Saturday, March 30, 2013

Drying Herbs and Vegetables.

 Today I got my veggie/fruit basket, Italian pack and Hostess pack from Bountiful Baskets and they were chock full of three herbs; Basil, Dill and Rosemary.  While I intend to use some of them immediately, what can I do with the rest, so they won't shrivel and turn bad?  Dry them!  You've seen them in every supermarket or health food store grocery section; whether in bottles or bags there is a big advantage to using dried herbs.  First off, when stored in an air tight container, they can last up to six months; so check the expiration date when buying.  Secondly, when used in cooking, the aroma and flavor is much stronger than fresh; especially helpful when using a slow cooker for a recipe.

A Food Dehydrator is one method of drying herbs by using a system of heat ( average temperatures of 130F to 160F) and vented air to draw moisture out of thinly sliced foods, or herbs. For example, in my Italian pack was a carton of baby portabella mushrooms which I don't have any particular plans for now.  Slicing them 1/8 inch thin, the dehydrator will extract all the moisture, so I can put them in a zippered food bag to be used at my leisure.  The mushroom slices can be easily reconstituted by soaking them in plain water before usage.  I also have some red bell peppers and Roma tomatoes; just slice them up, dehydrate them and store them in an air tight jar with olive oil, or simply in an air tight bag.  Why buy expensive brands of "sun-dried" tomatoes or peppers when you can make your own?  Want to make your own potato or veggie chips?  Season the slices before you place them in the dehydrator; no frying, no oils.

You don't have to go to the expense of a dehydrator to dry herbs. Herbs that are on long stems can be tied together, making sure to leave a loop at the top. A simple "s" ring, or even a paperclip opened up to give it two "hooked" ends will work well as hanging tools. Remember to label your tied bunches of herbs for many will look extremely different dried than they did as fresh; smell might help tell them apart, but why take the chance? Hang the herbal bunches in an area of the home that doesn't have a lot of foot traffic; don't know how many times I've had someone knock them down with a swinging coat sleeve.

Don't want them hanging around the home; another method is to remove the leaves as much from the stem as possible. Lay paper towels on a tray (aluminum or plastic); place the leaves on the paper towels and leave a little room between the leaves. Cover the leaves with another set of paper towels to keep dust and dirt from landing upon them; store the trays in a dry area and the herbs should be dried out from two to three days, depending on their sizes.   This also works for celery leaves; you buy that large bunch of celery full of leaves, well don't throw them away.  Dry the leaves and you'll have them available to be added to stuffing, rice or pasta recipes.

Herbs with small and abundant leaves, such as Rosemary, can be left to dry on their stems. When completely dried out, you can either shake the leaves off which can be rather messy; or grab the cut end of the stem, hold it firmly with one hand while using fingers from the other hand to gently slide the dried leaves off.
Whatever method you use for drying your herbs, remember to label and date your air tight containers or bags, so you'll know which is which, and when your six month expiration is up.

One more method for storing herbs, but this concerns a non-drying method; freezing. You can take a single herb, or a grouping for a particular need, chop them up fresh and place a good pinch in the bottom of each section of an ice cube tray. Cover the herbs with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of water and place the trays in the freezer. Once frozen, pop the ice cubes into a freezer safe bag; don't forget to label them, and when you need those herbs for a recipe, they're ready and waiting. Remember to take into account the measurement of water that will be added when you pop those ice cubes in with your other ingredients.

Whichever method you use, or perhaps make use of all of them, you'll be in control of your dried herbal or vegetable stockpile; you'll know where they came from, and what has, or has not, been added.

Mary Cokenour

Monday, March 25, 2013

Strolling Down a White Castle Memory Lane.

White Castle

Locations: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin.


