Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pasta Prima is Natural and Green.

Pasta Prima


While shopping at the Safeway in Cortez, Colorado, I came across one of those little refrigerated display cases. Inside were all kinds of cheeses, cured meats and fresh (not dried) pasta products; one being the Pasta Prima brand. Immediately the package of Lobster Ravioli caught my eye; the cost was $5.99 for 10 ravioli with a seasoning packet, so I decided to try it.

The ravioli are large and an orange color similar to that of a lobster; cooking them to package directions, the pasta was tender and quite delicious itself. Now according to the package, lobster is the first ingredient listed and you can see it minced up inside the filling; ricotta cheese, herbs and tomatoes (probably used for the pasta coloring) were also high up on the listing. I was very surprised to be able to taste the lobster itself, even though it was minced; there was a strong flavor, so you knew what it was called was what you were eating. The ricotta cheese was creamy; and the filling was just enough to keep the ravioli from splitting open, yet be satisfying to the mouth.

I've have tried other brands of fresh pasta, but the taste and presence of lobster was just not there; not so with Pasta Prima brand.  For the supermarket price, two people can enjoy a decadent meal without paying the cost of a fancy restaurant.   Gourmet filled ravioli can also be found with Spinach and Mozzarella or Grilled Chicken with Mozzarella fillings, and I'm looking forward to trying those out also.

Pasta Prima's products are 100% natural, no preservatives used; they also have a gluten free product.  The company prides itself on being green; using energy from renewable wind and solar sources.  If your supermarket carries this brand, try it; if not, ask the management to bring it in; the treat is worth the price.

Mary Cokenour

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Panko Fried Green Movie Food.

In 1991, the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes" made its screen debut and became an instant hit.  My favorite line, to this day, is still when Kathy Bates' character purposely smashes her vehicle into a car full of rude young women,  "Face it girls, I'm older and have more insurance."  While the ending of the movie may make you think twice about your favorite barbecue joint; a dish called "fried green tomatoes" became all the rage.

The Autumn Equinox has come which is the second harvest; surprise, surprise that I found some medium sized green tomatoes in my garden.  I picked the firm jewels with the intention of finally making fried green tomatoes.  Finally?  Yes, I admit that I have never had them before; two reasons really; first being I don't follow fads and the movie made the recipe into a fad.  Secondly, well I just didn't want to try them; I'm not a fan of eating sliced red tomatoes, so green ones didn't sound tempting at all.  Yes!  I admit it, I was wrong!!!

Before picking the tomatoes, I had already defrosted some chicken tenderloins to fry up; so here was my chance to fry two birds with one skillet.  Alright, bad attempt at making a pun joke.  Anyway, I made 1/4 inch slices of the tomatoes, sprinkling salt and pepper on both sides. The chicken was already in a plastic container which I added a beaten egg and half an 8 ounce package of panko bread crumbs to. I liberally coated each strip and set aside to rest. In a small bowl of beaten egg, I coated the tomato slices and pressed panko onto both sides of each slice. Panko, in case you didn't know, is Japanese bread crumbs, coarsely ground making them look more like flakes than crumbs. The large surface area absorbs seasoning well, but not oil, so they have a light, airy and very crispy texture after frying.

Into my Wok, I added an inch of peanut oil, but canola oil is good to use if you cannot find peanut oil. Once it began to sizzle, I began adding the tomato slices, four at a time; they will fry up more quickly if using a Wok, so keep an eye on the browning. I used my wire straining spoon to remove them to paper towels for drainage. The taste was, well you get hit with the bitter, but than a sweetness mildly creeps in before the bitter comes back. I tried different condiments; ranch dressing added a sour taste; green goddess dressing didn't add a thing; but a couple drops of Cholula hot sauce added a nice zing to the tomatoes. Overall, I liked them plain while they were hot; once they began to cool down, not so much.

I then began frying up the chicken tenderloins three at a time. Frying in the Wok allowed for faster cooking, so after 1 1/2 minutes, I turned the chicken, cooked an additional 1 1/2 minutes and then removed to paper towels for drainage. Oh my, oh my; these were the best chicken strips I had ever fried up; tender and so juicy that the liquid actually ran down my chin. The panko coating was so light and crispy; just too, too delicious for words.

Three chicken tenderloins and 4 fried green tomato slices were my dinner. I had died and gone to culinary heaven after pampering myself with this meal. All I can say is, "TRY IT!!!".

Mary Cokenour

Monday, September 24, 2012

Eggo Limited Edition Waffles

Eggo Pumpkin Spice Waffles (Limited Edition)

While shopping for regular and buttermilk waffles, I happened to see these new waffles on the shelf.  Considering we're now into the fall season, they sounded like a yummy edition to the breakfast selection.  On the front of the box, pumpkin is listed as the first ingredient, then the spices, so I thought these would taste like pumpkin pie. 

