Saturday, February 15, 2020

Valentine's Day Lunch at 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:

Valentine's Day, usually paired with a romantic dinner, but alas, some folks have to work during the dinner hours.  That was our situation this year, and we decided to have lunch out instead, at Ja-Roen Thai Sushi.   We didn't mind too much, as we knew that owner, Sam, and his son would take fine care of us.

We began with two appetizers, first Veggie Tempura (sweet potato, zucchini, onion rings, broccoli) in a crunchy tempura batter, served with a lightly sweetened dipping sauce.  Now if you're really looking for a small, but satisfying lunch, pair this with one of the many soup offerings available.  Our second appetizer was Thai Dumplings; a pork/veggie minced mixture wrapped in a soft and totally yummy wonton wrapper, steamed to absolute perfection.

As in the name, Thai Sushi, no meal is complete without ordering one of the many specialty sushi rolls.  California Roll paired well with the other dishes we chose; crab, avocado, cucumber and masago with accompanying pickled ginger and wasabi.  This roll is cut into eight sections, so four for each of us, and gone in a flash before the main dishes arrived.  So good!

BBQ Pork Noodle is served with rice noodles; it can come wet (in a soup broth), or dry (pork and noodles only).  The pork is very similar to Chinese Cantonese Char Siu which is cooked in a mixture of soy sauce, honey, brown sugar, rice wine, hoisin sauce, red bean curd, and Chinese five-spice powder.  We have been cravings this pork dish, since moving from the east coast, and here it was, just Thai style!

Gai Kua is similar to, again Chinese Cantonese Chow Ho Fun, except using Thai herbs and seasonings.  It normally comes with chicken mixed with lettuce and bean sprouts.  However, Sam remembered how we love seafood, so added shrimp and calamari (squid) to the mix.  It was so tempting to eat every little bite, but wait, there's more!

Sam had purchased enough elk meat to offer only four plates of Spicy Elk, and we snagged one!  The elk meat is sliced thin and so, so tender; paired with bell peppers, zucchini and green beans.  The brown sauce is rich in flavor, and the spiciness doesn't hit until swallowing.  It begins at the tip of the tongue and travels along the edges; white rice is served to help tame the spiciness.  If you enjoy elk meat and spicy heat, then make sure to order this when Ja-Roen has it in stock; you snooze, you lose!

No room for dessert, and we did have take home for a late night snack, or lunch the next day.

Traveling through Monticello, Utah?  Hungry for Asian cuisine?  Don't think you like Asian cuisine?  Stop in at Ja-Roen Thai Sushi, and become pleasantly surprised with this food adventure.

Mary Cokenour

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Old Fashioned Country Breakfast.

A Country Style Breakfast for Two.
Now I have never lived, nor worked, on a farm, so cannot truly attest to farm life.  I have gone to Amish homesteads that served family style meals, and the money paid was highly worth it.  Another reason I miss living in PA, the variety of foods, not found here in Utah.  Oh, the attached links, or long loops, of country sausages filled with beef, pork, or a combination of both.  Some containing apple, sage or others types of fruits and herbs; grilled or pan fried, they were always sought after.  Closest we get out here is from the local, or super, markets; way overpriced and just not right; the taste and texture are just not right. Oh, then there were the farmers markets, the butchers who sold those sausages, also sold thick cut, yet lean, bacon.  I have tried so many brands that are packaged, but, once again, nothing seems to come close to the taste and texture of bacon from the butcher.

Country Sausage, King's Meat Market, Green Dragon Farmers Market, Ephrata, PA
Bacon, Lancaster Farmers Market, Lancaster, PA

Recently I tried a new brand of bacon, Buckley Farms, and their price was pretty reasonable, compared to others.  It wasn't until I began preparing it that I noticed, up in the far right corner, a rectangle red box with the words, "Gluten Free".  'cuse me, what!?!  Bacon is meat from a pig, there is no gluten in meat, poultry,'s from grain!

Oh, I just had to find out what the heck this was about.  Bacon is only made out of pork belly, pepper, salt, sugar, spices, smoke flavor, and nitrates: no gluten products.  However, some companies cannot make any guarantees, due to the potential of cross-contamination, between equipment used at processing facilities that also process products that do have gluten within.  You know, sort of like buying a product that has a warning of, "equipment used may also be used for peanuts, nuts and soy".  It's not in the product you purchased, as an ingredient, but might have slipped in during processing, due to the equipment having trace elements still within it.

