The Quest - Part V

The Quest continues with a Christmas update…

Although I continue to look for MTAOFC at yard sales and thrift stores, Julia’s gem still evades me.

I was inspired again this Christmas season by finally watching Julie & Julia, I wanted to love it since when I read the book almost two years ago, it is what inspired me to start Holly’s Diner. I have to say I enjoyed both books (Julie & Julia, and My Life in France) more than the movie, although I loved Meryl Streep! My thirst for MTAOFC was renewed.

Then a surprise for Christmas, my step-mom Anna, gave me all of my great Aunt Mary’s cookbooks! The cookbooks had been boxed up in 1996 when Uncle Phil died, and Anna and I have talked about them only recently. Anna immediately said, “There’s no MTAOFC.” But there were other treasure, for sure!

Come into the Kitchen with Jackie by Jackie Olden of KNX (personally signed to Aunt Mary)
The Mike Roy Cookbook No. 2 by Mike Roy KNX (with Aunt Mary’s cooking notes)
Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking by Elena Zelayeta (I'm going to share this one with SS, remind her of a "taste of childhood" since she's in the South.)
Chafing Dish Cookery – 1950 (This I’m packing away with Grandma Helen’s chafing dish, which I inherited in 2000 but have yet to use it.)
The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne (Just like the copy I found in Fresno, but this was Aunt Mary’s! I’m keeping this one!)
Microwave Cookbook, the Complete Guide
The Complete Book of Cheese
The California Cook Book
– 1946
Gourmet, the Magazine of Good Living, Volume 28, 1968
New Recipes for the Cuisinart
by James Beard and Carl Jerome
Avanelle Day’s Herb & Spice Sampler Cookbook
Holiday Favorites Presented by Professional Home Economists
– 1985
Successful Microwaving with Toshiba – 1982
The Sunset Casserole Book – 1965
Cooking with a Food Processor – 1978
Sunset Mexican Cook Book – 1972
Adventures in Wine Cookery – 1965
The Official Directory of Salt-Free Foods – 1979
American’s Favorite Recipes from Better Homes and Gardens – 1972

With these cookbooks, Aunt Mary covered two of the Big Three in American’s culinary history (James Beard, Julia Child, Craig Claiborne), but not Julia. (Sigh, heavy sigh.) The Quest continues…


Chirstmas Eve Tradition

The holidays, they evoke traditions – new and familiar. Here’s how lasagna on Christmas Eve became a new tradition.

By the time I got to college, Christmas Eve was always spent with my Dad’s side of the family. How we got to that point is a whole other story, perhaps for another time (or not.) Although there were more of us at one time, we evolved to Daddy and my step-mom, Anna; Grandma Helen and my step-grandpa, Al; and my great Uncle Phil (Grandpa Sid’s younger brother and Daddy’s name sake); and me.

Christmas Eve with this side of the family meant getting dressed up – dresses or skirts, panty hose and heels for the ladies; slacks, pressed button down shirts and ties for the gentlemen, perhaps even a sport coat or two. I even curled my hair most year’s to please Grandma Helen. We had “cocktail” hour, although, somehow I never remember having a cocktail, only the “adults,” even when I was an adult. The table was covered with the good gold-rimmed china and gold-rimmed crystal, the gold flatware, the linen tablecloth, the works. Dinner was usually ham with all the fixin’s. It was a big production.

After dinner, we always did all the dishes before opening any presents. We passed out all the presents for that evening, opening one at a time, as we went around the circle so everyone could “ooh” and “ahh” about what was received, but more important, the joyous reaction to what you gave.

The last year we did this was 1995. Then things began to change, rapidly.

In just five years, four of the six of us were gone. The Christmas’ of 1998 and 1999 being the toughest since it was just Grandma Helen, Anna and I; Grandma Helen was not doing so well those years. But we kept the tradition, kept the faith and kept the smiles on our faces.

By Christmas 2000, it was down to Anna and me. We needed a new tradition, and how! And here’s how a new tradition was born, one that I cherish and look forward to every year.

Anna and I agreed we wanted something very different, much simpler and more comfortable – the panty hose had to go! We decided on lasagna, a salad and warm bread with soft, creamy butter. We agreed casual was fine, but if either of us felt the spirit to dress-up a bit more, that was okay too.

When HH joined the picture, he was welcomed into our holiday tradition and soon learned that if Anna and I were together on Christmas Eve there was no discussion on the menu, the tradition was set.

For this year’s celebration, I made Art’s Special Sauce last week, the base of my lasagna. I loosely follow the recipe my Mom wrote of her lasagna, and what has evolved is a new tradition – Lasagna, Holly’s Diner style for Christmas Eve.

Lasagna, Holly’s Diner style

Start with Art’s Special Sauce, I like to embellish with two shredded zucchini and a bunch of chopped fresh spinach for Christmas Eve.

What you will need:
16 – 17 cups of Art’s Special Sauce
14 – 15 lasagna noodles, cooked
32 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
32 oz low fat cottage cheese
Some shredded or grated Parmesan cheese

I make this in my turkey roasting pan, so it’s pretty big, lots of delicious leftovers.

Spray the pan with non-stick cook stray. Ladle 1 ½ - 2 scoops Sauce in the bottom of the pan to coat. Place 5 lasagna noodles on top. Ladle 3 more scoops of Sauce and spread around, be sure to cover all of the noodle so they are at least moist. Scoop half the cottage cheese and spread around. Take about 2 hand full’s of mozzarella cheese and spread around, sprinkle some Parmesan as desired. Repeat with noodles, cottage cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan. Place last of noodles, remaining sauce, remaining mozzarella cheese and sprinkle Parmesan as desired. See why you need the turkey roasting pan?!

Bake at 425º for 1 hour, remove from oven, and let rest for about 20 minutes (just enough time to heat the bread, if needed). Cut into generous pieces and serve – Christmas Eve only comes around once a year!

If you happen by the Diner next Christmas Eve, you know what will be on the menu, and I hope you like it.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!


Diner Drivin' Part 4

A road trip at Christmas to Phoenix – what better way to spend the holidays? HH and I headed down asphalt to visit family, yet made time to stop at one of Guy’s joints – Joe’s Farm Grill in Gilbert, AZ.

I remember the first time I saw the piece on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, and thought what wonderfully, fresh food they served. When we found directions, with a description of the location that said “on the north side of the road in a grove of trees,” we thought really? Really! The map actually indicates that Joe’s is on the edge of “Agritopia,” how appropriate since they are known to cook what they grow.

As we drove up, it looked like an old cinder-block building in the middle of a park. As we walked up, we could see that the converted old house was fresh and shiny with stainless steel trim, yet rustic from 1960’s cinder-block, and as clean and inviting as could be all at the same time.

HH and I arrived at the beginning of lunch, right at 11 AM, there was another couple there but that was it. This was good for us since we need to really study the menu! They have burgers, salads, chicken, pizza, BBQ and “Farm Favorite.” After reading the entire menu, we both settled on the very first item – the Farm Burger.

The burgers are described as “local, natural, fresh ground chuck, on a buttered grilled bun with farm-fresh produce and a side of fries. Available cheeses: American, cheddar, Swiss, Fontina, blue.” I describe them as a hamburger with real flavor; a delicious soft and fresh, yet buttery grilled bun with well-melted sharp cheddar and awesome grilled onions! The tomatoes were pretty anemic, but what do you expect in December in the desert! The lettuce had flavor, and good green. And the fries were golden, crispy with just the right amount of salt (I know, I just acknowledged that salt is good!)

The condiment bar was beautiful – stainless, tons of possibilities and even a sign to remind guest to be “patient” when dispensing the mayo. I had ranch dressing and bbq sauce to dip my fries in; HH had his own concoction of mayo and ketchup. We both eat up and enjoyed every bite.

The outdoor dining area was a wonderful park setting with a huge old tree for shade, great for spring and fall in the desert. We chose to eat inside, since it was a little cool outside, and a storm was a-coming.

So the next time you are hitting the asphalt and land in the Phoenix area, take the 202 to Gilbert, get off at Higley and head toward Agritopia to find Joe’s Farm Grill – it’s definitely worth the trip!


Mac and Cheese 101

What could be better during the holidays than a homemade treat to warm your belly, and fill your mouth with such ooey gooey goodness that you can’t think of anything else but being inside with fuzzy bunny slippers, a warm fire and snow falling on the ground outside. I’m talking comfort food, macaroni and cheese to be exact.

One of the things I make during the holidays, and only during the holidays, is Macaroni and Cheese 101, as per Martha Stewart. This recipe is one of the most requested recipes that Martha Stewart has, and I clipped it out a number of years ago when I was in my Martha Stewart phase – I’ve moved on, but keep the recipe.

When I was a kid I loved mac and cheese – from a box. Later as a single woman cooking what I wanted, I always had a box of Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese in my cupboard and thought I was high stylin’ it with the deluxe version. Then I discovered Martha’s version and all the boxes were out the window!

The first time I made it, I made the entire recipe – meaning a lot! I shared with Anna, but it was a little too rich for her. Then when HH walked into the Diner and later brought his family, I found a mac and cheese compatriot – someone I could make mac and cheese “for” each year at the holidays. Gary and I love this mac and cheese, and although I say I make it for Gary, he is just my excuse. But I’m glad to have Gary around to “mac” it down each year.

I decided a few years ago to only make it at Christmas, because something this good should be dreamed about all year, leaving our taste buds watering as we start to smell it heating in the oven. Gary and I check, look, pace and simply can’t wait until the mac and cheese comes out to the oven bubbling hot. It is all we can do to let it cool down enough to take the first bite without burning our tongues!

