Girl Scout Cookies

One of my favorite times of year, and favorite causes to support, is the Girl Scout Cookie Drive. Some year’s I get lucky and a Girl Scout comes into the Diner to sell cookies, and other year’s I have patiently waited and watched for a local Girl Scout with none arriving at the Diner. One year I even had to call the local Girl Scout Council and asked them to please send a Girl Scout to the Diner to sell me cookies. The next day, a Girl Scout called and arrived at 10 minutes later.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, when I was in third grade I was the number three seller of Girl Scout Cookies in the county, it was something like 184 boxes at that time. I got to go to Camp Winnamuca, got a Girl Scout Green with white trim Camp Winnamuca t-shirt, and a pink and purple owl wind chime – that was well over 30 years ago, so you can see it quite made an impact.

So as an adult, I have always tried to support the Cookie Drive. The Girl Scout is required to tell me about each one, what if new, what they like - and it must be the Girl Scout, not her mom. The lucky girl who shows up at the Diner is rewarded with the sale of 10 – 14 boxes of cookies – Thin Mints, Tag-a-longs, Savannahs, etc.

I have always hoped for my “very own Girl Scout” and I found out a little late last year I had one! My sweet Miss Audrey Rose. I had already ordered cookies from one Girl Scout, when Miss Audrey showed up, so I ordered just two boxes from her.

This year, sweet Miss Audrey Rose showed up in the Diner to sell cookies, tell me about the new ones, what she liked and that there was an increase in price – which she apologized for, although not her fault. I placed my order for 12 boxes. And after great anticipation (on my part), and great effort on her part (well, my cousin’s, she had to ship the cookies 2,000 miles) this year’s Girl Scout Cookies have arrived!

I’m so excited to dig in to all the varieties; HH is starting without me, promising that he is just doing quality control along the way. The best part of the entire experience, of course, is talking with sweet Audrey Rose – my very own Girl Scout.


Beer Pancakes

If you stopped by Holly’s Diner this past Sunday morning, you would have been treated to the breakfast special of Beer Pancakes. Next time you are in the area on a weekend, belly up to the counter and see if we are offering them that day.

When I was young and our family went camping in the summer at Dinky Creek, I remember having Beer Pancakes. In the fresh mountain air on a cool summer morning, Beer Pancakes were a great way to start the day. So they have become a staple for the weekend breakfast crowd at Holly’ Diner.

How does one make Beer Pancakes, you ask? Easy! Take any box pancake mix (I like Krusteaz, here at the Diner), follow the directions and in place of water add a light beer. At the Diner, we use whatever beer was left over from the night before, this past weekend it was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The beer makes the pancakes smell like the grains that are in the beer, and makes them lighter, fluffier. You don’t taste the beer if you use a light beer, so be sure to use something you like if you try it at home. If you use beer that has a little color to it, that color will show up in the pancakes, as well.

But don’t fear (or should I say “be disappointed”!), all of the alcohol cooks away as the pancakes are raising and firming up – so they are family-friendly! At breakfast yesterday morning, HH said, “You make really good pancakes.” High praise indeed.

Try Beer Pancakes next weekend, and let me know how they turned out.



"29¢ Bag of Potatoe Chips"

Last night some new visitors came to Holly’s Diner – Aunt Val and Uncle Larry (of Uncle Larry’s Frito Pork Roast fame). They sat at the counter; we chatted about the Diner, family and went where ever the conversation took us. The special on the menu last night happened to be Chicken and Rice.

I got this recipe about ten years ago when I was actively asking family and friends for their favorite recipes written in their own handwriting. This recipe came from my Mom, but it was actually a recipe I remember Nana fixing. What I have is a laminated copy of the original typed and handwritten recipe – my Mom wrote Nana’s name at the top, with all the years of use showing on the copy. Nana crossed through one ingredient (“one pint of Mayonnaise”), and added in her own additional instructions at the end (“When cooking chicken add onion & celery.)

