Thursday, September 29, 2016

Not a Typical Roast Beef Sandwich.

Sometimes I have a craving for a particular type of sandwich; not a sandwich really, but a sub.  The Philly Cheesesteak Sub - a massive amount of meat, onions and melted cheese crammed into a crusty sub (hero, grinder, hoagie - depending on your area) roll. Sometimes sautéed sweet and/or green bell peppers, hot peppers, mushrooms; it depends on who is making it.  Same thing for the cheese - maybe provolone or an orange cheese sauce called "Cheez Whiz"  I use good old American cheese slices; 12 slices for every pound of meat.  The meat is normally thinly sliced Ribeye; just the right amount of fat and meat to keep it moist and tender.  You can have it sliced by the butcher, do it yourself, or find it already sliced and packaged in the frozen food section; the frozen Ribeye looks like small steaks, but when cooking, they break apart easily.

Stopping someplace local for lunch, seeing Philly Cheesesteak on the menu; why I get a bit excited thinking about that tender meat smothered in cheese, onions and peppers.  Then the actual item is placed in front of me; warmed slices of roast beef (maybe), raw onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and a slice of American cheese on a roll.  “Excuse me, but what is this?” I ask in confusion.  “That’s our Philly Cheesesteak!”  I look at the waitress, look at the sandwich, look back at the waitress and say, “No hun, this is a roast beef sandwich, and if I wanted a roast beef sandwich, I would have ordered one.  Has your cook ever even been to Philadelphia?”  …and away she walks, mumbling under her breath about dumb customers.  You know, if you took the ingredients out, placed it between fry bread, well I guess you’ve got a Sheepherder sandwich; guess what, it’s still not a Philly Cheesesteak.

According to Visit (, “Often imitated around the world, the cheesesteak is rarely duplicated successfully outside of Philadelphia.”  Even in Philly, shop owners compete for who makes the best cheesesteak.  At the Reading Market, lines form down the aisles from the cheesesteak counter.  This is a big deal!  So here’s what I am gonna do for you (sorry, just slipped into Brooklyn accent); tell you how to make an authentic Philly Cheesesteak.  Cold meat, raw onions, lettuce, tomatoes….get outta here!

Philly Cheesesteak Sub


1 lb. thinly sliced Ribeye steak
1 medium onion, cut into strips
1 medium bell pepper, cut into strips (sweet, green or hot; your choice and optional)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
12 slices American cheese
3 (6") sub rolls (can’t find crusty rolls, toast them at 350F for 5 minutes)


In a large skillet, medium-high heat, brown the steak; it will be tender enough to break apart in the skillet while browning.  When removing meat to plate, drain all excess grease except two tablespoons.


Put the onions, bell pepper, black pepper and garlic into the skillet; sauté' until the vegetables begin to soften and brown on the edges.  Add back the steak; add the cheese, use two spatulas to break apart the cheese and mix with the meat and vegetables thoroughly.  Turn off heat.

   Pack each sub roll with the mixture.

Makes 3 subs.

Now that’s an authentic Philly Cheesesteak!

Mary Cokenour





Sunday, September 25, 2016

Crock Pot Comfort Food.

This year, summer in Monticello, Utah seemed to consist of two weeks in July and two weeks in August.  The rest of June, July, August and even September has been cool and rainy; not that I'm complaining mind you.  The primary source of our water is from the Abajo Mountains, that's right, real mountain spring water flows down, gets filtered and pours out of our faucets...jealous much?  Now what we didn't expect was to see snow on the tips of the peaks in June and July; and this past Friday the mountains themselves were covered in a light blanket of snow.  Down in Monticello, it was, what the locals call, very breezy; while visitors kept asking, "Why is it so windy?"

