Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Pizza Trilogy – New York Style

In my 60 years of this current life, I have eaten mounds and mounds of pizza.  I have tried all styles, different types of mediums (dough, tortilla, and breads), sauces, toppings, cheeses.  Anyone who knows me has heard me state, “I admit to it, I am a pizza snob.”  I have been asked several times to write an article on making pizza.  I am doing three better, I am doing a trilogy of articles covering this first style, New York; then Sicilian and finally Chicago style.

Being born and raised in New York, eating pizza is a staple of a true New Yorker. There are two basic types in any pizzeria: Neapolitan is round in shape with a reasonably thin crust (not wafer thin, around 1/4"), with sauce, aged mozzarella cheese, garlic powder, and various toppings. Usually made in a gas oven, the dough is stretched (occasionally tossed, but that is mostly a show for the tourists), covered with a sauce primarily made of canned tomatoes and Italian herbs cooked into a sauce, and liberally covered with cheese. The slices are large, filling one paper plate, and usually folded when eaten.

One slice takes up a full sized paper plate.

Thin crust, crispy and perfect.
The second most common style of pizza in New York City (that is the 5 boroughs; and Long Island) is the Sicilian, or “square” pie. Characterized by its thick crust, Sicilian pizza is baked in an oiled pan, giving the crust a completely different taste from that of its round counterpart. The crust of a Sicilian pie is much thicker (like a nicely baked bread) than the Neapolitan, and usually has a thicker tomato sauce as well.

Chicago pizza is a deep dish pie made in a reverse fashion than the New York style.  Not bad really, but that is for another day.

Here comes the complaint, there is not any place in the Four Corners area that makes a great New York pizza.  Some come close to a pretty decent pie (yes, we call it a pizza pie) like Thatzza Pizza in Monticello, or Zak’s in Moab.  Domino’s in Cortez, Colorado has come the closest so far, I am just not a huge fan of the over spiced sauce they use.  They have a pie called the “Brooklyn” pizza, and if they bake it for 25 minutes, instead of the usual 20, than it is pretty close to the real deal.

My main complaint is that most places under cook the dough, so the crust is pale and doughy, or the dough is so thick, that it is gooey in the center.  Instead of using good mozzarella, it is usually a mixture of mozzarella, cheddar and jack cheeses.  Why?  Mozzarella is the number one cheese used on pizza, but provolone, asiago and parmesan can be added as well.   Also, why so cheap with the sauce?  A smear just does not justify calling it a pizza.  At this point, might as well skip the tomato sauce, put a smear of ricotta cheese (NOT cottage cheese), then a layer of shredded mozzarella, sprinkled with Italian herbs.  There you have it folks, the White Pizza, and yes, such a pizza does exist.

Well thanks for letting me rant about pizza; I am a pizza snob and I do not intend to ever apologize for it.  Oh, and what is my absolute favorite type of pizza?  Pizza of course!

Basic Pizza Dough


1 cup of warm water
2 tsp. sugar (to feed the yeast)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. yeast
3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. olive oil


Put warm water (80 to 110°F) into a bowl. Add salt and sugar, mix with a spoon. Add yeast, mix and let it sit for about 10 minutes.  If the water is too warm, it will kill the yeast; too cold, and it will not awaken.

Start mixing, with a fork, by gradually adding flour and olive oil.  Once it is too thick to mix by fork, remove to a floured, wooden board; start kneading by hand.  Knead the dough until you have a smooth ball. If the dough cracks it is too dry. Add water bit by bit until if forms a smooth ball. If your dough feels more like batter, it is too wet and you need to add flour bit by bit. If you need to add water or flour, do it by small amounts; it is easier to fix too little than too much.

Coat the dough with olive oil, place it in a large bowl and cover it with a clean, cotton towel. Let the dough rise for about an hour at room temperature, then punch it down, so it deflates. Let it sit for about another hour. If you want to use it the next day, put it in a refrigerator wrapped in plastic wrap.

Put the dough on a lightly floured surface; a pizza peel (wooden board with a handle) is easier for transferring the pizza from surface to surface. Put a bit of flour on your hands; using the balls of your finger tips and hands, make it into the shape of a circle by stretching it out from the center outwards. If you’re having a problem stretching the dough by hand, use a rolling pin until the dough is about 1/4" thick.  

