Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Monticello, Utah Welcomes Ja-Roen Thai Sushi

Ja-Roen Thai Sushi

380 South Main Street
Monticello, UT, 84535

Phone: (435) 587-4000

Hours of Operation:  11am – 9pm; Monday thru Sunday

Facebook Page:

Late one June afternoon, a gentleman from Moab, named Sam, made my acquaintance.  He asked me about living in Monticello, the types of businesses in town, but more importantly, what kind of restaurants.  Then he asked me, “What kind of restaurant would you like to see in Monticello?”  I told him point blank that we needed Asian Cuisine – Chinese, Japanese, Thai; heck, all three!  I made up a packet of information for him; map of the town indicating where all businesses, gov’t offices, schools, churches, etc. were located; local phone book; San Juan County guide book; and, of course, 101 Things to Do in San Juan County.  Politely he thanked me for all my help, and that I had given him much to consider and think about.

So it came to pass, on Thursday, September 5, 2019, Sampas Janhom, or Sam, had the grand opening for Ja-Roen Thai Sushi.  Located at the old Horsehead Grill, or many remember it as the old MD Ranch House, the southwestern atmosphere was kept intact to match the aesthetics of Monticello.   Inside was abuzz with many a local savoring the Asian specialties, laughing, conversing and having an overall good time.  It was not unusual to hear, “We have been so looking forward this”, “This is so exciting!”, and “We love sushi, and don’t have to go all the way to Cortez or Moab any longer”.  I told several the story of how Sam and I had met, and one response was, “Well Monticello needs to thank you!”, and you are quite welcome Monticello!

Sushi Chef "Aussie with Owner, Sampas Janhom
Sam is quite an interesting man, born and raised in Thailand, he worked for the U.S. Embassy there in the Immigrant Visa Department.  He was in charge of documenting and approving all Indochina refugees wishing to travel to the United States.  After immigrating to the United States himself, Sam found employment at Miami International Airport as a driver.  Not being fond of American sandwiches, he began cooking meals for himself and this attracted the salivary glands of fellow coworkers.  He began cooking for them as well, and before he knew it, Sam was working his way through restaurants.  Starting at the bottom, he worked up the culinary ladder until reaching status of chef.  Upon moving to Moab, he and his wife, Kloichai Kracha, worked as a chef team at Singha Thai.  He began a great friendship with Kent Somerville, and they became golfing buddies as well.  It was no wonder then, when Sam told Kent about his dream of becoming a restaurant owner that Kent decided to help fulfill this dream.

Manning the knife and bamboo rolling mat is Sushi Master, Sornsawan Chaichan, nicknamed Aussie.  He has been creating masterpieces of Sushi, Sushi rolls and Sashimi for 15 years.  A simple Shrimp Tempura Roll winds its way upon the plate, dragon head in the lead.  Insane Eel Roll resembles pool balls ready for play, and no one will mind pocketing the 8 ball into the mouth.

Shrimp Tempura Roll

Insane Eel Roll
Our lovely waitress, Shaile Beh, juggled table service, and a continuous ringing in of phone orders.  She is knowledgeable on the menu items, sweet in personality and willing to make sure customers have the best dining experience.

Crab Rangoon

Appetizers are a tantalizing beginning; Crab Rangoon lightly deep fried, stuffed with a cream cheese and crab mixture, and served with a light sweet and sour sauce.  Thai Dumplings are a meat/vegetable mixture, each steamed in a thin noodle skin and served with a hoisin dipping sauce.  At the next table, we heard the oohs and aahs over an order of Chicken Satay; tender grilled chicken strips with a peanutty dipping sauce.

Thai Dumplings
Chicken Satay

Pad Se Eew with Shrimp
Noodle dishes such as Pad Thai and Pad Se Eew; vegetarian delights, curry of various flavors and heat, and fried rice to pleasantly satisfy.  Oh so many choices!  

Veggie Delight with Chicken

Dessert - Ice Cream
Ja-Roen Thai Sushi offers authentic Thai and Japanese cuisines plus Sushi and Sashimi specialties to please the eye as well as the palate.  Thank you for coming to Monticello, you are exactly what the dining doctors ordered!

Mary Cokenour


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Blue Corn Cake and Juniper Ash.

There I was, scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, attempting to find posts of interest.  Share a positive quote or two, the heart toughing moment of an animal being rescued, and that post that gives you laughter right from the belly.  Of course I enjoy reading the foodie posts, recipes that I would not touch with a fork, literally, and desserts that make my sugar soar just looking at the photos.

