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

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Nonpolitically Correct Tamales.

While I dislike getting into conversations/debates/arguments regarding religion and politics, current events push me into speaking up.  The term “political correctness” has been bandied about since the late 20th century and still shoved into faces of those who do not agree with the “majority”.  However, this term also has a definition dependent on who is wielding it about like a weapon.  Can anyone, not focused on the tumultuous events happening within our United States, truly know what the political correctness is all about?

Encyclopedia Britannica states, “Political correctness (PC), term used to refer to language that seems intended to give the least amount of offense, especially when describing groups identified by external markers such as race, gender, culture, or sexual orientation.”  To my thinking, this translates to, “Don’t say bad things about people who aren’t your clone.”  Simple, yes?  Until zealots began running willy-nilly with the term and basically trying to rewrite the English language to their own way of thinking.  Just my humble opinion of course.

Guess what?  Political correctness first appeared in Marx and Lenin vocabulary following the Russian Revolution of 1917; used to describe strict adherence to the policies and principles of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.  Now we all know how that turned out, not just for the people living under the USSR’s power, but for the world overall and the fear it created.

I bet you’re all wondering what point I’m trying to make and how it relates to a food column.  Whether politician, investment banker, card shark, miner, housewife, teacher, etcetera, etcetera; get an education on terminology, being thrown about, before jumping onto a bandwagon.  Just because someone enjoys lighting up a faggot (English term for a cigarette) doesn’t mean they find joy in burning a gay person at the stake.

“Before you can read me you gotta learn how to see me, I said.  Free your mind and the rest will follow.”   Free Your Mind by En Vogue

Now to cooking and how politically incorrect it can be.  Take for example the tamale and when one hears the term an automatic, “That’s Mexican!” comes to mind.  How dare you presume the word tamale designates an external marker for the Mexican culture!?!  Historically, tamales originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BC; Mesoamerica encompasses, yes Mexico, but also the Central and South Americas.  Tamale, a Spanish term that the exploring/invading/converting European-Spanish soldiers/monks/priests gave to a food created by Aztecs, Mayans and other Native American cultures within these areas.  As the Spanish traveled throughout the Caribbean, Guam and the Philippines, so did the recipe for tamales and giving rise to the use of banana leaves instead of corn husks.

Time for this Anglo’s political incorrectness in making tamales – no leaves, husks, rolling of ingredients inside or steaming.  My version is called “Tamale Pie” which can be fully cooked as a casserole in the oven, or a crock pot.

 Tamale Pie for the Oven


2 lbs. lean ground beef (90% lean or more)
1 large onion, diced
1 can (14.5 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz.) creamed corn
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes with green chiles (medium heat)
1 package (7 oz.) cornbread mix
1 package (12 oz.) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided in half


Preheat oven to 350F; spray a 3 quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large skillet, medium-high heat, brown the ground beef and diced onion together until there is no pink in the meat; drain excess oil.

In a large mixing bowl, add the black beans, creamed corn and tomatoes with chiles.

When beef and onions are ready, add the cornbread mix and half the cheese to the bowl; mix to break up any clumps in the cornbread mix.  Add the beef and onions and mix until all is incorporated well.

Spread the mixture into the dish; bake for 25 minutes.  Spread other half of cheese over the casserole; return to oven for another 15 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.


 Tamale Pie for the Crock Pot


Double up on all ingredients listed under “For the Oven” version, except use whole kernel corn, instead of creamed corn. 


Using non-stick cooking spray, lightly spray the inside of a 6-quart crock pot.

Brown the beef and onion together as described in that recipe.  Mix with the black beans, corn, tomatoes with chiles; place inside the crock pot.

Prepare the cornbread mix according to package directions (I use one (15 oz.) box of Krusteaz Honey Cornbread mix only); spread over meat/veggie mixture in crock pot.  Spread cheese evenly overall.  Cover with lid, set on low and let cook for 4-5 hours; until cornbread/cheese is a golden, cheesy, melted yumminess. 

12-14 servings.

Hola la revolución!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ode to the Odiferous Onion.

Memories of the meals we’ve made before.  Misty, watering, burning eyes.  While dicing onions from the store.  If Barbra Streisand sees what I’ve done with her The Way We Were song lyrics, I am a dead woman.

Whether a home cook or restaurant prep cook, we all know the pain of dicing and slicing onions.  As a sharp knife begins the cutting process, the friction warms the onion, releasing its juice and sulfurous fumes.  Even though the fumes can be stemmed off for a very short time, by getting the onions cold in the refrigerator, as they warm up, they fight back with a skunk’s vengeance.  Alright kids, time for a little geeky science: Onions (Allium cepa) contain Amino acid sulfoxides that form sulfenic acids when the onion is cut into. These isolate enzymes are now free to mix with sulfenic acids to produce Syn-propanethial-S-oxide, a volatile sulfur compound gas. This gas reacts with the water in your tears to form sulfuric acid, and there’s the burn.

