Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Playing with Pumpkin.

I have often wondered why pumpkin was so important for the fall and winter holidays.  Of all the squash varieties available, why this particular species?  Let’s do a bit of time travel to 7000 BCE, and a favorite winter vacation spot, Mesoamerica aka Mexico.  The Native tribes lived off the land; growing, harvesting, collecting seeds to plant for new growth and harvest.  One method used necessitated a water source, The Three Sisters of squash, beans and corn.  This method allowed each crop to help each other while growing along a river bed.  Vines of beans created a trellis upon the corn, and added nitrogen into the soil.  The trellis provided shade for the pumpkin while the pumpkin vines helped the shallow roots of corn stay stable in wind.  The corn stalks would allow the beans and pumpkins to lift off the ground slightly, so wet ground would keep them from rotting. 

Pumpkin was not so named until Europeans began exploring Mexico.  The name of this squash comes from the Greek word Pep├Án which means “Large Melon.” The French took this word for themselves as well, the English were good with it too.  American English though had to have its own pronunciation, and "Pumpkin" was formed.  Even back in the 16th and 17th centuries, settlers of North America were having fun with phonics!

Squash, including pumpkins, is normally a fall weather crop.  The large orange pumpkins are often emptied of pulp and seed, a face carved in the hard shell, and a candle placed inside.  Now do you know why?  Jack O’ Lanterns are based upon an Irish myth.  Stingy Jack drank with the devil twice, but tricked him both times, so Jack did not end up paying.  Jack’s luck ran out though; he died and heaven refused him entrance due to his track record of bad deeds.  Down to hell he fell, but the devil held a grudge and would not allow Jack admittance as well.  However, the devil gave Jack a burning ember, so his spirit could walk the earth forever, and have something to light his way.  Jack carved out a potato, placed the ember inside, and became known as Jack of the Lantern. 

While pumpkin seeds can be roasted and salted for a tasty snack, the pulp is often used to make baked goods and soups.  Americans love this squash so much, they extend its use into the next fall holiday, Thanksgiving; then into winter with Yule and Christmas.  Thankfully, due to home canning, and the aluminum can industry, pure pumpkin is available year round!  Now to my playing with pumpkin, and the goodies I enjoy baking, and most of all, eating.

Back in October 2016, my recipe for Pumpkin Bread appeared in the San Juan Record.  Since then, I have found many more uses for that recipe besides loaves of delicious cake-bread.  The same recipe can be used to make muffins!  Divide the batter into 3rds, leave one third plain; to the next 3rd, add semi-sweet chocolate chips; the last 3rd is a power punch of chopped walnuts and dried cranberries.  Want more fun?  Use enough of the batters to make 24 muffins; then put the rest into a loaf pan for an awesome mixture of pumpkin, chocolate, walnuts and cranberries.  To die for!

Here’s the basic recipe again, but need to wow the family, and guests, with a fancier treat?  Bake up Biscotti!  An Italian cookie whose name means “twice baked”, and you just have to change the basic recipe a wee bit.

Pumpkin Bread


 2 cups cooked pumpkin puree or 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
 4 eggs
 1 cup canola oil
 2/3 cup water
 3 cups sugar
 3 cups flour
 2 tsp baking soda
 1 ½ tsp salt
 1 tsp each ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and allspice
 ½ tsp ground cloves


Preheat oven to 350; lightly butter and flour (or use baking spray) three loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together well the pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices; add 1/3 of dry mixture into pumpkin mixture and mix well; repeat until all dry ingredients have been incorporated into the wet mixture. Divide batter between prepared loaf pans; use a soup ladle to get three full cups into each loaf pan.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out cleanly. Let loaves cool before inverting and removing.

Makes 3 loaves.  Or makes 30 muffins which are baked for 30 minutes (use cupcake liners for easy removal from muffin tins).

Normally biscotti is twice baked to allow each slice to crisp up, making it perfect for dipping into coffee or hot chocolate.  Not everyone enjoys very crisp cookies, so the baking time can be adjusted to allow for a softer cookie.  Do not make them too soft though if intending to dip them into melted chocolate for that fancy touch.  Again, since the main ingredient is pumpkin, favorite additions of chocolate chips, dried fruit and nuts will be perfect enhancements for the biscotti.

