Friday, February 5, 2016

Dessert Salads Go Green – Part Three.

Fruit salads have been making the rounds of recipe books, and personal recipe cards, since about 1910 thanks to the canning industry.  Depending on the author, some of these recipes began to pick up their names by location, such as “Golden Gate Salad” and “Watergate Salad”.  In 1922, Helen Keller published a recipe called “Golden Gate Salad”, consisting of canned diced pineapple, nuts, marshmallows, whipped cream, other fruits and celery.  The reason for the name simply being that the first time she tried such a salad was in California, probably the San Francisco area.  Helen’s recipe also appeared in a 1925 cookbook, “Favorite Recipes of Famous Women” (Florence Stratton, author) with a notation of, “It is best made with fresh fruits, but it can be made of canned fruit.  At home we often serve it instead of dessert, with a little more whipped cream.”

“Watergate Salad”, however, has rather an obscure pedigree; with a humble beginning of Ambrosia and the addition of chopped pistachio nuts; creating Pistachio Salad.  In 1975, Kraft Foods offered consumers a new flavor in the Jell-O pudding line, pistachio; a recipe for Pistachio Pineapple Delight appeared on the box.  This dessert salad picked up names, along its United States journey, such as Pistachio Delight, Shut the Gate Salad, Green Goop, Green Fluff or Green Stuff.  It was not until The Denver Post, in the Empire Magazine of June 27, 1976, published a recipe for Watergate Salad; stating that the recipe was developed by a sous chef at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.  When scandal hit the White House, and President Richard Nixon, the recipe took off like wildfire.  At the same time, a Watergate Cake was developed with “cover-up icing and full of nuts”; along with other satirically named recipes such as Nixon's Perfectly Clear Consommé and Liddy's Clam-Up Chowder.  Kraft even changed the name on the pistachio pudding box to Watergate Salad to keep up with the presidential scandal.

Perusing through my Utah based cookbooks, lime Jell-O made many an appearance in recipes; pudding, not so much.  Even the use of pistachios was kept to the more garden type salads, or as a main ingredient for salad dressing.  Various bloggers, from Utah, mentioned family reunions in which Pistachio Salad was present; the recipes being variations of the original Jell-O pudding recipe.  Does that mean Utahns aren’t cracked up about pistachios?  Au-contraire!  Located in Hurricane, Utah, Red Rock Ranch Pistachio Orchards ( has been producing a unique variety of pistachios for over ten years.  The dry climate of the desert gives the nuts sweeter flavor and greener coloring; while high in fat, they are low in carbohydrates.


Here is the original recipe for Pistachio Pineapple Delight (1975), later renamed as Watergate Salad (1976).


1 can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
1 package (3.4 oz.) Jell-O Pistachio Flavor Instant Pudding
1 and ½ cups thawed Cool Whip Whipped Topping
1 cup Jet-Puffed miniature marshmallows
½ cup Planters chopped pecans


Combine Ingredients.  Refrigerate 1 hour.

Makes 8 – about ½ cups servings each.

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Dessert Salad Saga – Part Two.

Nectar and Ambrosia, the drink and food of the Gods; the Ancient Greek Pantheon that is.  Sitting upon celestial thrones high upon Mount Olympus, these gods and goddesses played the humans upon the Earth as pieces on a giant chessboard.  My interest in their mythology began in elementary school; in high school though is when an English teacher asked us to make recipes of the Grecian culture.

Nectar is quite easy to create; a mixture of whole cow’s milk, honey and the stigmas (only 3 per flower) of Crocus flowers aka saffron threads.  Crocus, being a plant of the mountains is sacred to the Gods; it gives a golden color to the drink, with extraordinary rejuvenating and energizing powers.  Ambrosia, in its original form, is a honey cake laden with apples and figs; the modern version is a simple mixture of fruits, honey and Greek yogurt.

Ah, but now we come to the Americanized version of this simple Greek recipe; we’ve all seen it in any salad bar.  That wondrous mixture of fruits, coconut flakes, marshmallows and whipped topping; looking like a total mess, yet tasting so cool and refreshing…Ambrosia salad.  This is one of those recipes where almost anything can be added, and it doesn’t go wrong; even pasta!  That’s right, pasta, which brings me to a popular dessert salad that dates back approximately 40 years to a recipe on a box.  Acini di Pepe, also spelled Acini de Pepe (pronounced ah-CHEE-nee dee PAY-pay); "Acini" means "berries", "Pepe" means "pepper", so "pepper berries" or “peppercorns”.  If you are a fan of Italian Wedding Soup, then you have eaten Acini di Pepe; and it gives Frog Eye Salad its unusual name.

