Thursday, March 31, 2011

One step closer to Culinary Goddess status.

I'd just gotten home from running errands; was just about to enter the house when the UPS truck pulled up out front. "Could it be?", I thought, "Had it gotten here that quickly?" The driver pulled out a rather large box, carried it up to me, and the sender label told me, "Yes!!! It was here!!!".

My new toy, shiny, bright red, super powered; and it was all mine. Removing it from the box, setting it up on the counter; the polished feel of it; the stream lined construction. I have the power!!!  and the next step to becoming a culinary goddess had been taken.


The Kitchen Aid Professional 5 Plus Stand Up Mixer, and it was all mine.  Oh, the baking I could now do; the creation and kneading of dough...bread, pizza...the selection would be endless.  And did I happen to mention that it was all mine?

The Kitchen Aid Stand Up Mixer has been on my wish list for years, but something else has always taken priority over its purchase.  Then the red model came out, and it was so beautiful.  I went on Ebay and watched the auctions of this mixer; then I struck!  Roy calls me an "Ebay Ninja" because I time the auctions of items I want carefully, and put in my winning bid at just the right moment.  While it did come with 3 attachments, I still need to purchase one more, the pour shield.  Piece of cake...pun intended.

Two items I want to make are Challah Bread and Black and White Cookies (they're a New York thing).  I went online, and while I could have them shipped, ready made, to me; the shipping costs are insulting.

I have the power!!!

Challah Bread



Challah is traditional Jewish bread made with egg, sugar, and no dairy.  It can be used to make an exceptional French toast.
 Ingredients:

1 packet yeast
1 ½ cups warm water
½ cup sugar
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
½ cup canola oil
3 large eggs, beaten; plus 1 egg for glazing

Preparation of the Dough:

In a small bowl, mix together the yeast, water and sugar; set aside to proof (mixture will become bubbly).

Once yeast mixture is proofed, sift into a large mixing bowl, 2 cups of flour and salt.  Add the yeast mixture, oil and 3 eggs.  Add extra cup of flour little by little until dough becomes soft and elastic.  Knead dough for 5 minutes; remove to greased bowl for first rising; cover with clean, linen towel.

After two hours, dough will have doubled in size; punch down the dough, recover and let rise for another hour. 

 Preparation of the Loaf:

Divide the dough in half for two large loaves.  Take one half and divide into thirds; roll out each of the three between your hands to make thick ropes; lay out these onto a floured surface. Join them at one end and make them into a loose braid.  Repeat with second half of dough. Cover the loaves loosely and let them rise at room temperature for a ½ hour. 

Preheat oven to 350F; spray 2 jellyroll pans with nonstick baking spray (contains flour).

Brush with the remaining egg to glaze.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes; till loaves are a medium-dark brown.

Makes 2 loaves.

Mary Cokenour
 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eating Rosemary - no, it's not cannabalism

Rosemary

The botanical name Rosmarinus is derived form the old Latin for 'dew of the sea', a reference to its pale blue dew-like flowers and the fact that it is often grown near the sea. It is a symbol of remembrance and friendship, and is often carried by wedding couples as a sign of love and fidelity. Sprigs of rosemary were placed under pillows at night to ward off evil spirits and bad dreams. The wood was used to make lutes and other musical instruments.
Cultivation
Rosemary is an attractive evergreen shrub with pine needle-like leaves. It's trusses of blue flowers last through spring and summer in a warm, humid environment. It will grow to a height of between 3 and 5 feet.
Propagate from cuttings of the twisted wood of non-flowering branches in early summer, or layer established branches. Rosemary can also be grown from seed. Choose a sheltered position and well-drained soil, and allow the plant lots of sun. The thick shrub tolerates clipping so that the size can be kept in check. In hot weather it will appreciate a good hosing down. In a warm climate it can remain in the same location for up to 30 years, but in climates where freezing temperatures are expected it is best grown in pots so that it can be brought indoors in winter.
Medicinal Uses
Rosemary contains a compound called rosmaricine that seems to relieve headaches the same way aspirin does, but without irritating the stomach. The oil should not be taken internally; even small doses can cause stomach, kidney and intestinal problems, and large amounts may be poisonous. Use a tea instead by placing one teaspoon of crushed dried leaves in a cup of boiling water and steep for ten minutes. Pregnant women should not use the herb medicinally as it can cause stomach cramping. Rosemary is a stimulant, so can increase blood pressure.
Rosemary contains primarily borneol, camphor, eucalyptol and pinene in its essential oils which can be irritating to the skin, yet it is used in rheumatic liniments and ointments for its soothing effect.
Culinary Uses
Rosemary is pungent and should be used sparingly. If adding to a recipe, strip the leaves from the stem and chop up finely; this would be best for chicken, fish, soups and stews. For roasting and grilling, place the whole stem on top of the food, or put the springs directly onto the coals; this would be best if using lamb or deer.
Rosemary for Remembrance
The ancient Greeks believed that rosemary strengthened memory; both scholars and students wore it in their hair to remember their studies; it was burned to help inspire the students. Rosemary became a symbol, not just of rememberance, but of fidelity, hence its use at weddings and funerals.




