Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Taking a Peek at Spring.

The coming of winter heralded itself at the beginning of December with severe cold temperatures, bitter winds and snow.  As much as warmer temperatures are desired, the snow is helping to replenish our reservoirs with much needed water.  However, at this time of year the Celtic celebration of Imbolc (January 31st to February 2nd), or Brighid's Day, serves to focus on the first inklings of spring.  Now depending on the area, delicate snowdrops will begin to push up from the ground and through mounds of snow, as if to say, "Look at me!".  When I lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the snowdrops planted on either side of my front door usually showed up around March 15th; the Ides of March, and my husband's birthday.  Then there is Valentine's Day, February 14th, which celebrates enduring and endearing love between a couple.  While the notion of this holiday is revered for its focus on love; it certainly does not illicit thoughts of spring.

The recipe I'll be focusing on for this blog post is Primavera which, in Italian, means "season of spring".  While gardens are still in a state of hibernation, the local supermarkets are able to supply us with fresh produce from lands still enjoying warmer temperatures.  So while the snow sits on the lawn, we can be cozy warm in our homes, enjoy a meal of spring like vegetables and dream about the true spring to come.  The recipe I'll post is also geared towards two servings, and can easily become that special meal for Valentine's Day.

Creamy Pasta Primavera


Water for steaming
1 cup green beans, cut into 1” pieces
1 cup shelled peas
½ cup diced red bell pepper
2 tsp Italian seasoning mixture
½ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup diced pancetta (or thick bacon if pancetta not available)
1Tbsp olive oil
¼ cup diced onion
1 tsp minced garlic
½ cup vegetable or chicken stock
¼ cup heavy cream
½ lb cooked cheese, cheese and spinach, or mushroom filled pasta (tortellini, tortellini or mini ravioli)


Fill a large saucepan halfway with water and bring to boil on high heat; insert colander, but do not let it touch the water. Mix together the green beans, peas and bell pepper; steam until vegetables are tender (do NOT overcook). Place in bowl; gently mix in Italian seasoning, black pepper and salt; set aside.

In a large skillet, fry pancetta, on medium-high heat, until crisp and remove to paper towel to drain. Add in olive oil and sauté onion till tender. Add garlic, stock and cream; bring mixture to a boil; whisk until mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat; mix in cooked pasta, steamed vegetables, crisp pancetta and serve.

Note: grilled chicken or shrimp can be added to this dish

Makes 2 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Move over Big Mac, here comes the Big Mother.

Now if you're a fan of my food blog, you've seen me write, on occasion, about where I now live which is Monticello, Utah.  If you're new to my writings, put Monticello into the Search box on my blog and bring up the previous posts about it.   Since moving here in May 2009, I have been one of the residents pushing for development whether by writing letters to appear in the San Juan Record, or here in my food blog.  I'm not in a minority for development, but it seems when it comes to actual decision making, our voices keep getting ignored.  The point of all this is that Monticello, Utah's all time residents want to keep the town in the 1840's when it was founded.  However, they also want the sales tax coffers to be full and pay for all their needs without having businesses that locals and tourists can take advantage of.  The gist of it is, you cannot have it both ways, and if there is anyone reading this that wants to bring development to Monticello, Utah, especially a big business that will attract tourists......COME ON IN!!!!!!

During the spring, it came to my attention via three reliable sources that McDonald's would be setting up shop here.  Not even Blanding, only a 30 minute drive south towards Monument Valley, has a fast food business such as McDonald's.  The nearest is either in Moab, Utah or Cortez, Colorado; either is an hour drive from Monticello.  So when anyone here sees a commercial for a Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, or even a Happy Meal for their kids; it's not going to be purchased unless they want to take that one hour drive.  Such was my mood yesterday, saw the commercial, wanted the Big Mac, wasn't going to drive an hour to get one.  Did I sit and sulk?  Heck no, I made my own and call it the Big Mother; there's another version for the husband, the Big Daddy.  So enough about Monticello and its need for coming into the 21st century, lets get to cooking up some burgers.

