Let the Wild West inspire your next culinary adventure!
Story and Photos by Julie Bielenberg
Recipes and Photos courtesy of the Dude Ranches
It’s no secret that one of the most amazing perks of dude ranch travel is the food. From generational dishes to five-star cuisine, the myriad of mealtime journeys can be just as exciting and thrilling as rounding up cattle or a High Rockies ride. Here are seasonal dishes, derived from authentic ranch culture, and offered to you for a holiday treat.
Stay warm, saddle up and see you on the ride. — Julie Bielenberg
I’m a Colorado girl and love our local produce featuring stone fruits, heirloom beans and tomatoes, along with plentiful mushrooms, in season. And, we certainly don’t have a shortage of heritage beef, pork, and chicken. Plus, there’s a thriving trout population for a mighty tasty bonus.
Vista Verde Ranch
The AAA Four Diamond Vista Verde Guest Ranch is located 35 minutes from Steamboat Springs and is open June through October, and December through March. Both seasons run daily horse programs; however, it’s the numerous off-the-saddle activities that set this ranch apart from the herd. There’s photography, culinary classes, yoga, fat bikes on snow, leather working, sleigh rides, wine and beer tastings, tubing, snowmobiling, and more. There’s an indoor riding arena for winter and an adventure center.
When it comes to bedding down, all guests have choices of extreme comfort in either cabins or lodge rooms, some even with personal hot tubs. The impressive lodge houses a true cowboy bar, a great room for dozens, games, and a dining room for all meals with an enormous fireplace for all the seasons.
I visited in winter and relished in the quiet horseback rides with snow crunching along the trail and the solitude of the animals and few riders, actually it was just my husband and our wrangler. The evening meals, fireside with earthy and cold-weather dishes were memorable and we easily sat at our table for two or more hours nightly listening to music and enjoying the ranch personalities. My favorite is the Parker House Rolls with apple butter!
Vista Verde Ranch Recipes
Smoked Trout Dip
12 oz High quality smoked trout
4 oz Cream cheese, room temp
½ c. Sour cream
3 tbsp Horseradish
2 tsp Salt
½ tsp Esplette Powder
1 tbsp Lemon juice
1 tsp ea. Tarragon, parsley, chive, and chervil, chopped fine
- Combine cream cheese, sour cream, and horseradish in bowl; mix until smooth.
- Add salt, Esplette, and lemon juice. Mix well.
- Gently fold in trout and herbs.
Serve with crackers. Will keep up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Parker House Rolls
Makes 20-22 rolls.
2 ¼ ounces warm water
4 ½ ounces melted butter
1 ½ cups warm milk
2 ¼ ounces granulated sugar
½ tsp dry yeast
1 ½ pounds all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp salt
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Place the ingredients into the bowl of a Kitchen Aid mixer with dough hook attachment and mix on speed-1 for 2 minutes, then on speed-2 for an additional 2 minutes. (If you do not have a mixer,
knead the dough vigorously for at least 10 minutes; the dough should be warm, soft, and a bit shiny)
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl that is big enough to allow the dough to double in size and cover tightly with plastic wrap.
- Allow the dough to proof (rise) for 1 hour at
room temperature. After an hour, fold the dough over itself twice, cover with plastic again, and let it proof another hour.
- After the second hour, turn the dough onto a
countertop or cutting board and divide into 2 ounce pieces. Shape the pieces into balls by cupping your hand over them and making a circular motion while using the countertop for resistance (this takes some practice to do well). You are trying to make a smooth, round roll without tearing the “skin” of the dough.
- Place the rolls into a lightly buttered 9” x 13”x 2” pan, close together, but with room to expand. Brush the rolls with one egg, beaten, sprinkle with kosher salt or flaky sea salt and bake for 9 minutes; then rotate the pan and bake an additional 9 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan.
The Ranch at Emerald Valley
One of the newest luxury dude ranches to open in the world, AAA Five Diamond Broadmoor Resort, created The Ranch at Emerald Valley which only requires a two-night stay, a rarity in dude ranch structure. The ranch is actually a 45-minute transport ride to a secluded, private, ranch estate. There are 13 cabins and a main, historic lodge, which can accommodate up to 32 guests. And, it’s all Broadmoor-style, translating to extreme luxury and attention to cuisine and sports adventure. The landscape is stunning, nestled amongst pine, evergreen, and aspen with private fishing ponds.