Lamb Stew with Rosemary
Ingredients:
4 lbs lamb, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 Tbsp flour
4 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups diced tomatoes
3 large sprigs fresh rosemary, or 3 teaspoons dried
1/2 lb baby carrots
1 lb potatoes, peeled, cut in half; quarter each half
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
Preparation:
Spray a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray; lightly brown lamb on medium-high heat; drain off excess oil. Mix flour with the meat, covering evenly.
Place meat in a 6 quart crock pot, and add all other ingredients, except the parsley. Put setting on low and let cook for 6-8 hours; stir occasionally. Test meat, carrots and potatoes for tenderness; when ready, serve with a sprinkle of parlsey.
Serves six.
Mary Cokenour
September 12, 2003

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fajitas – Are they an authentic Mexican dish?


The answer to that is sort of yes, and sort of no. The Spanish word “faja” means belt or girdle; and refers to the cut of meat known as “skirt steak”. The word “fajita” means a smaller version of the steak itself; the smaller strips of meat found in a fajita.

Grilling meat was not a new style of cooking for the Mexican culture, nor for America; but Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) introduced their American counterparts to their style. Many parts of cattle were discarded, such as the skirt, or given to the ranch hands in lieu of monetary compensation for their work. A historical story, done at Texas A&M University, established that this could be traced as far back as the 1930’s in Texas; hence the beginning of what is called “Tex-Mex” cuisine.
While the fajita originally contained beef, nowadays it can contain chicken, pork, seafood, or a combination of these items. Other typical ingredients served with the fajita are onions, bell and/or hot peppers, Mexican style rice, refried beans, cheese and condiments such as sour cream, salsa and guacamole. Wrapped in warm tortillas, the fajita becomes the perfect little type of sandwich; packed with food and flavors.

Fajitas
Ingredients:
2 lbs sirloin or round steak, cut into 2” x ¼” strips
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2” x ¼ “strips
2 large onions, cut into ¼” strips
1 large each red, yellow and green bell peppers, cut into ¼” strips
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 dozen 8” tortillas (corn or flour)

Garnish:
Salsa
Refried Beans
Sour Cream
Shredded Mexican Blend or Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Marinade:
½ cup canola oil
½ cup white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
1 ½ minced fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper

Preparation:
Put steak and chicken strips in two separate sealable plastic bags. Prepare marinade by placing all ingredients listed under Marinade into small bowl and whisking together. Divide marinade between the two bags; seal and refrigerate overnight. In a third plastic bag, place the onion and pepper strips, black pepper, garlic powder, 2 Tbsp oil inside; gently shake to mix together and also refrigerate overnight with steak and chicken.

When ready to make fajitas, separately cook steak, chicken and vegetables in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Cook steak and chicken until no pink is showing; cook vegetables until tender. For the tortillas, heat a 10” skillet or stove top griddle on medium-high heat; warm tortillas for 30 seconds on each side.

Serve steak, chicken, vegetables and tortillas with items listed under Garnish, so each serving can be made as desired.

Makes 12 servings.

Mary Cokenour
May 10, 1996

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tequila's is Real Mexican.