This mac and cheese has white cheddar cheddar cheese, pasta shells and toasted sourdough bread crumbs (that’s my variation) on top. I have learned to make only half the recipe if there is a small group (six or less), but you can freeze it and enjoy it again during the winter if you really want to.

And what do I serve it with at the Diner? An enjoyable beverage. Does it need anything else? (“No,” Gary says.) Ham works, bbq ribs are good, turkey sandwiches are delicious, but really it is so rich and filling and warm and cozy it can stand along.

If you’d like to try, here’s the recipe, just beware if you make the entire recipe you will spend about $15 just on the cheese, so be sure that you’re ready! And enjoy.

Macaroni and Cheese 101, Marth Stewart style
8 tablespoons (l stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
6 slices good white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
5 1/2, cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt, plus more for water
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere or 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni

1. Preheat oven to 375˚. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour melted butter into the bowl with the bread; toss. Set the bread crumbs aside.
2. Warm milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Melt remaining butter in a high-sided
skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. While whisking, add hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue
cooking, whisking constantly, until mixture bubbles and thickens, 8 to 12 minutes.
4. Remove pan from heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, peppers, 3 cups cheddar cheese,
and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere (or I cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.
5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until
the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
6. Pour mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining cheddar and Gruyere (or
Pecorino) and bread crumbs over top. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.


Alternative "Fat"

Boy, the Twelve Days of Cookies took a lot out of me! But more baking was in store. The Diner was very busy this week with more mixing, baking and finally sorting of cookies.

There was one slight problem though, WonderSlim. Here’s a little background –

I don’t have shortening or lard at the Diner, ever. I don’t cook with them; I don’t want them in the things I cook. I just don’t think a real or artificial solid FAT is necessary, since. Okay, I use butter like there is not tomorrow, but somehow that is different!

A few years ago I found a wonderful product called WonderSlim. I look for it each year during the holidays to help reduce or replace the fat requirements in the cookie recipes I bake. Last year I looked and looked and could not find WonderSlim. I asked at supermarkets and health food stores and no one knew what I was talking about. Finally, just after the first of the year I found a jar at a discount store, so I scooped it up!

I made HH some chocolate chip cookies, using WonderSlim, and saved the jar so I could better show the grocers this holiday season if I had trouble finding it again. The jar came in handy, since; once again, no one knew what I was talking about.

I called the manufacturer on the back of the jar, trying to track down a local outlet. The bad news (well, I guess that depends on your point of view!), the product was discontinued. It didn’t catch with consumers, as it was sold as a fat and egg substitute.

I read the ingredients on the back of the jar, and noticed that prune puree was the main ingredient (HH, you should not be reading this otherwise you may question the content of the cookies at the Diner in the future!) So I wandered the aisle of the supermarket, got creative, and viola! Pureed prunes are solid in the baby food aisle! Perfect! Since a half cup of WonderSlim replaces 1 cup of shortening, I used two-pack of baby pureed prunes to replace the shortening and the cookies are great!

The cookies are a little darker than normal, but their texture and taste are just fine.

So if you are looking to eliminate that nasty container of solid artificial shortening (or some other solid fat) from your baking, try the pureed prunes.

I experimented and used apple sauce for another recipe, since I have heard that this works also, but I thought the apple sauce made the cookies a bit more flat, the batter was runnier.

And here’s the research…


fat = solid fat
Equivalents: l Ib, = 2 cups
For baking

General notes: Reducing fat will give baked goods a denser texture; to correct for this, try
increasing the sugar in the recipe and/or beating the egg whites and folding them into the batter.
Also try using a softer flour, like pastry or cake flour.
• applesauce (Applesauce can replace up to % of the shortening in many recipes. Add
with the liquid ingredients and reduce sugar in recipe ifthe applesauce is sweetened.) OR

• pureed prunes (Pureed prunes can replace up to % of the shortening in many recipes; it
works especially well with chocolate. Add with the liquid ingredients.) OR

• apple butter (Apple butter can replace up to % of the shortening in many recipes, also
reduce sugar in recipe if the apple butter is sweetened. Add with the liquid ingredients.) OR

• fruit-based fat substitutes (Especially good when baking with chocolate; add with the
liquid ingredients. For best results, substitute only 3/4 of the fat with this.)OR

• ricotta cheese (This works well in many yeast breads that call for solid fat. Substitute
measure for measure. For best results, substitute no more than 3/4 of the fat with this.) OR

• bananas (mashed) (Substitute measure for measure.) OR

• omit or reduce (In many recipes for quick breads, muffins, and cookies, you can reduce
the amount of fat in the recipe by about a third without seriously compromising the

• oil (Avoid substituting oils for solid fats when baking cookies, cakes, and pastries; it will
make the dish greasy and dense. If you must do so, substitute 3 parts oil for every 4 parts
solid fat and consider increasing the amount of sugar and eggs in the recipe. Pie crusts
made with oil aren't as flaky as those made with solid fat.)


Twelve Days of Cookies - Twelth Day

Now that we are at the end, here’s where the story begins…

Cookie baking with my friends first began in 1996, with gingerbread cutouts and baking only when Stephen was almost two and James was “Sweet Baby James: at only four months old. Little did we know this would become an annual tradition.

The both of the boys “helped” the next year, Laurie and I had our helpers who were three years old and a year and a half. The flour flew, the royal icing was abstract, and Laurie and I were exhausted.

As the years have passed, the tradition continues. The boys have gotten better at cookie cutting and measuring. They get to take the cookie trays out of the oven these days, something they have wanted to do since they were about five years old. They are still excited about our holiday tradition, I think, although their attention span still wanes during the afternoon – nowadays turning to the Charger games and Nintendo.

Stephen is definitely more interested in the baking than James, but James still contributes. This year James took the foil off an entire back of Hersey’s Kisses for the Peanut Butter Kisses, no small task!

This is our favorite recipe, a Christmas classic, and definitely a “must” for any holiday cookie baking day.

James and Stephen
Laurie and Holly
Gingerbread Cutouts

5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup molasses
2 tbsp vinegar
Creamy Decorative Icing & candies (optional)

Stir together flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt. In a large mixer bowl beat shortening for 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat till fluffy. Add egg, molasses, and vinegar and beat well. Beat in flour mixture gradually, stirring in last part with a spoon till well mixed. Divide dough into thirds (in long rolls). Cover and chill about 3 hours or till easy to handle.

(Take one roll and split in half. Leave half in refrigerator and with other half) roll dough 1/8” thick. Cut with cookie cutters. Place on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 375º oven for 5 – 6 minutes or till done. Cool and decorate.

Creamy Decorative Icing:
In a small mixer bowl beat 1 egg white, 2 tsp lemon juice (from a lemon fresh off of Laurie’s tree) and enough sifted powdered sugar (1 ½ - 2 cups) to make icing of piping consistency.

Laurie loves the reindeer, which are the most delicate and difficult to get out of the cutters. James likes the angels. I like the candy canes; they are easy and so traditional. Stephen likes to eat all of them!
Ready to ice
Ready to Eat!
Part of the Day's Efforts!



Twelve Days of Cookies - Eleventh Day

I would be remiss to do any cookie list without including a Holly’s Diner favorite – Original Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies.

We are talking the traditional way, with a slight modification, that is soft and chewy. Then there’s the version with walnuts, which are thin and crispy. Sometimes I use my egg timer, sometime I use the smoke alarm timer and they turn out extra crispy – you get the picture.

I love this cookie dough, a few bites before the chocolate chips are poured in, then a few more bites when the chocolate chips are added. HH loves the soft and chewy version, he will eat any version, but soft and chewy are his favorite. Anna always requests the thin and crispy with walnuts version, that was Daddy’s favorite too.

If you have access to Holly’s Diner, then you have access to the cyberspace and therefore access to this recipe. Although, in order to be consistent, here is the recipe below with my slight modification.

Original Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (I don’t put this in)
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened (sometimes I use Wonder Slim, and prune-based fat substitute, for half the butter)
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12 oz) Nestlé Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels*
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 375º.
Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
Bake for 9 – 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

* Sometimes I use a combination of semi-sweet and milk chocolate morsels, also, these cookies need an extra cup of morsels, for sure! If you are going to go chocolately and gooey, why not go all the way!



Twelve Days of Cookies - Tenth Day

Okay, this is not a cookie, but this recipe cannot be missed during the holidays.

I used to experience Donna’s homemade Peanut Brittle just after the New Year. She had some left over from the holidays, and the first day I arrived, I would just eat and eat Donna’s Peanut Brittle as if it was my last opportunity for something sweet – ever!

I’ve always liked Peanut Brittle, but Donna’s is different. Donna’s Peanut Brittle is lighter in texture and color, it’s not as translucent (if you can use that word for peanut brittle), it’s more opaque. Although it is still very crunchy or “brittle-y” (if that’s a word), it is not nearly as difficult to chew as other peanut brittle. Donna’s Peanut Brittle is, somehow, not as hard.

It’s actually been a few years since I have visited in Donna (and Art, at the time) and had any of Donna’s Peanut Brittle. I guess the good news is I don’t have to walk an additional 10 blocks in the morning – in addition to the 10 blocks that go along with Oatmeal Brownie Gems – this time of year.

Donna’s Peanut Brittle

1 cup sugar
½ cup Karo syrup (white)
1 cup dry roasted peanuts
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp butter
1 tsp baking soda

1. Mix well sugar and syrup and cook on high in microwave for 4 minutes.
2. Stir in 1 cup peanuts; cook 4 minutes on high in microwave.
3. Stir in vanilla and butter; cook on high for 1 minute in microwave
4. Stir in baking soda and spread out on cookie sheet for 1 hour. (Then smash to desirable size.)