When I actually look at the recipe card and everything on it, it tells me that it was typed in 1966 and given to Nana by her good friend, my Auntie Love – Aunt Val’s mom! What better item to feature at the Diner on the night of Aunt Val and Uncle Larry’s visit, than her mother’s recipe!

Although I have changed the recipe a bit and made it my own, my modifications are in ( ), the best part is still at the end of the ingredient list, it always makes me smile.

Thank you Nana.

Chicken and Rice Dish – Holly’s Diner style

1 cup of rice (cooked, of course)
1 cup celery (I am not a big fan, so I delete this)
4 large chicken breasts, cooked (3 is plenty these days, the chickens must be larger!)
1 can mushroom soup (I put in cream of broccoli soup instead of mushroom)
1 can chicken soup (cream of…)
1 pint of mayonnaise
½ cup chicken broth
½ grated onion (I always chop, I never saw anyone grate an onion)
Fresh mushrooms (I put in broccoli, I don’t like mushrooms)
Package of almonds (optional)
(And here’s the kicker…)
29¢ potatoe chips (!?) (I was really perplexed by this the first time! Use what you want, about a ¼ of an average size bag)

Layer of rice then chicken, mix celery and rest of onion with rice. Add potatoe chips and nuts; bake 45 min in 300 oven. When cooking chicken add onion and celery.

(That’s how “potatoe” was spelled, which also makes me smile. The recipe needs a bit more interpretation, cook the chicken, and cook the rice in the chicken broth. Combine the soups, vegetables and chicken in a sauce pan on the stove top to blend everything. Layer casserole dish with rice, then chicken mixture on top. Sprinkle with desired amount of crushed potato chips and almonds.

(By the way, the photo is sans potato chips this time, in case you were wondering.)


Three Recipes, One Long Weekend

I started off this long weekend at the Diner, with three new recipes and all the ingredients to successfully prepare all of them, and add them to our ever-growing menu.

It started Friday with Chicken Molé. Although it smelled delicious with adobo, ancho chili powder, cinnamon and cocoa powder, there was too much mole for too little chicken and a little too spicy for HH.

Next was the Red Velvet Cake on Saturday, and my first-ever attempt of baking with cake flour. It was good, but there was nothing red about it! The organic rose food coloring, which I had on hand, was overwhelmed by the cocoa powder. Then when I went to frost the three layers with the from-scratch frosting, the light chocolate colored cake was flaking into the white cream cheese frosting! So as I was laughing in the kitchen, HH asked what was going on and I told him that when he finally gets to see it, remember it was made with tons of love! Thank goodness for the heart stencil and red sprinkles that helped me hide the debacle on top. Those red sprinkles can hide a multitude of sins.

Finally, I was back to perfecting the Fried Chicken on Sunday, since I had found a wonderful new-to-me 10” cast iron skillet with a lid (!) for just $7.95 at a local thrift store. I was ready for the final phase of excellent fried chicken, since the cast iron is supposed to conduct the heat more evenly than normal pans. I had extra buttermilk left over from the Red Velvet Cake, so I decided to soak the chicken in the buttermilk and then follow the simple flour/salt/pepper coating I did last time. The pan, and therefore the oil, got hot fast and that led to the skin browning quicker than I was ready for, even though I turned the heat down. The outcome - one step forward and two steps back.

After three not-so-perfect attempts this weekend, I said to HH I was going back to what I do best – healthy. Baked chicken breast, steamed vegetables and a salad – not as exciting, but certainly successful. And he said, with a Cheshire cat smile on his face, “Can you serve fried chicken in a bowl?” I looked at him, paused to think, and then it dawned on me, I could not help but laugh! Last week we had a string of successful meals:
Last Saturday – Potato Leek Soup (in a bowl)
Last Sunday – Red sauce with angel hair pasta, more commonly known as Spaghetti (in a bowl)
Last Monday – Albondigas (in a bowl)
Tuesday – Chili over corny cornbread (in a bowl)
Wednesday – Potato Leek Soup (again), all together now, IN A BOWL!!!

