8.27.2009

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!

8.26.2009

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!

8.22.2009

The Quest

As some of you may know, I am on a search to find a seasoned copy of Master the Art of French Cooking (MTAOFC) by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck first published in 1961.

I have been looking since January 2008 when Ii picked up a copy of Julie & Julia at a yard sale for a quarter – it looked interesting - this book is what led me to Holly’s Diner, by the way. Some of you may have heard of Julie & Julia, or seen it (LB!) in theatres recently, so you know what I’m talking about. But I digress…

After reading Julie & Julia, I decided I wanted to find a well seasoned copy of MTAOFC at a yard sale to add to my collection of cookbooks because, well, it would just be more fun to find it at “used” (and a challenge!) than buying it off the shelf at a book store. Besides, I like to “rescue” books that no one wants any more.

Last fall I found MTAOFC at Costco for $24.95, a very good price! I went back to the Diner, thought about it, went back to Costco two days later to buy it, and all the copies were gone! It wasn’t meant to be.

I have continued to look for MTAOFC in the last year, and found From Julia Child’s Kitchen in hard cover this past spring at a yard sale for $0.50! I snatched it up! A few weeks later I found The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child in soft cover for a quarter, and snatched it up! But still no MTAOFC.

This week I was at Costco on Monday, and low and behold, with the popularity of Julie & Julia in theatres, MTAOFC was back again for $24.95 – I resisted, remembering The Quest. Tuesday I was at Barnes & Noble, found MTAOFC on the self (it’s not always in stock, I’ve looked) for $40 – the full retail price – and passed it up. Wednesday I went to Amazon.com and found MTAOFC for $22! I put it in my “shopping cart,” but wasn’t quite ready to buy. I even looked up a first edition copy on Amazon.com, just for giggles, and easily found one for $325! Now I don’t NEED a first edition copy (although it would be lovely), in fact, I don’t NEED a copy of MTAOFC at all. But this Quest is not about “need,” it’s about “want.”

Wednesday night I sat down with HH, and told him the story of the past few days, he listened and said, “Go buy it!” But I just couldn’t. It’s not about the money, it’s about The Quest.

After contemplating for few more days, I have concluded it is totally about The Quest. I will continue to follow The Quest - searching yard sales every Saturday, scouring thrift stores every few weeks, and rummaging at the swap meet every so often. When I am supposed to have MTAOFC, I will find it. Until then I continue my search for the perfectly seasoned copy of MTAOFC – whatever edition it is.

8.21.2009

Diner Dog

A new verified favorite on the menu – the Diner Dog.

Here’s how to make it:

-Heat up some butter in a pan
-Slice hot dogs down middle, length wise, almost all the way through, but not quite
-Place hot dogs face down in bubbling butter on a medium heat until browned, and turn over doing the same
-Prepare bun by putting ketchup and a little mustard, spread around on bun
-Take a slice of American cheese and cut in half, placing length wise on bun
-Remove hot dog from pan, and place in bun up against the cheese, allowing the cheese to melt a bit
-Sprinkled chopped, diced, raw white onions over the top
Enjoy!

What’s your favorite way to dress a dog?

8.13.2009

Root Beer Freezes

Ahh, the perfect treat for a summer evening - a root beer freeze. At the Diner we serve it with A & W Root Beer and vanilla bean ice cream, and a special little something else.

When I was a kid (probably a tween, although we were not called that at the time) I remember one summer evening with my Dad and Anna and what became the ultimate root beer float memory.

It was a warm evening, probably in August, dinner was over and the dishes were done. We all wanted something cool and delicious for dessert, and the conscientious was root beer freezes. Daddy got the blender out, Anna got the ice cream and root beer out, we selected our glasses (mine had Mickey Mouse on it) and the anticipation had begun!

Daddy poured a little root beer into the bottom of the blender, scooped in the ice cream, poured in more root beer and put the lid on the blender. He turned the blender on low to get things going; grabbed a spoon from the counter; slowly took the lid off the blender, making sure he hadn’t judged wrong and everything would come flying out; and started putting the spoon in the blender trying to get scoops of ice cream down further toward the blade so the freezes would be smooth and creamy. All of a sudden, we all knew he had gone too far! The spoon came in contact with the blade!

We all yelled at once out of “start,” as he quickly removed the spoon and turned off the blender. As he drew the spoon out of the creamy liquid, and finally completely out of the blender, we all gasped at what we saw – the WOODEN spoon had been chewed up by the blade! Then the reality of the consequence of the choice of the wooden spoon set in – there were bits of wood in our highly anticipated, delightfully cool root beer freezes!

There was not enough ice cream to start over, so we agreed to take our chances and share this new high-in-fiber version of our favorite summer treat. The freezes were poured into our pre-selected glasses, we all got straws and long-handled spoons and sat at the kitchen table to (hopefully) enjoy Daddy’s new creation.

