Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Taste is a Mystery, So Eat It!

 In southwestern areas, there are Chinese restaurants, and the tastes of their cuisine is so very different from what Roy and I are accustomed to, namely Cantonese style. Out here, the Chinese cooks come mostly from San Francisco’s Chinatown, and the cuisine is mainly Mandarin style. The Chinatowns of New York City, Philadelphia, and the many restaurants of the east coast region are primarily Cantonese.  So, not only two different dialects, but two different cooking styles. When we ask for a particular dish, well, it is not exactly what we are used to, and sometimes, extremely different.

Take for example “Chow Fun”, also referred to as “Ho Fun”; a dish made by stir frying a wide rice noodle (about ½” wide) with a protein (beef, chicken, pork, shrimp or tofu), bean sprouts, Chinese broccoli and, sometimes, onion. I have asked owners of local Chinese restaurants (namely in Moab and Cortez) if they make this dish, and the answer is always yes. However, the dish we usually receive is made with lo mein noodles which are more tubular, like spaghetti, and starchier. Not the same as what we am used to, and very different indeed; and we do not particularly care for the taste or texture.

However, it has not been just this dish that is different; the fried rice is not, fried that is, but steamed and has very little flavor to it. The sauces are thinner, less flavorful; the various dim sum are drier. Now maybe it is the cooks in the restaurants; I really cannot be sure, since I have never been to Chinatown in San Francisco and experienced the restaurants there. Then again, what if I had lived most of my life in California, and then gone to Chinatown in New York City and Philadelphia…how would I react to the difference in cooking style?

I already know that restaurants out East, that say they serve Southwestern/Mexican cuisine, are far off the mark of the real cooking styles. I know that the Cuban style, very predominant in Florida, is very different from Puerto Rican which is very different from Mexican. I have tried it, so can speak from experience. But what if someone has not tried the different styles; how can they know the difference, appreciate it, and know when they are being served something completely different? Simple answer is, try it, or you will never really know. If you have the opportunity to travel to a place which has a completely different cuisine than you are used to…try it! Please, stop with the “ewwww”s, or the “not gonna put that in my mouth”; why deny yourself a pleasure because of a little fear and/or ignorance? If you do not like it, at least you tried it, and do not have to try it again, unless you are feeling brave enough for another chance at it.

Here is an authentic Cantonese style recipe for Chow Fun.

Beef Chow Fun (Ho Fun)

(From "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen" by Grace Young,  )


8 ounces bean sprouts, about 4 cups, rinsed and drained well

1 pound Chinese broccoli

1 pound flank steak, well-trimmed

2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 teaspoons cornstarch

3 teaspoons rice cooking wine

2 tablespoons Chinese dried black beans

2 pounds fresh broad rice noodles

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

5 slices of ginger

1 1/2 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

4 scallions, cut into 2-inch sections

3-4 tablespoons oyster sauce


1) Cut the broccoli stalks in half lengthwise if more than 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut the stalks and leaves into 2 inch-long pieces, keeping the stalks separate from the leaves.

2) Halve the flank steak with the grain into 2 strips. Cut each strip across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place in a shallow bowl, add the soy sauce, cornstarch, and rice wine, and stir to combine; set aside.

3) Rinse the black beans in several changes of cold water and drain. In a small bowl, mash the black beans with the back of a wooden spoon. Leaving the noodles as a slab, cut noodles crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide strips.

4) Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil, ginger and garlic to wok, and stir-fry about 15 to 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the beef, spreading it in the wok. Cook, undisturbed, 30 seconds to 1 minute, letting the beef begin to brown. Add the mashed black beans and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes, or until beef is browned but still slightly rare. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon oil into the wok and stir-fry the broccoli stalks for 30 seconds. Add the leaves and 1 teaspoon salt, stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes until the stalks are bright green and the leaves are limp. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Rinse wok and dry it thoroughly.

5) Re-heat wok over high heat, add 2 tablespoons oil to the wok with the noodles, spreading them in the wok. Cook undisturbed for 1 minute, or until slightly crusty. Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes. Return the broccoli and beef with any juices that have accumulated to the wok, add the oyster sauce and scallions, and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes, or until heated through and well combined. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

I have watched videos on making the noodles from rice flour.  Oh dear hearts, I have mentioned many times that I am pasta making challenged, and this reaches into the realm of Asian noodle making as well.  Unless I can find a shop that sells the noodles, with chances of slim to none, the alternative is to do, as many do with lo mein, go Italian!  Spaghetti can be substituted for lo mein noodles; and pappardelle can be substituted for the necessary wide rice noodles.  Let me share my recipe with you.


