Monday, December 31, 2018

Ending 2018 with Flour Power.

Well smack me upside the head with a bag of Blue Bird flour, I should have looked first!  With all the talk of gluten free, less carbs, more protein in flours made from coconuts and almonds, I experimented with less than edible results.  So why smack me upside the head?  I assumed…oh yes I did…that using the exact amount of other flours to all-purpose flour was the correct usage.  Talk about being a dumb bunny during a rabbit hunt!  Before I decided to make another attempt at substitution, this time I made sure to do a bit more research first and surely was surprised at the numbers.

First, some details about all-purpose, almond and coconut flours based on a ¼ cup measurement.  All-Purpose Flour: 114 calories, .3 grams fat, .3 grams protein, 4 grams carbs, and 2.5 grams fiber; not gluten free.  Needs to be sifted before usage as well to keep it from forming clumps in the batter.

Almond flour: 160 calories, 14 grams fat, 6 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, and 3 grams of fiber; gluten free; people with nut allergies need to avoid!  Tends to be grainy and sifting will not alleviate this.

Coconut flour: 120 calories, 4 grams fat, 4 grams protein, 16 grams carbs, and 10 grams fiber; gluten free.  Sifting not necessary as the flour is especially fine in grain.

When it comes to the necessity of having gluten free and high protein products, almond and coconut flours are the best choices; however they’re not lower in fat and carbohydrates.

Now comes the fun of figuring out how to substitute for all-purpose flour and how the batter and fully baked product comes out.  Almond Flour is heavier in texture, so do not press it down inside a measuring cup.  While it can be substituted measure to measure against regular flour, it is a moister flour, but still needs an extra egg to help with the binding process.  If a recipe call for 2 eggs, now you’ll have to use 3; if egg size is not specified, always use large eggs.   The batter is very thin, takes the same amount of time to fully bake as with all-purpose flour.  The texture is too moist to hold up on its own, almond flavor is very strong, but makes a nice bread pudding.

Coconut flour is extremely fine and absorbent; a ¼ cup is equal to one cup of regular flour!  It needs 2 eggs, plus what is called for in a recipe, for proper binding.  The batter is in-between, not thin like almond flour, but not thick if using regular flour.  Again it bakes the same amount of time as both almond and all-purpose; very moist, yet firm in texture.  The flavor though tends to be bitter, so add a half more portion of sugar than what the recipe calls for and use sweetened coconut milk.  Cakes/Quick Breads will also be a darker color due to the dark shade of the flour and coconut sugar; not over baked which the toothpick test affirms.

Is your head spinning yet?  Remember, you’re just reading about all this; try being me and figuring all this out!  Now you know I was looking stylish wearing three types of flour.  Basically it all comes down to trial and error when attempting to make substitutions in tried and true recipes.  While deciphering the measurements was a bit of a headache, in the long run, I had fun playing with food.

All this experimentation makes quite a mess for cleanup!

To save space, there will be the original recipe with the substitutions listed in parentheses.  Try out all three versions, or simply choose what suits your taste or medical need; just remember to have fun!  Now I’m off to stock up on Blue Bird, I’ve got holiday baking to do!

Vanilla Yogurt Quick Bread


For the Quick Bread:

1 and ¾ cups all-purpose flour (Almond uses same amount, Coconut = ¼ cup plus 3 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ cup white sugar (Almond uses same, Coconut = ¾ cup coconut sugar)
2 eggs (Almond = 3 eggs, Coconut = 5 eggs)
2 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2/3 cups Greek vanilla yogurt
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup 2% milk (use unsweetened Almond milk w/Almond flour, sweetened Coconut milk w/Coconut flour)

For the Glaze:

¼ cup powdered sugar
1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. water (or use milk product associated with the quick bread)


Preheat oven to 350 F and spray 1 and ½ quart loaf pan with nonstick baking spray.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add sugar and mix until combined.  In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla extract, yogurt, oil and milk until fully combined; do not let wet ingredients sit or they will begin to separate.  Slowly add wet ingredients to dry continually mixing until fully combined.

Pour mixture into loaf pan; bake for 50-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Place pan on cooling rack, use tip of sharp knife around edges of quick bread to allow it to release from pan’s sides.

Aluminum Foil under the pans just in case of overflow while baking.

