Sunday, November 27, 2016

Original Recipe That Starbucks Copycatted.

Back in 1985, a coffee cake recipe came out in a woman's magazine "Woman's Day", "Good Housekeeping", "Better Homes and Gardens"; I don't know which one.  A friend, at that time, had made the recipe, the cake was delicious, so she passed the recipe on to me.  Somewhere in my many, many handwritten recipes books is the recipe, but I was too lazy to wade through all the paper.  So, I went online to see if anyone had posted the recipe somewhere; I found many versions, but not the one I truly wanted. 

Then I noticed "Copycat of Starbucks Coffee Cake", clicked on the link and there was the recipe I'd always used; but with two minor changes.  See, when it comes to recipes, you can make someone else's recipe your own by simply changing two ingredients; so Starbucks used sugar instead of brown sugar, and added a sprinkling of powdered sugar.  Or so I think they did, since this is a copycat recipe, so the blogger basically thinks this is how it's made.  The blog is "Your Homebased Mom", and here is the link to her recipe:

I made the appropriate changes, typed the recipe up on the computer, and now I have it in a more convenient place.  I made four cakes and the one mistake I made is to forget I live in a high altitude location (7100 feet above sea level), so forgot to add extra flour, and reduce the oil, to the cake mix.  The cake batter bubbled over the topping and was tacky on top of three of the four cakes; but they were still delicious.  Well at least I hope they were; I gave those away, but I haven't heard any complaints, or they're just being nice.

Anyway, here is the original recipe from 1985, so now you can copy me instead of Starbucks.  Of course to get the four cakes, I doubled up on the recipe; and used 8" x 8" aluminum pans; instead of two 9" x 13" ones; easier to give away that way.  By the way, at that time, moist cake mixes were just coming onto the market, so this recipe called for those original "non-premoistened" mixes.  Women began adding extra ingredients such as buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream to get the cake to be moister and richer.  No need for that now!

Coffee Cake Made From Cake Mix


1 box yellow, moist cake mix (plus ingredients on back of box)
2 sticks cold, salted butter, softened
2¼ cups flour
1½ Tbsp. cinnamon
1¾ cups brown sugar
1½ Tbsp. vanilla


Preheat oven to 350, spray 9 x 13 pan with non-stick spray.

Prepare cake mix in large bowl according to directions on box; pour batter into pan.  Bake at 350 for 15 minutes; batter will still be liquid.

While cake is baking, prepare crumb topping; in large bowl combine butter, flour, cinnamon, brown sugar and vanilla until all crumbly (use pastry cutter or hands).

Add remaining ingredients to softened butter.

Use hands to work ingredients together.

Cinnamon streusel topping.

15 minutes, batter is giggly, so be careful removing from oven.
Immediately after cake is removed from oven, break crumb topping into marble size pieces with fingers, sprinkling over top.  Put back in oven and bake an additional 15-20 minutes;  topping will begin to look less wet, toothpick inserted into cake will come out clean.   Let cool before cutting into squares.

Add the crumble topping.

This one came out perfect, the other three weren't so pretty.
(Note: for high altitude baking, add 1/3 cup flour, reduce oil from 1/3 cup to ¼ cup in cake batter preparation) 
Makes 12 Servings.

Mary Cokenour

September 1985 (original date I began using this recipe)


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Squash the Holiday of Thanks.

Thanksgiving Day; a full day devoted to giving heartfelt thanks for family, friends, good health, prosperity, and, in general, the full bounties of life.  These aspects of life should be thanked for on a daily basis, so why the need for an established National holiday?  Let’s take a brief walk down history lane to find out, shall we?  (From The Thanksgiving Book by Jerome Agel and Jason Shulman)

1610 – Only 60 survivors, of 490, remain of the English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia.  A day of Thanksgiving, in the spring, is dedicated to prayer, and praise for the ships that arrive from England carrying supplies.

1621 – Only 55 survivors, of 102 Pilgrims, have a three day celebration for the first autumn harvest (corn, squash, fish and meat from hunting (no turkey!).  The Wampanoag Indians are invited, and this is cited as the first unity between Native Americans and white English settlers.

1789 – President George Washington declares a “National Day of Thanksgiving” to be November 26th to celebrate the ratification of the Constitution.  He left it to each State to decide if it should be celebrated or not; it failed to be an annual event due to lack of interest.