Pumpkin Biscotti


½ cup (4 oz.) pure pumpkin
3 tsp. flour
1 tsp each ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and allspice
 ½ tsp ground cloves
4 large eggs
1 cup canola oil
¾ cup sugar
3 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder

Additions, if desired: ½ cup chocolate chips, ½ cup chopped walnuts or pistachios, ½ cup dried cranberries, or go wild and add ¼ cup of two or three.


Preheat oven to 350F; line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, mix together pumpkin, 3 tsp. flour, spices; set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together eggs, oil and sugar.  Add pumpkin mixture from small bowl, and mix well.  Slowly add in 3 cups flour and baking powder.  If dough is very sticky, add in flour, teaspoon at a time, until it no longer sticks to the hands or bowl.

Remove from bowl to floured board, lightly work in additions (chips, nuts, fruits).  

Divide into 3rds, roll into flattened logs and place on parchment paper; score logs into 8 to 10 pieces.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, bottom will be slightly browned.  

Remove logs to cutting board to cool for 5 minutes.  At score sites, cut logs into individual pieces, place back onto parchment paper, and back into oven for 10-15 minutes.  The longer in the oven, the crispier the cookies become.  

Remove cookies to cooling rack and let cool completely.

Option: After cooling, drizzle, or dip into, melted white chocolate for a lovely contrast of color.

Makes 24 to 30 cookies.  Store in glass or metal containers, in a cool area, to allow cookies to keep their crispiness.

A tin, of these pretty cookies, will make a wonderful gift.  Enjoy and happy holidays!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

My Version of an Olive Garden New Item.

In the area we live in, the newest Olive Garden is either in Grand Junction, Colorado (2 and 1/2 hours drive northeast), or Farmington, New Mexico (2 hours southeast).  I know many people enjoy going to one of these when they're in one of those cities.  The commercials are often on television, and yes, we have gone there once in a while ourselves.

Readers of this food blog, and people who I have cooked for, know I focus mainly on Italian cuisine.  So, when I saw the latest "limited edition menu items" in a recent commercial, I had to admit that I wanted to try them.  Then I thought about the items, and realized they're pretty close to baked ziti, and another type of baked pasta casserole, I have made in the past.  In other words, I can make these new items at home, myself!  While my baked ziti and baked pasta casserole use a homemade tomato based sauce, these new dishes require an Alfredo sauce.

Now, and you know I do this, putting my own spin on a recipe is usually on my mind.  Olive Garden uses a "creamy seafood Alfredo sauce".  Well, I know how to make Alfredo sauce, and it uses loads of Parmesan cheese.  Smoked mozzarella is shredded and used as a topping.  Since this item is not easily found in any local markets, and traveling an hour away to a supermarket is time consuming, regular mozzarella will do.  However, I'm putting it into my sauce with the Parmesan; a rich cheesy sauce will be the result.   Oh, leaving out the nutmeg as black pepper and garlic will be the main seasonings. Even though I have rigatoni in the pantry, I opted to use tortellini. Not sounding even close to Olive Garden's dish?  It gets better, no spinach on hand, so using parsley instead.  Bread crumbs?  No thank you, a nice garlic bread on the side will do.

In essence, this is not a true copycat recipe.  All I did was basically look at the photo of the dish and try to figure out what was in it.  I didn't even look at the description, on the Olive Garden website, until I had completed my version.  Nope, not very close indeed, but we had a great dinner though, and much cheaper than eating out at a restaurant.  Basically, I was inspired to create.

With my dish, I used shrimp, but grilled chicken can be used for those who dislike shrimp.  For the pasta, tubular can be rigatoni, penne or ziti; cheese filled tortellini, or tortelloni, though make a prettier presentation.

Due to the options available to make this one casserole, it will simply be called, "Baked Mozzarella Casserole".

Baked Mozzarella Casserole


1 bag (12 oz.) medium sized shrimp
1 bag (16 oz.) tortellini (frozen or dried)
1 can (15.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, rinse & thoroughly drain all excess liquid
8 Tbsp. butter
8 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
6 cups hot milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. dried parsley leaves 


Fill a 3 quart pot halfway with water, place on high heat.  While waiting for water to boil, clean shrimp; remove shells and devein.  When water begins to boil, add in tortellini and cook according to package directions.  Fit a metal colander over the pot, place shrimp inside, and steam until a light pinkish coloring.  Place shrimp, drained tortellini and tomatoes into large mixing bowl.