Twelve Days of Cookies - Ninth Day

If you like gingerbread cookies, but want something different, or maybe you like chocolate chip cookies but want something a little more sassy – these are the cookies for you!

My friend Laurie found this recipe ten years ago, but did not introduce them to Cookie Baking Day until a few years ago. These are the ones we all look forward to eating right out of the oven; we tell everyone one about but somehow don’t ever have enough to share. They are the first ones gone in the past few years, and the cookies I look forward to making the most.

When I start thinking about these Chocolate Ginger Cookies, I can taste them right away again. They are a little spice from the ginger, gooey from the chocolate, and soft and chewy little rounds of cookie delight.

This is another Martha Stewart recipe from Martha Stewart Living Magazine in 1999.

Again, if you like chocolate and ginger, this is the recipe for you!

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies – Martha Stewart Living 1999

7 oz best-quality semisweet chocolate (we’ve used a bag of chocolate chips and its fine)
1 ½ cups+ all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 ¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger (Laurie thinks we use a bit more each year, depends on how much you like ginger)
8 tbsp unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
½ cup dark-brown sugar, packed
¼ cup unsulfured molasses
¼ cup granulated sugar, for rolling cookies

1. Line two baking sheets with Silpats* (French nonstick baking mats), and set aside. Chop chocolate into ¼” chunks; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa; set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the grated ginger and butter until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the brown sugar’ beat until combined. Add the molasses; beat until combined.
3. Add the reserved flour mixture in batches until fully incorporated. Mix in reserved chocolate, cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or more.
4. Heat oven to 325º. Place the granulated sugar in a pie plate. Using a 1 ¾” gelato scoop, shape the dough into a ball. Roll each ball of dough in sugar. Bake until the surface cracks slightly, 13 – 15 minutes; let cool 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

*Note: Silpats – I’ve been using these for a few years, the first time I experienced them was in the industrial kitchen size when SS had a Wetzel’s Pretzels business. Silpats were the greatest thing to bake the pretzels on! I finally got some in 2002, moving from parchment paper to Silpats, and now I would not bake without them!



Twelve Days of Cookies - Eighth Day

Here is a simple, classic cookie, good any time of year, but certainly appropriate for Christmas. This one is from my sister-in-law’s, the cookie are delicate and yummy and will give you a break from all the thigh expanding and fanny dropping cookies that I love so much.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

1 cup butter
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup finely chopped nuts

Cream first three ingredients.
Blend flour; add nuts.
Roll into balls.
Bake at 300 - 325º for 25 – 30 minutes.
Roll in powdered sugar



Twelve Days of Cookies - Seventh Day

On our annual cookie baking day, this is another cookie that the boys often ask for, Laurie and I always have to think twice.

Although these are delicious, they are essentially a homemade Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, they are another one that will go directly to your fanny! These are gooey and messy, rich, full of calories and other stuff I would not serve every day, but they are delicious!

Buckeye Balls

1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons shortening

1. Line a baking sheet with waxed paper; set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, mix peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and confectioners' sugar with hands to form a smooth stiff dough. Shape into balls using 2 teaspoons of dough for each ball. Place on prepared pan, and refrigerate.
3. Melt shortening and chocolate together in a metal bowl over a pan of lightly simmering water. Stir occasionally until smooth, and remove from heat.
4. Remove balls from refrigerator. Insert a wooden toothpick into a ball, and dip into melted chocolate. Return to wax paper, chocolate side down, and remove toothpick. Repeat with remaining balls. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to set.
From www.allrecipes.com



Twelve Days of Cookies - Sixth Day

I found this recipe in The Mini Page of the newspaper in 2004. I thought it would be a great new recipe, not quite the beloved gingerbread, just a little different.

Anna helped me, and we modified the recipe based on the ingredients at the Diner and Anna’s taste. So I guess it officially becomes a Holly’s Diner recipe because of the modifications.

The next year, Anna came over to bake and we wanted to make the Spice Cookies again, they were so good the year before. I looked and looked for this recipe – high and low, far and wide – everywhere and any where I could think of that I would have saved it and I could not find the darn thing! I finally resorted to contacting The Mini Page again and pleading for a copy of the recipe. I received it the day before Anna arrived to bake, so all was good.

Later that day after baking, cleaning up and writing down my cookie baking list for that year (I keep that stuff from year to year, taped inside the cupboard), there is was! The original Spice Cookie recipe with handwritten modification that I had clipped out of the paper the year before! I knew I had put it in a safe place!

Spice Cookies – Holly’s Diner style

1 cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar, extra for flattening
2 tbsp molasses
1 egg
1 ½ tsp baking soda
2 ½ cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger

1. Mix butter until creamy, and then add sugar, molasses and egg.
2. Sift together the baking soda, flour, cinnamon and ginger.
3. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well.
4. Roll in balls; flatten with bottom of cup, sugared.
5. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350º oven for 10 – 15 minutes

Makes 6 dozen cookies.

These should turn out crispy and crunchy, and delicious!



Twelve Days of Cookies - Fifth Day

My friend, Laurie, brought this recipe for one of our cookie baking days. These cookie bars are rich and messy and gooey and sooo delicious!

There is definitely nothing figure-friendly about these cookie bars. When you put the first bite in your mouth, you can feel your thighs expanding before you have even swallowed! These cookie bars require an extra 10 blocks on my morning walk this time of year (not that it always happens!), but they are delicious.

This is the perfect cookie bar to share, tasting one and giving the rest away – that’s what I have learned to do each year.

Laurie’s Oatmeal Brownie Gems

2 ½ cups oatmeal, uncooked
1 cup flour
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup butter, melted
1 – 12 oz package M & M mini baking bits
1 – 19 to 21 oz package fudge brownie mix (batter prepared as directed on box)

Pre-heat oven to 350º. In large bowl combine oats, flour, sugar, nuts and baking soda; add butter until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Toss in M & M bits until evenly distributed. Reserve 3 cups of mixture. Pat remaining mixture onto bottom of 15’x10’x1’ pan to form crust. Pour prepared brownie mix over crust, carefully spreading into thin layer. Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture over top of brownie mixture. Pat down lightly. Bake 25 – 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool completely. Cut into 48 bars. (Well this doesn’t quite happen! They always end up large and, therefore, not 48!) Store in tightly covered container.

Enjoy, and beware!


Twelve Days of Cookies - Fourth Day

This recipe was in the December 2003 issue of Martha Stewart Living, with the most unusual cookie ingredient – one cup of olive oil. Give these sugar cookies a try; they might just become your new favorite, as they did mine six years ago.

By the way, as good as these cookies are, the best part is sampling the raw dough!

I usually have two cookie baking days, one with my friends (which you will hear more about later), and one on my own. For the cookie day on my own, I start by making all the dough one day, then baking the next. This does two things – it allows me to make a mess and prep one day, then enjoy all the warm homemade cookies the next, dividing the tasks just make everything much more enjoyable; the other thing this does is allow me to eat as much of the raw cookie dough that I want in peace without anyone to say anything! I make enough cookies that it hard for anyone to tell how much raw dough was consumed, or not consumed, depending on the year. So that’s my little secret, don’t tell anyone!

Anyway, here is Martha’s fabulous cookie recipe:

Simple Sugar Cookies – Martha Stewart Living, December 2003

4 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup olive oil
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for pressing cookies
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of one orange

1. Sift together flour, salt, cream of tartar, and baking soda; set aside. Place butter, olive oil, 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, and 1 cup granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on medium until fluffy.
2. Beat in eggs, vanilla extract, and orange zest until well combined. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture slowly, until fully incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.
3. Heat oven to 375º. Form dough into balls measuring about 1 inch in diameter, and place on a cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Press flat with a glass dipped in sugar. Place cookies in oven, and bake until very lightly golden, 7 – 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.



Twelve Days of Cookies - Third Day

I’ve had this recipe a long time. It is one of the cherished recipes in my collection. It is handwritten by my sister, Heather. As I read the recipe card, I can see where Heather started writing; I got frustrated with her and continued writing the recipe myself.

I laminated the recipe a number of years ago so I didn’t “season” the recipe any further –the flour, the vanilla, the brown sugar are literally ingrained in the recipe card.

This recipe is not unique; you can find it in all the holiday magazines, and other times of year, too, and it goes by a variety of names.

I try to make these every year, even if not many people eat them, just to connect and use my sister’s recipe.

Heather’s Peanut Butter Kisses

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup shortening (I use an apple substitute now a-days, I don’t buy shortening any more)
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
3 1/12 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 – 11 oz package milk chocolate candies

Preheat oven to 375º. Cream together granulated sugar, brown sugar, shortening, and Jif (PB). Add eggs, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt, add to Jif mixture. Beat well.

Shape into 1” balls; roll in additional granulated sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in 375º oven for 8 minutes. Remove from oven. Press a milk chocolate candy into the center of each warm cookie. Return to oven, back 3 minutes longer. Makes 6 – 7 dozen cookies.

I hope you…Enjoy!


Twelve Days of Cookies - Second Day

In 2002, my good friend, Laurie, asked what I might like for Christmas, I said I just wanted handwritten recipes of her family’s favorites.

At the time, James was six and his favorite was Black Cat Cookies. Here’s James recipe, partially in his own handwriting.

By the way, when you are (or in James case, when he was) six years old, it doesn’t matter if you make black cat cookies at Christmas, it just matters that the cookies taste good!

