Monday, October 16, 2017

Fusion Cuisine for Fall Harvest.

Fusion Cuisine has been around since the 1970s, a blending of culinary cultures and techniques which creates unique taste combinations. Those fajitas so well loved are a perfect example of fusion cuisine; Tex-Mex which is a combination of Southwestern United States and Mexican cultures.

With the last of the fall harvest coming in from home gardens, a question often heard is, “What can I do with all of these….?”  Pickling, canning, freezing and sharing with others are great options; so is playing with new recipes.  Tomatoes, that lovely, vine grown fruit that can be eaten raw and cooked; made into sauces; added to sandwiches and salads; mixed into skillet dinners or casseroles.  Green tomatoes can be sliced ¼ inch thick, dipped into egg wash, bread crumb coated, or batter dipped; deep fried into a delicious treat that brings sighs of delight.  Ah, but here comes the fusion part for tomatoes of reddish hue.

Stuffed tomatoes are not a novel idea; main form of stuffing being rice or bread.  My recipe calls for cubed bread stuffing  which is typically American,  veggies, cheese and herbs which are typically Italian, but some of those same veggies plus chili powder gives it a taste of Mexican cuisine; hence the fusion part.  To really boost up the taste and texture, to make this a complete meal, here comes more American influence…chicken!

I love using chili powder from New Mexico; it seems to have a heady aroma, a smokiness not found elsewhere.  As a rule of thumb, I typically use mild spice when cooking; the longer the cooking, the spicier it becomes.  Remember, you can always add, but cannot take away; that's always the best rule when working with spicy ingredients, and any other seasoning ingredients, especially salt.  If you like more heat, but this is your first time making this recipe, take a little advice; start with mild and add dashes of hot sauce as you eat to see what it will taste like to you.  This method not adventurous enough?  Then use three types of chili powder (mild, medium and hot); make three stuffed tomatoes and use one type of chili powder with each.  Stick a toothpick (one for mild, two for medium, three for hot) in the appropriate tomatoes; after they're baked do your taste testing.  Don't forget you can get others in on this too for a real judging.  Use firm tomatoes that can be easily gripped in the hand and won't squash or crack when being hollowed out.   

Fusion Stuffed Tomatoes


4-6 medium to large firm tomatoes (dependent on size)
2 cups herbed stuffing cubes
1 Tbsp. butter
¼ cup each small diced red onion, red bell pepper and mushrooms
1 tsp minced garlic
2 chicken breasts halves, boneless and skinless
½ tsp each salt, ground black pepper, mild New Mexico chili powder; mixed together
Additional salt to season tomato interior
Olive oil; 1 Tbsp. per tomato
Grated Parmesan cheese; 1 tsp per tomato


With a small knife, cut out hard center where stem was attached and discard. Cut ¼ inch off the top; use a spoon to hollow out tomato to ¼ inch inside. Rinse out tomatoes and invert onto a paper towel lined pan.  (I had two large and three medium which fit perfectly in my casserole dish.)  Strain tomatoes, but reserve ½ cup of liquid; dice tomatoes and set aside.

Place stuffing cubes in a medium sized bowl, pour reserved tomato liquid over and mix.

In a medium sized skillet, over medium-high heat, melt tablespoon of butter; sauté onion, bell pepper and mushroom until softened. Add in ½ cup of diced tomatoes and garlic; let cook another minute; add to stuffing cubes.

At same time vegetables are sautéing; season both sides of chicken with seasoning mixture; brown in skillet, with one tablespoon olive oil, over medium- high heat (3-4 minutes per side). I made several extra which I cut into 1/2 inch slices and froze for use later on; very convenient when doing a spur of the moment recipe.  Dice chicken and add to stuffing bowl; mix thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 375F; spray 2 quart round casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon salt inside each tomato, then stuff with mixture; place ¼ inch top back and place in casserole dish.

Drizzle one tablespoon olive oil over each tomato; bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and top with one teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese; return to oven for 5 minutes.

Makes 4-6 servings.