The average size of the pizza will be about 16” which can be transferred to a pizza pan or stone. You get better results when you use a pizza baking stone. The pizza stone should be preheated to 450F for an hour prior to baking, and should be placed in the middle of the oven.  

 Spread out evenly about 1-1 ½ cups sauce; then add favorite toppings such as cheeses, meats and/or cut up vegetables.

The oven should be preheated to 450F.  Bake for 20-25 minutes; the crust should be browned and crisp, but not dark.  Remove from oven, use a pizza cutter for easy slicing up and serve. 

Makes 8-10 slices, depending on how it is cut up.

Mary Cokenour

Cheesesteak Pizza

Before Baking
After Baking

Ground Beef Pizza

Before Baking
After Baking

One Slice

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

All That Sand is Seasoning.

Let me start with a quote from a local acquaintance, “This red dust covers everything, even food.  Might as well call it seasoning.”  True to its nature, when the desert soil/sand is disturbed, the wind picks up the particles and transports it everywhere.  Since moving to Monticello, I am on vacuum cleaner number 5.  Seems no matter how many times the filters and canister are washed, or canned air used on sections I cannot take apart; the electronic reaper pays a visit.  Ah-ha, thank goodness the company I purchased from gives a new two-year contract with each replacement vacuum!  Oh dear, that means vacuum number 5 may be leaving this earthly realm for its regularly scheduled death and reincarnation.

What got me thinking about the sand is looking at photos of sandstone, especially sandstone walls located at Sand Island.  The gist of the geology is Navajo sandstone; dating back to Early Jurassic, it formed while the Colorado Plateau was basically a “sea of sand”.  As the Plateau rose and formed new layers, Navajo sandstone tended to be dryer and less resistant to wind and water erosion.   Since this sandstone is softer, it is no wonder why ancient art work, or rock art, can be found destroyed.  Yes, there is the introduction of “modern man” who did not understand the value of this rock art, and many still do not.  However, the natural elements do take a heavy toll upon it.

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it hast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” — Genesis 3:19. 

“Nothing is forever, not even the strongest of rock, nor the Earth itself”, and you can quote me on that.

What does sand have to do with food?  Essentially it is a cooking tool; in China and India, a large wok is filled with black sand and heated to high temperature.  Chestnuts, peanuts and hard shell nuts are buried in the hot sand, occasionally turned with a spatula; the sand and nuts are separated through a wire-mesh screen.  Ever been to a real Hawaiian luau?  I was lucky to attend two which featured authentic cooking of Kalua pig (pork cooked in an underground oven called an imu).

The feel and texture of fine sugar can be likened to sand, and is much tastier, believe me.  Brown sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, boiled down to extract a thickened liquid and that is how molasses is made.  The remaining crystals from the brown sugar are refined further and white sugar is the result.

Well now, I have taken you on a journey which began with the red dust/sand of the Colorado Plateau, rock art of Sand Island, cooking with sand itself, and ending with brown sugar.  Guess I better give you a yummy recipe to go with all that sand…I mean brown sugar.  Oh, it comes with how to make vanilla glaze, just think of it as edible sunscreen.

Cinnamon Coffee Cake with Vanilla Glaze


For the Topping:
1 cup + ¼ cup sifted flour
9 Tbsp. butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
4 tsp. cinnamon

For the Cake:
8 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar + 2 Tbsp.
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream, plain Greek yogurt, or softened cream cheese
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup + 3/4 cup flour (if high altitude, add 3 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder

For the Vanilla Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. milk
½ tsp. vanilla


Preheat oven to 350F; spray an 8 or 9-inch, square or round, pan with nonstick baking spray (option: sprinkle 1 tsp. cinnamon throughout pan).

In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients for Topping until well incorporated and mixture is crumbly; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and granulated sugar; add eggs one at a time to fully incorporate.  Mix in sour cream, yogurt or cream cheese plus vanilla.  In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.