After quick bread is fully cooled, remove from pan to plate; prepare glaze and drizzle over loaf.

Makes 12 servings.

By the way, the original recipe quick bread had a firm texture, an overall vanilla flavor with just a slight tartness from the yogurt; a most excellent combination.

Happy New Year!!!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Tis the Season for Cheesecake

As many know, I like to bake up treats for the holidays and give them out to show my appreciation.  Appreciation of those who have made my life easier through their dedication to their business and customer service.  I still find it kind of, well, for lack of a better word, strange that I am still hearing, “Mary, you’re the only one who does this for us every year.”  I find it strange that I keep hearing, “Be kind” all year long, yet at a time when kindness and appreciation are paramount, it gets lost around Black Friday until the New Year.  Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure kindness is in existence at this time of the year; probably just missing it while I’m in the kitchen baking.

By the way, just as I thought I was finished baking, dang it, wouldn’t you know I missed someone in my rushing around.  So here is my baking quote for the holiday season, “I am finished baking for the holidays, said no one ever!”, and yes, you can quote me if it’s applicable to yourself.

This is the year of pumpkin cheesecake; being a huge fan of pumpkin and cheesecake, is it no wonder they needed to meet and marry?  The recipe I will share with you has been in my personal recipe book since January 2011.  However, this year I decided to try out different cookie crusts than plain graham crackers; and add toppings like sour cream or chocolate.  While Roy and I enjoyed this taste adventure, I can definitely say I witnessed the absolute ingestion of these treats by the staff of the San Juan Record.  Unfortunately for editor, Ryan Collins, we were so engrossed in conversation that I do not think he even got to taste any; or maybe a crumb or two could have survived for his tasting pleasure.  Personally seeing the staff’s smiles, hearing the “mmm”s and “yum”s gave me a very good feeling deep inside.  You’re all awesome people, thanks for a great year!

By the way, the recipe bakes up one-9 inch cake, but can easily be used to fill up four to six - 4 inch mini spring form pans.  Just remember to make sure you seal the pan bottoms with aluminum foil, they will leak!  Speaking from experience here, as one new pan I purchased stated, “Guaranteed not to leak”.  Maybe in their test kitchen, but my oven was a whole other ballgame; thank goodness for self-cleaning ovens!

Just another example of my favorite quote by Helen Keller, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”  So to everyone, everywhere, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year and enjoy the adventure that is life!

Pumpkin Cheesecake


1 and ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup melted butter
3 (8 oz.) packages softened cream cheese
1 cup pure pumpkin
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
3 eggs, beaten


Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare the 9 inch spring form pan by spray with non-stick baking spray; line bottom with parchment paper and spray paper with non-stick baking spray as well.  Place pan on aluminum foil and bring up halfway along sides, pressing to seal against pan.

In a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs with butter; mix together using a fork or pastry cutter until crumbly mixture forms.  Spread mixture evenly on bottom of pan and 1/3 way up the sides; place in oven for 5 minutes, remove and set aside.

In a large bowl, on medium speed, cream together cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, spice mix and eggs until well blended and smooth.  Pour mixture in pan, bake for one hour.  Turn off heat, open oven door slightly and let cake rest in oven for 30 minutes.  Remove cake, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight; use a warmed knife around sides of cake before releasing spring form pan.  Slide cake onto plate, removing parchment paper as it moves.

Makes 10-12 servings.

Options: Use shortbread, chocolate shortbread, honey or cinnamon graham crackers instead of regular graham crackers. 


Sour cream: 2 cups sour cream, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla extract.  In small bowl, combine all ingredients until smooth.  At 55 minutes of baking, spread over cake, sprinkle pumpkin pie spice over topping, bake for 5 minute before turning off oven and go into resting stage.

Chocolate Candy Shell:  After cake has rested, melt 1 cup of Ghirardelli dark chocolate melting wafers, spread over cake, and continue with overnight resting.

Chocolate Ganache:  1/4 cup heavy cream, 1 cup chopped chocolate (milk or semi-sweet is traditional; bittersweet is my personal choice).  In a small saucepan, medium heat, heat the cream until bubbles just begin to form around the rim of the pan. Add the chocolate and stir until partially melted; remove from heat and continue to stir until smooth.  Spread over cake and continue with overnight resting; the ganache will thicken as it cools.