One popped up from the admin, Pauline Haines, from a favorite page, Navajo and Pueblo Cooking; blue corn cakes which included juniper ash.  Ash, in a cake?  Oh, I had to know more about this.  She, and several others, explained how the branches from junipers (trees or shrubs dependent on the altitude) are burned, shifted and the ash collected.  The ash adds calcium, magnesium and Vitamin A to the diet; mainly used for baking, it intensifies the coloring of blue corn meal.

The book Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners, by William W. Dunmire and Gail D. Tierney, have a section on the juniper.  Found among the pinion pines of the Colorado Plateau is the juniper which happens to be of the Cypress family.  An evergreen whose needles (leaves), branches and berries have various uses – medicinal, culinary, household and ceremonial.  Traditional sweathouses were constructed with juniper wood, and the bark was floor covering.  Now I have used sage myself for indigestion, but the Hopi added juniper.  This mixture dates back to Ancestral Puebloan times, proven with residue found in coprolites (that is poop in layman’s terms).  For creating dye, the Navajo boiled together leaves, twigs and berries to produce a yellow, orange or tan coloring.  Juniper leaf ash was used to fix (mordant) other colors, so they would not run or fade.  Oh, I could go on and on about the uses for juniper, but I have a better idea, buy the book!

I just happened to have all the ingredients for the cake, except for the juniper ash.  Looking online, I found Shima ( and here is their mission statement: “We are artists, farmers, protectors of our precious and sacred way of life on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners of the Southwest and the land of our ancestors. The land of our shimas. We are growing sovereignty and self-reliance with each bar of soap, every bag of stone-ground cornmeal, every spoon of juniper ash and every jar of honey. Help us protect the precious. Share in the sacred with us.”  Part of Good Shepherd Mission, and the Episcopal Church, Shima is associated locally with San Juan County – St. Christopher’s Mission in Bluff.

Receiving my order very quickly, happily off to the kitchen I went to play.  The recipe can give you two – 8” x 8” cakes, or one – 9” x 13”; I chose the latter, and frosted half of it with cream cheese frosting.  One of the Facebook members suggested adding cinnamon to the mix; the smell, while baking, was intoxicating!  After cooling came the tasting; slightly moist, yet tender, very akin to red velvet cake, but blue in color.  The half with frosting was very good also, but I suggest just a smear of frosting, or the cake itself gets drowned out.  “Seriously”, you’re asking, “how can a cake made with blue corn meal be as good as red velvet?”  Let me put it this way, “Hunny, put down the fork.  Hunny, hunny, stop eating the cake.  Hunny, you’re going to get sick.  Yes, I know it’s good, but stop!”  That was me talking with my husband, and he’s not a huge fan of cake.

Recipe time!

Blue Corn Cake
(Recipe by Pauline Haines – Navajo and Pueblo Cooking Facebook Admin)

1 and ½ cups flour (Blue Bird, of course)
1 cup roasted blue corn meal
1 and ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. juniper ash
1 cup sugar (Truvia Baking Blend works too)
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 cup milk

Option: Add 1 and ½ tsp. ground cinnamon (thanks for the suggestion Lisa Bellison)


Preheat oven to 400F. (I used a non-stick baking pan, or spray with nonstick baking spray)

Mix together all ingredients until smooth, pour into baking pan.  Bake for 20 minutes. (Did the toothpick test and it is perfectly timed)

(Personal Note here:  I shifted all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Otherwise my cakes come out with floury lumps, so it has become a habit to shift all the dry first. Then whisked the oil, eggs and milk in a small bowl, before adding to the dry ingredients.) 

Fully Baked After 20 Minutes.
Cream Cheese Frosting (this is a basic recipe)


8 oz. heavy whipping cream
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. powdered sugar


In a cold, metal bowl, whip the cream until firm.  Add cream cheese and whip until smooth.  Add vanilla and powdered sugar, whip until thoroughly incorporated.

Makes enough frosting for 2 – 8” x 8” cakes, or 1 – 9” x 13” cake.

Going to a social gathering, potluck, or any event that you want to bring a dessert to?  Make this cake, but do not tell anyone what it is until it is all gone.  It will be all gone, and everyone will be pleasantly surprised at what your creation was.  Be prepared to give out the recipe.  Enjoy!

Pile of dried juniper berries found at Mule Canyon's Cave Towers.
Mary Cokenour 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Edible Leather.

