Emma Jean's

If you read yesterday’s entry, the answer is Emma Jean’s. Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Café to be exact. My Handsome Husband (HH) and I were on our way home and decided to take a chance on it being open. It was a little before lunch, and with our bellies still comfortable from breakfast, we weren’t that hungry but decided to stop anyway. Emma Jean’s is a little cinderblock diner on Route 66 that was clearly a very frequented truck stop in its day, apparently it’s been around for 60 years – my Dad would have loved it.

Emma Jean’s is white and light green (just like my kitchen!) on the outside and spotless inside. And things look quite loved on the inside, like a childhood teddy bear, if you know what I mean. The place has a counter that looks like it seats about ten, and small tables all around the inside that would seat another 15 - if they are lucky! Besides the quaintness of it all, it’s the only waitress/cashier/hostess that clearly makes the joint. She looks to be in her late 20’s and is welcoming and sassy with a corkscrew-curls ponytail that bounces around as much as she does.

We were offered a seat, and said we just wanted something to go. When she had a second, the waitress/cashier/hostess took our order of a vanilla shake (that’s for me), a chocolate shake (that’s for HH) and fries (that’s to share). We mentioned we had stopped by on Sunday and they were closed. She said she has three kids and her kids actually like to spend time with her at least one day a week, and off she went to place the order.

Emma Jean’s serves breakfast and lunch Monday – Saturday. I couldn’t find hours or days posted to confirm this, but gathered from the menu that there’s no dinner served. I guess if you are a diner on Route 66 with not much around and just north of Victorville that you don’t need to post hours, your regulars know the hours and arrive accordingly, and out-of-towns will figure it out.

As we waited for our handmade shakes and fresh fried fries, an old Chevy truck (circa 1956) pulled up from the back to the side of the diner in the exact same colors of the diner – white with light green accents. Must have been the owners, HH said he saw someone go in the back of the restaurant and then hop back in the truck.

We got our snack; said good-bye to Emma Jean’s and headed down the road, sampling the best shakes we have had in a long time! The fast-food varieties just don’t hold a candle to handmade from scratch shakes.


Diner Drivin'

Holly’s Diner has been closed for a few days, while HH and I take a little road trip and scope out a few diners along the way. One of my favorite shows is Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri on the Food Network. Guy talked about one called Emma Jean’s Holland Diner. We were excited to see it, and when we found it on Sunday it was closed. Bummer.

We found another interesting place not too far away, Johnny Reb’s. It seems to be a mini chain (four in Southern California), where we stopped for breakfast. We liked it! They had a few things you rarely see – bottle of honey on the table (I appreciate that!), peppered vinegar water (for the bbq served later in the day), scrambled eggs with cheese as a standard on the menu(!), and HH’s milk for breakfast served in a Mason jar – the biggest glass of milk he has ever gotten at a restaurant!

Tomorrow we will pass Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner, so we will have to decide if we want to stop there or try Emma Jean’s again. I’ll let you know.


Fried Chicken

Yesterday was an historic day! I fulfilled my new year’s resolution by successfully making my husband’s favorite food, and didn’t burn down the kitchen - all in one evening! The new fried chicken technique worked!

If you read yesterday’s entry (Is it) An Historic Day, you have some background on the whole fried chicken adventure. Anyway, this was my fourth or fifth attempt in the last year and a half with a few in-edible versions along the way, although they have gotten a little better each time! And the only two “tweaks” for next time are more Old Bay Seasoning and a large cast iron skillet.

When my Handsome Husband (HH) walked in the door last night, he sniffed (and smiled), listened (and sparkled), and looked in the pan saying “Ooohh! Fried Chicken! And it’s golden brown! Wow!!” I have also seemed to master the art of pan gravy – pan drippings, milk and Wondra flour (that’s the key)!

HH said the fried chicken was cooked through, not burned (always a bonus), golden brown, tender and delicious. Believe it or not, all of these virtues have been in question at one time or another during past attempts. He even had seconds!

