Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Curry Up and Thai One On.

In the past, over ten years ago really, going to a Thai restaurant featured two choices in curry; green (usually made with fresh chilies which while pungent, have a sweeter taste) or red (usually made with dried chilies, have a smoky taste and are hotter). Within the past 5-6 years though, I have experienced Thai culinary pleasures at Thai Cortez in Cortez, Colorado; Arches Thai, Bangkok House Too and Thai Bella in Moab.  Hint San Juan County, you so do not understand the delights your taste buds are missing out on not having your own Thai palace.  Anyway, imagine my surprise when I found out that Thai Curry’s variety is astounding. 

The base for curry is the paste, not just red or green, but Southern Thai (Massaman), Northern Thai (Jungle), Chili Tamarind, Yellow Bean, Black Bean, Mint Tamarind and even Lemongrass.  Now remember, I'm only dealing with Thai cuisine here; there are also curries from India, Pakistan, Japan and most of the Asian cultures which all have unique beginnings.

As a reminder, authentic curry powder is not the same thing; it is made from the curry plant which is similar in appearance to lavender, but smells and tastes similar to sage. However, to confuse the issue more, some places do sell "curry powder" which is a dried, ground mixture of herbs and spices to help the home cook's life "easier" when making a curry recipe. I noticed some recipes state "add curry powder" and I wonder if they are using this premade mixture, or the curry plant.  It does make a distinct difference in taste and flavoring, so make sure to use the correct “curry”.

I will not be posting any recipes for a curry paste as there are so many varieties, but I will recommend a book.  It is a simple book to read, easy recipes and little "knowledge" tidbits added in here and there to make it more interesting.  The book is called, The Everything Thai Cookbook by Jennifer Malott Kotylo; and I do recommend books in "The Everything" series as they are informative.  Chapter One is "Pastes, Marinades and Other Concoctions" which includes rubs and vinegars.  Not a book reader, then there are tons of cooking sites on the internet containing recipes, and even instruction videos.  Seriously, what can you not find a YouTube video about nowadays!?!

I will be giving you two of my recipes, one for Red Curry and the other for Green Curry; simple basic recipes which you can expand upon depending on your own tastes in vegetables and proteins.

Thai Curry

 Red Curry


2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 cup snow pea pods
½ cup diced onion
1 Tbsp. red curry paste
1 (14 oz.) coconut milk
1 Tbsp. cornstarch


In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat; sauté vegetables until they just begin to soften, about 7 minutes. Turn heat up to medium-high; stir in curry paste and cook another minute. Mix together coconut milk and cornstarch; add to skillet and bring to a boil; let cook for 2 minutes before serving. Suggested side: Jasmine rice.

Note: One cup of chicken, pork or shrimp can be previously cooked in additional two tablespoons of oil and set aside to be added to the skillet during the final two minutes of cooking.

Makes 2 servings.

Green Curry


1 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. green curry paste
1 cup coconut milk, divided in half
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped broccoli ½ cup chopped baby corn
3 kaffir lime leaves, split
¼ cup Thai basil
1 tsp. fish sauce
1 Tbsp. sugar


In a large skillet, heat oil and curry paste over medium heat; add in half cup of coconut milk, vegetables and kaffir leaves; cook for 10 minutes. Turn heat up to medium-high; mix in remaining coconut milk, basil, fish sauce and sugar; bring to a boil and let cook for 5 minutes before serving. Suggested side: Jasmine rice

Note: One cup of chicken, pork or shrimp can be previously cooked in additional two tablespoons of oil and set aside to be added to the skillet during the final two minutes of cooking.

Makes 2 servings.

Now the only real problem is going to one of my favorite restaurants and not ordering one of everything!  Thai cuisine, it’s a wonderfully tasty adventure.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Food Love at Peace Tree Juice Café

Peace Tree Juice Cafe

516 N Main Street
Monticello, Utah, 84535

Phone: (435) 587-5063



 When it comes to the restaurant business, true success is based upon the love and passion owners, cooks, chefs, and employees have for what they do.  No one knows this better than Karen Whipple, owner of the Peace Tree Juice Café – Moab and Monticello; loyalty from customers and employees speaks volumes on this subject. 