James’ Black Cat Cookies

1 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup water
2 eggs
1 package chocolate cake mix
M & M’s

Beat together peanut butter, eggs, and water. Add cake mix. Mix well. Form dough into one inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten balls with bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Pinch out two ears at top of cookie. Add M & M eyes and nose. Press fork into dough to form whiskers. Bake at 375º for 8 – 10 minutes. Makes 4 ½ dozen.



Twelve Days of Cookies - First Day

I love Thanksgiving for all the savory, hearty, traditional dishes that are served.

And I love Christmas for all the sweet, delicious bite-sized treats that are served!

To celebrate one of my favorite sweet treats, Holly’s Diner is kicking off The Twelve Days of Cookies!

The Twelve Days of Cookies are about the butter and the sugar (granulated, confectioners and brown), the flour and the vanilla, the orange zest and the spices.

The Twelve Days of Cookies are about the soft, creamy cookie dough to sample (again and again) before the cookies are baked. About the warm, delicious aromas escaping from the oven as the cookies rise and bake and turn golden brown.

The Twelve Days of Cookies are about the delectable first bite of the first cookie of the season, and about the extra 10 blocks I need to walk each morning for each cookie I eat! (I’m not ready for my fanny to be hanging on the ground and looking like Maxine yet, give me a few more years!)

If you are looking for cookie ideas, new and traditional, stop by the Diner for some ideas.

Let’s start with something traditional, my Cousin Mike’s favorite cookies – Nana’s Cocoa Cookies. I have the recipe on a recipe card Nana typed out, that is clearly her manual typewriter, and she typed “(Mikes’ favorite)” at the top so she would remember.

Nana’s Cocoa Cookies

Have measured and ready to mix

3 cups quick Oatmeal
½ cup peanut butter
¼ cup cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
Misx (Nana’s typo) well and bring to rapid boil for one minute 2 cup sugar—1/4 pd. Margarine (or butter at the Diner) and ½ cup milk.

After this ahs (Nana’s typo, no computers or liquid paper available at the time) boiled pour over above mixture drop on wax paper in small balls and let cool.

(This one’s really messy, so be ready with the wax paper!)



Grandma's Handwritten Recipe

HH’s family just had a reunion last week. Part of the HH clan got together, shared holiday greetings, shared photos which led to sharing memories, and (of course) shared some food.

Besides it being a beautiful day and having the family together, the best thing was what HH’s cousin Rhonda did for everyone. She found a cherished recipe of Grandma’s, found a beautiful photo of Grandma, and pulled Grandma’s signature off an old Christmas card, creating this for everyone.

It’s actually a pot holder that everyone can use and hang in their kitchens.

All of HH’s cousins talked about the wonderful cake they remember Grandma used to make – how delicious it was, how moist, how it was filled with Grandma’s love.

I’ve certainly seen recipes for this cake before, but never made it. You can bet it will be served in the near future at Holly’s Diner, since HH loves it!

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

3 cups unsifted flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
2 ¼ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp (baking) soda
1 ½ cups Best Food mayonnaise (so this is why HH will only eat Best Foods!)
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ tsp vanilla

Sift together dry ingredients. Stir in mayonnaise. Gradually stir in water and vanilla until smooth and blended. Bake at 350º, about 30 minutes or until cake sponges back.
Love Grandma



Thanksgiving Feast

It has taken a few days to recuperate from the Thanksgiving Feast, but everything turned out spectacularly wonderful and delicious.

The List was done 3 weeks before Thanksgiving, plenty of time for revisions. There were 3 trips to the grocery store (I had only intended on two, but three were required.) I learned this trick a few years ago, never try to do all the Thanksgiving shopping at one time; you will inevitable have to make another trip. So now I plan two trips, but, well this year, anyway. There were 3 days to prep and cook. And within 30 minutes (or less) the meal was finished, but that’s how Thanksgiving goes.

The List worked well, as always, with small check marks beside each item as part of the prep was complete; a large check mark next to each one when the item was finished and ready to be served; and a line drawn through each item as it was placed on the table. I do this because one year I forgot the deviled eggs. The eggs sat in the refrigerator all during dinner, and were discovered when things were being condensed down to store after dinner. Very frustrating, although, clearly not missed.

Here’s a picture of the turkey when it was done cooking on the Weber grill.

HH’s sister and brother-in-law were here, as well as Anna (she’s camera shy.)

HH and I.

Finally, HH’s plate ready for him to dig in!


Thanksgiving Day

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Everything was delicious at the Diner, I hope all was great for you as well.


Ancho Chili Corn Chowder

The Diner is open and in full swing!

Since it’s football season, it’s just time for a pot of something to be cooking on the stove Sunday afternoon. HH wasn’t sure that “soup” qualifies as football food (i.e., “man food”), so wings were added to the menu. Just wings from a bag, no big deal, so no recipe for those.

Anyway, I fixed one of my favorite “soup” recipes; it’s actually chowder, Ancho Chili Corn Chowder to be exact. This recipe originated from Paula Deen Magazine’s November/December 2007 issue, and it’s delicious!

Here’s how it’s fixed Holly’s Diner style:

Ancho Chili Corn Chowder – Holly’s Diner style

2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
¾ cup finely chopped red onions
½ cup finely chopped celery (I don’t care for these, so I don’t put them in)
½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper (these were not on sale, so none this time)
1 (11 oz) can niblet corn, drained (I use 2 cans, this time frozen fresh corn from summer that I saved)
1 (4 ½ oz) can chopped green chilies
1 cup frozen country-style hash-brown potatoes, thawed (I use ½ a bag)
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp ancho chili powder (this is a mild chili, perfect for my cooking)
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (too strong for HH, so I don’t use it)
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ garlic powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
2 ½ cups chicken broth
¾ cup heavy whipping cream
Garnish: chopped red bell pepper (again, not on sale this week, so nixed)

In a large saucepan, combine butter and olive oil. Melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, corn, green chilies, and potatoes. Cook 8 minutes, stirring frequently, or until vegetables are tender. Add flour, chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic, salt, and pepper; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add chicken broth, stirring to mix well. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cream, and cook 5 – 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened slightly. Garnish with chopped red bell pepper, if desired.

(Sometimes I like to let this sit a little longer on the stove, so, in this case, I add more broth – two 14 oz cans worth.)


PS – I think the picture of this turned out really crappy, but I want you to see the thickness. Please don’t let the picture discourage you from trying it! (Editorial Note: I removed the photo, it just looked so unappetizing. I will try again the next time I make this recipe.)



Thanksgiving Planning Update

In case you are following along in your Thanksgiving Planning, things have changed a little. Here’s the update:

2009 Turkey Day List
Turkey – smoked
Honey Baked Ham
Mashed potatoes
Sweet potatoes
Corn Bread stuffing
Herbed Monkey bread (my sister-in-law’s recipe)
Green beans (NOT the casserole kind!)
Deviled eggs
Fresh cranberry sauce (i.e., from scratch, it’s not that hard)
Canned cranberry “jelly”, I guess it is (I’ve succumbed to the pressure!)
Cranberry Waldorf salad
Apple Pie (Mrs. Smith’s deep dish is the best, and Daddy’s favorite)
Key Lime Pie (my sister-in-law’s recipe)

The oil for the deep frying was just too expense this year, so we are smoking on the Weber.

HH is “dying” for a Honey Baked Ham, so again I’ve succumbed. We’ll have a ¼ ham.

The Monkey Bread is Herbed Monkey Bread.

The Green Beans will include craisins.

The Deviled eggs are now mine, since my Mother-in-law and Father-in-law are not going to make it.

Pumpkin Pie is out, since no one loves it, Key Lime Pie is in!

A couple of new things.

Two big trips to the grocery store done, still a small trip tomorrow. Hopefully that will be it!


Holiday Gift List Update

Well, yesterday was a BIG DAY, and some of the items on my wish list have been removed, how exciting! So an update is in order:

• More Diners Dive-Ins and Dives - Guy Fieri’s new book, the first one was delicious, I’m sure this one will be equally as mouth watering

• The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky, it’s a synopsis of the “America Eats” project the Federal government sponsored in the early 1940’s but was never published
I’m very excited to get this book, so now I can peruse it at my leisure and not have to digest the whole thing in three weeks before it’s due back at the library

• A Santoku knife - like what Rachael Ray uses and all the other chefs on cooking shows
Oh My Gosh! HH has been pulling my leg for a week, saying he hasn’t had time to visit the Diner! He did great!! This knife is billed as an “heirloom,” wow! I’m going out to by onions and carrots and celery today, just to cut! (HH, you did really good.)

• Some “spaghettoni” – I was given this a few years ago I think it was from Williams Sonoma, it was a spaghetti I liked and HH liked it too

• A microplane rasp grater or microplane paddle grater – for zesting, nutmeg and hard cheeses (HH is asking himself right now “what hard cheeses?” Just wait and see!)
Not one, but two! A mini, perfect for nutmeg and ginger and other spices. And a larger one for zesting, hard cheeses and chocolates. Oh, the fancy things that will be coming out of Holly’s Diner!!

• An oval enameled Dutch oven – just think of the meals “in-a-bowl” I could make!

• A grill pan or griddle with the “marks” on the bottom so I can get grill marks in the kitchen when grilling outside is not an option (be quiet, SS, I don’t want to hear it! There IS winter in San Diego and it does get cold – I have to put a sweat shirt on!)

• A long weekend with nothing to do but cook and create and experiment with friends and family stopping by the Diner to sample the delicious morsels of the kitchen

And, finally, in case you haven’t been paying attention --
• Mastering the Art of French Cooking – preferably “seasoned” but new would be fine, I will keep searching for a seasoned version at second-hand sources

For some of you skeptics out there, this list came in very handy for those who ask!