Tequila's Mexican Restaurant
1740 E Main St # 1
Cortez, Colorado, 81321-3064

(970) 565-6868

Website: http://www.tequilasmexres.net/

Looking for authentic Mexican food? Then you need to try out a Tequila’s Mexican Restaurant if you happen to be in Colorado. There are several locations, and we’re lucky to have one, located in Cortez, Colorado, only an hour away from home. It is located in a small shopping strip across the street from the WalMart, so not hard to find. The restaurant looks small from the outside, but there is ample room inside. Going up a small incline to the reception podium, a smiling hostess will seat you at one of their many tables or booths. The wait staff is friendly and attentive, and your drink order is taken immediately. Salsa, tortilla chips and a warm cabbage slaw begin your eating adventure.

It’s the menu that might give you a bit of trouble; trouble deciding what to have that is. The appetizers (try the sampler platter if you can’t decide) are delicious and plentiful. The chicken taquitos are not the typical ones you would see in your frozen food department. They are wider with slices of tender chicken breast inside, and a mild red sauce served on top.

Main dishes are divided into categories in the menu – beef, pork, chicken, seafood, specialty dishes, combos; and everything is good!!! Once again, if you can’t decide, go with a combo where you can pick 2 or more items; refried beans and rice served with the meal. Many of the meals come with a side of diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce; tasting very fresh. Warm, soft tortillas are served in a separate covered warming dish; very nice indeed.

There are a few desserts, that is if you can fit anymore into your stomach; and we particularly love the flan and sopapillas. Also, they have an extensive drink menu, so if you’re in the mood for a cocktail, try one of their margueritas, or other mixed drinks.

Now we have been there many times, and to this date, we have only had one bad experience with the food, namely the salsa. Roy dipped in a chip, loaded up a generous amount of salsa, and got more crunch in his mouth than just the chip. There had been, in the salsa bowl, a ¼ inch metal screw. We called over the waiter, who apologized, removed the bowl and then promptly brought us a fresh bowl of salsa. Alright we thought, perhaps he’ll take a little something off the total bill for our inconvenience. Nope, we thought wrong; so that was a disappointment.

Except for that incident, the food has always been delicious, very little wait time, hot and plentiful. If you walk out of Tequila’s hungry, then that’s your fault, not theirs.

Tequila's Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tequila's Mexican Restaurant on Restaurantica

Convenience Cooking? Avoid the box.

We have all done it; time is short, too much to do, so we grab a boxed meal for convenience. It could be one of those on the shelf meals that you just add meat, chicken or tuna and water to; or it could be a factory made meal from the freezer. It’s not really the cooking that takes up so much time really, it’s the prep work; the cutting, chopping, measuring. There are many items that can be found pre-cut in the freezer section of the local market: onions, peppers, carrots, potatoes, etc. Depending on what recipe you’re creating, measuring out these pre-cut items can ease your time load. Also, these items can be broken down into pre-measured ingredients, bagged together with your pre-measured meat, chicken or seafood and there you go, a homemade frozen meal just ready to go.


Many fresh vegetables can be prepped ahead also. I often buy bell and hot peppers when they are on sale. They can be chopped, sliced, diced, and/or roasted; then frozen to be readily available when needed. Carrots, peas, corn can be blanched, cooled quickly in ice water, drained and then frozen in measured amounts. Think of it as canning without using bottles, and having to buy all the tools for the process.

Veggies can also be stored in a good olive oil, refrigerated and added to salads, sandwiches or to enhance a cooked meal. No matter how you decide to store your food, you are the one who knows definitely what is in it; no labels to decipher.


Roasting Vegetables

Garlic

Without removing the papery skin, or separating the cloves, cut the top off the head of the garlic bulb; make sure to expose all of the cloves. Place the bulbs, root side down, into an oven proof glass dish. Pour 1/8 cup of olive oil over each bulb; this will keep the garlic moist and prevent a hard “skin” from forming. Bake in a preheated 300F oven for one hour. While still hot, grasp the bottom of the bulb (use an oven mitt or clean towel to prevent burning skin) and squeeze out the soft pulp. The pulp can be used for spreading on toasted bread, or adding to a recipe.

