Wednesday, August 16, 2017

So, What's with the Potatoes?

Thank Your Farmers!

On Saturday, August 5, 2017, I attended another lecture at Edge of the Cedars Museum; topic being, "The Four Corners Potato".  This interesting and informative lecture was delivered by Dr. Lisbeth Louderback, Curator of Archaeology and Dr. Bruce Pavlik, Director of Conservation; both of University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Drs. Bruce Pavlik and Lisbeth Louderback

During an excavation of ruins in the Escalante Valley (aka Potato Valley and now you'll find out why the nickname), residue was found on manos and metates (used for grinding grains).  After carefully wrapping the artifacts, individually in plastic, to avoid contamination, the residue was genetically tested.  Imagine the surprise of finding starch granules, not of wheat or corn, but from a species of potato!  Sorry Idaho, but looks like the ancestral Puebloans of Utah were one up on the potato industry approximately 11, 000 years ago. 

Question though, were the potatoes always here or brought up through Mexico and traded for?  Exploring the landscape surrounding the ruin site, plants of Solanum jamesii were found growing and thriving.  To answer the question just asked, studies were done extensively throughout the 4 states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah; this species seemed to be only growing in the 4 Corners region.  San Juan County, Utah?  Correct!  Thriving plants can be still found in the Newspaper Rock area, so stay on the path when hiking around and don’t trample the plant life.

Newspaper Rock

Macaw Shawl found by Kent Frost, housed at Edge of the Cedars Museum

Let me get back to the question of, "So, What's with the Potatoes?"  This was asked of me by another attendee of the lecture who didn't understand why I was there.  First off, it concerns a food item, not just of this region, but potatoes, and who doesn't enjoy those?  Secondly, being able to input historical information into food articles gives the reader more "brain food".  These tubers may be tiny (average size equal to adult thumbnail), but they are powerful in growth and nutrition; think of them as little superheroes.  Drought and disease resistant; the plants are intelligent as they wait for monsoon season to provide needed moisture.  In one experiment, a plant placed in a ten gallon container produced over 100 delicious spuds.  S. jamesii has twice the amount of protein, zinc and manganese; and 3 times calcium and iron of the common potato (S. tuberosum) sold in markets all over the USA.  Slight evidence has been found of a compound within the potato that may effectively be used as a preventative and/or curative for cancer.

How did the ancestral Puebloans process, store and eat S. jamesii?  Roasted (residue found in cooking pots), boiled unpeeled and eaten as is, sometimes raw, or placed into niches of the pueblo walls, dried, then ground into flour.  Need more modern day techniques and recipes?  San Juan Record carries a book to help you out, The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency used by the Mormon Pioneers by Caleb Warnock.  Interacting with the local Natives, the pioneers needed to learn from them; what was safe to eat, how to grow and harvest; definitely how to cook and store for the harsh winter ahead.  At Edge of the Cedars Museum, Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners by William Dunmire and Gail Tierney is a wonderful guide of the knowledge the ancestral Puebloans passed down to their modern descendants.

Which brings me to the 4 Corners Potato Stewardship Program (yes, the Cokenour family did sign up) to help propagate and grow these wild potatoes.  While Solanum jamesii thrives in the other three states, often on Navajo, Hopi and Zuni reservation land, it is at a critical point of extinction within Utah.  Whether a small space gardener, like our family; major landowners; even farmers with ample fields, stewards are needed to keep this food source viable.  Here is another way for the stewards of San Juan County to show how residents protect our land!

To read a full report of the founding of the 11,000 year old potato, or sign up to become a steward, go to:

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, August 3, 2017

168 Ramen Serves Up Authentic Noodles and Dim Sum.

168 Ramen

2740 US-191
Moab, Utah, 84532

Phone: (435) 355-0899

Facebook Page:

168 Ramen is at the former location of Bangkok House, the first Thai restaurant opened by entrepreneur Venus Varunun; her second is Bangkok House Too located in central Moab. Venus wanted to bring something new to the area, something that locals and tourists alike could experience without having to travel out of the country, a Ramen Noodle House.  News Flash, she has succeeded!

