Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A Breakfast Teaser.

For the past few months, Roy and I have been traveling in, and around, San Juan County to find, and dine on, breakfast.  Just as I think we are done, someone will mention another restaurant that, “You just have to try!”  So, that article is still in its developmental stage, but hopefully will appear in a June issue of the San Juan Record.

Until then, I think a little teaser about breakfast would be a good introduction.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines breakfast as: “1. the first meal of the day especially when taken in the morning. 2. the food prepared for a breakfast. eat your breakfast.”  The 1st definition seems to be worldwide; the 2nd?  Why do dictionaries define a word, using the same word? Before I digress further, while the intent of a breakfast is to feed the body upon waking, it goes further than that nowadays.  Having “breakfast” food for brunch, lunch or dinner is not unusual any longer.  Workers of 2nd and 3rd shifts come home in the early morning hours, and what is there to eat?  Breakfast! 

Why is breakfast so important?  According to medical studies, it breaks the body’s fasting during overnight sleep.  It jump starts metabolism, helps the body burn more calories during the day, and basically is the fuel to get you moving.  According to an article, written by Christy C. Tangney, PhD, a professor of clinical nutrition at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL,

“Various studies have found different benefits of starting your day with breakfast, including:

    Having a lower BMI

    Consuming less fat through the day

    Meeting recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption

    Having higher daily calcium intake

    Having higher daily fiber intake

    Having better performance (memory and attention) (for school-aged children)”

Worldwide, what the residents of one country, or culture, refer to as breakfast, may seem very unusual to the country/culture of another.  In America, the usual staples are: eggs, a protein (sausage, bacon, ham), cheese, pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, toast and potatoes (hash browns or home fries).  Now take, for example, Japan where the morning meal consists of: grilled fish, steamed rice, miso soup and pickled vegetables.  For us, here in the USA, sounds more like a lunch or dinner; but it is simply what makes the world go round…cultural diversity.

…and guess what, depending on where you live, or were born and raised, the breakfast you enjoy having might be seen as “foreign” in other states.  In the south, and many of the southwestern states, a typical breakfast would be biscuits and gravy, country fried steak, chicken and waffles, and a side of grits instead of potatoes.  The southwestern states also have a huge influence from Mexico, so do not be surprised to see some type of breakfast burrito, huevos rancheros, and green chili on the menu.


In the tri-states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the full-on breakfast was usually eggs, potatoes, meat, toast and pancakes; the “heart attack” special.   


Heart Attack Special

Full Breakfast with Hash Browns

However, the breakfast that all high school and college students, and workers of every class were drawn to the most was, the breakfast sandwich.  A kaiser roll (poppy seed covered), buttered and browned on the grill, along side two frying eggs, bacon; then topped with melting cheese, ketchup, salt and pepper.  Oh yes, coffee was a must, and those who asked for tea got a very strange look from the guys behind the counter.


Buttered Roll Toasting Next to Frying Eggs.

All the Ingredients Ready to be Put Together.
The Breakfast Sandiwich.

So, consider this a breakfast teaser, something to get your mind focused on my upcoming article, “Breakfast In, and Around, San Juan County”.  Oh, while you are thinking, do not be surprised if your mouth starts watering, since your taste buds just woke up and are hungry for breakfast.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Pecans, The All-American Nut.

The first time I ever got to visit Disney World, in Florida, was in 1979.  It was spring break and the sorority I was in decided we would vacation in Fort Lauderdale.  Going to Florida was a first for me as well, as my family did not do any vacationing at all. At that time, there was only The Magic Kingdom to visit; Epcot had just started construction.  Let me just say that being a college student, and the craziness of spring break, did not mesh well with me.  So, it was not until I was married, and became a mom, that a return to Florida was called for.