Buckley Farms' marketing team is smart with this.  Now folks, especially those with a true allergy to gluten, will know, for a fact, that this product won't make them sick.  Those, of course, who jumped onto the gluten free bandwagon, will snatch up the product as well.  Buckley Farms guarantees there is no gluten, no how, no way, in their bacon.  The other brands?  Well, you'll just have to take your chances, right?

Me, I like packages that allow you to see exactly what you are buying.  If it has lots of meat, and little fat; that's what I want!  Some packages, you don't know till you get home, and it's often disappointing.

So all this leads me to my version of a country style breakfast...bacon, country sausage, eggs, toasted bread of some sort, or biscuits, and potatoes, hash browns or home fries.  In other words, the works!

While the coffee is brewing, I begin frying up the bacon; we like it crispy, not wimpy.

Then comes the shredded potatoes, diced green and red bell peppers, diced red onion (sweeter), and black pepper...into the bacon fat sitting in my skillet!  Five minutes on one side before flipping it over, five more minutes; another flip and then I just let it sit and brown away for 5 minutes; flip, another five minutes...20 minutes (on high heat) and the most awesome hash browns.  That's right, I am a kitchen doctor; I doctored those shredded potatoes until they were ready to jump out of the skillet and join a conga line.

Bread is a mood thing, maybe I want to make biscuits, and maybe I don't.  I'm the cook, my choice, so there.  I had some nice rolls that I cut in two, toasted and slathered with butter.  Sometimes I even splurge and serve breakfast with toasted bagels, again, slathered with butter.

Now while the biscuits might be baking, or bread item is toasting, the eggs take up residence in the skillet.  Could be scrambled, could be over easy; this day, it was over easy with a dash of ground black pepper over each.  In PA, they call these "dippy eggs", cause they are cooked just right to dip the toast into that yummy yolk.  So good!   We like to put the "dippy eggs" over the hash browns and then mix them in.  A diner we enjoyed going to called this, "Irish style" and served corned beef hash with it...drool!!!

A Country Style Breakfast fit for King and Queen Cokenour.
All cooked, plated and ready for eating; busy day ahead and we need to get stuffed as we're not sure when we'll have time for another meal.  Wow, I remember when folks would come over to help us with a project, and I think they volunteered just to get breakfast.  True friends still in Pennsylvania and we miss them a whole lot!

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Breads From Betsy's Kitchen - A Book Review.

I am going to make a random guess, and say that I have over 100 books regarding cooking and baking.  Many I have purchased, some given as gifts, I have even won a few via Goodreads Giveaways.  Over the years, I have used many religiously, let others gather inches of dust, and given many, many away...just to receive more in kind.

I love the smell of baking, especially when it comes to yeast.  There is something so comforting in the smell of baking yeast breads and rolls.  Maybe it relates to childhood memories of going to the local Italian bakery.  Entering into a warmth of friendly greetings and overwhelming smells of breads, rolls, pastries and cookies.  Hugging loaves of crusty, sesame seed covered Italian bread, and the anticipation of munching on that goodness, slathered with melting butter.

So, when Breads From Betsy's Kitchen, by Betsy Oppenneer, was displayed in a Barnes and Nobles bookstore, it was the cover which naturally called to me first.  It was a kitchen scene that I have always wanted for my own, and still covet to this day.  Yes, I am one of those women who dreams of owning a farm type home, with a large country kitchen; wooden rafters on the ceiling, counters and cabinets all around, room for table and chairs, and a professional stove with gas burners, oven, and grill.  This would be heaven for me!

I'm still young (61 going on 21), it could still happen!

Anyway, it's been only recently that I was able to finally pull out this baking book, and begin playing with the recipes.  I have to state that our favorite is "Country Fair Egg Bread", and it very much reminds me of, well if Challah Bread married Italian Bread, and had children.  Just don't have a better way of describing it.  My hubby, Roy, simply says, "it tastes better than that stuff at the store", and uses it for everything...breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacking, sandwiches, and loves when I make French toast with it.

So, I will post a photo of the recipe, and then additional photos of making the recipe, and how it came out.  Even if you are a beginning baker, I would recommend trying out this recipe.  It is easier than it might look, and I bet you'll love the results which would include an ego boost to your confidence.

Oh, this was supposed to be a book review, ok, well, this is a great book from beginner to age-old baker.  The recipes have little stories, complete ingredient lists, and easy to understand instructions.  There are no photos of the baked goods, just a few drawings; but that means no pressure to be perfect, and I like that.  Interested in baking, or just want one for your collection, then this book will be just right for you.