We all slurped with care, straining the small pieces of wood as we went along. The one thing these fibrous treats forced us to do was to SLOWLY savor our summer treat! A summer memory I will never forget!

These days, at Holly’s Diner, we use a metal spoon if we need one at all to coax the scoops of ice cream along. And when the freeze is blended, there is substitute ingredient to Daddy’s “signature” ingredient – at the Diner we use chocolate, a bit more palatable than wood bits! Once we blend the root beer and ice cream, we take the glass and squirt chocolate syrup in the glass from bottom to just below the lip, lengthwise, rotating the glass as we go to get chocolate all around, then pour in the root beer freeze.

Even with chocolate substituted for bits of a wooden spoon, the wonder memory from summer ago taught me something that has stuck with me to this day – enjoy the freeze slowly to savor all it’s worth!

What’s your favorite summer treat?

8.11.2009

Eggs

On my list of subjects to cover at the Diner, eggs have been a story I just have not made it to until now.

Us city folk who don’t have the luxury of having our own chickens usually buy eggs from the grocery store. We tend to select large eggs that are good for a few weeks and plan menus around the expiration date (okay, maybe that’s just me!)

About five years ago, HH had the opportunity to get farm fresh eggs every few weeks from someone at work. They were Hilliker Ranch eggs, and they were delicious! HH would get a flat, a dozen and a half, for $1.50. And I knew the rancher, Harold, from years before! So it was great to get superior eggs at a spectacular price and support a local farmer we knew.

The eggs were large, but they seemed extra large compared to what is in the grocery store. The eggs were as fresh as us city slickers could get, candled just the day before. The eggs were delicious with firm colorful yolks that put most store-bought eggs to shame!

A few years ago the “egg supplier” at HH’s work retired, and so our direct access to Hilliker’s eggs was gone. I knew Hilliker’s eggs were available at the local health food store, so I started buying them there whenever I was at that market. Although the eggs were certainly more expensive at Henry’s Market then buying them through a direct source, I knew we were getting a great product and supporting a local family farm so it was okay.

I saw Harold about a month ago and got to chat with him for the first time in a long time, he hadn’t changed much.

On July 31 I got word that Harold had died suddenly, after hitting his head the day before. I was shocked, saddened and reminiscent.

Although I’m not getting the farm fresh eggs regularly any more, I know that every time I see the eggs at Henry’s I will think of Harold.

8.09.2009

Pickles

As promised (see Potato Salad)…Pickles.

I DO NOT LIKE PICKLES. Did I say that strongly enough for everyone to get it? Perhaps one more time – I DO NOT like pickles. Or pickle residue that might be left by the pickles on bread, on a plate, on a hamburger, etc. I would use the “H” word, but will refrain from such strong language, although that is how I feel about pickles.

Sweet. Dill. Slices. Chips. Whole. Relish. It does not matter; I feel the same about all of them. My issue is not a texture-thing for me (like it is with mushrooms). It’s a taste-thing, and even more specifically, it’s a memory-thing. Let me explain…

When my cousin and I, you remember SS, were young we loved pickles. One summer day, I think we were about six years old (maybe seven or eight), we were at Nana’s house (our grandmother) enjoying the day. It was lunch time and Nana fixed us whatever we were having for lunch that day, with a side of a few sweet baby Gershwin pickles. SS and I went out to the backyard to enjoy our lunch and the breeze under the avocado tree on a warm summer day. We ate our lunch and savored our pickles.

We finished, but still wanted more pickles. Nana was sitting in the living room watching one of her soaps, probably As the World Turns at lunch time, we asked if we could have a few more. She said yes, so SS and I went to the refrigerator and helped ourselves to what was left in the jar, not much since there was only about a 1/3 of a jar left. This round was more delicious than the first round! We wanted more!

We knew Nana was distracted with her soap opera, and we also knew there was a brand new jar sitting in the cool refrigerator calling our name. We snuck in the back door by the refrigerator (on the back porch) and helped ourselves to the new jar! We went back out to the backyard, opened the jar somehow and polished it off in no time! I think I ate more than SS, because to this day my memory of the “pickle incident” is stronger than hers.

The problem came a few hours later when we both had such bad stomach aches that we were miserable! I just remember being on the couch in the living room and rolling around clutching my swollen, aching belly moaning from the pain of the pickles!

Since that day, no more pickles for me. I don’t care what type they are. I think SS is back to eating pickles, but not me.

I have tried this technique with other things that I have wanted to stop eating – chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookie dough, Cheez-Its – but it just doesn’t seem to work. Although I may regret the quantity I have eaten in one serving of these things, I still have the crazing down the road. It’s only worked with pickles.

So that’s the pickle story from all those years ago, I do think the memory is probably worse than the taste at this point, but I’m not willing to take the chance.

