Monday, October 29, 2012

Squash the Holidays.

Halloween is just around the corner and jack o'lanterns are being carved from large, round orange pumpkins. For Thanksgiving, spiced pumpkin pies are being anticipated; and the best pumpkin meat for those come from crookneck pumpkins. Did you know there is a winter squash that is in the same family as zucchini and yellow squash? It's the acorn squash which gets its name, not only, from the acorn shape, but from the nutty flavor of the flesh inside.

Acorn squash (Cucurbita Pepo) is low in calories, fats and carbs, since it contains no simple sugars; it is high in fiber and digests easily. A single servings contains vitamins A, C and B6; also thiamin, folate, pantothenic acid, manganese, magnesium and potassium. The squash itself can be cooked by baking, steaming or microwaving; it can be eaten right out of its shell or stuffed, pureed for soup, added to mashed potatoes, or frozen for later use. If you were thinking that butternut squash was the only versatile one, aren't you surprised now?

Like butternut squash, one of the typical ways to make acorn squash is by baking it in the oven and then coating the flesh with a butter and brown sugar mixture. As a reader of this food blog, you know by now that I do not do the typical. Oh, I did bake it in the oven, but then stuffed it where it could be eaten as a meal in itself, or as a side dish. Vegetarians would be happy with this dish, and while I add Romano cheese to it, it would be there choice depending on how strict a regime they follow.

Baked Stuffed Acorn Squash


2 large or 3 small acorn squash
2 Tbsp plus 4 tsps olive oil
¼ each diced onion and red bell pepper
1 Tbsp minced garlic 4 cups wilted and chopped spinach, kale or broccoli rabe leaves, stems removed
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp Italian seasoning mix
4 tsps shredded Romano cheese


Preheat oven to 350F; line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Rinse squash in water and pat dry; cut in half and scoop out seeds and stringy pulp with a spoon. Place on baking sheet cut side down; bake for 30 minutes.

While squash is baking, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet, over medium-high heat; sauté’ onion and bell pepper for 3 minutes. Add in garlic, let cook for another minute before adding the leaves, salt and Italian seasoning. Mix thoroughly and let cook for 5 minutes before removing from heat; keep warm.

After 30 minutes, remove baking sheet from oven, turn over the squash halves and place together to help hold each other upright.
Drizzle a teaspoon of oil and sprinkle a teaspoon of cheese inside each half.

Stuff with the leaf mixture; return to oven and bake for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6 depending on size used.

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cooking Up Wild Game, Asian Style.

Depending on the area you live in, chances are it is deer and elk hunting season. Responsible hunters get their licenses, only kill what they need, or donate any excess to food banks. I understand the need for hunting, not only that they are a food source for humans; but lessening the numbers gives herds a greater chance to survive due to the depleted number of natural predators. No, no, you won't see me with a membership card from PETA, or eating tofu for Thanksgiving. Oh, and people who kill animals just for a trophy such as hides or antlers; those aren't real hunters, they're scavengers; simple as that.

Here in Monticello, Utah, we have an abundance of deer and elk; what I don't understand is why it is not offered on any restaurant menus?  Tourists alone would look forward to purchasing fine meals of venison steak marinated in red wine; or elk stew simmered with root vegetables.  There is a meat processing place right in town; and if the health department approves Wagyu beef shipped in from other states; then why not local meat sources?  Well here's a hint to the local Chamber of Commerce, since they seem to be finally interested in getting new businesses into this area, and also bring in more tourist funds.

Now searching throughout this food blog, you'll notice many a recipe for deer (venison) or elk that goes outside of the typical grilling and barbecuing boxes.  I don't see any reason why this type of meat can't be cooked up in the same methods that a piece of cow beef can.  The gamey taste?  Yes, deer has a gamier flavor than elk or beef, but marinating can ease up that issue for you.

While today's recipe used elk steak cut into strips, it can also use deer meat, since either meat will be marinated for one hour in soy sauce.  What about the health risks for wild game?  If it has been processed at a responsible and reliable meat processing plant, that concentrates on wild game, your worries should be slim to none.  It's about the same chances as buying beef, pork or chicken at the supermarket.

Now lets get cooking with that lovely wild game.  Since this is an Asian style stir fry, you might not be able to find some of the vegetable items in the produce department; frozen will work fine.  Make sure to defrost the vegetables and dry out most of the water; otherwise it will dilute your sauces.  Also, the wonderful thing about stir frying is that a little oil goes a long way in your cooking.

