Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Custom Catering by Cal Dean Black.

Recently, retired San Juan County Sheriff, Cal Dean Black, found himself on the other side of the interrogation table, and having his mug shot taken as well.  “Alright Black, give us the goods on this catering business, and no holding back on the sauce.”

As Cal’s daughters, Alyssa and Sierra are learning from their daddy, Cal learned the art of Dutch oven cooking from his beloved father, Arvid Black.  Arvid enjoyed cooking up ribeye steaks and chicken for friends and family; teaching Cal the correct type of fire to maintain, tools of the trade and care of the pots.  After Arvid’s passing and Cal’s retirement, it seemed a natural progression to go from a fun side to a complete, full course menu.

Before continuing with the historical birth of Custom Catering, a little historical backdrop on Dutch ovens has a necessary place here.  In the Nederlands (that is how the people there spell it; in America though, it is spelled Netherlands), a Dutch oven (braadpan) is a frying or roasting pan; closely resembling a heavy lidded pot that is normally used on the stove top, or in an oven to make casseroles.  Originally these cooking vessels were created in the 17th century and cast of brass; sand used around the molds to produce a high quality pot with a smooth surface.

In 1707, Englishman Abraham Darby, after studying the casting process in the Nederlands, returned to England with the intent of producing pots cast from iron with molds using loam and clay.  The end product was cheaper to produce, therefore, more economical to the public, but yielding the same cooking end results. English brought the Dutch oven to the colonies of the United States; prized possession, used by pioneers, homesteaders, miners, and ranchers in the southwest; yada, yada, yada and now back to Custom Catering’s history.

“Cal Dean Black, why’d you do it!?!” the suspect was asked, while his daughters giggled in the background.  While he was a sheriff, catering small groups, like his father had done, was all Cal was able to handle.  After retirement, taking on this business venture was not a way to simply keep busy, this was a labor of love which would keep the memory of Arvid Black alive.  Cal expanded the menu to include marinated and grilled chicken, marinated brisket cooked in a savory barbecue sauce, grilled pork loin, Dutch oven potatoes, barbeque and desserts.  “We can do up just about anything; locations indoors or outdoors; groups as large as 500 hungry people.”  A couple of Cal’s favorite events is the Jeep Jamboree in Ouray, Colorado and the Sportsmen for Fishing and Wildlife Banquet; both events hitting the almost 500 persons mark.  Cooking outdoors, especially for such a crowd, can be a challenge; Cal has a trailer with generator that helps greatly to overcome.  Weddings, reunions (family and school related), award banquets, sports events; in the mountains, canyons, deserts, conference halls, large to small; Cal will make the meal to wow. 
Dutch Oven Potatoes.

Brisket Simmering in a Savory Barbecue Sauce.

His wife, Kay Lynn, does up the desserts, like a chocolate Texas sheet cake with chocolate frosting; warmed up to help a scoop of vanilla ice cream drape over it.  Then there is her special white sheet cake with a topping comprised of lemon pudding, whipping topping and cream cheese; garnished with peaches and berries.

Cal’s assistants are Alyssa who likes when there are leftovers, but loves mom’s sheet cake the best.  Sierra does not have much to say, but says it all in four simple words, “The food is good!”

Interested in having a personal or business event catered, give Cal Dean Black a call at: (435) 979-2125.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sweet and Sour Acceptance.

During the 1860s to 1890s, thousands of Chinese immigrants entered into the United States.  Landing in San Francisco, they made their way throughout the western states in search of work; focusing on mining and railroad construction.  Approximately 12, 000 Chinese workers traveled from Sacramento, California, to Promontory, Utah, in the late 1860s; working for the Central Pacific Railroad.  The joining of the transcontinental rail lines became known as “The Golden Spike” where East meets West.  Over 1,000 workers died during construction, their bones shipped back to China, and no credit was given for their labor at the completion or grand celebration.  Not until May, 2019, at the 150th Year Celebration of Golden Spike were the Chinese immigrants recognized for their hard work, dedication, and for some, deaths.

As the immigrants traveled further south within Utah, many found themselves in Carbon County working at the coal mines, and the railway system.  While the majority were driven out by anti-Chinese sentiment, many managed to stay on, establish businesses and made a good life for themselves.  Oh my, I am beginning to see a similarity here of the pioneers who traveled from England to North America; their descendants traveling westward.  Whether due to cultural or religious differences, many a group were met with discrimination, driven away, sometimes killed for simply being different than the established norm.