So, how does all this fusion in a tomato taste? It was a cultural party going on in the mouth and it tasted so good! The chicken was tender, juicy and savory; the stuffing herbalicious with a mild tomato flavor from the tomato liquid used to soak the cubes. The tomato itself, while fully cooked, could be cut with a fork and still hold together its texture; it tasted with the Parmesan cheese, like a very chunky and rich tomato sauce.  

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Death by Chocolate.

The term “Death by Chocolate” is so often used for extremely chocolate desserts, it made me wonder though, can it truly happen?  When it concerns dogs, the answer is yes, maybe not immediately, but eventually.  Chocolate contains substances known as methylxanthines, specifically caffeine and theobromine; canines cannot metabolize theobromine, so builds up and becomes toxic to their systems.  The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the higher amount of theobromine present.  For example: 8 ounces of milk chocolate may sicken a 50 pound dog, but it can be poisoned by as little as 1 ounce of Baker's chocolate!

Alright, we know for certain that chocolate can cause death in dogs, but humans are ok with major consumption of chocolate, right?  Hey, don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger; yes, it can harm humans also.  First off, eating a severe poundage of anything can almost, or surely, kill us; secondly, diabetics can’t metabolize the high sugar content; thirdly, if a person has an allergy to theobromine, say hello to the Grim Reaper.  Dang, I’m so depressed right now; I love chocolate!  Moral is know your health and eat in moderation; don’t worry, the rest of the Hersey bar will be there…where you hid it.

Back to dessert, I have admitted that I'm not a big fan of baking; don't enjoy doing the precise measurements required for a perfectly baked item.  However, that doesn't mean I shy away from it altogether, and find ways of experimenting.  One cake I love to play with is cheesecake; using different types of cookies for a crust; pureed fresh, or chopped dried, fruits; candy pieces; various flavor combinations. It's almost as fun as making cookies, and there are hundreds of variations of those!

Time to follow me on a trail of chocolate, cheesecake, and dying from too much Chocolate Cheesecake; a completely decadent, all chocolate cheesecake: chocolate crust, chocolate cheesecake layer, topped with a chocolate ganache.  My version is not overly sweet, but the chocolate is so rich and flavorful, the extra sugar is not missed.  Folks have tried this cheesecake, loved it, but had to admit that eating too much would definitely be too much.  A normal slice of cheesecake has about a two inch width; but a one inch width slice will be about as much as you can eat of this cake.  Afterwards you will definitely want a nap as you experience blissful joy; eat any more of it and death by chocolate might just occur as you lapse into a coma of complete nirvana.

Chocolate Cheesecake


For the Crust:

 2 cups crushed chocolate graham crackers
 5 Tbsp. melted butter

For the Cake:

 2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese
 1 (8 oz.) package mascarpone cheese (use regular cream cheese if not available)
 1 cup sugar
 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
 3 large eggs
 1 (4 oz.) package Ghirardelli Bittersweet Baking Chocolate, melted and cooled

For the Ganache:

 ½ cup heavy whipping cream
 1 (4 oz.) package Ghirardelli Bittersweet Baking Chocolate, broken into pieces


Spray a 9 inch springform pan with baking spray; place a piece of parchment paper, cut to fit the bottom, inside the pan; spray also with baking spray.

Mix the crushed graham crackers with the melted butter; press onto bottom and halfway up sides of pan. Place in refrigerator for a half hour to set.  Preheat oven to 325F.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, mascarpone, sugar and vanilla extract on high until well blended. Add the eggs and melted chocolate; on low speed mix until well blended.

(Note: melt and cool the chocolate just before adding to the cream cheese mixture and eggs; if the chocolate is too hot, it will cause the eggs to scramble)

Take pan out of refrigerator, set on top of a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil and wrap foil up around the sides. Pour the cream cheese/chocolate mixture over the crust and smooth out with a spatula.

Place the pan inside a 3 quart baking dish, so that it sits flatly; pour cool water into the baking dish ¼ up the side of the pan. Be careful no water gets inside the aluminum foil. Place inside oven on center rack; bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the center is almost set. Turn off heat, prop open oven door and wait for 30 minutes before removing baking dish. Set pan on counter, run a knife around the rim of the cake to loosen sides; refrigerate for 4 hours.