1863 – President Lincoln declares the last Thursday of November to be a “Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer”, believing it would help bring an end to the Civil War; all government departments must be closed.  Sometimes it was the 4th week of the month, sometimes the fifth week until 1941.

1941 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt declares Thanksgiving to be the 4th Thursday of November and that’s the way it’s been since.

As you’ve read, the true meaning behind Thanksgiving depended on life, death, governmental achievements, or the attempt to end war.  Even the Mormon pioneers of 1847 did not celebrate Thanksgiving until October 1848.  The Salt Lake Valley was burnt due to the harsh July sun; the desert was barren, alkaline, with sparse sage brush and cottonwood trees.  Much time and energy was devoted to irrigating and cultivating the soil before a real bountiful harvest could be achieved.  “…the pioneers rejoiced with a Thanksgiving harvest festival, literally giving thanks for their continued survival. (Mormon Pioneer Cookbook by DUP)

One item at the harvest table was Acorn squash which gets its name, not only, from the acorn shape, but from the nutty flavor of the flesh inside.  Acorn squash (Cucurbita Pepo) is low in calories, fats and carbs, since it contains no simple sugars; it is high in fiber and digests easily.  A single serving contains vitamins A, C and B6; also thiamin, folate, pantothenic acid, manganese, magnesium and potassium. The squash itself can be cooked by baking, steaming or microwaving; it can be eaten right out of its shell or stuffed, pureed for soup, added to mashed potatoes, or frozen for later use. If you were thinking that butternut or spaghetti squash were the only versatile ones, aren't you surprised now?

One of the typical ways to make acorn squash is by baking it in the oven and then coating the flesh with a butter and brown sugar mixture (the pioneers used molasses salt, cinnamon and nutmeg).  Reading my food related articles, you know I don’t follow typical recipes. Oh, I did bake it in the oven, but then stuffed it where it could be eaten as a meal in itself, or as a side dish.  Vegetarians would be happy with this dish, and while I add Romano cheese to it, it would be their choice depending on how strict a regime they follow.

From the Cokenour family to you and yours, Happy Thanksgiving; and eat up for tomorrow we diet!  Well, not really until the New Year, but it’s the thought of losing pounds that counts.


Baked Stuffed Acorn Squash


2 large or 3 small acorn squash
2 Tbsp. plus 4 tsp. olive oil
¼ each diced onion and red bell pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic 4 cups wilted and chopped spinach, kale or broccoli rabe leaves, stems removed
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. Italian seasoning mix
4 tsp. shredded Romano cheese


Preheat oven to 350F; line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Rinse squash in water and pat dry; cut in half and scoop out seeds and stringy pulp with a spoon. Place on baking sheet cut side down; bake for 30 minutes.

While squash is baking, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet, over medium-high heat; sauté’ onion and bell pepper for 3 minutes. Add in garlic, let cook for another minute before adding the leaves, salt and Italian seasoning. Mix thoroughly and let cook for 5 minutes before removing from heat; keep warm.


After 30 minutes, remove baking sheet from oven, turn over the squash halves and place together to help hold each other upright.  Drizzle a teaspoon of oil and sprinkle a teaspoon of cheese inside each half.  Stuff with the leaf mixture; return to oven and bake for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6 depending on size used.
Mary Cokenour

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fajitas, an Authentic Mexican Dish?

The answer to that is sort of yes, and sort of no. The Spanish word “faja” means belt or girdle; and refers to the cut of meat known as “skirt steak”. The word “fajita” means a smaller version of the skirt steak itself, or the thin strips cut to create the fajita filling. Grilling meat was not a new style of cooking for the Mexican culture, nor for America; but Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) introduced their American counterparts to their style. Many parts of cattle were discarded, such as the skirt, or given to the ranch hands in lieu of monetary compensation for their work. The meat needed to be grilled to remove the membrane, or “silver skin”, from both sides; it helped keep juices in, but was still too tough to ingest.  Even today, many cuts of beef from the market retain the “silver skin” under that layer of fat left attached.  That price per pound you just paid for includes the section you’re going to throw away.  Marinating the meat all day, or night, guarantees tough beef will be tender and flavorful, but that came later on in culinary history.

