Thursday, June 30, 2016

Chef Rana Meets My Homemade Alfredo Sauce.

As much as I love to cook up Italian dishes, I am still "pasta making challenged".  Therefore, whenever I find a pasta product we can enjoy, I will match it up with one of my homemade sauces.  Have to keep it homemade, even if only semi, somehow.

The "Chef Rana" line includes a Mushroom Ravioli which has a creamier, less earthy tasting/smelling filling than others which have just a lot of chopped up mushrooms.  Someone disliking mushrooms will, more than likely, find this product more pleasing to their palette.  A typical sauce paired with mushrooms, and mushroom ravioli, is a browned butter sauce; but I'm not one for the typical.

While I try to keep half n' half in the fridge, sometimes there is just enough left to add to scrambling eggs, or use as a coffee creamer.  Thankfully, when I reached inside for the grated cheese (not that sits on the shelf in a green can stuff!), I noticed the almost empty half n' half container.  The light bulb shines brightly...why not make a homemade Alfredo sauce, but add the pasta to the pan to coat, instead of spooning over???  Sure, why not!?!

Mushroom Ravioli with Homemade Alfredo Sauce

1 Tbsp. butter
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 package (18 oz.) Chef Rana Mushroom Ravioli
2 Tbsp. grated cheese
1 cup half n' half
parsley for garnish


In a deep, 12 inch skillet, over medium heat, sauté the onion, garlic, black pepper and nutmeg in butter.  At the same time, cook ravioli according to package directions; it will be ready when needed to add to the sauce.

Increase skillet temperature to medium-high; sprinkle cheese over onions; add half n' half, stir and bring to a boil for three minutes.  Add the cooked ravioli, toss gently to coat; remove from heat and serve with a garnish of sprinkled parsley.

Chef Rana Ravioli - soft pillows of pasta stuffed with filling

Makes 4 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Summer is Here and the Grilling is Easy.

On June 20th, the Summer Solstice marked the beginning of summer, and yet the shortening of daylight.  While it is the longest time of sunlight for the year; the very next day the sun’s rays begin to shorten upon the Northern Hemisphere.  In olden cultures, and even in many today, this Solstice is a day of celebration; the Earth’s fertility is in full swing.

Summertime is also when schools are closed; children are free from the tortures within classrooms dominated by whip wielding teachers.  Well, that’s how they imagine school to be while the teachers see it just the other way round.  Summer is freedom; family vacations to new and exciting places; reunions in mountain or lakeside resorts; casting responsibility aside for days or weeks.   Best of all, outdoor cooking!!!  Grills, whether gas, electric, wood or charcoal are fired up; Smokers prepped with soaked, aroma filled wood.  Meats of all kinds, poultry, seafood; all rubbed and/or marinated to bring flavors to the wildest taste buds. 

Even vegetables are given special treatment to tempt the pickiest of eaters.  Try a nice side dish of one pound sliced mushrooms seasoned with sea salt, ground black pepper and garlic; equal amounts of olive oil and butter; slowly sautéed over low heat for a half hour.

Our grill has been pulled out from winter storage, cleaned, propane tank fully filled.  Inside the refrigerator, tightly wrapped in a double layer of heavy duty aluminum foil are…pork ribs.  Each meaty morsel has been rubbed with my All Purpose Rub; for 15 hours they marinate in the juices draw out by brown sugar and a selection of spices.  The grill will be then heated to 250F; the entire aluminum package laid upon the top rack for three hours.  Fat melting into meat; self-basting, self-tenderizing, slowly caramelizing.  Carefully unwrapped from the foil cocoon; the grill’s heat turned up to 400F; the ribs will go onto the lower rack for searing and glazing; a crisp char around the edges.  The meat tender, juicy, with just the right amount of give from the bone; sweet, savory, spicy all come together for delicious nirvana.

Remove excess fat from underside.

One cup of rub mixture for underside.

One cup of rub mixture for topside.

Massage the rub into the meat.

Double layer of heavy duty foil; fold ends over first.