Sing it with me, “Molé, Molé…” to the tune of Louie, Louie, what else!

Ahh, my adventures in Molé. You remember Three Recipes, One Long Weekend – my first attempt at mole ever. It just happen to land the day after HH had tasted Molé for the first time made by a wonderful home-cook with Hispanic heritage. How was I supposed to compete with that?!

My mole attempt last February was a from-scratch recipe that I slaved over and worried about, since I had never actually had mole before, it just sounded delicious. After my less-than-stellar attempt, I asked the husband of the home-cook if it would be possible to have the recipe (since I knew him, at the time, and not the home-cook). Luis was very generous (as was his wife, Diane) and shared the secret WITH ingredients!

I waited a few months, tried again and successfully made Chicken Molé Enchiladas. The timing was such there wasn’t time to report about it to you, Faithful Reader. I tried the enchiladas again the other day, with success a second time, here’s Diana’s recipe. (Hold on to your zapatos! It could not be any easier!)

Diana’s Molé for Holly’s Diner Chicken Molé Enchiladas

1. In a pan, put a tsp of olive oil or vegetable oil on low heat and melt a disk of Abuelita Chocolate. (Abuelita is in a cardboard octagon shaped box with about four thick disks of chocolate in it. The box is yellow with a picture of a smiling grandmother drinking a cup of hot chocolate on the front.)
2. Pour the whole content of Knorr Molé Pablano into the pan with the melted chocolate. (Knorr Molé Pablano is in one of those cardboard-ish pour containers.)
3. Add a little water until desired thickness.
4. Add cooked/shredded skinless/boneless chicken until warmed through and combined.
5. Place a cooking spoon full of the mixer on a flour tortilla to one side, roll tortilla and place in baking pan with some of the thinned mole in the bottom.
6. Bake at 350º for 25 – 30 minutes. Serve.

I used two chicken breasts for eight enchiladas. And this time I made it I could not find Knorr Molé Pablano (my sister-in-law searched for it on a trip to Mexico this past summer, so I should have some stock in a few weeks). In the meantime I used Doria Maria Molé (this is in a small glass jar) – a little spicier but not bad, and a lot thicker so it needed a lot more water (≈ 1 cup total).

The secret to Molé, ask someone who knows. Someone who will be generous and share their traditional family secrets of ease. Chicken Molé Enchiladas are a new “regular” at Holly’s Diner – HH approved.


Quote of the Day

I just ran across this quote in some food research I'm doing.

I'm not saying my wife's a bad cook, but she uses a smoke alarm as a timer.
by Bob Monkhouse, an English entertainer

HH thinks I use the smoke alarm as a timer, too.


Thanksgiving Planning

It’s my favorite time of year, time for Thanksgiving planning!

That means lists, lists and more lists. It also means looking for sales. It means cooking for days just to eat a gut-busting meal in about 20 minutes (okay, maybe 30.) Then the clean-up follows and the leftovers – not my favorite part, but we’ll get to that later.

Now is the time for lists. I have two of them going right now: the Turkey Day list (what’s being served); and the Grocery List.

Since the Diner is open to family on Thanksgiving Day, there are a few extra things on the list (oh yeah, and there’s a family reunion the day after Thanksgiving, so there’s stuff on the list for that too – again, more on that later.)

Right now, here’s how it’s looking –

2009 Turkey Day List
Turkey – deep fried
Mashed potatoes
Sweet potatoes
Corn Bread stuffing
Monkey bread (my sister-in-law’s recipe)
Green beans (NOT the casserole kind!)
Deviled eggs (my mother-in-law’s)
Fresh cranberry sauce (i.e., from scratch, it’s not that hard)
Canned cranberry “jelly”, I guess it is (I’ve succumbed to the pressure!)
Cranberry Waldorf salad
Apple Pie (Mrs. Smith’s deep dish is the best, and Daddy’s favorite)
Pumpkin Pie (by popular demand, not my favorite)

Broccoli salad
Deviled eggs (mother-in-law’s)
Bow tie pasta salad (sister-in-law’s)

Grocery List
Sour cream
Sweet potatoes 3
Orange peel 2
Apple 2
Onions – 3 yellow, 1 purple
Pillsbury biscuits 2
Green beans
Eggs 3 doz
Fresh cranberries
Can whole cranberries 1
Can cranberry jelly 1
Cranberry juice
Jell-O (lemon)
Walnuts (for 2 dishes)
Jar of gravy (for back-up)
Baking soda
Peanut oil
Ginger ale
Paper towels

Now, some might argue that I don’t need to make a list, I already have the Turkey Day lists from previous years and I’m doing the same thing, but I need a new list every year! How does one invite change if one continues to work off the same list year after year?! With a new list, too, I KNOW if things change when looking back from year to year. (By the way, things don’t change much at Thanksgiving, I just love making the stuff that, well, I love!)

These lists will stay attached to the refrigerator through Thanksgiving, changing in form as the big day gets closer and through all the food on the table. Let the process begin!


My Holiday Wish List

I am not trying to be PC and I’m not trying to solicit gifts. I actually have to put together a “holiday” wish list each year since my birthday is just before Thanksgiving, and so birthday and Christmas gifts are sometimes lumped together – it’s not a bad thing.

So this year I thought I would put my list out there – publically. No more retelling of the list. No more telling this person this part, and that person that part of the list. Here is the list, what I can think of right now, subject to change, for everyone to see!

More Diners Dive-Ins and Dives - Guy Fieri’s new book, the first one was delicious, I’m sure this one will be equally as mouth watering

The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky, it’s a synopsis of the “America Eats” project the Federal government sponsored in the early 1940’s but was never published

• A Santoku knife - like what Rachael Ray uses and all the other chefs on cooking shows

• Some “spaghettoni” – I was given this a few years ago I think it was from Williams Sonoma, it was a spaghetti I liked and HH liked it too

• A microplane rasp grater or microplane paddle grater – for zesting, nutmeg and hard cheeses (HH is asking himself right now “what hard cheeses?” Just wait and see!)

• An oval enameled Dutch oven – just think of the meals “in-a-bowl” I could make!

• A grill pan or griddle with the “marks” on the bottom so I can get grill marks in the kitchen when grilling outside is not an option (be quiet, SS, I don’t want to hear it! There IS winter in San Diego and it does get cold – I have to put a sweat shirt on to keep warm!)

• A long weekend with nothing to do but cook and create and experiment with friends and family stopping by the Diner to sample the delicious morsels of the kitchen

And, finally, in case you haven’t been paying attention --
Mastering the Art of French Cooking – preferably “seasoned” but new would be fine, I will keep searching for a seasoned version at second-hand sources

I hope that helps some of you “wanting to know,” and gives others a few ideas for your own holiday list!



It’s getting to be that time of year, fall is in the air (that means it’s in the 50’s at night), I start wearing long sleeves during the day, and I’m ready to put pots on the stove to cook up something yummy (look out HH, it’s meal-in-a-bowl time).

This past week it was Albondigas – Mexican Meatball Soup. This soup is hearty, it has vegetables and meat (arr, arr – man-food!), and it smells delicious when you walk in the Diner.

The recipe is very easy, and I modify it a little from the original recipe I got from my friend Laurie years ago to fit HH’s tastes.

Albondigas2 quarts chicken broth
1 – 28 oz can diced tomatoes (I put in half this because HH doesn’t love cooked tomatoes)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups carrots, sliced (I use about 4 carrots shredded)
1 – 4 oz can chopped green chiles (not as hot as you might think)
1 tbsp Chile powder
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

And for the meatballs,
1 slice bread, broken up
¼ cup milk
1 lb lean ground beef
¼ lb ground pork
(I substituted ground turkey for all of this, added some poultry seasoning and garlic powder, HH never knew the difference!)
2 tbsp uncooked rice
2 tbsp finely chopped onion
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 egg, beaten

Heat olive oil in large pot, add onion, garlic and carrots. Sauté until onion is tender. Add broth and diced tomatoes. Add onion mixture, chiles, Chile powder, oregano, salt, pepper and cilantro to broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat.

Prepare meatballs – place bread in mixing bowl. Pour milk over bread, soak five minutes. Add beef and pork (or turkey) to bowl; blend well. Add rice, onion, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and egg; blend well. Shape meat mixture into walnut sized balls. Drop meatballs one at a time into gently simmering soup.

Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Ladle hot soup into bowls and serve.



Halloween in Homewood

The big Halloween Bash took place this past weekend in Homewood. After two years of planning, and even longer anticipation on SS’s part, the time had finally come! It was perfect and wonderful and scary and ALL of the little girls were scared happy the entire evening!

We started off the food prep by Miss Audrey Rose and I making Witches Fingers cookies. SS took some regular cookie dough, added a little green food coloring, mixed them together and let the dough firm up in the refrigerator. Miss Audrey Rose and took almonds and dyed them black. We them shaped the dough into fingers, placed the black almonds for “nails” and put indentations in the dough for knuckles, and baked according to the cookie dough instructions.

I have to say, the Witches Fingers looked more like Monsters Fingers, but it still worked – they still tasted fabulous. Unfortunately in all the commotion, I did not get a photo, but you get the picture.

Next were the Mummy Dogs. Take hot dogs, cut them in half for kid-size and leave whole for adult-size. We took breadstick dough from the refrigerator section of the supermarket and used about 2/3 of each bread stick for each ½ hot dog. Just use a pizza cutter placing three bread sticks together and making a few cuts, that way you will end up with enough for four Mummy Dogs kid-size. For the adult-size, you add about a third to each one.