Let me explain, "10 to 30 mph = slightly breezy", "30 to 50 mph = breezy", "50 to 80 mph = very breezy".  As to the question, "Why is it so windy?"  Well scientifically, "Warm air, which weighs less than cold air, rises. Then cool air moves in and replaces the rising warm air. This movement of air is what makes the wind blow. A windstorm is just a storm with high winds or violent gusts, but little or no rain."  Or I could give you one of my snarky (yes, I'm snarky, not snippy) answers, "See the windmills at the north end of town; that's our wind farm making all the wind.", or even better, "Go to the BLM office on Main Street; they have the weather machine and can adjust it for you."  Hey, ask a silly question...
Anyway, with temperatures dipping into the 30s at night, and low 60s during the day, it seems a good time to begin thinking about fall and winter meals, especially the comfort food type.  Comfort food, that which wraps itself around you (figuratively), making you feel warm all over and it's soothing to the soul.  I remembered a recipe from my first crock pot cookbook from the 1990s, "Swiss Chicken Bake" and knew this would be a perfect comfort food for a cool day. Bad news though, while I was in the process of divorcing my first husband, he broke into the storage shed and stole a box full of my cookbooks.  Why did he do this?  To hurt me of course, but they were only books, material items that could be replaced, or replaced with similar items.  I looked in my current crock pot books, but couldn't find this recipe, so here's where memory had to take over, and I did a pretty good job at remembering!
Creamy Swiss Chicken Bake


6 frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 (10.5 oz.) package herb seasoned stuffing cubes
1 (10.5 oz.) can cream of chicken soup
1 (10.5 oz.) can cream of celery soup
1 cup milk
8 slices Swiss cheese


Spray inside of a 4 quart crock pot with nonstick cooking spray; place frozen chicken in bottom and against sides of crock pot; sprinkle salt and pepper over chicken.  Pour stuffing cubes into the “well” made by the chicken.


In a medium bowl, whisk together soups and milk; pour over stuffing cubes and spread out to edges of crock pot.  Cover the “sauce” with slices of Swiss cheese.


Cover crock pot, set on low; cook 4-5 hours; chicken will be fork tender and easily come apart.

Makes 6 servings.

Option: use cornbread stuffing cubes with Cheddar cheese instead of herb seasoned stuffing cubes and Swiss cheese.

Enjoy the comfort!

Mary Cokenour

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lasagna 101 and No Cook Pasta Sheets.

I do not cook my pasta sheets beforehand when making lasagna; there, I've said it. No, I do not, and have various reasons for it; not just out of convenience. Now there are folks out there who will cry "Blasphemy!", but there will be others who will sigh in relief that they're not the only ones. Then there are those who have never made lasagna, and rely on the frozen variety.  Poor souls, they thought it was too difficult, especially the part about manipulating long sheets of pasta without creating chaos.  Dear friends, consider yourselves saved; saved from freezer burn and microwave lasagna.


My reasons for not cooking the pasta sheets beforehand: 1 - convenience of course; 2 - pasta cooks more evenly inside the baking dish; 3 - it absorbs the flavors of the tomatoes, herbs and garlic from the sauce it is simmering in; 4 - by leaving gaps and layers between the sheets gives them ample room to not stick together and become gummy (the sheets will expand during the baking process also). Your question might be, "Do I need to buy lasagna sheets that specifically say "no cook" on the box?" The answer is no! You can use those pretty, curly ended sheets; they are cooking in a liquid medium anyway, but in a manner that ensures they will not be over or undercooked. I purchase both types only because the smaller "no cook" sheets fit perfectly in 9" x 5" x 3" aluminum loaf pans which I can freeze for a later meal (2-3 servings); or give away. I can use either/or in the 9" x 12" x 3" aluminum baking pans. The number needed depends on which type of pans being used: 30 curly ended for 2 - 9" x 12"; 20 no cooks for 4 - 9" x 5" loaf pans; or 15 curly for 1 - 9" x 12" and 10 no cooks for 2 - 9" x 5" loaf pans.  Too much?  Double wrap the pans in aluminum foil and freeze them; reheat at 350F for a half hour, remove the foil and heat for another 30 minutes.  Why the aluminum pans and not glass casserole dishes? Simple answer is, "No clean up!" Oh sure, they have that new liner paper out for the glass dishes, but it takes up room and I'd rather have more sauce than paper.

Making lasagna is artwork; creation of a beautifully tasty dish using vegetarian, meat, tomato, or Alfredo sauce of your choice; cheeses of ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, provolone, and even cottage cheese.  Or be truly adventurous with a variety of seafood, or vegetables, using thin slices of zucchini instead of a grain pasta.  For those who like cheddar cheese within their Italian dishes, including pizza; I slap you with my glove and cry out, “Infidels, have you no respect!”  Keep the cheddar cheese for macaroni and cheese dishes, keep it out of Italian cuisine!