You get the picture. So if one of the merits of fried chicken was that it was served in a bowl, certainly I could be successful at it!

The good news is that this next week’s menu has proven favorites on it, and only one meal in a bowl.


Valentine's Day

For your Valentine’s Day visit, I’m not going to share with you what is happening at Holly’s Diner today, but a story about my Handsome Husband who you all know as HH.

Back in the summer of 2001, the first thing I ever fixed for HH in Holly’s Diner was Moroccan Chicken. I spent 45 minutes prepping the food, an hour and a half cooking the meal with constant stirring, fussing and tasting to make sure it was perfect. It was a recipe I had fixed before for friends and family on special occasions, and viewed it as my “signature” dish. I served my beautifully colored, fragrant masterpiece-of-a-dish one evening as we visited and ate.

I should have known something was not quite right, but he had not been visiting the Diner that long, so I was not tuned in to all of the signs. My first clue was not that he didn’t ask for seconds, but that he didn’t finish what was on his plate. I have since learned that he always finishes what’s on his plate.

About two years later after that we got married, I offered to make Moroccan Chicken again - since it took so much time I didn’t make it that often. He declined and “fested” up that he remembered the dish but didn’t like it. He said would never have wanted to tell me that after cooking for him for the first time and run the risk of hurting my feelings. It was the curry and turmeric in the recipe – which I have since learned are not his favorite. Fortunately, although he didn’t finish that first meal, he has like just about everything else that has come out of Holly’s Diner for the past five and a half years (last night’s Chicken Molé is now another story for another time).

One of the many things I love about HH is that he loves to eat, and appreciates that I take the time to cook and try new things. If I am trying a new recipe, although he may be skeptical at first, he always tries it and gives his input – refer back to fried chicken for more on that! He gives texture comments, seasoning suggestions; he’s constructive and kind about his input not critical. I love that he loves to eat and compliments me on the meals I serve – what a wonderful thing, positive feedback on something I enjoy and spend so much time on!

I have not fixed Moroccan Chicken in over seven and a half year, and needless to say the recipe is no longer in my recipe binder. But many other culinary delights have graced our plates at Holly’s Diner, with HH saying “Mmmm, Honey, that’s delicious!” – At least most of the time.

Happy Valentine’s Day, HH. I love you more than you know.
Note: The Valentine's lapel pin in the photo is courtesy of my good friend DSS. She was inspired by the rolling pin. Thank you, DSS for visiting the Diner.


Tip Jar

I know more and more of you are visiting Holly's Diner, which is very exciting, and I want to encourage you to leave a tip. Visit the Tip Jar and tell me what you think (even the typos!) Also, if you have a recipe to share, leave it in the Tip Jar and pretty soon I'll start adding your recipes to the recipe page. There will be recipes from the Diner, of course, and also a section of recipes you have tried, enjoyed and want to share - even if the Diner has not featured the delicious delicacy on our menu yet.

Thanks for stopping by and, as always, enjoy!


Rolling Pins, the Sequel

Welcome back to Holly’s Diner. For those of you who have been visiting the Diner for a bit, you have probably read some of the leftovers. One, in particular that seems to be a favorite is Rolling Pins. There have been a few requests for a photo of the “Harry Potter” ceiling, and after much searching that lead to some massive file purging in the back room – I found it! The rolling pin photo!

There are not as many visible in the photo as I remember, but you get the idea. If you look closely you can see the yellow with the red handles, the my Grandmothers’ rolling pins, Donna’s Aunt Mary’s rolling pin with the green handles, the really big one I rescued from a yard sale, and a few more.

Now you get the picture.