My Simplified Shrimp Chow Fun, aka working with what you have on hand.


1 (8 oz.) package pappardelle noodles

Stir Fry Oil

Sesame Oil

1 (16 oz.) bag mixed stir fry vegetables, thawed

1 (16 oz.) bag of small/medium shrimp (50-60), shells removed

½ tsp. ground ginger

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

½ cup soy sauce, divided in half


Prepare pappardelle according to package directions, drain, then lay out on paper towels to remove any excess water.





In a Wok, or Wok style skillet, heat two tablespoons of stir fry oil, high heat; add vegetables, shrimp, ginger, garlic, ¼ cup of soy sauce and one tablespoon of sesame oil.  Mix together and let cook for 5 minutes; mix occasionally.  Remove from Wok and set aside.







To Wok, add two tablespoons of stir fry oil, high heat; add in noodles and let cook for 5 minutes.  Add in one tablespoon sesame oil and ¼ cup soy sauce; mix and let cook another  5 minutes.  Add in vegetable/shrimp mixture; continue mix all together for 5 minutes to keep noodles from sticking.


Makes 4 servings.

Now do not feel disheartened if you just do not have the will or desire to make either of these two recipes.  There is hope for enjoying this yet!  Thai restaurants have a dish called “Pad See Ew” which is incredibly close to Chow Fun.  In Monticello, we have Ja-Roen Thai Sushi, and when we have a craving for Chow Fun, it is Pad See Ew for us.  Even though the owner, Sam, has passed away, his son is keeping the restaurant open, and still serving up wonderful Thai cuisine and sushi.  A new dessert was introduced, a mocha cream cake, served in 4 pieces.  Make sure to order a separate serving for each person, otherwise hands will find forks jammed into them, as the delectable pieces are fought over.


Remember, wherever you travel to, make sure to try out new dining experiences.  Otherwise, how will you ever know you like it, if you never try it!?!

Mary Cokenour


Wednesday, March 23, 2022

I, Spoon, Take Thee Bowl.

Have you ever been to an Italian wedding, or should I say an Italian-American wedding? They are usually on the grand scale where the food seems to take center stage more than the bride and groom themselves. I have been to many in my lifetime, but I have to admit that soup was frequently an uninvited guest. So where did the idea of "Italian Wedding Soup" come from then?

Italian Wedding Soup has its origins in the United States, but is definitely influenced by such Italian soup varieties as Tuscan Soup or Minestrone. The Italian phrase "minestra maritata", translated to "married soup", has been misconstrued into making us believe that this is a typical item served at Italian wedding feasts. Actually the phrase refers to the perfect "marriage" of vegetables to meat or poultry, and can be applied to almost any soup, in general, if you think about it.


Typically, the Italian wedding soups we see served in restaurants, or marketed in cans by Progresso and Campbell’s, has miniature meatballs, diced vegetables and orzo in a thin to semi-thick broth.  My own version which I call simply Meatball Soup uses cubed potatoes, instead of orzo, as my filler.  Another version I have eaten is called "Escarole Soup" which is served at Easter time containing mainly escarole and shredded chicken in a seasoned broth, sometimes topped with melted mozzarella cheese.  That is the wonder of this soup; tiny meatballs, sausage or chicken, with or without pasta or beans, with or without a leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale or version is wrong.  Depending on dietary needs or habits, it can be made into a strictly vegetarian soup, or just go for the gusto.

So, what recipe should you use?  Using my Meatball Soup recipe, leave out the potatoes and add two cups of a leafy vegetable (spinach, kale or escarole) plus one cup of orzo will get to a very delicious version.  The orzo goes into the soup pot, uncooked, and gets cooked during the simmering process.   For my meatballs, I use a mixture of ground beef and ground turkey; seems to give the meatballs a smoother, more comforting mouth feel than when only beef is used.  A hint if you intend on making a version with shredded chicken in it; melt some mozzarella over the soup before serving and it becomes absolutely decadent.


Meatball Soup



2 Tbsp. olive oil

3 medium onions, diced

6 cups beef broth

1 and ½ cups cold water

4 medium potatoes, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 (8 oz.) bag of baby carrots, cut into halves

2 lbs. lean ground beef

1 lb. ground turkey

1 tsp. each dried savory (or sage if you cannot find savory), garlic powder, onion powder

1 and ½ cups plain bread crumbs (dried, fine ground variety)

3 eggs, beaten

Grated cheese


Heat oil, on high, in a 6-quartt stock pot; sauté onions till tender, about 3 minutes. Add beef broth and water; bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium; add in potatoes and carrots.

