This Cheesy Skillet Queso Dip is an easy and tasty appetizer recipe, and it’s perfect for watching college bowl season and playoff football games!
Beef. It’s what’s for dinner. Or in the case of this Cheesy Skillet Queso Dip, it’s more like: Beef. It’s what’s for snack. (And maybe for dinner, too!) Over the past year or so, I’ve had the chance to visit a number of different ranches and farms. I didn’t grow up with an agriculture background, so I’ve found these visits to be particularly fascinating. Farmers and ranchers are folks just like you and me. While you might get up and drive to the office or drop the kids off at school, farmers get up (early!) and begin checking and feeding their cattle. The only difference is their “office” is a field and their “coworkers” are other ranchers…well, other ranchers and cows.
Back in October, I was chatting with some folks out at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association near Denver, and the idea came up to write a series of posts about life on a cattle farm. Until this past year, I had no idea what life on a farm looked like. I’d heard stories so I had a vague idea, but that was it. Just a vague concept of life on the farm. So what does life on a working cattle ranch look like? I got to talking with Joan Ruskamp, a rancher out in Nebraska, about what happens on the ranch on a typical winter day. (By the way, Joan shares stories and photos from her farm at her blog, Dust in My Coffee. Check it out when you get a chance!)
In many ways, a cattle ranch on a cold, December morning looks a lot like a cattle ranch on a warm, July morning. Every morning, ranchers head out to “ride the pens,” or check on each and every cow in their herds. You might remember my post back in the summer about visiting Steve Olson’s farm out in western New York. Steve told me that one of the most important things he does each and every day is to put eyes on each and every one of his cows. Joan echoed this same thing, adding that she has walked her pens in snow, rain, wind and sun. (Of course, the sunny days are her favorites!) This happens not only Monday-Friday, but also Saturday and Sunday, too. This happens not only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, but also every day in between. The work on a ranch never stops.
Pen checks are one of the most important tasks on a ranch. After riding the pens, the rest of the day could include anything from giving cattle vaccinations, cleaning water tanks, general pen maintenance or paperwork back in the office. In some ways, winter days can be quiet on a ranch…that is, unless it snows. Cattle actually handle cold weather quite well. In addition to thick hair, cattle hides are approximately 10x thicker than our skin. But as Joan commented, ranchers’ “goal is to give cattle what they want no matter what the weather is.” This includes “a balanced diet formulated to meet their dietary needs, quality health care, a place to lay down, fresh water at all times and the ability to socialize.” She and her husband have planted thousands of trees around their ranch as a natural wind break which in turn help keep their cattle comfortable during winter snow storms. In many ways, Joan points out that they are always seeking to “minimize the extremes of heat and cold, mud and snow.”
Several years ago, Joan recalled a Super Bowl Sunday where she and her husband woke up to a huge snow storm. That was an “all hands on deck” event as the pens, roads and feeding bunks all had to be blown out. Cattle pens often have cement bases that are then covered with straw and cornstalks for bedding. This prevents that snow from melting and turning the pens into huge mud pits, but that snow still needs to be removed. As I mentioned, the work on a ranch never stops. Even if all you want to do is go inside and watch the Super Bowl!
Speaking of football, Joan was kind enough to share this recipe for Cheesy Skillet Queso Dip with me. It’s a favorite around her house, and her family loves to snack on this dip before high school football games. I’ll add that this Cheesy Skillet Queso Dip makes one heck of a tasty (and easy!) appetizer for watching college bowl games and NFL playoff games! Aside from the fact that it only takes a few minutes to make, this dip is actually quite versatile. Love jalapenos? Dice up a couple and toss ’em in! Prefer mild salsa? Go with that instead! Want a smoky flavor? Add in some smoked paprika! The ground beef really bulks up this Cheesy Skillet Queso Dip and adds a ton of flavor, as well. In fact, we may or may not have eaten the leftovers for dinner. (Hey, it’s the holidays and we’re all busy. Leftover Cheesy Skillet Queso Dip totally qualifies as dinner!)
If you get the chance to make this dip (or perhaps a hearty beef stew or even prime rib for the holidays), make sure to stop and thank a rancher! I can say from first-hand experience that a rancher’s work is never done. They are constantly monitoring their cattle to ensure that the cows are as comfortable as possible…even on Super Bowl Sunday! Cheers, friends! Oh, and if you happen to have any questions about life on a ranch, leave a comment below! I’ll make sure Joan sees the comment and gets back to you.
Finally, I wanted to include this video as I personally thought it was amazing! We’ve all heard the tagline “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.” The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently relaunched the Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner website, and this video does a great job depicting how ranching has changed since Old McDonald had his farm.