Twenty-one years ago, Karen began her venture with the first Peace Tree in Moab; based solely on the concept of fresh and healthy.  

Before opening the Peace Tree Menu, make sure to read the story behind the name; but it’s the Vision and Mission Statement that seals the deal.  “The Peace Tree Juice Café celebrates this promotion of goodwill and harmony.  It is our goal to provide healthy, flavorful sustenance using natural, organic, and farm-to-table foods when possible.  Additionally, we believe in the strength of our community and we strive to offer top-quality food and products that are locally grown and made.”  Wow, local businesses and residents promoting and supporting each other; what a great vision and mission in itself!

Karen worked hard at doing and learning, not just the business aspects, but how to make juices and smoothies; hands on experience overall.  That’s right, she didn’t just purchase equipment and books, hand them over to the employees and tell them to figure it out; she needed to perfect it within herself first.  Little by little food items were added to create breakfast and lunch menus.  A second location in Monticello opened and several years ago, a dinner menu emerged with additions of Mexican and Italian cuisines to the American fare.  Whether breakfast, lunch or dinner; the menus at Peace Tree are designed for everyone, no matter the dietary need or life style choice.  It was not always easy, but the rewards are being reaped with great reviews, repeat business, and folks wanting to experience the food love.

Again, Karen is a hands on type of owner; she told me a story of being at the Moab restaurant and how she would go in after hours and clean.  One day, while employees were still there, a new employee asked another, “Is that the cleaning lady?”  “No”, she was told, “That’s your boss!” and let me tell you, I can relate to that assumption.  But that’s Karen for you, even though she has staff, getting down and dirty for her restaurants is just the way she is; and Karen is appreciated and loved for who and what she is!

Then again, Karen appreciates and loves her staff; she knows they’re as much the backbone of the Peace Tree dynasty as she is.  From the servers to the prep cooks, everyone has an important part to play; take, for example, Chef Allea Garcia.  Allea was a military wife living in Italy for four years; perfect environment for a woman with a love and passion for cooking.  Not being one to simply sit on her duff and wait for something to do, she became assistant to the chef at the officers chow hall.  She learned by watching and doing; learned intently the ins and outs of running a kitchen, using the tools, tasting the flavors, smelling the scents.  Like any true Italian cook, she learned quickly that the best measuring tools were the hands and eyes.  

Having my personal specialty style in Italian cuisine, trying out Allea’s dishes was definitely a true test to her ability; she passed with flying colors!  Her meatballs are made with pure, high quality ground beef, no bread in the mixture for those who are gluten intolerant.  Her flavor intense, freshly made sauce is served over the meatballs and perfectly cooked spaghetti; garnished with herbs and parmesan cheese.  The garlic bread, sprinkled with roasted red pepper flakes for a little heat, is definitely necessary to sop up every drop of that delicious sauce.  As with the spaghetti, the fettuccine is perfectly cooked and draped with the creamiest, decadent Alfredo sauce; also freshly made.  Alas, the pasta is not handmade as it takes so much time to create those handmade, fresh sauces; believe me, I can relate to that as well!

Oh, but Italian is not all that Allea can do; her Mexican dishes are amazing as well.  Her Chile Rellanos are, well, they are so wonderful that I no longer have to make them for my husband, Roy.  He said, “Honey, as good as your Chile Rellanos are, I’m sorry, but I am coming to Peace Tree whenever I want some.”  Does that bother me?  Oh heck no, Allea, thank you so much for getting this chore off my meal to-do list.   I had Allea’s version of Fish Tacos, using Tilapia; the fish was so tender and flaky; the coating so perfectly seasoned, I didn’t even have to add any of the accompanying sauces.  Next time I must try the tacos with shrimp; oh yes, I do expect many a next time; and bringing others with us as well to enjoy the feasting. 
Appetizers like Roasted Red Pepper Hummus or Jalapeno Artichoke Dip are so creamy, rich and full of taste bud thrilling flavor, and served with grilled Naan bread.  Needing a small meal? Try a side or Caesar salad with one of these appetizers; it will do a body good!  We also made sure to leave just enough room for a dessert, Brownie Ala Mode, oh so warm, chewy, gooey and good!   Hey, not everyone’s definition of healthy is the same, don’t judge!