The Big Mother Burger
2 quarter pound all beef burgers (90% lean)
Seasoning Mixture: dash each of ground black pepper, salt and onion powder on each side of the burgers.
3 slices English Muffin bread
1/4 cup chopped lettuce
3 slices American cheese
2 thin slices tomato
4 pickle ovals (Claussen brand is best)
1/4 diced onions
Special Sauce: 1/4 cup each ketchup and mayonnaise, 1 Tbsp. each yellow mustard and sweet pickle relish, 2 dashes hot sauce, 1 tsp. minced roasted red bell peppers
Normally I would grill the burgers, but it being 10 degrees outside made me say, "oh hell no!".  I don't like frying burgers for the most part, all that grease is a turn off; so I put the Seasoning Mixture on each side of the burgers, and bake mine in the oven at 400F until medium-well.  Then I put on the broiler to high and give them a little cookoff for one minute on each side.  Again I'm using the English Muffin bread; the toasted texture gives crunch without allowing the bread to fall apart like those untoasted sesame seed buns do.  Could I toast up a sesame seed bun?  Sure, but once moisture from vegetables and condiments get onto them, they seem to get mushy and fall apart anyway.  The thin slices of tomato will give you that nice, sweet tomato flavor, but not be so thick that it's moving all over your sandwich.  Don't you just hate when it does that!?!
So the burgers are cooked and the bread is toasted; lets put the Big Mother together.  Oh, you will need a thin, wooden skewer to hold it all together once it's built; it is four inches high!
This will basically be a building plan.
Slice of toasted bread.
Slice of cheese.
Generous spread of Special Sauce.
2 pickels.
Half the diced onions.
Slice of toasted bread.
Slice of cheese.
Remaining pickels.
Remaining onions.
Tomato slices.
Slice of cheese.
Final slice of toasted bread with generous spread of Special Sauce.
Skewer down the center to hold it all together. 

Pressing down slightly, the sandwich is still three inches high; and I cut it in half to make for easier eating.  Even then, I was only able to eat half of a half before I started to feel full.  To say it's a mouthful is an understatement indeed.

The Big Daddy Burger for my husband is basically the same kind of sandwich as The Big Mother, but with a few substitutions.  Instead of a Special Sauce, I use a zesty barbecue sauce; instead of diced onion, I use sauteed onions and mushrooms; and here's the kicker, I add 3 slices of crispy, thick cut bacon on top of each burger patty (that's 6 in total!) and 2 slices of my brown sugar/maple glazed baked ham.  Does my husband adore me?  Oh yes he does!!!
Craving a Big Mac, the heck with that...make yourself a Big Mother or a Big Daddy.  Enjoy!
Mary Cokenour

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Grilled Cheese Upgraded?

Have you seen the new commercials for Sonic Drive-In for their Ultimate Grilled Cheese sandwiches?  One of the men in the car states, "grilled cheese upgraded" while holding a sandwich that has the ingredients for a Philly Cheesesteak.  The other has the "BLT" which stands for bacon, lettuce and tomato, if you didn't know.  So what exactly is the upgrade?  Well instead of using a sub roll for the Philly and regular sliced bread for the BLT, Sonic uses Texas Toast style bread.  Texas Toast  is very thick slices of bread that are normally used for making garlic toast or french toast.  I'm sure its used to make sandwiches also, but the other uses seem to be the more popular.

So again I ask, "What exactly is the upgrade?"  Looking at the photos, the bread makes the sandwich look thick, but you don't see much in between those slices; maybe a bit of lettuce, perhaps a hint of tomato or peppers, and is that brownish color the meat?  Maybe the BLT is upgraded because cheese is now incorporated, but you cannot upgrade a Philly Cheesesteak by changing from a roll to sliced bread.  That seems more like an insulting downgrade in my opinion.

The Grilled Cheese sandwich is an ultimate comfort food of its own. No matter what your age, toasted bread with gooey cheese brings out warm childhood memories, especially when it is nasty weather outside. When you add another ingredient inbetween the gooey cheese, isn't that an "upgrade" in itself? Consider the Tuna Melt or the Patty Melt; both made the same way as a grilled cheese, but with the inclusion of either tuna or a hamburger patty. What about when tomato and bacon are added to a grilled cheese? Just add lettuce and there's your BLT right there.

Well I'm going to give you my "upgraded" version of a Grilled Cheese BLT; packed with filling, messy, gooey and oh so, disgustingly good.   While you can use any bread you like, I'm going to be using English Muffin bread; same airiness as the muffins to get those nooks and crannies, just in a sliced bread form.  This bread looks like typical white bread, but with a firmer texture. 

I'm also going to use mayonnaise as my frying oil, instead of traditional butter for a grilled cheese.  If you're a fan of flavored mayonnaise such as avocado, wasabi, chipotle or sweet chili, spread those on the insides of your bread slices; use regular mayonnaise for the frying.

Time to make the sandwich...

Besides the mayonnaise, you'll need four slices of thick cut bacon (or double up with thin bacon), slices of tomato (2 to 3 depending on the size of the tomato) and Romaine lettuce (try to use the  stems inside the head, they're crispier).

