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Following a trail of Old West recipes


Listen up, buckaroos. There's a new cookbook you might want to take a gander at - 'specially if you like to grill, grew up on a diet of Gunsmoke and Rawhide, and every now and then get a hankerin' for some cowboy food.

Yessir, if you love Westerns and don't mind the kind of writin' in which all the "g's" are dropped, The All-American Cowboy Grill is for you.

Corny? Sure it is. And beany, too, with 15 of its more than 200 recipes - all gathered from famous cowboy and cowgirl stars - devoted to that humble staple of the Old West, from Annie Oakley's Baked Beans to Slim Pickens' Cowboy Beans.

But the cookbook - from the same people who brought you Granny's Beverly Hillbillies Cookbook and Aunt Bee's Mayberry Cookbook - is about much more than beans. Whether you want to "rustle up" a meal on the grill, over an open fire or even indoors, the book invites you to "hit the trail to yesteryear and rendezvous with the world's greatest cowboys."

The All-American Cowboy Grill (Rutledge Hill Press, 2004, $16) is more fun than fundamental, more sorghum than Sorbonne. Within its 225 pages, sprinkled with photos and factoids about cowboys, are some interesting down-home recipes.

We tried four, starting with Rhonda Fleming's Cowboy Caviar, a zingy combination of tastes and textures made with shoe-peg corn, black-eyed peas, avocados, tomatoes, green onions and cilantro.

For a side dish, we made Kelo Henderson's Cheesy-But-True Grits. Henderson, we learned from the cookbook, was a trick gun artist who starred as Arizona Ranger Clint Travis in the 1950s TV series 26 Men. The book provides background on all the cow folk whose recipes are featured and photos of most of them, including Henderson.

We can't speak to his acting ability, but his grits are awesome, and easy to make: Boil up a cup of grits, combine with a mixture of two eggs, some milk, cheddar cheese and a whole stick of butter and toss it in the oven for 45 minutes.

Three other recipes were prepared on the grill, including a dish from Will Rogers, who apparently never met a vegetable he didn't like, either. His Grin and Lariat Grilled Vegetables, submitted by a great-granddaughter, uses summer squash, zucchini, potatoes, broccoli, peppers and whatever else you want, all marinated in Italian balsamic dressing.

For the entree, we chose Forrest Tucker's Peanut Butter Steak. We would have tried Johnny Cash's Barbecued Mexican Style Fiery Goat (Cabrito en el Fuego), but it called for an entire goat, skinned and cleaned, and the instructions began, "First, dig a pit."

Tucker's recipe - he played Sgt. O'Rourke in F Troop - recommends using rib-eye steaks rubbed with tenderizer and pepper, splashed with liquid smoke and Worcestershire sauce, then smeared on both sides with a tablespoon of peanut butter.

It may sound like a way to ruin a perfectly good steak, but the product, with its nutty flavor, makes for an interesting change of pace.

The directions are short and sweet, sometimes so much so that they leave you wondering what to add when. Putting peanut butter on both sides of a steak, for instance, can lead to a gloppy mess. (Solution: peanut butter one side, put that side down on the grill, then peanut butter the top.)

A sequel to The All American Cowboy Cookbook, the book was written by Ken Beck (a newspaper editor in Nashville), Jim Clark (founder of the Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watcher's Club) and Cheryl Rogers-Barnett (daughter of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans). The sequel puts more emphasis on grilling, and features recipes from Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Gene Autry and scores of other Western stars, as well as real cowboys.

Whether you're whipping up Edgar Buchanan's Road-Kill Chili or Jack Elam's Gunfighter Guacamole, The Cowboy Grill will fill you with nostalgia.

And a hot meal to boot.

Rhonda Fleming's Cowboy Caviar

Makes 6 to 8 servings

16-ounce can shoe-peg corn

16-ounce can black-eyed peas

1 or 2 avocados, cubed

2/3 cup chopped cilantro

2/3 cup chopped green onions

1 tomato, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red-wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

Mix together the corn, peas, avocados, cilantro, green onions and tomato. For the dressing, mix the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and cumin together. Pour the dressing over the vegetables, and toss to mix. Chill. Serve with chips or on a bed of lettuce.

Per serving (based on 8 servings) 210 calories; 5 grams protein; 11 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 23 grams carbohydrate; 4 grams fiber; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 559 milligrams sodium

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