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 B├ęchamel 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