Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Umami Slow Cooker Boneless Pork Ribs.

A friend of mine shared a recipe on Facebook about making a pork tenderloin in a slow cooker.  I wanted to try it out and the local market happened to have pork loin roasts on sale for $1.99 per pound.  However, just above the roasts were these lean and lovely looking "Boneless Pork Ribs" also known as "Country Style Pork Ribs".  Essentially these ribs are a pork loin roast that has been trimmed and cut into thick strips that resemble ribs, and they just happened to be the same price as the roasts.  If I can have the easy way out, I'll take it; the butcher had already trimmed off the fat, so I wouldn't waste money buying the roast, trimming it down and throwing away the fat cap which was part of that price per pound.  I bought the boneless ribs and already knew I would be changing that shared recipe to make it my own.

First thing I had to do was brine the pork; brining will open up the fibers in the pork meat to allow it to absorb the liquid and flavors it is being cooked in.  It's a simple three step process; step one is put the trimmed pork meat into a ceramic, glass or plastic container.  Don't use a metal container as the salt will have a chemical reaction with the metal elements.

Second step is to put cold water into the container and enough to cover the meat.

The third step is to add the salt; I usually add one tablespoon per two pounds, so the six pounds of ribs required three tablespoons.  I just sprinkled the salt on top of the water, used my hand to mix it into the water (water will get cloudy), and moved the ribs around to make sure they were loose in the water.  I covered the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerated them for two hours.  Because the pork was cut into pieces, the brine would be able to get into the meat quicker, since there was more surface exposed.  If brining a large piece of meat, such as a roast or an uncut slab of ribs, give it a good six to 12 hours for the brine to make it completely inside and tenderize those fibers.

Now the sauce for the original recipe required: soy sauce, yellow mustard, maple syrup, olive oil, dried onions, garlic salt or powder.  Well I already had salt in my recipe by using the brine technique, so garlic salt was out, garlic powder was in.  Soy sauce also has salt in it, so I needed to think of another substitute and Hoisin sauce was it because of the smoky flavor it contained.  Olive oil?  I wasn't understanding the addition of that; that was now out, but I did spray the inside of my crock pot with nonstick cooking spray.  I began to think about the different flavors all these ingredients were going to give to the pork meat, and that is when I decided to look up that new fad word on the cooking shows...Umami.  Umami is the "fifth taste"; savory - a pleasant brothy or meaty flavor which makes the mouth water.  It is long lasting on the tongue and coats the inside of the mouth which contributes to the mouth watering experience.  My sauce ingredients needed to have sweet, salty, bitter, sour and savory; but I didn't stop there, I decided that heat and smoky needed to be added.  It was pork and it needed to party!

Sweet - maple syrup
Sour - yellow mustard
Bitter - onions
Salty - hoisin sauce and the brine
Savory - hoisin sauce and garlic powder
Heat - ground cayenne pepper
Smoky - hoisin sauce

Notice that Hoisin sauce plays a major role with the different flavors; when it comes to Asian cooking, instead of sticking with only soy or teriyaki sauces, experiment with Hoisin.

Using the slow cooker, any meat or poultry will exude juices and a "gravy" will form.  Adding cornstarch to the sauce ensured a luscious gravy that would be rich, flavorful, not too thick or thin, and perfect over the meat or poultry and a side such as rice, potatoes, noodles or stuffing.   Now if you want your meat to have a glaze or crust of some kind, then skip the slow cooker and roast in the oven instead.   Place the meat or poultry on a rack, so the juices go to the pan's bottom (make sure you put broth or water in the pan) and you can make your gravy later on.

So here is my new take on the recipe posted on Facebook; it did make my mouth water and I kept going back for one more piece; then one more piece; oh one more wouldn't hurt.

Umami Slow Cooker Boneless Pork Ribs


6 lbs boneless pork ribs (aka country style ribs)
3 Tbsp salt

1/2 cup Hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp yellow mustard
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup diced onion
3 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
4 Tbsp cornstarch


Place the pork inside a large bowl, cover with water; add salt and move meat around to mix salt throughout. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours.