Preheat oven to 400F; spray sides and bottom of 2 quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In another 3 quart pot,  heat the butter over medium heat until melted; gradually add the flour, stirring until smooth.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns a golden brown color, about 6 to 7 minutes; this is the roux.

Yes!  You can make the sauce, on the stove top, right next to the pot cooking the tortellini and steaming the shrimp.

Add the hot milk to the butter mixture one cup at a time; whisk continuously to avoid burning or clumping. When mixture is completely smooth, add the Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, whisk until smooth again; remove from heat; season with salt, black pepper and garlic powder.

Pour cheese sauce over contents in large bowl, mix thoroughly and spoon into baking dish and sprinkle with parsley.  Place dish in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes; edges around contents, and on the top will be slightly browned, and cheese bubbling.  Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Before Baking.

After 15-20 Minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

In case you're wondering, I rinse and drain the tomatoes as I don't want all that red liquid to dilute the cheese sauce, or turn it red.  The shrimp, parsley, and the tomatoes themselves should be the eye catchers throughout the white pasta and cheese sauce.

Now if shrimp isn't a favorite, grill up chicken breasts with a light seasoning of salt, black pepper and paprika; cut into bite sized pieces and add this instead.  Or choose another pasta, but make the cheese sauce as directed, add shrimp or chicken, and bake it up.

This casserole, paired with a salad and garlic bread will make a fantastic dinner for six.  With the winter holidays just around the corner, this will be a wow factor for any guests you are serving.

Happy Holidays!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Cake Mix Cookies Redux

I first wrote about baking cookies from cake mix on October 4, 2019, but I've since done so much of it, that I had to share the experimental results.

With the holiday season now in full swing, time to begin thinking about, and experimenting with, cookie recipes.  Each year I like to make little gift plates for those businesses I deal with often.  It is just a little thank you, and holiday cheer, to those workers dealing with all kinds of customers daily.  One advantage of being on Facebook is all the recipes, with photos, that pop up in advertising, or are shared by those on my Friends list.  One recipe I definitely decided to try out was making cookies out of cake mix; not due to being lazy, but it sounded intriguing.  Three main ingredients plus add-ins like chocolate chips, nuts, sprinkles, and dried fruits.  Too good to be true, and how tasty were the cookies really?

Asking my hubby, Roy, to pick out the flavor of the cake mix for my first attempt, he choose Red Velvet.  In case you did not know, red velvet is basically chocolate cake with a dump load of red food coloring, or beet juice.  Making the cookies using a “scratch” recipe sort of defeats the purpose of easiness though.  Looking through various recipes, I found one recipe for these cake mix cookies which claimed they were "made from scratch".  Going over the recipe, it should be renamed, "Semi-homemade", as boxed cake mix is still a main ingredient plus the addition of instant pudding.   It was a complicated, many ingredient recipe which resulted in only 20 cookies at completion.  Simply not worth my time when I was looking for fast and easy.

Here is the basic recipe for Cake Batter Cookies (using a boxed cake mix) which I found listed on the internet many, many times.

Cake Batter Cookies


1 box cake mix (15.25 oz./16.25 oz./18.25 oz.)
**oil (vegetable, canola or a blend of both)
2 eggs

** 1/3 cup is for 15.25 oz. + one ounce of flour, or 16.25 oz. total.
     1/2 cup is for 18.25 oz.

If you live in a high altitude area, like myself, add the appropriate amount of flour listed on the cake mix box.  I shifted the mix + flour, added the oil for the size mix used, and the 2 eggs; it all came together perfectly.

Additions:  1/2 cup for chips - mint, vanilla, semi-sweet, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter, cinnamon or toffee.

                   1/2 cup for nuts and dried fruits; large nuts and fruits should be chopped.
                   1/4 cup for sprinkles - they are tiny, so a little will go a long way.


Preheat oven to 350F; line jelly roll pans or cookie sheets with parchment paper (keeps the cookies from sticking and burning).