Vacation time saved up, two weeks would allow for seeing all we could cram in, and be able to drive to and from Florida along Interstate 95.  We crossed over massive bridges, stopped at off the highway, hole-in-the wall restaurants, and collected souvenirs for each state we passed through.  It was like a whirl wind turn of the east coast, so exciting, and, most of all, fun!  As we got further south, we began to see signs touting “Come see the 20-foot alligator”, and yes, we stopped to see.  Oh, there never was an alligator, that was just a ruse to get tourists to stop in.  However, it was not all wasted time as many of these places sold, by the bag, bushel and barrel, pecans.  Shelled, unshelled, roasted, seasoned, raw, whole, chopped, smashed; did not matter, it was pecan heaven.

Can you figure out where I am going with this now?  I bet the majority of you are saying, “pecan pie”, and you would be wrong.  Yes, pecan pie is a southern USA recipe, which supposedly originated in the late 1800s from Patti's Restaurant in Grand Rivers, Kentucky.  Of course, there are other southern states which make claim to being the first to invent the recipe.  However, it was the Native Americans who were cooking and mashing up the nuts, not just for their edible quality, but for medicinal reasons as well.

The pecan is a species of hickory tree that is native to the southern United States, and northern Mexico. Pecan originates from “pacane,” an Algonquian word that means “need stone to crack”.  While the pecan does have a hard, protective shell, they can be cracked easily using one of four methods.  Allowing the nuts to dry out, for two weeks, helps with the cracking process.  First method is placing two nuts in your palm, and then squeezing them together until you hear a “crack” sound.  Definitely a good technique for those wanting to build up strength in the hands.  Second and third methods are similar, use a store-bought nutcracker, or a hammer straight out of the toolbox.  With the hammer method, wrap the pecans in a towel before whacking at them, or they will fly everywhere. Fourth method is to boil them in water for about 15 minutes to soften the shells.  Let them cool, and the shells should peel right off; similar to the boiled peanuts that are popular in the southern states.


So, why no recipe for pecan pie from me?  Actually, it is not a favorite in our home; the overwhelming gooiness of the pie is not appealing.  Oh, one exception is if I bake up a chocolate pecan pie, as the chocolate gives a firmer texture to the filling.  No, instead, I will be giving a recipe for Brown Sugar Pecan Muffins.  These, larger than mini, but smaller than average, muffins pack a gambit of flavor – brown sugar, cinnamon, and, of course, pecans.  One of my taste testers described them as “magical”.  






Oh, and if looking for a tasty dessert idea, warm up a muffin, break it apart a bit, and serve a scoop of ice cream next to it.  The warmth will let the ice cream get melty, and the two together…perfection!






….and here is the recipe for these “magical” muffins.



Brown Sugar Pecan Muffins



1 and ¼ cups light brown sugar

3 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted (add 3 Tbsp. for high altitude)

3 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 cup salted butter, melted

1 and ½ cups chopped pecans


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.


Combine all ingredients, except pecans, by hand, or medium speed on mixer; fold in one cup chopped pecans.


Fill each paper liner 2/3s full; sprinkle with half cup chopped pecans on top. 





Bake for 25-28 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.


Makes 16.


The 4th of July will be here before we know it.  For your celebration, bake up a batch, or two, of these muffins to celebrate the all-American nut.  Or bake up some now, there will definitely be no regrets.

Mary Cokenour



Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Iconic Baked Beans Are Kind of Fishy.

Supposedly, and I say supposedly as the spring time temperatures are in the forties, an article on baked beans would encourage barbecuing.  That one week, this spring, where the temperatures actually hit the 70s, we began our trek in barbecuing.  Pulled out the old gas grill (20 years old, but still doing its job), cleaned it, made sure the propane tank was full, and on it went.  Brats, pork ribs that were marinated in a new Japanese barbecue sauce (Bachan’s with 6 varieties) I had found, sauteed peppers and onions, and cheesy baked beans with brown sugar and bacon.  Later on, added all-beef hotdogs to the menu, along with sauerkraut.  A barbecue without hotdogs…blasphemy!

A Cokenour Barbecue.


Sauerkraut and All Beef Hotdogs.