The skinless chicken breast I cooked for myself turned out pretty well, definitely more edible than previous attempts. Although next time I would pound it out before cooking and not cook as long as the thighs I cooked for HH.

The recipe was “inspired” by the book my cousin sent me, The James River plantations Cookbook – A glimpse into the homes and kitchens of old Virginia. It’s a little soft cover published in 1985, and unlikely you’re going to find it easily, so here’s the recipe with a few lessons learned from past attempts.

Barbara’s Fried Chicken (Holly’s Diner style)
Cut up chicken (whatever pieces you like, with or sans skin)
1 cup flour (I used unbleached and will try whole wheat next time to get away from the white stuff)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Old Bay Seasoning, to taste (I used ≈ 1 tsp, and would use 2 tsp to 1 tbsp next time)
Vegetable oil (the recipe calls for Crisco, but I just can’t do that solid-oil-in-a-can thing)

Rinse and dry chicken pieces. Pour oil in pan to that you have about ¼” of oil, and heat. In a paper bag, combine all other ingredients and mix around. Add one piece of chicken at a time to the paper bag, give it a quick and easy shake, remove chicken with tongs and place in pan with heated oil skin side down. Repeat with all chicken pieces. Cook on a medium-low heat for about 35 – 40 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure the chicken is not burning. Turn chicken, cook another 20 – 25 minutes checking occasionally. Remove chicken from pan and place on paper towels to drain, cool, rest. Enjoy!


(Is it) An Historic Day

Today is a big day -- at Holly’s Diner especially. I will be fulfilling one of my new year’s resolutions today. I will be cooking and serving my Handsome Husband’s (HH’s) favorite dish – fried chicken. I have tried a number of times, reluctantly at first, since I have not wanted to fry anything at Holly’s Diner! (Not good for our heart health.) But he is always so excited when we visit his family, because his Mom or Sister will fix fried chicken. So it’s my turn to learn and perfect this item on my menu.

I have tried a double dip recipe. I have tried a pre-buttermilk-soak recipe, in a few ways. I have tried pan fried verses deep fried. I have tried my cast iron Dutch oven and my normal fry pans. Today it will be a more simple form. I watched HH’s sister at Christmas just drudge the chicken in flour, salt and pepper and viola! And my cousin sent me a 1980’s southern cookbook recently, with a simple recipe with flour, salt, pepper and Old Bay Seasoning. That’s what I’m trying today – in a pan fried method.

Part of my challenge with fried chicken is that I want some too, but I don’t eat the skin. Now, what is the point of fried chicken if you don’t eat the skin?! So I’m hoping that this simplified method will bring me more success with my skinless fried chicken as well HH’s favorite.

I’ll let you know tomorrow if this will become a regular special at Holly’s Diner.



Fish Fry

It was a rare fish fry at Holly’s Diner last night, and I didn’t even cook! The Great White Hunter (aka, My Handsome Husband or HH for short) went fishing yesterday and came home with two trout from a local lake! He caught them (obviously), cleaned them, prepped them (with butter, fresh rosemary from our garden, lemons from Uncle’s garden, and a little onion) and baked them! The fish was pretty good! I’m not sure I want it on the menu every week at the diner, but once or twice a year might be okay.

HH was really excited about his catch and fresh fish for dinner, and I was excited that I didn’t have to do any of the work! It was a win-win for all!

He made some pan-fried potatoes with onions and Old Bay Seasoning, which are always delicious when he makes that. So I just substituted a little extra potatoes for some of the fish on my plate.

Looks like he’s grilling hamburgers tomorrow night, I’ll keep you posted…


Uncle Larry's Frito Pork Roast

Tonight’s Blue Plate special is Uncle Larry’s Frito Pork Roast. Quite delicious! So if you are on any sort of diet, perhaps this isn’t the dish for you, but it is so good! And, don’t worry the vegetables on the side will make up for the jelly and corn chips on the pork roast.

