White Stallion Ranch: A Taste of the Old West

The patio at White Stallion Ranch

I had thought that dude ranches, the kind of places out west where you’d go to spend time galloping across the plains or desert with a background of mountain ranches, were out of the past. Popular around the time of Theodore Roosevelt who loved to ride and hunt, dude ranches first became big shortly after the Battle of Little Big Horn (though why a massacre of U.S. troops would be beguiling I don’t know) back in the 1880s, they attracted people not only from America but also Europe.

Dining Room at White Stallion Ranch

But unlike,western movies which had their heyday between the 1930s and 1960s and now are hardly ever made anymore, dude ranches have survived. Now called guest ranches, their numbers have fallen because the land they occupy is sold to developers for higher prices than owners can make offering lodging and horseback riding.

Indian Oven at White Stallion Ranch

And so, when my husband saw a deal for a long weekend at the White Stallion Ranch outside of Tucson, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I like to horseback ride,and I loved the idea that on Saturday nights they served a ranch-style dinner that had been cooked all day inside an adobe oven fueled by wood. Would we have to kick tumbleweeds aside to get into an old rickety cabin that smelled like horses? Would we sing along around a roaring campfire as the stars shone across the desert sky.

Penning a calf

Yes,to the later and no to the first. The cottages are adobe baked to a rust color and though the décoris decidedly western, it’s not tacky (excuse the pun) at all. Indeed, White Stallion Ranch (the name was originally Black Stallion but then the owners realized that the initials BS wouldn’t quite work)has received numerous awards including The 12 Best All-Inclusive Resorts in the United States for 2019 by SmartTraveler and Voted #1 Best Family Resort by USA Today 10 BEST Readers’ Choice Awards in 2018.

They’re running specials now because of Covid though as Russell True told me, social distancing is easy on a ranch. Russell is the son of the Allen and Cynthia True who bought the ranch in 1965, packing up their kids (Russell was five, his brother Michael was a baby) and moving from their very successful middle class life in Denver, Colorado. The whole place was rough and tumble to hear Russell describe it and much more isolated as the interstate some five miles away hadn’t been built yet and Tucson’s population was about 260,000—now it’s close to a million and rapidly growing.

White Stallion Trail Mix (recipe below)

When founded as a cattle ranch in the late 1800s, before Arizona became a state in 1912, about 5100 people lived in Tucson. Phoenix, about 100 miles north, had the same population back then but now they’re almost five times larger than Tucson.

The 3000 acres, located in the Sonoran Desert, backs up to the Tucson Mountains and is surrounded by the Saguaro National Forest and populated by ancient saguaros, those friendly looking cactus whose branches or limbs go up in the air like happy arms waiting to greet you. Movies are filmed here starting in in 1939 when William Holden and Jean Arthur starred in “Arizona.” In 1978, the James Garner film, “The New Maverick,” was filmed on the ranch and two years later Robert Conrad arrived for the making of “Wild, Wild West Once More.” Even better for George Clooney aficionados, the actor along with Sam Rockwell starred in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” in 2002.

White Stallion at Night

It’s all much comfier than 55 years ago when the Trues arrived. The main building wasn’t the gleaming glass, stone, and wood mid-century modern style it is today. When the Trues bought the 200-acre ranch there were 17 rooms and the same number of horses. Now operated by second and third generation Trues, the ranch encompasses 3000 acres. The horse population around 175 and there are 43 rooms and as well as 5-bedroom hacienda. Many of the True family members live on property including Russell’s son Steven and his wife.

But despite all these changes, the old west feeling is reflected not only in the cookery, trail rides, weekly rodeos, the cattle who range freely (have no fear, their prime practice is lolling under a shady mesquite watching people ride by) and the landscape but also in the chance to sign up for cattle drives, archery, rock climbing, hiking, heading to the shooting range and real-life lessons on how to pen cattle.

Over the years, there were many offers but Al True always turned them down.

“Do you know how much money you’re saying no to?” one developer asked him, emphasizing the amount added up to a gasp-inspiring millions of dollars.

Potato Chip Cookies

But land was more important than cash to the Trues and Al replied that riches were a poor substitute for their life on the ranch. But the lure of money is one of the reasons that of the 30 ranches once in business here north of Tucson when the Trues moved to the neighborhood have dwindled to three.
The food served is international but there’s definitely an overriding western/southwestern theme with taquitos, tacos, ribs, and steaks grilled outside. But the big paean to the past history is their signature Indian Oven Dinner on Saturdays. That’s a hard one to replicate at home, but just think of slowed braised pot roast with potatoes and carrots. Serve with flour or corn tortillas to add a little more western flair. They also offer food oriented guided trail rides including picnic luncheons, the Wine & Cheese ride, and a Beer & Cheetos ride.