Back in the 1960's, my family lived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York off the Fort Hamilton Parkway.  Typical homes in the neighborhood were brick townhouses and the major ancestry was Italian, with a mixture of Croatian and Norwegian here and there.  I wish I could say that I had an absolutely wonderful childhood in Brooklyn, but I didn't; most of my fond memories are of my maternal grandmother, museums and most especially of food. 

White Castle is one of those wonderful food memories; three mini-hamburgers for one whole whopping dollar.  The "meat patty" was a little square (2 and 1/2 " by 2 and 1/2 "), just about 1/8 inch thick with 5 holes punched into each; this allowed the steam to cook the patty thoroughly and quickly.  A soft square bun (three of those meat patties stacked would equal the height of half the bun) and tiny, diced onions; all prepared on a special steaming table.  The smell was awesome, but the taste sent you to heaven; four perfect little bites for each little hamburger or cheeseburger.  Sliders?  White Castle invented the original sliders!  Enjoyers of White Castle had nicknames for the food; the burgers were "belly bombers" and the thin cut fries were "suicide fries".  Why?   You have to eat them to understand, that's the only way; sorry, can't explain it to a novice, you just have to experience it all.

I've eaten White Castle in Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania; New York always tasted the best, but what do you expect a New Yorker to say, right?  Now down South, they have a similar fast food item called Krystal's; tried them in Florida and Georgia and in my personal opinion, they can stay down South.  They are not the same as White Castle!

White Castle introduced a frozen version of the hamburgers and cheeseburgers to supermarkets when the microwave became a popular home appliance.  Two burgers in a cellophane package steam when "nuked" for one minute; and yes, the onions are included.  I eat them when I crave that particular childhood memory, but they're not as good as the fresh made.  As soon as the heated cellophane is opened, you can see the bun begin to wrinkle up; don't eat it quickly and it becomes chewy.  The meat doesn't cook evenly; a section here overcooked, a section there undercooked.  The onions are, well they just don't look, smell or taste right.  So why buy them?  It's all about the memories; it's all about the memories!

While I'm going to put this blog post under the heading of "Product Review", it's really a trip down memory lane for me.  I hope you enjoyed this walk with me.

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tahini, Hummus and Pita Pizza; Say What!?!

Since the pushing of healthy eating habits and finding alternatives for snacking, many items that used to be a "luxury" have now become an all consuming fad; such is the case with Hummus.  Hummus is a puree of garbanzo beans( a legume) also known as chickpeas in the United States and England, or Ceci beans in Italy.   Their origin can be traced back to the Middle East, and as far back as 3500 BCE; so they truly cannot be called a modern "fad" food item.  The other main ingredient needed to make hummus is Tahini; a sauce made from the puree of toasted sesame seeds and olive oil.  Now the other ingredients that go into the making of hummus; well that has now become a matter of taste.

Tahini has a very nutty scent and flavor to it and can be substituted for peanut butter which is great news to folks with a peanut allergy. If you can eat regular peanuts, then adding a dollop of Tahini to your PB&J brings out an awesome richness of peanutty taste and flavor. For baking, think about adding Tahini to a recipe calling for peanut butter; and don't forget its wonderful addition to Middle Eastern cuisine.   Tahini can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three months in an air tight container.  Since oil is used in the process, it will rise to the top and solidify under cold temperatures.  Simply let the Tahini come to room temperature and mix the oil back in until you have a smooth sauce; sort of how you would work with the all natural peanut butter spreads that are on the market now.  Tahini can also be frozen in air tight freezer containers or bags, but after six months it needs to be discarded.

How to Make Tahini


3 cups sesame seeds
1/2 cup olive oil


Preheat oven to 350F; spread the seeds onto a clean jelly roll pan (baking sheet with a 1/4 inch around it); place into oven for 5 minutes.  Stir the seeds around and toast for another 5 minutes, but do not allow them to get brown in color.

Put the seeds into a food processor or blender; add 1/4 cup of oil and begin blending on high.  A paste will form; switch off the appliance and scrap down the paste with a rubber spatula.  Turn the appliance back on and slowly add in the remaining oil until a smooth sauce begins to form; sort of like a smooth peanut butter consistency; not all the oil may be required.