This recipe came from Uncle Larry, obviously. We were having dinner with Aunt Val and Uncle Larry last year and talked about delicious things from the kitchen. Uncle Larry mentioned his Frito Pork Roast. So the next time Aunt Val asked to get together, we requested Uncle Larry’s pork roast. It smelled good, it looked good, it was good! So now it is on the “menu” at Holly’s Diner, and featured tonight along with mashed sweet potatoes (more about them later) and fresh green beans.

A quick aside about sweet potatoes, now don’t turn your nose up or thing that they are something that just gets served (because tradition requires it) at Thanksgiving! Sweet potatoes are delicious, as well! And what wouldn’t be when you add butter and brown sugar to taste! They are so good for you too! I’ll feature the Thanksgiving version of the recipe later, something for you to look forward to.

Anyway, back to Uncle Larry’s Frito Pork Roast. It requires a rub of salt (I use the sea salt from Hawaii we got last year – it’s naturally red!), some garlic salt (from the Gilroy Garlic Festival, more on that later), and some Ancho chili powder. Then after some cooking, there is jelly, catsup, vinegar, more Ancho chili powder and a final sprinkling of crushed Fritos. Uncle Larry’s recipe called for apple jelly, but I couldn’t find any so I wanted peach jelly and couldn’t find that either! So I settled for apricot jelly, which worked just fine. The recipe is under ‘recipes” to the side, of course!

There will be plenty, so stop by tonight for dinner. And enjoy!

Uncle Larry’s “Frito Pork Roast”

4-5 lbs pork roast loin, boneless

½ tsp salt
½ tsp garlic salt
½ tsp chili powder

½ cup jelly (apple)
½ catsup
1 tbsp vinegar
½ tsp chili powder

1 cup crushed corn chips

Preheat oven to 325 º Put roast in roasting pan. Combine slat, garlic salt and the first chili powder; rub into roast. Cook at 325º for 2 – 2 ½ hours.
In small saucepan, combine jelly, catsup, vinegar and last bit of chili powder. Bring to a boil/reduce heat and simmer uncovered for two minutes. Brush on roast; sprinkle roast with chips. Continue roasting 10 – 15 minutes. Remove roast from oven. Let stand for 10 minutes. Put pan drippings and corn chips in saucepan. Add water, if needed, heat to boiling and serve with roast. Carve and Enjoy!


Rolling Pins

Over the holidays, we took on a project that we have been talking about for a year and a half - freshening the kitchen. This entailed painting, new handles and new floor. In this process everything had to come out of the kitchen, then put back again. That meant thinking about my rolling pins again - perhaps unusual these days, but a part of my kitchen. Here's my rolling pin story...Rolling pins don’t seem to be a staple in kitchens much anymore, especially Baby Boomers and younger. But my grandmothers had rolling pins that they used and used – wooden, one had painted handles and one did not.

My rolling pin experience goes back to Christmas cookies with my friend and her two young sons and rolling out gingerbread. After a few years of Christmas cookie baking together, they gave me a Teflon coated rolling pin for Christmas. More on the Christmas cookies in a few months.

Some how I ended up with a collection of rolling pins. I have my Grandma Helen’s rolling pin – wooden with natural handles. I have a great plastic yellow one with red accented handles straight out of the 1950’s. I actually saw it one day at a local thrift store, it was $12.95 and I decided it was too much. I went home and got the latest edition of Martha Stewart magazine that day, and low and behold it had an article about rolling pins! And there was a picture of a plastic yellow rolling pin with red ascents on the handles just like I had seen at the thrift store earlier in the day! The article said that style was very collectable. The next morning I high tailed it back to the thrift store hoping the rolling pin I saw the day before and thought was too much would still be there – it was! What had been too expensive the day before was suddenly a treasure and a bargain a day later. I rescued a few well used rolling pins from thrift stores, and I remember one I bought at a yard sale that was the woman’s mother who had died recently. The rolling pin seemed twice the width around than the others I had, and she only wanted $3, so I felt I needed to save it and took it home. Then I bought a brand new French rolling pin (with no handles at the ends, just tapered), just because. I have a tiny, baby rolling pin I got somewhere along with way for our Christmas cookie baking when the boys were young.