168 Ramen opened its doors in March 2017, but we always wait awhile before trying out a new establishment; allowing them to get settled.  While the exterior and interior has not changed, the two page menu has with a listing of Dim Sum and Ramen dishes to please anyone.  There are extras, rice bowls and stir fry also, but go for the dim sum and ramen which are severely excellent.  My husband and I used to go to Philadelphia's Chinatown area to a favorite dim sum restaurant; that was 9 years ago.  To once again experience the tastes, textures, pure pleasure of these culinary tidbits brought smiles to our faces of joyous remembrance.  Yes, it was that good!

To start with, the Dim Sum Sampler and Octopus Balls (we were very curious); the sampler contained delicate Shrimp Dumplings; light, yet savory Shrimp and Pork Shumai; and BBQ Pork Buns.which brought tears to my eyes.  Why the tears?  The remembrance of going to a favorite China town Bakery and buying the most delicious baked Roast Pork Buns ever!  The buns at 168 Ramen are steamed, but we still experienced the same pleasure.

The jury is still out on the Octopus Balls though; the sauce is savory and rich, the octopus just the correct chewiness, and yet we still can't decide if we liked them or not.  Truthfully, I would say take the adventure plunge and try them out yourself.

While Ramen Noodle houses are a norm in Asian countries, they are slowly becoming popular in the United States.  Now these are NOT your typical dried ramen noodles you find on every food store shelf, and probably lived on while in college.  These are freshly made and prepared, served with a variety of ingredients depending on tastes and desires; and the most delectable broths imaginable!  Believe me, if you have eaten store bought, you will taste, and enjoy, the difference of freshly made.

Chicken Katsu Curry Ramen is a mild pork broth with Japanese curry; deep fried panko breaded chicken (to die for!), soft boiled seasoned egg, Nori (seaweed) and vegetables. While it is only available in the large bowl size, you will eat every morsel and drink every drop of broth.

Shrimp Tempura Ramen is a Dashi broth (mild, slightly sweet and addicting), soft boiled seasoned egg, Naruto fish cake (so awesome), Shitake mushrooms, Nori and green onions.  It came with 3 Shrimp Tempura which I ate separately from the soup; didn't want to lose the crunch of that tempura.

With both Ramen bowls, we left nothing!

Now I have to mention our most lovely waitress, Nat, who put up with all our questions, and helped us make the best decisions for this first...yes, first, as we will be going back again and again...meal. By the way, I highly recommend the Iced Green Tea; unsweetened and you won't miss the sugar.
Also the Thai Iced Coffee; Nat makes it so well that we ended up ordering one to go and shared it all the way back home to Monticello.  We've had Thai Iced Coffee before, but Nat makes it out of this world!

168 Ramen has now been added to our favorite Asian cuisine restaurants in the Moab area; however, in the mood for Dim Sum, Ramen Noodles or both....168 Ramen is your go-to restaurant!

Mary Cokenour  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

To Dump or Not To Dump.

Infomercials, they seem to be taking over, not just entire cable channels, but advertising altogether.  One I admit falling for was Cathy Mitchell’s Dump Dinners Cookbook which came with an awesome 9 x 13 baking pan plus Dump Cakes Baking Book.  What a bargain for $19.95 plus shipping and handling!  While I have not dumped any dinners as yet, I have tried a couple of cake recipes which led me to a question.

Why the term “dump cake”?  Actually this term covers baking methods as far back as the 1600s, colonization of the United States and creativity due to a lack of ingredients.  Names like Cobbler, Grunt, Pandowdy, Sunken and Brown Betty became synonymous with locations throughout the eastern states.  Two basic methods developed, the first being “one bowl”; all ingredients mixed into a batter within one bowl, poured into a baking pan, baked and served.  The second was layering and topping with uncooked biscuit dough (origin of WW1’s dough boys), rolled oats, bread crumbs, crushed crackers or graham crackers.