Slather mayonnaise on both sides of each slice of bread, don't be cheap about it!  Heat your stovetop griddle or skillet on medium-high heat, place the slices down onto it and put one slice of American cheese, then cover that with a slice of Cheddar.  The American will melt into ooey-gooeyness while the Cheddar will form an enclosure, or seal, to keep the cheese from oozing out. 

When you see the Cheddar start to form its enclosure, place the bacon, then the tomato on one slice of bread. Here's the tricky part, the mayonnaise browns the bread much faster than regular butter, so check the slice with just the cheese on it. If it is browned the way you like it, put the lettuce on top of the tomato, top with the other cheesy slice of bread, press down to help seal it together and remove to a plate.

...and there my readers is my version of the upgraded Grilled Cheese sandwich, or the Grilled Cheese BLT. It is messy; you will get it all over your face and fingers; you will laugh; you will enjoy yourself.   Then again, enjoying your food, isn't that what you should be doing anyway?

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Country Fried Steak Ain't No Chicken..

My first introduction to Country Fried Steak, also called Chicken Fried Steak, was back in the 1980's.  A new restaurant had opened up in Farmingdale, New York which served "Southern" food; after all these years, I don't remember the name of it.  It was a thin piece of steak which had been beaten into tenderized submission; deep fried with a bread coating, served with a white gravy, mashed potatoes and corn.  Personally, I thought the white gravy was pretty bland, so when I started to experiment with making this dish on my own, you know I was intent on jazzing it up.

Now when I first visited Utah in 2006, that's when I learned about black pepper gravy; still the white gravy, but packed with pieces of cracked, black peppercorns.  This was considered the traditional Southwestern version of Country Fried Steak. My hubby Roy loved it this way which was understandable, since he grew up in the Southwest, but I wasn't too much of a fan of all those peppercorns. 

Then there was another way I learned watching one of Paula Deen's many shows on Food Network; prepare the meat the same way, but finish cooking it off in a rich, brown gravy packed with onions.  I love variety in preparing food, so knowing there were different types of Country Fried Steak was a boon for me.  Oh, the term "Chicken Fried Steak" just refers to the method of cooking the thin steak the same way you would a chicken cutlet.

Now what exactly is "cubed" steak? The term "cubed" refers to the indentations left in the meat after the tenderizing process. Originally the meat used was top sirloin and served in finer restaurants; however, the need to tenderize cheaper cuts of meat made the term "cubed" more generalized. Nowadays you'll find cubed steak in the local supermarket and it can be made from chuck, round or flank steaks. The steaks are cut thin, about a half inch, then pounded out to a quarter of an inch thickness.

There is a variety of ways to prep the cubed steaks for frying: flour, dried bread crumbs, egg wash, milk wash, seasoning the meat, seasoning the flour or bread crumbs. It is up to the cook how to prepare the dish overall, whether their own methods or following the old family recipe. For me, it depends on my mood; what you see in the side photo is the cubed steaks preseasoned on both sides(one tablespoon each of salt, ground black pepper and garlic powder, plus a half teaspoon of cayenne powder). I lightly coat with flour, dip in an eggwash and then coat with the flour once again. If I use dried bread crumbs, I will use preseasoned as it doesn't lose its flavoring during the frying process like seasoned flour typically does.  My described flour method ensures that the seasoning stays on the meat rather than be leeched out into the oil during frying.

I love using peanut oil for frying. Yes, it tends to be more expensive than canola, vegetable or corn oils, but whatever is fried in it is extremely less greasy and the taste is clean; you taste the food, not the oil. I use a deep 12 inch skillet for frying, fill it about 1 and 1/2 inches with oil and use medium-high heat. You'll know the oil is ready when you drip a couple of drops of cold water into the oil; it will sizzle. If it's popping and splattering already, you let it heat up too long, so turn down the heat to medium and let it come down to the sizzle stage. Turn the heat back up to medium-high and put your first two steaks in. The dredged cube steaks will be large, so only frying two at a time will prevent crowding, and allow even browning.  If you let the oil remain at that "too hot" stage, the meat would have browned very quickly, but be still raw inside. Once browned, remove the steaks to a plate covered with paper towels to let them drain any excess oil.

Lets talk gravy. Now while the typical gravy you might see in restaurants or even make yourself is the white gravy, or the pepper gravy; I jazz it up with some browned, ground sausage. A mildly seasoned, loose breakfast sausage works great.

Black Pepper Sausage Gravy


1/4 cup mildly seasoned ground sausage
1/2 cup flour
4 cups half n' half
2 Tbsp cracked black peppercorns
pinch of salt


In a large saucepan, brown the sausage making sure to break up the meat into tiny pieces. Stir in the flour thoroughly and cook until golden brown. Gradually stir in the half n' half, whisking constantly until thickened. Stir in cracked peppercorns and pinch of salt. Pour over steaks and serve.

