Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Yippee Yee, Getting Me Some Bubble Tea.

One fun source is any site listing “food holidays” for the year.  There are many, so I do not rely on just one site, since they tend to have different information.  So, looking at a listing for April became a matter of, “Did that. Yeah, did that too.  Not doing that one again.  Oh heck, you could not pay me enough to eat that!”.  Last day of the month and it was a hallelujah moment – April 30th is National Bubble Tea Day!

Before I get into what bubble tea is, it is best I explain differences between milkshakes, smoothies and blended coffees; and give hints on where to find them.  First off, a milkshake is a thick, sweet, cold mixture made by blending milk, ice cream, and flavorings, like caramel sauce, chocolate syrup, or a fruit syrup.  In Blanding, the go-to place is definitely Patio Diner for milkshakes (and other delicious ice cream treats).  My hubby prefers the classic vanilla, while a cool and refreshing mint is my choice.

A smoothie is a beverage made by puréeing ingredients in a blender. It has a liquid base, such as fruit juice, milk, plant-milk, or yogurt. Ingredients added in are fruits, vegetables, or a combo of both, crushed ice, whey powder or nutritional supplements.  To really simplify the creation of a smoothie, powdered mixes can be purchased, so just add a liquid and crushed ice.  In Monticello, High Desert Café and The Over Bite have selections of smoothies to please any palate.

A blended coffee is, in simple terms, a coffee slushy.  Coffee, crushed ice, milk and flavoring are mixed in a blender; similar to creating a smoothie, just more ice.  The Over Bite creates splendid blended coffees, and my very favorite is with oat milk and three shots of sugar-free caramel syrup.  Hubby goes for the gusto with whole milk, shots of caramel and Irish cream syrups; no wonder he can’t get to sleep after drinking one of those!


Now for bubble tea, and the mecca, in San Juan County, for this is Ja-Roen Thai & Sushi, in Monticello.  Bubble tea originated in Taiwan, in the 1980s, and was brought to the USA, in the 1990s, by immigrants.  Of course, it spread like wild fire in China, Japan and Thailand.  The process is blending black tea with milk, fruit and/or fruit juices, simple syrup (mix of water and sugar) and crushed ice, shaking vigorously for a thick mixture.  This is then poured into a tall glass or container, with chewy tapioca pearls at the bottom.  A wide straw is used, so the pearls can be sucked up with the liquid, and surprise, a chewy candy treat along with a drink.


Bubble tea is often referred to as Boba tea.  Is there a difference?  No, the term “boba” is the Chinese term for the tapioca pearls.  The pearls can be made at home (loads of recipes amongst Asian food bloggers), purchased dry, but needing to be cooked; or purchased wet and just add as needed.  With the dry pearls, or even making from scratch, the cooking has to be precise.  Otherwise, instead of chewy pearls, you might end up with jaw breakers, or a mushy paste no one wants to eat.  There are also types of pearls that are lighter in consistency, so instead of sitting at the bottom of the mixture, they float on top, and are eaten using a spoon.  Are the pearls always black in color?  Oh no, bubble tea has become an art form, so a multitude of colors can be purchased or created.  Blue Mountain Foods sells bubble tea kits in their freezer section, right next to another favorite of mine, “My Mochi” (see San Juan Record, June 28, 2023, if curious about mochi).


Prepackaged Tapioca Pearls
Dried Tapioca Pearls














Palm, the niece of Waen Roll, owner of Ja-Roen, gave me a personal lesson in bubble tea making.  Creating bubble tea has been simplified, as with smoothie making, by having the tea and flavored ingredients mixed together, and made into an easy to add powder.  Flavors like chocolate, strawberry, coconut, watermelon, matcha green tea, and my new favorite, taro, can be blended up in minutes.  What is taro?  Taro is a starchy root vegetable, and a staple in African and Asian nations.  Have you been to Hawaii and eaten poi?  Poi is cooked and mashed taro root.  The flavor is hard to describe; sweet, yet fruity, but there is really no fruit to compare it with.


Now to my bubble tea lesson.  Palm is a patient teacher, so thank you so much for putting up with me.  The process begins with about two cups of crushed ice placed in the blending container.  Then it is half cup measurements of your favorite flavor powdered mix, milk and simple syrup.  Insert container into the blending machine, and cover your ears, it gets loud!  A half cup of tapioca pearls goes into the individual serving container and the blended mixture poured over; cap it, stick a straw down to the bottom and suck!  Do not swallow immediately as those pearls will be coming up with the liquid.  Take it slow, let the liquid swirl around in the mouth and ease down the throat, and there they are, the pearls.  Mmm, chewy, sweet candy balls mixing with the fruity flavor of the liquid, so good. 

First the Crushed Ice.

