Sunday, April 21, 2019

Historical Chocolate Once Again.

With all the hoopla going on about a possible re-expansion of Bears Ears National Monument, I noticed a mentioned addition was Alkali Ridge.  On one hand, there are those who state, “The monument will bring thousands of tourists who will bring money to the economy, but also destruction.”  Then there are those who state, “No expansion, no monument, build a wall ala Trump around San Juan County.   Working in the tourism industry for five years, the influx of visitors to San Juan County has been steadily increasing, even before the mention of the possibility of a monument.  With the Alkali Ridge, visitors have been asking about it, since I began promoting the Four Corners regions, as they already knew of its existence.  Knowledge has become so accessible, the entire idea of “hiding” anything historical is preposterous.  Change comes whether we want it to or not.  The huge decision that needs to be addressed, how to react to the change; will it be with positivity or negativity?  *climbs off soap box*

I have written about the cacao that had been found in Alkali Ridge pottery and its display in a museum in Salt Lake City.  It was exciting to see shards of “Deadman Black on Red” pottery lying here and there around the Landmark area when I visited it.  With that lead in, let me introduce you to Alkali Ridge Historical Landmark, or what you could have seen when it was excavated in the 1930s.

Alkali Ridge National Historical Landmark
Outlined with stones; possible buried Kiva?
In the summer of 1908, Byron L. Cummings (University of Utah) continued his archaeological work in the Southeastern Utah region by focusing on upper Montezuma Canyon, including a small excavation at Alkali Ridge.  Along on this expedition was Alfred V. Kidder who became a leader in the field of archeology.  However, it wasn't until John Otis Brew of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology; a museum affiliated with Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that Alkali Ridge was fully explored.  Three separate expeditions (1931, 32, 33) exposed the massive settlements that existed in this area covering Basketmaker III (c. 500CE - c. 750CE) to Pueblo II period (c. 900 CE – c. 1100 CE).  The site revealed hundreds of pit dwellings, multi-storied structures, a central courtyard, kivas, irrigation for agriculture and high quality ceramics.  After documenting and photographing the site, the ruins were covered over; all that can be seen now are piles of rubble, stones sticking out of the ground which denote the outline of structures, pottery shards and simple tools made from agate for cutting and scraping.

In 1964, Alkali Ridge (covering an area of 70 square miles) was designated a National Landmark; on August 12, 1965, at 3:00 PM, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), other Federal agencies, local and state officials held a dedication ceremony at the Alkali Ridge National Historical Landmark.  Archaeologists from a number of western universities attended this ceremony; Dr. John 0tis Brew of the Pea-body Museum, Harvard University, who did the original archaeological scientific investigations on Alkali Ridge, was the keynote speaker.  In 2013, an unusual pottery, "Deadman Black on Red", was examined by University of Pennsylvania and Bristol-Meyers Squibb researchers and the cacao was discovered.

A prized possession, if you can find a copy, and I do own a first edition, is Archaeology of Alkali Ridge, Southeastern Utah by John Otis Brew (published 1946) which is basically the only proof of existence of the ruins from the many photographs and drawings.  I find it fascinating to compare the photographs of the excavations to what is actually seen at the site now.  Strolling area, one “site” are stones that outline a circle, could this be where one of the covered over kivas lie buried?  From a stewardship perspective, I can appreciate the need to protect historical sites.  However, from an educational perspective, knowledge empowers the masses more than any fence or wall can.


…and for those who appreciate the chocolate aspect, a recipe for Triple Chocolate Cupcakes and Frosting.  Oh yes, you can make one large cake instead of cupcakes; just depends on how you wish to share it.  

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes and Frosting


4 ounces each of dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
5 eggs
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
½ tsp. baking soda


Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin tins with paper liners (24)

Heat one inch of water in bottom half of a double boiler. Place in all chocolates and cream; stir occasionally as chocolate melts until smooth (about 8-10 minutes); cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat (medium speed) together eggs, sugar and vanilla until creamy; add chocolate mixture and beat for another 30 seconds. Add the flour and baking soda; beat for 30 seconds or until all the flour is incorporated into the creamy mixture.