This will make enough to cover six Country Fried Steaks, and with excess to spoon over mashed potatoes if desired.

The next gravy I call "Onion Red Gravy"; I use regular white or yellow onions, but instead of a brown only gravy, I make it sing with a little tomato sauce.

Onion Red Gravy


3 Tbsp oil (oil from the skillet the steaks were browned in)
1 large onion cut into 1/4 inch slivers
3 Tbsp flour
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 oz) can beef broth
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp minced garlic


In a deep, 12 inch skillet, heat the oil on medium-high and saute' the onions until they just begin to soften.  Stir in the flour thoroughly before adding the tomato sauce, beef broth, black pepper and garlic.  Bring to a boil and immerse the steaks into the liquid.  Turn the heat down to low, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes before serving.

This will be enough to simmer 6 Country Fried Steaks in.

So there you have it, Country Fried Steaks and two very different gravies to serve them with.  Enjoy!

Mary Cokenour

Monday, January 21, 2013

Farmland Oven Perfect Isn't.

Farmland Oven Perfect
Fresh Pork Tenderloin


Farmland's newest product allows the home cook to roast the pork tenderloin in a plastic cooking bag without having to worry about all the mess and fuss. I purchased the product primarily because I just happened to have a one dollar coupon, and it was on sale to boot. Normally, I have my own recipes dealing with pork, but decided to let Farmland be an option. Sadly, I should have just left the coupon on the package for someone else to use, and saved my money.

Preheating the oven to 450F, I peeled off the labels, lined a pan with aluminum foil and placed the bag flat side up; so far so good.

After 30 minutes, the internal temperature was still at only 140F; an additional 10 minutes was needed to get the pork to the desired 150F.

Good thing I heeded the instructions and used the aluminum foil; there was spattering and a good amount of the marinade had leaked out.

The topside of the pork tenderloin, which had roasted pan side down, was dry and over browned. While the meat cut easily, the texture was mushy and the taste was bland; even spooning the leaked marinade over the meat did not help.

Sorry Farmland, but this product of yours will not be finding a permanent home in my kitchen.

Mary Cokenour

Friday, January 18, 2013

I Can't Believe it's not Lobster.

Recently I went on a hunt for the elusive "fermented black bean" which is actually not a black bean as you would find in Mexican cuisine, but a soy bean. I say elusive because out here in the Southwest, you'll find Mexican black beans more readily than anything dealing with Asian cuisine. Luckily, I was able to purchase a jar at  Nature's Oasis located in Durango, Colorado, but then found out that they were also available at Moonflower Market in Moab, Utah. These are both what would be classified as "health food stores" with Nature's Oasis being much larger and with more variety. Whichever place I choose to be though, it's good knowing they either have what I need, or can get it ordered in for me.

So what does this have to do with lobster, you might be wondering. One of my favorite Chinese dishes is "Shrimp with Lobster Sauce" which comes with the age old question of, "Why is it called lobster sauce when there's no lobster in it?". The name “Lobster Sauce” is taken from the sauce used in a Cantonese dish containing real lobster, “Lobster Cantonese”. The sauce was used in stir fry dishes for its delicious flavor made savory by the use of ground pork and fermented black beans (soy beans). Hence why I was hunting the fermented black beans and my trek to the health food stores.

Enough about my traveling adventure and lets get to the food adventure. By the way, while white or brown rice is good with this dish, Fried Rice adds so much more in taste.

Shrimp with Lobster Sauce


½ cup peas
½ cup diced carrots
¼ cup baby corn
¼ cup straw mushrooms
¼ cup sliced water chestnuts
1/8 cup sliced green onions
Water for steaming
1 lb large shrimp, peeled, deveined and butterflied
4 Tbsp stir fry oil, divided in half
1 tsp fermented black bean paste
1 tsp minced garlic
1 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 Tbsp soy sauce
¼ lb ground pork
1 and ½ Tbsp cornstarch
4 Tbsp water
1 tsp sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten


Fill a large saucepan halfway with water and bring to boiling; place colander on top of saucepan, fill with peas, carrots, baby corn, mushrooms, water chestnuts and green onions; steam until carrots begin to soften and remove colander from saucepan.

Stir fry shrimp in Wok or large skillet with 2 tablespoons of oil, on medium-high heat, until they turn pink; about 2 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. While shrimp are cooking, prepare the lobster sauce by whisking together the black bean paste, garlic, chicken broth, rice wine or sherry and soy sauce; set aside.