Food dehydration has been a part of culinary history as far back as 12, 000 BCE.  The Egyptians used desert heat and blazing sun to suck the liquids out of fish and poultry.  The Middle Ages saw the development of “stillhouses”.  Fruits, vegetables, herbs, even meats were strung up along the ceiling, fires lit, so that the heat would dry them out.  Sounds like the invention of smoking foods can be attributed to that practice as well.  World War 2 necessitated lightweight foods that could be carried in a soldier’s pack; dehydration was the answer.  However, when the soldiers, who luckily survived “The Great One”, came home, families were not having anything to do with that “stuff”.

By the 1960s and 70s though, outdoor lifestyles surged forth; sex, drugs and rock n’ roll were the rage for young folks.  However, they had to eat too, and dehydration made a comeback with jerky, trail mix and healthy, organic, dried fruits.  Hiking and camping went hand in hand with this new lifestyle as well, so back to lightweight foods in backpacks.

While many food items can be air dried by hanging on strings (herbs, mushrooms, small peppers), you definitely would not try this with liquid rich foods.  Slicing up steak, to make jerky, would only encourage bacteria and insects when hung up to dry.   The invention of the electric dehydrator was a boon to this new type of homemade product making.  The use of low heat temperatures, dry air movement and time guaranteed a tasty food that, if stored properly, would last and last.  Now we have solar dehydrators which, like the Egyptians, use the power of the sun to heat and air dry.  No worries over air borne bacteria or insects as the solar units are enclosed, using mirrors to reflect onto the food.

This year, due to all the winter and spring moisture, the fruit trees are packed with a rich abundance of fruits.  There is canning and freezing to store, but then dad mentioned dehydration; how he loved to snack on dried apricots.  We picked several from his over laden trees; put into a water bath to easily remove the skins.  Then I pulled out the old dehydrator; mine is a Waring from 1990 with no temperature setting (standard 140 F).  It still works well for what I need it to do, so I will buy a fancier, temperature control model once it gives out.  Just because something is old, does not mean it cannot be useful anymore.

There are drawbacks to dehydration; along with the moisture, some nutrients are lost in the process.  The natural sugar content is dense and compressed, so if watching those carbs, this snack could be a no-no.  The end products can be extremely chewy and/or tough; and not always re-hydratable.  Depending on the fruit, vegetable or meat, the time to dry it out can be long hours leading to days.  For example, with my dehydrator, dried apricots can take up to 36 hours to completely dry out; that is a lot of electricity being used up!

What could I make that would take less time, yet be still be a good snacking item; fruit leather, also known as fruit roll-ups or fruit strips, can be done between 6 to 12 hours.  The time difference is dependent on how many trays being used, and how thin or thick the pureed fruit is.

Here is what I did: 80 apricots split and pits removed, put into a hot water bath to make skin removable easier (some folks leave the skin, it is a matter of taste and texture).  To keep the apricots from turning brown, I added two cups of fresh pineapple (yes, lemon juice (1/4 cup) could have been used instead).  For added sweetness, four tablespoons of raw honey; then pureed all (immersion blender, blender or food processor will work) until smooth.

Each tray of the dehydrator was lined with plastic and the puree was smoothed on thinly, but not leaving any non-opaque sections.  A half inch of empty space was left from the center opening to the puree, and the outer tray edge as well.  Plugging in the dehydrator, it immediately began to work; the scent of apricots filled the air.  Every two hours I turned off the dehydrator to check the texture.  Hour 10 was at an almost point, so checking at hour 11 I found the fruit leather to be completely done.  It peeled easily off the plastic, fit into a plastic bag which was sealed (squeeze the air out) and then sealed inside a plastic container.  The puree I had made was in a 3-quart container, and I was able to make 2 batches of fruit leather, using the 5 trays each time.

After 6 hours, too soft

After 9 hours, not yet

After 11 hours - dry, flexible, peelable and delicious fruit leather.
When sealed and stored properly, this all natural, only three ingredient fruit leather can last up to one year; except in the Cokenour household.  Looks like I will be making more in the near future.

Mary Cokenour


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Monticello Farmers/Vendors Market is Back in Action.

Canning and jamming, baking and mixing, crafting and cooking; the Monticello Farmers/Vendors Market was back in action on Saturday, August 3rd.  What better way for home based entrepreneurs, or new businesses, to show off their wares than at the market?  What better way for consumers to get freshly made food products, or handmade crafts, than at the market?

While only three vendors were at Veterans Memorial Park, it is not unusual for a slow start.  Once word gets around though, and photos are shared on Facebook, that is when folks begin coming round.  More stands begin opening, and at only $10 a spot, that is a bargain right there.  August and September are the months the market is open, every Saturday, from 8am to 12pm.  As the weeks progress, the abundance of fruits, vegetables, baked goods, hand crafted items and more offer up numerous selections to locals and visitors.