Shallots

Remove the papery skin and roots from the shallots, place into an oven proof glass dish. Coat the shallots with ¼ cup of olive oil; bake according to the garlic directions. The natural sugar in shallots will help to caramelize the olive oil on them. They can be tossed into salads, sauces or added to a recipe.

Red Bell Peppers

Make sure the peppers being used are firm to the touch; if soft, they are old. If the stove is gas, turn the burners on low and place the peppers directly on top. Use tongs to turn the peppers as the skin blackens. The peppers can also be blackened on a barbeque grill, or under the broiler. Once blackened on all sides, place the peppers in a paper bag and seal the bag; this will cause a steaming process. Once the peppers are warm to the touch, the skin will easily peel off, and the seeds can be removed. Chop, dice, slice up the peppers for salads, dressings, sauces, or added to a recipe.

Storage

Place roasted garlic or vegetables in a jar (glass for refrigerating; plastic for freezing) and cover with olive oil. If refrigerated, use within one week; if frozen, it can be stored for up to three months. To use, bring up to room temperature, as oil will be coagulated and needs to be reliquified.

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Zax Restaurant - more than just pizza



Zax Restaurant and Watering Hole
96 South Main
Moab, UT 84532

(435) 259-6555

Website: http://www.zaxmoab.com/

Located on Rte 191, the main route through Moab, Zax is one of the more upbeat restaurants in the area; and offers a variety in the menu: Italian, Thai, American.  We've tried a few of the appetizers and the Thai Spring Rolls and Beer Battered Onion Rings are a big favorite.  We weren't too fond of the Hot Wings though, the skin was still mushy (some folks like it that way)and we prefer them crispy; the sauces, however, were flavorful.

The burgers are thick and juicy; the sandwiches piled high; and the dinners are not skimpy.  There is a wood burning oven for the pizza making, and a soup and salad bar that has a large quantity of items to please anyone. 

Last night we tried the All-You-Can-Eat Pizza, Soup and Salad for only $12.99; and it is a bargain.  The variety in pizza was great: plain cheese, pepperoni, ham with pineapple, veggie, sausage, barbeque chicken, and many others we just didn't have enough room in our stomachs to try.  The bottom of the pizzas were browned nicely; the outside of the crust was crispy and tasted buttery; the inside was soft.  I usually don't eat the crust on pizza, but this was too good to waste.  The salad and fixings in the salad bar look appetizing and tasted fresh; the soups were Beer Cheese and Cream of Asparagus.  I loved the Cream of Asparagus - thick, creamy, seasoned wonderfully, and the 1/2 " pieces of aspargus melted in the mouth.  Next time I just might get only the All-You-Can-Eat Soup and Salad bar if that soup is served with it.

There are three areas to sit in Zax: the bar which has televisions tuned into sports channels, the restaurant area with booths and a view of the pizza guys and wood burning oven or the patio for people watching while you enjoy your meal.

If you happen to come to Moab, Utah for a visit; and can't make up your mind what food you're in the mood for, try Zax.  There will definitely be something on the menu to catch your taste buds.

Zax Restauarnt on Urbanspoon

Zax on Restaurantica

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sloppy Joes are a delicious mess.

When my son, William, was adopted, one thing we noticed about him was how neat he was. He would use several napkins during a meal, wiping his mouth and hands after every bite of food. Now he was only 2 years old, and wondered why he was like this. He also was completely potty trained (hooray!), but he also hated to get his clothing dirty. Inquiry time; and we found out that the orphanage in El Salvador had trained him to be this way. They wanted to make sure that American couples would not find any fault with the "perfect" children they were training, and try to return them. Seriously!?! This was rather disturbing to us in so many ways; the most being that they were not allowing to let a child be just that...a child.

It took us awhile to get him comfortable enough with the concept that it was ok to get dirty. Playing in the park, rolling down a grassy hillside, stomping through rain puddles were intended to be fun, and messy. Having fun with, and therefore enjoying, food was ok too, even if it was something that got you messy. Sloppy Joes is one of the ultimate messy foods; no matter how careful you are, the insides come gushing out of the bun when you hold it in your hands. Eat it with a fork? What fun is that!?!