Add remaining oil to Wok or skillet and brown the pork; remove. Add the prepared lobster sauce and bring to a boil; whisk in the cornstarch and water to thicken and then mix in sugar. Begin to slowly stream in the beaten egg which will begin to make “egg flowers”; add in the shrimp, pork and steamed vegetables; mix together and let cook an additional 2 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Mary Cokenour
January 18, 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Meatballs Revisited and Deconstructed....Part 2.

In Part One I discussed how to tell, for the most part, when you're being served frozen, phony meatballs when you go out to dine. I wonder how many of you took my writing to heart, went to a restaurant, ordered meatballs and tested them? Were you surprised by what you found out; was it a pleasant, satisfying surprise, or a disappointing one?

Now I'm off to Part Two of this saga and the making of a homemade meatball. The best way to get a ground meat product is to have the proper kitchen appliance in your home, and make it yourself. That way you pick and choose what cuts of meat you want in the final product, grind it yourself and know exactly what is in it. For many of us, that is not an option; however, you might be able to accomplish this task at a butcher or even local supermarket. The majority of us though just pick up a package of ground beef and hope for the best, and I am one of the majority. When I buy ground beef, I tend to look for the lowest fat content available, 90% lean or higher. Why? Depending on what I am preparing, the fat leeches out of the meat when cooking; so, if frying, you end up dumping it, or if left in a raw state to be cooked with other ingredients, the final creation comes out dripping in grease. But what about flavor you ask? As with other lean cuts of meat such as bison(buffalo), ostrich and elk, you need to provide the extra boost they need.

Here is a repeat of my basic meatball recipe; if you cannot find Italian seasoned bread crumbs, increase the Italian seasoning mix to a half cup.   Do not use ground breakfast sausage as a substitute for pure ground pork; it has seasonings and preservatives in it that will come out strongly in your completed meatballs.  Use a homemade pasta sauce when cooking your meatballs in sauce. Normally I use canned tomatoes, but when the season is right and I can get fresh by the box load; the taste is so incredibly amazing!

As you read the preparation you'll notice I say to make the meatball at about a 2 and 3/4 inch diameter, but in part one I said they were 3 inches in diameter. As the meatballs cook in the sauce, not only will they become infused with more flavor, but also the the sauce itself. Remember, you're using dried bread crumbs which will grab onto that sauce and give you a slightly expanded meatball that is tender and juicy.

Homemade Meatballs


4 lbs lean ground beef (90% or more)
2 lbs ground pork
1 ½ cups Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
1/8 cup Italian seasoning mix
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 cup diced onion
¾ cup milk
2 eggs, beaten


Preheat oven to 350F. Spray jelly roll pans with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly; making sure all dry ingredients are mixed well with wet ingredients. Form the meat mixture into balls, about 2 ¾” (size of a tennis ball); place on jelly roll pans.

Bake meatballs for 20 minutes; dab on paper towels to remove any grease and immerse into sauce.

Allow meatballs to cook in sauce until sauce is ready; 4-6 hours depending on cooking technique being used. Serve with pasta, or use meatballs for a sandwich.

Makes about 20 meatballs.

Making a meatball sandwich, sub, hero, grinder or whatever you call it in your region, is quite easy; one good hint is to make sure and use a roll with a slightly harder exterior.  Those softer rolls have more moisture in them, so will not toast as quickly, giving the sauce more time to make the rolls soggy instead of crispy.

Use slices of mozzarella, provolone or combination of the two cheeses to help keep the roll from splitting apart, and make sure the meatballs and sauce don't try to make a break for it.

...and think of it this way, if you go someplace that won't take the time to make a fresh meatball, or a fresh pot of sauce; what else isn't fresh there?

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Meatballs Revisited and Deconstructed....Part 1.

Lets set the scene:  Restaurant, anywhere, any type, but it does offer Italian food on the menu.  You see the listing and your mouth begins to water: spaghetti, tortellini, fettuccine alfredo, lasagna, manicotti, meatballs, sausage, chicken parmigiana, garlic bread...oh yeah, you know what you want.  So you order a pasta dish which comes with 3 to 4 meatballs, and what do you get....rubberized golf balls.  Talk about your heart sinking in sheer disappointment.

You're asking now, "how do you know they're phony meatballs?"  First clue, the size is similar to that of a golf ball and they are all perfectly round; no lumps or bumps, no imperfections to see.  Second clue, when you try to slice them open with your simple fork, they resist; no meatball should be so firm as to require a knife.  Third clue, it is perfectly firm inside also and there is an oily sheen that looks unnatural to meat.  Fourth clue, it bounces; I've never tried this out myself, but I wouldn't be surprised if it actually worked.