Just be aware that as they sit, the mummy wrap starts to spiral itself off the bottom of the dog, but it’s all good; it tastes the same in the end. We also learned to cook them to the just brown shade instead of golden brown. Golden brown made the bread sticks too tough when they “hung out” at the party.
Next were the PB&J Pumpkins. SS had very thin white sandwich bread, which I gave her a hard time for at first (not whole wheat), but the bread was perfect for this project, any thicker and it would have been a challenge to cut. Smooth PB for kids and crunchy PB for the adults – cats were for the adults.
Then we moved onto the Grilled Cheese Ghosts – it was Colby cheese for the kids and pepper jack for the adults. Again, cats were for the adults. We cooked up way more than we needed, but by putting them in the oven with some foil over them the next day, the reheat was perfect!

Finally, we had Scarecrow Brains – popcorn, crushed pretzels (we didn’t have pretzel sticks), mixed nuts with a drizzle combo of 2 egg whites, a tsp each of garlic salt, onion powder, soy sauce, sugar (we nixed the curry because of the kids). The “drizzle” seasonings are whisked together until the egg whites start to peak, and then combine with the other ingredients. Put in oven at 350 for 30 minutes. Tastes great!

We had orange drink, water and lemon/lime drink and a dark rum/ginger ale combo for adults with “eye balls” floating with the ice. Plus werewolf cupcakes that another talented mother made. And, of course, candy galore.

We did the Monster Mash, a Costume Parade and the evening’s topper was the Haunted Basement with a “werewolf” and dead relative who did not know she was dead, a demented child and “Mr. Bones” from the graveyard.

Bodey the cat made a surprise appearance, apparently it was quieter in the Haunted Basement than in the “after” room where all the girls who had already toured were waiting – Bodey wanted nothing to do with that room!

The Hostess for the evening was “Wicked Winona” (SS) and the tour guide was Midge (me). Miss Audrey was a clown that night, but “Wednesday Adams” for Halloween – she was perfectly scary at both!

A fun time was had by all. It was the perfect recipe for a group of mostly eight year olds.


Food in the South Revisited

I just returned from my annual trip to Alabama, Halloween is the key to the timing. Any, boy, was it delicious!

I started out with a home-grown favorite – Chick-Fil-A, although I had to have mine with lettuce and tomatoes (sans pickles) because I needed some veggies with that tasty fried fillet. Not as traditional as the Southerners might prefer, but it what works for this Southern California girl.

Next was a lunch stop at Bottega, Frank Stitt’s restaurant. SS and I got to sit in the room reserved for dinner service, since the luncheon area was full and the weather was questionable for outside seating. It was beautiful. We shared baked macaroni and cheese, and ham and cheese pizza. Both were delicious, but the best part was the tea.

I ordered iced tea; it was served a small pitcher of simple syrup so I could make my own sweet tea! It was wonderful; I was in control of my own sweetness destiny! I think I had three or four glasses of tea, just so I could make my own sweet tea each time and indulge in the simple syrup.

Next, we stopped by the Piggly Wiggly. If you are not from the South, it is hard to believe there is actually a store that exists with this name, but there is. The Piggly Wiggly is actually were the food aisles we are so used to today in our “super markets” originated. They were part of “self service” progression of markets in the 1950’s. Anyway, I picked up some Smucker’s Peach Jam. I can’t get Smucker’s Peach Jam in San Diego, so each year I have to stock up on it in Birmingham for HH’s peanut butter and peach jam sandwiches.

The next morning we went to Savage’s in downtown Homewood and picked up our order of fresh baked orange rolls. I learned they are like the cinnamon rolls we serve at Holly’s Diner, but with orange sauce and small pieces of orange rind inside. We went down the block to O’Henry’s Coffees (which, SS tells me, is so beloved by the neighborhood that when a Starbucks was opened down the street, the locals were so loyal to O’Henry’s that Starbucks didn’t last.) Both were delicious.

I doubt that the orange rolls I can buy in the refrigerator section of the grocery store will have the same personal touch, especially the orange rind that the one’s from Savage’s have.

The final stop on the Southern Culinary Tour was the Spiced Pear Tea Room. Afternoon tea in the South, it was everything it should be – three generations having tea in the “pink room,” enjoying tomato basil bisque, champagne salad and a chicken salad sandwich on white bread without the crust, of course. The peach apricot tea I had was lovely, and Miss Audrey Rose was fascinated by the honey service shaped like a beehive. It was a lovely ladies luncheon at the Spiced Pear Tea Room.

I’m looking forward to next year’s trip and all the Southern delicacies already!


Food in the South

Until my cousin, SS, moved to the South a few years ago, the extent of my experience with Southern Cuisine was fried chicken from KFC. After about five years of visiting each Halloween, I know have a little more Southern Cuisine under my belt, and a taste for it when I visit.

The first year we went to the actual “café” that inspired the book (and movie) Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. There were things I had never seen before! Collard greens being the one I can think of off the top of my head. This is also where I discovered that the yummy tea my Grandmother had fixed when I was a kid was Sweet Tea from the South. We never called it sweet tea then, it was just Grandma Helen’s tea with sugar instead of regular sun tea.

On other visits I have had barbeque, southern home cookin’, and southern baked goods. I even experienced Chick-Fil-A for the first time about three years ago. When SS told me we were stopping for dinner at Chick-Fil-A on our way back from our Atlanta trip, I was excited! Her husband, John, could not believe I had never been to a Chick-Fil-A before, but he’s from the South so he grew up with it including the story that all their restaurants are closed on Sundays.

I have visited the Waffle House, sitting at the counter like a 50’s diner. I have been lucky enough to be invited to a casual family vegetable soup dinner last year (which had hamburger in it and really threw me off!) I have made things with SS, been to a wonderful Southern bakery, and discovered tomato aspic, interesting (although I haven’t tried it yet!)

This year we are talking about going to Frank Stitt’s restaurant, a well-known Southern chef, I got his cookbook from SS for my birthday last year (HH does not believe Frank is a real Southern cook since there is no fried chicken recipe in the cookbook!). We are talking about orange rolls one morning, and I suggested red velvet cake from a southern bakery.

I am so excited about my culinary adventure this year, I can hardly wait! SS, see you soon!!


Big Fresno Fair - Round 2, Part 2

The Big Fresno Fair barbeque contest was so big a few weeks ago, that it needed a second part.

Continuing with the “all in the family” theme, there was Kevin, his sister Veleda and her step-son Camden all entering the barbeque contest.

Kevin has been in this contest for a few years and always “wows” all of us, this year was no exception. Kevin entered the Healthy Choice category and took first place with his Italian Flat Iron Steaks with Panzanella Relish. Since I was sitting right behind the judges, I was able to ease-drop a little - the judges were so pleasantly surprised that by the flat steaks being tender, moist and juicy.

I decided I needed a taste of Kevin’s creation because the steak was getting rave reviews and the relish looked so delicious. I am sorry to say that with all the hullaballoo of the day, I did not get a photo but I did get a taste! It was delicious – all of it! The steak was thinly sliced, tender, juicy, medium rare with the wonderful relish that had surprising cubes of grilled Italian bread. You have to try this one!

As the competition progressed, Kevin’s sister, Veleda served Grilled Fresh Water Prawns with a Coconut Curry Glaze in the Winners’ Circle category. And Veleda’s step-son, Camden, entered for the first time, serving Grilled Honey Herb Salmon.

At the end of the day, Kevin won first place in Healthy Choice, Veleda won 2nd place in Winners’ Circle and Camden won 2nd place in Junior BBQ. What a talented family!

Here’s Kevin’s recipe to try at home:

Italian Flat Iron Steaks with Panzanella Relish
1 side flat iron steak or 4 individual 4 oz steaks
2 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 – 2 tbsp garlic paste
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine above and refrigerate for 2 – 4 hours.
Preheat gas or charcoal grill.
Grill steak over hot coals (or flames) approximately 3 – 4 minutes each side depending on desired degree of doneness. Set aside and cover loosely with foil to keep warm and rest for 10 minutes.

Panzanella Relish
1 ½ cubed grilled Italian bread
1 large roasted yellow or red bell pepper, diced
½ English cucumber diced
½ medium sized onion diced
½ cup diced tomatoes
¼ cup mixed chopped herbs (basil, Italian parsley, oregano, arugula or tarragon)
¼ cup sliced olives (such as Kalamata)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Anchovy filets (optional)

Mix relish ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside while meat is resting.

Slice steak on the bias. Top with Panzanella relish. Top with anchovy filets, if desired. Drizzle with good quality extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 people
By Kevin Tiyaamornwong


Chocolate Croissants

The first time I had a chocolate croissant was in college, when I worked at a little restaurant in downtown San Diego called Ciao Bella. It was my “first” for a lot of things – I first learned the proper way to open a bottle of wine (that took a lot of practice, and patience); I first experienced espresso, cappuccino and lattes – and learned to make them; I first experienced (and fell in love with) Sugar in the Raw; and I first experience chocolate croissants.

The croissants were delivered each day fresh and warm with the ribbon of chocolate still a bit runny in the middle from the warm pastry wrapped around it. I remember biting into the chocolate croissant with the flaky, buttery pastry layers crumbling apart and melting on my tongue. The pastry was immediately followed by the rich, warm delectable chocolate ribbon running right on top of it. The experience was a little slice of heaven.

Since then, 20+ (okay, maybe 25+) years ago, I have run across chocolate croissants only a few times. I wasn’t ever sure any other croissant could live up to that first perfect experience. This morning was one of them - I found chocolate croissants at Whole Foods in Fresno and bought one to take to a friend’s to share over coffee. Although the chocolate croissant was good this morning, it sure did not live up to my memory of “the first time.” It’s that always the case!?