The aroma of the waffles toasting found me feeling warm and comfy; the taste, not so much.  Don't get me wrong, they tasted good, but nothing to brag about.  I likened them more to eating a mildly flavored with pumpkin, whole grain bread, then a pumpkin pie full of flavor, flavor, flavor.  On the back of the box, the ingredient listing found wheat flour as the first ingredient; in the middle were the cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; just before the preservative and chemical listing, pumpkin finally showed up. 

Overall, as a change from regular and buttermilk waffles, these were a good choice.  However, as the box advertises "Spice up your morning with the flavors of fall" breakfast, I have to give it a fail.  Sorry, but this isn't my Eggo.

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Palette for a Food Artist - Potato Salad

Though food preparation can be considered an art form, there are certain recipes that can be changed so often, they can be compared to an artist's palette. As the artist would mix colors and use different brushes for texturing, so would the cook with ingredients and kitchen gadgets.
A perfect example of this is potato salad; a side dish that can be served warm or cold, with or without mayonnaise, and, well the list of ingredients that can be added in is close to nameless. What is the origin of potato salad? Well that depends on what country you're in, for any country that has potatoes as a staple has some form of salad associated with it. My grandmother's salad is a version of German potato salad, but without the addition of bacon; I still make it the same as she did to this day.

Basically any type of potato can be used and they are normally peeled and boiled until tender (not firm, but not falling apart). Once it became known that the skin of the potato is loaded with nutrients, leaving the peel, or parts of it, became popular. Then came the question of "what to do with leftover baked potatoes?" and making them into a salad became an option. Baked potatoes tend to become very dry and starchy as they cool, but cutting them up, adding moisture such as mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, sour cream, butter and/or oil gave them new life.

So what exactly can be put into a typical potato salad; the one where the potatoes are boiled or baked, peeled or unpeeled, cooled or left warm? Sorry, but I don't have enough room to list it all, but here are a few choices: diced celery, onions, jicama, radishes, pickles. Seasonings such as paprika, ground black pepper, ground or crushed cayenne pepper, dill, rosemary, thyme, chives, mustard (yellow, spicy brown, Dijon), horseradish (ground or creamy). Bacon and/or chopped hard boiled eggs for protein.

Potato salad is the palette, ingredients are your colors; be the artist and create your own masterpiece.

Mary Cokenour

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thick or Thin, It's Bacon!

There is just something about the smell and taste of bacon that makes whatever it's put on, or in, simply delicious. Bacon is a pork product; a salt cured and smoked part of the pig which comes from the sides or the belly of the beast. The many varieties of bacon depends on the parts used and the techniques to preserve it. Bacon itself has very little meat to it; it's the fat that gives bacon products most of the flavor and richness; also its crispness after frying. Before frying, some of the fat can be removed, frozen and saved for later use. The fat left in a fry pan solidifies at room temperature and can be used like lard or vegetable shortening to flavor biscuits, cornbread, and dressings.

In America, the typical bacon product used is either thin or thick strips. The thin strips, depending on brand quality, can almost be paper thin; frying up very quickly and leaving behind more oil than a cook knows what to do with. One batch I made recently started out as ten inch strips and quickly whittled down to crispy, melt in the mouth, snack pieces of three inches.

The cut of bacon for my household is thick; more meaty than thin, less fat which makes more for the eating. The typical ten inch pieces only shrink down to about seven inches; they don't take longer to fry up either. In a 12 inch skillet, high heat, I was able to cook 6-7 pieces in each batch; each batch took only 8 minutes to fry up to delicious crispiness.

While bacon is often used as a sandwich addition, the most popular is the "BLT" or "Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato". I'm not a fan of the tomato part as I believe the juice of the tomato simply takes away from the crispiness of the bacon, lettuce and toasted bread. For moisture, I slather on a generous dose of mayonnaise on both slices of bread; while my husband prefers using Miracle Whip.

Use the Search function on this blog page and you'll find I've used bacon as an ingredient from grilled cheese to meatloaf to even baking up cupcakes.

Other cuts of bacon popular in, or finding its niche in, USA cooking and baking are Canadian which comes from the back center (or eye of the round). It is more similiar to a traditional ham product than bacon; and if you've eaten an "Egg McMuffin" from McDonald's, than you know what I'm referring to. From Italy, Pancetta is a nonsmoked, cut extremely thin bacon which will add the mild taste of pork without the smokiness of smokedbacon; sometimes it comes flavored with herbs and spices.