Sloppy Joes is an easy meal to create; one pan on the stove, or in the crock pot. While basic ingredients are meat, tomatoes and a sauce; other veggies can be added to boost up the nutritional value...and it's fun to eat!!! It can be stretched to feed a large family; especially with the addition of a side salad or macaroni and cheese. I made a crock pot of it last night for dinner, and Roy couldn't wait to dive in. Umm, to eating the Sloppy Joes, not the crock pot itself; just want to clarify that.

So here's to messy eating; pass the napkins whenever.


Homemade Sloppy Joes


Ingredients:

3 lbs lean ground beef
1 small onion, diced
¼ cup diced red bell pepper
1 Tbsp non-salt seasoning mix
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, drained
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
4 cups barbeque sauce (KC Masterpiece, Bullseye, Sweet Baby Ray’s)

Preparation:

In a large skillet, high heat, brown the ground beef.  When partially browned add diced onion, bell pepper, seasoning mix and garlic; mix well and fully brown meat.; drain off the excess oil.  Place in a 4-qt crock pot; add in remaining ingredients and stir well. 

Low heat – will cook in 4-5 hours.
High heat – will cook in 2-3 hours.

 Makes 12 servings.


Mary Cokenour
07-01-06

Thursday, March 24, 2011

When life gives you lemons,

The saying ends with, “make lemonade”. That’s all well and good if you’re thirsty and in the mood for a tangy drink. Right now I’m in an angry mood; at other people, and at myself. A while ago I was alright for doing some favors for some folks. I was traveling back and forth between two towns, so it was on my way anyway. I don’t do that traveling so much anymore, maybe once or twice a month. That hasn’t dawned on these folks; well people, I have one thing to say, “Have you not noticed the price of gas lately?!?” It’s not just that; the favors have turned more into demands. When a favor is asked, the person being asked has the option to say yes or no. Now it has become, “I need you to do this!”; no option anymore, just a command.

Secondly, I once asked these folks to come on up my way, and do a favor for me. The response I got was, “We don’t have the time to waste.” Excuse me?!? So basically, what I’m being told is, it’s ok for me to waste my time and gasoline, but don’t expect the same from us. Hmm, interesting. So I’m basically angry about all this; and angry at myself for being the nice person too many times, and not stopping the favor doing earlier on. Sometimes it was an inconvenience, but I just let it slide…that was my fault, and I should have spoken up sooner.

I’ve experienced this in the past, and I guess people will say, “Well, that’s what you get for being nice.” I know and the next time I’m asked to do a “favor”, I’ll say no, and one of two things will happen. Number one, it will be ok, no big deal, maybe even an apology that I was taken advantage of a little. Number two; I’ll suddenly become the “not so nice person”, the bad guy who doesn’t want to help another person out. Let me tell you, I get more number two dumped on me than number one….pun intended. Oh well, we shall see, what we shall see.

Ok, I’ve gotten all this off my chest. Breathing deep and feeling a little better. Nirvana, however, is still out of my reach right now. Let’s take those lemons and make something a little tastier for the soul.

Lemon Sesame Chicken Stir Fry

Ingredients:

4 Tbsp sesame oil, divided
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into ¼ inch strips
1 red bell pepper, cut into ¼ inch strips
1 cup broccoli florets, rough chopped
½ cup thinly sliced mushrooms
¼ cup lemon juice
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Preparation:

Heat 2 Tbsp sesame oil in Wok, or large skillet, on high heat; brown chicken and remove. Add remaining oil; bring up to temperature before sautéing bell pepper, florets and mushrooms. Remove vegetables when they first begin to soften; want them still somewhat firm.

In same Wok, or skillet, add lemon juice, vinegar, sugar and cornstarch; mix and bring to boil. Reduce heat; add back chicken and vegetables, mix to coat with sauce; let cook for additional 5 minutes.