Mary Cokenour

Origination date: January 14, 2011
Updated version: December 2, 2018

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Another 60 Years at Patio Drive-In

Patio Drive-In

95 N Grayson Pkwy (Hwy 191)
Blanding, UT, 84511

Phone: (435) 678-2177

Hours of Operation: Mon thru Sat: 11am-9pm, Closed Sunday

In the early 1950s, A&W opened two franchises, one in Blanding, the other in Monticello.  While Monticello’s franchise went bust due to lack of business, Blanding’s was booming; so much so, that the owner decided to cut ties with A&W.  In 1959, Patio Drive-In was born and while it has changed hands countless times, it has remained an icon of Blanding life. 

I first met current owners, Lana and Ricky Arthur, in 2015, but they have owned Patio since 2009.  The concept for the food at Patio has, and always will be, “We are not a fast food restaurant”, no, it’s a good food restaurant with proud owners and employees.  

On December 3, 2018, the Grand Re-opening of the newly remodeled Patio, community support displayed evidence of the pride locals felt about, not just the restaurant, but the Arthurs.  As we all gathered inside to say hello to Lana, Ricky, their employees, friends and neighbors, the swell of excited anticipation could be felt building.  Lana got her ribbon cutting scissors, borrowed from a local flower shop, but Lana was willing to do free haircuts that day, if anyone was brave enough.  Outside to the new entrance to the newly built dining area we followed; standing together while Lana, Ricky and Lana’s mom smiled at us.

Not being too fond of making speeches, Ricky let Lana do all the talking, just like a good husband should.  Lana’s voice cracked, her eyes moist with emotion, “I made it perfect for you.  My goal theme, “Another 60 Years!”  …opened in 1959…a desperate need to be redone and I knew I was the person privileged to do it and grateful I was able to do it.  …Another 60 Years!”  Lana also thanked her mom for all the support she had given them, in so many ways, and it just couldn’t have all been done without her.  Cutting the ribbon, being hugged and kissed by Ricky; we all cheered and then it was, “Come on it and eat!”

While many of us strolled around checking out the new décor, reupholstered bench seats and upgraded kitchen, there was Robert Turk at the register…the Patio’s first customer of the day.  Hey, he had his priorities correct, food first, then stroll it off afterwards.  

While the collection of license plates paneled one wall, another wall held a special memorial for local hero, Jason Workman.

Of course I had to check out the kitchen first and drool over the professional stove/oven/grill and deep fryer.  Ah, but I was not alone in my venture, along with hubby Roy, San Juan County was represented by Natalie Randall and Andy Platt from Economic Development and Tourism office, and Bayley Hedglin of the Chamber of Commerce.  We all know where the good food is!

Now let me get to the food.  Still sourcing as local as possible, Patio’s burgers come from a coalition of ranchers in nearby Colorado.  No more frozen burgers that needed to be marinated in au jus before grilling to perfection; oh no, now it’s fresh, and we all know fresh is best!  Which brings me to a menu item reserved just for locals; it won’t be listed on the menu board, but we can order it any time we want.  I am speaking about…The Houston, that specialty burger developed by former employee, Dallas Hall.  A juicy bacon cheeseburger on grilled bread topped with Swiss and Cheddar cheeses, lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo.

The Houston

Roy ordered the Big B, but added toppings of made fresh on the grill mushrooms and onions, oh you can taste the difference of freshly grilled.  My choice was the Chicken Ham and Swiss; the chicken tenders used are awesomely crispy on the outside, with tender, juicy chicken within; this sandwich takes two hands with all the toppings it comes with!  Who am I kidding, all the sandwiches at Patio need two hands…no regrets!

Ordering the combos, we both love those curly fries, more like waves of potatoes, deep fried, full of fluffy potato goodness and so yummy; 32 ounce fountain drinks come with combos and Utah’s all-time favorite, fry sauce, for your choice of potato side.  We were so stuffed, ordering shakes or ice cream cones will just have to wait for a return visit, a soon to occur return visit.  By the way, Patio may contain two dining areas inside now, but they are still servicing customers with a drive up window.  What I’d like to know is, how can anyone drive when needing two hands to eat one of Patio’s burgers???

Another 60 Years!  A concept that speaks about love of a business, love for a community and a future full of hope and the fulfillment of dreams. 

