Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Rock Crawling Over a Sandwich.

 Moab’s annual Jeep Safari will be April 1 – April 9, and this year two more trails have been added.  This time the safari will be traveling deeper into San Juan County as Hole in the Rock and Hotel Rock will be explored.  Usually, the guided trails do not go further than the Cameo Cliffs, but that does not keep free wheeling jeepers from exploring the county.  So, with the guided tours heading through the towns of Monticello and Blanding, this would be a good way to get some attention towards the local restaurants and shops.  Get out there with advertising props, and entice those jeepers to come on in, instead of rushing back to Moab.  Just a suggestion of course.

I know one meal that entices my hubby is a patty melt and cheese fries, and we do not even have to be out exploring in the jeep.  Unfortunately, finding a restaurant that serves them up is slim to none (hint, hint), and I hate seeing the disappointment on his face.  Solution?  You guessed it, learn to make them myself. 

My hubby, Roy, LOVES patty melts!!!

The origin of the patty melt is debated whether it was created in the 1940s or 1950s, but the credit goes to the same restaurant owner, Tiny Naylor.  Tiny Naylor owned a chain of Biffs Drive-Ins and Tiny Naylor Coffee Shop restaurants in California, and added the patty melt to the menus.  Now, one thing you have to remember, the patty melt is not ever to be referred to as a hamburger; it is a sandwich.  Why?  Even though it is based upon the American classic, a cheeseburger, it is not served on a bun, cold or toasted, but cooked like a grilled cheese sandwich.  The traditional recipe has a ground beef patty topped with either American, Swiss or cheddar cheese and grilled onions on rye bread, pan fried in butter.  When I make mine, it is in a cast iron skillet which ensures even cooking, good flavor and a crisp texture to the rye bread.  I also amp up the flavor of the grilled onions with a little balsamic vinegar.


The Classic Patty Melt (my way)


1 large onion, cut into slivers

2 Tbsp butter

dash of salt and pepper

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

4 (1/4 lb. each) hamburger patties (80% lean)

8 slices marbled Rye bread

4 Tbsp butter, softened

8 slices Swiss cheese


Melt two tablespoons butter in skillet on medium-high heat; add onions, salt, pepper and vinegar; mix and let cook for 15 minutes, occasionally stirring. Once the onions are browned, remove to small bowl and add the patties into the same skillet; cook each side for 6 minutes. Remove to plate to rest.

Liberally smear softened butter onto one side of each slice of Rye bread; place butter side down in skillet. Depending on size of skillet, you may have to do each sandwich individually. Place a slice of Swiss cheese on each slice of bread; let cook for two minutes. On one slice of bread, place a hamburger patty and a layer of onions. Flip over the other slice of bread on top of the other, press down with a spatula for one minute. Flip sandwich over in skillet, press down with spatula again for an additional minute. Remove to plate, slice sandwich in half and serve.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

Now you know I have to play with my food, so instead of ground beef patties, how about some thinly sliced London broil? 


London Broil Melt


 2 slices of sandwich bread, toasted

3 slices sharp Cheddar cheese (Sargento is the best!)

 8 thin slices of rare London Broil

1/2 cup sautéed mushroom/onion mix


(This is a layering preparation.)

Preheat oven to 350F; line small baking pan with aluminum foil.


Toasted Bread

Cheese Slice

4 London Broil Slices

Cheese Slice

4 London Broil Slices

Spread out 1/2 cup of vegetable mixture

Cheese Slice

Toasted Bread

Place entire sandwich inside baking pan; place in oven for five minutes to allow cheese to melt thoroughly.  Remove sandwich to plate, cut in half and enjoy.

Makes one sandwich.

These sandwiches can get to be rather thick, so pretend your mouth is a jeep, open wide, and rock crawl all over it.  Tilting your head back and forth is optional.

Now wait, not done yet, those cheese fries have to be a side dish.  Did you think I would leave you hanging?

When Roy and I lived in Pennsylvania, one restaurant we enjoyed eating at was the Lone Star Cafe.  It was a chain restaurant, but had great steaks, giant baked sweet potatoes that needed their own dinner plate to be served on, and amazing appetizers.  The Cheese Fries was the best thing ever; seasoned steak fries smothered in melted cheese and crispy bacon bits; served with a Southwestern Ranch sauce.  Heart attack on a plate and we did not care.  Then one day we discovered that the restaurant had closed; we knew a couple of the waiters who said they had reported to work, only to find a sign on the door saying it was closed for business.  Talk about a shocker!