Wild Game Stir Fry
2 lbs deer or elk steak or roast, cut into 1/4 inch strips
1 cup soy sauce, divided in half
4 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp each minced garlic and ginger
2 cups chopped broccoli
1 cup each  straw mushrooms, bean sprouts, baby corn and sliced bamboo shoots
1/4 cup each diced red bell pepper and onion
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
After slicing the meat up into strips, place in large bowl, mix with a half cup of the soy sauce; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in Wok or large skillet over medium-high heat; stir fry meat until browned on all sides; remove.  Add in remaining oil, garlic and ginger; stir fry for 1 minute to allow the garlic and ginger to bloom.  Now add in all the vegetable items and stir fry for 5 minutes.

Return meat to Wok or skillet; add in sesame oil and hoisin sauce; mix and stir fry for additional 5 minutes.  Serve as is, or with rice or noodles.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Chicken in Every Pot.

Tis the season! Tis the cold and flu season that is, and while flu shots are available at doctor offices and pharmacies, not so for colds. What to do to battle a cold; why chicken soup of course! Chicken soup is comfort food and a folklore cure for whatever ails you. In 2007, the University of Nebraska analyzed research studies to find that chicken soup's medicinal properties were "inconclusive". You ask anyone who doesn't feel well, depressed, tired or just all around blah; they'll tell you to take all the research and shove it where the sun don't shine.

Here in Monticello, Utah the weather has finally taken a turn towards the cold; several times it has gotten very windy and darkly clouded over and snow was anticipated. Then my son calls me up one day and says, "Mom, I don't feel well, you have anything I could eat?" Regretfully I had no chicken soup made, but he said that my Paella made him feel so much better; he did a three hour workout at the local gym. Well of course it would, it had chicken in it!  Anyway, I took no further chances and decided to make soup for him; some for my friend Heidi whose allergies were acting up due to the wood burning stoves, and freeze some in case it was needed at a later time.

Now when making soup, there is the quick method, like with my Chicken Tortellini Soup which uses mostly canned and frozen items. Then there is the slower method using freshly made stock, freshly diced vegetables and chicken breasts which are sauteed with seasonings. With this blog post, we're going with the slower method of making chicken soup.

The stock I used was a mixture of turkey and chicken stocks that I had made with the carcasses of previously roasted birds.  Granted, the stock was then frozen after being prepared, but it was still freshly made in my kitchen and by my own hands; not some food factory machine.  I knew exactly was in that stock and it was a clear stock, not cloudy because of preservatives added in.  When making your stock, besides the bird carcass, you'll be adding in the "holy trinity" of cooking: carrots, celery and onion.  With the onion, leave the skin on if you want a more golden color to your stock; it will all be strained later on, so no need to worry about onion skin in your stock.  I also add salt, ground black pepper and cloves of garlic for aroma and taste; so when making soup later on, be careful adding more of these ingredients.  Taste!!!  You can always add, but you can't take away if you add too much before tasting.

The pasta I used for the soup was old fashioned, homestyle egg noodles.  They are longer and thicker than the curvy egg noodles used for a side dish to stroganoffs or stews.  The noodles plump up and elongate once they are ready to eat.

Now this recipe is a bit of work, but so definitely worth it; now lets get to it.

Chicken Noodle Soup

4 qts of turkey, chicken or combination of both stocks
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup diced red bell pepper
5 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves; trim off fat
pinch of salt and ground black pepper
1 tsp crushed, dried thyme leaves
12 to 16 oz homestyle egg noodles (dependent on how much noodles you like in your soup)


Add the stock, onion, carrots, celery and bell pepper to a tall stock pot; set on medium heat to begin simmering.

In a large pan, add the chicken, cover with water and set on medium-high heat.  Let cook for 10 minutes, any fat will foam at the top; rinse off chicken and cut into 1 inch pieces.  In a large skillet, medium-high heat, saute' the chicken pieces until no pink is showing.  Sprinkle the salt, black pepper and thyme leaves during the cooking; mix well.

Add the chicken, and any juices in the skillet, to the stock pot.  Turn the heat up to high and bring the soup to a boil.  Add the egg noodles; they will be ready once they plump up and double in length; about 15 to 20 minutes.  Turn off heat and serve in bowls.

Makes 12 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Paella, the Party in the Pot.