So, when I decided to do an article on baked beans, the thought was, “This will be easy, it’s a Boston recipe from our British founding fathers.”  ….and I was wrong, oh so wrong. Oh, I was sort of correct with the idea of the British colonists making the dish, but they got the recipe from local Native American tribes: The Narragansett, Penobscot and Iroquois.  Jennifer Bushman is an advocate for “sustainable aquaculture”, or the development of techniques for keeping the availability of all varieties of seafood widespread, and plentiful for all.  Not just for humans to enjoy dining on, but to keep the oceans, seas, lakes, rivers and creeks well stocked for the future.  In her research, she came upon how the Native populace caught and cooked fish, or used seafood in their everyday meal preparations.  One such item was Kombu, and it was a main item in the broth that simmered away to making baked beans.

What is kombu?  Dried sea kelp.  Now sea kelp and seaweed are not the same thing, and do not have the same nutritional values.  When it comes to cooking, if kombu is asked for, use it!  If you cannot find it available, even with online shopping, then bonito flakes, dried shiitake mushrooms, or dried wakame seaweed will be adequate substitutes.  Kelp contains: Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin A, Folate, Protein, Fiber, Iron, Fat, Iodine, Sodium, Manganese, Potassium, Pantothenic acid, Phosphorus, and Vanadium.  It is cholesterol free, sugar free, fat free (bad fats), low in sodium and low in calories.

Here is Jennifer Bushman’s recipe for Traditional Native American Baked Beans of the Northeast.

( )

Preparation time, 24 hours plus 6-7 hours cooking, Makes 6 servings.

 1-pound dried beans  

 6 pieces Kombu

 1 cup white onion, sliced and sautéed in olive oil until softened

 1/4 cup molasses

 1/3 cup maple syrup

 2 teaspoons kosher salt (or kelp salt would be AWESOME!)

 2 teaspoons dry mustard

 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

 1 teaspoon ground ginger

 1 teaspoon ground kelp

 Freshly ground black pepper to taste

 2 tablespoons cider vinegar (or to taste)

Rinse the beans well in a colander. Place in a non-reactive bowl and fill with water covering the beans with two inches of water over them. Add 4 kombu leaves, cover, and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Put the beans and the kombu in a large heavy pot. Add enough cold water to cover the beans by two inches. Bring up to a boil, then cover, turn off the heat, and place the pot in the oven.

Cook the beans for 60-90 minutes or until they’re tender. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees F. Remove the kombu from the pot and discard. Next, add the sautéed onion, molasses, maple syrup, salt, mustard, paprika, and ginger.

Cover and return to the oven for another 6-8 hours. Add the kelp, pepper, and vinegar then taste to adjust the seasonings. 

Cool the beans down, ideally allowing the beans to rest in the refrigerator, the sauce to thicken, and the flavors to amplify. 

When it comes to an authentic Boston Baked Bean recipe, I am going to defer to my friend, Marsha Birch Frank.  She and I met in a Facebook discussion group, about our favorite book series, Whispering Pines, by author, Shawn McGuire.  We quickly found we had much in common, especially cooking.  Baked beans is a mutual favorite, and her Gramma Jensen’s is close to mine, however, while I like the crock pot, she uses the old-fashioned black with white spotted roaster.  You know the type, used at Thanksgiving to perfectly roast the turkey.  I have one, and the next time I make baked beans, I will be trying out Gramma’s recipe.


Photo by Marsha Birch Frank

Gramma Jensen's Baked Beans

(From Marsha Birch Frank)

 Baked Beans: soak 2lb.s navy beans overnight, drain and rinse

 In the old-fashioned black with white spotted roaster:


4 slices raw bacon cut in 1/2-inch pieces

1 large onion chopped

1 tsp. Pepper

1 tsp. Salt

2/3 C brown sugar

1/2 C molasses

1 C ketchup

1 tsp. Dry mustard

Fill with water

275-degree oven for 8 to 10 hours or till tender.