Poor Roy, I think he was the most disappointed of both of us, so I decided to come up with a copycat recipe.  Took me a while to get it right, but I did it; and making the sauce was super easy.  While shopping for groceries, I discovered that Hidden Valley Ranch had a Southwestern Ranch dressing.  I purchased a bottle and discovered it was exactly what was served with the cheese fries.  However, it was not always available at the supermarkets, so I learned to make my own by mixing regular Ranch dressing, not the buttermilk type, with Cholula sauce.


Copycat Recipe for Lone Star Cheese Fries


peanut or canola oil

1 (16 oz.) bag seasoned steak fries, frozen

1 (8 oz.) bag shredded Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese mix

1 cup real bacon pieces

Hidden Valley Ranch Southwestern Ranch Dressing, or mix Regular Ranch Dressing (not Buttermilk) with Cholula sauce till desired flavor and heat is achieved.


Fill a large skillet halfway with peanut oil, heat on high till a drop of cold-water sizzles in pan. Fry the frozen fries one third of a bag at a time; use a slotted spoon to put the fries into the hot oil. Caution: the oil will sizzle and pop from the cold fries. Let cook for 4 minutes, drain on paper towels and repeat till all the fries are done.

Preheat oven to 350F; spray a 2-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Layer one third of the fries into the dish, spread one third of the cheese and bacon pieces over them; repeat two more times. Bake for 15 minutes; serve with sauce while hot.

Makes 4 servings.

Have fun jeepers, and make sure to dine in San Juan County restaurants!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

American Chocolate Week.

According to one of those “everyday is a sort of holiday” sites, the week of March 19 – March 25, 2023 is American Chocolate Week.  I wish I could give you an exact date on when this “holiday” came into existence.  However, there happens to be a celebration of chocolate, whether worldwide, national, or one particular country altogether, since it was first created.

It began, according to written history, in the 15th century when explorers from Europe, mainly Spain, came to the new world.  The Mayans were using cocoa beans to create a drink, but the explorers mistook them as almonds.  Bringing them back to Europe, those who ate the beans were given a huge dose of “bitter almonds”, but thankfully, not of cyanide.

As explorers continued into other countries, throughout South America, sources for the cocoa beans were found.  The local native populations were able to teach the explorers how to process the beans, and create a drink.  Good thing sugar cane was also discovered within the Caribbean Isles, and this helped sweeten the bitter concoction.

Cooks, in various countries, played with the beans by adding, not just sugar, but flavorings, and begin to create chocolate candies, confections and baked goods.  In 1904,  

How to Cook for the Sick and Convalescent, by Helena Viola Sachse, was published and it contained recipes for chocolate drinks that would help ease symptoms of illnesses and diseases.  Can chocolate really heal the sick?  Medically speaking, no; but it does have a sort of mind-altering affect that is soothing, and simply makes us feel happy.  When it comes to illness, do we not often hear that attitude goes a long way in the healing process?

Easter will soon be celebrated, and chocolate is a huge bonus gifted to children, but adults indulge just as well.  Oh yes, hard boiled eggs, with colored shells, go into baskets; however, peanut butter or coconut cream eggs are so much tastier, in my opinion.  Of course they are, they are encased in chocolate!

So here is a short recipe I tried recently for 3-Ingredient Flourless Chocolate Cookies.  They are sort of like meringues, but baked at a higher temperature, and chewy. I had a few guinea pigs try them out, with reservations on the “only 3 ingredients” theme, but the consensus was, “so good!”.  By the way, since they are flourless, those with gluten allergies can enjoy them; and confectioner sugar substitute products (Swerve or Truvia) can be used for regular powdered sugar.  This recipe also does not contain any type of fat or dairy, and since many vegetarians eat eggs, the egg whites are acceptable, especially as a source of protein.

3-Ingredient Flourless Chocolate Cookies


½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3 cups powdered sugar, or a substitute product

4 large egg whites


Preheat oven to 325F, line two baking pan/sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa powder and powdered sugar to evenly combine, and break up any lumps.  Whisk in egg whites until batter is smooth.  The batter will also be gooey and sticky, so have a rubber spatula ready to help remove batter from the whisk.

Using a cookie scoop, or a tablespoon, space out, 2-inches apart, 12 rounded out portions onto each baking pan/sheet.  That rubber spatula will come in handy for removing the batter from the scoop or spoon.  Bake for 14 – 18 minutes; cookies are done when they are puffed up, have a shiny, yet crusty surface.  Remove from oven and let cookies cool off completely on the baking pans/sheets.  If you remove while still, even slightly, warm, they will fall apart.

