Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Move Over Gandalf, I Need the Crock Pot.

Did you ever simply stare into the refrigerator wondering what to do with anything inside? It's like that with creative people, you simply hit a wall; a road block saying, "You shall not pass!" We home chefs, or cooks, depending on your attitude about the titles, hit road blocks; we are artists in our own right. Our studio is the kitchen, the palate is the plate, and the tools used to put the artwork onto the plate our pots, pans, skillets, crock pots, utensils of all shapes, sizes and forms. We are also writers, putting down onto paper our recipes; all the ingredients and precise measurements for the next person to understand; directions so it can all be done the way we intended.

Like an author would add to, or revise, a book, so does a cook revise recipes.  Trial and error has a lot to do with this, but it's also the creative side of "wonder if" that has the home cook saying, "I wonder if okra would be better in this recipe, than peas?"  Then there is the ever popular, "I don't want to cook today, but we need something to eat, and I don't want take out...again!"  All hail the crock pot, a kitchen deity unto itself; put all the ingredients inside, cover, and as an ever popular infomercial shouts out to us when surfing the channels, "Set it and forget it!"

So let's get to this adventure, another version of a crock pot favorite, "chicken and stuffing" and the good old can of cream of mushroom soup.  It would be so easy to simply put those three items inside, set it and forget it; but oh no, we can't forget those veggies.  Goodbye broccoli, as it gets chopped and dropped, inside the pot that is. Wow, I better do something with that package of sliced mushrooms in the vegetable bin too, before they turn black and moldy.  Funny isn't it that fungus, yes, mushrooms are fungi, would be so gross after turning moldy; sort of ironic really.

Oh, by the way, for all you out there with picky eaters in the family; the broccoli and mushrooms become completely incorporated into the dish, so you can't tell they're in there!  Also, by cutting the chicken breasts up, the cooking time is greatly decreased, so you can have this ready for lunch or dinner is no time at all.



Crock Pot Chicken Broccoli Stuffing Bake – Version 2

Ingredients:


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch strips
2 cups chopped broccoli
1 and ½ cups sliced mushrooms
1 (6 oz.) package stuffing mix
1 (26 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup milk








Preparation:






In a 4 quart crock pot, mix together chicken, broccoli and mushrooms.













Spread stuffing mix over all. In a medium bowl, mix together soup and milk; pour over top of stuffing mix.



Cover, set on low for 3 hours.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Friday, August 28, 2015

Rana - Pasta Made with Passion.

Chef Giovanni Rana

Rana - Pasta Made with Passion

Website: http://www.giovannirana.com/index.php



I have mentioned many a time that I am "pasta making challenged", so buying pasta products at the supermarket is a given for me.  It's what I do with it that makes the total difference where someone cannot tell if it's homemade, or from the store.  So it was no wonder that, having a "Buy One, Get One Free" coupon for Rana Fresh Pasta found me at the store buying two bags of ravioli to try out.  "How was it?", you might ask.  The next time I was at the store, I purchased several more bags of different varieties (ravioli and tortelloni); yeah, it's that good!

Now I'm not one to buy sauces though; I make my own killer ones, so I cannot tell you about Rana's pasta sauces that are sold next to the pasta products.  I'm thinking though, if the pasta is that good, perhaps the sauces are as well?  Maybe, just maybe, if I get another of those "buy one, get one free" coupons, I might break down and try the sauces out.

Why do we like this pasta?  First off, it cooks more quickly than other brands, within three minutes of adding it to boiling water.  The texture is outstanding; the pasta itself is thin, light and feels good in the mouth; but it holds up in the boiling water and doesn't split apart.  Fillings are exceptional; a good sized portion in the ravioli or tortelloni without taking it to the point of busting.  Packed with flavor, and the cheeses are so smooth and, shall I say it again, a feel good experience in the mouth.  The pasta also holds onto the sauce well; add a good, grated Pecorino Romano cheese for the perfect touch.






We've become big fans of this product, and we'd much rather buy Rana, than other brands we've tried.  By the way, it can be frozen and the cooking time only increases by two minutes, so five minutes until a happy Italian meal...not bad!



Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Paca Pantry - Alpaca Products and Unique Gifts.

Located on the corner of East Center Street and 100 East is a small, red colored building sharing the parking lot of the R & F Restaurant. The proprietor of Paca Pantry is Dorothy Pipkin-Padilla; owner of “Peter Springs Alpaca Ranch”, north of Monticello, on Route 191.  The concept is to offer locals and visitors the opportunity to purchase all that is Alpaca; and a whole lot more.  Come on inside and take a look at the multitude of items this little shop offers. 