The following recipes are courtesy of White Stallion Ranch and are among the favorite served there.

Prickly Pear Margaritas
Note: this makes a very large batch, if you’re not that thirsty or having a small get together, you may want to reduce the quantities.

1.75-liter bottle of Margarita Mix (your choice)
3/4 of a liter of Pepe Lopez Tequila
3 cans of 7-Up
1/4 bottle of Triple Sec
18 ounces of Prickly Pear Syrup

Peanut Butter Bars

¾ cup shortening
¾ cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 c white sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cups flour
1 ¼ cup oatmeal
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven 350° degrees or 300° convection oven.
Cream the shortening, peanut butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla well. Mix together the flour, oatmeal, soda, and salt.
Beat the flour mixture into the creamed mixture. Spread the dough by hand over sprayed and floured 9”x13” baking pan. Bake 25 minutes until still chewy. Immediately sprinkle on the chocolate chips and spread over the bars when melted.

Peanut Butter Bars

1 cup powdered sugar
½ cup peanut butter
1 cup chocolate chips
2-4 tablespoons milk, as needed
Beat topping ingredients well, using enough milk to get a creamy consistency, then swirl over the chocolate. Cut and serve.

White Stallion Ranch Trail Mix
6 cups dry roasted peanuts
1 family sized box or 2 regular boxes of Wheat Thins
8 c small twisted pretzels
8 cups thin pretzel sticks
8 cups corn nuts

2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups melted butter
4 tablespoons chili powder
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
10 drops Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon Lawry’s seasoning salt (or make your own using the copycat recipe below)
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Mix peanuts, corn nuts and pretzels in large roasting pan. Mix oil and melted butter, chili powder, Worcestershire, Tabasco sauce, garlic salt, seasoned salt, and cumin; pour over pretzels, mixing well.
If using a convection oven, cook at 300° F. for 15 minutes. If using a conventional oven, cook at 300° F. for about 45 minutes. Stir frequently to distribute the seasoning.

Remove from oven and let cool before serving, still serving frequently.

Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons white sugar
¾ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cornstarch
Whisk salt, sugar, paprika, turmeric, onion powder, garlic powder, and cornstarch together in a bowl.

Lariat Twirling Demo

Potato Chip Cookies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees

1 cup Crisco
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 6-ounce package white chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups coarsely crushed potato chips

Cream Crisco and sugars. Add eggs, vanilla and beat well.
Add crushed potato chips and white chocolate chips. Sift flour and soda. Stir into creamed mixture. Drop on greased cookie sheet. Cook 10-12 minutes.

Cooking the Perfect Omaha Steak

            What other major American city besides Omaha is defined by one specific food? No, we couldn’t think of one either, meaning when it happens, you know it’s got to be the best. And so it is with Omaha and steaks and the company who put them all together–Omaha Steaks. Long known for producing tender, tasty, grain-fed, hand-cut steaks, Omaha Steaks also is a fine purveyor of seafood, pork, lamb, chicken and such starters and sides as Filet Mignon Pastry Bites, Steakhouse Cauliflower Au Gratin and Mini-Lobster Grilled Cheese.

            As a serious carnivore, I was extremely lucky–and enthused–when asked to join a group of food and travel writers in a Zoom tour of the Omaha food scene where city’s famed steaks reign supreme. The webinar, organized by Visit Omaha’s Director of Communications, Tracie McPherson, was also sponsored by Omaha Steaks. Designed to introduce us to the city’s food scene, we met (virtually, of course) three of the city’s best chefs who shared tips and recipes on how to prepare what are considered the best of the best when it comes to quality meat.

            But first a little history.

            During the webinar, we learned that Omaha beef history dates back to 1862 when a Wyoming rancher asked a group of Omaha businessmen to consider creating a stockyard. Though it ended up being a boon for Omaha,  the rancher had a mercenary motive as well.  Western ranchers sending their cattle to the Stockyard Exchange Markets needed a place to feed and water their cattle as they made their way east. Omaha, located right on the banks of the Missouri River, was bountiful in corn and grass making it perfect for plumping up the cattle ensuring a higher price. Besides that, the city also was a growing transportation hub as the Union Pacific Railroad was expanding west making it perfect for a stockyard. So perfect that by 1890, Omaha Union Stockyards were ranked third in the United States for production. By 1910, the operations had 20,000 animals arriving daily. It was more than feeding and watering the cattle on their way to east coast markets, Omaha had become the market.