 The first two days, the cookies will be crunchy on the outside, but chewy on the inside.  By the 3rd day, the outside will still be crunchy, the interior will be gooier, but still delicious.  So, storage is basically 3 days in an airtight container, but they will not last that long.

Recipe makes two dozen cookies.

Mary Cokenour





Wednesday, March 15, 2023

If Only Vlad the Impaler Had Better Taste in Food.

One of the most famous gothic horror classics is Dracula, written by Bram Stoker, published in 1897, and retold by Hollywood too many times to count.  Stoker claimed that the story came from his own mind, however, scholars have suggested otherwise.  While visiting the University of Budapest, Stoker met with Professor Ármin Vámbéry who was an expert on the Ottoman Empire.  The professor, supposedly, suppled Stoker with tales of the empire, Vlad the Impaler, and the horrors of war during the 14th century. 

Vlad was ruler of Wallachia which is actually south of Transylvania, but both part of the country of Romania.  Previously, during his father’s reign, he, and his brother Radu, were held hostage by the Turks.  Vlad, after becoming king himself, was finally able to defeat the empire, but many years later on, and via betrayal, was captured by the Turks again, and beheaded.  Hmm, perhaps a bit of history on the Ottoman Empire would explain Vlad’s leaning towards his own horrific acts of torture. 

The Ottoman Empire, aka the Turkish Empire, controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries.  It was brought down, at the end of WW2, for being aligned with the Nazi regime.  The empire was mainly Islamic Caliphate/Muslim, but also contained Christians, Jews and other religious minorities. However, during its 600-year existence these non-Muslim subjects endured discrimination, persecution, torture and death.  Anyone reading, or listening, to the daily world news will probably think, “Nothing seems to have changed much in that regard.”.

Leaping into the 18th century, King Charles XII of Sweden, ended up living in the Ottoman Empire after his assault on Russia ended in mass defeat.  While there, he lived a better lifestyle, more suited for a king, than Vlad had endured; and that included feasting on Turkish cuisine.  Once he returned to Sweden, he brought with him a recipe for “little meatballs”.  The recipe for kötbullar, or Swedish meatballs, first appeared in print in the 1760s, Guide to Housekeeping for Young Women, by the cook Cajsa Warg. Warg worked for a family that had been close to the king, and her book also contained the first recipe for the dolma-like stuffed cabbage kåldolmar.  What is dolma?  Short or medium grain rice mixed with ground lamb (or beef), finely diced vegetables, tomato paste, pomegranate molasses and spices, wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves, and boiled till liquid is fully absorbed.  King Charles also introduced his subjects to sherbet and Turkish coffee; the sherbet was a hit, the coffee, not so much.

Traditionally, Swedish meatballs are served with boiled or mashed potatoes, and lingonberry jam.  Why the jam?  Cultural superstition!  While the foods of the Turkish empire were intriguing, the people were considered to be heathens, and unclean.  The Swedes believed that using lingonberries would ward off all types of cancer, and other deadly infections, that they might “catch”.  Sounds ridiculous now, but this was the 18th century, and medical sciences were not very advanced.

Since the meatballs are served with a brown gravy, substitutes for potatoes are rice or noodles; with pickled cucumbers as a side dish.  Of course, lingonberry jam is still a staple.  The meatballs are generally made with ground beef and pork, similar to making Italian style meatballs.  However, using ground turkey, instead of the pork, brings a more savory flavor to the meatballs, but that is my experience anyway.


Swedish Meatballs


For the Meatballs:

2 lbs. ground beef

1 lb. ground pork (or ground turkey)

1 cup whipping cream (or whole milk)

1 cup plain breadcrumbs

2 eggs beaten.

1 small onion, finely diced

2 tsps. nutmeg

1 tsp. salt

3 tsps. ground black pepper

6 Tbsp. butter.


4 Tbsp. flour

1 cup whipping cream

2 Tbsp. beef bouillon


In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients for the meatballs, except butter.  Mix together well, with hands, and do NOT overmix.  Form the meat mixture into 1-inch balls (1-inch ice cream scoop is helpful).

In a large skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of butter on medium heat.  Place meatballs into skillet, leaving room between each for turning.  Cook, and turn every 1-2 minutes, to brown all exposed areas. Remove to paper towel covered plate to drain excess fat.

To make the gravy, whisk flour into the hot drippings remaining in skillet. Whish in cream and bouillon; simmer, on low heat, until thickened. Add salt & pepper to taste, but should not actually be needed.

Makes 50 meatballs, and 10 servings.

Mary Cokenour