I'm warning you now that this will be a fairly long article, making a great lasagna takes time. It's not as simple as Gordon Ramsay (Kitchen Nightmares, Hell’s Kitchen) makes it seem on his shows; sauce is already prepared, noodles cooked, cheese is either cool or at room temperature. That's why it can be layered together quickly, placed under a broiler and done in about 10 minutes; it's more of a warming process than a cooking one.  You need to have a great sauce for Italian dishes; homemade with your own hands and that means made with love! You will need a minimum of 14 cups, perhaps 16, especially if you want to serve a bowl on the side; and at room temperature.  When the game plan is lasagna, making a 6 quart crock pot of sauce (didn’t you read my article on processing tomatoes and making sauce!!??!!)  I will add 2 pounds of ground beef that has been browned with onions, garlic and 2 teaspoons of ground black pepper.

A mixture of cheeses truly enhances a dish like lasagna: 12 cups of Ricotta (I use half whole milk, half part skim; but you can use all whole or all part skim).  1 bag (8 ounces) each of shredded Mozzarella and shredded Provolone, 1 cup shredded Romano cheese. The cheeses should be cool, but not cold; mix them all together in a large bowl, except for half the Mozzarella and half the Provolone. Take those halves, mix together and set aside.  I was not introduced to “cottage cheese lasagna” until I moved into Utah.  While ricotta is made from the whey of milk; curds become cottage cheese.  The pioneers, not being of Italian descent, fed whey to the animals while using the curds and cream to create dairy products.   I have used small curd cottage cheese in my lasagna cheese mixture if I could not find enough ricotta to use.

Preheat the oven to 375F; lightly spray the pan interiors with nonstick cooking spray (we don't want to leave any yummy sauce sticking to the pan). Spread one cup of sauce over the bottom.

Place one sheet over the sauce and press down slightly. See that space at the ends of the sheet; this is going to allow the liquids in the sauce to simmer up the sides, be absorbed by the sheets and cook them to tender perfection. The sauce will thicken up with the absorption of the excess liquid.  By the way, for the 9" x 5" loaf pans, each layer will have one sheet of pasta, while the larger pans will have 3 sheets, side by side, for each layer.

From the cheese mixture in the large bowl, spread a thickness of between 1/4" and 1/2" over the pasta sheet only.  Spread a half cup of sauce over the cheese as evenly as possible. Now we begin to repeat the layering process with a pasta sheet over the sauce; press down slightly; spread cheese, sauce, sheet, cheese, sauce, sheet, (however a slight change) sauce, sheet. We will end up with three layers of cheese filling total; and a top layer of sauce only between the sheets.  Now that final pasta sheet you laid down; spread sauce evenly over it, but do not fill in the sides of the pan. Remember, the liquids from the sauce need that space to move around in; not enough free space and you'll have an overflow onto your oven floor.  Bake the lasagnas for one hour; spread the remaining Mozzarella and Provolone mixture over the tops of each and return to the oven for 20 minutes.   Beautiful works of art!


Let the lasagna rest for 15 minutes before cutting into squares; the longer you wait, the firmer the servings will become. While I may have patience in creating this most outstanding meal, I have none with waiting to eat it! The longer you wait though, the cooler it is becoming also; so your big decision is do you want it pretty, but cold; or hot, messy and absolutely out of this world delicious?   Stop thinking, start eating!


Mary Cokenour

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Processing Those Bountiful Tomatoes.

Tomatoes, tomatoes everywhere; what to do with all these tomatoes?  Nothing compares to the taste of a fresh picked tomato off the vein, but there’s only so many you can eat before they spoil.  Sure, sharing with friends, family and neighbors is always the first option, until winter time hits and you want that hot bowl of steaming tomato soup.  Easy answer is buy a can of soup, doctor it up and hope it comes out the way you like it.  Another option might seem more difficult to some, however, if you make it yourself, from scratch, you will reap rewards of tasty goodness.  Canned (and I mean those aluminum cans, not the Ball brand jars) cannot compare to fresh tomatoes; there is the lack of preservatives for one; then the overall knowledge that you know exactly what is inside with those tomatoes without having to read any labels.   Besides soup, there is pasta sauce to be made; and it better not be coming out of store bought glass/plastic jar either.  Oh, you just don't want to get me started on that; basically that is, in football terms, a "Hail Mary Pass" due to desperation or downright laziness.  Making homemade sauce is NOT that hard!

