Sunday, March 30, 2014

Subtle Changes Make Comfort More Comforting.

I enjoy trying out new foods; many I end up adding to my list of recipes or staples in the pantry; others, not so much.  The most important feature though is the degree of comfort I receive; how good does this food item make me feel?  Oh yes, taste, texture, smell and the "eye candy" factor are important features too, but then again, I am a "comfort cook". 

I have recipes that I often do not change as they seem to be as good as they'll ever be.  Then I get that little voice in my head nagging me, "..but what if you add or change this...?"  That's what happened when I began prepping to make one of my hubby's favorite meals, "Little Smokies and Bean Casserole".  Usually I add in diced raw onion; but what if I rough chop the onion, saute' in olive oil till softened and just browning on the edges?  While this dish is usually sweet, salty and savory; what if I add in some green chiles for a kick start?

Just a couple of subtle changes made this comfort food recipe into a "hugging your favorite stuffed toy while licking the bowl clean" comfort food.  Absolute Yum!!!

First I'll give you the original recipe; then the newest version.

Little Smokies and Bean Casserole


1 (15.5 oz) can each pinto, white kidney (Great Northern) and butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp each molasses and spicy brown mustard
1 small onion, diced
1 (13 oz) package beef Little Smokies
1 (8 oz) package shredded sharp Cheddar Cheese


Preheat oven to 350F; spray a 2 quart casserole dish with nonstick spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except 1/4 cup of cheese.  Pour mixture into the casserole dish; sprinkle remaining cheese over top.  Bake for one hour.

Makes 6 servings.

Now I've been making this casserole this way since 1994 without any changes; talk about being in a rut!

Here's the new version which I believe is so much better in so many ways.

Subtle Little Smokies and Bean Casserole


1 medium onion, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp each salt and ground black pepper
1 (53 oz) can pork and beans in tomato sauce; drain off top layer of clear liquid
1 (4 oz) can green chiles (mild gives a soft savory taste, medium gives some heat)
1 (13 oz) package beef little smokies
1/3 cup dark corn syrup
1 (8 oz) package sharp Cheddar cheese, divided in half


Preheat oven to 350F; spray a 2 quart casserole dish with nonstick spray.

In a small skillet, medium-high heat, saute' onions in olive oil until softened and just browning on the edges; about 5 minutes.  The onions will begin to "hop" in the skillet, add the salt and pepper; remove from heat.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the onions with the beans, chiles, little smokies, corn syrup and half the cheese.  Pour into the casserole dish; bake for 30 minutes.

Remove dish from oven, sprinkle remaining cheese over top and bake an additional 20 minutes.  Let casserole rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

Well, I did make more than the two initial changes, but sauteing the onions and adding the chiles increased the savory flavor.  Using corn syrup, instead of the molasses plus brown sugar, lessened the sweetness, but caused all the ingredients to be a perfect flavor harmony.  The overall mouth feel was just yum - yum - yum and the desire to lick the bowl clean was strong!

Try out both recipes and see which one comforts you the most.  Enjoy!

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Simply Bake Fish is Simply Yum!

Gorton's Simply Bake Fish

I am a fan of the Gorton's brand of seafood products, so trying out their new Simply Bake items was a given.  The version I sampled was the Tilapia in Signature Seasoning. 

Even the cooking instructions are easy; preheat the oven to 350F; place sealed foil packet (window side up) onto baking sheet; 25 to 30 minutes and eat!  The sauce that cooks with the fish is plentiful; enough to go over a portion of rice or steamed vegetables to give them a boost of flavor.  The packet does puff up during the baking process, so be careful when opening it as very hot steam is released.

So how did it taste?  The fish was moist, tender, flaky...simply, perfectly cooked; it took a lot of will power not to put the other one (two come in the box) in the oven, bake it and eat that too!  The sauce had a mild kick to it, but the overall flavor was simply delicious with the herbs; not too runny, not too thick, just right in texture.  Gorton's named this product correctly with "Simply Bake"; and when buying fresh fish is near to impossible where I live, this product is perfect for a fish lover like myself.

This must be one of the shortest product reviews I've done yet, but all I can truly say is, if you enjoy seafood as a meal, buy Gorton's Simply Bake.

Mary Cokenour

Monday, March 24, 2014

Fill 'Er Up at Red Cliff Lodge's Cowboy Grill.

Cowboy Grill at Red Cliffs Lodge

Mile 14 on Highway 128
Moab, Utah, 84532

Telephone: (435) 259-2002 or (866) 812-2002



We have always wanted to try out the Cowboy Grill at Red Cliffs Lodge, but thought, due to the outside packaging that we could never afford it.  Were we wrong and happy about that!  First off, a little background about the area and the Lodge compound before I get to the restaurant.  The location is only 14 miles east on Route 128 outside of Moab; the roadway parallels the Colorado River and is spectacular scenery wise.  At the entrance, a large sign will direct you to either reception/restaurant or the Castle Creek Winery.  Going along the drive, you'll pass by the corral and see the cabins available for rental; there is also a pool/spa, so basically everything you need for a glorious vacation in the red rocks of Moab.

The inside of the Lodge is stunning with the Old West decor; there are meeting rooms available, a museum and gift shop.  Brochures galore are all over offering all the sites any visitor would want to indulge in.

What truly impressed us was the staff, so very friendly and helpful; not once were we made to feel like we "didn't belong", considering we were only there for the Sunday brunch, and not staying at the Lodge itself.   We paid for our meals at the front desk, took the short walk to the restaurant area and chose a table at the windows.  There is also seating outside and the view is truly to die for!

Once again, the friendliest staff ever, from the omelet chef to the gentleman who made sure all the hot food items were kept full.  Diane, aka the "Head Guru of Breakfast", made sure that our every need was met, and her smile was infectious; simply adored that woman!  The buffet area is in sections; hot foods, fruits and cobblers, the meats (bacon, ham, sausage), omelet station, pastries near the coffee and tea (to-go containers are available)...all-you-can-eat!!!

Talk about delicious!!!  Made to order omelets, fluffy scrambled or southwestern eggs, the pancakes and biscuits are the airyous, the meats are thick and they even served up thin slices of "melt in the mouth" prime rib in a mild barbecue sauce; we were in brunch heaven.

Whenever we're in the mood for a Sunday brunch, you can bet your bottom dollar that you'll find us at the Cowboy Grill at Red Cliffs Lodge.  By the way, they also serve up daily breakfast and lunch buffets, and nightly dinners.  Our wedding anniversary is in October, so you know where we'll be having our celebration the Cowboy Grill.
Mary Cokenour

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