Monday, January 31, 2011

Cooking as a dramatic sport….sure, why not?

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I like to watch cooking shows; have both Food Network Channel and The Cooking Channel on my television lineup.  One show I have been watching is “Worst Cooks in America”, and this is their second season, featuring last season’s winner, Anne Burrell, and challenger, Robert Irvine.   The premise is average, everyday people, who cannot even boil water, and if they did, they would burn it; they are put on teams (red or blue).  The chefs teach each team member a dish which has to be, usually, replicated; or, for a challenge, each person has to come up with something original.  There is a cash price for the overall winner; one person is chosen for each team, must cook a gourmet meal for judges who determine the overall  winner, and, thereby, the winning chef.   
My problem with the show is, mainly, the recipes; they can be complicated, and for a beginner, I don’t believe they’re given enough time to reproduce the dish, and get it as close to perfect as they can.  A professional can get a dish together, start to finish, in 30 minutes, but a beginner would take more than 40 minutes for sure.  Ah, but that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?  I mean, how can the show be interesting and dramatic if all the chefs did was teaching, and not add pitfalls in?  If all one wanted to do was see recipes done by a professional, all they have to do is watch any of the numerous shows on either channel.
Back in the 1990s, I taught cooking for Adult Education; I enjoyed sharing and teaching.  Some of the students were clueless, so I worked harder with them; some students were know-it-alls, and I wasn’t really sure why they were in the classes at all, since they already knew everything.   Sometimes I would hold a class in my own home for those who couldn’t make the classes at the school, or just needed to learn basics fast (usually brides-to-be who wanted to impress the new husbands-to-be).     When it comes to cooking and beginners, patience is a big virtue; you have to ease them into the techniques and the terminology, or they will be so lost, they’ll never be found.
So, what would be an easy dish to teach a beginner, what about a favorite American comfort food like meatloaf?  Not only is meatloaf easy to make, it is very versatile.  It can be made with any type of ground meat or poultry, even combinations of same.  I remember when supermarkets sold a meat mixture of ground beef, pork and veal (have you seen the price of veal !?!) which was labeled “meatloaf mix”; and while it could be used to make meatloaf, it was, more than likely, used for meatballs.
Then there are the ingredients that go within the ground meat or poultry: vegetables, seasonings, breads, liquids, cheeses, even hard boiled eggs (chopped or whole).  I’m going to be posting a basic meatloaf recipe in this blog today, but it’s what you can do with it that’s the real trick.  Instead of plain diced onions and tomatoes, how about using a jar of salsa for a little extra kick?  Or use the salsa as the topping, instead of a tomato sauce or ketchup.   Thinking Oriental; use ginger and soy in the mix with a teriyaki glaze over the meatloaf.   Don’t like meat, ground chicken or turkey can be used, but they’re bland, so be generous with the seasoning.   Bread crumbs – fresh, dry (ground or soaked in milk), plain or seasoned; and the types of breads available are endless.  Liquids, to help moisten and flavor, could be milk, beaten eggs, wine, broth.    Besides having meatloaf as a meal, served with sides; it makes a great cold or hot sandwich.
Experiment, have fun and find an enjoyment in what you’re doing.  Sure, you might fail, but don’t dwell on that, and you’ll learn from the failures.  Imagine the great meals you will make, and that will keep the ego and inspiration up.

Basic Meatloaf


2 lbs lean ground beef
1 egg
1 small onion, diced
1 (14 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
1 cup Italian style bread crumbs


Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray 2 qt (oval or rectangular) baking dish with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except for the ketchup.  Mix thoroughly; remove to baking dish and shape into an oval loaf.  Spread ketchup evenly over top and sides of meatloaf.

Bake for 1 hour, uncovered; remove and spread a second layer of ketchup over top and sides.  Return to oven, bake an additional 1 hour, uncovered. 

Remove from oven, let rest 15 minutes before placing meatloaf on serving platter.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Today would have been a good day for French toast.

During the week, the weather here had been in the 50's, the sky clear and bright blue; not an inkling of bad weather.  Oh, wait, there was that little snow flurry that lasted for about 5 minutes the other day.  While in the post office, I heard the post mistress say to an older gentleman, "it's just a minor disturbance in the atmostphere."

Was it no wonder, that as I left, I said under my breath, "Luke, I sense a disturbance in the force."