The only addition I make, when making baked beans, is to add a very generous layer of shredded, sharp Cheddar cheese over the top, in the last 15 minutes of cooking.  The sauce oozes up around the edges of the cheese and creates a bubbling crust.

So, as the weather begins to warm, again, and the desire to barbecue tugs at you, remember, it is not a proper barbeque without the baked beans.

Mary Cokenour





Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Better to Create Than to Imitate.

 Influencer, what indeed is an influencer?  According to the Oxford Dictionary, in relation to marketing on social media, an influencer is, “a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media.”  So, what does influence mean then? “The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.”  Let’s put that in simpler wording, “having the ability to make someone do, like, or change something just by talking about it, or leading by example.”  Well, that is my take on it.

When the internet first came into existence, better yet, when it first became available to everyone, everywhere, I lost count of how many times I heard, “It’s on the internet, so it must be true!”.  For some strange and unknown reasoning, people began to immediately “dumb down”, stop going beyond to find out “truth in advertising”, and just believe whatever it is they read, or saw.  With the 2000s, social media expanded with Instagram, Twitter, Tik-Tok and a myriad of social platforms.  Thousands of people became “influencers”, making recordings of themselves doing an activity or proselytizing a belief, to influence others to join in.  The minority being those who noticed that many of these influencers were just repeating what other influencers were saying or doing. 

So, when it comes to the internet, my advice is, “Take everything with a grain of salt, get out of the comfort zone, and do some actual research on the truth of it.”  (Gets off soap box before it breaks apart, they do not make them as sturdy as they used to.)

Now to relate influencing to cooking.  I happened upon this tasty looking photo/recipe for “Chocolate Covered Frozen Yogurt Bites”, only four ingredients, and easy to make.  Chocolate Covered?  Yes, that belongs up my alley.  I copied the recipe onto Word, to look at later on, and probably try out.  A few weeks later, I took a good, hard look at the recipe and was dumb founded.  The ingredient list had vague measurements, and the directions made very little sense.  Going back to the internet, I put the recipe name into the Search box, and up popped, at least, two dozen Instagram accounts with the exact same recipe; all with the poor ingredient list and directions.  Each account claimed the recipe was his/her own original recipe; not one linking to any other page as originator, or influenced by. 

Going to various food blogs, I did find similar recipes with definitive ingredient lists and directions.  So, with trial and error, I was able to take the Instagram debacle, and create my own recipe that worked out quite well.  The employees at the Monticello City Office were my guinea pigs, and they were very happy with my creation.

Oh, since I mentioned it, let me give you an accounting of what vague measurements are.  I grew up learning to cook with these measurements, and I am sure many of you did as well.  When it comes to measuring, your hands and eyes are major tools.  Then there is always that joke about, “How do you know how much spice or seasoning to put in?”  Answer: “When your ancestor tells you, “That is enough child.”

Vague Cooking Measurements

Large as a Fist = 1 cup

Cupped Hand = ½ cup

Palm of Hand = 3 ounces


Couple = 2

Few = 3 or 4

Several = 4 to 8

Dozen = 12

Baker’s Dozen = 13


Pinch = 1/16th of a teaspoon

Dash = 1/8th of a teaspoon


…and now for my creation.


Frozen Chocolate Covered Yogurt Treats


1 and 1/3 cups plain or vanilla Greek yogurt*

2 bananas, diced

1 cup roasted peanuts (skins removed) **

1 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet, milk chocolate or dark chocolate)

3 cups chocolate chips (additional), plus 3 Tbsps. coconut oil; melt together for dunking)







In medium sized bowl, mix together yogurt, bananas, peanuts, and 1-cup chocolate chips until everything is well coated. 

 Place parchment paper, or wax paper, on a jelly roll baking pan.  Spoon out one heaping tablespoon of the yogurt mixture, onto the paper.  Flatten down into half-inch thick discs. 




Place tray in freezer until discs are set (four hours, or overnight, dependent on when needed for completion).   