But wait, there’s more, breakfast is an incredible feast to start the day off with.  Start off with two types of freshly roasted coffees before diving into Jo’s Omelet full of veggies, and meat of your own choosing, or stick to vegetarian style.  The Panini Sandwich is a mouthful of eggs, cheese and meat; omelet and sandwich both served with seasoned, roasted red potatoes.  French Toast sprinkled with coconut or cinnamon, or Sweet Cream Pancakes for those seeking a sweeter good morning.  A lovely group of tourists, from England and the Nederlands sat inside “the cave”, and feasted on breakfast while we were there.  One item was the Lox Bagel loaded with cream cheese, smoked salmon, roasted red peppers, red onion, capers and tomatoes…it was just too pretty to eat!  That was a Sunday morning when, suddenly, a snowfall of about ¼ of an inch fell.  While others around us were in distress, we simply said, “Give it 5 minutes, the sun will be out”, and we happily continued to eat.  How could we not laugh though, when the sun came out shining, and the visitors to our area were amazed at the correctness of our prediction.  Welcome to San Juan County, where the weather changes every 5 minutes or thereabouts.  Enjoy the entertaining weather while eating, it surely is a wakeup call.

Here it is, late spring and the warmer weather is slowly creeping in.  With our beautiful Abajo Mountains, eye popping blue sky, what perfect way to enjoy meals at Peace Tree Juice Café than on their patio?  Which means, with the use of the patio seating, don’t be afraid to have your well behaved, friendly pet dining with you.  Oh dear, I almost forgot about lunch; a yum-fest of salads, wraps, Angus beef burgers, hot, or panini, sandwiches like the Southwestern Chicken.  Don’t forget about Peace Tree’s ever popular variety of Smoothies, Juice Drinks and Coffees to go along with that veggie packed wrap, or panini stuffed with turkey, avocado and bacon.  

Which brings me to Allea’s newest additions to her condiment/sauce collection; Bacon Jam (close in texture to a chutney) and a Bacon Glaze containing smoky bacon, strawberries and sriarcha; so good on chicken with the heat and sweet mixture.  She is hoping to bottle and sell this latter one, and it would go great on that other white meat, pork.  Oh my, the lunch menu just happens to have a Cuban Melt listed too; roasted pork, mouth-watering.

The front entry way also has a gift shop area featuring jewelry, paintings, metal décor and sculptures, pottery and more from local artisans.  Don’t hesitate to browse as you more than likely will find that perfect gift for yourself, or someone else.

What else can I say except, “Go to Peace Tree Juice Café and have a food love adventure!” 

Mary Cokenour


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Historical Chocolate Once Again.

With all the hoopla going on about a possible re-expansion of Bears Ears National Monument, I noticed a mentioned addition was Alkali Ridge.  On one hand, there are those who state, “The monument will bring thousands of tourists who will bring money to the economy, but also destruction.”  Then there are those who state, “No expansion, no monument, build a wall ala Trump around San Juan County.   Working in the tourism industry for five years, the influx of visitors to San Juan County has been steadily increasing, even before the mention of the possibility of a monument.  With the Alkali Ridge, visitors have been asking about it, since I began promoting the Four Corners regions, as they already knew of its existence.  Knowledge has become so accessible, the entire idea of “hiding” anything historical is preposterous.  Change comes whether we want it to or not.  The huge decision that needs to be addressed, how to react to the change; will it be with positivity or negativity?  *climbs off soap box*

I have written about the cacao that had been found in Alkali Ridge pottery and its display in a museum in Salt Lake City.  It was exciting to see shards of “Deadman Black on Red” pottery lying here and there around the Landmark area when I visited it.  With that lead in, let me introduce you to Alkali Ridge Historical Landmark, or what you could have seen when it was excavated in the 1930s.