Divide the batter evenly between the 24 paper liners. Bake for 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out cleanly from center of cupcakes. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.



5 ounces each dark and milk chocolate, chopped
6 sticks unsalted butter, softened
6 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips
6 Bliss white chocolate squares (place in refrigerator to firm up for grating)


Place chocolate in microwave safe bowl; at 15 second intervals, melt chocolate, stir; repeat until chocolate is completely melted and smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, combine melted chocolate with butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla; beat on low for 5 minutes. Gently fold in white chips; frost cupcakes and grate the Bliss squares over all.

Makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Hog Canyon Challenge.

The battle between winter’s grip and spring prying a seasonal hold has been a challenge in many ways.  Waking in the morning, choices have been: spring jacket or winter coat; dry roads or hoping not to slide; taking a long hike or staying indoors?

It was a weekend in March when it looked like spring was getting the upper hand on winter.  Temperatures in the 50s, clear sky, soft breeze; the waterfalls, down the trail from Hamburger Rock campground, were flowing.  A purely perfect setting for crossing out another name on the to-do list of San Juan County adventures – the rock art of Hog Canyon.

Located three miles west (mile marker 4 on Highway 211) from Newspaper Rock, there is a short pull-in area for parking.  The trails up to the walls (Blue Grama aka Blue Gamma – popular to crack climbers) are well worn, but the soil is loose.  Following the rock art itself entails maneuvering up and around boulders, sometimes squeezing between one that has split in two after its fall from the wall.

Carved onto stone, drawn into the desert varnish, there are square-bodied humanoid figures, mountain sheep, insects, long leaves resembling ferns, circles and many other shapes and figures.  There is the occasional signature of those who settled or visited in the early 20th century (1911 – Ralph Hurst and Bill Dalley).  While many the modern day traveler thinks that the Indian rock art is nothing more than “ancient graffiti”, they fail to understand that it was the earliest form of the “written word” for these cultures.

Why the name “Hog Canyon”?  In Utah’s Canyon Country Place Names (Steve Allen), there is a reference to “Pete Steele noted that the canyon was fenced with knit wire (sheep wire) to hold the pigs that used to pasture in the canyon.  The fence still stands.  (1821~)”.  In the December 10, 2014 issue of the San Juan Record, Albert Eugene (Pete) Steele’s obituary states, “One of his jobs growing up was punching cows for the SS Cattle Company rooted deep in San Juan County’s history. His tales of the Old West and the history of San Juan County were a treasure to anyone lucky enough to hear them.” 

Since I’m writing about challenges, let me get to my next challenge which relates to food.  Many times I have seen recipes posted on Facebook that have the same name, but a slight difference with ingredients.  One such recipe (2 variations) was “Bacon Wrapped, Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts”; now that’s a mouthful just to say.  I looked both recipes over and basically they had one difference; while one used chopped green onion, the other used chopped jalapeno peppers.  I threw down the gauntlet, or oven mitt, and challenged myself to make this recipe more intriguing.  I thought back to a sandwich I had enjoyed at Sweet Cravings in Moab; how a mixture of jalapeno jelly and cream cheese had brought great flavors to roasted turkey breast.  Why not do that with chicken!?!

Looking in the pantry, I found a jar of both mild and hot jalapeno jelly.  While I intended on using some green onions, I also diced up red onions and a multicolored selection of bell peppers for their natural sweetness.

The chicken breasts need to be pounded out to about 1/4 inch in thickness. Always use the flat side of your meat tenderizer, or you can purchase a flat sided mallet. Do not use the mallet directly on the chicken; place it inside a plastic bag, or between 2 sheets of plastic wrap.  Also, placing a clean linen towel over the plastic will most definitely ensure that the tender poultry meat will not shred, but extend out smoothly.  Gently pound out the chicken to the desired thickness; this is not the type of meat to take your aggressions out on.

After pounding out the chicken, spread one tablespoon of the mild jelly (green) or the hot jelly (red); leaving about a half inch border from the edges.  A tablespoon of cream cheese was spread on next; in the other recipes, only two tablespoons of cream cheese was used for the stuffing.  I pressed about two tablespoons of the bell peppers with red onions; only green onions; or bell peppers with green onions into the cream cheese.