Wrap long ends over each other; refrigerate for 15 hours.

Entire package on top rack; 250F for three hours.

Remove from foil.

Increase heat to 400F; sear both sides.

Perhaps, after a well-deserved nap, we’ll go on up to Loyd’s Lake for a cool swim; that is if we can get off the couch.   Ah yes, summer is here and it’s time for life to be a bit easy.
All Purpose Rub for Smoking and Grilling


2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. each sea salt, ground black pepper, ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp. each paprika, onion powder, garlic powder


In medium bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Rub onto all sides of meat or poultry; refrigerate overnight. Smoke or grill.

Note: This is enough to cover both sides of a 3 to 4 pound rack of ribs.


Bonus Recipe!

All Purpose Barbeque Sauce


2 Tbsp. peanut oil (if not available, use canola oil)
1 small onion, diced
1Tbsp minced garlic
1 ½ cups crushed tomatoes
1 (6oz) can tomato paste
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup water
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. ground horseradish
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. each salt and ground black pepper
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup dark molasses


In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium-high heat; sauté onion and garlic till softened; be careful not to burn garlic. Add in remaining ingredients, stir together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 30 minutes; sauce will thicken. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking or burning. If sauce thickens too much, stir in a tablespoon of water until desired consistency is achieved.

Use warm or cold; store in refrigerator in airtight container; will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 2 cups.
Mary Cokenour

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Cooking Across America Presents, Utah.

Better start this off with a disclaimer, “No Andes Candies or York Peppermint Patties were eaten, melted, nor harmed in any way with the making of this recipe.”  That should make the politically correct or anti-whatever groups happy; now to the good stuff…chocolate, mint and brownies.  This trio happens to be one of my very favorites, so making “Chocolate Lovers’ Favorite Mint Brownies” from the Utah Cook Book (page 88) was no hardship at all.

When looking at chocolate’s history, the first cultures to come to mind are the Aztecs and Mayans of Mesoamerica.  They made a beverage known as xocolātl, a Nahuatl word meaning "bitter water".  The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste; the process of fermentation (converting carbs into alcohol) created a nectar only meant for kings.  News Flash!  Pottery (Deadman Black on Red) found, at Alkali Ridge National Historical Landmark, located in San Juan County, held traces of cacao which dated back earlier than the Aztec culture of Mexico.  While the ruin site itself was covered over, it can still be visited; from the Monticello Welcome Center on Route 191, travel south for 11.3 miles; turn onto Mustang Road (CR 207) just before mile marker 60.  Stay on CR 207 for 2.8 miles to the junction of CR 207 and CR 204 (Alkali Point Road); turn left onto CR 204 and the entrance is 1.4 miles on the westward side.  Then again, if you just want to read about the Landmark, simply go to my travel blog: (yes, a little bit of self-promotion never hurts).

Mentha/Mint is known as the herb of hospitality in Greece; was one of Europe’s first deodorizers; has culinary and medicinal uses; there are twenty known species and counting; mainly a perennial herb that spreads and is difficulty to kill.  If you have a paving stone or natural stone pathway on your property; leave room between the stones and plant peppermint.  Imagine the delightful surprise of visitors as they step on the plant; a soothing scent of mint assails their nostrils.  Have a cold?  Mint tea and honey will soothe the throat and the blahs; mint jelly on a nicely roasted leg of lamb is a winning meal.  Imagine the wondrous jams and jellies that can be made from pineapple mint (sorry, it’s an annual); orange mint or apple mint; dried mints can be lovely teas, and mixed with other herbs for intoxicating combinations.

Alright, alright, you want that brownie recipe.  First off, I have to say that when it comes to baking from scratch, I am always amazed on how I am wearing more flour than seems to go into the bowl.  Add the dry to wet ingredients is a simple step; place mixing blades into bowl, turn on and POOF!! I am suddenly enveloped in a white cloud.  Now that takes talent!  Of course a huge thank you goes out to my favorite guinea pigs at the Monticello Welcome Center, City Office and the San Juan Record.  Staring at them intently as they try my concoctions, they know I am seeking the most honest answers and opinions.  Consensus was?  Yum; Delicious; Brownie is moist and consistent; Mint is not too thick or overpowering; Chocolate Topping is just right in sweetness; Overall consistency was moist; and my very favorite opinion….Can I have another?