My friend Donna knew I had a rolling pin collection, so a few years ago when her Aunt died Donna rescued Auntie Mary’s rolling pin – wooden with green handles – from the donation pile and gave it to me. Donna knew I would cherish it and care for it well.

When I moved to Phoenix to marry my Handsome Husband (HH) about five years ago, while decorating after I moved in I was trying to figure out what to do. The ceilings were high in the kitchen and there were canned ceiling lights. So my Honey came up with a fabulous plan! Tie monofilament line around the canisters of the lights and tie the other ends to the handles of the rolling pins! We hung them from different angles and directions, and had about ten or twelve suspended from the kitchen ceiling – they were so cute! They looked especially good at night, because of the high ceiling; we had room to put decorative things on the top of the upper part of the kitchen cupboards along with accent lights. So in the evenings, the monofilament line disappeared and all you saw were the rolling pins “floating” in the air. We called it our “Harry Potter” kitchen. I loved it! When we moved back to San Diego, we bought a home built in 1949 so no high ceiling. I’m still trying to figure out something clever to do with my rolling pins.

The most recent rolling pin in the collection was acquired in summer 2007. We went to visit HH’s cousin and her husband in Sacramento. We had such a nice time. His cousin and I even spent an hour in a beautiful kitchen shop in downtown Truckee on day – we had a great time. At the end of our visit she had pulled out what was her (and HH’s) grandmother’s rolling pin – the beloved Grandma Baker. She had it sitting on the counter with a recipe card tied to it with a note to me explaining whose it was and that she felt it was time to pass it to someone in the family (that was very generous of her) who would cherish it as much as she did, and put it in a place of honor in her kitchen. I was so touched, I was speechless.

Right now I have all my rolling pins in the kitchen in a make-shift display, all stacked in rows of about three and nestled on top of one another. It looks fine, but will not be the final “display” point. I’ll keep you posted on any changes…I’m actually kind of waiting until we paint the kitchen and redo the floor before I commit to a final display design for my wonderful rolling pins.Now that the kitchen "freshening" is done they are strategically stacked in an open cabinet so you can see a side view and front view. They look fine, although still waiting for a brainstorm of a display idea!


The New Year

Well, last night's "blue plate special" was healthy and different - at least for us. We had turkey soft tacos. When my HH asked and I told him, he kind of wrinkled his nose, since he's a meat and potatoes guy (although less and less). Very simple, very tasty and a healthy way to start the New Year. Okay, so never mind about the guacamole made fresh and in the kitchen - delicious! The guacamole is easy and with avocados in season right now, not too expensive either (they were $0.50 each last week).

Guacamole - Holly's Diner style
3 ripe Haas avocados
1 Roma tomato
2 slices of red onion
guacamole seasoning package

Cut avocados in half, remove seed. Slice each half in the skin length-wise, then across without going through the skin - the smaller the cubes the better. Scoop out avocado cubes with a spoon and place in medium non-stainless bowl. Take a spoon and start smashing avocados in the bowl. (I smash them about 70% - 75% creamy, I like a little chunkiness in the guac.)

Slice Roma tomato into small chunks, about the same size at the avocado cubes. Place in bowl with avocado.

Stack onion slices, and slice in half. Chop each half into small chunks. Place in bowl with tomato and avocado.

Mix together.

Take a package of guacamole seasoning from the produce section of the grocery store. Don't follow the directions! Add about 1/3 to 1/2 of the seasoning to the avocado mixture. Stir well, gently. Delicious right away, or put in refrigerator for an hour or two if you like.