Recipe for Country Fair Egg Bread
(page 34 in Breads From Betsy's Kitchen)

Proofing the Yeast.

Braided and Left to Rise

After Rising

Brushed with Egg Wash

After Baking

Crusty on the Outside; Tender and Fluffy on the Inside

If you need to see more photos, for help, please go to my article on making Challah Bread, and you will see the braiding technique.

Mary Cokenour

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Edible Puffs of Love.

Oh puffy, puff,
Full of whippy stuff,
How do I love thee?
Let me count and see.

Crispy, yet light,
Oh such a lovely sight,
Pudding and cream,
Floating sugar a dream.

When it comes to spontaneous poetry, I am not your go-to gal.  However, when it comes to, “What dessert will fill my love’s heart with joy?” I might just have the answer to that.

Valentine’s Day is almost upon us.  A day when expressing undying love to your chosen one is, basically, mandatory.  Gifts, expensive dinner out, chocolates, cards full of sappy poetry.  It can be too much pressure for some; but to others, a wish that does not seem to ever come true.  While I do have someone I love dearly, in my life; I do remember those lonely times of wishing and wanting.  So, may I ask, if you do not mind, that if you know of anyone, who will be alone for this holiday of love, give them a surprise.  Whether it is a simple card stating, “You are not alone and are loved.” Or a little gift given with the same sentiment, well, you never know, but you might even save someone’s life with that small gesture.  

I began this New Year, with a declaration of conquering fear, especially when it comes to baking.  First fear was making Cinnamon Rolls, and it was more fun than I thought it would be.  Well, I have another recipe which I conquered, and it makes the perfect treat for Valentine’s Day, or any special occasion.  That edible puff of love I wrote about in my short, but sweet, poem…The Cream Puff!

The cream puff was invented in 1540 by Catherine de Medici's pastry chef, Pantanelli, for Catherine’s husband, Henry II of France.  Now here is a little tidbit that sort of points out the king as being a bit of a lecher.  He wanted the pastry puffs to resemble the full breasts of a voluptuous woman.  The chef, being from Florence, Italy, had no problem fulfilling the king’s request. 

The pastry dough used for cream puffs, and eclairs as well, is called pâte à choux.  The basic ingredients are water, butter, flour and eggs; there is no leavening, or rising, agent.  So what makes them puff up?  The high moisture content of the dough creates internal steam which rises, and bakes, them into round, or oblong, puffs.  Once baked, they must be poked with a sharp instrument (knife, fork tine, or toothpick), so the steam can be released.  Otherwise the puff will deflate, and you will be left with a flat pancake, of sorts.

Once baked, poked and cooled, the puff can be cut open with a sharp knife.  Lengthwise, about one quarter of an inch from the bottom is best.  Once open, there will be a layer of unbaked dough that must be removed, before filling.  Now, can you simply poke open a larger hole, and fill using a pastry bag?  Of course!  But removing the uncooked dough will give a larger empty space which means…more filling!

A typical filling for puffs and eclairs is whipped cream which is made by whisking together two cups heavy cream, ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar and ½ teaspoon vanilla extract.  Yes, different flavors of extract can be used; even a variety of flavors if making a display for an event like a wedding reception or birthday party.  However, a rich custard can be made instead by simply using a one ounce package of instant pudding mix.  While pudding mix asks for two cups of milk, substitute two cups of half and half or heavy cream; whisk for two minutes, and refrigerate for five minutes.  The pudding will be light, airy and resemble whipped cream; use any flavor you like, or a mixture as I suggested for the whipped cream.  Whatever filling you make, it will be enough for 8 to 9 large puffs.

Hint, you can also use these to make elegant sandwiches for a tea or brunch.  Make up chicken, ham, or tuna salads; do not over use the mayonnaise as you do not want your puffs to get soggy.

Measuring for a large puff is about ¼ cup, but you will have to use a spatula to get the filling out of the cup.  Instead, use a 2-inch diameter ice cream scoop which will release the filling easily, and retain the roundness.   I also suggest using an ice cream scoop for portioning out your dough before baking; again, it retains the roundness.  For miniature puffs, use a 1-inch diameter scoop for the dough, and then the filling.

Will there ever be times when your dough will not rise?  Sure will; too much humidity; did not mix the liquid and flour over the heat long enough; added the wrong size eggs; used cheap margarine (too oily) instead of pure butter; did not pay attention to the directions (very guilty of this one); kept opening the oven to check on the puffs.  If at first you do not succeed, do it again!  First time I made these, perfection; next two times were an embarrassing fail; then perfection again as I figured out why I was flubbing.

