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?