The original name of the recipe was “Ambrosia Salad with Acine di Pepe”, but as it made its rounds through home kitchens, it picked up the name of “Frog Eye Salad”.  How is a good question, but the only guessed at reasoning was that someone’s child must have said, “Yuck, that looks like frog eyes in there!”  As the recipe was passed along, the nickname stuck as it traveled throughout the United States, and to the dessert salad loving state of Utah.  The first time I’d ever heard of, or tasted, it was at an annual holiday party; the pasta being a chewy addition to the salad.  The consensus is, some love it, some hate it; some don’t care, its food, so just eat it.  Personally, I didn’t see the point of adding the pasta while my husband enjoyed it; so to each his/her own.

One recipe I found was supposedly from the original box of pasta put out by the Ronzoni Company.  I contacted them for verification, but, as yet, they have not bothered to respond with an answer.  So, I’m using a recipe from The Salt Lake Tribune’s “What’s Cooking in Utah Kitchens” cookbook (no date) which is extremely close to the other recipe I found.  It also makes a quantity that could feed a small army (about 20 servings), so cut the recipe as needed.

Frog Eye Salad
(page 66, by Donna Kastler)


1 and ½ cups (12 oz. box) Acini de Pepe (macaroni product)
2 quarts boiling water
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. oil
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
½ tsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 and ¾ cups pineapple juice
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 cans (11 oz. each) mandarin oranges, drained
1 can (20 oz.) chunk pineapple, drained
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 cup coconut
1 carton (9 oz.) frozen whipped topping


Cook Acine de Pepe in boiling water with the 1 teaspoon salt and oil for 8 to 10 minutes.  While macaroni is cooking, combine the sugar, flour, ½ teaspoon salt, eggs and pineapple juice; cook until thick, stirring constantly.  Stir in lemon juice.  Cool and pour over well drained macaroni.  Stir and refrigerate overnight.

Several hours before serving, add the mandarin oranges, pineapple, marshmallows and coconut.  Stir well; add frozen whipped topping.  Fold together.
Mary Cokenour

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Native Beauty of Cedar Mesa Pottery.

Cedar Mesa Pottery

333 South Main (Route 191)
Blanding, Utah, 84511

Phone: (435) 678-2241
            (800) 235-7687


Hours of Operation:  Monday thru Friday; 8am to 5pm

Joe B. Lyman, Owner

Warning!  When entering Cedar Mesa Pottery, via the gift shop, be prepared for a visual assault of the most beautiful Native American pottery collections.  Alright, now that you have been fully warned, let’s take the tour.  Cedar Mesa Pottery is located in Blanding, Utah with its beginning around 1981; owned and operated by local, Joe Lyman.  The work of his crafts people enable the factory to present to the world both Navajo and Ute artistry.  The glass and wooden display cases hold unique pieces signed by each artist; collective pieces so skillfully done that your fingers itch to touch.  Distinctive grey and black pieces containing true horse hair (a personal favorite); ceramics that resemble authentic etched wood; mesmerizing colors; striking designs based on themes.

The tour of the factory first brings you to the “closeouts and seconds” section; lovely pieces that simply did not make the cut through quality control.  Packing and Shipping comes next; aisles of plastic wrapped pottery ready to be picked, packaged and shipped to shops, trading posts, residential homes; even San Juan County’s own Welcome Centers carry Cedar Mesa Pottery.  All pieces are available at wholesale and retail pricing; opening an account is quick and easy.


Follow the Footprints.
All visitors to the factory are encouraged to take a map and descriptive guide which explains the various processes of pottery making.  Cedar Mesa uses a perfected mixture of clays from New York, California, Tennessee and Texas which is called “slip”.  The slip is poured into various molds until the correct thickness is reached; the balance is poured out and recycled.  The Kilns come next; pieces are fired within gas kilns at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, for three to five hours.  Sealing is a cooling off period of several hours to ensure the pieces do not crack or warp.  After a twenty-four hour waiting period, the pieces have any excess clay removed carefully with sponges; the pieces are now ready to meet their individual artists.
Kilns and Sealing


