Cooking for the crew |

Cooking for the crew

Beautiful skies without rain are the hope of every rancher on "branding day."

Branding is a huge celebration of ranching for us. Our family comes home, our neighbors and friends come over. There are families that we have traded help with for several generations and that is kind of special.

I love to cook for a large crowd. I am happiest when getting out my big pots and pans. However, it is important to note that we do not do this by ourselves. Many people come, many people help!

Years ago, when I was just getting started cooking branding meals, an old cowboy, Pat Cuny, gave me this advice. “Cowboys like meat and potatoes, plenty of it… and pie, especially lemon pie. Salads are for women!” I have mostly stuck to that menu. I have roast beef. What is easier than putting the meat in a pan, sprinkling it with a bit of seasoning, turning the roaster on, and checking on it once in a while? I also serve mashed potatoes. I always have a lot of women come to help, and many hands make quick work of 30 pounds of potatoes, plus we get caught up on all the news.

There have been a few disasters.

The very first branding dinner I ever cooked, I got up early and put the meat on low. I did not brown the roast, and just before serving, my mother and a neighbor, Joann Cuny were making the gravy. “Monica, do you have any kitchen bouquet? Any beef broth? Any worchestershire sauce?” and when I replied no to all of those, they showed me the gravy–unappetizingly gray. It tasted all right, but looked dreadful. Just that morning, the last words Ken, my husband, had spoken to me were ringing in my head, “You have a real good dinner, and even if we have a wreck at the corrals, maybe they will come back next year!” I nearly fainted when Joann picked up the coffee pot, with about half a pot left and dumped that into the gravy, immediately turning it a lovely brown. I did not even have time to taste it and here came the men. No one said anything, I knew they wouldn’t, but I carefully watched Ken, who was the last in line, take a big bite of the potatoes and gravy. When he did not jump with surprise, I finally got brave enough to taste it. I could not taste the coffee, but I have never forgotten to brown the meat again!

However, the worst disaster came the year we had just gotten internet, and Ken was a dedicated weather watcher. It was heavy clouds that morning, but the weather said it would clear. By noon they were done sorting, and the mist had really changed to rain. I thought we would probably cancel, but had all that food cooked, so figured they may as well come and eat. It was cold, people were wet, and hot food tasted good. It rained and Ken checked the internet. He said, “It is going to clear and I would like to get this done.” Now we live in sandy country, so if the calves would just dry off, we could get it done. Sure enough, by 2 p.m., the sun was out, calves were dry, and they started branding.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, we took stock. There was a little roast beef left, very little potatoes, most of the salads were gone, and none of the rolls were left. This is when having the best cooks in the country coming to your branding is a treasure. Carole Cuny made a macaroni salad out of a partial bag of macaroni, two cans of peas and a little bit of cheese that I still had left. My mother mixed the roast beef together with the beans, added barbeque sauce and called it beef & beans! I started a new batch of bread, and someone else mixed up a couple of cakes. Later that night, when it was over, there was one plate of food left when Ken came in. That was too close for comfort, and the next day, traditionally a day of leftovers, I had to start cooking again!

Down here, we trade help with the neighbors, and I often go along to help in the kitchen. The Temple Ranch was and still is a big day with lots of cooking to do. They always cook the mountain oysters, and that day, I had spent many hours over the hot grease, getting them done. Late that night, as we were headed home, Ken says to me, “Man I wish you could learn to cook the oysters like they do here!” If I had not been so tired I would have pushed him out of the pickup! But I got to thinking, while I did the frying, Bonnie Hart always mixed up the flour. The secret to really good oysters is adding the cornstarch to the flour. It truly makes a difference.

I was very honored to be asked to contribute my recipes to this article, but would like to take a moment to thank all the women who have come for years to my branding to help cook. My mother, sisters; Amy and Moira, my mother in law, Carole Cuny, Ginny Witcher, my daughters and now my daughters-in-law. Many hands make light work, and cooking with others is a great deal of fun.

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Rolls

(Farm Journal’s Complete Home Baking)

1/4 cup of warm water (divided)

5 tsp or 2 packages of yeast

1/4 cup sugar

2 cups of milk

2 tsp of salt

1/4 cup shortening

2 eggs

7 +/- cups of flour

Soften yeast in warm water, add a tablespoon of the sugar and allow to get frothy. Meanwhile, mix milk and shortening, remaining sugar and salt together and warm enough to melt the shortening. Add two beaten eggs. Put in 2 cups of flour on top of the yeast mixture, start mixer, slowly adding the milk mixture. Gradually add flour until a stiff dough forms. I generally remove it from the bowl and hand knead it 4-5 minutes. I think I get a better product. Let rise 1-1 1/2 hours. Form rolls and let rise, bake at 400 degrees, 12-18 minutes. These are wonderful fresh out of the oven, but do not store well.

Aberdeen Salad

(my mother, Thomasetta Kuhl)

1 bag of frozen broccoli

1 can sliced black olives

2-3 chopped tomatoes

1 pk of mushroom sliced

1 can of sliced water chestnuts

2 cucumbers peeled and sliced

1 bunch of celery

Mix together, let broccoli thaw, add Italian dressing, toss and serve. Note: if cucumbers are high priced, my mother just uses cucumber salad dressing.

Keith’s Salad

(my mother-in-law – Shirly Knuppe)

1 bag shell pasta

1 bunch celery

1 cucumber

4-5 roma tomatoes – add just before serving


1 package of dry ranch dressing mix

a little sugar, a little vinegar

1 1/2 cup mayo

1 cup sour cream

Boil noodles and toss with olive oil and salt. Mix in vegetables, except the tomatoes. Mix the dressing together and add to pasta, add tomatoes and serve.

Rocky Mountain Oysters

Fresh oysters – properly cleaned (Just to avoid any possible confusion, these are calf testicles)

1 box of pancake mix (I use Hungry Jack)

2 cups of cornstarch

1-2 tablespoons of season salt

deep fat fryer

Rinse oysters, drain, flour and cook in deep fat at about 350 degrees. I use a fish fryer outside, works wonderful. This is considered quite a treat for the cowboys.

Make-Ahead Sandwiches

1 lb ground beef

chopped onion

1 scant tsp salt

1/2 cup or less finely chopped sweet or dill pickles

1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 cup salad dressing

1/4 cup or less prepared mustard

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

12 large hamburger buns (buttered, optional)

Brown hamburger and onion. Remove from stove. Add remaining ingredients. Spread on buns. Wrap in foil and freeze. To heat, place frozen, foil-wrapped sandwiches on a cookie sheet and heat in the oven at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes. F