Originating in Valencia, on the eastern coast of Spain, Paella can indeed be considered a party in a pot; everything and anything can be invited into this dish. Recipes from olden times list rabbit, chicken, snails and beans; it was the Arabic influence which introduced rice and spices, like saffron, into the party mix. As more and more outside influences entered Spain, the recipes for Paella became varied.

When making Paella, the most important element is the rice; Spanish rice is perfect, but not available everywhere. A short grain rice is the best substitute, like Arborio rice which is used in Risotto making. The Spanish or short grain rice absorb large amounts of liquid, but does not become mushy; on the contrary, it becomes plump and tender. The liquid used is also an important factor as it, not only cooks the rice, but adds flavor to the entire dish. Fish stock is the number one liquid used and usually freshly made; chicken stock is second, especially in regions where seafood is not plentiful or readily available. Depending on the recipe used, sometimes the pan is left on the burner long enough for the bottom layer of rice to toast before serving.

Adding some heat to the dish can be achieved two ways, using chile peppers or, as a meat component, a spicy sausage such as Chorizo. If using sausage, be careful of the seasonings that might be in the meat mixture to make sure it doesn't clash with the overall dish. Saffron, the stigmas of the Saffron Crocus flower, gives food a yellow-orange coloring; the taste is similar to a grassy honey. Just a pinch goes a long way and good thing too as this spice is expensive due to limited availability.

When using seafood in your Paella, stick to species that will cook well together time wise, and hold up well in structure, not fall apart. Shrimp, scallop, squid, octopus and firm white flesh fish such as cod or halibut are examples. Clams, mussels and oysters are also perfect for a seafood or varied Paella. How many of these elements you incorporate into your recipe is up to you. I wanted a simplified version, so used only three proteins; shrimp, scallops and chicken. I only used 12 ounces of each; always try to use equal amounts of the proteins and adjust accordingly to accommodate the size of your pan. While I used a short grained rice, I made the mistake of not checking the rice to liquid ratio on the package; some have a one to two ratio, some have a one to three ratio.  It was slightly soupy, but still delicious; the extra liquid did absorb well when leftovers were reheated the next day.

A Paella pan looks similar to a giant Wok, but with lower sides and a larger, flat base to sit on the fire. Like the Wok, it distributes the heat evenly to ensure proper cooking of all ingredients without having to worry about overcooking or burning. I used my Calphalon Everyday Pan to make my Paella. With all the ingredients I managed to put into the pan, it did not boil over.

Basically, this type of dish is great for a get-together and ensures that everyone will get a little something of everything that's put into it.  The simplicity or difficulty is entirely up to the recipe that you follow.  Try it and enjoy!


3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms
12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" pieces
2 cups Spanish or short grain rice
Fish or chicken stock (check rice package listing for correct amount, plus one cup to accommodate other ingredients)
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
pinch of saffron
12 ounces extra large shrimp
12 ounces sea scallops
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 cup thinly sliced colored bell peppers (do not use green bell peppers)
1 cup diced tomatoes


On medium-high heat, saute' together oil, onion, mushrooms and chicken until chicken begins to brown; mix in rice.  Add stock, garlic, paprika, black pepper, red pepper flakes and saffron; mix together.  Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes; adjust heat if necessary to keep at a simmer, not a boil; stir occasionally.

Mix and immerse the shrimp and scallops into the rice mixture; sprinkle peas and bell peppers evenly over top and press down slightly into rice mixture.  Cook for 10 minutes; add the tomatoes, mix and cook another 5 minutes.  Turn off heat and let pan rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Monday, October 22, 2012

Condoms for Dessert

I couldn't help myself, but every time I see the commercial for Magnum Ice Cream bars I think, condoms!?!  Magnum just happens to be a brand for condoms, so I have to wonder if the company who made the ice cream used that fact to attract attention to the ice cream.  Another factor that makes me think condom is, well it's the reservoir tip on the ice cream bar which is similar to; I believe you're getting my point (no pun intended).

Anyway, lets get on to this product review:

Magnum Ice Cream Bars


They are available in a number of flavored coatings such as milk and dark chocolate, almond, caramel; and they just introduced white chocolate and mint which I'm truly looking forward to trying out. All have vanilla bean ice cream except for the double chocolate which is a chocolate coating over chocolate ice cream. The coating over the ice cream is a thin, hardened layer of rich Belgian chocolate and oh so decadent. The ice cream is so smooth and creamy, if it alone came in containers, I'd be a loyal purchaser.  The company has introduced Classic and Almond smaller versions called "Mini Pleasures"; a two bite clone of the larger bars.  Personally, two bites might be a simple pleasure, but I want the explosive orgasm of the large bar. 