In a medium bowl, mix together cake mix, oil, eggs and any additions.  I used a heavy duty rubber spatula and it blended together without any issues.  A ball of dough will form (it can be wrapped in plastic wrap, refrigerated for use after an hour, in case several different flavors are going to be baked up).

Use a teaspoon to measure out the dough, roll into a ball with fingers and place onto parchment paper.  These cookies do not spread out wide, so the dough can be pressed down slightly and a crinkle effect will be created as they bake.

Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes, let cool slightly before removing and plating.  Sprinkle powdered sugar to enhance the crinkles, or leave as is.

Makes 3 dozen cookies if using a teaspoon to measure out.  Want larger cookies, double the teaspoon amount, or use a tablespoon to measure out the dough.  Better yet, use a 1-inch diameter ice cream scoop!

Basically, I had 3 dozen delicious red velvet cookies, with semi-sweet chocolate chips, baked and plated.  I sprinkled half with powdered sugar, and the other half were left as is.  The whole process took 45 minutes as I had only have two racks in my oven; if I had a third, the time would have been 30 minutes.

Hint:  if you cannot decide what flavors of cake mix to purchase, stock up on "White".  Then you can add cocoa powder to create chocolate; vanilla, lemon, peppermint or other flavors of extract as well.  Consider the white cake mix to be a blank canvass, you are the artist, now create!

It has been a lot of fun playing with other flavors of cake mix, and added ingredients.  Chocolate Fudge with chopped walnuts, dark chocolate and mint chips were my absolute favorite.  Roy enjoyed the Spice with chopped fresh apple, chopped walnuts and cinnamon chips. 

Chocolate Fudge with chopped walnuts, dark chocolate & mint chips.

Red Velvet with & without powdered sugar

Spice with chopped apple, chopped walnuts & cinnamon chips.

But, I had to do it, I had to see what would happen if I used a made from scratch recipe.  No, not a cake recipe; a cookie recipe that would convert the flat, crunchy cookies into thicker, cakier cookies…Chocolate Chip!  Now don’t I sound like a mad scientist working in a lab?

Taking a basic recipe for, made from scratch, chocolate chip cookies, I simply added three extra tablespoons of flour and used a Stevia baking blend instead of pure cane sugar.  Instead of spreading out flatly and becoming crisp while baking, the cookies only flattered slightly.  The bottoms were lightly crisp, but the overall texture was like any cookies that had used a boxed cake mix.  Due to the Stevia baking blend, they were not as sugary sweet, but the milk chocolate chips (instead of semi-sweet) made up for that.

Now that these experiments have been a tasty success, time to begin playing with pumpkin!

Have fun baking!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sheep and Bread

Historically, the New World, or North America, was explored and “conquered”, for lack of a better word, by the countries of Europe.  While the English primarily settled within the 13 original colonies, French and Spanish explorers traveled the fringes of both the United States and Canada.  Moving inland became justified with the finding of precious minerals (gold, silver, copper); fur trapping for animal pelts to keep human bodies warm in winter and, of course, land grabbing.

With the influx of these foreigners came food items and recipes.  American cuisine essentially began as a mixture of English, French, Spanish; increasing as more countries forth wars in North America.  The Hessians were approximately 30,000 German troops, hired by the British, to help fight during the American Revolution. They were principally from the German state of Hesse-Cassel, and with them came their cultural background.  It is known that the Spanish came through San Juan County, part of the development of the Old Spanish Trail from Mexico to California.

In the 1900s, Basque immigrants traveled to the mountain regions of California, Idaho, Montana and Utah.  Descended from the first Romans who invaded the areas of Spain and France, they have their own culture, language and distinct genetic background.  The Basque are extremely family oriented, so while sheepherding was a major component of life, it was a lonely existence.  The herders spent more time with their flock, than with family.  Living in small shelters and cooking for themselves was a basic necessity for their way of life. 