No matter how you like your bacon, well what can I say, "It's Bacon!!!".

Mary Cokenour

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Al Dente Rice? Risotto!

A classic Italian rice dish served in many a fine dining establishment is called Risotto. The rice is cooked to an al dente consistency which means it is "firm to the tooth", but not hard nor crunchy; and certainly not mushy. The type of rice used for risotto is called Arborio; a short grained, starchy rice which was exclusively grown in Italy, but now comes from Texas and California as well.

Cooking this type of rice is much different than the typical white or long grained rices; for one cup of rice it takes up to 4 cups of hot liquid to achieve the right consistency. Normally rice is cooked in a 2 to 1 ratio; two cups of liquid to one cup rice where the rice and liquid are brought up to a boil together, left to simmer and then settle.  Another difference is that the dry arborio rice is sauteed in a pan with ingredients before the liquid begins to be added in.  With other types of rice, the seasonings or other ingredients are added in after the rice has fully, or almost fully, cooked.  So this makes it important to plan your risotto dish ahead, since adding ingredients after it is completed sort of defeats the purpose of the dish itself.

Chicken and Mushroom Risotto


4 Tbsp butter, divided in half
2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into pieces
½ cup diced onion
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
½ cup white wine
5 ½ cups hot chicken stock
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp minced parsley


In a large skillet, medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter; saute mushrooms and chicken together until there is no more pink in the chicken. Remove to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap to keep warm and moist.

Reduce heat to medium; in the same skillet, melt 2 remaining tablespoons of butter; saute onion until translucent; add in garlic and rice; stir and let cook until rice turns opaque. Stir in black pepper and wine; let cook until wine is absorbed.

Begin adding chicken stock one half cup at a time; do not add next half cup until previous one has been absorbed into the rice. Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula gently to keep rice from breaking apart.

When the last half cup of stock has been reached, add back the mushrooms and chicken; add in the grated cheese and parsley. Stir thoroughly; remove from heat once stock has been fully absorbed and the rice is creamy; stir and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Friday, September 14, 2012

Not Your Usual Nachos.

Nachos are, according to the Webster dictionary, "a tortilla chip topped with melted cheese and often additional savory toppings (as hot peppers or refried beans)". A good number of people have eaten them in Mexican restaurants or fast food chains; maybe even made them at home for a main meal, or to be enjoyed during a movie or sports game. Guess what though, the recipe for nachos is not written in stone and you are allowed to play with this finger food.

Sometime ago I had made Sloppy Joes for dinner; and there were leftovers. A couple of days later we were in the mood for nachos, but out of ground beef which I had used up for the sloppy joes. Hold on I thought, sloppy joes has ground beef, tomatoes, chile peppers; all I really need to make nachos is to add beans, mix and pour over the tortilla chips. One big difference, instead of Mexican seasoning, there was barbecue sauce and it was delicious! The barbecue sauce was zesty and smoky; but the beans, cheese and sour cream gave the illusion of chili.

So I started to think of other ways to have nachos, like using the filling for my Chicken Enchiladas; or what about shredded pork barbecue with cole slaw layered over chips; or a seafood salad and roasted corn mixture; what about tuna salad with zesty pickles or sweet, sliced peppers, or both!  Are you seeing the big picture here?  You don't even have to use flat chips and worry about heating up cheese on the ingredients to hold it to the chips.  Use the scoop type to hold the ingredients and pop into your mouth for a one bite munchy.

Next time you're thinking nachos, but maybe the rest of your family and friends have other cravings, think about combining them for a new type of snack.  Remember, football season is here, so the combinations are endless....hmmmm, little smokies in a spicy onion sauce in those tortilla scoop chips.  See what I mean?

Mary Cokenour

Monday, September 10, 2012

American Recipe Sings Italian Opera.

Tetrazzini is strictly Italian, that is if you're the opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini who had a recipe created for her back in the early 1900's.  While Tetrazzini enjoyed a lavish career from 1890 to 1920; her life ended in poor health and poverty.  Now two sources claim to be the creators of this recipe named after the famous opera star, the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA and the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York, NY.  Just another version of the West coast versus the East coast; but whoever invented it, I bet, didn't foresee the casserole becoming such a hit with the home cook. 

Basically, Tetrazzini is a casserole made with some type of cooked poultry, canned tuna or raw shrimp which is mixed with diced vegetables, cooked spaghetti and baked together in a luscious, buttery cream sauce.  It's one of those recipes that can incorporate all the food groups in one sitting; if you add diced tomatoes, well there's your fruit group right there.  One thing I know for certain, there will be no leftovers for this casserole.