Potato Soup

It was predicted to be a rainy, wet, cold weekend so a warm, steaming pot of Potato Soup sounded like the perfect thing at Holly’s Diner. I actually have a combined recipe for Potato Soup, its part Chunky Potato Soup from one of those mail order club promotions you get in the mail to entice you to subscribe to receive recipe cards each month and Julie Child’s famous Potage Parmentier (Potato and Leek Soup).

The soup starts with boiling the red potatoes, then sautéing the leeks in butter, combining ingredients and letting everything simmer for about 30 minutes. So with it raining and winding outside, the windows were steamed up inside- perfect. The soup was thick and chunky, creamy and a little spicy – that’s the Ancho chili powder. And top it all off with crumbled bacon as a garnish. The perfect comfort food.

Now what could be better on a rainy day than being inside, and enjoying potatoes and pork fat!

On the next stormy day around your kitchen, enjoy Potato Soup – Holly’s Diner style!

Potato Soup – Holly’s Diner style

8 medium red potatoes
2 cups water
1 leek
5 tbsp butter
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
Ancho Chili Powder
Ground black pepper
Pinch of sea salt
3 cups milk
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)
1 cup crumbled crispy bacon (turkey bacon works fine, too, as long as HH doesn’t see it before it’s crumbled)

Wash and cube potatoes (don’t peel).
Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add potatoes and cook until tender. Drain, reserving liquid. Set aside potatoes.
Rinse and chop leek in fine pieces. Melt 3 tbsp of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion to saucepan; cook, stirring frequently, until leeks are softened and tender.
Add flour to saucepan; season with Ancho chili powder, black pepper and sea salt to taste. Cook 3 – 4 minutes.
Gradually add potatoes, reserved liquid (about 1 cup) and milk to leek mixture in saucepan. In stages, take a potato masher and by hand gentle mash potatoes to coarseness or creaminess you prefer (I only mash a little, since potatoes are soft they don’t take much and I like the soup chunky). Add cheese (optional). Add more Ancho chili powder and black pepper, as needed. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
Serve in warmed bowls (so the bowls don’t steal the heat from the soup), and crumbled bacon on the side to sprinkle as you wish on top.

This makes enough for about 3 ½ servings.



Grandmas' Cooking

My grandmothers were very different; I cherished each of them for different reasons as I was growing up. Grandma Helen’s house was always about things new and shiny and current trends. Nana’s house was always about warmth and tradition and time standing still.

I don’t remember a lot of Grandma Helen’s cooking. I remember her taking me out to lunch and shopping for a “special something.” I do remember enjoying two different things that she fixed for me – lettuce with sugar, and iced tea. I loved her lettuce! It was always a fresh, crisp piece of iceberg lettuce that she sprinkled with a little sugar. I remember sitting at the bar counter in her kitchen looking out the big window of the den to the backyard. The lettuce was always such a treat, and at five years ol I was sure that it was a special treat just for me!

Grandma Helen’s iced tea was always just perfect. Just sweet enough, just dark enough, just cool enough, just right. I remember that it wasn’t sun tea, but tea from a jar – that’s just how tea was made. She would make it a pitcher at a time, and when I got older and made the tea from a jar a glass at a time, mine was never the same. Although the tea I made may have tasted the same and have the right color, it had lumps and bubbles, and Grandma Helen’s never did. I actually realized a few years ago when visiting my cousin in Birmingham that what my Grandmother used to fix was what the South calls Sweet Tea.

Nana’s cooking I remember better. Partly because I lived with her during my first two years of college – her house was much closer to campus then where I went to high school. I remember her chicken and rice, I remember her spinning pantry, I remember her stove, her tile kitchen, her instant coffee – and that’s just the food related stuff. I remember the most, and miss greatly, her cream of wheat and pancakes.