“Tending their flocks in the remote Western rangelands, Basque sheepmen had to cook for themselves, and they had to make do with a minimum of portable cooking equipment.   A Dutch oven became essential for cooking hearty soups and stews — and even for baking bread. They buried the pot in a pit full of hot embers.  During the winter months, herders would live in sheep wagons, which contained a stove and an oven. They baked their own bread in a Dutch oven, buried in the coals from sagebrush or aspen wood fires, with a tight-fitting lid and a bale handle. Today the tradition continues in homes across the world recreating this wonderful bread in modern ovens. ” ~~Sunset Magazine, June 1976~~

Now, in the history of bread baking, comes that age old question, “Which came first…?”  The Native American culture and traditions have their own bread creation styles.  Pueblo bread (San Juan Record, April 5, 2016), bread products made by ancestral Native Americans used corn flour.  The introduction of wheat flour, and eventually more processed flours, came from the exploring Europeans.  So, when it came to baking techniques, recipes and what the finished bread loaves looked like; who influenced who?  I asked a few Navajo ladies about the difference between Pueblo and Sheepherder breads, and the answer was simple…sugar.  The recipes are essentially the same, except Sheepherder bread contains sugar which gives a sweeter flavor, and browner coloring.

Sheepherder Bread baked Pueblo Bread style.
Not owning a cast iron Dutch oven (bowing head in shame), one recipe I came upon stated that a modern day, stainless steel/aluminum Dutch oven would do the trick.  Oh yes it did, I was totally tricked and fooled.  My first attempt with the recipe was a disaster of sorts.  Oh, it rose up beautifully as it baked, a lovely golden brown and yeasty aroma.  Tapping on the crispy crust though, something did not sound correct; it should have had a more hollow tone.  Cutting into the huge, round loaf and to my dismay, the dough inside was mostly gooey and raw.  I put it into the oven for 20 minutes longer, but the only accomplishment was a dark brown coloring and harder crust.

First Attempt
2nd Rising in Stainless Steel Dutch Oven

After Baking

Sheepherder Bread - Dutch Oven style

Failed First Attempt, still raw dough inside.
I am telling you of my failed first attempt to prove a point, do not quit.  The secret of life is to learn something new on a daily basis.  I learned that a baking technique, hundreds of years old, cannot be simply cheated on.  Then it hit me, wait, the Puebloans did not have cast iron Dutch ovens, how did they do it!?!  I went back to the basic recipe for Pueblo Bread (remember, it is almost exactly like Sheepherder Bread), added the sugar, but divided the first rise of dough into fourths.  Giving a second rise in round, oiled cake pans, I baked them according to temperature and time instructions. 

Second Attempt
Mound of Dough

First Rising in Greased Bowl

Knead, Divide into 4 Pans

2nd Rising, Cut X into top.

Sheepherder Bread, baked Pueblo Bread style....Perfect!

What was the result?  Four beautifully browned, round loaves of Sheepherder Bread; crispy crust, light and tender inside, mild sweetness that did not interfere with any ingredients placed upon the bread.  We indulged in grilled cheese sandwiches and French toast; or simply warmed slices smeared with butter and/or jam.  Not quitting, putting thought and experience to the test, success!

French Toast

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

With the recipe for Sheepherder Bread, there will be two sets of baking instructions.  The first set will be the traditional baking technique using a cast iron Dutch oven.  The second set will be as if making Pueblo style bread.  If you have a cast iron Dutch oven, I suggest making the bread both ways, and see which is preferred.

Sheepherder Bread


3 cups very hot water
1/2 cup shortening
1⁄2 cup sugar
2 and 1⁄2 tsp. salt
4 and 1⁄2 tsp. dry yeast
9 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
Vegetable or olive oil

For Cast Iron Dutch Oven

In a bowl, combine water, shortening, sugar and salt.  Stir until shortening melts and cool to 110 to 115 degrees. Stir in yeast, cover and set in warm place until bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Add 5 cups flour and beat to form thick batter. Stir in enough of remaining flour (about 3 and 1/2 cups) to form stiff dough. Turn out on floured board and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes), adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.

Turn dough into greased bowl, cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 and 1/2 hours. Punch down and knead to form smooth ball, about 3-4 turns.

Grease inside of Dutch oven and inside of lid with oil. Place dough in Dutch oven and cover with lid to let rise for the third time. Let rise in warm place until dough pushes up lid about 1/2 inch (watch closely).

Bake covered with lid in 375 degree oven for 12 minutes, carefully remove lid and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, or until loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from oven and turn out on rack to cool.

Makes 1 loaf.

For Individual Round Pans

Same steps as Dutch oven method, except after first rising and kneading, cut dough into 4 sections.  Shape into round balls and place inside round cake pans that have been greased with oil.  Cover and let rise for 1 and ½ hours.