Now for the recipe as I am sure you are raring to begin baking.

Choux Pastry or Pate a Choux


1 cup water
½ cup butter
½ tsp. salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted (add 2 Tbsp. for high altitude)
4 large eggs
2 Tbsp. milk (personally use 2%)
1 large egg yolk


Preheat oven to 400 F; line baking pans with parchment paper.

In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter and salt to a soft boil, over medium heat (no roiling boil!).  Immediately add the flour and begin stirring until it forms a smooth ball.  Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Add one egg at a time and fully incorporate into the dough ball.  Continue mixing until it forms a smooth and shiny dough.  The dough will be wet, but will retain its shape when measured out. 

Drop by ¼ cup (or 2-inch ice cream scoop) onto parchment lined baking pans, 2-inches apart.  Beat together the water and egg yolk with a fork; brush lightly onto the tops of the dough mounds.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and immediately poke a hole into each puff to release steam; remove each puff to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 8-9 large puffs.

Fill the puffs before serving.  If not using the same day, place in an air tight container for up to two days.  Or, place inside a freezer bag and freeze for up to two months.  To crisp up the puffs, preheat the oven to 300F, place on a baking sheet and heat for 5 to 8 minutes.

Garnishes:  Powdered sugar; fresh fruit (raspberries (black or red), blueberries, strawberries slices and fanned out); drizzled with chocolate or caramel syrup or honey; melt chocolate and dip tops of puffs in, let harden; dollop of fruit jam on top of puff.

Now that you have these edible puffs of love down pat, make them whenever you would like to have them.  Special occasion, sure; because you are simply feeling special, definitely!

Mary Cokenour 

Monday, February 3, 2020

Warm Up With German Apple Cake.

The American tradition of Groundhog Day, initially began in Britain with Candlemas Day. Priests would hand out blessed candles to the residents of their community on February 2nd.  This tradition dealt in opposites, if the candles were distributed on a sunny day, harsh winter would keep ahold of the land.  If it was a stormy day, winter weather would end soon to welcome beautiful spring. 

Eventually the tradition was adopted by Germans, and they used a creature to predict the weather, the hedgehog. If the day was sunny and the hedgehog saw his shadow, people expected more winter weather; conditions were stormy and the hedgehog didn't see its shadow, spring was near.  When the Germans began to immigrate to Pennsylvania, in the 1800s, the hedgehog was not a native of the land, but the groundhog was.  The tradition remained, just the fortune teller changed.

Now while the 2020 prediction, from the groundhogs, is spring will come sooner this year; they have made a huge oops in many areas of the country.  Around 11am this morning, snow began to fall in Monticello, Utah; Dove Creek, Colorado and upper Utah showed photos and videos of their extreme snowfall.  Calendar wise, spring is about six weeks away; weather wise, winter will let go when it decides to, not when a groundhog says to.

Typically a fall harvest fruit, the apple, has become available for public consumption via supermarkets, local markets and farmers markets.  On a cold, windy, harsh winter day, wouldn't it be lovely to have a delicious slice of German Apple Cake along with a hot cup of tea or hot cocoa!?!

I found this recipe on another food blog, Plated Cravings, and found it to be easier than many other recipes online.  I also like how the cake looks, with pretty apple slices nestled into moist cake.

So I will simply share that recipe here, giving credit to that food blog, of course.  In addition will be photos of how it went along, with a very tasty finale.  By the way, I made a double batch of this cake as I enjoy sharing.

German Apple Cake
(Plated Cravings: German Apple Cake )


4 small apples
1/2 cup unsalted butter room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla sugar or vanilla extract
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups cake flour (see instructions above)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp milk
Powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C) and grease the bottom of a 9- or 10-inch springform or use parchment paper.

Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Thinly slice each quarter lengthwise without cutting all the way through.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add sugar and mix until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add eggs one at a time and beat for 30 seconds on high speed after each addition.
Add vanilla sugar (or extract), salt, and lemon juice. Beat until combined.
Combine cake flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer running on low speed add half of the flour, then 1 tbsp milk, followed by the remaining flour, and then the remaining milk. Beat until just combined. Don't overmix!

Transfer batter into prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Distribute the apples with the sliced side up on top.

Bake in the lower third of the oven for 45 minutes, until lightly browned and a skewer comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and remove the springform ring. Let cake cool on the bottom of the springform pan to room temperature.