Makes 2 cups.

 So now we have our Tahini and can continue on to making Hummus.  I'm going to give a basic recipe that can be used as a dip for toasted pita chips, or even a base sauce on a pita pizza (recipe will be given).  This basic hummus can be a simple canvas for making many types of dips by adding roasted red bell peppers, diced tomatoes, diced green onions, diced chile peppers, chopped herbs and the list goes on and on.  If entertaining and serving several varieties of hummus, don't just garnish each type with a teaspoon of an ingredient to identify its type.  Place a small bowl of the ingredient next to the bowl of hummus and let guests add to plate with their portion of dip.  A garnish will be gone by the third guest, and how will anyone be able to identify the flavors then?  Also think about having slices of toasted French baguette besides the traditional pita chips, so guests can make their own version of a bruschetta.  Now onto the making of Hummus...

How to Make Hummus
1 (16 oz) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup Tahini sauce (or 1/4 cup if using a Tahini paste)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
Mash the beans slightly and place inside a food processor or blender; add the Tahini, garlic, oil, lemon juice, salt and black pepper.  Set speed on puree and blend until desired consistency is achieved (slightly firmer than a sour cream dip is best); add more oil if needed.  Use a rubber spatula to scrap down the sides of the appliance if necessary.
Makes 1 and 1/2 cups.
Note: During the puree process, a tablespoon of a flavoring ingredient can be added such as diced tomatoes, roasted red bell pepper, chopped herbs, etc. 
I gave you a tease before about making a Pita Pizza, and here's the information I promised to give you.  Normally a pizza dough is made with a leavened bread which rises because of yeast, but it can also be made from an unleavened bread such as a tortilla, Navajo Fry Bread or pita bread. As a base sauce, the traditional red tomato sauce can be used, pesto, and I've found that hummus makes an interesting take on a pizza.  By pureeing tomatoes, red bell peppers or basil into a hummus, you can turn the traditional brownish coloring into the illusion of a red or green sauce; and have the flavoring too.

How to Make a Pita Pizza

1 Pita bread (standard size to be cut apart, or single serving size)
1/4 cup Hummus (traditional or flavored), 1/8 cup for smaller pita

Now here's the fun part; the rest of the ingredients depends on what you want on it. If using any meats or poultry, it must be precooked. Don't add too much of any one ingredient, you want just enough that each item will be tasted when biting into the pizza. In the photo above, I have diced tomatoes, diced goat cheese and spinach leaves; just a 1/4 cup of each spread around on a standard sized pita went a long way.


Preheat oven to 400F.

Spread hummus over pita; spread other ingredients over all, but not entirely to the edge.  Place the pizza directly onto the center rack of the oven and bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until edges of pita darken.

A standard pita can be cut into fourths; a small pita eaten as is.

There is my adventure into the Middle Eastern world of Tahini, Hummus and Pita Bread; don't be afraid to have your own adventure.  Enjoy!

Mary Cokenour

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Breakfast Food Porn to Start the Day.

Even though I have lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and now reside in Monticello, Utah; anyone that knows me well can tell you that I'm still a New Yorker at heart.  Back in the late 1970's, I was living on Long Island and taking the Railroad into New York City to attend New York University.  I graduated in 1980 and began working in NYC, again taking the Railroad back and forth; at least I got some good extra sleep or reading done on those long, tedious trips.

A daily ritual I indulged in was stopping at a deli nearby work and ordering a breakfast sandwich and coffee to have at my desk as I prepped for the day.  In case you'd like to know, I'd had two different jobs in NYC, both for many years....a Controller for a theatrical lighting company associated with Lee International UK (Star Wars, James Bond movies, to name a couple); and then the head bookkeeper for a photographic company that specialized in advertising photos.  I have to admit that the Controller job was my very favorite as I was lucky to be able to meet producers, directors, film and music stars.  Anyway, back to the food talk...