Let’s meet the first wave of vendors.  First there is Backyard Gold, a three generation, home based business managed by Pam Hanson, her daughter Emily Clarke, and granddaughter Adeline.  While Pam is the breakfast burrito and baked bread maker, it is Adeline who is the product inspector.  She will make sure to pick out the perfect selection for the buyer.  Emily is the spice mixologist and rose water creator.  All three ladies will be expanding their offerings soon with keto and gluten free, spice mixes, honey and a variety of canned products and baked goods. 

 Pam Hanson is also in charge of the market, so if interested in becoming a vendor yourself, call her at: (435) 459-9789; or message her on the Monticello Farmers/Vendors Market on Facebook at:

Next to buy from is Thea Langston, who will tell you proudly about her homemade, no preservatives ever, jams, jellies, breads, rolls, cinnamon buns and pickles.  Her wild raspberry jam has a perfect consistency that smoothly slathers; that’s right, I like to slather it on, no smears for me!  Oh sorry, went on a side rail there; back to slathering onto that lovely baked bread from Backyard Gold.   Next time I plan on trying Thea’s bread as I am an equal opportunity carb consumer.  I did purchase one of Thea’s banana breads with streusel topping; each slice a comforting, hug-me moment.

Third, and certainly never the least, is Montezuma Canyon Ranch and Vineyards, owned by Dixie Brunson and Jude Huber, and Chris and Shelia Honecker.  Met these two when taking a short class on the “Cottage Industry” given by USU; nice people!  Their offerings for the market are, again, homemade jams, jellies, pie filling, baked goods, pickled eggs and veggies.  Previously they had sold their cherries, or cherry baked goods, at Anasazi Realty, and I missed out; not this time.  A jar of cherry jam was my score!  Hand knitted items of pot holders, dish towels, and scarves are available too; lovely to look at, so buy some to hold.

Alright all you home vegetable gardeners, get those extra crops picked and be at the market on Saturdays.  This home cook is looking for plump tomatoes and huge onions; how else am I going to make pasta sauce!?!  But seriously folks, do not let the abundance of gardens and orchards go to waste, sell them to those who want to buy; same for all those craft artisans.

Monticello Farmers/Vendors Market; every Saturday in August and September; Veterans Memorial Park, 8am to 12pm…be there!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Custom Catering by Cal Dean Black.

Recently, retired San Juan County Sheriff, Cal Dean Black, found himself on the other side of the interrogation table, and having his mug shot taken as well.  “Alright Black, give us the goods on this catering business, and no holding back on the sauce.”

As Cal’s daughters, Alyssa and Sierra are learning from their daddy, Cal learned the art of Dutch oven cooking from his beloved father, Arvid Black.  Arvid enjoyed cooking up ribeye steaks and chicken for friends and family; teaching Cal the correct type of fire to maintain, tools of the trade and care of the pots.  After Arvid’s passing and Cal’s retirement, it seemed a natural progression to go from a fun side to a complete, full course menu.

Before continuing with the historical birth of Custom Catering, a little historical backdrop on Dutch ovens has a necessary place here.  In the Nederlands (that is how the people there spell it; in America though, it is spelled Netherlands), a Dutch oven (braadpan) is a frying or roasting pan; closely resembling a heavy lidded pot that is normally used on the stove top, or in an oven to make casseroles.  Originally these cooking vessels were created in the 17th century and cast of brass; sand used around the molds to produce a high quality pot with a smooth surface.

In 1707, Englishman Abraham Darby, after studying the casting process in the Nederlands, returned to England with the intent of producing pots cast from iron with molds using loam and clay.  The end product was cheaper to produce, therefore, more economical to the public, but yielding the same cooking end results. English brought the Dutch oven to the colonies of the United States; prized possession, used by pioneers, homesteaders, miners, and ranchers in the southwest; yada, yada, yada and now back to Custom Catering’s history.

“Cal Dean Black, why’d you do it!?!” the suspect was asked, while his daughters giggled in the background.  While he was a sheriff, catering small groups, like his father had done, was all Cal was able to handle.  After retirement, taking on this business venture was not a way to simply keep busy, this was a labor of love which would keep the memory of Arvid Black alive.  Cal expanded the menu to include marinated and grilled chicken, marinated brisket cooked in a savory barbecue sauce, grilled pork loin, Dutch oven potatoes, barbeque and desserts.  “We can do up just about anything; locations indoors or outdoors; groups as large as 500 hungry people.”  A couple of Cal’s favorite events is the Jeep Jamboree in Ouray, Colorado and the Sportsmen for Fishing and Wildlife Banquet; both events hitting the almost 500 persons mark.  Cooking outdoors, especially for such a crowd, can be a challenge; Cal has a trailer with generator that helps greatly to overcome.  Weddings, reunions (family and school related), award banquets, sports events; in the mountains, canyons, deserts, conference halls, large to small; Cal will make the meal to wow. 
Dutch Oven Potatoes.

