Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Cast Iron Skillets and Elk Burgers.

The last time I had made Elk Burgers was on July 4th, on the grill outside, along with my hot and sweet pork ribs.  Here I was again planning to make them for dinner, but Roy was going to be home late.  I always make something special for when he returns home; he has to live and work in Moab all week.  He’s another victim of the lack of full time employment in San Juan County; staying in Moab saves on fuel costs.  While making them on the grill is great, I had no intention of standing outside in the dark, with a flashlight, flipping burgers.  So, the question was, how to make them hot, fresh and quickly without using the outdoor grill?

Done up in the oven?  Just wouldn't get the caramelization that we liked, and would leach the juices right out of the meat.  The stove top was the last option.  Stove top burgers require the ultimate in a skillet...the cast iron skillet.  These little beauties cook evenly, retain high heat and last forever if taken cared of properly. I have had my skillets for over 30 years, they're still going strong; a bit beat up, but they do the job right.

Cast iron skillets do not come pre-seasoned, so prepare to do this before any attempt at cooking in them. Set the oven temperature to 450F, give the inside of the skillet a light coating of vegetable oil, and leave it in the oven for 30 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the skillet cool down. Hold on though, you're not done yet; repeat this process two more times. Why? The baked on oil is sealing up pores in the skillet and developing its own nonstick surface.


Every time you use your seasoned skillet, clean-up is basically hot water and paper towels. Using soapy water, steel wool pads or scrubbing pads will just take off that seasoned coating and allow rust to form in the skillet. Clean up with hot water, use paper towels to scrape off any stuck food bits, dry thoroughly and then smear on a light coating of oil with a paper towel. When storing, place a paper towel inside the skillet to keep dust particles from sticking to the coating, and when stacking pans.  I might be redundant, but paper towels are a best friend for your cast iron skillets.  A tip I learned the hard way, don’t store a wet pan on top of the cast iron; the water will soak through the paper and rust will form.

By the way, cast iron skillets can be used for baking.  I can attest to the fact that it creates the most fantastic honey cornbread; but that story is for another day.

Time to make some Elk Burgers...

Cast Iron Skillet Elk Burgers


3/4 lb. ground Elk meat
1/4 lb. lean ground beef
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 tsp each sea salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder and chili powder
3 Tbsp. butter
1 medium red onion, cut into strips
1 large green bell pepper, cut into strips


In a medium bowl, mix together the Elk, ground beef, tomatoes and seasonings. Form 4 patties which will be one inch thick.

On medium-high heat, melt butter in skillet and put in the onion and bell peppers strips. Place the patties on top of the vegetables. Cook for 12 minutes on one side, lift up burger, mix vegetables up underneath and flip uncooked side of burger down on vegetables. Do this for each burger and continue to cook for another 12 minutes each. This will allow the vegetables and the meat to caramelize, and the meat will be cooked well, but still juicy.

Remove to plate and let rest 5 minutes before putting burgers on buns with a serving of vegetables. Serve with lettuce, cheese and condiments if desired.

Makes 4 burgers.
Mary Cokenour




Sunday, October 9, 2016

Appeal to All Readers.

 On the side bar of this blog page are two GoFundMe advertisements; one for me, and one for my husband.

Due to living in an area where employment is slim to none; we are having great difficulties. 

I'm asking you to please click on those accounts and give.  Figure it this way, you enjoy reading my posts, my restaurant reviews, our travels throughout the Southwest.  We can't do this unless we receive monetary help.

Simple request...please help us.

Thank you so much.

The Cokenours

Italian Trilogy Ends with Meatballs.

I like trilogies; the beginning which sets the stage; middle expanding the story; the ending which completes.  I also believe in the number 3; in math it is classified as a real number; in faith, it is a power number.  The Grecian 3 Fates deciding when life will end; The Triple Crossroads of birth, life, death; The Holy Trinity; The 9 Levels of Hell, and the square root of 9 is 3…a perfect number.  I am ending my trilogy with an all-time favorite at any Italian dinner table, meatballs; let me set the stage.

A favorite show on the Food Network Channel is Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives"; I find new places to try, but also recipes to try out in my own kitchen.  I like Guy too; he's funny, ridiculous at times, and knows how to draw you in to enjoy the show.  Many of the places he features does Italian food, so I pay particular attention to those, since Italian is one of my favorite cuisines.  One diner owner prepared meatballs, using fresh sliced, white bread soaked in milk as the binder for the meat.    

Growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; I learned in my family, and other families, to use bread crumbs, mainly from loaves of Italian bread that had gone stale, ground into fine crumbs and then added to the meat mixture.  In my first marriage, I learned that was the way his family, who were Italian, also did it, so who was I to question the norm?  Then again, I've become a lot more adventurous in the kitchen since those days, and was going to try this other method of bread soaked in milk.  Another reason, where I live now, you cannot find real, authentic Italian bread made with Semolina flour; it's all made with "enriched white flour" which, to me, is basically plain, old white bread.

Instead of the dried Italian seasoned crumbs, I broke up slices of white bread, about 6, and soaked them in 1 cup of milk instead of the 3/4 cup called for in my recipe.  I also increased my Italian seasoning mixture to 1/4 cup.  Adding this to the rest of the ingredients, I found that you had to work the soaked bread into the meat more, making sure to break up any large clumps. Baking time was the same, but I only got 18 meatballs instead of the usual 20; not a big deal though.

After cooking these in sauce came the taste testing; besides hubby and myself, I asked a couple of other folks to try them out against my regularly made meatballs, without telling them which was which.  The conclusion: While the bread soaked in milk meatball had a firmer texture, the overall taste was the same as my original style meatball. Everyone liked both types and would willingly eat both without a problem; they were delicious, they were authentically homemade; not those rubber ones sold in the freezer department of the grocery.  One comment I especially liked was, “These are the most tender meatballs I have ever eaten!” so there you go.

Overall conclusion: it comes down to basically what you grew up on, are comfortable making, and eating.  However, by trying a new idea, I know now, that if I'm out of dried bread crumbs, I can use the milk soaked bread, still get a decent result, and not a disaster.

Here’s my Original Meatball Recipe:


Lean ground beef (90% or more) is best for meatballs, since they are finished off cooking in sauce.  If a lesser lean meat is used, the fat would seep into the sauce, making it oily and unappetizing.  The meatballs are first baked in an oven to remove any excess grease.  These meatballs are the typical New York Italian style, about the size of a tennis ball, and while great with a pasta dish, they can also be used for meatball sandwiches (subs, heroes, grinders, or whatever they are called in an area).


4 lbs. lean ground beef (90% or more)
2 lbs. ground pork (NOT ground breakfast sausage!)
1 ½ cups Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
1/8 cup Italian seasoning mix
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup diced onion
¾ cup milk
2 eggs, beaten


Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray jelly roll pans with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly; making sure all dry ingredients are mixed well with wet ingredients.  Form the meat mixture into balls, about 2 ¾” (size of a tennis ball); place on jelly roll pans.

Bake meatballs for 20 minutes; dab on paper towels to remove any grease and immerse into sauce.  Allow meatballs to cook in sauce until sauce is ready; 4-6 hours depending on cooking technique (crock pot or stove top) being used. 

Serve with pasta, or use meatballs for a sandwich.

Makes about 20 meatballs.
Mary Cokenour



Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Scents of Fall in the Air.

The time of final harvest has begun; the Fall Equinox occurred on September 22nd.  How fitting was it then to see snow on the lovely Abajo Mountains the next morning?  The Horse Head outlined for all to see clearly; surrounded by warm colors of gold, red and orange from the changing leaves.  The temperatures have begun to change also with 30s during the night, 60s during the day, and maybe a 70 trying hard to hang on to summer.  Windows may be closed at night, but during the day opened to catch those clean breezes before the bitterness of winter winds. 

But wait, what are those scents that come upon those breezes?  It is not just the aromas coming from canning; peaches, apples, pears ready to be made into cobblers, pies and other tasty pastries during winter.  There are the last of the green beans, squash of yellow and green; tomatoes being made into sauces.  No, no, it’s something more; scents that have a heady aroma, a bite at the back of the tongue…cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves.  It’s pumpkin time!  Pies, cakes, breads, cookies and soups; all spiced up and ready to be devoured with joy.

When I decided to do a pumpkin recipe for an article, I went through “The Mormon Pioneers Cookbook”, but only found one recipe, that being for Pumpkin Pie.  Now I had to do some thinking about the pioneers coming to Utah from the Eastern and Midwestern states, and the only recipe was for pumpkin pie?  Then it hit me, the San Juan County pioneers came from the western side of Utah much later than the Salt Lake City pioneers.  Growing pumpkins out there, even from seeds was probably not a picnic in the least.  Bringing seeds, using the waters from the San Juan River, or runoff from the Abajo Mountains; it still would have been many years before the soil was properly cultivated for good crop yields.  Now the one recipe made more sense, but I sort of feel sorry for all the good pumpkin eating these folks missed out on.