Spray the inside of a 6 quart crock pot with nonstick cooking spray; remove pork from water(do not rinse), pat dry and place inside crock pot.

Mix together ingredients for sauce; pour over meat and work down between pieces with a spatula or spoon. Cover, set on low and cook for 6 hours.

Makes six servings.

Mary Cokenour

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bitter Bertolli Face.

Did you ever see those beer commercials with the tag line of "Don't have bitter beer face!"?  When it comes to Bertolli's Rustico Bakes or Al Dente microwave pasta meals, I get bitter Bertolli face.  Even though I do not like Bertolli's Meal or Soup for Two (available in frozen section of supermarket), I had two $1.50 coupons for the new microwave meals, so decided to give them a try; one Rustico Bakes and one Al Dente.  I should have known, from not liking their frozen bagged meals, that these new ones wouldn't stand up to taste either, but I had to find out for myself.

Lets begin with Rustico Bakes - Ricotta and Spinach Cannelloni; the portion is generous (3 cannelloni); however the taste and texture are severely lacking.  The cannelloni pasta is undercooked; it is not al dente ("to the tooth"), but more like too starchy and sticking to the teeth.  The ricotta cheese filling is smooth and tasty,  but are those flakes spinach?  I could not tell as they are so small and flavorless; I could not tell the difference between them and the herbal flakes in the sauce.  The Alfredo sauce I do not understand for this dish; white on white sauce; cheese sauce flavoring a cheese filling, and very garlicky.  The petite diced tomatoes are what really killed the meal; they were so bitter that I couldn't help but make that "yuck!" face.

Bertolli Rustico Bakes - Ricotta and Spinach Cannelloni

Now comes Al Dente - Chicken Chardonnay and Penne; a generous portion of penne pasta cooked perfectly this time; sadly that is all that is right with this meal.  The chicken looks like two chicken nuggets that were cut in half, giving you four total pieces.  The breading was bland, the chicken meat was dry and stringyThe sauce was very bitter and tasted heavily of wine; again with the bitter tomatoes.   After giving it a good 3 forkfuls of testing, into the trash it went; so I may have saved with the coupons, but I still ended up wasting money on both meals.

Bertolli Al Dente - Chicken Chardonnay and Penne


Bertolii might consider their products an example of fine and classic Italian cuisine, but they are way off the mark. Save yourself the money and either go to a real Italian restaurant or learn to make it from scratch.

Mary Cokenour

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Asian Combination.

Like anyone who enjoys cooking, I get bored doing up the same old recipes, the same old way.  I wonder how things would taste if I change an ingredient here or there; what would happen if I mixed two recipes together.  Sometimes it works out fantastic and delicious; sometimes it comes out to "What was I thinking!?!".  This time I decided to combine two Asian recipes, Sweet and Sour with Fireworks; that would be with chicken, pork or shrimp of course.  Basically all that I did was give sweet and sour sauce a kick to it, yet it surprisingly changed the flavor enough to give it a new dimension; nothing very complicated.  I'm going to give the name of this recipe something non-complicated also, "Spiced Up Sweet and Sour".

Spiced Up Sweet and Sour


¼ cup canola or peanut oil
1 cup each julienned carrots, shelled edamame and drained pineapple chucks
2 cups flour
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground white pepper
1 egg
1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups of water
2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts or pork tenderloin, cut into 1 inch cubes; or medium sized shrimp, peeled and deveined; or a combination equally up to 2 lbs.
1 qt of canola or peanut oil for frying


1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp soy sauce
8 Tbsp sugar
1 and 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp Sriracha


In a large skillet or Wok, heat oil on medium-high heat; sauté carrots, edamame and pineapple until the edges just begin to caramelize. Remove from oil and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, 2 Tbsp oil, cornstarch, salt, white pepper and egg; gradually add water until a thick batter forms. Add chicken, pork, shrimp or combination into batter making sure to thoroughly coat each piece. Heat the 1 qt of oil in the skillet or Wok over medium-high heat; when temperature reaches 360F, drop several pieces of battered pieces into the oil, but do not overcrowd. Pieces will be done when they are golden brown and float to top of oil; remove to paper towels to drain. Repeat until all battered pieces are done.