Preheat oven to 400F, bake for 45-50 minutes, or until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.  Remove from oven and place loaves on rack to cool.

Makes 4 loaves.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Spanish Valley’s Hidden Cuisine.

Hidden Cuisine

2740 South Highway 191 (1/4 mile from Spanish Trail Road)
Moab, Utah, 84532 (Spanish Valley area)

Phone: (435) 259-7711

Hours of Operation:
Monday: 7am – 2pm
Thursday through Sunday: 7am – 2pm, 5:30pm – 9:30pm
Tuesday and Wednesday: Closed

Spanish Valley stretches along Highway 191 and encompasses two counties, Grand and San Juan.  Only 2.5 miles from the borderline, resting upon a small hilltop, is a hidden gem of a restaurant.  Serving American, Southwestern, and a cuisine that most Americans only wonder about, South African; Hidden Cuisine is a must experience restaurant.  Opened two years ago by owner and chef, Zinzi M. Chamanifard, Hidden Cuisine has received rave reviews.

Zinzi arrived, from Cape Town, South Africa, in America on a student visa, and now holds a culinary degree in hospitality; and she is an acclaimed chef as well.  Her training began in the kitchens of Desert Bistro and Sweet Cravings (both located in Moab).  She excelled rapidly and decided to prove her merits by opening her own catering business.  Opportunity came knocking upon her door with the advertisement of a restaurant location up for sale; Zinzi opened that door gladly.

At first, the restaurant was only open for breakfast (available at all open hours) and lunch, but recently dinner specialties are being offered Thursday through Sunday.  For breakfast, items such as “Biscuits and Gravy”, “Southwest Country Fried Steak” and “Eggs Benedict” are elevated from ordinary to extraordinary.  The pepper gravy used for the biscuits and country fried steak is smooth, creamy with the correct amount of cracked black pepper to enhance, not overpower.  Zinzi’s hollandaise sauce for the eggs benedict is so rich, creamy and packed with flavor.  Do not be surprised to find yourself licking the place for every drop!  The biscuits are fluffy; steak is encased within a crispy coating, yet fork tender, sporting pepper gravy attire.  Poached eggs are perfect globes holding a golden orb of yolk, sitting upon grilled slices of ham and draped in a silky hollandaise sauce.  Both selections came with red-skinned potatoes grilled, yet tender.  As you can tell, we decided to try out breakfast first; it was at lunch time and so, so satisfying.

Eggs Benedict

Inside the Poached Eggs - glorious sunshine!

Southwest Country Fried Steak

The lunch menu features a southwestern version of Philly cheesesteak, wraps and salads.
  Dinner though, a new edition to Hidden Cuisine’s menus, has offerings that showcase Asian, American, Southwestern, Italian and South African specialties.  As with breakfast and lunch, Zinzi shows off her talents, and quest for quality.  Sourcing for foods is based upon quality, so local, as well as outside of Utah, companies are used.  There is only one chef in the kitchen, and that is Zinzi.  Her mission and vision for Hidden Cuisine is to provide quality to the customer; quality atmosphere, service, and most especially, in the food items. 

Speaking of quality service, Shauna, our waitress, is very friendly, knows the menu items, and speaks very highly of Zinzi, her cooking skills and the food.  Our visit to Hidden Cuisine was definitely enhanced by her welcoming attitude, and quality service.  There is that key word again, Quality!

Hidden Cuisine is that type of restaurant where, no matter what speed your gear is in; stop in, sit, eat and simply enjoy.  Being curious about new cuisines, we are looking forward to another visit; this time for dinner and the adventure of South African flavors.

Mary Cokenour



Beer and Wine

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Paca Pantry is Alpaca and More.

Paca Pantry

133 East Center Street (Hwy. 491)
Monticello, UT, 84535

Phone: (435) 419-0750

Website for Ordering and Shipping of Items:, or find Wild Mountain Meats at

Free Wifi is available.

Five years ago, Dorothy Pipkin-Padilla, owner of Peter Springs Alpaca Ranch, had a wild idea.  Doing research, finding resources that suited her needs, Wild Mountain Meats was born.  This new business features Alpaca meat in the forms of burgers, ground summer sausage, chops, and roasts.  Experimenting with dehydration techniques, a line of jerky will be added to the lineup. 