The breakfast sandwich consisted of two fried eggs, cheese and bacon on a buttered roll; if you wanted salt, pepper and ketchup added, you had to ask for it.  You could order scrambled or over easy, but the completely fried eggs made it easier to eat at your desk and not have egg get all over you or the desk.  Coffee was made up for you as you liked it; no going to another counter to add sweetener, cream or milk; and none of those fancy lattes and such.  Coffee was pure, real coffee!

...and so today I'm going to give you some breakfast food porn.  Since I'm at home, I can make those over easy eggs, cut into them and have the luscious yolk ooze out and down along the rest of the sandwich.  The roll, toasted, is firm; dipped into the yolk, it sops up that lovely liquid which then coats the lips of the mouth with eggy goodness.  Hot for a New York Deli Style Breakfast sandwich now?  Lets make one....

The best kind of roll for this sandwich is the Kaiser roll; plain, or with poppy or sesame seeds, doesn't matter as they're all good. Cut the roll open so you get a top and bottom half. Now you can either butter the insides and toast them on a griddle or inside a skillet; or pop the halves in a wide mouth toaster and then butter them. You definitely want a slice of American cheese on both sides though.

Melt a little butter in a skillet, put the eggs in and listen to them sizzle as they give up their liquid to that heat. Fry them up "hard", so the yolk is totally cooked; or go for the "over easy" and those luscious yolky centers. Scrambled eggs tend to squeeze themselves out of the roll, as if they're trying to escape and then require a utensil to capture them off the plate. You want your hands and that entire sandwich to dance together as partners.

Lay those fried eggs down on that Kaiser roll bed and cover them with a blanket of crisp bacon. As your teeth crunch on the bacon, your senses come alive from the released smoky sensation. Oh, don't forget to add salt, ground black pepper and/or ketchup to your tastes, or should I say to what your senses desire?

...and there is your breakfast food porn for the morning.  Enjoy, I know I did.  *wink*

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Big Fat Greek Restaurant, Opa!

My Big Fat Greek Restaurant

3500 E Main Street
Farmington, New Mexico, 87402    
(505) 326-2000                                                    


After reading many mixed reviews of this Greek restaurant in Farmington, New Mexico; we decided to give it a shot anyway.   The exterior is quite impressive and hard to miss; located at the entrance to the Best Buy/Home Depot shopping center.

The building has many windows to allow the bright sunlight to naturally illuminate the interior.  Beautiful Greek decor, including a long mural of the God of the Sea, Poseidon adorns the interior.  We were cheerfully greeted by the hostess immediately upon entering, and taken to one of the many booths in the dining area.  Our waiter didn't keep us waiting at all as he came to take our drink orders, and left us to peruse the menu.   Our entire party of four were definitely in the mood for Gyro, so latched onto that item as soon as we looked at the menu. After ordering and receiving our food, our waiter was very friendly, helpful with questions and attentive to our needs throughout the meal.

We began with a Calamari appetizer served with a mild cocktail sauce and tartar sauce. The Calamari included tentacles as well as the body rings; it was deep fried perfectly; not chewy nor still raw, but just right.

Three people went for the simple Gyro in a pita; two chose the Greek salad as a side while one person chose the Greek Fries. I chose the Award Winning Gyro platter. Gyro is a mixture of lamb and beef that is pressed into a form that can be placed on a spit.  It is roasted in a vertical manner, mildly seasoned and then carved into thin slices, placed in pita bread with veggies and tzatziki sauce.