While frying up the protein pieces, the sauce can be made. Stir together all ingredients in medium saucepan; bring to boil. Remove from heat, use immediately or keep warm for later use. 

Combine sautéed vegetables and pineapple with battered pieces and warm sauce; serve over white, brown or fried rice; or a noodle such as lo mein, udon or soba.

Makes 8 servings.

Note: you can add more Sriracha if you prefer the dish with more heat, but always taste first to make sure; you can always add, but not take away.

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Line Camp Steak House; Another Monticello, Utah Secret.

Line Camp Steak House

7980 Route 191
Monticello, Utah, 84535

Phone: (435) 587-2351

Website: http://www.canyonlandsbestkeptsecret.com/

Hidden on Peter's Hill, nine miles north from the town of Monticello, is the entrance to Roughlock RV Park which includes the Line Camp Steak House and Runnin' Iron Inn.  The entrance is found simply by catching sight of the large white sign, and huge wooden fence post gate.  As you travel the unpaved road upward, the scenery around you is of high rock walls and trees of pinon, cedar and oak.  At the parking lot, a road goes off to the left for the RV, camping and cabin area; the restaurant and inn are directly in front of you.

The owners of this hidden location are Bob Musselman and his wife, who were not there the evening we dined in; we were greeted by a lovely lady named Kim, who also doubled as our waitress.   Reservations are preferred, but walk-in are very welcome; we were seated and wished a "Happy Anniversary", since I did mention it was our anniversary dinner when I made the reservation.  There were two other couples dining there; we chatted with the nearby couple and they definitely loved the meal they had just eaten; a good sign.  The interior of the restaurant is Old West and hunting trophies of the local mule deer and elk populations watch over the diners.  There is a small bar area; the restaurant will obtain their Utah state liquor license this month (October 2013).  The tables are beautifully set which, with the interior decor, helps define the cuisine served, "Old West Fine Dining".

We began the meal with the only appetizer offered, Shrimp Cocktail; and since Utah is a landlocked state where fresh seafood is unavailable, I wondered how the shrimp would fare.  Unfortunately, not well, as while they were five large shrimp, they were over chilled and chewy; the cocktail sauce (not house made) was spicy with horseradish and delicious with the lettuce underneath though.  My big suggestion to the owner is forget about this type of appetizer; come up, instead, with a signature dish that represent the Line Camp itself, and the surrounding area.  Salad is part of the meal experience and it was a plateful!  Crisp lettuce topped with green bell pepper, red onion, cucumber, tomato, black olives, croutons and a half of the Line Camp's house made Deviled Eggs which have a nice surprise...a horseradish kick to the taste buds.  We both had the house made Buttermilk Ranch dressing; this dressing is so good, you want to lick the plate after you finish the salad ingredients!

While eating our salads, we were served the Special Line Camp Beans in little brown pots and the Garlic Toast.  The beans are purchased locally, cooked al dente and sit in a broth; nothing special, that is until you pair them with the Garlic Toast.  Thick sliced, similar to Italian bread with garlic, butter and herbs; whether you put the beans on the bread to make an Old West version of English "beans on toast", or just use the bread to soak up the broth; it was a good pairing.

Hubby's main meal was the Filet Mignon wrapped in Bacon; purchased locally the meat was perfectly cooked (medium-rare), so, so tender and generously large for the cut; the bacon was lightly crisped, and had melted into the meat which added even more flavor.  The chef, Sandy, offered sauteed mushrooms which were a nice touch, but the meat was fantastic with or without the mushrooms.

I had the Salmon in an Orange-Maple Glaze with Pecans; the salmon, even though shipped into Utah, was perfectly cooked - flaked perfectly, tender and moist.  The syrup, used to glaze the salmon, was in a small bowl with the salmon over top, so the fish was not saturated and could be easily dipped instead; the pecans gave a crunchy texture and nutty flavor to the syrup.  I have to go on about the syrup though; when I dipped my spoon in to get a taste of it alone, my reaction was, "Oh my, that is wicked!"  This item would be perfect on French toast, ice cream, used to sweeten hot tea, or used to make a hot toddy for a cold winter's night.