Alkali Ridge National Historical Landmark
Outlined with stones; possible buried Kiva?
In the summer of 1908, Byron L. Cummings (University of Utah) continued his archaeological work in the Southeastern Utah region by focusing on upper Montezuma Canyon, including a small excavation at Alkali Ridge.  Along on this expedition was Alfred V. Kidder who became a leader in the field of archeology.  However, it wasn't until John Otis Brew of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology; a museum affiliated with Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that Alkali Ridge was fully explored.  Three separate expeditions (1931, 32, 33) exposed the massive settlements that existed in this area covering Basketmaker III (c. 500CE - c. 750CE) to Pueblo II period (c. 900 CE – c. 1100 CE).  The site revealed hundreds of pit dwellings, multi-storied structures, a central courtyard, kivas, irrigation for agriculture and high quality ceramics.  After documenting and photographing the site, the ruins were covered over; all that can be seen now are piles of rubble, stones sticking out of the ground which denote the outline of structures, pottery shards and simple tools made from agate for cutting and scraping.

In 1964, Alkali Ridge (covering an area of 70 square miles) was designated a National Landmark; on August 12, 1965, at 3:00 PM, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), other Federal agencies, local and state officials held a dedication ceremony at the Alkali Ridge National Historical Landmark.  Archaeologists from a number of western universities attended this ceremony; Dr. John 0tis Brew of the Pea-body Museum, Harvard University, who did the original archaeological scientific investigations on Alkali Ridge, was the keynote speaker.  In 2013, an unusual pottery, "Deadman Black on Red", was examined by University of Pennsylvania and Bristol-Meyers Squibb researchers and the cacao was discovered.

A prized possession, if you can find a copy, and I do own a first edition, is Archaeology of Alkali Ridge, Southeastern Utah by John Otis Brew (published 1946) which is basically the only proof of existence of the ruins from the many photographs and drawings.  I find it fascinating to compare the photographs of the excavations to what is actually seen at the site now.  Strolling area, one “site” are stones that outline a circle, could this be where one of the covered over kivas lie buried?  From a stewardship perspective, I can appreciate the need to protect historical sites.  However, from an educational perspective, knowledge empowers the masses more than any fence or wall can.


…and for those who appreciate the chocolate aspect, a recipe for Triple Chocolate Cupcakes and Frosting.  Oh yes, you can make one large cake instead of cupcakes; just depends on how you wish to share it.  

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes and Frosting


4 ounces each of dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
5 eggs
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
½ tsp. baking soda


Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin tins with paper liners (24)

Heat one inch of water in bottom half of a double boiler. Place in all chocolates and cream; stir occasionally as chocolate melts until smooth (about 8-10 minutes); cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat (medium speed) together eggs, sugar and vanilla until creamy; add chocolate mixture and beat for another 30 seconds. Add the flour and baking soda; beat for 30 seconds or until all the flour is incorporated into the creamy mixture.

Divide the batter evenly between the 24 paper liners. Bake for 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out cleanly from center of cupcakes. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.



5 ounces each dark and milk chocolate, chopped
6 sticks unsalted butter, softened
6 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips
6 Bliss white chocolate squares (place in refrigerator to firm up for grating)


Place chocolate in microwave safe bowl; at 15 second intervals, melt chocolate, stir; repeat until chocolate is completely melted and smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, combine melted chocolate with butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla; beat on low for 5 minutes. Gently fold in white chips; frost cupcakes and grate the Bliss squares over all.

Makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Hog Canyon Challenge.

The battle between winter’s grip and spring prying a seasonal hold has been a challenge in many ways.  Waking in the morning, choices have been: spring jacket or winter coat; dry roads or hoping not to slide; taking a long hike or staying indoors?