The Gyro itself came in a soft, warm pita loaded with fresh vegetables and heavenly tzatziki sauce.  The Greek Fries cost extra as a side; they are shoestring fries with Feta and Parmesan cheeses with a lemon Dijon sauce.  The person who had this meal loved the Gyro, but was not impressed with the Greek Fries, "fries are fries" he stated.  Now on many reviews I read the biggest complaint was the Greek salad; however the salads served with the Gyros were excellent in taste, size and texture.  If you're going to go Greek, definitely get the salad; fries just don't have a place with them.

The Award Winning Gyro is a very generous portion of the meat with grilled zucchini, lemon roasted potatoes, wedges of pita bread and tzatziki sauce. I was blown away, and so were the others who tasted my meal...piece of meat, piece of zucchini, dipped in the sauce...absolutely divine! It was so good like that, I kept forgetting about the pita bread. The lemon roasted potatoes were so delicious, the person who had the Greek Fries said he would have paid extra for these potatoes instead of the fries.

The meal portions are very generous, so we decided to purchase dessert to go; and our waiter assured us that all desserts are housemade.  The Baklava Cheesecake is decadently rich and creamy; infused with honey and nuts.  The Baklava is loaded with nuts and honey while the pastry is very flaky.  Do not turn away from desserts at My Big Fat Greek Restaurant; get the full experience.

Overall we gave My Big Fat Greek Restaurant a 9 out of 10 rating, and that is only because we felt that shoestring fries have no place on a Mediterranean menu.  Whether you have had Greek food before, or this is a first time try; definitely try out this restaurant.  Opa!

Mary Cokenour

My Big Fat Greek Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Jimmers Gets Serious with BBQ.

Jimmers Back Country BBQ
                                                                                         439 East Main (across from Burger Boy Drive-In)
                                                                                         Cortez, Colorado, 81321

                                                                                          (970) 516-1227

                                                                                          Website: N/A

Lets get to the gist of it, Jimmers is some of the best barbeque in the Four Corners Area.  Although I have tried the Serious Texas BBQ places in Durango, CO and Farmington, NM; Jimmers has got them beat hands down.

Upon entering Jimmers, there is a short, plain hallway with a beautiful antler chandelier.

As you turn the corner, there is a fireplace that is open on two sides; stuffed wild animals are on the wall in their predatory poses.

The main dining area resembles the great room of a hunting lodge; beautiful tables and benches; again wild animals displayed in their glory.

Towards the rear of the building you will see the kitchen area; off to one side, hanging off the back wall, is the menu written on a large chalkboard. Now if you need to know further information about any of the menu items, don't be shy about asking; the staff at Jimmers are very friendly and helpful.

Hubby and I settled on the "Feast For Two", so we would have a good sampling of the meats, poultry and sides. The pulled pork is tender and not dry; usually my hubby will not eat pulled pork unless it is swimming in bbq sauce, but didn't need it for Jimmers. The brisket was tender, yes there is a trend going on here, juicy and pulled apart easily. The turkey melted in your mouth; I made a sandwich with the soft bread and a little bbq sauce and was in heaven. Sides: Baked Potato Salad; chunks of baked potato in a sour cream, chive and bacon mixture...yum nummy! Cheesy Potatoes; diced, roasted potatoes with melted cheddar cheese throughout...very comforting! Baked Beans; beans and shredded beef brisket in a smooth sauce...very satisfying!

There are three types of bbq sauce: Original - mild heat, slightly sweet with a full bbq flavor.  Smoke - mild heat, but more sweetness than original and a slight tang.  Spicy - medium to hot in heat, slightly sweet, a slow burn develops overall in the mouth.  We stuck with the Original and Smoke as we felt these enhanced the smoked meats and turkey, while the Spicy hid their flavors completely.

When it comes to BBQ in the Four Corners Area; Jimmers Back Country BBQ is our new Mecca...try it when you're in Cortez, Colorado and hankering for really great BBQ.

Mary Cokenour

Jimmers Back Country BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Barbequing in the Oven.