As with immigrants from many other countries, the Chinese brought their recipes with them.  From the simplest sustenance of stir-fried vegetables in oil plus red chile flakes over jasmine rice; to the more complex sweet and sour made with rice wine vinegar.  Unfortunately, the Chinese cooks were not able to find all the seasonings, spices, what we see as “unusual” foods, here in the USA.  They had to adapt to what was available, and with restaurants, to the tastes of the American residents....and Americans love ketchup!

...and deep frying.  Whether chicken, pork or shrimp, the tender morsels were thickly coated in a batter, deep fried and saturated with the ketchup-based, sweet and sour sauce.  It was tangy, tart, lip smacking, face puckering delicious; the addition of sweet sugar keeping the eyeballs from popping out of their sockets.

Here is a hint for next time a vacation takes place in New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, or any other city with an old, well established Chinatown; do not go to the typical tourist geared restaurant where the food is made for American tastes.  Go into a restaurant that you see the Chinese residents going into; tell them you want to experience authentic food that they would eat in their homeland.  Expect to have your mind, senses, and especially taste buds, blown sky high!  You will be thanking me for this advice, and craving that type of Chinese cuisine; trust me, would I lie to you?

Sweet and Sour Pork
(No deep frying of the meat and the sauce is toned down with pineapple juice)


4 cups cubed pork (boneless loin pork chops)
½ cup flour
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
2 cups onion; julienned & cut into thirds
1 cups each of red & green bell peppers; julienned & cut into thirds
1 (15.25 oz.) can pineapple chunks; drain, but reserve liquid
1 cup Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce


Spray interior of 4-quart crock pot with non-stick cooking spray.

Mix together flour with spices and thoroughly coat pork cubes; place in bottom of crock pot. 
Begin layering onions, bell peppers and pineapple.  

Whisk together reserved pineapple liquid with sweet and sour sauce; pour over all in crock pot.

Cover, set on low for 6 hours; half hour before, prepare white rice (4 cups fully cooked).

Makes 8 servings.

Homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce


¼ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup ketchup
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
6 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch


Stir together all ingredients in medium saucepan; bring to boil. Remove from heat and serve.

Makes 1 cup.
Note:  Want some heat?  Add 2 tsp. of Sriracha to the mixture.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Century Plant.

Within every home I have ever owned, a room was always set aside for relaxation; well my type of
relaxing at least.  A standing lamp, poufy recliner, end table, overloaded bookcases, and shelving full of houseplants; many plants hanging from the ceiling as well.  This was a personal haven, a place to read, nap and enjoy the beauty all those plants put forth.  Cacti were a fascinating addition; beautiful flowers blooming on a plant that took enjoyment from stabbing any fingers that came too close.  While the majority of houseplants needed consistent watering and maintenance; the cacti needed little to survive, especially attention.  One could almost say they were introverts and quite antisocial.

Here in the southwest, the cacti enjoy the freedom that comes from outdoor living; all that fresh air, sunshine, dry soil.  Perfect conditions for growing, thriving and becoming a staple for the Native American people who inhabited the land.  This last part was not on the to-do list of the cacti, so it is no wonder they grew long, sharp needles to deal with those human hands and fingers.  Notice, as with any living entity, I have given the cacti personality traits; survival and enjoyment being two.  I am very certain that horticulturalists and botanists are rolling eyes right out of their sockets by now.

In my lifetime, I can now say that I have seen the blooming of the “Century Plant” which is often referred to as a cactus, but is actually an agave (Agave americana) which is a succulent.  The other nicknames for Agave americana are “sentry plant”, “maguey” and “American aloe”; get ready for this, it is not an aloe plant either.  This agave is native to Mexico, so it is not surprising to see it in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.   Mormon pioneers brought it to Utah when settlements were, not politely asked, but forced to leave and resettle in the United States. 
Richard Watkins - his height is over
6 feet.
My hubby, Roy - his height is 5 feet,
10 inches.

Though it is called “Century Plant”, it typically lives only 10 to 30 years; flowering only once.  This agave expends all its living energy to produce a towering 25 to 30-foot-tall stalk laden with lovely, yellow blossoms.  Suckers are produced at its base, ensuring that new plants will take hold, grow and continue the lineage.