Now you might be wondering why no salt sprinkled over the chicken; bacon is going to take care of the salt issue.  In the recipes I read, they called for the bacon to be partially cooked before wrapping around the chicken.  The use of totally raw bacon helps it to be pliable enough to fully wrap around the rolled breasts; allowing the fat to baste the chicken and keep it moist as the bacon begins to crisp up in the oven.  A roasting pan with a rack allows the bacon to crisp up on the bottom as well as the top, so no need for a broiler later on.  Preheat the oven to 400F; line the roasting pan with aluminum foil and add two cups of water to keep any bacon drippings from burning and smoking.  Spray the rack with nonstick spray and place back inside the pan.  Now for the chicken rolling...

Carefully begin to roll the chicken and if any filling begins to ooze out, just push it right back inside.  Take a slice of bacon (you'll need 3 for each breast) and wrap it lengthwise around the chicken.  This will help keep the filling from coming out the sides while roasting.  The bacon will overlap a bit and seal against the chicken meat, so no toothpicks will be necessary.

Lay two slices of bacon on your board, about one inch apart, and carefully lay the rolled breast with the first bacon slice's seam facing upward.  Wrap those two slices around the chicken and let the ends come together to form a seal.  Carefully pick up the bundle and lay it, bacon seams side down, on the roasting rack.  Leave about an inch in between each bundle, so the bacon can crisp up on all sides.  Place the roasting pan inside the oven and let it cook for 40-45 minutes; until the internal temperature reaches 165F.

There you have it, Bacon Wrapped, Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts.  The jalapeno jelly and cream cheese mixture combined to form a decadent stuffing which enhanced the natural sweetness of the bell peppers and red onions.  With the green onions, they combined with the jalapeno jelly to give that Southwestern flavor sensation.   The bacon kept the chicken moist, yet seasoned it at the same time.

Sometimes less is more, but with this new version of the recipe, more of more is just what you want.  Enjoy!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Thai Fine Dining

Thai Bella

218 North 100 West
Moab, Utah, 84532

Phone: (435) 355-0555


Facebook Page:

When it comes to Thai culinary indulgence, Moab has become the new mecca with the opening of several restaurants featuring this unique cuisine.  The latest to open is Thai Bella, and if you know the owner, Bella Prucktrakhu, then you know this restaurant will have delicious food.  Bella has been involved with Pantele's Deli, Arches Thai and Arches Deli; all great successes, and this newest will also be one.

While geared towards "classic and contemporary" Thai cuisine, do not be fooled into thinking it will not be authentic Thai quality.  Bella is making sure the quality is what all her fans know, expect and desire.  The interior of the restaurant is beautiful with photos and paintings of the Moab area adorning the walls.  The overall decor blends into that classic and contemporary theme; it is fine dining without the pretentiousness; perfect for the Moab area.

Example; a couple came in the night we were there, dressed rather, well more elegant than others dining there.  At first they were unsure if they wanted to stay, considering the patrons around them were dressed very casually, even some in work wear.  Stayed they did, scanning the menu, ordering, tasting, the delight of the food lighting up their eyes, and the praises leaving their lips.

My husband and I were impressed with the artistic quality Bella put into the presentation of each dish; even the iced teas we ordered were a swirling blend of color.  On that note, let me get to the food itself.

Beginning with refreshing Green Jasmine and Thai Iced Teas,
we ordered two appetizers: Veggie Tempura and Cream Cheese Wontons.  The Veggie Tempura featured mushrooms, sweet potatoes, broccoli, onion rings lightly battered, crispy and delightful as is, or dipped into a light sweet and sour sauce.  The Cream Cheese Wontons were crispy on the outside and packed with warm, melting cream cheese; total decadence in the mouth.

Main dishes, I ordered Cashew Nut with Shrimp, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, pineapple, cashews stir-fried with a sweet chili sauce.  The vegetables were lightly cooked to keep their natural textures, the shrimp had that perfect "scrunch" and once again the sauce was tasty, yet light and not overpowering.