It was a weekend in March when it looked like spring was getting the upper hand on winter.  Temperatures in the 50s, clear sky, soft breeze; the waterfalls, down the trail from Hamburger Rock campground, were flowing.  A purely perfect setting for crossing out another name on the to-do list of San Juan County adventures – the rock art of Hog Canyon.

Located three miles west (mile marker 4 on Highway 211) from Newspaper Rock, there is a short pull-in area for parking.  The trails up to the walls (Blue Grama aka Blue Gamma – popular to crack climbers) are well worn, but the soil is loose.  Following the rock art itself entails maneuvering up and around boulders, sometimes squeezing between one that has split in two after its fall from the wall.

Carved onto stone, drawn into the desert varnish, there are square-bodied humanoid figures, mountain sheep, insects, long leaves resembling ferns, circles and many other shapes and figures.  There is the occasional signature of those who settled or visited in the early 20th century (1911 – Ralph Hurst and Bill Dalley).  While many the modern day traveler thinks that the Indian rock art is nothing more than “ancient graffiti”, they fail to understand that it was the earliest form of the “written word” for these cultures.

Why the name “Hog Canyon”?  In Utah’s Canyon Country Place Names (Steve Allen), there is a reference to “Pete Steele noted that the canyon was fenced with knit wire (sheep wire) to hold the pigs that used to pasture in the canyon.  The fence still stands.  (1821~)”.  In the December 10, 2014 issue of the San Juan Record, Albert Eugene (Pete) Steele’s obituary states, “One of his jobs growing up was punching cows for the SS Cattle Company rooted deep in San Juan County’s history. His tales of the Old West and the history of San Juan County were a treasure to anyone lucky enough to hear them.” 

Since I’m writing about challenges, let me get to my next challenge which relates to food.  Many times I have seen recipes posted on Facebook that have the same name, but a slight difference with ingredients.  One such recipe (2 variations) was “Bacon Wrapped, Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts”; now that’s a mouthful just to say.  I looked both recipes over and basically they had one difference; while one used chopped green onion, the other used chopped jalapeno peppers.  I threw down the gauntlet, or oven mitt, and challenged myself to make this recipe more intriguing.  I thought back to a sandwich I had enjoyed at Sweet Cravings in Moab; how a mixture of jalapeno jelly and cream cheese had brought great flavors to roasted turkey breast.  Why not do that with chicken!?!

Looking in the pantry, I found a jar of both mild and hot jalapeno jelly.  While I intended on using some green onions, I also diced up red onions and a multicolored selection of bell peppers for their natural sweetness.

The chicken breasts need to be pounded out to about 1/4 inch in thickness. Always use the flat side of your meat tenderizer, or you can purchase a flat sided mallet. Do not use the mallet directly on the chicken; place it inside a plastic bag, or between 2 sheets of plastic wrap.  Also, placing a clean linen towel over the plastic will most definitely ensure that the tender poultry meat will not shred, but extend out smoothly.  Gently pound out the chicken to the desired thickness; this is not the type of meat to take your aggressions out on.

After pounding out the chicken, spread one tablespoon of the mild jelly (green) or the hot jelly (red); leaving about a half inch border from the edges.  A tablespoon of cream cheese was spread on next; in the other recipes, only two tablespoons of cream cheese was used for the stuffing.  I pressed about two tablespoons of the bell peppers with red onions; only green onions; or bell peppers with green onions into the cream cheese.

Now you might be wondering why no salt sprinkled over the chicken; bacon is going to take care of the salt issue.  In the recipes I read, they called for the bacon to be partially cooked before wrapping around the chicken.  The use of totally raw bacon helps it to be pliable enough to fully wrap around the rolled breasts; allowing the fat to baste the chicken and keep it moist as the bacon begins to crisp up in the oven.  A roasting pan with a rack allows the bacon to crisp up on the bottom as well as the top, so no need for a broiler later on.  Preheat the oven to 400F; line the roasting pan with aluminum foil and add two cups of water to keep any bacon drippings from burning and smoking.  Spray the rack with nonstick spray and place back inside the pan.  Now for the chicken rolling...