Brisket Simmering in a Savory Barbecue Sauce.

His wife, Kay Lynn, does up the desserts, like a chocolate Texas sheet cake with chocolate frosting; warmed up to help a scoop of vanilla ice cream drape over it.  Then there is her special white sheet cake with a topping comprised of lemon pudding, whipping topping and cream cheese; garnished with peaches and berries.

Cal’s assistants are Alyssa who likes when there are leftovers, but loves mom’s sheet cake the best.  Sierra does not have much to say, but says it all in four simple words, “The food is good!”

Interested in having a personal or business event catered, give Cal Dean Black a call at: (435) 979-2125.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sweet and Sour Acceptance.

During the 1860s to 1890s, thousands of Chinese immigrants entered into the United States.  Landing in San Francisco, they made their way throughout the western states in search of work; focusing on mining and railroad construction.  Approximately 12, 000 Chinese workers traveled from Sacramento, California, to Promontory, Utah, in the late 1860s; working for the Central Pacific Railroad.  The joining of the transcontinental rail lines became known as “The Golden Spike” where East meets West.  Over 1,000 workers died during construction, their bones shipped back to China, and no credit was given for their labor at the completion or grand celebration.  Not until May, 2019, at the 150th Year Celebration of Golden Spike were the Chinese immigrants recognized for their hard work, dedication, and for some, deaths.

As the immigrants traveled further south within Utah, many found themselves in Carbon County working at the coal mines, and the railway system.  While the majority were driven out by anti-Chinese sentiment, many managed to stay on, establish businesses and made a good life for themselves.  Oh my, I am beginning to see a similarity here of the pioneers who traveled from England to North America; their descendants traveling westward.  Whether due to cultural or religious differences, many a group were met with discrimination, driven away, sometimes killed for simply being different than the established norm.

As with immigrants from many other countries, the Chinese brought their recipes with them.  From the simplest sustenance of stir-fried vegetables in oil plus red chile flakes over jasmine rice; to the more complex sweet and sour made with rice wine vinegar.  Unfortunately, the Chinese cooks were not able to find all the seasonings, spices, what we see as “unusual” foods, here in the USA.  They had to adapt to what was available, and with restaurants, to the tastes of the American residents....and Americans love ketchup!

...and deep frying.  Whether chicken, pork or shrimp, the tender morsels were thickly coated in a batter, deep fried and saturated with the ketchup-based, sweet and sour sauce.  It was tangy, tart, lip smacking, face puckering delicious; the addition of sweet sugar keeping the eyeballs from popping out of their sockets.

Here is a hint for next time a vacation takes place in New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, or any other city with an old, well established Chinatown; do not go to the typical tourist geared restaurant where the food is made for American tastes.  Go into a restaurant that you see the Chinese residents going into; tell them you want to experience authentic food that they would eat in their homeland.  Expect to have your mind, senses, and especially taste buds, blown sky high!  You will be thanking me for this advice, and craving that type of Chinese cuisine; trust me, would I lie to you?

Sweet and Sour Pork
(No deep frying of the meat and the sauce is toned down with pineapple juice)


4 cups cubed pork (boneless loin pork chops)
½ cup flour
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
2 cups onion; julienned & cut into thirds
1 cups each of red & green bell peppers; julienned & cut into thirds
1 (15.25 oz.) can pineapple chunks; drain, but reserve liquid
1 cup Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce


Spray interior of 4-quart crock pot with non-stick cooking spray.

Mix together flour with spices and thoroughly coat pork cubes; place in bottom of crock pot. 
Begin layering onions, bell peppers and pineapple.  

Whisk together reserved pineapple liquid with sweet and sour sauce; pour over all in crock pot.

Cover, set on low for 6 hours; half hour before, prepare white rice (4 cups fully cooked).

Makes 8 servings.

Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce


¼ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup ketchup
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
6 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch


Stir together all ingredients in medium saucepan; bring to boil. Remove from heat and serve.

Makes 1 cup.
Note:  Want some heat?  Add 2 tsp. of Sriracha to the mixture.

Mary Cokenour