Sunday, April 21, 2019

Historical Chocolate Once Again.

With all the hoopla going on about a possible re-expansion of Bears Ears National Monument, I noticed a mentioned addition was Alkali Ridge.  On one hand, there are those who state, “The monument will bring thousands of tourists who will bring money to the economy, but also destruction.”  Then there are those who state, “No expansion, no monument, build a wall ala Trump around San Juan County.   Working in the tourism industry for five years, the influx of visitors to San Juan County has been steadily increasing, even before the mention of the possibility of a monument.  With the Alkali Ridge, visitors have been asking about it, since I began promoting the Four Corners regions, as they already knew of its existence.  Knowledge has become so accessible, the entire idea of “hiding” anything historical is preposterous.  Change comes whether we want it to or not.  The huge decision that needs to be addressed, how to react to the change; will it be with positivity or negativity?  *climbs off soap box*

I have written about the cacao that had been found in Alkali Ridge pottery and its display in a museum in Salt Lake City.  It was exciting to see shards of “Deadman Black on Red” pottery lying here and there around the Landmark area when I visited it.  With that lead in, let me introduce you to Alkali Ridge Historical Landmark, or what you could have seen when it was excavated in the 1930s.

Alkali Ridge National Historical Landmark
Outlined with stones; possible buried Kiva?
In the summer of 1908, Byron L. Cummings (University of Utah) continued his archaeological work in the Southeastern Utah region by focusing on upper Montezuma Canyon, including a small excavation at Alkali Ridge.  Along on this expedition was Alfred V. Kidder who became a leader in the field of archeology.  However, it wasn't until John Otis Brew of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology; a museum affiliated with Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that Alkali Ridge was fully explored.  Three separate expeditions (1931, 32, 33) exposed the massive settlements that existed in this area covering Basketmaker III (c. 500CE - c. 750CE) to Pueblo II period (c. 900 CE – c. 1100 CE).  The site revealed hundreds of pit dwellings, multi-storied structures, a central courtyard, kivas, irrigation for agriculture and high quality ceramics.  After documenting and photographing the site, the ruins were covered over; all that can be seen now are piles of rubble, stones sticking out of the ground which denote the outline of structures, pottery shards and simple tools made from agate for cutting and scraping.

In 1964, Alkali Ridge (covering an area of 70 square miles) was designated a National Landmark; on August 12, 1965, at 3:00 PM, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), other Federal agencies, local and state officials held a dedication ceremony at the Alkali Ridge National Historical Landmark.  Archaeologists from a number of western universities attended this ceremony; Dr. John 0tis Brew of the Pea-body Museum, Harvard University, who did the original archaeological scientific investigations on Alkali Ridge, was the keynote speaker.  In 2013, an unusual pottery, "Deadman Black on Red", was examined by University of Pennsylvania and Bristol-Meyers Squibb researchers and the cacao was discovered.

A prized possession, if you can find a copy, and I do own a first edition, is Archaeology of Alkali Ridge, Southeastern Utah by John Otis Brew (published 1946) which is basically the only proof of existence of the ruins from the many photographs and drawings.  I find it fascinating to compare the photographs of the excavations to what is actually seen at the site now.  Strolling area, one “site” are stones that outline a circle, could this be where one of the covered over kivas lie buried?  From a stewardship perspective, I can appreciate the need to protect historical sites.  However, from an educational perspective, knowledge empowers the masses more than any fence or wall can.


…and for those who appreciate the chocolate aspect, a recipe for Triple Chocolate Cupcakes and Frosting.  Oh yes, you can make one large cake instead of cupcakes; just depends on how you wish to share it.  

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes and Frosting


4 ounces each of dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
5 eggs
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
½ tsp. baking soda


Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin tins with paper liners (24)

Heat one inch of water in bottom half of a double boiler. Place in all chocolates and cream; stir occasionally as chocolate melts until smooth (about 8-10 minutes); cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat (medium speed) together eggs, sugar and vanilla until creamy; add chocolate mixture and beat for another 30 seconds. Add the flour and baking soda; beat for 30 seconds or until all the flour is incorporated into the creamy mixture.

Divide the batter evenly between the 24 paper liners. Bake for 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out cleanly from center of cupcakes. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.



5 ounces each dark and milk chocolate, chopped
6 sticks unsalted butter, softened
6 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips
6 Bliss white chocolate squares (place in refrigerator to firm up for grating)


Place chocolate in microwave safe bowl; at 15 second intervals, melt chocolate, stir; repeat until chocolate is completely melted and smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, combine melted chocolate with butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla; beat on low for 5 minutes. Gently fold in white chips; frost cupcakes and grate the Bliss squares over all.

Makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Hog Canyon Challenge.

The battle between winter’s grip and spring prying a seasonal hold has been a challenge in many ways.  Waking in the morning, choices have been: spring jacket or winter coat; dry roads or hoping not to slide; taking a long hike or staying indoors?

It was a weekend in March when it looked like spring was getting the upper hand on winter.  Temperatures in the 50s, clear sky, soft breeze; the waterfalls, down the trail from Hamburger Rock campground, were flowing.  A purely perfect setting for crossing out another name on the to-do list of San Juan County adventures – the rock art of Hog Canyon.