Anyway, upon awakening this morning, the wind was cold and bitter; the sky to the west was dark and ominous.  Weather reports were saying snow for Monday and Tuesday...oh joy....not.  For breakfast, I decided that today would be a perfect day for French toast.  I've always made it using Challah bread.

Challah is a loaf of yeast-risen egg bread that is traditionally eaten by Jews on Shabbat, on ceremonial occasions and during festival holidays. The word "challah" is also used to refer to the portion of dough that is traditionally separated from the rest of the dough before baking. The plural of "challah" is "challot."  There is no dairy in the bread, and most recipes use honey instead of sugar.

Can't find Challah, a wide loaf of French bread (it is French toast), or Texas toast will work just as well.  When hubby went out yesterday, I did ask him to buy a loaf of Texas toast, since the local stores don't carry the other types of bread.  What I didn't realize is, he went to the store, purchased items he felt the need for (cigarettes and Mountain Dew), but forgot the bread.

So, no French toast for breakfast this morning.  I did go shopping in Cortez this afternoon, and got a loaf of French bread....I'm getting my French toast eventually.

Baked French Toast Casserole with Maple Syrup

1 loaf Challah bread, or a wide French bread loaf (13 to 16 ounces)
8 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash salt
Praline Topping, recipe follows
Maple syrup


Slice bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each.  Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended, but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Serve with maple syrup.

Praline Topping:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Makes enough for Baked French Toast Casserole.

I made this for the members of my gaming (Dungeons and Dragons) group who had stayed overnight leftovers.

Mary Cokenour
January 30, 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fresh fish; not in a landlocked state.

Hubby and I enjoy eating fish.  While we lived on the East Coast, we were able to purchase fresh fish, not only in our own supermarkets, but off the docks in various states.  Oh, to be able to bake whiting in a simple butter sauce, the flesh easily slides off the bone; succulent and sweet like a candy.

Teriyaki glazed salmon searing on a smoky grill while toasted sesame seeds wait to adorn it.

Blue fish, topped with buttery crumbs, sizzling on a griddle; to lie on a toasted bun smeared with a spicy seafood sauce.

Fried catfish, crispy on the outside, flaky within; served with puffy hushpuppies and cool coleslaw.

Crab cakes fried to perfection, served with a creamy remoulade (that's French for tartar sauce), and that's how Roy likes them; I prefer the spicy seafood sauce (basically cocktail sauce with extra horseradish mixed in).

Are you drooling yet?  I am, and it's mixing with the tears for I know that, while I can make these items, they have to be with defrosted seafood, not the freshest.  The local markets will sell fish that looks as if it was packaged fresh, but, in reality, it is defrosted fish, and needs to be cooked very quickly before spoiling.  Or you can buy, in the freezer section, prepackaged, cut into portions, fish.  When it comes to crab meat, you're more likely to find it in a can, and very expensive.  Lump crab meat costs about $20, and that's for a 5 ounce can; about the size of a regular can of tuna fish.   Or, you have the old standby, imitation crab or lobster which costs about $2.50 to $3 for a 12 ounce package.  Imitation crab is whitefish that has been flavored to taste like crab or lobster.  Yeah, it's depressing for someone who really enjoys eating seafood.

So, if you're lucky enough to obtain the fresh stuff...yes, I'm jealous, but I'll still share a couple of recipes with you.

Cajun Catfish
4 catfish fillets, cut into thirds
*Seasoning mix
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup canola or peanut oil
*Seasoning Mix
½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
2 tsp each salt, garlic powder
 1 ½ tsp each dried oregano, thyme
1 tsp each ground black pepper, onion powder
 3 tsp paprika
Stir together cayenne pepper, salt, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, black pepper, onion powder and paprika until evenly blended. Store in an airtight container.
Rub each side of catfish with seasoning mix. 
Mix cornmeal with flour.  Dip fillets into beaten egg, then dredge into cornmeal/flour mix; shake off excess.
In a medium skillet, heat oil on high; fry 3 fillets at a time, so they are not crowded and fry evenly.  Fillets should fry for 7 minutes on each side.  Drain on paper towels.
Makes 6 servings. 