Normally I enjoy barbequing chicken on, what else?, the barbeque; but there are times I do not want to deal with the outside. The alternative is using the oven; and yes, you can do some decent barbeque chicken right in the oven. Usually, I leave the skin on my chicken for outdoor barbequing; the fat melts away and the skin will crisp up. Not so in the oven though, so you need to remove the skin and fat before hand if you don't want to see the chicken swimming in a greasy pool of diluted barbeque sauce.

To help me out with all this is a pair of Poultry Shears; a heavy duty pair of scissors specifically designed to cut through skin, bone and any other tough parts of poultry.  Simply snip the skin from the cut end of the chicken leg all the way up to the "knob".  Work your fingers under the skin to help release the membrane from the meat and pull it down towards the knob of the leg.  Then grab that skin and pull it completely off; if it doesn't come completely off, use the poultry shears to snip away around the knob.  If you're also working with thighs and breasts, use the poultry shears to easily remove the bone from the underside of these pieces too.  Then you'll have boneless, skinless chicken parts that you did yourself; and saved money since the butcher didn't have to do it for you. Well except the legs of course, you need those little handy dandy handles for easier eating.

Now we want to get rid of the excess fat; if you don't, it will melt in your baking dish, dilute your barbeque sauce and just be an unappetizing greasy mess. Place the chicken in a stock pot and add enough water to just cover the parts; let it cook on the stove on highheat for 10 minutes.

The chicken will have a more cooked appearance, but believe me, they are still absolutely raw inside. Remove the chicken to a strainer and rinse with warm water to remove any excess "scum" that might be clinging to it.

If there was any skin still on the chicken, the fat has been removed, so instead of becoming gooey and chewy to eat; it will crisp up a bit during the oven baking process.

Preheat the oven to 375F.; spray a three quart baking dish with nonstick spray. Believe me, this will certainly make clean up less painful with all the barbeque sauce you'll be using. Yes, you can line the dish with aluminum foil, but I find this tends to make the sauce burn and stick to the foil, so you lose about 20% of it. Why do that? Now spread a cup of sauce on the bottom of the dish; oh the sauce, use homemade or bottled, whichever you're comfortable with. If you're using bottled though, I highly recommend KC Masterpiece, Jack Daniels or Sweet Baby Ray's; they each have an excellent assortment of flavorings, and that thickness you know will stay on your barbequed meats and poultry. A full dozen of legs, 15 thighs or 6 breast halves will fit comfortably in a three quart baking dish; slather sauce on top and all around the sides of the chicken.

Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes; remove and slather on a second generous helping of sauce before placing back into the oven. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 F. If using several different parts, place each type of part into separate dishes as they will cook completely at different times depending on their thickness, and if there are still bones inside the chicken parts, like with legs.

Remove the chicken to a serving platter and spoon the sauce, which has gotten more thick, over it all.  Absolutely delicious!!!  So next time you don't think you can do any barbequing; think again.  Enjoy!

Mary Cokenour

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How to Caramelize Onions.

I asked my hubby what he would like for dinner tonight and he stated he was in the mood for a Patty Melt. I told him I didn't have any rye or pumpernickel bread; country white was ok he said, but instead of fried onions, could you make caramelized? Now I knew that would be no problem as the onions I usually make for his Patty Melts were not the traditional fried you would get in a restaurant, but semi-caramelized. Yes, I can be a little trickster at times.

Caramelizing onions is simply giving long (one hour) cooked onions a deep brown color; and bringing out the sweetness of the onion itself. Using medium and low heat temperatures ensures that the onions will attain a brown coloring from the caramelizing of their natural sugar. Higher heat temperatures will brown the onions, perhaps even burn them; however they may remain bitter from not releasing and utilizing the sugar. They can be used as an added ingredient (for example: quiche, frittata, macaroni and cheese) or accompaniment for meat, pork, poultry or seafood; and are the main ingredient for French Onion Soup.