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Rolling Out the Holiday Cakes

November, December, January; three months full of holidays that bulge the waistline and begin a new year of promises to get back into shape.  Thanksgiving is the first holiday; we give thanks for our lives full of family, friends, good times and what else…food!  Of course, since October we have seen in the stores displays for, not just Halloween, but Thanksgiving and Christmas as well.  Sorry retailers, I am still one of those consumers who deals with one event at a time.  So, back to the Thanksgiving feast featuring, what was almost America’s national bird, the turkey.

Prices on turkeys seem to have sky rocketed in the 20-teens; with all the turkeys in the frozen section of supermarkets, this doesn’t seem to make sense with supply and demand.  According to the USDA National Retail Report on turkeys, whereas the retailer buys the turkeys at 47 cents per pound, consumers pay an average of $1.62 per pound.  Hold on, while I get the calculator and figure out this markup…Wow, almost a 250% markup!  Now add in the cost for stuffing, vegetable side dishes, biscuits and desserts; you would almost need a part-time job to pay for all of it. 

Honestly though, do we care about the cost?  When it comes to the holiday season, whether it is out of one pocket, or the cost shared by many, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is the coming together to celebrate, not just a Hallmark card moment, but the joy and love of being together.  Not everyone is so lucky to be able to do this; it is not unusual to hear about people inviting strangers into their home to share the feast.  Food banks and shelters hopefully get the donations and volunteers they so desperately need to help the unfortunate.  Yes, this is certainly a time to give thanks, “There, but for the grace of God, go I” might come to mind.  Then again, this isn’t mid-16th century England, you’re not sitting in the Tower of London and watching prisoners being sent to the chopping block.

Now that I’ve given your conscience a little nudge in the generosity department, let me liven up this article with a bit of sweetness.  Most typical Thanksgiving desserts revolve around the pumpkin, its delectable flesh obtained the canned goods in a store, or Halloween jack o’ lanterns cooked down.  Pumpkin puree is pure pumpkin, while pumpkin pie filling is presweetened pumpkin plus measured out spices.  The former is denser, while the latter is smoother and contains a higher liquid content.  If a recipe calls for puree, best to use it, or you’ll have to adjust for the extra liquid in pumpkin filling.  By the way, if a recipe simply states “canned pumpkin”, it requires puree.

No, not giving a pumpkin pie recipe, I’m rolling out Pumpkin Roll.  Making a rolled cake takes patience, and a batter that produces a cake which is not too firm, but not crumbly either; you need it to be pliable without falling apart.  You also need a jellyroll pan (a 15"x10"x1"); it sort of looks like a rectangular baking sheet, but with an edge around it. The name comes from the original cake that was made in it; a thin yellow cake with a fruit jelly spread onto it, then rolled...the jellyroll cake.   Another popular jellyroll style cake is made with a dark chocolate cake and a white cream filling, or what is typically called the Swiss Roll cake.  With this cake, there is the option of giving it a coating of chocolate or not.  For Christmas, a Yule Log cake is a Swiss Roll cake, covered in a dark chocolate ganache and decorated with a wintery theme.

Definitely use wax paper with this cake, not parchment paper, as it will peel off much more easily.  Also, use a lint free linen towel to help with the rolling; nothing is more unappetizing than to find cloth fibers in your cake or filling.  Thirdly, make sure you give yourself room to work like a large area of counter space, or even a table.  So let’s get to it....

Pumpkin Roll


1 tsp. each ground nutmeg and cinnamon
½ tsp. each ground cloves and ginger
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar)
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar to sprinkle over finished cake


Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 15 x 10 x 1 inch baking pan (jellyroll pan) with nonstick baking spray; line pan with wax paper and spray paper. In a small bowl, mix together spices. Mix sugar, flour, baking powder, 2 and ½ teaspoons of spice mixture and salt in large bowl. Beat in eggs and pumpkin until well blended and smooth; spread evenly into pan.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Place clean linen towel on kitchen counter or table; dust with 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar. Loosen cake around sides of pan with sharp knife. Turn out onto towel, wax paper-side up (do not remove wax paper); fold side of towel over one short side of cake, and then roll up cake jelly-roll style. Cool cake completely.