 














Let’s start with the Alpaca itself, a domesticated species of South American camelid; with a slight resemblance to a small llama in appearance.  After shearing, their wool can be spun into thread for weaving of rugs, socks, shawls, hats, shoe inserts, even the warmest of gloves.  The spun wool is extremely soft, so can be worn by those with the most sensitive of skin.  Want to feel baby soft after a shower, use the loofah pouch your soap can be contained within.  All of these items are available for purchase at the Pantry; even skeins of wool for your own knitting, crocheting or weaving pleasures. 

 

Dorothy’s other business venture, “Wild Mountain Meats”, is also available for sale; Alpaca ribs, steaks, chops, ground and sausage.  Extremely lean and healthy, the meat has a mild sweetness to it; and needs to be cooked quickly due to the low fat content.  No clue on how to use the meat?  Don’t worry, Dorothy will happily provide you with recipes, like “Cheese Filled Burgers”, “Sweet and Sour Meatballs” and “Shepherd’s Pie”; along with cooking tips.

 

But wait, there’s more!  Consider Paca Pantry for that special and/or unique gift for any celebration.   Displays of various local artisans adorn the walls and counters throughout the shop.  Melinda Redd Photography and Fine Jewelry; Tony Wojcik Glazed Pottery; Roy Cokenour Digitally Painted Prints; and the always popular Thirty-One Bags with Sue Morrell as your ever perky and vigilant consultant.

Melinda Redd Fine Jewelry

Melinda Redd Photography

Roy Cokenour Digital Paintings
Roy Cokenour Digital Paintings


Tony Wojcik Pottery; Thirty-One Bags
 

Other assortments of handmade articles for purchase are crocheted hats, vests, gloves for looking stylish; afghans for keeping warm and cozy on chilly winter nights.  African Market hand woven baskets for adorning the home; purses to carry all your on-the-go needs.  There are even items for the adventurer in you; hunting knives, haversacks and old time lanterns.  Wow, I better get my photographs framed up quickly for sale at the Paca Pantry; I’m missing out!


Currently the hours are Monday thru Sunday, 12 to 6pm, as available; but give Dorothy a call at (435) 419-0750 and she’ll make sure she’s there for your buying needs, even that last second, “I need a gift now!”  Paca Pantry – Alpaca and More; how can you go wrong!?!

Mary Cokenour

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Chicken Enchilada Casserole, Repeat of an Old Favorite.

Usually when I ask Roy what he wants for a weekend dinner, he will tell me to make "Whatever, anything you make is good."  Nice compliment really, since my book of recipes is growing so full, I need to start a new binder.  One day though, he specifically asked for "Chicken Enchilada Casserole", and this is one I haven't made in a long while.  It's one of those casseroles which is easy, but you have to be in the mood for it; he was in the mood.

I saw this recipe on a forum and it was basically off the back of a soup can; I revamped it for our tastes.  When I make it now, I have to make two, one for hubby, and one for his mom; my recipe is for one, but you can easily double it up.



Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts; cooked and chopped.
3 Tbsp. chili powder (New Mexico preferred)
1 (10 ½ oz.) can cream of chicken soup
1 (10 ½ oz.) can refried beans
1 (15 ½ oz.) jar chunky salsa, medium heat
1 (8 oz.) container sour cream
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese mix (divide into 1 ½ cups + ½ cup set aside)
1 (10 count) package 10 inch corn tortillas



Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350F; spray inside of 2-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together well the first seven ingredients, except the ½ cup of cheese that was set aside.




Place 4 tortillas in dish, making sure to cover bottom and sides. Spread half the mixture onto the tortillas. Cover with 3 tortillas; spread remaining half of mixture. Cover with remaining 3 tortillas; spread out half cup of cheese.




















Bake for 45-50 minutes; until top is browned and mixture is bubbling. Remove from oven and let set for 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

As you can see, a round or oval casserole dish will work for this recipe.

Mary Cokenour

Friday, August 14, 2015

Stir Fry by Any Other Name.

Every once in awhile, Omaha Steaks (website: http://www.omahasteaks.com/ ) will have a sale on my favorite item; Stuffed Sole Fillets with Scallops and Crabmeat.  Sometimes the sale price is outstanding, or I have enough points saved up to get it free; ah, there is often a catch though, you have to purchase another item.  So it came to pass that I was able to get some for free, but, of course, so long as I purchased another item; so not so free after all.  ..and the shipping is a killer, so definitely not as free as you think it should be, anyway... I noticed a sale package on sausage, an often used item in my cooking, so figured I might as well try it out.

Smoked, mild Italian sausage was the first box I pulled out of the freezer when deciding what to make for Roy that night.  *sigh*  Sausage with Peppers and Onions; Pasta with Homemade Sauce and the sausage as a side...what am I going to do with this?  Alright, time to clean the pantry anyway, so lets see what jumps off the shelves to hit me with an idea.