Nana would offer to fix breakfast and when she fixed cream of wheat it was absolutely perfect. It took a while to cook, but was always worth the wait. It was creamy, never lumpy, with a perfectly smooth-as-silk white color. I tried to make it a few times when I was living on my own, it never turned out like Nana’s. My step-mom has even tried to fix it for me, it was good, but it is just not Nana’s. I don’t think anything will ever come close because my memory of her cream of wheat just cannot be matched. At this point, I choose to live with the memory of perfection not making attempts which come up a distant second.

Nana also made the best pancakes. She used a cast iron griddle, poured the Bisquick batter from a measuring cup, and the pancakes were always “silver dollar” size. She always cooked them to just the right color, with exact thinnest every time and all uniform in size. She would tell me that she waited until the pancake “told” her when to turn them - when the bubbles appeared all over the top before the first flip. My pancakes turn out pretty good, but they are not Nana’s. I like making pancakes on Sunday mornings, more on that in a later story…

In retrospect, I wish I would have cared more about cooking at the time and paid more attention to Nana’s cooking, especially during those two years I lived with her. At the time, I was just focused on other things.


Super Bowl Chow Down

Super Bowl Sunday is about a lot of things, football is only one of them. And, actually, I would say football comes in third on my list for Super Bowl Sunday – unless, of course, our beloved Chargers are in the game. Sadly, not this year.

So what is Super Bowl Sunday about at Holly’s Diner? Well, it’s like this:
1. The Commercials
2. The Food (especially, the chili)
3. The Football

Now, others may argue this list of priorities, but it’s my list and my diner so that’s how it is.

I’ve been thinking about the chili for a few weeks now. In the past I have made a Touchdown Chili with shaved chocolate and chilies in adobo sauce – it was so hot, HH won’t eat it and I worked my way through it tearing up with every bowl. Then there was a Buffalo Chicken Chili, which I thought was great, but HH didn’t consider it chili. Last year I “created” my own chili, combining a few recipes I liked and adding a bit – it was pretty good, not too hot, good beans and the right amount of beef.

This year, I want to try something new. I watched Sunny Anderson on the Food Network this past week and she made Interstate Chili with beef, chorizo and no beans. That’s what I tried yesterday.

I like a chili to cook for a few hours on Super Bowl Sunday, enjoying the smell of the fragrant savory spices filling the kitchen during all the pre-game stuff, and having the chili ready at about the start of the game. I like to turn down the heat and let it stay warm until I’m ready for it, usually around half time. After I’ve smelled the savory aromas all afternoon, I finally get to taste the hearty flavors in the early evening of January when it’s still just a little cool outside. Add some grated cheddar cheese, a healthy (as in BIG, not figure or heart friendly!) dollop of sour cream and you are good to go!

For some reason, HH does not get chili as the Super Bowl taste-of-the-day. I have even tried to point out to him when others concur in the week leading up to Super Bowl on TV or in print. But he continues to reject that school of thought. He is all about the wings, so he’s in charge of those. As far as I’m concerned, there is a whole lot of effort for very little reward when it comes to wings. But then keep in mind from the “Fried Chicken” entry that I don’t do skin. There really is little to be desired with chicken wings if you remove the skin, and there is so little meat that they are completely not worth my time!

Anyway, back to yesterday’s menu. We had club crackers with Rondele garlic & herb spread, homemade guacamole with freshly fried tortilla chips), chili, chicken wings, and HH made his World Famous Mac Salad on Saturday so it would be ready for game day. His Mac salad recipe is featured below.

So here’s how the Chow Down went:
Pre-game hoopla
Club crackers and Rondele
National Anthem
Opening Kick-off
Interstate Chili with grated cheddar cheese and sour cream (just me)
The cute Bridgestone commercial with Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head
Start of the Second Quarter
Chips and guacamole
The funny Pedigree commercial
The Budweiser “Daisy” commercial
Prep for a second bowl of chili with plans for Mac Salad in the fourth quarter
Start of the Third Quarter
Wings and Mac Salad (for HH)
The realization that I was done for the day
Start of the Fourth Quarter
The Hulu.com commercial with Alec Baldwin
Some deep thigh lungs to work off some of that chorizo, 50 of them to be exact
Lead back and forth, wondering if there would be the first OT
Steelers win their sixth Super Bowl

What a day! There are leftovers for a few more days, commercials to look forward to seeing again, and the open for a Chargers trip to the XLIV (I think that’s 44) Super Bowl starts today!