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, combine beef, turkey, seasoning, bread crumbs and eggs. Mix together thoroughly; form meatballs of about a 1 inch diameter; makes about 60 meatballs. Note: for Italian Wedding Soup, the meatballs should be ¼-inch in diameter.  Dainty meatballs for a dainty soup.

Place meatballs on baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes; just to brown the meat, not cook all the way through. Dab each meatball on a paper towel to remove excess grease before putting into the stock pot. Cook for 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are very tender.

When serving, sprinkle grated cheese on top of soup.

Makes 8-10 servings.


As a bonus, here is a recipe for Tuscan Soup, strictly vegetarian.  While my recipe calls for the addition of plain water, adding vegetable broth instead can pump up the flavors even more.


Tuscan Soup



1 small red and white onion, chopped

½ cup olive oil

1 cup diced carrot

1 cup diced celery

¼ of a white cabbage, shredded

1 cup shredded Swiss chard

1 cup diced zucchini

1 cup diced tomatoes

2 (15 ½ oz.) cans cannellini or great northern beans

¼ cup julienned basil leaves

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. ground black pepper

Cold water


In a large stockpot, heat oil on high heat; sauté onions till translucent.  Reduce heat to medium, add all vegetables, cover and let cook together for 30 minutes; or until cabbage softens.

Reduce heat to low.  Add beans, basil, salt, pepper and enough water to cover all ingredients in stockpot; cover and let cook for 1 ½ hours.

Makes 8 servings.  

Enjoy making these soups, whether for a wedding reception, family reunion, or just to feel comfy all over, from the inside out.

Mary Cokenour
























Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Lemon Grass

Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), a native of India, is used in Asian (Thai and Vietnamese) and Caribbean cooking. Lemon grass is a perennial, which means once you plant it; the grass comes back year after year. Depending on the area you live in, the plant will go dormant in the winter, or will need to be potted and wintered indoors.

Culinary Uses

This is a very pungent herb, so a small amount packs a lot of flavor. The entire stalk of the grass can be used; the grass blade can be sliced very fine, while the bulb can be bruised and minced.

The light lemon flavor of this grass blends well with garlic, chilies, and cilantro; yet can be used to make a refreshing tea.

Lemongrass Tea


1/4 cup Chopped fresh lemongrass tops or 2 tablespoons dried lemongrass

4 cups boiling water

Sugar to taste


Preheat teapot with boiling water; discard water. Add lemongrass and boiling water, steep 8 to 10 minutes; strain. Serve hot or allow to cool, sweeten to taste, and serve in tall glasses with ice.

Medicinal and Other Uses

This grass is rich in a substance called citral, the active ingredient in lemon peel. This substance is said to aid in digestion as well as relieve spasms, muscle cramps, rheumatism and headaches.

Lemon grass is also used commercially as the lemon scent in many products including soaps, perfumes and candles. A related plant, (Cymbopogon nardus) is the ingredient in citronella candles sold to ward off mosquitoes and other insects.

Buying and Storing

Lemon grass can be found in most Asian markets. Select fresh looking stalks that do not look dry or brittle. Store fresh lemon grass in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed plastic bag for up to 3 weeks, or freeze it for about 6 months without any flavor loss.

In addition to fresh, lemon grass may be purchased dried or powdered. The dried product has to be soaked in hot water and reconstituted before use. The powdered variety is useful in teas and curries, but is not a good substitute for the fresh product.


Thai Hot and Sour Soup


1/4 cup ginger, peeled and julienned

1 large onion, slivered

4 Thai bird chiles

3 stalks lemon grass, white part only, sliced

1/4 cup fish sauce

6 cups chicken stock

6 kaffir lime leaves

3/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup Thai basil leaves

1 teaspoon ground white pepper

2 cups sautéed sliced shiitake mushrooms

1 cup enoki mushrooms

1/4 cup sliced scallions

1/2 cup chopped scallions, green part only


Sauté ginger, onion, chiles and lemon grass until soft. Deglaze pan with fish sauce. Add chicken stock and lime leaves. Simmer and reduce the liquid by 20 per cent. Add vinegar, basil and pepper. Check for seasoning. Strain the soup. Add sautéed shiitakes, fresh enoki mushrooms and sliced scallions. Ladle soup in soup plates. Garnish with green scallions.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: sautéed shrimp or chicken can be added to the soup; approximate 1/4 cup per serving.

This is a flavorful soup that is great for a cold winter's night.  If there is still snow, on the ground, and a chill, in the air, come spring, well you still have an excuse to make it then too.

Mary Cokenour