This article is geared towards explaining how to process fresh tomatoes for your own present or future usage.  The first method is "fire roasting" where the tomatoes are placed in the oven, or on a grill, and roasted until the skin blackens and blisters.  After peeling the tomatoes, the flesh itself takes on a richer, deeper flavor making it perfect for meat sauces, salsas and other dishes that look for an outstanding tomato flavor.   For the oven, core the tomatoes and place them open side down on an aluminum foil lined tray (jelly roll pan is best).  Preheat the oven to 450 F, place the tray on the center rack and the tomatoes are ready when the skin is blackened and blistered.  This method takes longer than the grill where you would place the whole (uncored) tomatoes on a very hot grill; watching and turning them as they blacken and blister.  Why not remove the core first?  As the tomato is blackening, it is, in essence, also cooking and you don't want the insides to come dripping out into your grill.

The second method is the water bath where the tomatoes are simmered in a large pot of heated water until the skin wrinkles, then is easily removed; it basically slides off the tomato flesh. After coring the tomatoes, turn them upside down and score an "X" on the bottom.  I own a set of very large stock pots, so am able to fit 30 tomatoes each into two of the pots, and there was no overcrowding; so yes, when I say large, I mean it. First I filled each halfway up with cold water; placed 30 tomatoes into each and then brought the water up until there was about two inches of free space from the rim.  Turning on the stove top to high heat; after about 10 minutes, my wire skimmer moved the bottom tomatoes up, the top ones downward, so they would all cook evenly.  It took another ten minutes until the skin was wrinkled enough to come off easily; the water was not boiling, but there were small bubbles all around the sides of the pots. Removing the tomatoes with the skimmer, I immersed them in a large bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.   
The skin will easily peel off with your fingers; just pinch a corner from the scored section and pull; but if you feel more comfortable using a small knife, then go ahead. The tomatoes will feel cool to the touch from being immersed in the cold water, but don't be fooled; squeeze too hard and your fingertips will get burned from the hot insides.

The first 30 tomatoes fit perfectly inside a six quart crockpot; setting it on low, the tomatoes cooked down for three hours.  Adding one very large red onion (diced), 4 tablespoons of Italian herbal mix, 3 tablespoons of minced garlic; the sauce continued to cook for another five hours.  Turning off the heat and letting the sauce get to room temperature, I used my immersion blender to smooth it out. The taste? Absolutely incredible!!! The freshness of the tomatoes and onions is overwhelming; nothing you'll ever get out of an aluminum can or glass/plastic jar.

The second batch of 30 tomatoes were rough chopped, divided up into 4 cup storage containers, and placed in my upright freezer for future use. Unfortunately, my home is too small (no basement) to devote an area for food canning and storage. Oh how I miss the basement from my old home back in Pennsylvania, but if anyone is interested in buying my current home, so I can move into another larger one, I won't turn down any reasonable offers.   Yes, I said reasonable; so no silliness allowed!

So before you tear your hair out wondering what to do with all those fresh tomatoes, easily home process them for your own use; you won't regret it and your taste buds will love you for it.
Mary Cokenour

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Tale of Two Chickens.

Canned tuna, canned salmon, canned shrimp, canned clams, canned crab, canned chicken, canned beef; are you seeing the trend here and has convenience just gone too far?  Or you go into the deli area of your market and see a "salad" in a plastic container; but where are the edible ingredients?  Usually there is so much mayonnaise, you wonder if that is exactly what is in the container and nothing else.  Mayonnaise for any type of "salad" should be a coating, a simple binder for ingredients, NOT the main ingredient.