I've tried Dove Bars, the new Cadbury Bars and various other brands, the Magnum is, by far, the most outstanding.  My favorite way of eating this bar is to first bite off the tip; a little chocolate, a little ice cream for the tease.  I nibble the coating off the sides before gobbling the front and back sides.  Then I lick that luscious ice cream like a contented cat lapping up thick cream from a bowl.  Now that's pleasure!!!

Any way you eat a Magnum, you'll be one of the happiest people in the world.  Try one today!

Mary Cokenour

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Doing Indian in Native American Lands.

Now before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, let me ease your minds by stating that my title is not even close to being politically incorrect. I live in Utah which is most definitely Native American lands (primarily Ute and Navajo), but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy Indian (and that's from India) cuisine. Fooled you good, didn't I? We're here to enjoy cooking, so lets leave politics to others, shall we?

Now if you're familiar with Indian cuisine, you've probably heard of or tried curry, tandoori and masala.  Curry is a basic term for dishes originating not just in India or Pakistan, but Thailand, Japan and most Asian cultures. It is a collection of spices, herbs, dried and/or fresh chile peppers which gives a dish its particular taste and heat. Often the curry plant will be confused as the main ingredient for curry, but this is not so. The plant resembles lavender in structure, but smells and tastes similar to sage. I highly recommend it for jazzing up chicken salad.

Tandoori is actually a method of cooking using a clay, cylindrical oven called a tandoor. A most popular dish is Tandoori Chicken, an Indian and Pakistani dish consisting of roasted chicken prepared with yogurt and spices.
Masala is a combination of ground spices; garam refers to the intensity of the spices, not to the heat of the chile peppers. It is usually added last in the cooking process to keep it from getting bitter if cooked too long. Don't confuse Masala with Marsala which is a wine, or you'll be in for a big surprise if you do not enjoy spicy food.

Today's blog post will be dealing with Masala; now while you can go online and purchase packaged Masala, you can also make your own at home.  If stored in an airtight container, the powder can last up to four months. While you can use a mortar and pestle or a blender to ground up the spices, I recommend a typical electric coffee grinder. I have two, one for grinding up my coffee beans and one for grinding up herbs and spices. I labeled the latter one, so my coffee doesn't accidentally taste like my herbal pantry. To make Masala, you are using whole seeds and pods which will be toasted before grinding; the toasting will intensify the flavors.

Basic Garam Masala


2 cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup cumin seeds
2/3 cup coriander seeds
2 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 Tbsp whole cloves
2 small dried chile peppers (stems removed, but not the seeds)
1/2 tsp whole nutmeg, broken into small pieces
1/4 tsp ground mace


In a medium skillet, over medium-high heat, add all the ingredients except the nutmeg and mace; stir often until the cumin seeds darken to a deep brown. Do not worry if the ingredients crackle or smoke a little; it's all part of the toasting process.

Remove to a bowl to let cool before grinding. Once cool, add the nutmeg and mace to the bowl; work in batches to add the ingredients to the grinder and grind to a fine powder.  Store in an airtight container for up to 4 months.   Makes 1 1/2 cups.

The above is a photo of Chicken Tikka Masala; it's basically a two part process where you would make Chicken Tikka, then make a sauce using the Masala mixture. Feeling scared? Just think of it as making a basic meal, for example Chicken Fried Steak and then making the gravy for it. Same idea, just another country's cuisine.

Chicken Tikka


1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp chili powder (ancho or cayenne)
1 tsp each ground turmeric, cardamon and fennel
1/4 tsp Garam Masala
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into cubes
2 Tbsp butter, melted


Mix all ingredients, except chicken and butter in a medium bowl and transfer to large plastic sealable bag.  Add the chicken and make sure to coat completely; seal the bag and refrigerate 8 to 12 hours; the longer the better.

Preheat broiler; line a large jelly roll pan with parchment paper and brush the paper with the melted butter.  Remove the chicken from the bag and discard any excess marinade; spread the chicken out on the buttered paper.  Place under the broiler for 4 minutes; turn chicken, broil again; remove to platter.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: this dish can be served with jasmine or basmati rice as is.

Chicken Tikka Masala


3 Tbsp canola oil
1 medium red onion, diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp Garam Masala
3/4 cup heavy cream


In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, saute onion until softened and edges begin to brown; add the tomatoes and cook for 6 minutes.  Add in garam masala and heavy cream; cook for 2 minutes before adding in the prepared Chicken Tikka.  Coat all chicken in sauce, let cook additional 3 minutes.  Serve over rice.