Beat cream cheese, 1 cup confectioners' sugar, butter, vanilla and remaining half teaspoon of spice mixture in medium bowl until well blended and smooth. Unroll cake onto towel; peel off wax paper and spread cream cheese mixture evenly over cake. Using towel, roll up cake and place seam-side down on serving platter. Trim ends of cake. Refrigerate 1 hour or until ready to serve. Sprinkle cake with additional confectioners' sugar just before serving.

Makes 12 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Is Thanksgiving Just a Reminder of How to Act?

Sometimes I get in a rut; same old main meals, side dishes and desserts.  This past Thanksgiving though, I got my brain in gear and made a dessert I haven't made in years...Peanut Butter Cream Pie.  See, for Thanksgiving, we've been going down to the home of our friend's dad, Richard Watkins.  It simply became a family tradition; yes, we're considered family and we consider the Watkins clan our family as well...a natural progression of sorts.  Dad loved that pie, as soon as I said the name of it, he was, "I want that peanut butter pie!"

No long, drawn out story about the pie; the source is Amish and it was an easy recipe to find back in 2011.  Since then I've seen more variations on the recipe, most adding cream cheese, basically to make the filling firmer.  I'm sticking with the vanilla pudding mixed with whipped topping; ooey gooey goodness!

I know Thanksgiving is the holiday of being grateful, thankful and full of sharing which we practice, in our lives, throughout the year anyway.  However, I've come to the opinion that the holiday has become a reminder holiday for a vast majority.  A vast majority of those who forgot where they came from, the hard work and diligence for simple survival, and how they were thankful when helped by others.  The attitude of the descendants is, "We got ours, we're not letting anyone else get their's."  Gee, and they wonder why people dislike them intensely and make fun of them...hint, you're acting like complete fools, and fooling no one.  Karma can be a "roll right over you and hard" bitch, so to those people a little advice, stop pissing off Karma unless you enjoy being punished.  Now that's going into the realm of S&M, and I'm not going there!

So, enjoy the holidays, be kind to everyone no matter what imaginary resentment you were trained to feel, and Karma might just give you a smile instead of a slap upside the head.

Happy Holidays!

Peanut Butter Cream Pie

1 and ½ cups powdered sugar
1 and ½ cups chunky peanut butter
2 cups vanilla pudding (made with whole milk, do not use soy, almond or coconut milks)
1 (8 oz.) tub whipped topping (do not use light or fat free)
1 (9 inch) prebaked deep dish pie crust


In a small bowl, cut together the powdered sugar and peanut butter until it becomes crumbly.  Spread out half of the crumbs in the bottom of the pie crust.

Mix 1 cup of whipped topping with vanilla pudding, spread out evenly in pie crust over peanut butter crumbs.  Top pudding mixture with other half of crumbs, but reserve ¼ cup of crumbs for topping.  Spread out remaining whipped topping and sprinkle reserved ¼ cup of crumbs over.

Refrigerate for one hour before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

January 19, 2011 (origination of recipe creation)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Yam on Sweet Potatoes.

Besides pumpkin, another popular food item often seen during the holiday season is the Sweet Potato.  Side dishes of mashed or cut up orange colored potatoes, covered in a gooey marshmallow topping; or sweet potato pie for dessert, so good warm and served with whipped and ice creams.  This brightly colored root vegetable has earned its place, not just at the holiday table, but in restaurants with sweet potato fries, or baked and loaded with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar.   Oh, I remember the times my neighbor, David Prudhomme (nephew of Chef Paul Prudhomme) would make up recipes for his Cajun style restaurant in Pennsylvania.  I was so a willing guinea pig, and munching on sweet potato sticks was heavenly.  Mashed sweet potatoes encased in a bread coating, then deep fried; oh I never said no to those!

Two questions often asked, “Why are sweet potatoes better than regular potatoes?” and “Aren’t sweet potatoes and yams the same thing?”  Let me address the second question outright with a definitive, “No, they are not the same”.   While they are both root vegetables that is where the similarity ends.  Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family, grown within the United States, and primarily two varieties are sold in supermarkets.  Garnet Sweet Potatoes (these are marketed as yams) have deep, red skin and bright orange flesh. Moisture content is much higher, so the cooked flesh becomes creamy and fluffy and are best for pies and mashed side dishes.  Jersey Sweet Potatoes have tan skin and yellow flesh.  These are a firmer sweet potato; staying slightly firm and drier after cooking, they are best used for creating quick breads.