Daily activities include horseback riding, a multitude of games and activities, guided hikes, a soak in the outdoor hot tub, a book by the fireside, or enjoying fine wine while taking in the evening sunset. It’s the Broadmoor atheistic in extreme, pristine wilderness. The season runs Labor Day through fall.
The cuisine is prepared for those who adventure. Expect gourmet meals, for every meal! An array of fresh and crispy pastries awaits guests each morning at sunrise with cowboy coffee. Lunches often feature legendary fish dishes and iconic salads and fresh bread. Appetizer and cocktail hour rolls in your four-course evenings, often served al fresco, underneath a blanket of stars due to limited light pollution.
Just for fun!
The Ranch at Emerald Valley Recipes
Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi
At the Ranch at Emerald Valley, the Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi is made from scratch and served as an appetizer, but it can easily be enjoyed as an entree, made even easier with store-bought gnocchi.
1/2 cup butternut squash, peeled and diced
1/4 cup walnuts
3 tbsp butter
1/2 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 leaves sage, sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 lb gnocchi
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss butternut squash with oil, salt, and pepper. Place on a baking pan and roast for 10 minutes or until soft when pierced with a fork. Remove and let cool. Lower the oven temp to 350 degrees.
- Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast at 350 for no longer than 5 minutes. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over high heat. Stir until the butter smells nutty – but watch closely to keep from burning. Remove from heat.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi. Wait until they float to the surface, then simmer another 30 seconds. Remove and set aside, and toss with a little olive oil so they don’t stick together.
- In a hot skillet, add a dash of oil and saute the shallots and garlic for about 30 seconds. Add the brown butter to the pan. Add the gnocchi and toss until some of the browned butter flecks stick to the gnocchi. Add the roasted squash, walnuts, sage, and cranberries. Toss again and let cook for a few minutes until garnishes are heated through. Remove from heat, season to taste, and serve.
Cedar Smoked Steelhead & Black Truffle Fumet
6 six-ounce steelhead portions
10 scallions cut into sticks
1 cup cedar wood chips
1 shallot, finely diced
2 cups English peas, blanched
2 garlic cloves, minced
10 scallions cut into sticks
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)
Smoke the Steelhead
- Insert a cooking rack on the bottom of a baking pan. Place fish on the rack. Leave a space of about
5 inches from end of the pan.
- At the 5-inch mark, make an aluminum foil “wall” that will stand side to side from the bottom of
the rack to the top of the pan. Cover the pan with foil, leaving the empty space uncovered for now.
- In a cast-iron or stainless steel pan, heat the wood chips on the stove. Do not use a Teflon nonstick pan; you want the chips to catch fire. Take the chips and pour them into the empty space in the baking pan, behind the wall separating the fish from the fire. Quickly pull the rest of the foil over the chips and seal foil over the edges of the pan. The chips will smolder when covered and infuse the pan with smoke. Use hand towels when sealing the foil.
- Leave covered for 5 minutes. When removing the foil, have a cup of water to pour on the chips, as
they may still have some embers on them. Remove the fish from the pan to a platter.
2 shallots, chopped
garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp oil
10 sprigs thyme
1/4 cup black peppercorns
4 cups veal stock
1 black truffle, shaved (or substitute 1/4 lb shiitake mushrooms, sliced)
Few drops truffle oil (if not using black truffle)
Prepare the Fumet
- In a saucepan, lightly sweat the shallot, garlic, thyme, and peppercorns in 1 tablespoon of oil for 2 minutes.
- If using, shave in the truffle or substitute sliced mushrooms; cook 1 minute if using truffles and 5 if using mushrooms.
- Add the stock, and let simmer for 30 minutes.
- Strain and season with salt and pepper.
Finish the Dish
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Place in a large cast iron skillet with a dollop of oil. Sear for about 3 minutes, and finish in the oven to desired doneness, 8 to 10 minutes for medium.