There is no one particular type of onion that should be used when caramelizing; white, yellow, red; even sweeter onions such as Vidalia and Spanish work just fine.  Remember, we're letting the natural sugar of the onion do most of our work for us, so the sweeter the onion, the richer the caramelizing will be.  Also, while I prefer simply to use olive oil for the initial cooking process, some like to use butter, or a combination of oil and butter.  I don't personally like to add a dairy product into my caramelizing process; I don't believe it truly adds anything, but a greasy texture to it.  I've seen some recipes add brown sugar; I'm not sure why since brown sugar is caramelized sugar, and that's what we're trying to achieve with the onion's own sugar.  Confusing, isn't it?  I do, however, add a little balsamic vinegar for an extra richness, and it enhances the aroma of the onions.  Play around with the techniques and see what suits your tastes the best.

Caramelized Onions


3 Tbsp olive oil
5 large onions, peeled and julienned
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar


Slice the top and root off the onions. Cut the onions in half from top to bottom; remove peels and discard. Place half of an onion, flat side down, on a clean, flat cutting surface. Angle the knife towards the center to make ¼ inch slices from stem to root end. This method of slicing onions is called “Frenched onions”, French-cut, or Julienned.

Heat oil on medium heat in a large skillet; spread onions in skillet and sprinkle salt over them.

Cook the onions until soft and translucent (10 minutes); stirring occasionally. 

Reduce heat to low, cover and let cook for 40 minutes; stir after 20 minutes only.   This will make the onions sweat, drawing out the natural sugars that will coat the onion pieces and cause them to turn brown as the sugar itself begins to cook.  Do not keep removing the lid to check on the onions, or stir them; the heat will lower and you'll lose the accumulated moisture.  After 40 minutes, mix in the vinegar, cover and cook additional 10 minutes.

Makes 2 cups.

Note: if you want the onions to be darker colored than what is in my photo, let them cook down longer on the low heat.  For us, after one hour, the intoxicating scent throughout the home is just too much to bear, so we gobble them up.  Enjoy!

Mary Cokenour
March 12, 2013

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Copycatting a Stouffer's Oldie but Goodie.

Before every food company converted their frozen meals to be microwaveable; the containers were aluminum and the plastic or cardboard covers needed to be removed first before heating. One of my very favorites was Stouffer's "Escalloped Chicken and Noodles"; chunks of white meat chicken, veggies and egg noodles in a luscious, creamy sauce. Alas, Stouffer's went the microwave route also; the containers became thin plastic with plastic wrap covers that stayed on, and the food stuck to. Not only that, the portions became smaller, but the prices almost doubled; now what the heck is that all about!?!

So in 2007, I decided I'd had enough of this nonsense, and set upon making a copycat version of my own.  I purchased one more entree, heated it up and then analyzed it...the taste, textures, smell, what ingredients I could readily see or taste.  I'm sure if I was a scientist in a lab, I could have come up with an almost perfect copycat recipe; but I'm not and I'm still happy with the end result.

Using canned creamed soups saved me the trouble of using heavy cream which could break in a sauce if not cooked properly.  Adding chicken broth provided extra moisture for the egg noodles, so they did not harden up during the baking process.   I used fresh onion, red bell pepper and mushrooms, so their flavors are prominent in the dish now instead of just hinted at.  If you're looking for a quick and easy casserole, I believe you'll enjoy this one.

Escalloped Chicken and Noodles


4 Tbsp butter
1 cup sliced mushrooms
½ cup diced onion
½ cup diced red bell pepper
4 Tbsp flour
4 cups cooked and shredded white meat chicken
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 (14.5 oz) can chicken broth
1 (10.5 oz) can cream of chicken soup
1 (10.5 oz) can cream of celery soup
1 (8 oz) package medium width egg noodles, cooked
1/2 cup plain, fine bread crumbs


Preheat oven to 350 F. and spray a 3 quart casserole dish with nonstick spray.