Yams are native to Africa and Asia, but they have been coming into the United States to be sold as specialty items in the international sections of markets.  Yams are part of the lily family, can grow as small as a regular russet potato, or up to 5 feet in length!  Cylindrical shaped with blackish or brown, bark-like skin and white, purple, or reddish flesh; this root vegetable is starchier and drier.  Mashing them up requires much added liquid, and lots of elbow grease.

So, when purchasing sweet potatoes (fresh or canned) for holiday recipe creations; don’t pay more if the label says “yams”.  It’s just a marketing ploy and in this instance, Popeye will not be stating, “I yam what I yam”.  Nope, just your normal, everyday, USA grown sweet potatoes.
Now to the first question, nutritionally, a sweet potato has: Total Fat 9g, Saturated Fat 1g, Sodium 71mg, Potassium 438mg, Total Carbohydrates 26g, Dietary Fiber 3g, Sugars 5g, Protein 2g , Vitamin A 368.9%, Vitamin C 3.8%, Calcium 3.9%, Iron 4.4%.  It makes a perfect little meal in itself, but it’s the addition of butter and/or sugar/brown sugar that brings up the fat and carb values.

There you have it, the story of sweet potatoes and yams.  Now besides the holiday season coming up, deer and elk hunting seasons have just finished up.  Hunters, how about a baked sweet potato to go with that main meat dish?  By the way, the recipe I am giving is geared to higher elevation cooking in San Juan County; adjust accordingly for your area if necessary.

Baked Sweet Potato

1 average sized sweet potato (9-12 oz.)


Preheat oven to 400F (65-75 minutes to bake) or 425F (60-70 minutes to bake); line a small baking pan with aluminum foil.

Gently wash the potato, prick the side to face upwards several times with a fork (allow steam to be released); rub with olive oil and sprinkle coarse sea or Kosher salt over the skin.  Place into baking pan and then oven; do not wrap sweet potato in aluminum foil, this will cause the encased steam to make the potato extremely soggy.

After 60 or 65 minutes, gently squeeze the sides of the potato; it’s done if it gives easily and feels soft.  Remove from oven, cut lengthwise to expose flesh and mash up slightly with fork.  Eat as is, or add desired toppings such as: butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, chopped pecans, raisins. 
Of course you can eat the skin with all that delicious olive oil and coarse salt baked on!

…and for the Hunters.

Country Fried Elk Steak and Gravy...

Half hour into the baking of the sweet potato (es), using two pounds of deer (marinate overnight in red wine vinegar) or elk steak; first rinse the steak pieces in cold water.  Lightly dredge in flour which contains a mixture of seasonings: onion powder, garlic powder, salt, ground black pepper, paprika and brown sugar.  The proportions are: 2 cups flour, 1 tsp. each of all the seasonings, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar; mix all together thoroughly.

In a large skillet, at medium-high heat, heat ½ cup of canola oil and begin cooking the meat. Let the first side of the steaks lay in the pan till blood begins to show, about 2 minutes, then flip them and do the other side the same way; drain the cooked meat on paper towels till all are done.

Gravy preparation; there will be about ¼ cup of oil (infused with the seasonings) remaining, add a ½ cup each of sliced mushrooms and onions, allow to cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add ¼ cup of flour and began whisking till a roux is formed.  Add to this, and continue whisking, 1 cup of warmed heavy cream; when fully incorporated, whisk in 1 and ½ cups of beef broth.  Let the mixture come to a full boil before turning off the heat.

The sweet potatoes, meat and gravy will all be ready at the same time, just sit down, eat and enjoy!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Italian Tubular Feasting.

If you think about it, many food items come in a tubular form; examples are hotdogs, bratwurst, taquitos, burritos and rolled crepes.  In Italian cuisine, examples would be cannoli (a pastry filled with casada cream) and many pastas such as ziti, penne and manicotti.  I guess if you were a Freudian psychologist, you could come up with some type of fantastical sexual reasoning behind the use of this form, but I'm not even going there.

My main focus is Manicotti; a large tubular form of pasta, usually stuffed with cheeses, meats, veggies or a combination; covered in sauce and cheese, baked in the oven till tender.  Hungry yet? 