5 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp dry sherry
¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
1 medium onion, diced
1 lb spaghetti, cooked and drained
½ cup roasted red bell pepper, diced
3 cups turkey breast, cooked and cut into ½ inch cubes **
3/4 cup dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
3 Tbsp melted butter


Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 9” x 13” baking dish with nonstick spray.

Make a roux by melting 3 Tbsp butter, on high heat in a large saucepan; whisk in flour until smooth. It is important to keep whisking, or roux will burn; and the process will have to be started over. Continue whisking while adding chicken broth; sauce will thicken. Whisk in cream, sherry, cheese and black pepper; remove from heat when mixture is smooth.

In a small nonstick skillet, on high heat, melt 2 Tbsp butter; sauté mushrooms and onions until softened; about three minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the spaghetti, roasted peppers, turkey, sautéed vegetables and sauce; spread evenly into the baking dish. In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs and melted butter; sprinkle evenly over the mixture in the baking dish. Bake, uncovered for 20-30 minutes, or until bubbling and the topping is golden brown.

Makes 8 servings.

**Options: Use the equivalent of cooked chicken, canned tuna or shrimp (raw, peeled and deveined)

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Rice Krispy Treats - Spoil your Inner Child

Sometimes, no matter how you try and repress childhood memories, well the bad ones at least, they still come back to haunt and intimidate you.  The good memories I have which are few and far between seem to mostly center around food.  One of these was the first time my mother made rice krispy treats for me.  They were so gooey, but crunchy and deliciously sweet; but she only made them once as she felt the "mess in the pan" wasn't worth the effort.   As I grew older, I was able to obtain these treats in stores, and eventually learned to make them myself once I adopted my son.  I don't understand why the big fuss over the "mess in the pan" as it easily cleans out with hot soapy water and a sponge.

Anyway, a little history about this childhood treat; it was invented in 1939 by Malitta Jensen and Mildred Day, and the Kelloggs Company of course, to help raise money for the Campfire Girls Foundation.  It was a simple recipe of melted butter and mini-marshmallows mixed into rice krispies, allowed to cool, cut up into squares and enjoyed.   Nowadays, this simple recipe can include any manner of mixture from different types of cereal, toasted oatmeal, crushed granola, nuts, dried fruit and mini-candy pieces.

Making treats nowadays might take a little more calculation too, depending on the density of the cereal used plus any other added ingredients, and the size of the pan used as well.  Normally it is 1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons), 1 (10 ounce) package of mini-marshmallows (they melt quicker) and 6 cups of rice krispy cereal.  It is all pressed into a greased (with butter) 2 quart rectangular baking dish; cooled for an hour and then cut into squares.  While the butter and marshmallows can be melted in a stovetop pan, nowadays a microwave is more convenient and makes it easier to control the melting process to avoid burning. 

I made peanut butter treats just yesterday and while you might think I made them too thin; as far as I'm concerned, that means I have a lot more to enjoy.

Peanut Butter Rice Krispy Treats


7 cups rice krispy cereal
1 stick (8 Tbsp) salted butter plus 1/2 Tbsp for greasing dish
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 (10 oz) bag mini-marshmallows (make sure they are fresh!)


Into a large mixing bowl, measure out 7 cups of rice krispy cereal; lightly grease a 13" x 9" baking dish with butter.

Into a medium mixing bowl, melt the butter and peanut butter in the microwave for 45 seconds; add in the marshmallows and toss to coat. Microwave for 60 seconds, mix thoroughly; microwave another 30 seconds, mix and pour over cereal. Using a sturdy spoon, mix together so the cereal is thoroughly incorporated. Put the mixture into the baking dish and press out to the sides as evenly as possible; cover with plastic wrap and let cool on counter for one hour. Cut into squares and enjoy.

Do yourself a favor and spoil your inner child once in awhile; you deserve it.

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wrapped and Deep Fried, Maybe.

Deciding to do a post on spring rolls, I did not anticipate the variety of such an item between, not just Asian countries, but Mexico and South America also. I mean sure, you get an appetizer in many places called Southwestern Spring or Egg Rolls, but are they really?

So what is the difference between a spring and an egg roll? Mainly the ingredients, size and texture of the wrappers; spring roll wrappers are paper thin, more pliable, smaller and made of rice flour, water and salt. Egg roll wrappers are thicker and made with all purpose flour, water, cornstarch and egg; they are very similiar to a cannoli shell. Spring rolls can be deep fried or not, egg rolls are normally deep fried; and the ingredients wrapped up in both of them can be endless combinations.