In 10 inch skillet, medium-high heat, melt butter and sauté mushrooms, onion and red bell pepper until softened, but not browned; add flour and mix well. 

In large mixing bowl, combine sautéed vegetables, chicken, pepper, broth, creamed soups and noodles.

Spread mixture into casserole dish; sprinkle bread crumbs on top. Bake 30-35 minutes; until sauce is bubbling and bread crumbs are golden brown.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Stuffed, Rolled and Italian, That's Braciole.

When you hear the term "Homemade Pasta Sauce", do you immediately think that that is its only use? In Italy, pasta sauce is referred to as gravy, so while it can be used to cover, or enhance, something cooked, it can also be used as a cooking medium.

I'm going to take sauce and show you how to make Braciole, or Italian Stuffed Rolled Beef; and it is essentially cooked in homemade pasta sauce. Braciole can be looked at as one of those "fancy" type of meals, and I've only had it at holiday time.; served with pasta of course.  It is actually not a difficult meal to create; it's the tying of the meat rolls with butcher's string, and then untying after cooking that can get a bit annoying. Hint, don't do each roll immediately upon rolling; make a group of them and then tackle them one by one, so you develop a rhythm of tying, knotting and snipping excess string. You're done before you know it!

One of the ingredients in my stuffing is pine nuts.  The most common designation for nuts in Europe is "pignolia," a term which refers to pine nuts of the Italian stone pine, grown for the most part in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and North Africa.  Nuts of a different species called "pinion," a name derived from the Spanish word for pine nut, are produced in the western United States. These pinon nuts come mainly from the Colorado pinon tree, a two-needled pine which grows wild in the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.  These nuts are expensive whether you use the type from Europe or the United States, so if they're way out of your budget, you can leave them out.  They do add a little crunch to the stuffing, and a nice nutty flavor, so for this dish I'd say, "Blow the budget!", especially if it's for a special meal.

While you could buy a roast, partially freeze it and then cut the slices needed to make Braciole; most supermarkets have it available in packages, or their butcher will slice it for you. Top Round or Sirloin are my choices, and you want the slices between 1/8 of an inch to 1/4 of an inch thick for easy rolling.

For the pasta, a tubular pasta such as rigatoni, ziti or penne goes nicely with the meat.  Cook the pasta till just about to your desired doneness; some folks like it al dente (to the tooth); some, like myself, like it softer.  Either way, finish cooking it off in the sauce while you're waiting for the Braciole to rest.

Braciole ( Italian Stuffed Rolled Beef )


4 thinly sliced steaks (top round or sirloin), between 1/8” and ¼“ thick, about 1-1 ¼ lbs.
¾ cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
½ cup shredded Romano cheese
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
2 Tbsp chopped, toasted pine nuts
1 ½ Tbsp minced garlic
1 large egg
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cups pasta sauce
3 cups partially cooked tubular pasta (ziti, rigatoni, penne)


Lay out steaks on flat surface; mix together bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, pine nuts, garlic and egg in a small bowl till all ingredients are moist, yet crumbly. Evenly distribute stuffing between the four steaks, leaving one inch border all around; press stuffing down slightly.

Begin at one short end and begin rolling the steak over the stuffing; work slowly to keep stuffing from falling out the sides. Using butcher’s string, carefully tie off one end; loop and tuck the string twice more around the meat roll before tying off the other end.

In a deep, large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat; sear the meat rolls on all sides. Reduce heat to low and pour pasta sauce over the meat rolls; cover and let simmer for two hours.

Remove meat rolls and set aside to rest. Add pasta to sauce, cover and let it finish off cooking to desired doneness. Carefully remove string from each roll; serve one meat roll with a portion of the cooked pasta and sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

Please remember to remove the string before serving and eating the Braciole.  Also, be very careful removing the string as the meat is extremely tender, and you don't want to accidentally break it apart with excessive manhandling.  Enjoy the adventure!

Mary Cokenour