Watching the artisans is fascinating; how each one can paint and/or etch each piece quickly, yet so skillfully.  Animal figures emerge: deer, elk, moose, bear, eagle, buffalo, raven and wolf (again, a personal favorite).  Themes vary from natural settings (forest, desert) to monumental locations (Monument Valley, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower); petroglyphic designs; and the famous “End of the Trail” featuring the lone brave on his horse.
By the end of the tour, you will very likely have a shopping list in your mind.  Back inside the gift shop, there will be so much more to tempt you; candles, dream catchers, Kachina dolls; and the t-shirt collector has not been forgotten either.   Definitely, if visiting San Juan County, stop into Blanding, visit Cedar Mesa Pottery, and take the factory tour; you will be amazed!
Mary Cokenour


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Utahns’ Love of Dessert Salads - Part One

If you are a resident of, or frequent visitor to, Utah, something you will experience at meals are dessert salads.  What exactly are dessert salads?  Side dishes made with Jell-O (gelatin and/or pudding), whipped toppings, fruits, vegetables, mayonnaise, sour cream, even pasta. These salads are served at buffets, in cafeterias, potlucks, parties; basically any type of gathering where food will be served, even funerals. Easy to be prepared ahead of time, holding up well during transportation; even though there are sweet ingredients, these dishes are classified more as salads, but make great desserts as well.  Hence, the term, “dessert salad”.

Now I’ve read in personal stories, and heard personal tales, of Jell-O being the number one “food group”, not just for Utahns, but for Mormons in general.  It is not unusual for every good Mormon woman to have, in her recipe book, at minimum, ten Jell-O based recipes.  I am definitely not sure of the truth of this, so did some historical digging about Jell-O.  In 1845, industrialist, Peter Cooper (built the first American steam powered locomotive, The Tom Thumb) invented a powdered gelatin.  However, 1897 saw New Yorker (yay NY!) cough syrup manufacturer, Pearle Bixby Wait, trademark a gelatin product he and his wife, May, called “Jell-O”.  They added fruit flavoring to granulated gelatin and sugar; and a new dessert was given life.

In 2001, Jell-O was designated, by Utah Legislature, the number one snack food of the state; our tax dollars at work!  However, media food analysts found very little mention of the product between 1969 and 1988; in fact, it was written that Lutherans were the biggest lovers of Jell-O.  That changed in 1997 when Kraft Foods introduced “Jell-O Jigglers” to the market; sales figures revealed Salt Lake City to have the highest per-capita Jell-O consumption.  At that time, comedian Bill Cosby was the spokesperson for the much loved product and stated to the 2001 Utah Legislature, “I believe the reason people in Utah love Jell-O is that the snack is perfect for families -- and the people of Utah are all about family.”  …and this is how we get to the first sentence of this current paragraph.

The recipe I am giving you is for “Pretzel Salad”, a combination of fruit laden Jell-O with cream cheesy decadence over buttery, crunchy pretzels.  Actually, I will be doing the story about Dessert Salads in several parts to show the variations; and who knows, you might be serving a new creation at your next get-together.

Pretzel Salad
(This is a three step process of ingredients plus directions)

Step One:


2 cups crushed, salted pretzels
¼ cup sugar
1 (8 Tbsp.) stick butter, melted


Preheat oven to 350'F.

Combine pretzels, sugar and butter together; press into the bottom of a 9” x13” glass baking dish.  Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and cool completely.

Step Two:


1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 (8 oz.) container of original Cool Whip


Combined the cream cheese with sugar; whip until smooth; fold in the Cool Whip. Spread this mixture evenly over the top of cooled pretzel crust, and seal all the edges.  Place in refrigerator for a half hour to slightly firm up.

Step Three:


1 (6 oz.) box of strawberry Jell-O
2 cups boiling water
2 (16 oz.) bags of frozen strawberries


Combine the Jell-O and water; stir until gelatin is dissolved; add in the frozen strawberries and allow to thicken slightly.  Pour mixture over the cream cheese layer; spread out berries if necessary.  Cover baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate a minimum of four hours if serving the same day; or overnight if serving the next day.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Note: This recipe can be created with other berry Jell-O flavors with accompanying berries such as raspberry, blackberry, cherry or blueberry.
Mary Cokenour

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Thai Cortez is a Mixture of Friendly and Delicious.

Thai Cortez

1430 East Main Street, Suite 2
Cortez, Colorado, 81321

Phone: (970) 564-3151

Facebook Page:

Hours of Operation:
Lunch (Mon-Sat) 11:30am to 2:30pm
Dinner (Mon-sat) 4:30pm to 9:00pm
Sunday - Closed

After reading many Trip Advisor reviews, my hubby and I decided to soothe our craving for Thai food while in Cortez, and try out Thai Cortez.  Adjacent to the parking lot of McDonald's, there is parking on the side and back of the restaurant itself.  Inside, we were immediately greeted in a warm manner and given a table for two.  The interior is small and narrow, so tables are close together; this is not the place if you are seeking privacy.  However, the staff are so very friendly and we truly didn't have just one server; all the servers took care of all the diners.  A couple sitting next to our table asked if we'd ever been to Thai Cortez; we told them no, and they informed us that they have been addicted to it since it first opened, and that we were in for a great meal.  They were not wrong in any way!