A historical piece called “Fajitas, South Texas Style”, done at Texas A&M University by Mary K. Sweeten and Homer Recio, established that this could be traced as far back as the 1930’s in Texas; hence the beginning of what is called “Tex-Mex” cuisine.  (Go to: for the full story.)

While the fajita originally contained beef, nowadays it can contain chicken, pork, seafood, or a combination of these items. Other typical ingredients served with the fajita are onions, shredded lettuce, bell and/or hot peppers, Spanish rice, refried beans, cheese and condiments such as sour cream, salsa and guacamole. Wrapped in warm tortillas, the fajita becomes the perfect little type of sandwich; packed with food and flavors.  Personally, I’m a minimalist, I want to taste the grilled meat, chicken or seafood, and vegetables; so I typically add a little cheese and sour cream.  However some fajitas I’ve seen have been so packed with extras, the tortilla could barely have the ends meet.  Hmm, does that make it a “taco” now, instead of a fajita?

While delving into the history of cuisines might be a bore to most, I see it as knowledge gained.  With all the stories I write, about San Juan County, in my travel blog; many residents have outright stated that I’ve become a bit of a historian in my own right.  Basically, I’m keeping the knowledge of history, whether food or geographically related, alive; and we all know that knowledge is power.





2 lbs. sirloin or round steak, cut into 2” x ¼” strips

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2” x ¼ “strips
2 large onions, cut into ¼” strips
1 large each red, yellow and green bell peppers, cut into ¼” strips
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 dozen 8” tortillas (corn or flour)


½ cup canola oil

½ cup white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
1 ½ Tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper



Refried Beans
Sour Cream
Shredded Mexican Blend or Sharp Cheddar Cheese


Put steak and chicken strips in two separate sealable plastic bags. Prepare marinade by placing all ingredients listed under Marinade into small bowl and whisking together. Divide marinade between the two bags; seal and refrigerate overnight. In a third plastic bag, place the onion and pepper strips, black pepper, garlic powder, 2 Tbsp. oil inside; gently shake to mix together and also refrigerate overnight with steak and chicken.


When ready to make fajitas, separately cook steak, chicken and vegetables in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Cook steak and chicken until no pink is showing; cook vegetables until tender. For the tortillas, heat a 10” skillet or stove top griddle on medium-high heat; warm tortillas for 30 seconds on each side.

Serve steak, chicken, vegetables and tortillas with items listed under Garnish, so each serving can be made as desired.

Makes 12 servings.

Mary Cokenour


Friday, November 4, 2016

Better Than the Box Macaroni and Cheese.

As much as I enjoy making recipes from scratch, time constraints necessitate using boxed, canned, frozen or prepackaged food sources.  When it comes to macaroni and cheese, my recipe for Creamy Macaroni and Cheese is better than any packaged brand.  Four different cheeses melted into a heavy cream mixture before drenching perfectly cooked elbow macaroni...heavenly!  But, it takes time to create, and sometimes that isn't convenient, so I go to the box.  We prefer the Velveeta Shells and Cheese; it's the "rather have liquid cheese than powdered" principle.  As to whether Velveeta is really a cheese, I'll leave that to those who have the free time for this debate.

I made meatloaf to go with my Shells and Cheese casserole.  As a joke, I took a photo of my meal next to the picture on the box.  Personally, I think my meal photo looks much more appetizing.

Shells and Cheese Casserole


1 (24 oz.) box Velveeta Shells and Cheese
1 (10 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (12 oz.) package frozen corn, thawed
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained
½ cup diced onion
½ tsp ground black pepper
¾  cup crumbled bacon


Prepare Velveeta Shells and Cheese according to package directions.

Preheat oven to 350F; grease 3 quart baking dish with butter.

In a large bowl, mix remaining ingredients, except bacon, with the prepared shells and cheese.  Spread evenly into butter baking dish; sprinkle bacon over top.


Bake for 30-40 minutes; top will be browned and firm to touch.

Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sugar and Spice Makes Cookies So Nice.