Crab Imperial
1 lb crab meat (claw and/or lump, picked clean), or imitation crab, flaked
½ cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp each roasted red bell peppers and green onion, minced
¼ tsp each dry mustard and paprika
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
½ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup Italian flavored bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 400F.  Spray a 1 qt baking dish with nonstick spray.
In a medium bowl, mix together thoroughly all ingredients, except bread crumbs.  Place mixture into baking dish; sprinkle bread crumbs evenly over top.
Bake 20-25 minutes; or until bubbly and topping is golden brown.
Makes 4 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Friday, January 28, 2011

Influencing your cooking style.

When it comes to cooking, your style, the cuisine you excel in, is influenced by many factors: family background, area you live in, people outside the family, and your taste in foods overall. You might be Scandinavian, but Chinese food rocks your world; or mom’s English fare is just too bland for your taste buds, and you need to spice it up.
Though my roots can be traced back to Croatia, Italy has influenced my cooking style and that of my family immensely.  First off, our family came from the Western coast of Croatia, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.  In Brooklyn, we lived in a 90% Italian neighborhood; and I sure do miss those streets fairs.  What I really could go for is a paper bag full of zeppoles covered in powdered sugar.  Fry bread with honey or cinnamon/sugar is good; but zeppoles are great!  If you’ve ever had a funnel cake, well that’s a large, flat version of a zeppola (single tense).

Italian cooking is very diverse; each region basically has its own style; but no matter which you choose, the flavors are intense and wonderful to the palette.  Learning to make your own homemade sauce is not difficult, and it can be used for more than just pasta.  Here’s my own recipe that I’ve perfected, and I most definitely get no complaints about it:

Homemade Pasta Sauce


1 large onion, diced
3 Tbsp garlic
3-28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1-28 oz can diced tomatoes
1-12oz can tomato paste
2 Tbsp dried basil, crushed
1 Tbsp each dried oregano, thyme and marjoram, crushed
1 tsp ground black pepper
4 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese


Add all listed ingredients into a 6-qt crock pot (previously sprayed with non-stick spray); mix thoroughly.   Set on low heat; let the sauce cook for 8 hours.

Yields about 14 cups.


This recipe can be made on the stovetop, but should be stirred every 1-2 hours to keep sauce from sticking and burning on bottom of pot. 

The long cooking time allows for the sauce to become richer and thicker.  If a thinner sauce is desired, cut the tomato paste by half, leave out the diced tomatoes, and cut cooking time in half.

Besides serving as a pasta sauce, this can be used as a dipping sauce for fried foods, or as a pizza sauce.

If making a meat sauce, brown 2 lbs of lean ground beef mixed with 2 Tbsp garlic powder.  Only use 2-28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes, instead of 3.  Only cook the sauce for 6 hours, instead of 8.


So, now you’re asking; what can I make with this to wow my family, and really boost my ego?
Lasagna!!!  Say what!?!  Sure, once you have your ingredients together, it’s just a layering process, bake and eat…what’s so hard about that?  The trick is to pay attention to what you are doing.  When in the kitchen, your main focus should be on what you are doing.  If you’re multitasking, it should be cooking related.  Don’t be trying to layer the lasagna while washing the dog and playing “Chutes and Ladders” with the kids; ain’t gonna work.  You’ll end up washing the game, baking the kids, and playing with the sauce and pasta; in other words, a total disaster.

The recipe I’m giving you makes 2 pans of lasagna.  When doing the layering, develop a rhythm of doing first in one pan, repeat exact layer in second pan, go back to first pan…you get the picture.  That way both pans will be at the same exact point and you won’t get confused or lost.


This recipe will make two pans of lasagna.  Use 9” x “12 inch rectangular aluminum pans; one can be served, the other frozen for another time.


6 qt pot of homemade meat sauce (refer to above recipe)
2 (2 lbs each) containers of whole milk ricotta cheese
1 (28 oz) container small curd cottage cheese (if only large curd available, use blender or hand mixer to smooth out)
2 (8 oz) bags shredded mozzarella cheese
1 (6 ox) bag shredded parmesan cheese
24 sheets Barilla “no cook” lasagna


Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, fold together all the cheeses, except 1 bag of mozzarella, with 2 cups of sauce; this will mix the cheeses together without breaking up the shredded cheese.  Use a hard rubber spatula to help scrape the sides and move ingredients up from bottom of the bowl more easily.