Never fear though, according to an article, “Pumpkins in the Garden” by Rick Heflebower and Dan Drost, Vegetable Specialists (Utah State University), “Autumn Gold, Connecticut Field, and Spirit Hybrid are large (18-25 lb.) fruited orange pumpkins that can be used for pies and carving. Jack Be Little, Wee-B-Little and Baby Bear are small (0.5-1.5 lb.) orange fruited types suited for small children. Lumina is a medium (8-14 lb.) white skinned pumpkin used for painting. Big Max and Big Moon can produce fruits that weigh in excess of 200 pounds. There are many other good pumpkin varieties for sale at local gardening outlets and through seed catalogs. Most grow well in Utah.” (  for the full article.)

In these modern times, driving to the local supermarket and purchasing canned pure pumpkin makes it all so easy.  Then again, seeing those dark green leaves shading white, orange and yellow pumpkins kind of brings a sigh to the heart.  It’s beautiful, it’s fall, and it’s pumpkin time.


Pumpkin Bread


2 cups cooked pumpkin puree or 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup canola oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp each ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and allspice
½ tsp ground cloves


Preheat oven to 350; lightly butter and flour (or use baking spray) three loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together well the pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices; add 1/3 of dry mixture into pumpkin mixture and mix well; repeat until all dry ingredients have been incorporated into the wet mixture.


Divide batter between prepared loaf pans; use a soup ladle to get three full cups into each loaf pan.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out cleanly. Let loaves cool before inverting and removing.

Makes 3 loaves.

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Not a Typical Roast Beef Sandwich.

Sometimes I have a craving for a particular type of sandwich; not a sandwich really, but a sub.  The Philly Cheesesteak Sub - a massive amount of meat, onions and melted cheese crammed into a crusty sub (hero, grinder, hoagie - depending on your area) roll. Sometimes sautéed sweet and/or green bell peppers, hot peppers, mushrooms; it depends on who is making it.  Same thing for the cheese - maybe provolone or an orange cheese sauce called "Cheez Whiz"  I use good old American cheese slices; 12 slices for every pound of meat.  The meat is normally thinly sliced Ribeye; just the right amount of fat and meat to keep it moist and tender.  You can have it sliced by the butcher, do it yourself, or find it already sliced and packaged in the frozen food section; the frozen Ribeye looks like small steaks, but when cooking, they break apart easily.

Stopping someplace local for lunch, seeing Philly Cheesesteak on the menu; why I get a bit excited thinking about that tender meat smothered in cheese, onions and peppers.  Then the actual item is placed in front of me; warmed slices of roast beef (maybe), raw onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and a slice of American cheese on a roll.  “Excuse me, but what is this?” I ask in confusion.  “That’s our Philly Cheesesteak!”  I look at the waitress, look at the sandwich, look back at the waitress and say, “No hun, this is a roast beef sandwich, and if I wanted a roast beef sandwich, I would have ordered one.  Has your cook ever even been to Philadelphia?”  …and away she walks, mumbling under her breath about dumb customers.  You know, if you took the ingredients out, placed it between fry bread, well I guess you’ve got a Sheepherder sandwich; guess what, it’s still not a Philly Cheesesteak.

According to Visit (, “Often imitated around the world, the cheesesteak is rarely duplicated successfully outside of Philadelphia.”  Even in Philly, shop owners compete for who makes the best cheesesteak.  At the Reading Market, lines form down the aisles from the cheesesteak counter.  This is a big deal!  So here’s what I am gonna do for you (sorry, just slipped into Brooklyn accent); tell you how to make an authentic Philly Cheesesteak.  Cold meat, raw onions, lettuce, tomatoes….get outta here!

Philly Cheesesteak Sub


1 lb. thinly sliced Ribeye steak
1 medium onion, cut into strips
1 medium bell pepper, cut into strips (sweet, green or hot; your choice and optional)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
12 slices American cheese
3 (6") sub rolls (can’t find crusty rolls, toast them at 350F for 5 minutes)


In a large skillet, medium-high heat, brown the steak; it will be tender enough to break apart in the skillet while browning.  When removing meat to plate, drain all excess grease except two tablespoons.


Put the onions, bell pepper, black pepper and garlic into the skillet; sauté' until the vegetables begin to soften and brown on the edges.  Add back the steak; add the cheese, use two spatulas to break apart the cheese and mix with the meat and vegetables thoroughly.  Turn off heat.