What tantalizing first food experience do you remember?


FOOD 2010

Food glorious food, we’re anxious to try it!

Do you remember that line from the movie Oliver? I’m going to be singing it a lot through next summer, here’s why…

It started as a whisper behind closed doors in June. It became a bit of a movement in August. As of today, I can shout it from the roof tops!

Its official, the theme for the 2010 San Diego County Fair is FOOD!

That’s why I scouted Sam the Cooking Guy last month. That’s why I am rereading The United States of Arugula. That’s why I was working so hard last month to update the look of hollysdiner.com because I hoped I would be able to make this announcement!

What does this mean? It means the Hot Dog on a Stick Lessons, Chicken Charlie’s Deep Fried S’Mores, and gelato at the IV Fair are now research projects. It means what Daddy and I eat on Father’s Day was part of my preparation. It means there will probably be lots of useless food facts I’ll be able to spew and share with you in the next few months.

Does it mean I have an excuse to get that Santoku knife I’ve been dreaming of?! We’ll see.

Will it be good karma for The Quest to be fulfilled? I hope!

And, by the way, what would a Food theme mean to you?


The Quest - Part IV

Don’t get too excited, I didn’t find it yet although the search creeps a step closer…

I was searching The Palace in Fresno the other day, an indoor flea market/craft boutique/antique mall, and stumbled across a used books area. The vendor had a whole bookcase of used cookbooks. I thought, perhaps The Quest will be fulfilled! I carefully read each title, but to no avail.

Although, I did stumble across something that I had just read about in The United States of Arugula (I’m re-reading this right now), The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne published in 1961 – the same year as Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MTAOFC).

I saw the book a few days ago, picked it up, looked at it, put it down, walked away, and then thought about it for two days. Yesterday I went back, it was still there, well seasoned and a first edition issue! I picked it up, “ran” to the cashier and got it for $14!

The Quest has still not been fulfilled, but is finding this historic book in America’s Food Revolution a step in the right direction? I think it is!

The Quest continues…


Big Fresno Fair - Round 2

The Big Fresno Fair has rolled around again, it seems like it was just yesterday that I was here talking about the BBQ and Chili contests, and first introducing you to Chicken Charlie.

This year the barbeque contest and chili cook-off were bigger and better than ever, with tongue tantalizing delights to make your taste buds water just from the aromas and that blew away the judges.

There were 21 barbeque contestants in seven categories, and 8 chili contestants in adult and junior divisions. Let me tell you about some of the winners:

There was the grandfather and grandson who won in chili, and were both first timers to the contest! Jim won for the adults and Neal own for the juniors (9 – 17 year olds). It was so heartwarming to see these two cook side by side making their traditional chili’s, and both taking home blue ribbons!

Just as exciting was the story in the barbeque contest – father and son won in the adult division and junior division. Vern won in the adult division’s most prestigious category, Winners’ Circle (the first place winners of the all different categories from the last year compete in Winners’ Circle the this year.) Vern won with his Grilled Opakapaka Fish Tacos (it was the sauce - mayo, sour cream and tomatillo salsa) that did it.

In the junior division, it was all about Dylan – again. Last year Dylan won the junior division and blew away the judges (I swear if there was a best of show, Dylan would have taken it, if for no other reason than the judges were surprised by what a wonderful dish a 16 year old could serve.) This year, Dylan did it again with his DylBob’s Island Style Chickabobs.

Dylan prepping his creation.
When the contests were over, I went over to get a sample of Dylan’s creation and all the chickabobs were gone! No surprise. But I did get to sample the special rice and sauce – oh my gosh! They were delicious! I could have made a meal out of those, I just love sticky rice! Next year Dylan’s moves to the adult division, watch out everyone! You too, Vern!

Dylan wowing the judges.
Here’s Dylan’s recipe:

DylBob’s Island Style Chickabobs
3 lbs boneless/skinless chicken breast cut into 1” cubes
2 cups soy sauce
1 cup vinegar
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 bunch green onions roughly chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
Marinate all the above for 2 – 4 hours

2 bell peppers cut into squares
1 onion cut into squares
1 fresh pineapple into squares cut
Skewer all the above in layers plus the chicken
Grill until done

Island Style Sauce
1 cup mayo
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp Tahini Paste
2 tbsp sesame seeds

Special Rice
Cook 2 cups rice as per directions on bag. After cooking add 8 oz. chopped macadamia nuts and 8 oz. crushed pineapple to rice and stir thoroughly.

Lay skewers on bed of white rice mixed with chopped macadamia nuts and crushed pineapple and drizzle with island style sauce.

Serves 8

(And if nothing else, the Special Rice with the Island Style Sauce are delicious! I can’t wait to try the whole thing!)


Not Enough Food

In order to get the word out about Holly’s Diner, I have been trying to “freshen” the look of the Diner, get Holly’s Diner listed on a few food blog lists and write more often.

I like the freshened look in the last month – no more black and white diner image in the background, the sub-header is better, the recipe page is a little easier to read, and the column on the left is better organized.

I applied to a few food blog lists to be added – foodblogblog.com is still considering us; the food blog search through Yahoo, I’m still working on complying with all their criteria (they want photos of all the recipes, so I’m working on that this Fall – get ready for “dinner in a bowl” HH!); and foodblogroll.com – Holly’s Diner was rejected due to not enough food content! They said the Diner had to be 80% about recipes! Oh well.

Although the Diner may not be all recipes, it IS all about food! Holly’s Diner may not fit the mold of the food blog directories that are out there, but the idea behind the Diner was NEVER “recipes all the time.” The idea behind the Diner is about how food affects my life and creates memories to cherish – even if they don’t taste good or are not perfect (I still have not mastered fried chicken, don’t worry HH I’ll be working on that again soon!)

In the meantime, I’m thrilled with the regulars at the Diner - whether you are a “follower” and showing your support, or just stopping by regularly leaving tips in the Tip Jar, like Ron.

Thanks everyone for your continued support, tell your friends and stop by anytime – who needs those stinking food blog lists anyway!


The Quest - Part III

And so it continues…
Yesterday I was enjoying “The Village” in my town, and stumbled across a used book store I had forgotten about. I walked in hoping to find you-know-what. He owner welcomed me and asked if he could direct me to a particular section.

“Yes,” I said, “cookbooks.”
“I would be happy to,” he said, “but I don’t have any.” So much for that attempt.

HH and I stopped at a few yard sales this morning, but, alas, no MTAOFC.

The Quest continues…


Food Movies

I’m feeling hungry – for a good movie. There are a number of movies about food (not just movies with a good food scene) that I have loved, but I’d like to know what your favorite is.

Here’s my list, sort of in order:
• Big Night
• Like Water for Chocolate
• Ratatouille
• Babette’s Feast
• Eat Drink Man Woman
• The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
• Julie & Julia (I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m putting on the list anyway!)

Any other suggestions?


The Last Harvest

Yesterday was the last tomato harvest of the home-grown tomato season at the Diner. Look how pathetic they are compared to Home Grown Tomatoes. So sad. But I can’t complain, considering the harvest started about four months ago.

Oh well, we will savor the last few tomatoes sitting on the counter waiting to be eaten, and look forward to using the homegrown tomatoes in the freezer for Art’s Special Sauce (I’ll let you know how that goes.)

The next planting season is just five and a half months away!


Fork it Over for Kids

I went to Fork It Over for Kids, a fund-raiser at the Kroc Center this past weekend to see Sam the Cooking Guy for a research project – more on that next month. I left with a new appreciation for Sam the Cooking Guy, and having experienced my new favorite dessert – cinnamon chocolate apple wedges. Ohhhhh! They were “to die” for!

First, Sam the Cooking Guy - Sam is from San Diego, he has a cooking show (obviously), and cooks with short cuts which isn’t a bad thing but not the way I cook at the Diner. Anyway, Sam mingled with the crowd, especially the kids, during the mingling hour (there were no cocktails, so I hesitate to call it the “cocktail hour”). When it came time for Sam to “do his thing,” some demos of his recipe on stage, he was personable, humorous, scattered (he admitted it), and unapologetic about his cooking.

I would say Sam does, what I call, “guy” cooking. “What is the shortest path to something that will taste great, but is not so great for me” seemed to be his motto. The first thing he fixed was what he called a Canadian favorite – French fries with cheese curds and brown gravy over the top. Do you see what I mean?!

Anyway, Sam was very funny, with the audience roaring with laughter a few times at Sam’s expense which he was very okay with. Sam acknowledged his wife is a better cook, and he mostly loves the camera. And when a young lady asked when he started cooking he responded, “When I got a cooking show.” His path is interesting, and all about timing – it has to do with September 11, 2001, worth looking up.

Now on to the cinnamon chocolate apple wedges. There were a number of businesses at Fork It Over for Kids serving food, one of them was Edible Arrangements. When I asked the hostess what she was sampling, she responded and said they tasted like Julian Apple Pie, but better! How could that be, I thought. She was right!

The cinnamon chocolate apple wedges were Granny Smith apple wedges dipped generously in dark chocolate and sprinkled on one side with cinnamon. They were so delicious, I snuck back for seconds! They are not cheap, but worth replicating at home (or a Diner). I think I might have to develop a Holly’s Diner version!


Pine Freeze Maker

Look what arrived at the Diner last week! Daddy’s Pine Freeze Maker! Anna stopped by, and after reading Root Beer Freeze recently she pulled the infamous wooden spoon from her utensil draw and brought it by the Diner.