In a medium bowl, mix the reserved bag of mozzarella with 6 cups of sauce; set aside.

Set the pans side by side, and start the layering process.  First, 2 cups of sauce spread out on the bottom of each pan.  Side by side, lay down 3 sheets of pasta; they will overlap a little.  Spread out about 3 cups of cheese over the sheets.  Now repeat – sauce, cheese, pasta sheets, and you will get 3 layers of cheese before the last layer of pasta is placed on top.

Take the reserved sauce/cheese mixture, divide up between both pans and spread out evenly over last layer of pasta.  Take whatever sauce is left over from the 6 qt pot and smooth it over the pans from edge to edge.  Lightly tamp down the pans to release any air pockets, and allow for sauce to fill in those spaces the air vacated.  This will, not only, help cook the pasta evenly, but keep the sauce from flowing over the top of the pan while baking.

Place pans on middle shelf in oven; bake for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand for one hour before serving.  To freeze, wrap the pans first in plastic wrap, then in a layer of aluminum foil.  To reheat, remove foil and plastic; reheat at 350F for half hour.

Mary Cokenour
January 28, 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Comfort is never overrated.

It can be as simple as hugging a teddy bear while watching a sad movie; or enjoying a hot, steamy bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day.  Comfort gives a sense of safety, and basically keeps us from going insane.  It takes the sadness and makes it all better; just like a mother would kiss a child’s wound to make it all better.  It wraps us in a warm blanket and keeps the chill from invading our bones.
Comfort can be as simple as holding someone’s hand; each of you feeling loved and wanted.  Walking along a trail, the wonder of nature around you; knowing you’re part of it, and not alone at all.  Window shopping down a busy city street, but as far as you’re both concerned, only the two of you exist in your love infused world.
No, comfort isn’t, and can’t be, overrated; and that’s a really, really good thing.

So, here’s a little comfort for those cold days and nights, and the body is craving something warm to eat:

Potato Leek Soup
2 Tbsp butter
4 leeks, white part only,
1 lb potatoes (Yukon Gold or Russet), peeled and cubed
1 qt chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup cold water
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 cups heavy cream
Optional: favorite herb for garnish
Cut leeks into ½ inch pieces, put into a colander, wash thoroughly with cold water to remove grit.  In a large stock/soup pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Sauté leeks until tender, approx. 10-15 minutes.  Add potatoes, stock, water, black pepper; bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low.
Cover pot and let soup simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.  If using a hand-held blender, puree the soup in the pot until smooth.  Otherwise, transfer the mixture, in batches, to a standard blender; puree until smooth.  Return soup to the pot.
On low heat, stir the cream into the soup mixture.  Let the soup come up to a hot temperature, but do NOT bring to a boil.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with favorite herb (thyme, parsley, chives, etc) if desired.
Makes 6 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's all a matter of balance.

Balance; the equalizing of two items, whether the same or different, so that they are perfectly aligned on a scale.  While that is a simple concept when it comes to a tangible item, not so easy for emotions and feelings.  That's when you have to deal with good vs. bad/evil, light vs. dark, likes vs. dislikes; issues are either black or white.  Balance is a gray area, the mixing of the black and white to form a smooth, even concept.  Some folks are afraid of the negative aspects and try to live a life of "happy, happy, joy, joy"; ignoring the negativity and hoping it will just "go away".  It doesn't, it builds up till it explodes, so that is why we need balance in our lives; to keep from exploding.

So what has this to do with cooking?  Eating, while being a necessity, should be an enjoyment; taste and texture should be a pleasure for the mouth.  However, some folks like their food to be painful, and I often wonder if this is actually how they enjoy it, or is it more for showing off to their peers.  Take "hot wings"; the chiles that can be added to sauces to coat the wings have heat measured by mild, medium, hot, super hot and atomic.  Personally, I enjoy mild to medium; anything hotter puts my mouth in pain, and I cannot taste the item I'm eating.  To me, that is a loss, not a pleasure; the balance between the heat and taste of the sauce is important to me.

But that's me, and when it comes to "hot wings", it's whatever floats your boat.

Traditional Buffalo Wings

The origin of this recipe began in 1964, at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York.