   Pack each sub roll with the mixture.

Makes 3 subs.

Now that’s an authentic Philly Cheesesteak!

Mary Cokenour





Sunday, September 25, 2016

Crock Pot Comfort Food.

This year, summer in Monticello, Utah seemed to consist of two weeks in July and two weeks in August.  The rest of June, July, August and even September has been cool and rainy; not that I'm complaining mind you.  The primary source of our water is from the Abajo Mountains, that's right, real mountain spring water flows down, gets filtered and pours out of our faucets...jealous much?  Now what we didn't expect was to see snow on the tips of the peaks in June and July; and this past Friday the mountains themselves were covered in a light blanket of snow.  Down in Monticello, it was, what the locals call, very breezy; while visitors kept asking, "Why is it so windy?"

Let me explain, "10 to 30 mph = slightly breezy", "30 to 50 mph = breezy", "50 to 80 mph = very breezy".  As to the question, "Why is it so windy?"  Well scientifically, "Warm air, which weighs less than cold air, rises. Then cool air moves in and replaces the rising warm air. This movement of air is what makes the wind blow. A windstorm is just a storm with high winds or violent gusts, but little or no rain."  Or I could give you one of my snarky (yes, I'm snarky, not snippy) answers, "See the windmills at the north end of town; that's our wind farm making all the wind.", or even better, "Go to the BLM office on Main Street; they have the weather machine and can adjust it for you."  Hey, ask a silly question...
Anyway, with temperatures dipping into the 30s at night, and low 60s during the day, it seems a good time to begin thinking about fall and winter meals, especially the comfort food type.  Comfort food, that which wraps itself around you (figuratively), making you feel warm all over and it's soothing to the soul.  I remembered a recipe from my first crock pot cookbook from the 1990s, "Swiss Chicken Bake" and knew this would be a perfect comfort food for a cool day. Bad news though, while I was in the process of divorcing my first husband, he broke into the storage shed and stole a box full of my cookbooks.  Why did he do this?  To hurt me of course, but they were only books, material items that could be replaced, or replaced with similar items.  I looked in my current crock pot books, but couldn't find this recipe, so here's where memory had to take over, and I did a pretty good job at remembering!
Creamy Swiss Chicken Bake


6 frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 (10.5 oz.) package herb seasoned stuffing cubes
1 (10.5 oz.) can cream of chicken soup
1 (10.5 oz.) can cream of celery soup
1 cup milk
8 slices Swiss cheese


Spray inside of a 4 quart crock pot with nonstick cooking spray; place frozen chicken in bottom and against sides of crock pot; sprinkle salt and pepper over chicken.  Pour stuffing cubes into the “well” made by the chicken.


In a medium bowl, whisk together soups and milk; pour over stuffing cubes and spread out to edges of crock pot.  Cover the “sauce” with slices of Swiss cheese.


Cover crock pot, set on low; cook 4-5 hours; chicken will be fork tender and easily come apart.

Makes 6 servings.

Option: use cornbread stuffing cubes with Cheddar cheese instead of herb seasoned stuffing cubes and Swiss cheese.

Enjoy the comfort!

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lasagna 101 and No Cook Pasta Sheets.

I do not cook my pasta sheets beforehand when making lasagna; there, I've said it. No, I do not, and have various reasons for it; not just out of convenience. Now there are folks out there who will cry "Blasphemy!", but there will be others who will sigh in relief that they're not the only ones. Then there are those who have never made lasagna, and rely on the frozen variety.  Poor souls, they thought it was too difficult, especially the part about manipulating long sheets of pasta without creating chaos.  Dear friends, consider yourselves saved; saved from freezer burn and microwave lasagna.


My reasons for not cooking the pasta sheets beforehand: 1 - convenience of course; 2 - pasta cooks more evenly inside the baking dish; 3 - it absorbs the flavors of the tomatoes, herbs and garlic from the sauce it is simmering in; 4 - by leaving gaps and layers between the sheets gives them ample room to not stick together and become gummy (the sheets will expand during the baking process also). Your question might be, "Do I need to buy lasagna sheets that specifically say "no cook" on the box?" The answer is no! You can use those pretty, curly ended sheets; they are cooking in a liquid medium anyway, but in a manner that ensures they will not be over or undercooked. I purchase both types only because the smaller "no cook" sheets fit perfectly in 9" x 5" x 3" aluminum loaf pans which I can freeze for a later meal (2-3 servings); or give away. I can use either/or in the 9" x 12" x 3" aluminum baking pans. The number needed depends on which type of pans being used: 30 curly ended for 2 - 9" x 12"; 20 no cooks for 4 - 9" x 5" loaf pans; or 15 curly for 1 - 9" x 12" and 10 no cooks for 2 - 9" x 5" loaf pans.  Too much?  Double wrap the pans in aluminum foil and freeze them; reheat at 350F for a half hour, remove the foil and heat for another 30 minutes.  Why the aluminum pans and not glass casserole dishes? Simple answer is, "No clean up!" Oh sure, they have that new liner paper out for the glass dishes, but it takes up room and I'd rather have more sauce than paper.