When ready for dunking, melt chocolate chips and coconut oil together, in microwave safe bowl, for 30 second increments; stir after each session until fully melted and smooth.  Dunk each frozen disc into the melted chocolate/coconut oil mixture, coating entire disc; place back on the paper, and set in freezer again for two hours. ***








Store remaining yogurt treats in a plastic freezer bag, or other freezer-safe container. Let them thaw slightly before enjoying.


Makes 15 treats.

*Option: if using plain yogurt, add 1 Tbsp. honey for more sweetness and flavor.

**Option: replace roasted peanuts with two tablespoons of a creamy nut butter.

***Option: sprinkle coarse or flaked sea salt, lightly over top of chocolate coating, before placing in freezer.

This recipe is not the gospel of frozen yogurt treats.  Try using a fruit yogurt instead of plain or vanilla.  Bananas not to your liking?  Try firmer fruits like strawberries, apples, or cut up fruits that have already been frozen, like peaches or another type of berry.  So long as they remain frozen when going into the yogurt mixture, they will not add extra liquid.

For example, strawberry Greek yogurt, diced strawberries and honey; after freezing, coat in a white chocolate/coconut oil mixture, freeze and enjoy!

So, when it comes to cooking, or even life in general, allow yourself to be slightly influenced, but not completely taken over.

Mary Cokenour



Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Yippee Yee, Getting Me Some Bubble Tea.

One fun source is any site listing “food holidays” for the year.  There are many, so I do not rely on just one site, since they tend to have different information.  So, looking at a listing for April became a matter of, “Did that. Yeah, did that too.  Not doing that one again.  Oh heck, you could not pay me enough to eat that!”.  Last day of the month and it was a hallelujah moment – April 30th is National Bubble Tea Day!

Before I get into what bubble tea is, it is best I explain differences between milkshakes, smoothies and blended coffees; and give hints on where to find them.  First off, a milkshake is a thick, sweet, cold mixture made by blending milk, ice cream, and flavorings, like caramel sauce, chocolate syrup, or a fruit syrup.  In Blanding, the go-to place is definitely Patio Diner for milkshakes (and other delicious ice cream treats).  My hubby prefers the classic vanilla, while a cool and refreshing mint is my choice.

A smoothie is a beverage made by puréeing ingredients in a blender. It has a liquid base, such as fruit juice, milk, plant-milk, or yogurt. Ingredients added in are fruits, vegetables, or a combo of both, crushed ice, whey powder or nutritional supplements.  To really simplify the creation of a smoothie, powdered mixes can be purchased, so just add a liquid and crushed ice.  In Monticello, High Desert Café and The Over Bite have selections of smoothies to please any palate.

A blended coffee is, in simple terms, a coffee slushy.  Coffee, crushed ice, milk and flavoring are mixed in a blender; similar to creating a smoothie, just more ice.  The Over Bite creates splendid blended coffees, and my very favorite is with oat milk and three shots of sugar-free caramel syrup.  Hubby goes for the gusto with whole milk, shots of caramel and Irish cream syrups; no wonder he can’t get to sleep after drinking one of those!


Now for bubble tea, and the mecca, in San Juan County, for this is Ja-Roen Thai & Sushi, in Monticello.  Bubble tea originated in Taiwan, in the 1980s, and was brought to the USA, in the 1990s, by immigrants.  Of course, it spread like wild fire in China, Japan and Thailand.  The process is blending black tea with milk, fruit and/or fruit juices, simple syrup (mix of water and sugar) and crushed ice, shaking vigorously for a thick mixture.  This is then poured into a tall glass or container, with chewy tapioca pearls at the bottom.  A wide straw is used, so the pearls can be sucked up with the liquid, and surprise, a chewy candy treat along with a drink.