- In a hot pan, sauté the peas and scallions with the shallot and garlic in a small amount of oil. Just before plating, add the romaine. Toss to coat the lettuce with everything in the pan; it should just barely wilt. Season with salt and pepper, and transfer to plates.
- Place salmon on top, and garnish with parsley and fresh truffle — or substitute with a few drops of truffle oil.
- Serve the fumet on the side. When ready to eat, pour about a 1/2 cup over each dish.
Lost Valley Ranch
This AAA Four Diamond Ranch is one of the closest dude ranches to the Denver metro area and sustained immense destruction during the Hayman Fire of 2002. The ranch never wavered a season; horseback rides now weave in and out of the burnt landscape that has been rejuvenated with stunning, green vegetation. And, after wildfire, comes the growth of the elusive Morrell mushrooms amongst other varieties that wranglers can help you collect in-season. A bonus, Lost Valley has weekend stays throughout the year, uber cozy cabins, and an incredible lodge for dining and dancing.
There’s nothing like escaping to the warm, sunny desert in winter. Meandering trails through cacti and arid landscapes heat up the soul during dreary months and moments. Al fresco dining, picnic lunches, and sunset tapas welcome in spring and there’s nothing better than a grill-prepared dish, alongside Classic Western tunes and a perfectly-stoked fire.
Rancho de la Osa
This is a remote, luxury dude ranch and the most historic in Arizona. Rancho de la Osa has hosted U.S. Presidents, movie stars, and my personal favorite, Pancho Villa. He attempted to take over the Ranch, and, a cannonball from this attack is still on the property in their Hacienda. There’s nothing like saddling up, bar side, for a cold beer where legendary battles took place.
Another incredible historic and modern-day experience is their location on the U.S. and Mexico border. You can take rides to see the border through wooded mesquite trails and low sandy washes. The Border Wall runs approximately four miles from the historic border crossing, where thousands of cattle and livestock were moved into the United States beginning in the early 1800s.
This is truly a history-lover’s dream destination in winter. Summer can be too hot to explore the Native American ruins that are in the adjacent 120,000 acres of the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge.
Ride in the warm winter sun on horseback, try your aim at sport shooting or archery, and definitely sign up for the UTV tours and e-biking through the desert.
The guest suites are extremely colorful and decorated to match the Southwest and adobe landscape. There are 19 suites, but I recommend Room 1, the Pancho Villa Villa.
Come dinner, expect intimate Southwestern, ranch-style meals in their historic dining room. Some nights, there’s live music and even cowboy poetry as you sip your cocktail.
Dude Ranch Recipes from Rancho de la Osa
From True Ranch Collection Chef Jeffery Burgess
Grilled Shrimp Cocktail
Preheat the grill to high heat. Peel and de-vein the largest shrimp that you want, using about
16-20 shrimp and leaving on the tails. Drain and dry the shrimp. Then place in a bowl.
Marinate the shrimp in 1 cup of a blended oil 90/10, 1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper
flakes, 1 tablespoon of coarse ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1
tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of dry mustard (you can use wet), 1 tablespoon kosher
salt. Toss all ingredients with the shrimp in a large bowl.
The shrimp do not need to marinate very long because the flavor comes from the high
temperature while cooking. Drain off the excess oil and carefully place the shrimp on the hot
grill from back to front, leaving lots of space. Cooking time will vary depending on the size
of the shrimp—larger shrimp will typically be about 1 minute per side. You should have nice
char marks and the shrimp will be about 80% cooked.
Pull them off the grill and let cool to room temperature, then put in a container and in the
refrigerator until you want to serve. Serve on a large platter with lemon wedges and cocktail
sauce. I add fresh horseradish and lime juice to cocktail sauce and it is always a big hit.
cast Iron Pork Chops
Start with 6 each 1-inch-thick pork chops. I use end to end loin chop, but you can use
your preferred chop. Bone-in will change the cooking time.
To rub the chops: 20-30 leaves of fresh sage sliced thick, 15 large cloves of fresh rough
chopped garlic, (using fresh garlic makes a big difference—if you use precut you will be
missing out on a lot of the flavor.) 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon coarse ground
black pepper, 1 tablespoons crushed red pepper, 3 tablespoons whole grain mustard (can
be substituted with other mustards), 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce.