Barilla 3-Cheese Dried Tortellini, I have bags of it for when I make my Chicken Tortellini Soup; that goes on the counter.  So am I cooking up a quick sauce; maybe throw in some veggies?  I've got in the freezer bell pepper strips of all colors, sliced zucchini; fresh onions and tomatoes would add to this, but not as a sauce.  Oh no, a saute', but when is a saute' a saute', and not a stir fry.  Well I couldn't tell the difference at this moment of truth, I was quickly cooking up the veggies in oil; adding the meat and cooked pasta; tossing it all together, so why not call this a stir fry?  Hence the name of this new recipe, "Italian Stir Fry", and yes, it came out very well.  By the way, except for the pot used for cooking the tortellini, this is a one skillet dish; nice, right!


Italian Stir Fry

Ingredients:

1 (12 oz.) package Barilla 3 Cheese Dried Tortellini
4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided in half
½ cup each green, yellow, red bell peppers, julienned
¼ cup diced onion
1 large zucchini, sliced into ¼ inch slices
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. Italian herbal mixture
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 and ½ lbs. smoked, mild Italian sausage (Omaha Steaks), cut into ½ inch pieces Parmesan cheese, shredded, for garnish



Preparation:

Cook tortellini according to package directions; begin stir fry while waiting for pasta to cook.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil on medium-high heat; add bell peppers, onion and zucchini; sauté until just beginning to soften. Add in tomatoes, Italian herbs and garlic; mix and let cook for 5 minutes.












Add in sausage, mix and cook for 5 minutes to warm. 








Add in cooked and drain tortellini plus remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Mix gently to coat pasta and incorporate into sausage-vegetable mixture.




Plate and sprinkle shredded Parmesan to desired taste.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Those Pioneers Loved Dessert.

During the 1800s, traveling out West entailed hardships, dangers, lack of supplies, and often injury and/or death. Nowadays our spoiled generations have no clue what it means to truly “put your back into it”; as the pioneers had to do with their covered wagons and horses to get them through the rough terrain.

When it came time for celebrations, like a wedding, the entire small community came together; foods from various ethnic backgrounds were created by family, friends and neighbors; no one was left out. Whatever provisions were available were used for the feast; everyone was going to eat well that day! A wedding, a celebration of everlasting love and life together; even the most precious of items were donated to the preparations, like sugar.

One dessert often seen was Swiss Apple Pie and there is only one way I can describe it: Crumble plus Custard plus Crème Brulee equals Swiss Apple Pie. A combination of three different pie making techniques totaling up to one rich, sugary, eyes rolling to the heavens, pie. As usual, I made two pies, one for my husband and one for my ever faithful “guinea pigs”; folks who will try my creations and give honest opinions. Comments were “wow”, “this is very good”, some lip smacking, a request for another slice, but my true test was Cindi Holyoak at the City Office. Cindi had experienced Swiss Apple Pie before, so I had an expert on my hands and I was tense with anticipation of her critique. At the first bite, her eyes and face lit up; at the second bite she confirmed that “Yes, this was the pie she knew, and it was very good!” Yes, I had passed the ultimate test and did the happy dance (at home of course, not in public).

Once again, I have used a recipe out of “The Mormon Pioneer Cookbook” by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Note: this recipe calls for a ten inch pie pan; if you do not have that size pan (nine inch seeming to be the standard), decrease the heavy cream by one quarter cup and eggs (not the yolks) by one. With the apples, until ready to use them, place in cold water which has a tablespoon of lemon juice included; it will keep the slices from browning, but not add a lemony taste to them. Oh, I lined my baking rack with aluminum foil under the pie pans; spillage of the custard mixture is simply a given; and who wants to clean the oven, not I!






Swiss Apple Pie (page 102)
 
Ingredients:
¼ cup butter
1 and ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. cold water
2 Tbsp. dry bread crumbs
4 tart apples, pared, cored and thinly sliced (I used Granny Smith apples)
2 eggs (large)
2 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar (divided into ½ cup plus ¼ cup)
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
 
Preparation:
 
Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender. Gradually add cold water, mixing with a fork, until pastry gathers around fork. Roll out 1/8 inch thick on lightly floured board or pastry cloth. Use to line a deep 10-inch pie plate, trim edge. (I used store bought, ready-made, deep dish pie crusts; it might be cheating, but it’s still homemade.)
 
Sprinkle bread crumbs over bottom. Layer apple slices evenly in pastry; do not heap. Bake in a 350F oven 5 minutes.


 
Combine eggs and yolks; beat slightly. Add cream and ½ cup of the sugar; stir until sugar dissolves.  Pour ½ the mixture over apples. Bake in a 350F oven 30 minutes.





 









Pour in remaining mixture. Return to oven and bake 30 minutes longer (my pies took 40 minutes) or until knife inserted near edge comes out clean. Pour the melted butter over the top (that’s over the filling, not crust) and sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup sugar.




 
 
Return to oven and bake 5 minutes longer or until top is golden (mine took 10 minutes.) Let pie cool slightly before cutting.
 
Yield: 1 pie.
 












Mary Cokenour