Located three miles west (mile marker 4 on Highway 211) from Newspaper Rock, there is a short pull-in area for parking.  The trails up to the walls (Blue Grama aka Blue Gamma – popular to crack climbers) are well worn, but the soil is loose.  Following the rock art itself entails maneuvering up and around boulders, sometimes squeezing between one that has split in two after its fall from the wall.

Carved onto stone, drawn into the desert varnish, there are square-bodied humanoid figures, mountain sheep, insects, long leaves resembling ferns, circles and many other shapes and figures.  There is the occasional signature of those who settled or visited in the early 20th century (1911 – Ralph Hurst and Bill Dalley).  While many the modern day traveler thinks that the Indian rock art is nothing more than “ancient graffiti”, they fail to understand that it was the earliest form of the “written word” for these cultures.

Why the name “Hog Canyon”?  In Utah’s Canyon Country Place Names (Steve Allen), there is a reference to “Pete Steele noted that the canyon was fenced with knit wire (sheep wire) to hold the pigs that used to pasture in the canyon.  The fence still stands.  (1821~)”.  In the December 10, 2014 issue of the San Juan Record, Albert Eugene (Pete) Steele’s obituary states, “One of his jobs growing up was punching cows for the SS Cattle Company rooted deep in San Juan County’s history. His tales of the Old West and the history of San Juan County were a treasure to anyone lucky enough to hear them.” 

Since I’m writing about challenges, let me get to my next challenge which relates to food.  Many times I have seen recipes posted on Facebook that have the same name, but a slight difference with ingredients.  One such recipe (2 variations) was “Bacon Wrapped, Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts”; now that’s a mouthful just to say.  I looked both recipes over and basically they had one difference; while one used chopped green onion, the other used chopped jalapeno peppers.  I threw down the gauntlet, or oven mitt, and challenged myself to make this recipe more intriguing.  I thought back to a sandwich I had enjoyed at Sweet Cravings in Moab; how a mixture of jalapeno jelly and cream cheese had brought great flavors to roasted turkey breast.  Why not do that with chicken!?!

Looking in the pantry, I found a jar of both mild and hot jalapeno jelly.  While I intended on using some green onions, I also diced up red onions and a multicolored selection of bell peppers for their natural sweetness.

The chicken breasts need to be pounded out to about 1/4 inch in thickness. Always use the flat side of your meat tenderizer, or you can purchase a flat sided mallet. Do not use the mallet directly on the chicken; place it inside a plastic bag, or between 2 sheets of plastic wrap.  Also, placing a clean linen towel over the plastic will most definitely ensure that the tender poultry meat will not shred, but extend out smoothly.  Gently pound out the chicken to the desired thickness; this is not the type of meat to take your aggressions out on.

After pounding out the chicken, spread one tablespoon of the mild jelly (green) or the hot jelly (red); leaving about a half inch border from the edges.  A tablespoon of cream cheese was spread on next; in the other recipes, only two tablespoons of cream cheese was used for the stuffing.  I pressed about two tablespoons of the bell peppers with red onions; only green onions; or bell peppers with green onions into the cream cheese.

Now you might be wondering why no salt sprinkled over the chicken; bacon is going to take care of the salt issue.  In the recipes I read, they called for the bacon to be partially cooked before wrapping around the chicken.  The use of totally raw bacon helps it to be pliable enough to fully wrap around the rolled breasts; allowing the fat to baste the chicken and keep it moist as the bacon begins to crisp up in the oven.  A roasting pan with a rack allows the bacon to crisp up on the bottom as well as the top, so no need for a broiler later on.  Preheat the oven to 400F; line the roasting pan with aluminum foil and add two cups of water to keep any bacon drippings from burning and smoking.  Spray the rack with nonstick spray and place back inside the pan.  Now for the chicken rolling...

Carefully begin to roll the chicken and if any filling begins to ooze out, just push it right back inside.  Take a slice of bacon (you'll need 3 for each breast) and wrap it lengthwise around the chicken.  This will help keep the filling from coming out the sides while roasting.  The bacon will overlap a bit and seal against the chicken meat, so no toothpicks will be necessary.

Lay two slices of bacon on your board, about one inch apart, and carefully lay the rolled breast with the first bacon slice's seam facing upward.  Wrap those two slices around the chicken and let the ends come together to form a seal.  Carefully pick up the bundle and lay it, bacon seams side down, on the roasting rack.  Leave about an inch in between each bundle, so the bacon can crisp up on all sides.  Place the roasting pan inside the oven and let it cook for 40-45 minutes; until the internal temperature reaches 165F.

There you have it, Bacon Wrapped, Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts.  The jalapeno jelly and cream cheese mixture combined to form a decadent stuffing which enhanced the natural sweetness of the bell peppers and red onions.  With the green onions, they combined with the jalapeno jelly to give that Southwestern flavor sensation.   The bacon kept the chicken moist, yet seasoned it at the same time.

Sometimes less is more, but with this new version of the recipe, more of more is just what you want.  Enjoy!

Mary Cokenour