There you have it, Indian cuisine that will give you the bravery to explore more.

Mary Cokenour

Friday, October 19, 2012

Box Meal Made Fresh.

Hamburger, Chicken and Tuna Helpers have been around for a long, long time; and while there seem to be more and more varieties, it just never seems to taste any better. The newest commercial for Hamburger Helper is start with the basic ingredients in the box and add your own to make it special. I don't know, but wouldn't making the entire meal from scratch be more beneficial? Seriously, powdered sauces and cheeses are just not appetizing; and anytime I did use one of the products, I ended up "doctoring it up" anyway.

Then there is the newest product on the market by Velveeta; Cheesy Skillets. Now I have to admit that Velveeta, while might be a doubtful real cheese product, has its uses. I did try one of the new skillet meals and was very disappointed, mostly because the packet of "liquid gold" barely covered the pasta and meat in the skillet. Then there is the commerical using a blacksmith seducing a woman with his cast iron skillet and "liquid gold". Holy moly, but that guy creeps me out so much, I'd run before trying out the product.

Meat, cheese, sauce, and veggies mixed all together to make a meal; not a new concept, but manufacturers in the food industry have lowered the standard just way too much. I'm going to post for you my basic recipe for a creamy, cheesy meal that you can have as is; or doctor it up anyway you want. You'll know exactly what the ingredients are because you're putting them in your skillet; no mysteries out of a box. My recipe is for the crock pot, but can easily be made in a skillet by cooking the pasta at the same time you're browning your meat; then adding it all together.

I've also cut alot of oil and fat out of the meal by using very, very lean ground beef; and Velveeta made with 2% milk instead of whole milk. Why not real cheese like cheddar? You would have to melt the cheddar with milk to make sure it became smooth, not clumpy; and real cheese exudes alot of oil itself and who wants to see that floating at the top of your sauce? Like any of my recipes, you can tweak it to your liking, so if you want to use cheddar instead of Velveeta, go for it! Oh, and don't be worried that the meal looks too soupy after it's done; as it rests, the pasta will absorb liquid. Also, any leftovers will heat up easily and still be creamy; no spritzing water on it before reheating in the microwave.

Creamy Cheeseburger Macaroni


2 lbs lean (93% or more) ground beef
1 large onion, diced
1 cup diced mushrooms
4 cups uncooked pasta (small shells, rotini or large elbows)
2 cans (10.5 oz) cream of mushroom soup
1 ¼ cups milk 1 (32 oz) package Velveeta cheese, cut into ½ inch slices

Optional: 1 cup diced bell peppers or ½ cup diced hot peppers (either sautéed with the beef), 1 cup diced tomatoes (add in last ½ hour of cooking); substitute ground turkey for beef.


In a large skillet, medium-high heat, begin browning the ground beef, onion and mushrooms together until no more pink shows in the beef; drain what little oil there is. Place inside a 6 quart crock pot which has been coated with nonstick cooking spray.

Spread the pasta over the meat mixture. In a medium bowl, stir together the soup and milk; pour evenly over the shells. Layer the Velveeta slices on the top; cover and cook on low for 4 hours. It will look soupy at first, but begin to firm up as it rests; however it will remain creamy.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Goodbye Childhood Favorite; Hello Homemade.

When I was younger and able to cook for myself, I would occasionally make a meal from a canned product. Now a popular item sold in the stores was Franco-American Spaghetti-O's. It was one of the most vile tasting things I'd ever eaten and avoided it whenever I saw it sitting on a pantry shelf. Sure it was cheap, probably why my mother bought it, but it was so disgusting that it didn't get eaten by me, that's for sure. However, I loved, just loved, Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee Spaghetti and Meatballs, or the Beef Ravioli; the sauce was so tangy and tasty and I couldn't get enough of those meatballs.
Throughout my growing up and adult years, I'd depend on the Chef for a quick meal now and then. The invention of the microwave made heating and eating quicker and more convenient. Heck, I even fed it to my son as he progressed from childhood into teenage years. Wow, has my opinion changed about the Chef recently though. Out of sheer nostalgia I opened up a can of ravioli, heated it up and started to eat. Same tangy sauce, but not so tasty now; same mystery meat filling, same mushy pasta; why the heck was I eating this garbage!?! So I threw it away, but later on my stomach gave me its opinion of the portion I had was not a happy camper, to say the least.