Spring rolls typically refer to the fresh, young vegetables available in spring time; cut or chopped into small pieces, perhaps mixed with marinated meat or poultry. The fillings might be mixed with a sauce, or the sauce served on the side for dipping. In Mexico, spring rolls are called Rollos Primavera and served with a dipping sauce of ketchup mixed with a spicy, hot mustard. Argentina and Brazil have their own versions of spring rolls, and the dipping sauce is typically sweet and hot. Of course there is the eggroll which usually has a spicy beef mixture with beans; maybe rice, corn or both included. Similiar to a taquito, but using a traditional Chinese eggroll wrapper and wrapping technique instead.

Basic Spring Roll Recipe


2 Tbsp canola oil
1 large carrot, shredded
1 cup Chinese (Napa) cabbage, shredded
2 green onions, diced
1 cup bean sprouts
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
12 spring roll wrappers
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp water
4-6 cups canola oil (dependent on use of Wok or deep skillet)

Optional ingredients: 1/2 lb of shredded pork, chicken or beef; or chopped shrimp. Mix with 1 Tbsp oyster sauce and 1/2 tsp baking soda; marinate for 1/2 hour.


On high heat in either Wok or deep skillet, stir fry carrot, cabbage, green onion and bean sprouts for one minute; add oyster sauce and sesame oil; toss and remove from heat. If using an optional meat, poultry or shrimp; add 2 more Tbsp of oil; when hot, stir fry until ingredients just begins to turn color; remove from heat and mix with vegetables.

Into Wok or skillet add, cups of oil to 1 1/2 inches; while oil is heating (to 375F), prepare rolls. Place wrappers in diamond shape position; combine cornstarch and water. Place a tablespoon of stir fried mixture in center; coat all edges of wrapper with water mixture. Fold top and bottom of "diamond" slightly over filling; begin rolling from left to right and seal with extra water mixture if needed. Fry rolls 3 at a time until golden brown; drain on paper towels.

Makes 12 spring rolls.

Of course spring rolls do not have to be deep fried, just roll them up, but only use water to seal the edges.   Make sure, when stir frying the meat, poultry or shrimp that they are cooked thoroughly before adding to the vegetable mixture.

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tuna Sandwich that aims to Cheese.

Usually when having a sandwich, it might come accompanied by a side such as potato chips, french fries, cole slaw, etc. Then again, since I was a little child, I've always taken my potato chips and put them inside my tuna salad sandwich. The crunch factor was awesome and it just made the two separate items taste so good together. Oh sure, lots of folks add a crunch factor to their salads with chopped up bell peppers, onions or celery, but they can't beat good old fashioned potato chips.

Then there is the grilled cheese sandwich which can be just plain cheese or include any numbers of taste additives such as bacon, ham, or dare I say it....tuna salad. On a diner menu, you would see this item listed as a tuna melt, but who are we kidding, it's a grilled cheese sandwich with tuna salad added in. Simple comfort food goodness! Now a typical side for a grilled cheese is tomato soup, but macaroni and cheese is very welcomed.

Now the point to all this? How about if we took an old fashioned tuna melt and put the macaroni and cheese inside before grilling it? Have I gone nuts? Well I hope so, and so does my family, since they love this goody from the sandwich realm.

Now for the macaroni and cheese, here's a tip: after cooking it up, place it inside a buttered loaf pan and cool it in the refrigerator for a half hour. It will be easier to make slices that fit into the sandwich itself.

Simply put, have your tuna salad and macaroni and cheese made up before hand. My tuna salad is a mixture of albacore white plus chunk light; two (5 ounce) cans of white to one (5 ounce) light; two tablespoons of mayonnaise, 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper and one tablespoon of diced onion. If you're not in the mood to make a homemade macaroni and cheese, a packaged brand like Velveeta works best, since it has the liquid cheese sauce, not a powdered mix.

If you have a square flat top griddle for the stove top, heat it up on medium-high heat and melt a couple of tablespoons of butter on it. While that's heating up, take 4 slices of bread and generously butter one side of each slice. Place them butter side down on the griddle; place a slice of American or cheddar cheese on each slice.

Wait one minute before placing a slice (about one inch thick) of macaroni and cheese on one slice of bread, and a half cup of tuna salad spread out on the opposite slice. When you start to hear sizzling in the pan, time to put the sandwiches together.

With a wide spatula, quickly and gently lift up the macaroni and cheese side of the sandwich onto the tuna side. Use a spatula to press the sandwiches down lightly; you want to make a seal with the cheese, but not squeeze out the insides. Wait 30 seconds and flip the sandwiches over; wait another 30 seconds and remove to a plate. Cut and enjoy!

Mary Cokenour