Mix all rub ingredients together ensuring they are blended well. Place the marinade in a
large bowl and coat each pork chop well. At this point you can store in the refrigerator
overnight. Or leave them covered for an hour or two. For best results the pork chops
should be room temperature or as close to as you can when starting to cook.
In a large cast iron skillet heated to medium-high heat place about 1 tablespoon of butter
and 1 tablespoon of cooking oil. When the butter starts to brown and there is no more
sizzling gently place the pork chops in the fat. When placing them lay them away from
you to prevent oil from splashing toward you. Then watch the sides of the meat when you
start to see browning around the edges and the meat is starting to cook then flip them.
Try to only flip them once. Again, watch for the browning on the edges. Pork is best
served medium but cook them to your liking. If you have thicker chops you can place the
pan in the oven to finish cooking. If you do that then you should put in the oven right
after you flip them. If you are using a thermometer pull them at 128° and let rest and they
will carry up to the perfect temperature.
Best served with buttery mashed potatoes and blackened green beans.
Horseback riding in the wild and stunning Rocky Mountains makes anyone ready for supper. America’s most iconic national park, Yellowstone, has a legacy in cuisine, and so do many of the nearby dude ranches. A favorite winter ritual of mine is a sweet dessert with piping hot coffee to kick off the afternoon.
Nine Quarter Circle Ranch
The Nine Quarter Circle Ranch is nestled in a mountain valley just outside Yellowstone National Park. Once the Park was designated, homesteaders began to occupy the surrounding area. In 1912, several homesteads combined to form what is today the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch. This is a working horse ranch, run by the three-generation Kelsey family. And, many of the rustic buildings are still in use on the ranch.
For the rider, there are endless trails through the neighboring wilderness for novice to expert. The Kelsey’s horses are bred, born, raised, and trained at the ranch; therefore, matching ranch guests with the ideal horse is part of the generational experience.
Along with riding, the busy summer season includes fly-fishing just steps from your cabin at the Taylor Fork, a tributary of the ‘Blue Ribbon’ Gallatin River. Or, cast your fly at the ranch’s private trout pond. For kids, there is easy access to fisheries on the Gallatin and Madison rivers.
Summer hikers relish in the Madison and Gallatin Ranges, and a few beautiful hikes are accessible from the ranch. Trek through wildflowers and mountain meadows to Taylor Falls and Lizard Lake.
Nine Quarter Ranch Circle Ranch has ‘to-die-for desserts’ with lunch and dinner in addition to gourmet meal service throughout the stay. Once your belly is full from the day, rest your head in traditional, mountain log cabins complete with handmade quilts.
Nine Quarter Circle Ranch Recipe
Caramel Pecan Rolls
(2 glass containers, 12 rolls/pan)
1 pkg. yeast (1Tbsp.)
1/4 c. warm water
1 c. milk, scalded
1/3 c. Crisco shortening
1/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 – 4 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
3/4 c. dark corn syrup
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. chopped nuts
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. melted butter
- Sprinkle yeast over warm water. Let stand until softened.
- Pour scalded milk over 1/3 c. Crisco, sugar & salt in large bowl. Stir until Crisco is melted. (Can also place milk, Crisco, sugar & salt in large bowl and microwave until Crisco is melted. – Let cool before adding yeast.) Add eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Stir
in 1 c. flour, then softened yeast. Add enough flour to make a soft dough.
- Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
- Place dough in a greased deep bowl and turn to bring greased surface to top. Cover, let rise in warm place until doubled, about one hour.
- Melt butter in a small saucepan, stir in corn syrup and 1/3 c. brown sugar. Spread mixture evenly over bottom of a 13 X 9 X 2″ baking pan.
- Combine raisins, nuts, 1/2 c. brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
- Punch dough down. Roll into 16 X 12:
rectangle on lightly floured surface. Spread with melted Crisco or butter. Sprinkle raisin mixture over top. Roll up starting with longer side. Cut into 15 slices. Place slices cut side down in pan.
- Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap and
refrigerate 2 to 24 hours.
- When ready to bake remove from fridge, uncover and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.
- Preheat oven at 350°, bake for 35 to 40
minutes. Invert pan immediately.