Chicken salad - do you like it with shredded chicken or chunky?  Roy and I prefer chunky style; biting into a piece of chicken, knowing how it tastes combined with all the added ingredients.  The best way to prepare chicken for salad making is either Rotisserie or Boiled; yes I said boiled. Boiling the chicken does not diminish its flavor; it’s simply a quicker way of removing any excess fat while ensuring the chicken is thoroughly cooked. You want to use either boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken tenderloins; nice and meaty! For a serving of two, use four tenderloins or one large breast half (anatomy lesson: chickens have two breasts, so you only need one); place in a small saucepan and add enough water to cover the chicken. Using high heat, boil the chicken until a thick layer of scum forms on the top; skim it off; then place the chicken under running water to rinse off any residue still hanging on. Put the chicken on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and let it cool down in the refrigerator; this will also help draw out any excess water the chicken may have absorbed.  Why get rid of the water?  To keep your mayonnaise from getting runny; nothing is unappetizing as scooping up salad just to see watery residue at the bottom of the bowl.  Yuck!

When making the salad, don't get over complicated with ingredients as you want to taste that chicken.  I don’t add salt immediately, most mayonnaise brands already have enough in them. After making your salad, taste it and then decide if you'd like extra salt; remember, you can always add, but not take away. Diced red onion is sweeter than the regular white onion, less harsh on the taste buds. Diced celery will give you some color and added crunch, as will the red onion; two tablespoons of each will be just right. Ground black pepper is a flavor enhancer, but use it sparingly (a half teaspoon for two servings) as it can make your salad on the "hot" side of spicy. When cutting the chicken, first cut strips with the grain, then cut your chunks; otherwise the chicken meat will shred apart, unless you want shredded chicken that is.  Place the chicken, onion, celery and black pepper into a medium mixing bowl; add four tablespoons of mayonnaise and gently fold together. This is when you can now decide if you would like more mayonnaise or is it just right as it is. If you want more, only add one tablespoon at a time; you want to coat and bind, not overwhelm.

When it comes to making a sandwich with freshly made chicken salad, well that's really up to personal preferences. Depending on mood, and what’s in stock, the bread could be a Kaiser roll, sub roll, pita pocket, or two nice thick slices of bread. Fresh, crispy lettuce is the bedding between the bottom piece of bread and the salad; thin slice of cheese like Baby Swiss, Provolone, mild Cheddar or Colby Jack.  Slice of tomato, maybe a pickle or two; if that is what you'd like, but personally I don't add so many extras that I lose the essence of the chicken salad itself.

Now here’s a bonus, Rotisserie chicken salad, made straight from your own oven.  We've seen the oval shaped containers in the supermarkets, better yet, we've smelled the contents and started to drool. Rotisserie chicken is placed on a spit and rotated in a special oven, so the dripping fat can basically baste and moisturize the chicken. Besides selling the chicken as whole or in pieces, many places will shred the meat, mix it with mayonnaise and sell it as chicken salad at a high price per pound. Is it worth it? Not always; there might not be enough seasoning, or too much; same goes for the mayonnaise; and the extra benefits of veggies is iffy, or not even added in.

Besides the local supermarket, a rotisserie chicken can be done on the home barbeque. Just purchase the rotating spit, set it up, plug in; yes you'll need an electrical source, and start cooking. Not everyone wants to do this though, but there's another alternative...your own oven.  While the recipe focuses on boneless, skinless chicken breasts, bone-in chicken breasts can also be used, but you just have to up the cooking time to 55-60 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165F. Coating the chicken with mayonnaise and covering with foil ensures that the chicken will stay moist inside as well as outside.  For the veggies, I use diced onion and celery, but a little shredded carrot or diced bell peppers work too.


Rotisserie Chicken Salad


6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves; trimmed of fat
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise

Seasoning Mix

2 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. crushed dry thyme
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. fine sea salt
1 ½ Tbsp. brown sugar
pinch of ground cayenne pepper

Salad Mix

¼ cup diced red onion
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup mayonnaise


Preheat oven to 400F; line a roasting pan with aluminum foil and place rack on top of foil.

Mix together seasonings and spread out on large plate. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat both sides of the chicken breasts with the 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise; lightly press both sides of chicken onto seasoning mix. Place chicken on rack; cover pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes, or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165F.

Let chicken cool before cutting into one inch pieces. Place in large bowl; add onion, celery and mayonnaise; mix completely. Serve on rolls, breads, inside pita pockets, rolled in tortillas or as the center piece of a green salad.

Makes 6 servings.

Need to bring a dish to the next get-together?  Wow them with chicken salad; just don’t be surprised if it will be expected every time.
Mary Cokenour