2 ½ lbs wings (12-16 whole wings)
½ cup Louisiana hot sauce ( Frank's is the brand when sticking to tradition )
½ cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 1/2 Tbsp[ white vinegar
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Dash of salt
Split wing at joint, pat dry.  Deep fry at 350F for 10-12 minutes, or bake in 425F oven for 45 minutes, until completely cooked and crispy; drain.  To make sauce, mix together hot sauce, butter, vinegar, cayenne, garlic powder, Worcestershire and salt.  Put wings in bowl, add sauce and toss till wings are completely coated.  Serve with bleu cheese dressing and celery sticks.

The main ingredient, the wings, should always be crispy; mushy, fatty skin just doesn’t feel good when eating it.  Crispy wings also hold the sauce better.  Always toss the wings in the sauce after frying as the hot oil will only leech the sauce off the wings.
The traditional dressing served with wings is bleu cheese dressing, but nowadays, ranch is a popular choice.  While the dressing is used as an enhancement by some, most use it to tone down the heat of the hot sauce.
Popular alternative sauces for wings are barbecue, teriyaki, chipotle and honey mustard.
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp. catsup
1 Tbsp. oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. ginger
Put all ingredients into small saucepan; bring to boil on high heat.  Lower heat to low and let sauce thicken; about 15 minutes.
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 (12 oz) bottle Teriyaki sauce
Put all ingredients into small saucepan; bring to boil on high heat.  Lower heat to low and let sauce thicken; about 15 minutes.
1/2 cup chipotle sauce
1/2 cup butter
2 Tbsp honey
Put all ingredients into small saucepan; bring to boil on high heat.  Lower heat to low and let sauce thicken; about 15 minutes.
Honey Mustard
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
Mix two ingredients together.

Mary Cokenour
January 26, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Step it up a Notch

As Emeril Lagasse would say as he spices up a recipe, and then “Bam!!!”.  I have to admit that I don’t like his recipes much; just seem to have too many ingredients and steps to the final result. Very rarely do any of my personal recipes have many ingredients and/or steps, and that’s mainly due to my own lack of patience. 

Actually, I’m much better at being patient than in earlier days, and that has attributed to helping to bring my stress level down.  Take a deep breath and count to ten, or more if needed; smile and nod; imagine yourself in a happier, quieter place…yeah, these techniques all work a lot better now.  Not perfect, just better.
In cooking, I have, more and more, turned away from using premade, packaged meals; and found easier, tastier ways to make them from scratch.  Better for health to get away from all those preservatives and additives, and lots better for the ego, “Hey, look what I made!”.  Yeah, better seems to be the catch word for this posting.
Some recipes, that started out as just a side dish, found their way to becoming a meal of their own.  Just an additional ingredient here or there, or different technique; nothing long drawn, seems to make the difference.
A favorite pasta of mine is Tortellini; little pasta rings filled with cheese, spinach, chicken, just about anything nowadays.  The larger version is referred to as Tortelloni.  This pasta can be served with virtually any type of sauce, in soups, salads, as a side dish, or a main meal; you can’t go wrong with it.  If you haven’t tried it yet, give yourself a little taste adventure.

Simple Tortellini Salad
1 (13 oz) package dry tortellini (cheese, or cheese and spinach)
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried Italian herb mix
4 Tbsp Vidalia sweet onion relish
Cook tortellini according to package directions.
Place cooked tortellini into large bowl; add remaining ingredients and mix together gently so as to not break up the pasta.
Makes 4-6 servings; can be served warm or cold.

Or, for the more adventurous:

Tortellini Salad
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ lb asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
½ cup mushrooms, chopped
2 Tbsp  (packed in oil) sundried tomatoes, diced
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp fresh marjoram (if not available, use dried)
Dash each of sea salt and ground black pepper
1 lb cheese tortellini, cooked
In a large skillet, heat oil on high; sauté asparagus spears, mushrooms and tomatoes for 7 minutes.  Reduce heat to low, add in vinegar and garlic; let simmer for 5 minutes.
Add in marjoram, salt, pepper and tortellini; toss to coat and remove to serving dish.
Makes 4-6 servings; can be served warm or cold.

Mary Cokenour
January 25, 2011

Being labeled, boxed and filed away.

As a species, humans are comfortable when they can label each other.  That way, they can place an individual into a box or file folder, and know how to deal with them without stress.  It's also a form of protection; you know who is just like you, and who to be cautious of because they are different from you.