Carefully begin to roll the chicken and if any filling begins to ooze out, just push it right back inside.  Take a slice of bacon (you'll need 3 for each breast) and wrap it lengthwise around the chicken.  This will help keep the filling from coming out the sides while roasting.  The bacon will overlap a bit and seal against the chicken meat, so no toothpicks will be necessary.

Lay two slices of bacon on your board, about one inch apart, and carefully lay the rolled breast with the first bacon slice's seam facing upward.  Wrap those two slices around the chicken and let the ends come together to form a seal.  Carefully pick up the bundle and lay it, bacon seams side down, on the roasting rack.  Leave about an inch in between each bundle, so the bacon can crisp up on all sides.  Place the roasting pan inside the oven and let it cook for 40-45 minutes; until the internal temperature reaches 165F.

There you have it, Bacon Wrapped, Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts.  The jalapeno jelly and cream cheese mixture combined to form a decadent stuffing which enhanced the natural sweetness of the bell peppers and red onions.  With the green onions, they combined with the jalapeno jelly to give that Southwestern flavor sensation.   The bacon kept the chicken moist, yet seasoned it at the same time.

Sometimes less is more, but with this new version of the recipe, more of more is just what you want.  Enjoy!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Thai Fine Dining

Thai Bella

218 North 100 West
Moab, Utah, 84532

Phone: (435) 355-0555


Facebook Page:

When it comes to Thai culinary indulgence, Moab has become the new mecca with the opening of several restaurants featuring this unique cuisine.  The latest to open is Thai Bella, and if you know the owner, Bella Prucktrakhu, then you know this restaurant will have delicious food.  Bella has been involved with Pantele's Deli, Arches Thai and Arches Deli; all great successes, and this newest will also be one.

While geared towards "classic and contemporary" Thai cuisine, do not be fooled into thinking it will not be authentic Thai quality.  Bella is making sure the quality is what all her fans know, expect and desire.  The interior of the restaurant is beautiful with photos and paintings of the Moab area adorning the walls.  The overall decor blends into that classic and contemporary theme; it is fine dining without the pretentiousness; perfect for the Moab area.

Example; a couple came in the night we were there, dressed rather, well more elegant than others dining there.  At first they were unsure if they wanted to stay, considering the patrons around them were dressed very casually, even some in work wear.  Stayed they did, scanning the menu, ordering, tasting, the delight of the food lighting up their eyes, and the praises leaving their lips.

My husband and I were impressed with the artistic quality Bella put into the presentation of each dish; even the iced teas we ordered were a swirling blend of color.  On that note, let me get to the food itself.

Beginning with refreshing Green Jasmine and Thai Iced Teas,
we ordered two appetizers: Veggie Tempura and Cream Cheese Wontons.  The Veggie Tempura featured mushrooms, sweet potatoes, broccoli, onion rings lightly battered, crispy and delightful as is, or dipped into a light sweet and sour sauce.  The Cream Cheese Wontons were crispy on the outside and packed with warm, melting cream cheese; total decadence in the mouth.

Main dishes, I ordered Cashew Nut with Shrimp, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, pineapple, cashews stir-fried with a sweet chili sauce.  The vegetables were lightly cooked to keep their natural textures, the shrimp had that perfect "scrunch" and once again the sauce was tasty, yet light and not overpowering.

My husband ordered Veggie Delight with Chicken; very reminiscent of a simple chicken and broccoli dish, but packed with carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and green beans.  Both dishes came with jasmine rice and I admit, we enjoyed playing with our food as much as eating it.

While hubby ate his entire meal, I made sure to take half of mine home for a second enjoyment, but I wanted dessert!  Bella creates this Fried Banana dessert that is out of this world; light and crispy spring roll wrappers surround banana made into a sweet, rich, creamy filling during the deep frying process.  Just to die for!

Thai Bella is currently open for dinner only, but it is perfect for a special occasion, celebration, relaxing after a day of hiking, climbing, ATVing or just to spoil yourself with an awesome culinary adventure.

Mary Cokenour