We all have dreams and fantasies. One of my oldest and favorites is that one day I pack up my bags and my three sons and head for the Big Sky. I don't know exactly why this appeals to me. Maybe I saw "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" and "Oklahoma" too often in my formative years. Whatever the reason, urbanite that I am, I get this "time to claim the frontier" fantasy each year just as the weather begins to chill.

Real moms are thinking soccer practice, apple picking, tailgate picnics and a deal on Halloween Pokemon costumes but not me. As I trot out on my sunrise run, I can almost smell the chuck wagon fire; the aroma of scalding and brutishly hot, strong coffee hangs thick in the air. Cafe latte? Mocha Java Mochichino Lite? Hey, like let's not make me and the trail boss snicker. The boss man don't hold with no sissy coffee, hear?

In my fantasy, the new frontier is a place where cowboy boots mean horses, not fashion. A place where people say "good morning" and look you straight in the eye. A place where they eat beef unapologetically, play way too much Bonnie Raitt and Garth Brooks and go to bed early. A place where The Gap is that ravine on the outskirts of town. A place where people dress up for a Saturday night dance. A place where sarcasm is suspect.

In my fantasy frontier town there are some good looking schools, some prime baseball diamonds, a newly built fine arts center and a billboard saying that a very off-Broadway production of "The Fantastiks" and "Rent" is coming soon. I see another sign saying "Tango Lessons." This is it. Perfect. We pass a diner advertising, "Baker Wanted." I stop, go in to chat and faster than you can say, "Butter my biscuits," momma's got work.

The boys find friends, catfish, frogs, girls and autumn fairs. My chocolate chip cookie recipe is sought after at the bake sale table at the Saturday flea market. I get a deal on an almost-new Pentium and spend some chillier October nights writing the screenplay that I started back East.

Within weeks, the diner's business has picked up. Everyone says, "Heck, I dunno where the new baker girl is from, but darn if she does not make the best biscuits!" Soon, we start selling muffins and scones.

One day I surprise my boss and make real chicken and dumplings. "Geez, she cooks too!" I get a night off and see that off-Broadway production of "Rent." I think I see Bill Pullman in the audience. Next day, I hear my screenplay has been optioned. I share the news at tango class. Son Jonathan teaches his new friends the finer points of street hockey. Gideon finds someone to star gaze and launch his homemade rocket with. Benjamin spends each and every minute at that little stream or swinging on a giant tire beside our neighbor's barn. He comes home with eggs every other day. We send back oversized oatmeal raisin cookies in return.

Ah, dreams. You've got to have them but you can't always live them.

So, I go West in my head. One day, I will get to that place that sits side saddle on the far side of my horizon. But until then, I bring the cowboy spirit to the cook.

Buttermilk Oven-Fried Chicken

(4 to 6 servings)

Soaking chicken in buttermilk is the best way I know to compete with the "Colonel." Buttermilk tenderizes the chicken. Oven-"fry" this chicken in a cast-iron Dutch oven, a great method if you're preparing large batches.

3-pound chicken, cut into 8 to 10 pieces

1 to 2 quarts buttermilk (enough to cover the chicken pieces)

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup stone-ground cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground celery seeds

1/4 teaspoon ground sage

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (optional)

Scant pinch curry powder

Scant pinch cayenne pepper

Place the chicken in a large bowl and add the buttermilk. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the salt. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or as long as overnight.

When ready to cook: drain the chicken and discard the buttermilk.

In a large resealable plastic bag, mix together the remaining 1 tablespoon salt with the flour, cornmeal, garlic powder, black pepper, ground celery seeds, sage, Old Bay (if using), curry powder and cayenne pepper. Add a few chicken pieces to the bag and shake to coat. Transfer the chicken pieces to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces. Repeat the whole process so that each chicken piece is coated twice.

Line a baking sheet with a wire rack or parchment paper.

To oven-"fry": Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Transfer the chicken pieces to the baking sheet. Bake the chicken until the pieces are brown, about 45 minutes.

Per serving (with skin): 377 calories, 52 gm protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 200 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 321 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Cream Gravy for Fried Chicken

(Makes about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

3/4 cup warm chicken stock or broth (may substitute instant chicken bouillon)

1/4 to 1/2 cup half-and-half or light cream

Pinch of dried sage, poultry seasoning or Bell's seasoning

Drop of Kitchen Bouquet (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the flour and cook just until the mixture starts to turn light brown; the mixture will be crumbly. Increase the heat to medium, stir in the warm chicken stock and cook, whisking constantly to avoid lumps, until the mixture thickens. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cream, sage or poultry seasoning, Kitchen Bouquet, if using, and salt and pepper to taste. Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly.

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 51 calories, 1 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 75 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Stampede Chili

(8 generous servings)

What is in a true chili? It depends on where you're from. Texans make a face if you mention tomatoes or beans. Cincinnati aficionados add cinnamon to theirs and serve it atop spaghetti. Californians . . . well, Californians add whatever they like: beans, tofu, chocolate.