Making lasagna is artwork; creation of a beautifully tasty dish using vegetarian, meat, tomato, or Alfredo sauce of your choice; cheeses of ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, provolone, and even cottage cheese.  Or be truly adventurous with a variety of seafood, or vegetables, using thin slices of zucchini instead of a grain pasta.  For those who like cheddar cheese within their Italian dishes, including pizza; I slap you with my glove and cry out, “Infidels, have you no respect!”  Keep the cheddar cheese for macaroni and cheese dishes, keep it out of Italian cuisine!

I'm warning you now that this will be a fairly long article, making a great lasagna takes time. It's not as simple as Gordon Ramsay (Kitchen Nightmares, Hell’s Kitchen) makes it seem on his shows; sauce is already prepared, noodles cooked, cheese is either cool or at room temperature. That's why it can be layered together quickly, placed under a broiler and done in about 10 minutes; it's more of a warming process than a cooking one.  You need to have a great sauce for Italian dishes; homemade with your own hands and that means made with love! You will need a minimum of 14 cups, perhaps 16, especially if you want to serve a bowl on the side; and at room temperature.  When the game plan is lasagna, making a 6 quart crock pot of sauce (didn’t you read my article on processing tomatoes and making sauce!!??!!)  I will add 2 pounds of ground beef that has been browned with onions, garlic and 2 teaspoons of ground black pepper.

A mixture of cheeses truly enhances a dish like lasagna: 12 cups of Ricotta (I use half whole milk, half part skim; but you can use all whole or all part skim).  1 bag (8 ounces) each of shredded Mozzarella and shredded Provolone, 1 cup shredded Romano cheese. The cheeses should be cool, but not cold; mix them all together in a large bowl, except for half the Mozzarella and half the Provolone. Take those halves, mix together and set aside.  I was not introduced to “cottage cheese lasagna” until I moved into Utah.  While ricotta is made from the whey of milk; curds become cottage cheese.  The pioneers, not being of Italian descent, fed whey to the animals while using the curds and cream to create dairy products.   I have used small curd cottage cheese in my lasagna cheese mixture if I could not find enough ricotta to use.

Preheat the oven to 375F; lightly spray the pan interiors with nonstick cooking spray (we don't want to leave any yummy sauce sticking to the pan). Spread one cup of sauce over the bottom.

Place one sheet over the sauce and press down slightly. See that space at the ends of the sheet; this is going to allow the liquids in the sauce to simmer up the sides, be absorbed by the sheets and cook them to tender perfection. The sauce will thicken up with the absorption of the excess liquid.  By the way, for the 9" x 5" loaf pans, each layer will have one sheet of pasta, while the larger pans will have 3 sheets, side by side, for each layer.

From the cheese mixture in the large bowl, spread a thickness of between 1/4" and 1/2" over the pasta sheet only.  Spread a half cup of sauce over the cheese as evenly as possible. Now we begin to repeat the layering process with a pasta sheet over the sauce; press down slightly; spread cheese, sauce, sheet, cheese, sauce, sheet, (however a slight change) sauce, sheet. We will end up with three layers of cheese filling total; and a top layer of sauce only between the sheets.  Now that final pasta sheet you laid down; spread sauce evenly over it, but do not fill in the sides of the pan. Remember, the liquids from the sauce need that space to move around in; not enough free space and you'll have an overflow onto your oven floor.  Bake the lasagnas for one hour; spread the remaining Mozzarella and Provolone mixture over the tops of each and return to the oven for 20 minutes.   Beautiful works of art!


Let the lasagna rest for 15 minutes before cutting into squares; the longer you wait, the firmer the servings will become. While I may have patience in creating this most outstanding meal, I have none with waiting to eat it! The longer you wait though, the cooler it is becoming also; so your big decision is do you want it pretty, but cold; or hot, messy and absolutely out of this world delicious?   Stop thinking, start eating!


Mary Cokenour