Pour half batter into baking pan; sprinkle half topping mixture over all.  Pour in remaining batter and spread evenly.  Cover with remaining topping evenly.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out cleanly.  While cake is cooling, prepare glaze by mixing all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Drizzle glaze over slightly warm cake.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Want to do a bit of exploring?  Go to Sand Island and find the Mammoths.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Monticello, Utah Welcomes Ja-Roen Thai Sushi

Ja-Roen Thai Sushi

380 South Main Street
Monticello, UT, 84535

Phone: (435) 587-4000

Hours of Operation:  11am – 9pm; Monday thru Sunday

Facebook Page:

Late one June afternoon, a gentleman from Moab, named Sam, made my acquaintance.  He asked me about living in Monticello, the types of businesses in town, but more importantly, what kind of restaurants.  Then he asked me, “What kind of restaurant would you like to see in Monticello?”  I told him point blank that we needed Asian Cuisine – Chinese, Japanese, Thai; heck, all three!  I made up a packet of information for him; map of the town indicating where all businesses, gov’t offices, schools, churches, etc. were located; local phone book; San Juan County guide book; and, of course, 101 Things to Do in San Juan County.  Politely he thanked me for all my help, and that I had given him much to consider and think about.

So it came to pass, on Thursday, September 5, 2019, Sampas Janhom, or Sam, had the grand opening for Ja-Roen Thai Sushi.  Located at the old Horsehead Grill, or many remember it as the old MD Ranch House, the southwestern atmosphere was kept intact to match the aesthetics of Monticello.   Inside was abuzz with many a local savoring the Asian specialties, laughing, conversing and having an overall good time.  It was not unusual to hear, “We have been so looking forward this”, “This is so exciting!”, and “We love sushi, and don’t have to go all the way to Cortez or Moab any longer”.  I told several the story of how Sam and I had met, and one response was, “Well Monticello needs to thank you!”, and you are quite welcome Monticello!

Sushi Chef "Aussie with Owner, Sampas Janhom
Sam is quite an interesting man, born and raised in Thailand, he worked for the U.S. Embassy there in the Immigrant Visa Department.  He was in charge of documenting and approving all Indochina refugees wishing to travel to the United States.  After immigrating to the United States himself, Sam found employment at Miami International Airport as a driver.  Not being fond of American sandwiches, he began cooking meals for himself and this attracted the salivary glands of fellow coworkers.  He began cooking for them as well, and before he knew it, Sam was working his way through restaurants.  Starting at the bottom, he worked up the culinary ladder until reaching status of chef.  Upon moving to Moab, he and his wife, Kloichai Kracha, worked as a chef team at Singha Thai.  He began a great friendship with Kent Somerville, and they became golfing buddies as well.  It was no wonder then, when Sam told Kent about his dream of becoming a restaurant owner that Kent decided to help fulfill this dream.

Manning the knife and bamboo rolling mat is Sushi Master, Sornsawan Chaichan, nicknamed Aussie.  He has been creating masterpieces of Sushi, Sushi rolls and Sashimi for 15 years.  A simple Shrimp Tempura Roll winds its way upon the plate, dragon head in the lead.  Insane Eel Roll resembles pool balls ready for play, and no one will mind pocketing the 8 ball into the mouth.

Shrimp Tempura Roll

Insane Eel Roll
Our lovely waitress, Shaile Beh, juggled table service, and a continuous ringing in of phone orders.  She is knowledgeable on the menu items, sweet in personality and willing to make sure customers have the best dining experience.

Crab Rangoon

Appetizers are a tantalizing beginning; Crab Rangoon lightly deep fried, stuffed with a cream cheese and crab mixture, and served with a light sweet and sour sauce.  Thai Dumplings are a meat/vegetable mixture, each steamed in a thin noodle skin and served with a hoisin dipping sauce.  At the next table, we heard the oohs and aahs over an order of Chicken Satay; tender grilled chicken strips with a peanutty dipping sauce.

Thai Dumplings
Chicken Satay

Pad Se Eew with Shrimp
Noodle dishes such as Pad Thai and Pad Se Eew; vegetarian delights, curry of various flavors and heat, and fried rice to pleasantly satisfy.  Oh so many choices!  

Veggie Delight with Chicken

Dessert - Ice Cream
Ja-Roen Thai Sushi offers authentic Thai and Japanese cuisines plus Sushi and Sashimi specialties to please the eye as well as the palate.  Thank you for coming to Monticello, you are exactly what the dining doctors ordered!

Mary Cokenour