The menu is chock full of Thailand's cuisine, with a few Japanese inspired dishes thrown in as well.  The dishes have their Thai names, but are explained well, so you know exactly what you are ordering.  We began with Por Pia (Thai Vegetable Egg Rolls) and Kha Nom Jeeb (Thai Dumplings).  The Egg Rolls were deep fried to a golden brown with just the right about of shredded vegetables inside; sweet and sour was provided for dipping.  Before I could even take a photo, my hubby devoured one immediately!  The Thai Dumplings were packed with a pork and vegetable mixture wrapped in a delicate wonton wrapper; steamed and served with a special sauce very similar to Hoisin.  Both appetizers were delicious!

Por Pia - Thai Vegetable Egg Rolls

Kha Nom Jeeb - Thai Dumplings

For main dishes, my hubby ordered Pad Hed Horm; a Japanese inspired stir fry of vegetables in a special house sauce, and he chose beef for the protein addition.  The vegetables were perfectly cut for bite sized pieces and fresh; the beef was so tender and cooked medium-rare.  I ordered Mee Grob Rad Nah Ta Lay; deep fried egg noodles topped with a seafood mixture of shrimp, scallops, squid and mussels; vegetables and in a savory brown sauce.  All the seafood was cooked to perfection, especially the squid and scallops which were tender, NOT rubbery.  The entire dish was outstanding!

Pad Hed Horm

Mee Grob Rad Nah Ta Lay

All the while we were dining, the servers were so attentive filling our tea cups and asking how was the food, and did we need anything else.  The entire atmosphere is welcoming, we were not rushed, and we knew we would be coming back again.  So, if in Cortez, Colorado and in the mood for Thai, go to Thai Cortez for lunch and/or dinner and you will NOT be disappointed.

Mary Cokenour

Friday, January 8, 2016

A Published Bon Appetit Recipe aka Tooting My Own Horn.

I have been entering recipe contests since 1994, and my first win was February 1995 for "Better Homes and Gardens" magazine.  I've won many times with them; had recipes featured in "Taste of Home" magazine, and its recipe books.  Heck, I've even been on television several times cooking up one of my recipes (local station, WGAL, in Lancaster, PA).  Then there was Bon "Appetit" magazine, now that's a coup, since this is a high end food magazine; but I had a few published.

After awhile, I started to enter less and less; Food Network Channel was teaching everyone and their mother how to be a celebrity chef.  Contest entries were looking for more unusual, and five star restaurant quality, recipes; home cooks, like myself, were falling to the wayside.  Good news though, I have been writing a food column for the local paper, San Juan Record, for a year now.  Besides being read throughout the entire San Juan County of Southeastern Utah; subscribed readers reside throughout the United States as well.  Besides my own recipes, I've been able to write about foods from the various cultures in the area (Native American and Mexican), as well as delve into recipes brought to the region by Pioneers, Cowboys, and travelers along the Old Spanish Trail.

So, for the start of the New Year, I'm going to share with you one of those published recipes from "Bon Appetit"; Shrimp in Fontina Cheese and Dried Tomato Sauce.  Fontina cheese originated in Italy; cows fed a type of rich grass gives the cheese a mild, nutty flavor with a strong, distinctive aroma.  Danish Fontina is pale yellow, semi-soft with a mild slightly sweet flavor and less of an aroma; it is also much cheaper in price and more easily found in US supermarkets.  Either variety melts smoothly and easily, so perfect when making a cheese sauce.  Sun-dried tomatoes are just that; plum (Roma) tomatoes sliced thin and air dried in the sun (4-10 day process) which are then packaged, as is, in cellophane packets, or in jars of olive oil.  The tomatoes in the packets can be reconstituted in water, or crumbed up before adding to a recipe; the ones in olive oil can be used as is, but will add a little oil to your dish.  Which to use is distinctly up to the cook.

Shrimp in Fontina Cheese and Dried Tomato Sauce
“Bon Appétit” magazine published my recipe in their January 1997 issue, in the section called “Too Busy to Cook”.