8.05.2009

Gilroy Garlic Festival - Part 2

More about the Gilroy Garlic Festival….
Although most visitors think the Garlic Festival is all about the food, it’s not. The Gilroy Garlic Festival is all about the people. In this case, the people who put on the event. Believe it or not, this beloved event is produced by a group of people who love their community so much that they volunteer year after year. There are actually only three full-time staff members who work for the festival year round. The rest of the worker-bees are made of volunteers who help on committees year round; who help with setting up the festival at Christmas Hill Park the week before; who help buttering garlic bread, pouring beer, emptying trash, parking cars and much, much more during the three days of the event.

One of the “fun-est,” and certainly most flashy, jobs at the festival is that of the Pyro Chefs. According to my source, there are only about 70 Pyro Chefs in the entire world, and about 25 – 30 who are actively cooking. There are not a lot of establishments who would probably hire a Pyro Chef without having the local fire marshal breathing down their back! But Gourmet Alley at the Garlic Festival is the perfect place – and the Pyro Chefs are volunteers.

A Pyro Chef is defined as someone who cooks with serious flame. As you can see from the photo above of Jon Vickroy, a certified Pyro Chef (or should that be certifiable?!), sunglasses are required equipment for the job – along with a fire extinguisher close by! This year I got to see first-hand as Jon trained an “aspiring” Pyro Chef on the techniques, important communication among chefs and handling of that enormous skillet at the grill. Jon was training a member of the media who had made many visits to the festival over the years, and to Gourmet Alley, but Stanley (we8there.com) had never been schooled in the finer points of being a Pyro Chef.

The Pyro Chefs at the Garlic Festival cook in Gourmet Alley, the area where all the food the festival actually cooks and sells comes from. It is hot, it is frantic, it can look like organized chaos, but it is the “fun-est” place at the festival. Watching the Pyro Chefs cook-up the calamari and scampi and yelling “fire in the hole!” Hearing the stir fry chefs bang the gong for every loaded tray of stir fry garlic chicken that is complete, and the garlic bread brigade who will spontaneously breakout in song and dance (if you can call it that!) during the buttering of the bread.

The volunteer support and community involvement for the Garlic Festival is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It tells you a lot about the quality of Brian, Joanne and Chris, the three staff members who steer this group of volunteers along the successful path they proceed along. An amazing job, and commitment, by all. Well done Gilroy.
(photo credit - Bill Strange)

8.03.2009

Gilroy Garlic Festival - Part 1

As promised, it’s time for another plate of Fairs Festivals and Food Frivolity. This time, the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Gilroy is located about 30 minutes south of San Jose, and was once known as the Garlic Capitol of the World. Although Gilroy is still known for garlic (you can smell it from miles away), they don’t grow as much as they once did, but they do process an awful lot. So recently I have heard Gilroy referred to as the Garlic Processing Capitol of the World.

Anyway, this year was the 31st Annual Garlic Festival, and my 13th consecutive trip – I like Garlic. I like Gilroy too. It is such a quaint, peaceful town – at least from the outside looking in. At the heart of town, the homes line streets that are canopied in tall trees that sway in the breeze. The homes are established, cared for, and neighbors have a friendly wave for passing cars.

Every year for the last 31 years, the “little” town of Gilroy is invaded for three days by 100,000+ visitors. The Gilroy Garlic Festival is the largest three-day food festival in the nation (I heard that on All-American Festivals on the Food Network a few years ago.) Festival-goers come from all over the Bay area, all over the US and all over the world to visit the “heart of garlic”.

Visitors come to enjoy the characters – SakaBozo, The Godfather of Sauce, Pyro Chefs, Mr. Garlic, and the Garlic Queen. They come for the Garlic Cook-off (this year’s winner, the Spicy Garlic Butter Cookie, check out www.gilroygarlicfestival.com for more info), the Garlic Showdown, the garlic braiding. They come for the entertainment, the arts & crafts, the cooking demonstrations. But most of all, they come for the food – penne con pesto, Italian sausage sandwich, garlic calamari, garlic stuffed mushrooms, peppersteak sandwich, garlic fries, garlic scampi, garlic ginger chicken stir-fry, garlic bread to name a few. There is also garlic ice cream, garlic wine, garlic kettle corn, garlic jelly, fried garlic, garlic poppers, garlic chocolate, garlic fried-green tomatoes, and garlic watermelon. A few other favorites this year were the paella and the guacamole.

Although my early mornings start off with coffee and donuts, I’m usually ready for something more by about 11 AM. This year it was the paella. There were two different types this year, and they were created by a former Garlic Cook-off winner – turned food vendor from Gilroy. The paella was delicious, and the choice of garlic aioli or caramelized garlic were great toppers. Good stuff!

Next time you are in the Bay area the last full weekend of July, make a point of stopping by! If you like garlic, you’ll love the Gilroy Garlic Festival!