The label on the can says "No Preservatives", but lets take a look at what the ingredient listing is: Water, Tomatoes (Water, Tomato Puree), Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and Folic Acid), Beef, Crackermeal (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and Folic Acid), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Wheat Flour, Soybean Oil, Salt, Carrots, Textured Soy Protein Concentrate (Soy Protein Concentrate and Caramel Coloring), Onions, Flavorings, Caramel Coloring, Potassium Chloride, Oleoresin Paprika, Citric Acid, Maltodextrin, Enzyme Modified Cheese [Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), and Annatto (Color)] and Disodium Guanylate and Disodium Inosinate. CONTAINS: MILK, SOY, WHEAT

I can make out what most of the items are, but what are "Flavorings"? Why does it need "Caramel Coloring"; is that for the beef filling or the sauce or what??? "Potassium Chloride" is a substitute for salt, so why is salt already on the ingredient list? "Oleoresin Paprika" is a food colorant, so is it used to make the tomato sauce, which is red, redder? I'm not going to keep asking questions about all the other chemical compounds listed as I believe you're understanding my point here; or I hope you are.

Instead of purchasing cheap canned meals just for convenience sake, why not purchase fresh, or as fresh as you can find, ingredients and make your own meals?  I've already posted numerous pasta sauce recipes, boiling pasta hardly takes any time, and the convenience of storage containers which go from freezer to microwave to table is abundant. You're worth the time and effort, and so are family members who you're cooking for. Budget conscious? Who isn't these days, but everyone is also becoming more health conscious. Sit down with paper, pen and calculator and do the lists, do the math and see if cooking, portioning out and eating your own convenience made meals doesn't do your budget, you and your family better.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Help Serve a Southern Cake.

In 2009, Kathyrn Stockett introduced us to the Southern black maids' view of the 1960's Equal Rights Movement. Even though the book was supposed to be written by a white young lady; "Skeeter" made sure that the maids were the focal point of our understanding. In 2011, the movie version of the book came out; it was a story that made many reminisce about the 1960's era, or introduced itself to those ignorant of that part of American history.

However, this post is not about the book, its meanings or the history behind it; this post is about the cake. Caramel cake to be more precise, which is mentioned time and again by the maids. It was served for special occasions, luncheons or simply as a feel good food. Depending on what recipe you read, the cake itself could be yellow or white; dense, or as airy as angel food cake; even the frosting differed from thick and smooth to thin and running down the sides of the cake.

Well I'm going to give you my simplified version of this most sinful cake and I hope it make you feel good, no matter why.

Caramel Cake

For the Cake

8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350F; coat 2 (8 inch) round cake pans with baking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper. Lightly spray the paper with the baking spray; if you cannot find baking spray, use regular cooking spray and lightly dust with flour.

In a large bowl, at medium speed, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy; beat the eggs in one at a time. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add half the flour and half the milk into the large bowl and beat on low speed until just combined; add the remaining flour, milk and vanilla extract; blend well.

Pour even amounts into each cake pan; bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick comes cleanly out of the centers of the cakes. Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes before removing; peel off parchment paper from bottoms and cool cakes on wire rack while making the frosting.

For the Frosting

1 cup dark brown sugar
6 Tbsp butter
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt 2 (14 oz) cans sweetened condensed milk


In a large saucepan, medium heat, combine all frosting ingredients and bring to a boil. Stirring constantly, continue cooking mixture until it thickens.

Assembling the Cake

Place one cake layer on plate and spread 1/3 of the frosting over the top. Place other cake layer on top of first; frost top and sides with remaining frosting.

Options: sprinkle with chopped pecans or peanuts; Heathbar or Skor bits. Makes 16 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Monday, October 15, 2012

Other White Meat Candy

Yes, I'm going to be writing about making a pork product into candy once again. If you thought that it could only be done with Bacon, well you're in for a surprise. Now the candied bacon became a hardened food product that could be eaten as a snack or used as a garnish on a dessert. This recipe I'll be posting today is a pork dish with a sauce as sweet as candy and a perfect enhancement for pork.

"Candied Pork Chops" came to me via my friend Heidi Murphy. She had posted on her Facebook page that she was making the dish, and was kind enough to give me a sample for my own dinner. Yes, I admit it, I ended up licking any excess sauce off my plate; and while it's probably good for rice or noodles, I much prefer mashed potatoes with this dish. Another point is while the recipe calls for pork chops, boneless ribs, roast or tenderloin would work very well also.   Hmmm, I wonder how it would be as a glaze and sauce for barbecued ribs?  Looks like another adventure in the making.  Also, this is a great dish for a potluck meal.