Now for some nutritional facts to round out our education on the onion: 3.5 ounces of raw onion are 40 calories, 1.7 grams of fiber, contain Vitamins B6, B9, C and the mineral potassium.  They are beneficial in blood sugar and pressure control, immunity boosting, cell growth and metabolism.  The benefits far outweigh a bit of temporary irritation to the eyes.

All onions are definitely not the same.  While yellow are strong flavored, white are milder and clear in color; purple and Vidalia do not release strong fumes like the yellow variety and are milder in flavor as well.  Shallots (eshallot) are a French variety mainly used in sauces or salad dressings; as with garlic, they can be roasted to a perfect candy-like sweetness.  Leeks are long onions with a good portion of the body growing underground; perfect for soups or a side dish all their own.

When I was teaching Adult-Ed cooking classes back east, I learned quickly that many of my students were clueless on onion cutting techniques.  While I could write it all out here, this is one of those cooking lessons that is best done visually.  Can’t do that in a written article though, so I’ve included photos of the lesson sheets I handed out to my class.  While my diagrams are crudely drawn, they do the job of teaching and that is what matters most.  This is also one of those, “Hey, this is how we made drawings before computers and Photoshop!” moments.

So class, I’m going to give two homework assignments, the first is how to Caramelize Onions; the second is how to create Sweet Onion Relish.  There will be a taste test and I expect you all to pass with deliciously flying colors!

By the way, I would like to dedicate this article to Rick Meyer of Blanding, Utah; San Juan County Health Inspector; loving husband to Jonna Lancaster Meyer, and he knows why. *wink*

How to Caramelize Onions

Caramelizing onions is simply giving long (one hour) cooked onions a deep brown color; and bringing out the sweetness of the onion itself.  Using medium and low heat temperatures ensures that the onions will attain a brown coloring from the caramelizing of their natural sugar. Higher heat temperatures will brown the onions, perhaps even burn them; however they may remain bitter from not releasing and utilizing the sugar. They can be used as an added ingredient (for example: quiche, frittata, macaroni and cheese) or accompaniment for meat, pork, poultry or seafood; and are the main ingredient for French Onion Soup.

There is no one particular type of onion that should be used when caramelizing; white, yellow, red; even sweeter onions such as Vidalia and Spanish work just fine.  Remember, we're letting the natural sugar of the onion do most of our work for us, so the sweeter the onion, the richer the caramelizing will be.  Also, while I prefer simply to use olive oil for the initial cooking process, some like to use butter, or a combination of oil and butter.  I don't personally like to add a dairy product into my caramelizing process; I don't believe it truly adds anything, but a greasy texture to it.  I've seen some recipes add brown sugar; I'm not sure why since brown sugar is caramelized sugar, and that's what we're trying to achieve with the onion's own sugar.  Confusing, isn't it?  I do, however, add a little balsamic vinegar for an extra richness, and it enhances the aroma of the onions.  Play around with the techniques and see what suits your tastes the best.

Caramelized Onions


3 Tbsp. olive oil
5 large onions, peeled and julienned
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar


Slice the top and root off the onions. Cut the onions in half from top to bottom; remove peels and discard. Place half of an onion, flat side down, on a clean, flat cutting surface. Angle the knife towards the center to make ¼ inch slices from stem to root end. This method of slicing onions is called “Frenched onions”, French-cut, or Julienned.   

Heat oil on medium heat in a large skillet; spread onions in skillet and sprinkle salt over them.
Cook the onions until soft and translucent (10 minutes); stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low, cover and let cook for 40 minutes; stir after 20 minutes only.   This will make the onions sweat, drawing out the natural sugars that will coat the onion pieces and cause them to turn brown as the sugar itself begins to cook.
Do not keep removing the lid to check on the onions, or stir them; the heat will lower and you'll lose the accumulated moisture.  After 40 minutes, mix in the vinegar, cover and cook additional 10 minutes.

Makes 2 cups.

Note: if you want the onions to be darker colored than what is in my accompanying photo, let them cook down longer on the low heat.  For us, after one hour, the intoxicating scent throughout the home is just too much to bear, so we gobble them up. 

How to Make Sweet Onion Relish

Types of sweet onion which have a mild sulfuric, and higher water, content than regular onions  are Vidalia from Georgia, Walla Walla from Washington state, Sunbero from Nevada and Maui from the Hawaiian island of Maui; to name a few. Red onions, also called purple onions, are also mild and sweet; their coloring brightens up any dish.

One way to use sweet onions is to make a relish which can be spread on toasted bread, used as a condiment on sandwiches, or an enhancement for beef, pork or poultry.

Sweet Onion Relish


2 Tbsp. canola oil
6 cups chopped sweet onions
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup sugar
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. celery seeds
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup diced roasted red peppers


In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat; add onions and celery; sauté until tender. Mix in remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring often. Let cool. Spoon into a bowl; cover and chill for 8 hours.

Makes 4 cups.

Have fun on the onion journey and don’t be ashamed to shed a few tears of joy.

Mary Cokenour