My husband ordered Veggie Delight with Chicken; very reminiscent of a simple chicken and broccoli dish, but packed with carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and green beans.  Both dishes came with jasmine rice and I admit, we enjoyed playing with our food as much as eating it.

While hubby ate his entire meal, I made sure to take half of mine home for a second enjoyment, but I wanted dessert!  Bella creates this Fried Banana dessert that is out of this world; light and crispy spring roll wrappers surround banana made into a sweet, rich, creamy filling during the deep frying process.  Just to die for!

Thai Bella is currently open for dinner only, but it is perfect for a special occasion, celebration, relaxing after a day of hiking, climbing, ATVing or just to spoil yourself with an awesome culinary adventure.

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Snow Equals French Toast.

Now why in the world would someone believe that when it snows, French Toast should be made?  While living in Lancaster, PA, whenever the weather forecaster predicted snow, the supermarkets would be crowded with women buying milk, bread and eggs.  Personally, I thought this was strange, so asked several of them, “Why do you Pennsylvania people make French Toast when it snows?”  Of course I got a few odd looks, but finally it was explained that it was a “rural living thing” and the habit has simply stuck.  There was that time, long ago, where going to the supermarket was very inconvenient during inclement weather, so stocking up was a must.

City living spoils one into believing that anything and everything is within reach at any time.  Suburbs were created outside of the cities to give residents more room to move into, more breathing space.  As suburbs grew, strip malls and malls developed, so what the residents ran away from (crowded city living) was the new normal.  Once again, everything within reach with hardly any inconvenience due to the weather.

Welcome to San Juan County, Utah; designation is “rural wilderness” and while I have met many a city dweller that intensely dislikes the openness of the landscape, I love it!  That’s correct, a city born and raised who loves the great outdoors, and to live in it too.  However, here is where the “long ago” of those women back in Pennsylvania comes into play; not everything is within reach at all moments in time.  Take the recent snowstorms of February 18th to the 22nd; over three feet dumped onto the City of Monticello alone.  Shoveling building muscles, but damaging joints; snow blowers roaring; the constant question of, “Where are we supposed to put all this snow!?!”  At a few points, Highways 191 and 491 were forced to close down and there were accidents a plenty; going to the store was definitely a hardship. 

All the hardships though are being overshadowed by one huge important factor, all this moisture will alleviate the drought.  Can I get a Hallelujah!?!  

Back to the French Toast thing which basically can be made with any type of bread, but I have two favorites: Challah and Brioche.  In New York, making French Toast with Challah is so popular, even the local IHops would use it.  My focus for now will be on Challah which is a loaf of yeast-risen egg bread that is traditionally Jewish cuisine and eaten on Shabbat, ceremonial occasions and during festival holidays (except Passover). The word "challah" is also used to refer to the portion of dough that is traditionally separated from the loaf before baking. This is looked upon as an offering or tithe, and the family would receive a blessing; similar to the offering made to the Greek Goddess, Hestia, at every meal. The plural of "challah" is "challot."; there is no dairy in the bread, and most recipes use honey instead of sugar.

Now that I have you in the mood for, what else, French Toast, here’s my recipe for the perfect bread to make it with.

Challah Bread

1 packet yeast
1 and ½ cups warm water (between 105-110F)
½ cup sugar or honey
6 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
½ cup canola oil
3 large eggs, beaten; plus 1 egg for glazing

Preparation of the Dough:

In a small bowl, mix together the yeast, water and sugar or honey; set aside to proof (mixture will become bubbly).

Once yeast mixture is proofed, sift into a large mixing bowl, 4 cups of flour and salt.  Add the yeast mixture, oil and 3 eggs.  Add one cup of flour little by little until dough becomes soft and elastic. 

Knead dough for 5 minutes; adding last one cup of flour to board and hands as need; remove to greased bowl for first rising; cover with clean, linen towel.

After two hours, dough will have doubled in size; punch down the dough, re-cover and let rise for another hour.

Preparation of the Loaf:

Remove dough from bowl and divide in half.  Take one half and divide into thirds; roll out each of the three between your hands to make thick ropes; lay out these onto a floured surface. Join them at one end and make them into a loose braid.  Repeat with second half of dough. Cover the loaves loosely and let them rise at room temperature for a ½ hour.