2 Tbsp. butter
½ cup white onion, diced
1 Tbsp. flour
3 cups half n’ half
½ lb. Fontina cheese, crumbled
½ cup sundried tomatoes in olive oil, diced (or dried tomatoes – rehydrated)
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 lb. large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 lb. hot, cooked linguine or angel hair pasta
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley


On medium heat, melt butter in a large skillet; sauté the onion until translucent; add the flour and mix thoroughly.

Add the half n’ half, Fontina cheese, sundried tomato and black pepper.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low.  Add the shrimp; simmer for 5-7 minutes; stirring occasionally.  Add in the pasta and parsley; toss to coat.

Makes 4 servings.


2 large shallots for the white onion.
Provolone cheese for the Fontina cheese.
Oysters, clams or scallops for the shrimp.

Mary Cokenour           

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Resolve to go Coconuts for the New Year.

One of the most widely promised resolutions for the New Year is to become healthier.  It could come about through change of diet, more exercise, being proactive on a disease/illness, lifestyle change, or all of the above.  This resolution is also the most broken as a person seems to think there are just too many obstacles, or perhaps we set too high a goal and quit out of frustration.  Now, what if you could simply make one change that would equal several results?

Coconuts, first it was coconut water which, not only hydrated the body, but added enriched nutrients.  Then came oil, a high saturated fat which raised both good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol due to lauric acid.  However, a single tablespoon of virgin, unrefined coconut oil can replace large amounts of other oils or butter in cooking and baking.  Now we have flour, sugar, milk; coconut chips and low sugar coconut bars for snacking; all used accordingly can be more beneficial than harmful.  You also have to be careful about which coconut product is better than the next, for example, creamed coconut milk in the can is typically used for Thai cooking.  It contains more fat (14 grams) per serving than boxed coconut milk (4.5 grams); may contain thickeners and/or preservatives.  With oil, flour and sugar; unrefined means a better chance of a pure product with no chemical additives.

Now the big question, do coconut products make everything taste like coconut?  Surprisingly, the answer is slim to none; unsweetened coconut milk (I prefer the vanilla flavored) brings out the flavor more of any cereal it’s poured over.  Baked goods taste exactly as they would if using regular flour and sugar; while coconut chips are baked pieces of coconut, so yes, big time coconut flavor.  However, you get the full flavor of potato when potato chips are fried or baked in coconut oil.  Think of it this way, trial and error with the products you purchase will bring more enjoyment than trying to stick to a rigid diet, and then failing at it.

Still not convinced, than here’s a personal example of how beneficial cooking with coconut can be.  Pancakes, who doesn’t love pancakes?  Now I’ve mentioned before that I’m diabetic, so eating pancakes, even with sugar free syrup, can send my blood sugar sky rocketing.  However, with these coconut flour pancakes I’m giving you the recipe for, my number was in the normal range; I was in total shock.  Maybe it was a fluke, so I tried it again on another day; the same results!  The taste was amazing too; lightly sweet from the honey, barely a hint of coconut, crispy edges with fluffy interior and melt in the mouth goodness. 

So, for the New Year, make a resolution to go coconuts.  Ease it into your diet for a little goes a long way; make sure to have fun using the products.  Happy New Year!
Coconut Pancakes
(Dairy-free, Gluten-free, Crispy Edges, Fluffy Interior, Diabetic Friendly)
¼ cup coconut flour
½ tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. coconut oil, plus 2 Tbsp. for grill pan
1 Tbsp. honey
3 large eggs
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk (do not use canned type)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl, mix together coconut flour, baking powder and salt; make sure to break up any lumps, set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together coconut oil and honey until smooth; don’t worry if a few lump oil remain, they will melt on the grill pan.  Whisk the eggs in one at a time; whisk in coconut milk and vanilla extract.  Use a rubber spatula to mix in dry ingredients from small bowl; scrape down the sides to make sure all ingredients are mixed in.  Do not overmix; batter will look slightly lumpy.


On medium-high heat, melt one tablespoon of coconut oil on grill pan; coconut oil has a high smoke point, so will melt and burn very quickly.  Be ready, with a small ice cream scoop, to ladle out three scoops (each scoop equals two tablespoons) of batter onto melted oil; gently press out batter to 4 inch diameter.  After two minutes, flip pancakes and cook additional 1-2 minutes on other side; check for desired browning.

Repeat above step with remaining batter.
Makes 6 – 4 inch pancakes; Serves 2.
Condiment Options: Fruit Jam or Maple Syrup.

Mary Cokenour