Ricotta, Mozzarella, Provolone & Romano Cheeses

Homemade Meat Sauce
Looking into the history of this Italian-American dish, there is a bit of controversy to its origins.  In the 1770s, Cannelloni is a Mediterranean dish originating in Catalonia, a region in Spain, and served on Boxing Day (December 26th…hey, that’s my birthday!).  However, Italian origins are claimed by Naples and Sicily with the translation being “large reed” in which pasta squares are filled with cheese/spinach mixture or chopped meats, rolled into cylinder shapes, baked in a rich tomato sauce with a Béchamel sauce topping.  The term Manicotti is a typical 20th century Italian-American word; the pasta sheets replaced with a tube form extruded by a pasta machine, or purchased in a dry form from the local shop or supermarket.  The filling and baking are essentially the same with a minor change here or there.

Manicotti can be a bit difficult to make as you have to be careful to not split the pasta when stuffing it.  Using freshly made pasta sheets and rolling them after filling takes the stress out this process.  Package directions say to cook until tender, but I pull them out of the boiling water when they are al dente. That way they are still a little firm, but flexible enough to stuff without breaking open; they'll become tender after the baking process is done.  In the overall scheme, if they break, who cares, they’ll still taste amazingly delicious!

It was suggested to me that I attempt baking the manicotti as I do my lasagna, by leaving the pasta uncooked.  Stuffing the tubes is just as difficult as with al dente pasta, there is still a possibility of breakage if the pasta is held too tightly.  I tried two methods in the stuffing process as well, first filling a plastic bag with the cheese mixture.  Basically this is the same idea as filling a pastry bag with icing and piping it onto cakes or cupcakes; or filling a cannoli shell with a creamy, sweet ricotta cheese mixture.  The cheese mixture is very thick and took a long time to squeeze down the tube; it was easier to break the pasta too.  I then placed one end of the tube into the bowl of cheese, to act as an anchor; held the tube lightly while filling it little by little with a teaspoon.  This process took a lot longer for filling, but no breakage!

Baked Manicotti


2 (8 oz.) packages dried manicotti (depending on the brand, there will be 12-14 pieces)
3 lbs. ricotta cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided in half
2 cup shredded provolone cheese
2 cup grated Romano cheese
1/2 cup mixture of minced fresh herbs (oregano, parsley, basil and thyme)
8 cups homemade meat sauce

Note: you can add 1 cup of crumbled, cooked meat such as Italian sausage, or chopped raw spinach to the mixture.


Bring a large pot of salted water to boil on high heat; cook manicotti for 10 minutes, or until al dente. Strain manicotti out and place in large bowl of cold water to stop cooking process and keep them from sticking together.  (Skip this step if using the dried manicotti as is.)

While waiting for water to boil and pasta to cook, prepare the filling by place all remaining ingredients, except one cup of shredded mozzarella (one cup for each 4-quart pan) and the meat sauce, into a large bowl.  

Preheat oven to 350F; spray a 4 quart baking dish with nonstick baking spray; spread 2 cups of sauce over bottom of dish. Use a teaspoon or piping bag to fill each tube; place into the baking dish. Spoon 2 cups of sauce over them, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove foil, spread one cup of mozzarella over pasta; return to oven and bake an additional 15 minutes.

2 cups meat sauce bottom of baking dish

Cheese mixture in plastic bag

Cut corner off bag

Insert open corner of bag into pasta tube

Squeeze cheese into tube

Filled Manicotti tube

Teaspoon method of filling pasta tubes

Filled pasta tubes laying over sauce

Spoon sauce over filled tub es

After 45 minutes baking, top with cheese, bake 15 minutes more

Lovely pan full of Baked Manicotti
Makes 6-7 servings (2 manicotti = 1 serving) Add a side salad and homemade garlic bread for an exceptional Italian meal.

Note: This recipe makes 2 full 4-quart pans; bake one to eat, wrap the 2nd pan in aluminum foil, then plastic wrap and place in freezer for up to 3 months. To bake, remove plastic wrap; bake with foil on for 1 hour at 400F; remove foil and continue to bake for an additional half hour.  To test cheese filling, stick fork into one manicotti, press lightly against mouth to make sure hot and fully baked.

Mary Cokenour