Bubble tea is often referred to as Boba tea.  Is there a difference?  No, the term “boba” is the Chinese term for the tapioca pearls.  The pearls can be made at home (loads of recipes amongst Asian food bloggers), purchased dry, but needing to be cooked; or purchased wet and just add as needed.  With the dry pearls, or even making from scratch, the cooking has to be precise.  Otherwise, instead of chewy pearls, you might end up with jaw breakers, or a mushy paste no one wants to eat.  There are also types of pearls that are lighter in consistency, so instead of sitting at the bottom of the mixture, they float on top, and are eaten using a spoon.  Are the pearls always black in color?  Oh no, bubble tea has become an art form, so a multitude of colors can be purchased or created.  Blue Mountain Foods sells bubble tea kits in their freezer section, right next to another favorite of mine, “My Mochi” (see San Juan Record, June 28, 2023, if curious about mochi).


Prepackaged Tapioca Pearls
Dried Tapioca Pearls














Palm, the niece of Waen Roll, owner of Ja-Roen, gave me a personal lesson in bubble tea making.  Creating bubble tea has been simplified, as with smoothie making, by having the tea and flavored ingredients mixed together, and made into an easy to add powder.  Flavors like chocolate, strawberry, coconut, watermelon, matcha green tea, and my new favorite, taro, can be blended up in minutes.  What is taro?  Taro is a starchy root vegetable, and a staple in African and Asian nations.  Have you been to Hawaii and eaten poi?  Poi is cooked and mashed taro root.  The flavor is hard to describe; sweet, yet fruity, but there is really no fruit to compare it with.


Now to my bubble tea lesson.  Palm is a patient teacher, so thank you so much for putting up with me.  The process begins with about two cups of crushed ice placed in the blending container.  Then it is half cup measurements of your favorite flavor powdered mix, milk and simple syrup.  Insert container into the blending machine, and cover your ears, it gets loud!  A half cup of tapioca pearls goes into the individual serving container and the blended mixture poured over; cap it, stick a straw down to the bottom and suck!  Do not swallow immediately as those pearls will be coming up with the liquid.  Take it slow, let the liquid swirl around in the mouth and ease down the throat, and there they are, the pearls.  Mmm, chewy, sweet candy balls mixing with the fruity flavor of the liquid, so good. 

First the Crushed Ice.

Palm measures out ingredients by half cup.

Bubble Tea Blending Machine



Tapioca Pearls at Bottom of Serving Glass.
Blended Mixture Over the Pearls

My Taro Bubble Tea, which my husband ended up stealing and drinking.

Currently Ja-Roen only serves up 24-ounce bubble teas, but it seems to be the perfect size, as no one is complaining in that department.    Due to availability of flavors, the menu for bubble teas is subject to change.


So, on April 30th, all you San Juan County residents, get on in to Ja-Roen Thai & Sushi, in Monticello, and order up your favorite flavor of bubble tea. For all of us who have tried it, and enjoy the experience, we come up with all types of excuses to stop in for one.  If you have not tried it, now is the perfect time! 

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Twice Baked and Smothered.

Potatoes are a versatile root vegetable. They can be eaten alone and in so many ways: mashed, boiled, fried, steamed, baked, au gratin, get the idea. They can also be combined with other vegetables for a medley or with a protein (beef, chicken, pork) in a stew or casserole. Twice baked potatoes usually have some mixture of cheese, maybe a meat, like bacon, even vegetables added.

The difference between twice baked potatoes and potato skins? Twice baked are just that; baked potatoes, insides scooped out, combined with other ingredients, returned to the skins and baked again.  The potatoes used tend to be on the large size, since this is basically a complete meal being created.  Russet potatoes are the best to use as they are low in moisture and high in starch.  This allows for the baked potato to have a fluffy inside, and crispy skin.

Potato skins, on the other hand, are similar as Russets (smaller sized) are still the best to use, and the potatoes are baked, but with a content difference.  Considered a snack or appetizer, the potatoes are halved before baking, hollowed out, ingredients added (usually cheese, bacon and green onions) and then baked before serving.  Add a dollop of sour cream on top, the perfect “finger food”; oh, and the potato centers that were removed probably end up as mashed later on.