I'm going to address each clue to help you create your own homemade meatballs, and to be more aware of what you get at a restaurant, especially when the wait staff says, "Oh yes, they're house made", but you cannot inspect the kitchen larder itself.

Clue #1: Real meatballs are typically on the large size; my own usually measure a three inch diameter. The meatballs are shaped by hand, so no two look exactly alike, nor are they perfectly round. When I serve them on top of a serving of pasta, they're the star, they take center stage. No one has to look through the pasta to find them.

Clue #2 and Clue #3: You can use a fork to slice them open, the meat has texture, but doesn't resist; a small amount of pressure can break them apart for distribution throughout the pasta. A single forkful, however, stays together and delightfully crumbles apart in the mouth when chewing. There is no unnatural sheen, just natural juices plus you can see the onion, garlic and herbs.

Clue #4: As much as I have been tempted to demonstrate this in a restaurant, no, I didn't embarrass myself. However, at home, I have dropped many a homemade meatball; the little buggers really can move on a saucy spoon. No bouncing, just a splat and a lot of restless movement as the dogs try to get a taste of the poor little meatball on the floor. Kind of remind's me of a childhood song concerning a meatball dropped from a dish of spaghetti which rolls out a door.  In my home, with my dogs, no such chance of escape for a lowly meatball.

There you have it, the knowledge to know phony meatballs from the real deal.  Next time you order them at a restaurant, you're told they're house made, you'll be able to figure it out and, most especially, call the owner to the carpet if you've been lied to.

This is only Part One of "Meatballs Revisited and Deconstructed"; look for Part Two when I give a recipe and preparation directions.

Mary Cokenour

Friday, January 11, 2013

Chile or Chili, it's Still Green.

Is it Chile or Chili? If it's the country in South America, it's Chile. If it's the singer from the group "TLC", it's Chilli; and when it's very cold outside, well that's Chilly. However, when it's the vegetable, it's the Green Chile Pepper, but when exactly does it become Chili? Then there's the plural, is it Chiles or Chilies? Confusing isn't it; and so many sources have so many definitions; so many recipes use the spellings so interchangeably.    Lets just get to the story of the Chile Pepper itself and the most popular one in the Southwest is the New Mexico Green Chile Pepper, primarily grown in Hatch, New Mexico.  Oh yes, there are numerous types of chile peppers within the United States, and worldwide, but I'm just going to focus on this one type for today's blog post.

Hatch chiles (ies) are available in a canned version, all roasted, seeded and peeled for you which is advantageous if you cannot find fresh chiles in your area.  This is what I had to do when I lived in Lancaster, PA, and while convenient, there was still that metallic taste from the aluminum cans to contend with.  Nope, there is no better alternative to fresh chiles than fresh chiles.

Roasting vegetables such as the chile pepper is actually not that difficult. No, you don't need that large barrel type roaster you may have seen on a cooking show; your own barbeque grill, stove top burner (gas only), or oven will do.  Do make sure to grease up the rack on your grill or in your oven; otherwise the chiles will stick and tear apart when being removed.

Remember, you can do the roasting techinque, not just for chile peppers, but those large bell peppers too. When jalapenos are roasted, they become known as chipotle, so be careful if you're one of those people who says, "I hate jalapenos, but love chipotles"; they're the same. Anyway, once the peppers are blackened, place them in a brown paper bag, seal it and let the steam from the peppers make your work easier. Once the peppers are warm to the touch, the skins will easily peel off; give the stems a twist and pull the seed pods right out. Give them a rinse, let them dry and they can be frozen for up to six months, or used immediately.

Two items you can make with your roasted peppers are Green Chile (or Chili) Sauce and Salsa Verde.  With Salsa Verde, it is made using tomatillo instead of actual green tomatoes.  The tomatillo, also known as tomato verde (green tomato) or Mexican husk cherry is related to the gooseberry, and in the nightshade family.

Basic Green Chile Sauce
1 small onion, diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp canola oil
6 large green chile peppers; roasted, seeded, peeled and chopped
1 tsp cumin
2 cups water
In a large sauce pan, heat the oil on medium-high heat; saute' onion until softened; the garlic should be added when you see the onion just beginning to soften.  Reduce heat to low, add the peppers, cumin and water; simmer for 30 minutes; stirring occasionally.  Puree to desired consistency using a blender or immersion blender; add salt to taste.
Makes 1 and 1/2 cups.
Basic Salsa Verde
6 tomatillos, removed from husks and washed
1/4 chopped onion
1 clove garlic
3 large large green chile peppers; roasted, seeded, peeled and chopped
Place tomatillos and water into a large saucepan; on medium-high heat, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes. 
Quarter the tomatillos; add tomatillos, onion, garlic and peppers to a blender.   Set on puree and slowly add 1/4 cup water until ingredients achieve a smooth texture.
Makes 1 and 1/2 cups.
Ok, so what do you do with the sauces now?  While you can use them as dips for a party, they can be used in such Mexican recipes as enchiladas or burritos; used as toppings for a breakfast skillet or even in a main dish.  Here's a simple recipe you can make quickly at home; rice, grilled vegetables or a salad can serve as the side dish.