Before serving, sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Makes 4 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Vietnamese Flavors

Vietnamese Cuisine


Vietnamese cuisine is defined by the region from which it originates: Northern, Central or Southern Vietnam.  Many ingredients are commonly used in all three regions: fish sauce , soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs , fruits and vegetables.  The fresh herbs commonly available are:   lemongrass , mint , Vietnamese mint , long coriander and Thai basil leaves.
In Northern Vietnam, the colder climate limits the availability of many herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables.   To obtain a spicy element to the cuisine, black pepper is used instead of chilies.  It is also not bold in any one element of tastes (sweet, salty, spicy, bitter, or sour), but light and balanced with flavors.   While beef, pork and chicken are fairly limited, freshwater fish, crustaceans, and mollusks (prawns, shrimps, crabs, oysters, mussels) are more widely used. Many popular dishes of Northern Vietnam are crab based; fish sauce, soy sauce, prawn sauce, and lime are among the main flavoring ingredients.
In Central Vietnam, the mountainous terrain creates an abundance of spices and chilies which provide more heat to recipes.  Hue, once the capital of the last dynasty of Vietnam, maintains the culinary tradition of highly decorative and colorful food, reflecting the influence of ancient Vietnamese royal cuisine.
In Southern Vietnam, the warm weather and fertile soil enable the growing of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables; as well as livestock breeding.  The cuisine is flavored with more exciting additions such as garlic, shallots, and vibrant fresh herbs.  Sugar and coconut milk are also more often used in Southern cuisine dishes; being influenced by foreign cuisines such as China, India, Thailand, and even the French.


Beef Pho
Pho, pronounced “phuh” (the ph sounds like “f”), is a Vietnamese noodle dish.  Primarily beef is used for the dish, and it serves as a meal that can be eaten at any time (breakfast, lunch or dinner)
Ingredients:
1 (8 oz) package rice noodles
2 qts beef broth
½ lb raw rump steak, thinly shredded
1 small onion, peeled and chopped into rings
6 Tbsp. fish sauce
¼ tsp minced garlic
2 fresh hot red or green chile peppers, cut into rings (optional)
½ of a green onion, diced
4 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro and mint
 4 iceberg lettuce leaves, washed and finely shredded
 Preparation:
Soak the noodles for 30 minutes in warm water, until just soft; drain and keep warm.  

In a large stockpot, on medium-high heat, bring the beef broth to a boil; add shredded beef and onion rings, cook for 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to low; add in fish sauce and garlic; cook another 5 minutes.

Ladle beef, onions and broth into bowls; add noodles, chile rings, green onion, cilantro, mint and shredded lettuce.
Makes 4 servings.
Mary Cokenour
March 23, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An ear of corn speaks volumes.

There are many things that are simply good as is, and you don't need a good reason to want them.  A bowl of steaming mashed potatoes, butter oozing over the creamy spuds.  A slice or two of toasted bread smeared with cream cheese and orange marmalade; fruity, rich and that satisfying crunch of the toast.  No matter the weather, no matter the season, or what holiday has rolled around; these are the things that make us feel good; there's that comfort food again.

Some of our most satisfying comforts come from a versatile vegetable, Corn.  Delicious fresh when grilled and coated with garlic or honey butter; or boiled in milk to bring out that rich sweetness.  Added to casseroles for the taste and crunch it can provide.  Around the world, corn is used in various forms to create a basic staple, or an awesome gourmet dish; and today I'm going to cover some of that.

Dried Corn – Cornmeal, Grits and Polenta
Cornmeal is corn ground to a fine consistency; used in baking, as in cornbread or hushpuppies; for dredging when frying, or the making of tortillas. Grits, a word that comes from the Old English “grytta” meaning a coarse meal and as the name implies, gritty; these are a staple in most Southern USA dishes; served for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Polenta, what was known as a peasant food in Italy, was often cooked in a copper pot called a paiola; the grind is somewhere between the consistency of cornmeal and grits; used in baking, or a side dish similar to mashed potatoes.

Using the process of milling called “Stone Ground” retains some of the hull and germ of the corn, lending more flavor and nutrition to recipes. It is more perishable, but will store longer if kept in an air tight container and refrigerated.



Basic Grits

Grits have a creamy texture similar to porridge or moist oatmeal.  This can be eaten alone, as a side dish, or as part of a larger recipe.

