth. I love this review especially the commentary about Ree Drummond at BlogHer — I’ve seen that scene multiple times, where people assume the “famous” person is stuck up. We’ve adapted one of her soup recipes for a new variety of yumminess.
    .-= Check out Katherine Lewis


  1. […] the world. Her only condition was that I not mention her name and that I should inform you all that American meatballs are missing the necessary addition of cured pork, and that on all of her trips to the states, she […]

  2. […] the world. Her only condition was that I not mention her name and that I should inform you all that American meatballs are missing the necessary addition of cured pork, and that on all of her trips to the states, she […]