Palm measures out ingredients by half cup.

Bubble Tea Blending Machine



Tapioca Pearls at Bottom of Serving Glass.
Blended Mixture Over the Pearls

My Taro Bubble Tea, which my husband ended up stealing and drinking.

Currently Ja-Roen only serves up 24-ounce bubble teas, but it seems to be the perfect size, as no one is complaining in that department.    Due to availability of flavors, the menu for bubble teas is subject to change.


So, on April 30th, all you San Juan County residents, get on in to Ja-Roen Thai & Sushi, in Monticello, and order up your favorite flavor of bubble tea. For all of us who have tried it, and enjoy the experience, we come up with all types of excuses to stop in for one.  If you have not tried it, now is the perfect time! 

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Twice Baked and Smothered.

Potatoes are a versatile root vegetable. They can be eaten alone and in so many ways: mashed, boiled, fried, steamed, baked, au gratin, get the idea. They can also be combined with other vegetables for a medley or with a protein (beef, chicken, pork) in a stew or casserole. Twice baked potatoes usually have some mixture of cheese, maybe a meat, like bacon, even vegetables added.

The difference between twice baked potatoes and potato skins? Twice baked are just that; baked potatoes, insides scooped out, combined with other ingredients, returned to the skins and baked again.  The potatoes used tend to be on the large size, since this is basically a complete meal being created.  Russet potatoes are the best to use as they are low in moisture and high in starch.  This allows for the baked potato to have a fluffy inside, and crispy skin.

Potato skins, on the other hand, are similar as Russets (smaller sized) are still the best to use, and the potatoes are baked, but with a content difference.  Considered a snack or appetizer, the potatoes are halved before baking, hollowed out, ingredients added (usually cheese, bacon and green onions) and then baked before serving.  Add a dollop of sour cream on top, the perfect “finger food”; oh, and the potato centers that were removed probably end up as mashed later on.

The” baked potato” was not popularized in the United States until 1908, and potatoes in general did not show up in Idaho until the 1800s.  Before colonizing the states, explorers discovered potatoes in South America, brought them back to Europe, and eventually to North America in the 1600s.  In 1908, the building of the Northern Pacific Railway system finally reached Idaho.  Laborers worked long, back breaking hours, and needed foods that would keep them energized for those long hours.  The potato was perfect for this. Easily stored inside a pocket, easily held by hand, and thrown on coals, or wood fires, would cook up quickly; hence the baked potato, in Idaho, was born.

The skin of the potato is called a “jacket” in England, so if you hear the term “jacketed potatoes”, it simply means the skin is left on.  Actually, the skin of the potato contains more nutritional value than the insides.  They are full of potassium, magnesium and fiber.  Balancing out the sodium in your body, with potassium, is necessary to keep healthy blood pressure, and preventing heart attack or stroke. So, when making potatoes in any fashion, make sure to have a good portion of skin included.

I have not tried making twice baked potatoes from scratch before. I have, though, purchased the ones sold in the freezer section of the supermarket, and they are usually pretty disgusting; no matter the brand. The skins are tough and the insides are dry and tasteless. So, challenge accepted and believe this is a prize worthy recipe.

Oh, the reference to “smothered” is simply stating that these potatoes are chock full of additional goodies to make it a definitively complete meal.


Twice Baked Smothered Potatoes


4 large baking potatoes (Russet are best)

2 Tbsp. butter

¼ cup each diced green and red bell peppers, diced onions

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

3 Tbsp. each sour cream and warmed milk

1 cup cheese mixture (equal parts shredded cheddar and Swiss, and crumbled goat cheese)

 ½ tsp. each salt and ground black pepper

¼ cup crumbled bacon

Pinch of ground cayenne pepper


Preheat oven to 450F.  Wash potatoes; make ¼” deep incision down center length of each potato, wrap in aluminum foil and bake in oven for one hour.  Remove potatoes and let cool until they can be easily handled, but are still warm.

While potatoes are cooling, melt butter, on medium heat, in small skillet; sauté bell peppers, onion and garlic until just beginning to soften; set aside.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise (use ¼” incision as a guide); scoop out insides, but leave a ¼” layer against the skin.  Place potato insides in a large bowl; add in sautéed vegetables and other ingredients.  Mix together thoroughly; mixture will be chunky; if a smoother filling is desired, mash the insides with the sour cream and warmed milk first, then add remaining ingredients.

Fill the potato skins and place in a 3-quart baking dish; place back in 450F oven for 15-20 minutes; until tops are browned.

Makes 8 servings.




Option: To make a satisfying side dish, spoon mixture into buttered 2-quart baking dish, bake as instructed and serve.  The skins?  Well, you could always serve them as an appetizer.

Mary Cokenour