Green Chile Chicken
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 skinless chicken tenderloins
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
2 Tbsp white wine
1 cup green chile sauce, warmed
8 tsp diced red tomatoes

In a large skillet, medium-high heat, heat the oil; place the chicken "skin side up" and evenly sprinkle with the oregano, black pepper and salt. Brown chicken for 3 minutes.

Turn the tenderloins over, remove the skillet from the heat and add the white wine; this will keep the wine from accidentally catching on fire. Remember, you're not making a flambe', you're just searing the chicken. Set back on heat and cook 3 minutes before removing from skillet.

Two tenderloins per serving, a tablespoon of sauce over each plus a teaspoon of diced red tomatoes.  So you'll get the heat temperature from the seared chicken and warmed sauce; the spicy heat of the green chiles grabs you; but now the cool, sweetness of the tomatoes gives you a full flavor taste explosion in your mouth.  Mexican style rice, grilled vegetables or even a simple salad as a side makes this a complete meal; and there's the key word: simple.


Mary Cokenour

Monday, January 7, 2013

Francisco's of Durango, Colorado is Old World Mexican.

Francisco's Restaurant & Cantina

619 Main Avenue
Durango, Colorado 81301

Telephone: (970) 247-4098


The first time I ever experienced Francisco's was my first visit to the Southwest, back in 2006.  I was fascinated by the decor, more reminiscent of a Mexican hacienda, than a cantina; and totally wowed by the food.  This was authentic Mexican cuisine and I loved it; getting one of their many combination platters was the best way to sample as much as I could.
For my birthday, December 26th, I decided to celebrate it in Durango, and most especially, by eating at Francisco's once again.  Oh, since moving to Utah we had gone several times before, but this was my birthday and I wanted the best Mexican food in the area.  My husband Roy, and son Bill, were along for this adventure.  Once seated at our table, drink orders were taken and we were served with Francisco's own salsa which is available for sale at the front counter, and warm tortilla chips.
My husband ordered: Combo #6 Enchiladas Rancheros which is one beef and two cheese stacked enchiladas smothered in green chili and served with an egg on top. The green chili is mild and becomes increasingly rich when the yolk from the egg is mixed in.

I ordered: Combo #12 Enchiladas de Pollo which is two chicken enchiladas served with Spanish rice and beans. The shredded chicken is very tender, but the red sauce is spicy and makes your taste buds salsa dance.

My son ordered: Combo #19 Burrito de Puerco which is seasoned slow-cooked pork wrapped in a flour tortillas and topped with salsa verde, jack and cheddar cheese. The salsa verde was a sweeter type of sauce and the pork was very tender. All the combination plates came with fluffy rice and refried beans which were smooth, not pasty.

For dessert we enjoyed Sopapillas, deep fried tortillas that puff up to a crispy shell on the outside and fluffy goodness on the inside. Opening one up, the steam escapes and drizzled honey inside makes the experience a complete joy.

By the way, if you like fish tacos, try Francisco's Combo #17 Fish Tacos: Two flour tortillas filled with grilled tilapia, lettuce, cheese, black beans and Tabasco mayo. Served with avocado relish and all absolutely delicious!!!

Visiting the Durango, Colorado area and in the mood for Mexican, do not pass up Francisco's.

Mary Cokenour

Francisco's Restaurante on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Noodling through Asian Cuisines.

Typically, when you go to a Chinese take-out, the most popular noodle dish is Lo Mein; a noodle which resembles Italian Spaghetti.  However, it can come in a flat variety similar looking to Fettucine and used in dishes like Ho Fun; the wider variety is used for Chow Fun.  At home, there is the ever popular Ramen noodle that comes in a solid block form which can be used for making soups or main dishes such as Stir Fry.  Cellophane Noodles or Threads are made from mung bean sprouts and resemble Vermicelli.

Then there are Japanese noodles such as Soba and Udon; Soba is made from buckwheat and resembles Spaghetti, while Udon is made from wheat, resembles Fettuccine and is more thick and chewy.  In Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, noodles are made from rice flour.   Basically what I am trying to get across is that you shouldn't be discouraged from making Asian recipes if you cannot find the "correct" type of noodle in your local market.  Many pasta companies are introducing products made with wheat or other grains, not just the egg and white flour variety.