Photo courtesy of Visit Omaha.

And now the chefs and their steak preparation methods.

We met Chef Nick Strawhecker, owner/chef of Dante, who who trained in Europe and specializes in authentic, wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and rustic Italian cuisine. Cultivating relationships with growers and producers throughout the Midwest, his menu is seasonally driven. He also owns one of the few restaurants in the country that has pizza certified by the Italian Government.

Photo courtesy of Dante.

Dante– Chef Nick Strawhecker

Steak Cut: 20 oz. Bone-in Ribeye

Steak Preparation

  • Temper steak for about two hours, prefer room temperature
  • Season with fresh cracked black pepper and diamond crystal salt
  • Prepare in a hot cast iron pan with olive oil
  • Placed steak in wood-fired oven
  • Internal temperature of steak should read 115 degrees to 120 degrees (rare to medium rare)
  • Let steak rest then cut across grain

The steak sandwiches are  served with a variety of condiments like Fresh mushrooms, pickled vegetables, different sauces etc. Very versatile that can feed a crowd.

Chef Nick’s Tip: At home, the key is a good cast iron skillet that you preheat on a stove, oven or grill.

Jake Newton photo courtesy of V. Mertz.

Chef Jake Newton of V. Mertz learned to cook from his mother and after high school, attended Johnson & Wales University in Denver before moving to Europe where he worked and dined in some of the world’s best restaurants. Now he’s head chef for V. Mertz, part of Omaha’s culinary scene for more than 40 years, which is ocated in Omaha’s historic Old Market Entertainment District.

Steak: Boneless Ribeye

Courtesy of V. Mertz.

Steak Preparation

  • Start with a very dry steak by removing all of the moisture
  • Season with a liberal amount of salt and cracked black pepper
  • Sear steak on the hottest service possible to create that crust and caramelization on the steak.
  • Once steak has the nice exterior crust, let it rest for 5-7 minutes, the goal is to cool the external temperature to be less than what you desire the internal temperature.
  • Finish steak in a hot oven (450 degrees) for about 5 minutes (depending on your oven) until you reach desired internal temperature
  • Final resting period is around 15 minutes

Chef Jake’s Tips: 

  • Use canola oil in pan, it heats nice and hot
  • Move pan to another hot spot to keep the temperature of the pan high

Kitchen Table

Colin and Jessica Duggan of Kitchen Table.

According to our presententer, that Chef Colin Duggan and his wife Jessica, owner of Kitchen Table, make the kind of food that changes the way you eat. Before moving back to Omaha to open their restaurant, the couple spent time in San Francisco perfecting their culinary skills. Kitchen Table’s menu changes almost daily and is full of locally-raised seasonal food. Almost everything, including bread and jam, is made in house. The crew makes a Snack Mix of house bacon, candied nuts, and house popcorn that should come with a warning: highly addictive.

Steak Cut:  Teres Major (very versatile and large enough to have several servings)

Made three meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner

  • Trim silverskin of the steak but leave some of the fat
  • Prepare pan with butter and herbs (unintelligible due to connectivity)
  • Season steak with in-house seasonings
  • Use very hot cast iron pan to create sear and crust on steak
  • Breakfast
    • Cook eggs and vegetables on grill. Seasons with oil after cooking to absorb flavor
  • Lunch
    • Steak salad with housemade Greek Goddess dressing and Kitchen Table seasoning
  • Dinner
    • Jerk Spiced steak with marinated tomatoes
    • Same Cooking method for steak
    • Use reductions to accompany steak

Chef Colin’s Tip:  Season steak up to 12 hours prior to cooking to infuse maximum flavor

@VisitOmaha; @OmahaSteaks; #OmahaWeekend;  @IFWTWA; #ifwtwa1; @winenormal; Toastingfoodwinetravel, toastingfoodwinetravel1; Toastingfoodwinetravel; TastesAndTravel; WINEormous; amythepipertravels; tastesandtravel; janesimonammeson; TravelWell4Less; wineormous; janeammeson; temeculalinda; kurtzshar;shar_kurtz/;janeammeson1; jaimesays