One famous question is, "What religion are you?"  I love this question, cause I can drive a person totally insane with my answer: "Why do you need to know?"  Yeppers, I put them on the spot.  Hey, they just met me, and that's the first question they can think of to ask me...why?  Because they need to label me, and figure out which box or folder to put me in.  Am I one of them, do I have the same beliefs, and are, therefore, safe?  Or am I "one of those other people"?

I see this more as two types of fear.  The first is "fear of the unknown"; a religion different from one's self, that you know nothing about; how can you have an intelligent civil conversation, and/or debate, if you know nothing about the religion?  The idea about learning about it seems to not come to mind, for some very odd reason. 

The second fear is, and I've experienced this from others, that the other person's religion is better or more right than their own.  Eh???  Now that one really puzzles me, for how is one religion more right than another?  In the United States, the First Amendment is "Freedom of Religion", so don't be singing, "I'm Proud to be an American" when this amendment bothers you to no end.

So, for those who know me, or for those who haven't met me yet....My religion is "Other", and that's all you need to know.  That's right, when filling out surveys or questionnaires, that is what I mark down, the "Other" box.  Now, those folks who are very close and precious to me, they know who and what I really am, and they are quite comfortable and content with it. 

Basically, this is a good example of "judging a book by its cover".  How in the world can you really know a person if you judge them immediately on one facet?  Seriously, get over the fears, take the bull by the horns and run with it.

So, today's recipe is a cookie that looks rather plain on the outside, unless you add to the surface.  But what's on the inside is a complete surprise, if you take the chance and bite into it.

Mint Balls
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
3 dozen “Junior Mints” candies

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract; slowly add the flour and salt to the creamed mixture.  Cover and chill till the batter becomes firm, but manageable.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Take the batter by teaspoon, place a candy mint in the center, and form a ball around it.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet (AirBake is the best for baking), and continue forming balls. 
Bake for 10-12 minutes; cookies will be lightly browned. 
Let cool; can be eaten as is, or rolled in confectioners’ sugar.
Makes 36 cookies.
Note: before baking, the balls can be rolled in crushed nuts; and if you’re seeing the pun, then have a great laugh.

Mary Cokenour
January 25, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

Keeping the past alive in some way.

Europe, Asia, India, Africa, it's not unusual to see buildings and structures that date back centuries in that land's history.  However, in the United States, our own history is often destroyed in the name of "progress".  We are still considered a relatively young country, yet we can find very little that dates back to our own beginnings.  What is called constructive, is, in truth, destructive; that's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.

However, in families, one item that is treasured is "family recipes", handed down from generation to generation.  In other countries, these recipes can be traced back by centuries, and many were brought to the United States by immigrants.  My own grandparents came to this country from Croatia, and with them came many wonderful recipes which were passed on to my mother, and then myself.

Here is one that I'd like to share:

Split Pea Soup
This recipe has been passed down from my maternal grandmother.  She emigrated, from Croatia, in 1925 with her husband, and was pregnant with my uncle.  In 1935, she gave birth to my mother.  My mother recalls, when she was a little girl that she would go to the butcher for ham shanks, and four would only cost 25 cents.  My grandmother began teaching me how to cook when I was five years old, and when he was six years old, I began teaching my son.

2 cups dried split peas
cold water
1 large smoked ham shank
2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices
3 cups potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups fine egg noodles, uncooked
In a large bowl, cover the split peas with water; soak overnight and drain.
In a 5 qt stock pot, on high heat, bring 3 qts of water to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium; add in the peas, carrots, potatoes, onion and ham shank, cover.  Occasionally stirring, let these cook until the meat can easily leave the bone; about 30 minutes.   Remove the ham shank, pull off and shred the meat, return meat to stock pot. 
Let the soup cook another 30 minutes before adding in the egg noodles.  Cook an additional 10 minutes and serve.
Makes 6-8 servings.
Mary Cokenour
January 24, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nothing wrong with a little indulgence.

That's right, a little indulgence once in awhile does a person good.  Makes you feel special when the world seems to be against you.  Stress is in your life whether you want it to be or not; you may not look for it, but it will find you.  The real choice is how you handle it; crying, screaming, getting violent, complaining are all very negative choices.  Makes you look pathetic for the most part, and doesn't really improve the state of mind.