Without much ado, let me introduce you to Heidi Murphy's Candied Pork Chops; it's her recipe and I'm posting it as it was given to me.

Heidi Murphy's Candied Pork Chops
5- 6 bone in pork chops.  Dip in milk then coat with a mixture of flour, season salt, garlic salt, onion powder, and Italian seasoned bread crumbs.

Fry in oil for about 5 min on each side, cooked almost all the way through; drain on paper towels and place into a 9x13 cake pan.

In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups brown sugar, 1 1/2 cup ketchup, and about 2 1/2 cups water.  Use a wire whisk to blend it.  Add more of either ingredient to taste, more sugar for sweeter, more ketchup for a tangier, etc.  When the chops are all done, generously cover them with the sauce mixture and then bake at 375 for about 30 min.

Thanks for the recipe Heidi; it's delicious!

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Creamy, Cheesy, Tomato Goodness.

Apologies to my faithful readers for the long delay in writing up any new recipes or reviews.   For a long while I have put my very stress filled employment ahead of my personal medical needs.  After much thought, I finally left my work environment and put my health first; finally getting one procedure done and another is to follow.  Happily, I am doing well and to those who have given me their best wishes I say, "Thank you!!!".

Now lets get back to cooking up some comfort food!   One of my favorite creamy pasta sauces is Tomato Vodka Cream Sauce, but with a little tweaking, it can become a new sauce altogether. This sauce is also very easy and quick to make, and should be done by the time your pasta or gnocchi are cooked and ready to eat.

Creamy Four Cheese Tomato Sauce


4 cups (32 oz) tomato puree
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
¼ cup each grated Asiago, Romano and Parmesan cheeses
½ cup ricotta cheese
1 tsp each garlic and onion powders
1 tsp Italian herb mixture, dried and crushed
1 lb hot, cooked pasta or gnocchi


In a large pan, on medium-high heat, mix puree and cream together and let cook until small bubbles begin to form around rim. Whisk in and continuing whisking until smooth, the four cheeses. Whisk in the powders and herb mixture; serve over hot pasta or gnocchi.

Makes 4 servings.

I prepared Pasta Prima's Lobster Ravioli and Gnocchi to see how this sauce measured up with both. The experiment was met with much praise from my taste buds, and my husband's as well. So there you go, a sauce that can go on two separate items and will please you as well whomever you're cooking for.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Frozen Beef? Roast It Anyway.

The scenario goes, suddenly in the mood for roast beef sandwiches; oh no!, all you have is a frozen solid roast in the freezer. What to do? Defrost in the microwave? Hate that, as it eventually begins cooking if you don't time it correctly. Defrost in the refrigerator? Then it won't be ready for roasting until want it today! Calm down, you can have that roast beef ready in the same amount of time as if it was defrosted; just as tender and juicy as you like it too. Impossible?
Not if you use heavy duty aluminum foil, or one of those aluminum grill bags; roasting in the foil will help keep the moisture in, while maximizing the heat needed to have the beef cooked to the desired doneness in the correct amount of time. I took a frozen solid, three pound rump roast and seasoned it all around with a mixture of: 1 teaspoon each of onion and garlic powders, 1 teaspoon crushed, dried thyme, 1/2 tsp ground black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt. Placing it inside my aluminum foil pouch, I then surrounded it with an entire tray of ice cubes. Why the ice cubes? To create steam that would not just help the roast defrost properly, but mix with any beef juices that escaped to create an au jus; or a gravy if combined with a cornstarch slurry.

Preheating the oven to 350F; I sealed all the sides tightly to make sure no steam or liquid would leak out. I placed the package on top of a rack inside a roasting pan; again, if there was any leakage of liquid, the pan would catch it. After two hours I placed a food thermometer into the package at its thickest part which was easy to make out through the bump in the foil package. Now be careful when doing this that you don't push it in too far and puncture the bottom; you'll lose that liquid into the pan. At 2 1/2 hours, it was at rare; at 2 3/4 hours it was at medium; we usually enjoy medium-rare, so I was amazed at how it jumped from rare to medium within a 15 minute time period.