I knew the Pine Freeze Maker was still in her kitchen drawer, but I was so surprised she brought it to the Diner! I’m thinking of mounting it on the wall, not as a “what not to do,” but as a “remember when.”

Next time you’re at the Diner, see if Root Beer Freezes are on the menu. I promise to use a metal spoon!


Diner Drivin' Part 3

HH and I took a little road trip yesterday, close to home yet another stop on the Triple D Highway. Although HH and I have both been to El Indio before, it has been a few years, and never together, yet certainly a stop we wanted to make. So yesterday we hit the road, for 20 minutes, and viola! El Indio Restaurant in San Diego.

El Indio is a San Diego institution, it’s been around longer than I have, and longer than HH for that matter! I have some friends who have moved from way from San Diego, but a detour to El Indio is always a treasured stop when they visit. And if you want the perfect tortilla chips for your next party – it has to be El Indio, as far as I’m concerned. It’s the paprika on the chip that makes them so unique.

HH had a carnitas torta (amazing bread), I had the beef flautas (so scrumptious), and we brought home two (2) bags of tortilla chips (the best)! The chips are big and crispy with salt, paprika and a hint of lime – they’re calling my name right now!

El Indio is a must stop for locals and visitors, transplants or natives. Keep in mind El Indio has stood the test of time, the changing San Diego landscape, and the infinite number of chain taco shops that have popped up everywhere – this one’s an original.


More Homemade Tacos

Ahhh, homemade tacos, one of my favorites. If you’ve visited Holly’s Diner before, you have heard all about them in Homemade Tacos, but last night was a little different.

After the incredible tacos HH and I had at the Squeeze Inn in August, and as we need the end of homegrown tomato season, I was inspired to serve homemade tacos last night – but I cooked EVERYTHING last night. Usually HH is recruited to cook the meat and the shells, but I had a new supplier for tortilla shells and thought I would try everything myself.

HH arrived at the Diner, happily surprised to see that tacos were on the menu, and even happier that he did not have to cook! Now this was my third attempt at frying the taco shells in, let’s say, 13 years since my very first attempt was back in 1996 – I have not been very successful. I also wanted to try to fix them as we had experienced at the Squeeze Inn in Sacramento a few weeks ago – lightly fried flat, removed from the oil, grated cheddar cheese sprinkled on the shells and meat placed inside, then folded and dipped back in the oil. I realized that I actually needed a deep pot to do this and a lot more oil - that just wasn’t going to happen.

You can see from the photos the finished shell.

And the taco plate at Holly’s Diner – delicious!


Football Season

I don’t know how many of you noticed, last night was the beginning of the 2009/2010 NFL season. In honor of that, the special at Holly’s Diner last night was a manly meal – meat and potatoes.

I knew HH would want to sit at the counter and watch the game, along with anyone else who stopped by, and knew a nice summer salad would not cut it. But I’m just not ready for a hunk of beef either. Some creativity was required for the first meal of the football season, although the Chargers don’t play until Monday night apparently last night was still quite important.

So last night’s featured manly meal was a chicken breast (it’s still meat!), marinated in a chipotle mayonnaise and seasonings, lightly pounded then butterflied. Next the chicken breast was stuffed with slices of ham, provolone cheese and fresh spinach leaves. The concoction was then pan fried in butter on both sides until brown, then placed in the oven (pan and all) for 20 minutes at 350º. In the meantime, I cooked red potatoes, turning them into mashed potatoes (with the skins) – HH helped – and steamed mixed vegetables. I had to get SOME healthy things in there.

The manly meal was served at the counter, big screen on, football and meat and potatoes – what better way to start the season!


Classic Squeeze

I just read an article about putting the squeeze on citrus – more commonly known as a juicing. The author was writing about freshly squeezed oranges and the best way to get there. She tried four (4) different juicers ranging in price from $7 to $50, and identifying the yield amount.

The juicer that yielded the most juice was the glass citrus juicer for $7 –exactly like the one at the Diner, sans the chip in the side from use!

The author talked about the juicer Granny used, how easy it was to use, and more important, how easy it was to clean up. She talked about that this glass juicer is an “ageless friend.”

I have Nana’s juicer. I have had it for almost 20 years. It is what I use to juice a half box of lemons and limes during the summer to make lemonade and limeade all summer long. It is what I use in the winter when neighbors and family have more oranges than they can handle, and I benefit with fresh squeezed orange juice for days.

Nana’s juicer is a treasured piece of equipment at the Diner. When a neighbor asked me last winter if I had a juicer, I responded “yes.” Then I thought about Nana’s simple glass contraption and the elbow grease required to produce a glass of fabulously sweet, beautifully bright, fresh squeeze orange juice – totally worth it! What better way to have a glass of orange juice than exactly the way my grandmother did.


The Quest - Part II

Have you heard!? Julia is at the top of the New York Times Best Sellers List! With all the hullabaloo about the movie Julie & Julia, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MTAOFC) has topped the New York Times Best Sellers List for the first time since it was published in 1961 – 48 years ago!

MTAOFC is the #1 book in the Advice category, AND My Life in France by Julia Child is the #1in the Paperback Non-Fiction category – Julie & Julia is #3 in the same category.

Well, this definitely means that the price of MTAOFC has increased substantially on my Quest, probably availability too. I’ll keep looking, although it may take a while longer than I thought.


Diner Drivin' Part 2

It’s another road trip with HH, this time to San Jose and Sacramento for stops along Guy Fieri’s Triple D “highway”.

Right after breakfast we stopped at Falafel Drive-In in San Jose. Although we were definitely not ready for a falafel burger, we were up for the much anticipated banana shakes. They were good, and we crossed another destination off our list.

By the afternoon, we were in Sacramento at the place we first stopped at two years ago, but left after seeing the unbelievable line! Today we stopped – at the Squeeze Inn.

We arrived at the Squeeze Inn at about 2 PM, missing both the lunch crowd and dinner crowd, and still waited about 15 – 20 minutes. The place was tiny! There were not more than ten stools at the counter and that’s it (officially, 11 stools). There were a few tables outside, but you had to order inside and the young, hip servers brought you your grub (it’s definitely a “grub”-kind-of-place) out the back door.

HH and I had the long anticipated Squeeze Burger with cheese and a steak taco. HH and I shared the two, and started with the taco. Oh My Gosh! That was the best taco I have had at a restaurant in…forever! It was amazing! The shell was fried up with cheese melted right on the shell. The chopped steak with lettuce, tomatoes and onions placed inside (mostly) the cheesy shell, all served in a paper boat with a plastic fork. We both thought it was a great taco, and well worth the wait.

Next, we shared the “Squeeze with Cheese.” We cut it in half, with the cheese hanging out one side all crisp and melted. The cheese actually starts off as shredded cheddar, is placed on top of the cooked hamburger patty then the bun on that then crushed ice around the shredded cheddar then a lid on the whole thing on the grill. The ice keeps the shredded cheddar together and it forms a “skirt” as it melts.

As I was cutting the Squeeze with Cheese, HH noticed the dreaded pickles hanging out the back (I didn’t ask for the Squeeze with Cheese sans pickles, because I wanted it authentic all the way.) I pulled out the long pickle slices, tucked the cheese skirt in, and paused to figure out my strategy. The only option – attack! The Squeeze with Cheese was so good!

The two year wait was definitely worth it!

By the way, I heard the servers talking to some other customers out back that they were moving in a few months just down the street – more room, more parking, air conditioning (a plus in Sacramento in August!) I’m glad we made the pilgrimage back after two year, and got in at the original location – half the quaintness of this place IS the squeeze!


Taiwan Restaurant

There are many things I enjoy on my visits to San Jose, but one of my culinary favorites is Taiwan Restaurant in Willow Glen. Besides going with friends, mostly Donna; besides the authentic atmosphere, the wonderful lofting hot and spicy aromas; besides Terry and the other hostesses; besides hot tea and plum wine, Taiwan is all about the Honey Walnut Shrimp for me.

Just about every visit to San Jose requires a stop at Taiwan. Art and Donna introduced me to the Honey Walnut Shrimp at Taiwan more years ago than I can remember. Since I have been going up there with some regularity since 1992, I have probably been enjoying this dish for 10 – 15 years.

When Art and Donna first suggested the Honey Walnut Shrimp, I wasn’t so sure because the combination of ingredients did not sound appealing to me – shrimp (of course) deep-fried, covered in mayonnaise and paired with candied walnuts and served over a bed of shredded cabbage. It was the mayonnaise that I was questioning; I just didn’t think a “sauce” of mayonnaise sounded very appealing. Boy was I wrong! It was (and still is) delicious! On return visits to Taiwan, we have requested two orders of Honey Walnut Shrimp for the three of us so Donna and I would have enough!

Oh, I have had other things – the Broccoli Beef, the Lemon Chicken, the Mu Shu Pork, the Money Bags appetizer, the Fried Wontons, the Pot Stickers, the Chinese Chicken Salad, and the Broccoli with Cashews. All delicious, none that compare.

I have even tried to find Honey Walnut Shrimp at other restaurants, but to no avail. The sauce isn’t right, the crispiness of the shrimp isn’t right, the walnuts are not right, the flavor is just not right. That’s why the taste of Taiwan’s Honey Walnut Shrimp creeps to the tip of my tongue as I arrive in San Jose each time. I even introduced HH to it a few years ago, he, too, was skeptical at first but he is a believer now!

This trip Donna, HH and I made the pilgrimage to Taiwan with great anticipation – it’s only been a month since I last tasted it, but the desire does not diminish for the sweet, crispiness of the dish. And two orders this trip were required!