Next time you feel stressed out, laugh, laugh out loud as hard as you can.  Trouble finding the inspiration to laugh, watch a really good stand up comic on Comedy Central:  Gabriel Iglesias, Sinbad, Denis Leary, Lewis Black, Bill Engvall, Jeff Foxworthy, Jeff Dunham to name a few.  While you're at it, eat something indulgent; a slice of rich pie or cake, smooth and creamy Belgium chocolate, or whatever little tidbit makes your sweet tooth make your whole body, and soul, feel great.

Here's a treat that you'll really appreciate, and if it doesn't give you that feel good feel that you need, then consider a mental health professional, cause you're that far gone.

Peanut Butter Cream Pie
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 ½ cups chunky peanut butter
2 cups vanilla pudding
1 tub whipped topping (do not use light or fat free)
1 - 9 inch deep dish pie crust, prebaked
In a small bowl, cut together the powdered sugar and peanut butter until it becomes crumbly.  Spread out half of the crumbs in the bottom of the pie crust.
Mix 1 cup of whipped topping with vanilla pudding, spread out evenly in pie crust over peanut butter crumbs.  Top pudding with other half of crumbs (reserve ¼ cup for topping).  Spread out remaining whipped topping and sprinkle ¼ cup of crumbs over.
Refrigerate for one hour before serving.
Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour
January 23, 2011

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Maybe tomorrow I'll have that pajama day

I don't envy people who work second or third shifts; did it for 7 1/2 years, and hated it; Roy did it for 4 years and wasn't too happy about it either.  However, for all the disdain I felt for the job, the money and benefits were just too good to give up, so I plodded on.  It was also a cushy job; no management to watch over us, only one other coworker, and most of the time we just sat around listening to music, surfing the net, or taking naps.  When the company was bought out and we got the announcement about being laid off, all I could feel was relief.  I was getting a nice severance package, eligible for unemployment, and a nice bonus for staying on until the company was finally done with the department.

Roy was soon laid off from his job too, so we needed to make plans and quickly.  We'd made a 5 year plan, but the layoffs forced us into a 2 yr plan.  Living in Pennsylvania was something we had both started to dislike...intensely.  I had fallen in love with Utah when we visited his mom in 2006, and even then I had said to him, "Honey, one day we're going to live here."  Ok, so October 2008, we took a 2 week trip to Utah, scoped out potential areas to live in, and made a decision....we put the PA house up for sale.  Coordinating with realtors in PA and Utah, we sold our home and purchased a new one; well not a new-new one, it was more like a handyman special, and we had to put a lot of work, and money, into the house to get it livable for us.  Not our dream home, but it'll do for now.
Ok, I've gone on another tangent here, so back to working nights.  No matter how many years you do it, you just can't get used to not being up during the day, feeling sunlight on you, and experiencing everything going on around you.  You're always tired, mainly because people insist on waking you up during the day.  You never really have a full weekend off; Saturdays are usually spent sleeping part of the day, and then trying to get everything done you didn't do during the week.  Sundays you were still playing catch up on chores; then suddenly, it was back to work.

Now we both work days and have full weekends off; yet, for some reason, we barely ever have a day when we can just do nothing at all.  Oh to have a pajama day; staying in night clothes, watching movies in bed and basically doing squat all day, and not caring at all.  Just doesn't happen as often as we'd like it to.  The main problem, we don't want life to pass us by; don't want to miss anything.

Maybe once every six months, we finally get that pajama day, and boy, does it feel good.  In essence, no, don't let life pass you by just cause you can; seize the days and enjoy them.  But once, every once in awhile, give yourself a pajama day cause you earned it.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

2 whole chicken breasts, deboned, skinned, cooked and diced.
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 - 10 1/2 oz can cream of chicken soup
1 - 10 1/2 oz can refried beans
15 1/2 oz jar medium, chunky salsa
8 oz. sour cream
2 cups grated Mexican style cheese (1 1/2 cups + 1/2 cup set aside)
cooking spray
1 package (10 in package) corn tortillas
Preheat oven to 350 F.

In large mixing bowl, mix well the first 7 ingredients (not the 1/2 cup of cheese set aside).

Spray a 2-quart baking dish, place 4 tortillas on bottom. Covering bottom and up the sides. Spread out 1/2 the mixture from the bowl. Cover with 3 tortillas, spread out other 1/2 of mixture. Cover with 3 tortillas, spread 1/2 cup of cheese over top of tortillas.