Here's my version of a "bowl of red"--it is quite garlicky. Make it special by rounding up some rustic ceramic bowls and furnishing all the fixings. Offer rice, corn bread or tortillas on the side.

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds ground beef

1 small onion, minced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups beef stock or broth

1/2 cup red wine

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 to 3 tablespoons chili powder, or to taste

28-ounce can stewed tomatoes, lightly drained

6 to 8 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained and minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch dried oregano

Pinch ground sage

Pinch sugar

1 bay leaf

1 to 2 teaspoons ground cumin

15.5-ounce can black beans, drained


Sour cream

Colby or cheddar cheese, shredded

Minced jalapeno chili pepper

Minced fresh cilantro or parsley

Shredded lettuce

Finely chopped black olives and sun-dried tomatoes

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, heat the oil. Add the meat and cook until it all is lightly brown. Drain off any excess fat and push the meat to the outer edge of the pan. Add the onion and garlic to the middle of the pan and cook until softened. Stir in the beef stock or broth, wine, vinegar, cayenne pepper, chili powder, canned tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, black pepper to taste, oregano, sage, sugar, bay leaf, cumin and black beans. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the meat is fully cooked and the flavors have blended, about 1 hour. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Ladle the chili into individual bowls. Offer the garnishes on the side.

Per serving: 464 calories, 24 gm protein, 19 gm carbohydrates, 32 gm fat, 94 mg cholesterol, 12 gm saturated fat, 1,228 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber

Chicken-Fried Steak

(3 to 4 servings)

This is a trademark Western way of tenderizing a tough steak.

For the steaks:

2 pounds round steak, cut into 1/4-pound pieces

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus additional to taste

3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the gravy:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil or butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Drop of Kitchen Bouquet (optional)

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Have a baking sheet ready.

For the steaks: Place each piece of meat between 2 pieces of parchment or wax paper and pound to flatten slightly. Set aside.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the milk. Set aside.

In a shallow dish, mix together the flour, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Dip each piece of steak in the seasoned flour, then in the egg-milk mixture (allowing the excess mixture to drip off) and then in the seasoned flour mixture again. Repeat with the remaining steaks.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Wearing an oven mitt and working carefully around the hot oil, add the steaks and fry, turning once, until brown on both sides, about 4 minutes. Transfer the steaks to paper towels to drain. Then place the steaks on the baking sheet and transfer to the preheated oven to finish cooking (about 7 minutes) and keep warm while you make the gravy.

For the gravy: Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the oil from the skillet. Add the oil or butter and heat. Then add the flour and whisk to combine. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk. Return the pan to the heat and whisk until the mixture thickens, 1 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add a drop of Kitchen Bouquet, if using.

Serve the steaks with the gravy.

Per serving (with gravy): 541 calories, 59 gm protein, 11 gm carbohydrates, 27 gm fat, 165 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 308 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Buttery Angel Biscuits

(8 to 10 biscuits)

A basket of these, fresh and hot, is just the thing to serve for supper with Buttermilk Fried Chicken and boiled corn on the cob.

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

5 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, plus additional for the pan

4 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled

1/2 to 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and stir briefly. Set aside for about 5 minutes to proof.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and sugar. Cut the butter and the shortening into the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined and crumbly. Stir 1/2 cup of the buttermilk into the flour mixture. Add the dissolved yeast mixture and toss with a fork to combine, adding more buttermilk if needed; the dough will look ragged, not moist.

On a lightly floured surface, gently knead the dough until soft, about 8 to 10 seconds. Cover the bowl with a towel and let rest for 10 minutes.

Have ready a 9- or 10-inch cast-iron skillet or lightly butter a 10-inch square or round baking pan.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of just under 1 inch (about a 7-by-7-inch square). With a 2 1/2- to 3-inch cookie cutter, cut the dough into biscuits. Arrange the biscuits in the prepared skillet or pan. Cover with a towel and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly sprinkle the biscuit tops with flour. Bake the biscuits in the preheated oven until lightly golden, 12 to 15 minutes.

Per biscuit (based on 10): 198 calories, 4 gm protein, 27 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 430 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Calico Salad

(4 to 5 servings)

This colorful salad is as sunny as the Southwest.

15.5-ounce can white, kidney or black beans, drained

2 cups fresh or thawed, frozen corn

1 cup minced red bell pepper

1 cup cooked rice

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch sugar

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch ground coriander

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2/3 to 1 cup olive oil

Fresh cilantro, minced

Fresh parsley, minced

In a medium bowl, combine the beans, corn, bell pepper and rice. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, garlic, sugar, cumin, coriander and black pepper to taste. Whisk in the oil. Toss about 1/2 cup of the dressing with the vegetable-rice mixture, reserving the remaining dressing for another use. Garnish the salad with the cilantro and parsley.

Per serving (based on 5): 291 calories, 7 gm protein, 38 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 830 mg sodium, 6 gm dietary fiber

Marcy Goldman is a professional baker and food writer based in Montreal.

CAPTION: THE COWBOY DINNER Buttermilk Oven-Fried Chicken and Calico Salad.