So here is the recipe...


Chocolate Lovers’ Favorite Mint Brownies

(From “Utah Cook Book” – page 88)




2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs (I used large)
4 (1 oz.) squares unsweetened chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
2 ½ cups sifted flour
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup broken walnuts or pecans (I used walnuts and quartered them)


Preheat oven to 325F.  In a large bowl, cream, together sugar and butter until fluffy.  Beat in eggs until well blended; then add melted chocolate.  Sift flour, measure, sift again with dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture along with vanilla and nuts.  Spread in a greased and floured 9 x 13 baking pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until no imprint is left when top is touched with finger.  Spread Mint Frosting over top and refrigerate for one hour.  Glaze with Chocolate Chip Glaze Topping.


Mint Frosting


4 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 Tbsp. evaporated milk
2 cups powdered sugar
½ tsp. peppermint extract
Few drops red or green food coloring


Mix all frosting ingredients together until creamy.


Note: I ended up adding 2 extra teaspoons (mix after each extra teaspoon) of evaporated milk as the frosting was still too stiff to spread.


Chocolate Chip Glaze Topping



6 Tbsp. butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tsp. vanilla extract



In the top of a double boiler, combine butter and chocolate chips.  Add vanilla and blend thoroughly.  Pour gently over pink or green frosting and spread by tipping pan; refrigerate.


Note:  I used a microwave safe bowl for the melting part; one minute, stir, one minute, stir and it will be smooth and liquidly.  For the refrigeration, if you want the chocolate topping soft, 1-2 hours; for it to be candy hard 4-6 hours.
Mary Cokenour

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Cheating with Velveeta.

This is simply one of those, "I really have no idea what to make tonight" meals.  When it comes to packaged macaroni and cheese, I prefer the Velveeta Shells and Cheese; it's smoother and creamier than the powdered cheese brands.  It also makes a one skillet meal easier to create, and I don't have to deal with "hamburger helper" type boxed stuff.

Now I have tried Velveeta's Skillet Meals, and hated it!  Even though I was using the Velveeta cheese (I know, is it really cheese?), there were added ingredients in the box that simply gave the entire meal a horrible after taste.  The recipe I'm posting was simply looking through the pantry, figuring out what would go together with ground beef, and creating a total one skillet meal.  Yes, a separate pan is needed to cook the pasta, but the total package deal is created deliciously in one skillet.

Semi-Homemade Velveeta Cheeseburger Macaroni
1 package (24 oz.) Velveeta Shells and Cheese - Family Size
1 and 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef (93% or leaner)
1 small onion, diced
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes with green chiles (mild, medium if desired hotter)
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Prepare shells from Velveeta package as directed, but do not add the cheese sauce.
At the same time, in a 12 skillet, medium-high heat, brown the ground beef with the diced onions.

Add the diced tomatoes, ground black pepper and cooked shells; mix and let cook for 5 minutes.

Now here comes the Velveeta cheese part, squeeze it into the skillet, mix, reduce the heat to low, let it cook 5 minutes. 

Makes 6 servings of awesome goodness!  ...and here's the best part, the whole thing only took 20 minutes.  Semi-homemade, simple, easy and quick; can't ask for anything more, well except take out.

Mary Cokenour


Thursday, June 2, 2016

San Juan River Kitchen’s Gourmet Mexican.