The” baked potato” was not popularized in the United States until 1908, and potatoes in general did not show up in Idaho until the 1800s.  Before colonizing the states, explorers discovered potatoes in South America, brought them back to Europe, and eventually to North America in the 1600s.  In 1908, the building of the Northern Pacific Railway system finally reached Idaho.  Laborers worked long, back breaking hours, and needed foods that would keep them energized for those long hours.  The potato was perfect for this. Easily stored inside a pocket, easily held by hand, and thrown on coals, or wood fires, would cook up quickly; hence the baked potato, in Idaho, was born.

The skin of the potato is called a “jacket” in England, so if you hear the term “jacketed potatoes”, it simply means the skin is left on.  Actually, the skin of the potato contains more nutritional value than the insides.  They are full of potassium, magnesium and fiber.  Balancing out the sodium in your body, with potassium, is necessary to keep healthy blood pressure, and preventing heart attack or stroke. So, when making potatoes in any fashion, make sure to have a good portion of skin included.

I have not tried making twice baked potatoes from scratch before. I have, though, purchased the ones sold in the freezer section of the supermarket, and they are usually pretty disgusting; no matter the brand. The skins are tough and the insides are dry and tasteless. So, challenge accepted and believe this is a prize worthy recipe.

Oh, the reference to “smothered” is simply stating that these potatoes are chock full of additional goodies to make it a definitively complete meal.


Twice Baked Smothered Potatoes


4 large baking potatoes (Russet are best)

2 Tbsp. butter

¼ cup each diced green and red bell peppers, diced onions

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

3 Tbsp. each sour cream and warmed milk

1 cup cheese mixture (equal parts shredded cheddar and Swiss, and crumbled goat cheese)

 ½ tsp. each salt and ground black pepper

¼ cup crumbled bacon

Pinch of ground cayenne pepper


Preheat oven to 450F.  Wash potatoes; make ¼” deep incision down center length of each potato, wrap in aluminum foil and bake in oven for one hour.  Remove potatoes and let cool until they can be easily handled, but are still warm.

While potatoes are cooling, melt butter, on medium heat, in small skillet; sauté bell peppers, onion and garlic until just beginning to soften; set aside.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise (use ¼” incision as a guide); scoop out insides, but leave a ¼” layer against the skin.  Place potato insides in a large bowl; add in sautéed vegetables and other ingredients.  Mix together thoroughly; mixture will be chunky; if a smoother filling is desired, mash the insides with the sour cream and warmed milk first, then add remaining ingredients.

Fill the potato skins and place in a 3-quart baking dish; place back in 450F oven for 15-20 minutes; until tops are browned.

Makes 8 servings.




Option: To make a satisfying side dish, spoon mixture into buttered 2-quart baking dish, bake as instructed and serve.  The skins?  Well, you could always serve them as an appetizer.

Mary Cokenour




Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Beans and Beef Does Not Always Equal Chili.

There are too many times I stand and stare into the depths of the refrigerator and freezer wondering what to make for dinner. That is also how I come up with many of my spontaneous recipes; boredom, frustration and a "I wonder if..." attitude. Even Josh, the butcher at Blue Mountain Foods, has seen me staring at the meats and poultry, mumbling to myself.  “Can I help you with something?”, he will ask, and I usually respond with, “I am contemplating.”.

Holding a two and one-half pound package of stew beef (beef cubes) in my hand, I wondered what in the world to do with it. Not beef stew again, just did that two weeks ago; not chili, just not in the mood for it and just made it last month anyway. Too much same old, same old! Then I remembered my Taste of Home winning recipe, "Beefy Barbecue Macaroni", but dealing with making cheese sauce and cooking pasta seemed too much trouble.  Sometimes I am just my own worst enemy, especially when it comes to cooking.

Well, this recipe appeared in two separate issues of Taste of Home, and in two of their cookbooks, so guess they liked it as much as my family did.  So, not to be a tease, here is that recipe before I continue on.