Ingredients:
4 cups water
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1 cup stone ground grits

Preparation:

In a large saucepan, on high heat, bring the water, butter and salt to a boil. Gradually add the grits, return to a boil; reduce heat to low.  Cook the grits, stirring occasionally, so that they do not stick or clump; they are done when the texture is creamy, about 25-30 minutes.  Season with additional salt and butter to taste, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Notes:

Additional seasonings:  ½ tsp ground black pepper or garlic

If adding cheese reduce water to 2 cups, add in 2 cups milk; cook grits according to instructions.  Add ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese plus 2 additional Tbsp butter to grits; whisk to fully incorporate.


 Basic Polenta
Ingredients:
6 cups water
2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups stone ground cornmeal
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
Directions:
In a large saucepan , high heat, bring water to a boil ; add salt.  Slowly whisk in the cornmeal; reduce heat to low; cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat; add butter; stir until fully incorporated.
Makes 6 servings.
Notes:
Polenta can be served as is, or spread in a parchment lined baking pan, cooled in the refrigerator and cut into shapes.
Additional ingredients to make it more savory:  ½ cup of minced mushrooms, red onion or both; sautéed in butter before adding.
Use chicken broth instead of water for a richer flavor.
Reduce water to 4 cups; add 2 cups milk, follow cooking instruction; and then whisk in ¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese.



Cornbread
This is a basic recipe for cornbread.  Chile peppers, such as jalapeno, and/or cheese can be added; the amount is up to the baker.  Personally, if making a cornbread with chile peppers, I only add one fine diced for each loaf being made.  I do not want the flavor of the cornbread itself to be overpowered.
Ingredients:
1 Tbsp melted, unsalted butter
2 cups all purpose flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups yellow cornmeal
½ cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups milk
2 large eggs, beaten
Preparation:
Preheat oven to 400F.  Brush two 9”x5”x3” loaf pans with the melted butter.
Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add in the cornmeal and sugar, mix well.  Cut the softened butter into the dry mixture until it forms a coarse meal.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs; mix with coarse meal until a smooth batter forms.  Divide the batter between the 2 loaf pans.
Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes cleanly out of the center.  Cool the pans on wire racks for 15 minutes before turning the loaves out.  The cornbread can be served warm or cool.  To store, wrap in plastic wrap and it will keep for 2 days in a cool, dry place; or it can be frozen for up to 2 weeks.
Makes 2 loaves.
Mary Cokenour                                                    
November 1, 1997




Sunday, March 20, 2011

Comfort Food is Feel Good Food.


What exactly is comfort food?  I'm not going to look up an official definition; I don't think there should be one.  Comfort food should be exactly what it is called; a food that brings comfort.  That means something different to everyone for the most part; memories from childhood, or learning to cook by a loved one's side; or even cooking a meal for someone you love for the very first time.  It's food that not only feeds the body, but the mind and soul.  Comfort food can be as simple as a tuna fish sandwich, or as complicated as Beef Wellington; it has a special meaning for the person eating it, as well as the person who made it.

I was up at 4:15 am this morning; Tippy needed to go potty, and I wasn't going to make the little guy suffer.  Opening the backdoor to the yard, I noticed the brilliant light coming from the dark sky; I finally had my chance to see the extreme super full moon.  Couldn't really see it last night, the sky was amass with cloud cover; the wind howling, the trees buffeted; and so I thought I had missed my chance.  As usual, the full moon out here is large; one could imagine just reaching up and plucking it out of the sky; it looks that close.  However, it now had an aura surrounding it that traveled outward till it was finally swallowed up by the dark; an amazing sight.

What has all this to do with comfort food, why the idea of comfort of course.  I couldn't get back to sleep, so worked on household chores till 9am; woke Roy up, and got us going to Cortez.  We breakfasted at Denny's, got gas at the Shell station (3.40/gallon - a bargain!), and did our grocery shopping at Walmart.  Around 4pm, back home of course, it was time to think about dinner.  The weather was once again dreary, the sky cloudy, the wind being a bully; the perfect kind of day to want comforting.  What to make, what to make, so many choices.   I've got chicken, bbq sauce, cheese and macaroni....Chicken Monterey and Creamy Macaroni and Cheese.  Feel good food.