While there are many uses for a local cactus, Prickly Pear (love the jelly and syrup products), why was the Century Plant so prized by Native Americans, and the Spanish explorers?  Within the tall stalk, and before it flowers, a sweet liquid called aguamiel (honey water) is found in the hollow center; once fermented, an alcoholic drink called pulque is produced.  The leaves of Agave americana grow 3 to 5 feet in length; the fibers called pita, can be used to make rope, matting or coarse cloth.  Found artifacts exhibited that the fibers were also used in leather embroidery; now those are tough fibers!

The yellow flowers of the agave, and their buds, need to be boiled or steamed before they can be eaten. After boiling, the flowers can be battered and deep fried, equal to those fancy battered squash blossoms at an overpriced restaurant; or diced and added to scrambled eggs, breakfast casserole, or any dish really that needs some added veggie sweetness.  Hint, remove the pollen tips before boiling the flowers as they are quite bitter.

Needless to say, this has been an interesting adventure into the knowledge regarding cactus vs. agave.  Not only did I get to delve into history a little, but botany, uses of a plant by Native American culture, and a culinary tidbit here and there.  Hope you enjoyed the journey as well.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Drop That Biscuit

Sunday morning, bacon sizzling in the skillet; eggs frothy with cream; oven preheated for that baking sheet full of soon-to-be fluffy biscuits.  No better way to begin a pajama day, that is what Sunday is at our home, than with a good, old fashioned, pioneer breakfast.  Hey, the Cokenours were pioneers as well as any other family that made that trek from the bustling eastern coast of the USA, to the deserts and plains of the southwest.

The Fourth of July is nearing fast; a celebration of our country’s forefathers declaring independence from oppressors, the British Realm.  Those brave pioneers traveled the Atlantic Ocean to an unknown land, with unknown dangers; worked hard, made happy homes for themselves.  If one was to truly think about what makes a pioneer, it is anyone who sets off into the unknown to find...?  Well ain’t that the truest question, what does anyone, clueless about a new beginning, really wish to find?

For Roy and myself, our oppressors were high humidity, laid off from jobs, financial institutions failing, businesses downsizing to keep from failing themselves.  To San Juan County, Utah we traveled, settling down in Monticello, to find beautiful surroundings, slim to none humidity, severe lack of economic development and affordable housing.  To many, it sounded like we had jumped from the frying pan into a fire.  “Come back”, they cried, “You’ll never survive out there!”   Surprise!  Not only are we still surviving, but we have overcome any hardships thrown at us; and let me tell you, some people have wasted too much precious time trying!  The Cokenours are survivors, just like the pioneers that have traveled, lived through hardships, but stayed together in love and happiness.  With the Fourth of July, we will be celebrating our rights to "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness".

Now to a recipe for Baking Powder aka Drop Biscuits which was a staple of the American colonies, and known to them as “scones”.  As travel to other areas, which later became states, ensued, those pioneers brought their recipes with them.  The variations of biscuit recipes developed as other food items were introduced; honey, dried fruits, nuts, cheeses, potatoes, sweet potatoes, as well as milk and cream from different animal species.

From The Pioneer Cookbook, Recipes for Today’s Kitchen, by Miriam Barton, I found a recipe called “Milk Biscuits” (page 119) which is an old Virginia (one of the original 13 colonies) based recipe.  Now this recipe just happens to be extremely similar to “Baking Powder Biscuits” (page 8)
found in The Old West Baking Book, by Lon Walters.  A story about these latter biscuits tells how they were brought from the American colonies as pioneers traveled westerly.  I bet many of them were from Virginia!

Milk Biscuits
(The Pioneer Cookbook, page 8)

2 cups flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400F.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Using a pastry blender or two butter knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the pieces of butter are about the size of small peas.  With a large wooden spoon, stir in the milk.

On a lightly floured surface, use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll out the dough until it is about 1/3 inch thick.  Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter (or the brim of a glass) to cut the biscuits out of the dough.  Take the scraps and roll them out again, then cut them and continue until all of the dough has been cut into round pieces.  Place pieces on a cooking stone or cookie sheet about an inch apart.  Bake biscuits about 15 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.

The recipe in The Old West Baking Book has the addition of eggs which causes a wetter batter, it can be scooped and dropped (hence the name) onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  I played with both recipes, they were both easy to make, and we enjoyed munching on both.  Just like true pioneers, we created from what we had on hand, and it was good.

Mary Cokenour