It was no wonder that a shop would open one year later, featuring, what else, Alpaca products.   Made from the fleece (fiber), Paca Pantry features scarves, hats, shawls, sweaters, gloves, head bandanas and yarn.  The bestselling item though are the socks which have dedicated repeat buyers from locals and tourists yearly.  “What is so wonderful about alpaca fleece?” you might be asking.  Each shearing produces roughly five to ten pounds of fleece per animal, per year. This fleece, often compared to cashmere, can be turned into a wide array of products from yarn and apparel to tapestries and blankets.

There are two different types of alpaca fleece.  Huacaya fiber grows and looks similar to sheep wool, causing the alpaca to look fluffy. The second type is Suri and makes up less than 10% of the South American alpaca population.  Suri fiber is similar to natural silk and hangs off the body in locks that have a dreadlock appearance.  At Peter Springs Alpaca Ranch, Huacaya is what you can see; simply ask Dorothy for tour information.  I have visited the ranch, while some of the alpaca can be a bit standoffish; several will gladly come forth to be petted, or simply “vogue” for the camera.  The Ranch and Paca Pantry are associated with | Vacation Rentals & More (‎‎) which helps to promote both businesses to those planning on visiting Monticello and the surrounding areas.

The alpaca fiber products at Paca Pantry come from the herd at the ranch; the fleece is sheared, carted, woven into skeins, and knitted into wearable and comfortable art.  Looking for something unique to hang over a fireplace?  A lovely, soft, full body alpaca hide can be purchased.

Now every business owner needs a right hand person; Sue Morrell, former award winning “31 Bags” demonstrator, is Dorothy’s.  Besides doing sales and making sure the shop maintains its eye tempting look, Sue helps to promote.  Currently there is a 50% off sale on all remaining “31 Bags” from Sue’s personal stock.  I LOVE the thermal insulated bags that keep items frozen or cold for approximately five hours!  Quilters and other crafters will adore the many pocketed bags made just for this purpose.

That’s right, Paca Pantry is not about alpaca only; expansion of stock is key to keeping a business interesting to the public.  85-90% of items offered for sale are sourced locally; either through consignment, or purchased outright.  The other 10-15% are Utah products; Dorothy and Sue believe in “Shop Local, Shop Utah”.

So, what else can be found to delight any shopper?  Beautifully handcrafted pottery pieces by Tony Wojcik, Otis Wright and Cedar Mesa Pottery.  Unpainted ceramic pieces are a best seller for the at-home crafter.  Essential Oils, postcards, photographs, jewelry, furniture, and I could go on and go, but I will not.  What I will do is ask you to stop in and see for yourself. 

Paca Pantry has a vision, “To provide items that will satisfy locals and tourists alike”.  Dorothy and Sue are community conscious by donating to, and attending, events such as the Parks and Beautification Gala, Rotary Club, San Juan Hospital “First Baby of the New Year”, Holiday Gingerbread House Tour, and the Pioneer Day Treasure Hunt.  Book signings, like local author Eric Niven, are an enjoyable event at the Pantry itself; along with classes on essential oils and alpaca education.  In future, cooking demonstrations will be offered on alpaca meat, so expect to get some nifty recipes for home use.  Also included will be the foods of local cultures such as Native American, Mexican and the Pioneers.

Speaking of food, in the summer, stop in for a childhood favorite, well of mine at least, a rootbeer float; or a cup of gelato which is sourced directly from the Moab Brewery.  If you have not tried their gelato yet, you will be in for a real treat!

Pet owners, do not feel left out, items geared for your furbabies will be offered in the future as well!  Before I forget, book readers; drop off used books for store credit, or come in and see what titles are a “must” purchase.

Winter hours allow for a little time off, Paca Pantry will be open Tuesday and Friday, from 11am-4pm, and Saturday, 10am to 2pm.  With the holidays looming ahead though, there will be extended hours Thanksgiving week, and the week before and during Christmas.  There will be a huge sale period beginning November 15th; 10% off ALL items in the shop, except for historically based pieces.  Looking for a special gift has now been made easier.

Whether a local or simply passing through Monticello; make a stop at Paca Pantry and shop!

Mary Cokenour