American cooks (1800s to present time) tend to use fruit as a major component, whereas the British colonists brought over their recipes of savory recipes using beef, lamb and mutton.  Personally, while discussing this next baking project with friends, it seemed that almost everyone had recipe dating back to mom, or grandma.  To judge both methods, I prepared two  “cakes”, the first being one bowl using spiced apples (thank you to the late Marie Watkins) , the second with cherry pie filling from a can. 

Apple Pie Dump Cake
Page 8, Cathy Mitchell’s Dump Cakes Baking Book

1 can (21 oz.) apple pie filling (or another fruit pie filling)
1 package (15 oz.) white cake mix (or yellow)
3 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)

1 – Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray 9 x 13 inch baking pan (or 2-9 inch round pans) with nonstick cooking (baking) spray.

2 – Place apple pie filling in large bowl; cut apple slices into chunks with paring knife or scissors.  Add cake mix, eggs and oil; beat 1 to 2 minutes or until well blended.  Spread batter in prepared pan; sprinkle with pecans.

3 – Bake 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean (mine took 60 minutes altogether).  Cool in pan at least 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Apple Walnut

Cherry Walnut

Note: the items in parentheses are my own personal changes

This recipe produced cakes; real cakes that rose and became yummy snacking cakes which my taste testers enjoyed.  Truthfully, I didn’t see much difference with this recipe than following the instructions on the box and adding pie filling.

The layered method produced results which were, well, iffy to the taste testers, since some did not even give comments, positive or negative.  Sometimes it is best to remain neutral.  Anyway, with cake #1, I used peach pie filling; it was definitely a cobbler with the cake mix plus melted butter creating a crumbly topping.  Cake #2 was tart pie cherries and chocolate cake mix; this turned out to be a gooey mess with not all the cake mix and melted butter mixing together.  It was best to be served as an accompaniment with ice cream, or layered in a bowl with whipped cream, but not as is.

For the recipes, I sort of mixed and match from ones I read, and ones that were offered to me.

Peach Dump Cake

1 can (21 oz.) peach pie filling
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 box (15 oz.) white or yellow cake mix
¾ cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350F; spray 9 x 13 inch baking pan with nonstick baking spray.

Spread pie filling over bottom of pan; mix together cinnamon and sugar, sprinkle over pie filling.  Spread cake mix over pie filling, pour butter over cake mix as evenly as possible.

Bake 45-50 minutes (again, mine took 60), or until pie filling is bubbling up along sides of pan.  Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

Step 1 - Fruit Layer

Step 2 - Cinnamon, Sugar Layer

Step 3 - Cake Mix Layer
Step 4 - Melted Butter Over Cake Mix
Peach Dump Cake Fully Baked


Cherry Chocolate Dump Cake

2 cans (15 oz.) tart cherries; drain water, but keep ½ cup; or 1 can (21 oz.) cherry pie filling
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 box (15 oz.) Devil’s Food cake mix
¾ cup melted butter
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F; spray 9 x 13 inch baking pan with nonstick baking spray.

Spread cherries plus ½ cup water (or pie filling) over bottom of pan; sprinkle sugar over top.  Spread cake mix over fruit, pour butter over cake mix as evenly as possible.  Spread walnuts over top.

Bake 45-50 minutes (again, mine took 60), or until liquid is bubbling up along sides of pan.  Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

Step 1 - Fruit Layer

Step 2 - Sugar Over Fruit

Step 3 - Devil's Food Cake Mix Layer

Step 4 - Melted Butter Over Cake Mix

Step 5 - Crunchy Chopped Walnuts

Cherry Chocolate Dump Cake Fully Baked

When it comes to these recipes, I say try them as is, or play with them to see what you can create yourself.  One thing for sure, you’ll definitely decide if you rather dump bake, or dump the cake.

Mary Cokenour