HH’s World Famous Mac Salad
(Editorial note: Self-proclaimed World Famous, but darn good none-the-less!)

8 oz. small elbow pasta
2 - 4 oz. cans tiny shrimp
1 - 4 oz. can black chopped olives
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
Best Foods mayo (for exact amount, see below)
Dill weed
Garlic Salt
(Cut extra celery sticks to dip in Jif peanut butter for snack while prepping salad)

Mix shrimp, olives, celery, onion, bell pepper in large bowl with three big scoops (using a tablespoon) of Best Foods mayo. Add salt and pepper, dill weed and garlic salt to taste.

Cook pasta for ten minutes, drain, cool for a minute, and add to bowl with other ingredients. Add three more big scoops of Best Foods Mayo. Mix. Add salt, pepper, dill weed, garlic salt to taste. Cover.

Put in refrigerator. Let set at least four hours. Take out of refrigerator, taste and add a small amount of mayo (about one scoop), and place back in refrigerator for another hour – then it’s really ready. Always tasting along the whole time making it.

Have wife clean up her kitchen.

(I asked HH to write out the recipe for Holly’s Diner, and he really put that last line in! When I read it, I laughed so hard. Good thing he’s handsome!)


Homemade Tacos

One of my favorite things in the whole world is homemade tacos for dinner. I grew up with them, my step-Mom made them, and apparently my Grandmother made them before that – although I don’t really remember those. I would ask for them for my birthday dinner. They changed a bit when Daddy needed to start watching his cholesterol – from ground beef to ground turkey.

When I met HH, not only was he handsome, but he also made homemade tacos! What could be better than a man who can cook your favorite meal?! His version is a bit different than I grew up with, but very delicious in their own right.

Last night at Holly’s Diner, HH did the cooking and we had homemade tacos. I chop the onions, tomatoes, lettuce and grate the cheddar cheese. Also avocados, if they are on sale. I get out the green sauce for HH and the Pio Pico hot sauce for me. And sour cream if we have any. Then I sit and wait.

Then HH starts to heat the oil to fry the tortillas, cook the ground beef and season it with Worcestershire sauce, maybe some soy sauce, and some Monterey Steak Seasoning, then he starts the Rosarita refried beans heating in a small sauce pan next to the beef on the stove top.

Once the meat is cooked and ready, he turned the heat on low, and turns his attention to the hot oil for the tortillas. We like the Mission white corn tortillas, super sized. He starts turning tortillas into taco shells – extra crispy and crunchy for me – pulls them out of the oil, places them on some paper towels to absorb the excess and sprinkles them (inside and out) with parmesan cheese. When he’s done with the first few, he calls me and I start building my tacos – seasoned beef, grated cheese (the cheese needs to be on top of the meat so it will melt a little), onions, lettuce, tomatoes, Pio Pico hot sauce, avocados and sour cream (if we have them.) Then I get some beans and add some Pio Pico hot sauce, some onions and some grated cheese – mixing them together.

HH continues creating his taco shells while I’m assembling, and often does a few flat tortillas for crispy cheese quesadilla as an added bonus! By the time he’s ready to build his tacos, I’m out of his way and have moved to the table. He always says, “Start while they are warm.” But I just sort of move things around, mix the beans, taste them to make sure them have enough of everything, and eye my overflowing tacos waiting to be devoured! I wait for him to finish, then when he arrives at the table we begin – you can’t start without the cook!

The homemade tacos are crispy, crunchy, warm, layered, flavorful, savory and messy – just as they should be!

Delicious home cooked comfort food.