My recipe today is a noodle dish which works well with Lo Mein, Soba or Udon noodles, and if you cannot find these, don't panic!  Substitute Spaghetti or Fettuccine, and you can use whatever grain variety you like: white, wheat or multi-grain flour.  Part of comfort cooking is not just the feeling you get when eating the food, but how you feel as you're creating it.  If you're not in a good place feeling wise, chances are that your dish won't be once it's completed.  Relax and enjoy.

I'm calling today's recipe "Fireworks Shrimp and Noodles"; first, because of the eye popping colors of the carrots and edamame.  Secondly, I use Sriracha, a Chinese Chili sauce which can knock your taste buds on their little butts.  The amount I use in my recipe will give you some heat, but not the burn.  If you cannot find Sriracha, then substitute Thai Chili sauce; worse comes to worse, then use whatever hot sauce you have on hand.  Remember, start small with the amount of hot sauce; you can always add, but you cannot take away.

Fireworks Shrimp and Noodles


1 (12 oz) package Asian noodles (lo mein, soba, udon)
1 (8 oz) package frozen shelled edamame (soy beans)
1 (8 oz) package frozen julienned carrots
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp hot sauce (Sriracha or Thai chili sauce are best)
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined


Prepare noodles according to package directions; 5 minutes before noodles are done, add the edamame and carrots; finish cooking the noodles.  Drain, but reserve a ½ cup of cooking water; mix the water back in with the noodles and vegetables and also mix in the garlic, ginger and hot sauce.

In a Wok or large skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat; cook shrimp until they turn pink, about 2-3 minutes. Add the noodle/vegetable mixture plus the soy sauce and sesame oil. Mix thoroughly and cook an additional 2 minutes before serving.

Note: additional hot sauce can be added if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Mary Cokenour
January 5, 2013

Thursday, January 3, 2013

It's Beefy, Eggy and Good Anytime.

Recently I enjoyed an adventure in making a Prime Rib for the first time. Then I did a bit of thinking, yes I do that on occasion, and wondered if the roasting technique I used on the prime rib could be done with other types of beef roasts. Instead of buying cold cuts at the supermarket, I usually roast my turkey and chicken breasts, glazed ham or roast beef; then thin slice them for sandwiches or chopped up for salads.

This time I had a lovely, lean eyeround roast waiting for its turn in the roasting pan.  Leaving out the rosemary and thyme, I only seasoned the meat with the salt, ground black pepper, garlic and onion powders; but cooked it the same way as I had done with the prime rib.  Again, I relied on my meat thermometer to tell me when it reached medium-rare.

Now one morning hubby wanted breakfast and he was thinking along the lines of eggs, bacon and cheese on a toasted roll.  Well he got more than he bargained for, as I like to think and cook outside the box.  You see, I had forgotten to take the bacon out of the freezer for defrosting, but the container holding that lovely roast caught my eye....and the cheddar cheese slices, and the mayonnaise, and the butter.  I never said this was going to be a heart healthy sandwich, but you can always tweak what I'm telling you here to your own needs.  Back to the story....

After slicing open the Kaiser roll, I buttered up the outside top and bottom of the roll, just like I was going to make a grilled cheese sandwich.

Heating both my griddle pan and 8 inch skillet, I opened up 2 eggs which went into the 8 inch skillet.  The Kaiser roll went butter side down on the griddle pan with a smear of mayonnaise on both face up sides.  A slice of mild cheddar cheese also went down over the mayonnaise; while several very thin slices of beef sat on one roll half.  I flipped the eggs over as hubby likes them over easy, let them cook a bit before sliding them on top of the beef.  Now here's the important part, place the cheese only side of the roll over the eggs and press down lightly; you don't want to break the yokes.   Let the sandwich fry for about another minute before moving it to a plate.

...and there you have it, the Beef and Egg Anytime Sandwich. Why did I name it "Anytime"? Hubby enjoyed it so much, he wanted one for dinner that night; and then again for lunch on another day.

Be warned though, you will need lots of napkins for this sandwich. Pick it up whole, bite into it and you'll get a gush of egg yolk all over your face and hands. Cut it in half, pick it up and the egg yolks will still get on you. However, once you taste it, you won't care the slightest. The crunch of the butter fried roll, the smooth melty cheese, seasoned beef enriched with the mayonnaise intertwined with yolky goodness. Yes, you will think, this is nirvana!!!


Mary Cokenour
January 3, 2013