Sprinkle powdered sugar over the cooled cake and serve with sweetened whipped cream.

Reminder, apples are available all year long, so don't wait for a particular season.  Simply bake and enjoy!

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Copycat Taco Bell Breakfast.

Living in southeastern Utah, businesses are scarce, and becoming scarcer.  In fact, news around town is that three restaurants and one motel have decided to close down.  I've had opportunity to speak with a few other business owners, and they're thinking of doing the same.  Yet, those in power, for some odd reasoning, don't believe that economic development should be taken seriously.  Then again, there is a small faction that seems to hold reign over the area; born and raised, family money, and they want things to stay the way they were when the pioneers were first here.

Again, though, this is the very same faction that pitches the loudest fits about the county tax being raised, young people moving away, and other family members not moving back with their own families in tow..  Why would they want to?  Why would young people want to stay?  There are slim to few jobs available, there are no financial opportunities!

So I am, once again, asking, if businesses want to expand, come on into San Juan County, Utah.  At this point in time, we need stable franchises, even those associated with chains, to give our local economy a swift kick in the butt, and moving upward!  As to that small faction, time to be overthrown; so those living here, rise up and don't allow your town to become another ghost town.  People living elsewhere, come on in, buy up homes for sale; buy up empty properties and build; let's make every town, the best, and prosperous, little town in San Juan County!!!

Now to cooking, as we don't have a Mexican restaurant in the area, not even a chain that pretends to serve Mexican food, we have to either travel an hour to Cortez, CO or Moab, UT.  Or, see the commercials on the telly, and either sigh with regret, or make it up ourselves.  For us, making it up ourselves is half the fun, the other half is eating what we've created!

Taco Bell introduced the Breakfast Crunch Wrap; a whole hash brown patty, scrambled eggs, cheese and bacon, wrapped up in a tortilla that is multi-folded and browned on the outside.  I've made breakfast burritos before, some I've left with plain, open ends, tortilla; some I have closed the ends and browned in the skillet.

Luckily, the local market was selling, for a reasonable price, a package of hash brown patties.  Now these can be quickly browned in a skillet, with a bit of melted butter; or warmed up in the microwave; your choice! I fry up a package of bacon weekly....ok, someone explain why most brands don't put out one pound packages...what is with this 12 ounce nonsense!?!  It started with coffee, and is now becoming rampant with food products; what is wrong with selling a complete pound!?!

But I digress, fried up crisp bacon; made creamy and yummy scrambled eggs; tortillas were slightly warmed in the microwave (about 10 seconds, paper towel between each).

Center of the 12-inch tortilla (use 10-inch if you can't find the 12-inch), spread out two tablespoons of shredded cheddar.  Don't like plain cheddar, use pepper jack to uumph it up, or even a combo.  Oh, and leave, a minimum, of two inches clean from the edge of the tortilla to the filling.

Next, layer on a couple of slices of crispy bacon; break them into sections so they're not sticking out too far, and possibly rip the tortillas during the folding process.

Third layer is the whole hash brown laid across; remember, you warmed it up in a skillet or the microwave.  Don't use any cold ingredients, except the cheese, or it won't cook evenly in temperature.

Fourth layer is the scrambled eggs; one egg per wrap as it will spread out evenly once fluffed up.

Now comes the wrapping part, on that clean section, brush a little water onto it.  Carefully fold up, at a sharp angle, the tortilla around the filling; the water will help hold the folds together and down.

Melt a little butter in a skillet, size depends on how many you are making for breakfast.  When the butter just begins to sizzle, place the tortilla wrap, seam side down; let it brown for about 2 minutes.  Eveyone's stove top is different, so don't be shy about checking the browning after one minute.

Once browned, flip the wrap over, repeat the browning.  Remove to a plate and enjoy!  Remember, it will be hot, so don't burn yourself in your haste to eat this wonderful breakfast creation.

Now you can make your own copycat version of Taco Bell's Breakfast Crunch Wrap!  Here, here to breakfast, and to Economic Development in rural communites!!!

Mary Cokenour

Friday, January 31, 2020

Time to Think Amore’

Day after Christmas, and already stores were filling up aisles with gifts, candies and decorations for Valentine’s Day.  The New Year had not even been celebrated as yet, but we were being programmed to think about a future holiday.  Besides the required gifts to “prove undying love”, a romantic meal is also part of this holiday.  Many restaurants offer specials featuring expensive cuts of meat, or shipped in seafood like lobster.  You know, the types of foods only eaten for holidays and special occasions, where the amount spent equals the amount of love in the heart.