To make the ganache, in a small saucepan, medium-high heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Add in the chocolate and quickly begin whisking until chocolate is melted, incorporated well and has a smooth, shiny texture.

Let cool slightly; remove cake from refrigerator and pour ganache over the top, smooth out with a spatula. Return cake to refrigerator for 4 more hours or overnight; depending on when it is planned to be served.

Carefully open springform pan; use a long, wide spatula to get between pan bottom and parchment paper. Carefully lift cake onto serving dish; cut into 16 slices.

 *Makes 16 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Cow Tipping.

The first time I’d ever heard the term “cow tipping” was in 1990 when first moving to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Our residential neighborhood was surrounded by Amish farmland, with local, bored teenagers bragging about this night time exploit.  What exactly is “cow tipping”? An activity of sneaking up on any unsuspecting, or sleeping, upright cow and pushing it over for entertainment. The practice of cow tipping is generally considered an urban legend, and stories of such feats viewed as tall tales.  Except if you happen to live in a rural area, with even adults bragging how they did this activity during teenage years.  Personally, I saw this as cruelty to animals; I certainly wouldn’t enjoy being hurt and/or frightened being pushed down onto hard ground in my sleep!

Spring forward to 2009 with the moving to Utah; cows here are “handsomer”, for lack of a better word, than the overworked black and white milking cows of Pennsylvania.  Where those East coast cows would back away if you stared at them; cows in the Southwest have, what I would definitely call New York attitude, as they stare back with “whatchalookinat?”  Asking about cow tipping, folks would ask, “What is that?” and once explained would proclaim, “Well that’s stupid!”  So much for cow tipping in the Southwest.

Which now brings my convoluted thought processing to “beef tips”.  Did you ever go to a restaurant where the special for the evening was beef tips?  The server explains how this is a special cut of tender beef, prepared in a rich gravy and served over, well something; rice, mashed potatoes, noodles, a pureed vegetable.  Sounds really good, and it has to be special, considering the price is almost equal to a T-bone steak.  Here comes the surprise, where exactly does this “special cut of tender beef” come from on the cow?  The tips are small, about one inch; is there only one tip in each cow!?!  Originally, a beef tip was the tip of a tenderloin or sirloin steak which was trimmed off to give the steak a smoother, rounder appearance.  Nowadays, while quality restaurants may perform the same trim job, beef tips could simply be a steak cut up into one inch pieces and called the same thing.  Depending on the quality of the beef itself, the cooking process is the same, but may take longer.

The recipe I’m giving uses a simple London broil cut, lean, with all excessive fat removed as the fat will only make the gravy greasy, not tastier.  A hint for all those hunters bringing home elk and deer this season; this recipe works very well for those meats also.  I use Portabella mushrooms as they have a meatier texture, yet mild flavor; they are often used, as a substitute, for vegetarians who want to partake of a “burger”, just not the meat part.

Beef Tips with Egg Noodles


2 lbs. lean London broil
4 Tbsp. flour
1 large onion, julienned
1 lb. portabella mushrooms, cut into one inch pieces
1 cup red wine (merlot or burgundy)
1 cup beef stock (not broth, too watery)
1 tsp. dried, crushed thyme leaves
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 lb. wide egg noodles


Spray a 4-quart crock pot bowl with nonstick cooking spray.

Cut London broil into one inch pieces, mix with the flour to coat all sides; place in bottom of crock pot bowl.  Place onions over beef, mushrooms over the onions in a layering process.

Whisk together wine, stock, thyme, salt, pepper and garlic; pour over mushrooms.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerator overnight (8 hours). 

Next day, remove plastic wrap, place bowl into cooking unit, cover with appropriate lid, set on low and let cook for 8 hours.  At 7 and ½ hours, prepare egg noodles according to package directions.  Serve beef tips over egg noodles

Makes 6 servings.

Note: If a thicker gravy is desired, stir in one teaspoon of corn starch, at a time, until desired consistency is met.

Mary Cokenour