Both meals came with Roughlock Potatoes; tender, red skinned potatoes with onions and bacon in a simple sauce...use that garlic toast to sop up every bit!

Overall we were quite happy with our meal and walked out with smiles on our faces and full bellies.  The portions you receive are quite generous and, like other diners, we walked out carrying a small carton with leftovers.  The service was very good, the atmosphere is welcoming and comforting, the food is very good; and you can stay at the Inn in one of the several bedrooms named after "brothel ladies" like The Shady Lady, Miss Kitty or Miss  Bella.

The Line Camp Steak House is perfect for any special occasion dinner, like our anniversary; or even group events such as a holiday party, reunions, wedding receptions or company event.  With the tourist season nearly at an end, the local populace of Monticello would be foolish not to utilize this "best kept secret", right at their own front door, for the holiday party season.

Mary Cokenour Line Camp Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 6, 2013

What's the Big Deal Over Pretzel Buns?

Pretzel buns, seems like everyone and their mother is offering some type of sandwich encased in a pretzel bun. Sonic is taunting sports fans by insinuating that the hotdogs sold at games aren't good enough anymore; that a pretzel bun makes the experience better. The idea of putting a hotdog inside a pretzel is no bright idea; Auntie Anne's, the famous soft pretzel maker, has had it on their menu for years! The chain restaurant, Chili's, is offering up burgers on pretzel buns, as is the fast food chain, Wendy's; again, not a novel idea. So, why is this newest food fad hitting the consumer scene so hard?  I've no exact clue, but I'm figuring it's boredom and when the big food chains push an item, most folks are sheeple.  No, seriously, in my many years of food adventuring, a novel idea at a unknown, family owned dining establishment are tried out by, you guessed it, the adventurous.  Most diners are comfortable with what they know and that's it; but if a name brand, chain eatery says "Eat this!", well they jump on it.  Simple fact.

Food magazines have jumped on the pretzel bun wagon as well; Food Network Magazine has had two large articles printed about making pretzels, and what you can do with them bun wise, twice since the fad began.  Even the supermarkets and Walmart are selling packages of store made, or shipped in from a factory made, pretzel buns in their bakery department.  One thing I am happy about though, I miss the warm, soft pretzels I used to get at the farmers' markets in Pennsylvania.  Oh sure, you can buy those frozen ones and either warm them in the oven, or microwave them, but in my opinion, the store can keep them.  When I buy the pretzel buns, I warm them up a little and put spicy brown mustard over them, just like I used to do with those pretzels in PA.  Now that is a snack!!!

Anyway, if you need to jump on the pretzel bun bandwagon, let me give you something simple you can make right at home.  That is if you can find pretzel buns in your store, or have the baking skills to make them yourself.  Instead of using simple hotdogs though, I'm going all out and using Johnsonville brats; they're all good, but I used beer brats for this demonstration.  Ok, I know there are plenty of guys out there now going...beer, brats, pretzels buns...I love this woman!  Sorry guys, I'm happily married, but thanks for the compliments.

Starting out with simplistic, Beer Brat on a Pretzel Bun with Spicy Brown Mustard.  Hmmm, next time I'm going to add some heated up sauerkraut; bet that would be awesome!

Sonic has their hotdogs, I've got...Beer Brat on a Pretzel Bun with melted Cheddar Cheese and Crumbled Bacon.  Yeah, I was in a rush when I did this, so next time I'm wrapping up the brats in the bacon, then roasting them.  Of course I'll still put the crumbled bacon on the melted cheese; you can never have too much bacon.

Last, but definitely not least...Beer Brat on a Pretzel Bun with sautéed Peppers and Onions.  Want a little kick, do what I did and use chile peppers instead of bell peppers. 

There you go, a great brat eating experience using the pretzel bun fad; all in the privacy of your own home.  Enjoy!

Mary Cokenour