Carefully opening the top of the bag with the point of a knife, the steam escaped completely and left me with a fully cooked roast with a crisp seasoned coating; in the same amount of time as if it had been defrosted first. I removed the beef to a cutting board to rest before slicing. Inside the bag was a lovely brown liquid that I could serve over the roast as is, or as I mentioned earlier, make a cornstarch slurry and create a gravy with. Of course I strained the liquid before using it.

The beef was a medium doneness, tender, juicy, wonderfully seasoned; the scent of the garlic and onion was entralling. My sharp knife cut through it like it was butter; and I just couldn't keep a piece from jumping into my mouth now and then.

So don't panic next time you want to make a roast, but it's frozen solid and you're worried over time. Using heavy duty aluminum foil will get you done on time and with the same results.

Mary Cokenour

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tomato Processing Yields Fresh Results

When I saw that Bountiful Baskets was offering the purchase of 20 pound boxes of fresh tomatoes; I jumped on that. My own garden yielded very few tomatoes itself, so if I wanted to have processed tomatoes ready to make homemade pasta sauce or tomato soup, I needed to buy them. Using canned tomatoes is perfectly fine, but fresh tomatoes, well the taste? Canned cannot compare to fresh tomatoes; there is the lack of preservatives for one, and then the overall knowledge that you know exactly what went into your sauce without having to read any labels. Jarred sauce? Oh, you just don't want to get me started on that; basically that is, in football terms, a "hail mary pass" due to desperation or downright laziness.  Making homemade sauce is NOT that hard.

Anyway, this post is geared towards explaining how to process fresh tomatoes for your own present or future usage.  The first method is "fire roasting" where the tomatoes are placed in the oven, or on a grill, and roasted until the skin blackens and blisters.  After peeling the tomatoes, the flesh itself takes on a richer, deeper flavor making it perfect for meat sauces, salsas and other dishes that look for an outstanding tomato flavor.   For the oven, core the tomatoes and place them open side down on an aluminum foil lined tray (jelly roll pan is best).  Preheat the oven to 450 F, place the tray on the center rack and the tomatoes are ready when the skin is blackened and blistered.  This method takes longer than the grill where you would place the whole (uncored) tomatoes on a very hot grill; watching and turning them as they blacken and blister.  Why not remove the core first?  As the tomato is blackening, it is, in essence, also cooking and you don't want the insides to come dripping out into your grill.

The second method is the water bath where the tomatoes are simmered in a large pot of heated water until the skin wrinkles, and then is easily removed; it basically slides off the tomato flesh. After coring the tomatoes, turn them upside down and score an "X" on the bottom.

I own a set of very large stock pots, so I was able to fit 30 tomatoes each into two of the pots, and there was no overcrowding; so yes, when I say large, I mean it. First I filled each halfway up with cold water; placed 30 tomatoes into each and then brought the water up to until there was about two inches of free space from the rim. I turned on the stove top to high heat; after about 10 minutes I took my wire skimmer and moved the bottom tomatoes up, the top ones downward, so they would all cook evenly. It took another ten minutes until the skin was wrinkled enough to come off easily; the water was not boiling, but there were small bubbles all around the sides of the pots. Removing the tomatoes with the skimmer, I immersed them in a large bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

The skin will easily peel off with your fingers; just pinch a corner from the scored section and pull; but if you feel more comfortable using a small knife, then go ahead. The tomatoes will feel cool to the touch from being immersed in the cold water, but don't be fooled; squeeze too hard and your fingertips will get burned from the hot insides.

The first 30 tomatoes fit perfectly inside my six quart crockpot; setting it on low I let the tomatoes cook down for three hours. I then added a can (12 ounces) of tomato paste, one very large red onion (diced), 4 tablespoons of Italian herbal mix, 3 tablespoons of minced garlic; the sauce continued to cook for another five hours.

Turning off the heat and letting the sauce get to room temperature, I used my immersion blender to smooth it out. The taste? Absolutely incredible!!! The freshness of the tomatoes and onions is overwhelming; nothing you'll ever get out of a jar.

The second batch of tomatoes I rough chopped and divided up into 4 cup containers which I placed in my upright freezer for future use. Unfortunately, my home is too small (no basement) to devote an area for food canning and storage. Oh how I miss the basement from my old home back in Pennsylvania, but if anyone is interested in buying my current home, so I can move into another larger one, I won't turn down any reasonable offers.

So, buy up those fresh tomatoes when you can and easily home process them for your own use; you won't regret it and your taste buds will love you for it.

Mary Cokenour