I remember when I first made Chicken Monterey; we were on vacation in October 2008, staying at Roy's mom's home in Moab.  I found the recipe in a magazine and wanted to try it out.  Now normally it has bacon in it, but his mom doesn't eat any pork products, so I needed to readjust the recipe.  She loved it, and it is still one of her favorite recipes.  See, when I cook meals, I make sure to make extra and send it to her; my simple way of just sharing the love.  This is a great memory, and a good example of the concept of comfort food.

Ok, enough droning, and here are my recipes for today:


Chicken Monterey

Ingredients:4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 cup barbeque sauce (KC Masterpiece, Bullseye or Lea & Perrins)
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup each green and red bell peppers, diced
½ cup onion, diced
½ cups mushrooms, diced
½ cup tomatoes, diced
1 cup fat free cheddar cheese, shredded
Finely chopped parsley, for garnish

Preparation:Preheat oven to 350 F.

Spray a skillet with cooking spray; on medium-high heat brown both sides of the chicken breasts (about 2 minutes each side), but do not cook all the way through (cooking will finish in the oven). Remove chicken from skillet; pat dry. Brush both sides of chicken with barbeque sauce and set into an 8” x 8” baking dish (pre-sprayed with cooking spray). Pour remaining barbeque sauce on top of chicken in the dish.

While the chicken was browning; put the olive oil in a smaller skillet; set onto medium-high heat; put in the peppers and onion. When they just begin to soften, add the mushrooms, and let cook for another 2-3 minutes; do not let the vegetables brown. Remove from heat and add the tomatoes. Spoon the vegetable mixture on top of the chicken; top with cheese. Place into oven and let cook for 15-20 minutes; cheese will be bubbly, and chicken cooked through.

Remove to serving platter and sprinkle parsley on top.

Makes 4 servings.



Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups uncooked large elbow macaroni
8 tablespoons butter
8 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt plus 2 Tbsp  
½ tsp ground black pepper  
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup hot macaroni water
1/2 cup each goat cheese, shredded sharp cheddar, shredded Monterey jack, shredded mild cheddar

PREPARATION:

In large stockpot, on high heat, bring water to boil for macaroni.
In another large stockpot, melt butter over medium heat; stir flour into the butter until smooth and bubbly; stir in 1 tsp salt and pepper. Switch to a whisk; gradually add milk and heavy cream, whisking constantly.  Water for macaroni will be at a  boil, add uncooked elbows to pot with 2 Tbsp salt.

Add ½ cup of cheese and whisk until well incorporated; repeat process until all 4 cheeses have been incorporated.  Take 1 cup of macaroni water from pot; whisk into cheese mixture; remove from heat.  Drain cooked macaroni, add to cheese mixture and mix well; cover and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour
 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Full Moons and Meatballs


Full Moons and Meatballs.
Saturday, March 19th, there will be an “extreme super full moon” on the rise; depending on what you read, and who you listen to, it may or may not cause extreme natural disasters.  I’m a wait and see kind of person, so if it happens, it happens; really can’t do anything to stop it, so why complain or panic?
Now the full moon is also associated with changes in personality; some folks are affected; some are affected from a mild to an extreme degree.  From many of the contacts I’ve had in the past two weeks, I’m wondering if this super moon isn’t turning folks wacky around here.   I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a bunch of really hairy people running around town on Saturday night; howling at the moon. 
We have a telescope, so hoping to be out on the driveway, relaxing in lawn chairs and gazing at the moon.  The next extreme moon won’t be until November 2016, so don’t want to miss seeing this one.  Heh, maybe I’ll do some howling, just to freak the neighbors out.
Saturday is also the day I’ll be making meatballs and sauce.  I already gave you my Homemade Pasta Sauce recipe on Jan. 28, 2011; even gave you my Lasagna recipe; now it’s time for meatballs.  I usually cook up two pots of sauce; one for meals; the other gets frozen.  We have an upright freezer that I like to keep stocked; that way I don’t have to go grocery shopping too often.  Two weeks ago I used up the last of the homemade sauce, so time to fill it up again.  I’ve got a craving for spaghetti and meatballs, so…..


Meatballs


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).
Ingredients:
4 lbs lean ground beef (90% or more)
2 lbs ground pork
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

Preparation:
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 being used.  Serve with pasta, or use meatballs for a sandwich.
Makes about 20 meatballs.
Mary Cokenour