Bake for 45-60 minutes; until top is slightly brown, and mixture is bubbling. Set aside 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6.

Mary Cokenour
January 22, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

I Admit to it…I’m a Pizza Snob.

Being born and raised in New York, eating pizza is a staple of the true New Yorker. There are two basic types in any pizzeria: Neapolitan is round in shape with a reasonably thin crust (not wafer thin, around 1/4"), with sauce, aged mozzarella cheese, garlic powder, and various toppings. Usually made in a gas oven, the dough is stretched (occasionally tossed, but that's mostly for the tourists), covered with a sauce primarily made of canned tomatoes and Italian herbs or a cooked sauce, and liberally covered with cheese. The slices are large and usually folded when eaten.

The second most common style of pizza in New York City (that’s the 5 boroughs; and Long Island) is the Sicilian, or “square” pie. Characterized by its thick crust, Sicilian pizza is baked in an oiled pan, giving the crust a completely different taste from that of its round counterpart. The crust of a Sicilian pie is much more bready than the Neopolitan, and usually has a tomato sauce that was more thoroughly cooked before the baking of the pie
Chicago pizza is a deep dish pie made in a reverse fashion than the New York style.  Not bad really, but that’s for another day.
Here comes the complaint…there is not any place in the Four Corners area that makes a great New York pizza.  Some come close to a decent pie, but on a rating scale of 1-10, the highest has been an 8. Cassano’s Italian Restaurant in Moab, Utah and Domino’s in Cortez, Colorado ( have come the closest so far.  Domino’s has a pie called the “Brooklyn” pizza, and if they bake it for 25 minutes, instead of the usual 20, than it’s pretty close to perfect.
Other than that, most places undercook the dough, so the crust is pale and doughy, or the dough is so thick, that it is gooey in the center.  Instead of using good mozzarella, it’s usually a mixture of mozzarella, cheddar and jack cheeses.  Why?  What is so hard with sticking to the original, and most perfect, recipe?  Also, why so cheap with the sauce…a smear just doesn’t justify calling it a pizza.
Ok, so here’s my rant about pizza, and yes, I’m a pizza snob and I don't intend to ever apologize for it.
                                                  Pizza Dough
Basic Dough
1 cup of warm water
3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of sugar (to feed the yeast)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of yeast
Put warm water (80 to 110°F) into a bowl. Add salt and sugar and mix with a spoon. Add yeast, mix and let it sit for about 10 minutes.  If the water is too warm, it will kill the yeast; too cold, and it will not awaken.
Start mixing, with a fork, by gradually adding flour and olive oil.  Once it is too thick to mix by fork, remove to a floured, wooden board; start kneading by hand.  Knead the dough until you have a smooth ball. If the dough cracks it is too dry. Add water bit by bit until if forms a smooth ball. If your dough feels more like batter, it is too wet and you need to add flour bit by bit. If you need to add water or flour, do it by small amounts; it is easier to fix too little than too much.
Coat the dough with olive oil, place it in a large bowl and cover it with a clean, cotton towel. Let the dough rise for about an hour at room temperature, then punch it down, so it deflates. Let it sit for about another hour. If you want to use it the next day, put it in a refrigerator wrapped in plastic wrap.
Put the dough on a lightly floured surface; a pizza peel (wooden board with a handle) is easier for transferring the pizza from surface to surface. Put a bit of flour on your hands; using the balls of your finger tips and hands, make it into the shape of a circle by stretching it out from the center outwards. If you’re having a problem stretching the dough by hand, se a rolling pin until the dough is about 1/4" thick.   
The average size of the pizza will be about 16” which can be transferred to a pizza pan or stone. You get better results when you use a pizza baking stone. The pizza stone should be preheated to 450F for an hour prior to baking, and should be placed in the middle of the oven.   
Spread out evenly about 1-1 ½ cups sauce; then add favorite toppings such as cheeses, meats and/or cut up vegetables. 
The oven should be preheated to 450F.  Bake for 20-25 minutes; the crust should be browned, but not dark.  Remove from oven, use a pizza cutter for easy slicing up and serve.  Makes 8-10 slices, depending on how its cut up.

Mary Cokenour
January 21, 2011