Beefy Barbecue Macaroni 



3/4 lb. ground beef

1/2 cup chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

3-1/2 cups cooked elbow macaroni

3/4 cup barbecue sauce

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Dash cayenne pepper

1/4 cup milk

1 Tbsp. butter

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Additional cheddar cheese, optional


In a large skillet, cook the beef, onion and garlic until meat is no longer pink; drain. Add the macaroni, barbecue sauce, pepper.

In a small saucepan, heat milk and butter over medium heat until butter is melted. Stir in cheese until melted. Pour over the macaroni mixture; gently toss to coat. Sprinkle with additional cheese if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Now back to the main meat (pun intended) of this article.


Still having no clue what to create, I decided to trim the stew beef cubes and maybe an idea would come to me, maybe.  Stew beef is essentially all the bit and pieces the butchers cut off steaks and roasts; sometimes there is a good bit of meat left, so they package it up for consumers to buy and make recipes such as chili, beef stew, maybe even kabobs.  However, you should always examine the beef before just throwing it into your pot, as many pieces may need to be trimmed of fat; some might be pure fat themselves.  If you do not want to deal with this process, then go ahead and purchase a nice lean roast and just cut it up into cubes.  With the beef I had, I needed to cut only a little fat off, but I planned on using a crock pot, so made sure they were of uniform size.

Looking around the pantry I found cans of red kidney beans; well just because I was adding beans did not make it chili, right?  These are the ingredients I finally centered on: barbecue sauce, beans, tomatoes, red onion and green bell pepper.  I was going to make a barbecue sauce-based beef stew, but without the traditional vegetables of carrots and potatoes.

Let me tell you that this concoction of mine came out amazing.  The beef was so tender, it basically melted in the mouth; and absorbed the barbecue sauce flavor well.  The tomatoes did not break down into complete mush; the onion and peppers became very soft; usually green bell peppers are harsh in flavor, but they melded in perfectly.  The beans did not become too soft, or remain too firm; as Goldilocks would say, "They were just right".  The smell was intoxicating; the taste was just as equal.  This is the kind of meal you can enjoy as is, or with a side of mashed potatoes, rice, pasta or polenta.  I did not have to add lots of seasonings, or even garlic, as the bottled sauce I used had everything I needed - Jack Daniels Hickory Brown Sugar.  I did not dredge the beef in the flour, then fry it as I did not want to add any more oil into this dish than the nonstick cooking spray added.  Also did not want additional liquids like beef stock as I knew the beef and vegetables would exude their own moisture.  One thing I notice with recipes like this is that the home cook will add pasta to the pot; all well and good, but remember that pasta is like a sponge and will absorb all excess liquids.  A yummy thick sauce was needed for this meal, not anything watery, or so firm a fork would stand up straight in it.

Here is the recipe...


BBQ Beef Stew



2 ½ lbs. beef cubes; trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces

¼ cup flour

1 ½ cups chopped red onion

½ cup diced green bell pepper

1 cup red kidney beans

2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 (19 oz.) bottle BBQ sauce (hickory brown sugar)



Spray a 4-quart crock pot with nonstick cooking spray; set on low heat.  Spread beef cubes on bottom and sprinkle flour over all.  Spread other ingredients out in layers: onions, bell pepper, beans and tomatoes.  Pour BBQ sauce on top; cover and cook for 8 hours.

Makes 8 servings.



Recently, a good friend to our family, who was going out of town for a while, dropped off packages of elk, venison, beef and seafood.  Met this man when I worked, some time ago, at the San Juan Credit Union.  Basically, he took a good liking to Roy, and myself, simply due to, “You’re nice people, and always nice to me, and I want to be nice to you in return.”  Wow, if only this concept was felt, and exhibited, by more people.  Anyway, whenever he has an excess of stocked meat, or whatever, he makes sure to drop off a few packages our way.  Never asks for, or will take, anything in return; it is just what happens when being nice.

But I digress, my point is that my recipes in this article will work well with beef, elk or venison.  Cooking the same old, same old?  Now you can try out something new.  Oh, and have overstock?  Just be nice, and share with other nice people; it really will make you feel all warm and cozy inside your heart.

Mary Cokenour