Equating love to a monetary value just does not sound right to me somehow.  However, throughout history, marriages were arranged between families.  Was this a form of keeping these families “pure” by purchasing the correct spouse?  However, women have always been looked upon as a type of commodity throughout history, and world cultures.  Either the groom’s family would pay a “bride price” to the intended bride’s family, or a dowry was offered to the groom’s family.  What is a dowry?  Basic definition is, “A dowry is a transfer of parental property, gifts, or money at the marriage of a daughter.”
Even in modern societies, it is often the bride and her family who foot the major portion of the wedding and reception costs

Whether wealthy or poor (does a middle class even exist any longer?), I believe love is measured in small ways.  The longing look, gentle touching of hands, a little nudge-nudge, wink-wink; an unexpected compliment, or sharing the last cookie while watching a movie.  Does not cost much, well excepting if the cookies are homemade or store bought.

Swinging back to the romantic meal aspect, not every couple can afford a fancy time out.  Does that diminish the value of Valentine’s Day?  Of course not!

Living in Monticello, the nearest Olive Garden is either in Grand Junction, Colorado (2 and 1/2 hours’ drive northeast), or Farmington, New Mexico (2 hours southeast).  Many people enjoy going to one of these when they are in one of those cities.  The commercials are often on television, and yes, we have gone there once in a while ourselves.

Readers of this food column, and people who I have cooked for, know I focus mainly on Italian cuisine.  So, seeing the latest "limited edition menu items" in recent commercials; had to admit that I wanted to try them.  Then I thought about the items, and realized they are pretty close to baked ziti, and another type of baked pasta casserole, made in the past.  In other words, I can make these new items at home, myself!  While my baked ziti and baked pasta casserole use a homemade tomato based sauce, these new dishes require an Alfredo sauce.

Now, and you know I do this, putting my own spin on a recipe is usually on my mind.  Olive Garden uses a "creamy seafood Alfredo sauce" for the shrimp casserole.  Well, I know how to make Alfredo sauce, and it uses loads of Parmesan cheese.  Smoked mozzarella is shredded and used as a topping.  Since this item is not easily found in any local markets, and traveling an hour away to a supermarket is time consuming, regular mozzarella will do.  However, adding it into the sauce, with the Parmesan, will result in a rich cheesy sauce.   Oh, leaving out the nutmeg as black pepper and garlic will be the main seasonings.


Baked Mozzarella Casserole

1 bag (12 oz.) medium sized shrimp
1 bag (16 oz.) tortellini (frozen or dried)
1 can (15.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, rinse & thoroughly drain all excess liquid
8 Tbsp. butter
8 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
6 cups hot milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. dried parsley leaves


Fill a 3 quart pot halfway with water, place on high heat.  While waiting for water to boil, clean shrimp; remove shells and devein.  When water begins to boil, add in tortellini and cook according to package directions.  Fit a metal colander over the pot, place shrimp inside, and steam until a light pinkish coloring.  Place shrimp, drained tortellini and tomatoes into large mixing bowl.

Preheat oven to 400F; spray sides and bottom of 2 quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In another 3 quart pot, heat the butter over medium heat until melted; gradually add the flour, stirring until smooth.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns a golden brown color, about 6 to 7 minutes; this is the roux.

Yes!  You can make the sauce, on the stove top, right next to the pot cooking the tortellini and steaming the shrimp.

Add the hot milk to the butter mixture one cup at a time; whisk continuously to avoid burning or clumping. When mixture is completely smooth, add the Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, whisk until smooth again; remove from heat; season with salt, black pepper and garlic powder.

Pour cheese sauce over contents in large bowl, mix thoroughly and spoon into baking dish and sprinkle with parsley.  Place dish in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes; edges around contents, and on the top will be slightly browned, and cheese bubbling.  Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

In case you are wondering, I rinse and drain the tomatoes as I do not want all that red liquid to dilute the cheese sauce, or turn it red.  The shrimp, parsley, and the tomatoes themselves should be the eye catchers throughout the white pasta and cheese sauce.

Now if shrimp is not a favorite, grill up chicken breasts with a light seasoning of salt, black pepper and paprika; cut into bite sized pieces and add this instead.  Or choose another pasta, like rigatoni, but make the cheese sauce as directed, add shrimp or chicken, and bake it up.

This casserole, paired with a salad and garlic bread will make a fantastic dinner for six.  However, it will be a spectacular Valentine’s Day dinner for two, with leftovers!

Mary Cokenour