Preheat oven to 350F; line baking pan with parchment paper; transfer braids to paper.  Brush with the remaining egg to glaze.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes; till loaves are a medium-dark brown. (High altitude: add 5-10 minutes to baking time)

Makes 2 loaves.

Note: while many recipes include topping the bread with sesame or poppy seeds, I do not, but that’s a personal taste choice.

Mary Cokenour 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Instant Pot Win-Win

Me & Clark's Market Manager, Craig Stanley

From January 10th to 31st, the Clark’s Market supermarket chain held the “One Pot Winter Warm-Up Recipe Contest” looking for your best one pot winter go-to recipe.  Each store selected one winner, through a voting process, to win an Instant Pot 6-quart.  For San Juan County’s Blanding store, and thank you so much to all the voters, I was the winner!  My crock pot recipe for BBQ Beef Stew will be featured in their deli; so look for the announcement on that and go buy to try!

Now I have to admit that I was a bit nervous playing with the Instant Pot.  Growing up, all I heard was horror stories about pressure cookers blowing up; so we never had one in our home.  However, friends who have been using the Instant Pot, since it came onto the market, reassured me that no nuclear explosion would be erupting in my kitchen.  To soothe my nerves more, my wonderful hubby, Roy, decided this would be a great adventure to experience together.  We made sure to read the instructions together and did the practice test that is recommended…we lived.

Our first real food cooking attempt was a slab of meaty pork ribs; we had perused many a recipe, but kept returning to the ribs.  Normally, making ribs was almost a 24 hour process; making several cups of rub which went on both sides of the ribs; letting them sit, encased in aluminum foil, for twelve hours.  Placing them inside a preheated 180F oven to cook for eight hours; then onto a barbeque grill or under the broiler for that must-have char.  The anticipation alone was enough to drive us crazy, and it just couldn’t be a spontaneous what-to-make-for-dinner decision.

The Instant Pot was going to change the process, especially the long, long waiting period.  First off, the amount of rub used went from two cups to a half cup; no overnight sitting to marinate and infuse the meat.  Our four pound slab was cut into three smaller slabs; two cups of water plus ¼ cup apple cider vinegar already inside the cooking pot.  Placed on the cooking rack, ribs were placed inside; lid sealed, digital timer set for 50 minutes and it was “thunderbirds are a go!” time. 

Half cup all purpose rub on ribs.
Cut into thirds, ribs standing up in pot.
After 50 minutes of pressure cooking.

Ready for 10 minutes under broiler

1 hour 10 minutes to delicious ribs!

 What to serve as a side?  What the heck, might as well pull out the air fryer, prep some Russet potatoes for, what I knew would become, perfectly cooked hand-cut fries.  Didn’t you recently read my article on the pros and cons of an air fryer; those potatoes are good stuff!
While ribs broiled, Air Fryer finished up on the fries.
Oh, in case you enjoy video games, the Instant Pot makes some lovely dinging, ringing musical noises as the lid is sealed or opened.  Now all it needs is a USB port, attach a thumb drive and have my favorite playlist on while cooking; that would be impressive.  Anyway, during the cool down period of ten minutes, then putting the ribs under the broiler for ten minutes; the air fryer was working on those hand-cut fries (yes, I keep the skin on).  Both ribs and fries were ready to eat at the same time; two bbq sauces of brown sugar/hickory and sweet/spicy (love using Sweet Baby Ray’s) and we were in dining heaven.

The Instant Pot ribs were perfect; meat easily off the bone; seasonings from the rub cooked through and only enhanced by the bbq sauce, not overpowered.  From start to finish, a 24 hour process for making ribs was cut down to a mere one hour and ten minutes!

I’ve started collecting recipes for more Instant Pot fun, and downloaded a recipe book, for free, on my Kindle Fire.  This fresh start year of 2019 started off deliciously with an Air Fryer and is continuing with the Instant Pot.  Now if I could win a complete kitchen makeover, there would be no telling what culinary adventures I could get involved with!  Oh no, listening to 80s music on Sirius and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” just began playing; that is foreshadowing big time!

Mary Cokenour