San Juan River Kitchen

281 East Main (Hwy. 191)
Bluff, Utah, 84512

Phone:(435) 672-9956

Hours: Tuesday thru Sunday, 6pm-9pm, closed Monday

This story begins with an email to San Juan Record owner and editor, Bill Boyle: “Hi Bill, This is not a letter to the editor. It is just a suggestion. We finally had the pleasure of going to the San Juan River Kitchen for dinner last night, here in Bluff. It was truly awesome. It looks like you have a food editor now. Just guessing that she would have the most delightful time checking out Leah's amazing fare. It is Mexican but it is with Leah's special touch. Just fabulous. The San Juan River Kitchen is open every day, but Monday. She opens at 6:00pm for dinner. Leah's number is 672-9956. I'm sure your editor doesn't need to call ahead, but I'm providing the number just as contact info.  Thanks and I hope you are well, Theresa Breznau”.  Bill forwarded the email to me with a message, “This may make a fun story!” and correct he was.

In 2006, Leah Schrenk opened up the San Juan River Kitchen in Bluff, along Highway 191; a colorful metallic rooster being the restaurant’s mascot.  However, in 2012, the Kitchen closed with Leah moving to Springfield, Illinois and opening up “La Calia”.  The concept was “farm to fork” with a Spanish flare; locally sourced from organic farmers.  In only two years, Leah had created a dedicated following, but San Juan County and the river were still deep in her heart.  With a mixture of sadness and exhilaration, Leah and the rooster were back in Bluff; reopening San Juan River Kitchen in the winter of 2015.

Leah Schrenk (Kitchen), Kristen (foreground)
San Juan River Kitchen has quickly developed a dedicated following, once again; open Tuesday thru Sunday for dinner only (6-9pm).  Leah puts her unique spin on her dishes, and while she simply calls it “Mexican”, it is more gourmet Baja style than the typical food at a chain style Mexican eatery.  On one bite, from appetizer to salad to entrée, the freshness of the ingredients comes out strong; buying local produce and products is a must for Leah.  Speaking with Kristen, a perky and knowledgeable waitress, she told us about Leah working on a fishing vessel in Alaska.  Leah knows her fish and frozen won’t do!  The salmon, mahi-mahi and other seafood are shipped in directly to the restaurant to ensure they are served up fresh.

Our purpose of being at the Kitchen was twofold; this article, and to celebrate a friend’s birthday; it was the perfect choice for a celebration meal!  We began with freshly baked tortilla chips and a mild salsa brimming with flavors of cilantro, garlic, chiles, onions and tomatoes.  Also, Baked Jalapeno Poppers served in their own skillet and stuffed with three cheeses; crisply, naked peppers without tons of breading and oil.

 We each chose a different entrée each which we happily shared for tasting pleasure.  Grilled Mahi-Mahi Tacos: one inch thick sections of fish grilled to perfect moistness and flakiness; mango salsa with cilantro perfectly balanced to enhance, not overpower.  The Spanish rice was moist, lightly seasoned; black beans plump and tasty.   

Grilled Flank Steak, served sliced, tender as can be; pan fried potatoes and onions lightly seasoned with a fresh salsa of onions, tomatoes and chiles.  Are you noticing the theme of fresh yet?  It’s in all the dishes! 

My husband had the special, 16 ounce bone-in Pork Chop, brined in juniper berries; served with a green chile polenta and braised kale.  There was nothing left on the plate, but the bone; Leah commented, “Oh, that’s usually the way it is with that pork chop.”  We certainly believed her; considering we all couldn’t help digging into the polenta.

For dessert (house made, even the ice creams); a huge chocolate brownie chock full of chocolate chunks; cinnamon almond ice cream with a strong scent of cinnamon, but so pleasing to the palette; beet mint (yes, I said beet) which is berry delicious in flavor, creamy and luscious.

Beet Mint Ice Cream - Homemade!
San Juan River Kitchen has what every diner craves...great food, great atmosphere, great staff.  By being open only for three hours nightly (except Monday), Leah ensures that the quality and quantity will be a pleasure for each patron.  If you’re a local, you’ll be coming back and introducing others to the Kitchen.  If you’re simply visiting the area, you’ll definitely be spreading the word about San Juan River Kitchen to others visiting the area.

Mary Cokenour