Snickerdoodle, a whimsical name for a cookie laden with sugar and cinnamon.  Depending on the recipe, this light cookie can be crunchy with a crackled top, or soft like a thin cake.  Now the question is, why the name Snickerdoodle?  “The Joy of Cooking” (in print since 1936) claims it is of German descent; corruption of the word Schneckennudel meaning "snail noodles". Then there are the Dutch with their word “snekrad” which also means “snail”.  The only thing I see similar to a snail is the round, sticky dough balls rolled in the sugar/cinnamon coating. 

Personally I lean towards the third theory of origin, 19th century New England, and the habit of giving whimsical names.  Geography lesson time!  New England is a geographical region which comprises six states of the northeastern United States: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  It is bordered by the state of New York to the west and south which leads to Utah.  If you are looking at a United States map right now, you’ve done a double take on what I have just written, and I’ve totally lost you.  Let’s follow my disjointed logic; Brigham Young  and Joseph Smith were born and raised Vermont; however, they developed their Mormon following in New York which eventually traveled to the Midwestern states, and finally to Utah.  So it shouldn’t be a wonder for the love of Snickerdoodles by Utahns.

Here is the recipe from The Joy of Cooking.



Flour -- 2 cups
Cream of tartar -- 2 teaspoons
Baking soda -- 1 teaspoon
Salt -- 1/4 teaspoon
Unsalted butter, cut into chunks, room temperature -- 1/2 pound, or 2 sticks
Sugar -- 1 1/2 cups plus 1/4 cup
Eggs -- 2
Cinnamon -- 4 teaspoons


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.

2. Add the butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer and cream together on medium speed until the butter is light and fluffy and the sugar is well incorporated. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the egg, beating until it is incorporated.

3. Remove the bowl from the mixer and mix in the dry ingredients with a spatula until well blended. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour.

4. Mix together the 1/4 cup of sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. Form walnut-sized balls out of the cookie dough and roll the balls in the cinnamon-sugar. Place the balls on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, spaced about 2 inches apart.

5. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, turning the pan once for even baking. Cool 5 to 10 minutes on the pan, and then remove to a rack and cool completely.

About 2 dozen cookies.

A month or so ago, I was shopping at Walmart and came upon “Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Cookies” in the bakery department.  Now while we love pumpkin cookies, the incorporation of Snickerdoodles was tempting to taste test.  Primarily they were regular pumpkin cookies with an extra sugary topping, and a slight crispness around the edges.  While not impressed, it did give me the inspiration to create my own version.  My wonderful “guinea pigs” from the Monticello City Office, San Juan Record and Monticello Welcome Center were pretty much in agreement; soft cookie with a slight pumpkin taste, more of the Snickerdoodle coming out in my version.

Especially at this time of the year when pumpkins are being carved into Halloween décor; “the guts” being converted into roasted pumpkin seeds; the meat going into pies and breads, now you have another type of pumpkin cookie to make!  Serve them up next to the Thanksgiving desserts; place a few on Santa’s plate for that extra good girl/boy gift in your stocking.  Then again, a few on your own little plate, a steaming hot mug of cocoa, a good book to lose yourself in, now that’s cozy comfort time!


Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Cookies


3 and ¼ cups all-purpose flour
3 and ½ tsp cornstarch
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (golden for light coloring; dark for darker coloring of cookies)
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled.
1 large egg yolk
1 (15 oz.) canned pure pumpkin  
1 and ½ tsp vanilla extract

For rolling:

¼ cup granulated sugar
1 and ½ tsp ground cinnamon


In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, cream of tartar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg; set aside. 


In a large bowl, cream together butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar, but only to combine, not to the pale and fluffy stage.   Mix in egg yolk, pumpkin and vanilla extract thoroughly.  

Still Use My Tupperward Egg Separator.

Set mixer on low; slowly add in dry ingredients until combined; scrape down sides to incorporate all ingredients.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap, chill in refrigerator for 1 hour; dough will be slightly sticky, but manageable for rolling.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.


In a small bowl, whisk together sugar and cinnamon. Scoop dough out 1 tablespoon at a time, roll into a ball; roll dough ball in cinnamon sugar mixture to coat evenly.  

Space cookies 2-inches apart; bake for 15 -17 minutes (they should look just slightly under-baked as they'll cook slightly once removed from oven). Cool on cookie sheets 5 minutes, transfer to wire racks to cool completely; outside of cookies will become crispier while inside will remain soft and cake-like.

 Makes 4 dozen cookies.
  Mary Cokenour