HH Saves Christmas

Goodness, the Twelve Days of Cupcakes took a lot out of me, but the cooking at the Diner didn’t stop!

There was cookie baking for six hours on the 12th with friends - Gingerbread, Daddy’s Special Oatmeal Coconut, Peanut Butter Kisses and Brownie Gems. Then a full day of prepping for Christmas with Art’s Special Sauce, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Chocolate Chip w/Walnut Cookies, homemade Macaroni and Cheese, homemade Lasagna all in one day; followed by Spice Cookies the next day.

The rain set in, we hunkered down, the relatives arrived and then…HH saved the day.

Christmas Eve, before things really set in - lasagna and chicken fried chicken for those who didn't eat cheese or red sauce (can you imagine!)

The Diner kept cooking over Christmas, but only because HH stepped in. I was sick in bed so HH served as host, chief cook, head bottle washer and nurse maid. Hip, Hip, Hurray for HH! Fortunately enough food was prepped, so with a little help everything was fine. Had it not been for HH, things could have gone in a different direction.

The garlic bread on Chirstmas Eve, HH's first "save" of the holiday!

The Diner may be running a little slow right now, but things will be back up to speed in the New Year.

Happy Holidays everyone!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes - on the Twelfth Day...

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cupcake

What better way to finish up the Twelve Days of Cupcakes than with Grandma Baker’s Chocolate Mayonnaise (cup)Cake. I’ve make it as written, and it was delicious. I changed it by replacing the water with buttermilk – even more moist and scrumptious with the buttermilk and the mayo. Next time, maybe an Abuelita Mexican Chocolate disk instead of cocoa powder, although I can’t get too off track or HH will wonder what has happened to his beloved grandmother’s cake. Maybe it becomes the Holly’s Diner version at that point!

Anyway, here’s the recipe, enjoy and Merry Christmas.

Grandma’s 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

Happy Holly-days!

PS – Loyal Diner Followers, thank you for your enthusiasm about the Twelve Days of Cupcakes. (By the way, sorry about the technical difficulties yesterday that did not allow for the Twelfth Day to be consecutive.) Those of you who have indicated interest in a particular recipe, by have not wanted to do the research, I am happy to share the recipes if you stop by the Diner. I made a decision long ago that if I had a recipe that was not original (mine or someone else’s that is shared) I would refer to it but would not print it just in case there are copyright issues. So thanks for hanging in there and enjoy the cupcakes!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes - on the Eleventh Day...

Peppermint Cupcakes

This cupcake just screams Christmas! It’s a Paula Deen favorite with butter, heavy whipping cream, sour cream and lots of peppermint. Paula suggests a white chocolate frosting (not my favorite), so I did a vanilla cream turned RED.

This cupcake looks, tastes and smells like a happy holiday in a perfect little package. If you can’t get into the spirit after baking this, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe a visit to Holly’s Diner is the only cure!

HH was a bit skeptical at first (no chocolate), but after one bit he was a believer.

This recipe can be found in Paula Deen Magazine or at www.cookingwithpauladeen.com in the November/December 2008 issue, page 61.

Happy Holly-days!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes - on the Tenth Day...

Gingerbread Cupcakes

What cupcake could be more Christmas-y than Gingerbread. And what a treat, I got to make these with Miss Audrey. We had fun mixing, licking be beater, and taste-testing. That is, until the first bit. I think the black-strap molasses was too much for Miss Audrey. SS and I thought they tasted great, but if you have a lot of young ones to share with, perhaps the light molasses would be a better choice.

This recipe is from Hello, Cupcake by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson, page 219.

Happy Holly-days!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes - on the Ninth Day...

Red Velvet cupcakes – a Southern favorite, and one of my new favorites as well. So yummy, so decadently red, so moist and cocoa-y. This recipe is from Paula Deen, as it should be. So, enjoy, the Paula Deen way.

This recipe can be found in Paula Deen Magazine or at www.cookingwithpauladeen.com, the January/February 2010 issue, page 53.

Happy Holly-days!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes - on the Eighth Day...

Julia's Queen of Sheba Cupcakes

I had to do one of Julia’s recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, plus I had yet to bake one of her desserts. So it’s the Queen of Sheba – cupcakes. Doesn’t sound very Julia-esque, but as a cupcake they were great.

Try this, as a cake or cupcakes, either way. Delish!

This recipe can be found in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Happy Holly-days!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes - on the Seventh Day...

Egg Nog Cupcakes

These were going to be so good! I love egg nog during the holidays. This was originally a pound cake recipe, I think it may be better this way. The pound cake recipe will allow the moisture to shine through. (I think these got over baked, too. One has to be so careful with overbaking.)

Remember, you have to like Egg Nog to like this, don’t try it if you don’t! I love Baskin-Robbins Egg Nog ice cream, so I’m good. (By the way, Baskin-Robbins starts carrying Egg Nog ice cream on November 15 each year. Each store in my area gets one big tub, when it’s gone, it’s gone so don’t delay!)

This recipe can be found in Southern Living, December 2009 issue, page 176.

Happy Holly-days!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes - on the Sixth Day...

Sugar Cupcake with Sugar Frosting. You’ve got to like sweet to like this one!

This cupcake had great flavor, was moist, but has a story. This one is a Paula Deen, so you know it has butter and sugar – well, and it’s Sugar Cupcakes!

These cupcakes had a great flavor, but I messed up the frosting texture and my blender at the same time. If I had the right ingredients, I would not have had this problem!

These cupcakes were moist and yummy and worth making again – the right way! Be sure to have confectioners’ sugar for the frosting, don’t try to put three cups of granulated sugar in the blender all at once – it burns out the blender! Believe me, I know!!

This recipe can be found in Paula Deen Magazine or at www.cookingwithpauladeen.com, the March/April 2009 issue, page 31.

Happy Holly-days!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes - on the Fifth Day...

Ginger Cupcakes

How about Ginger Cupcakes with Lemon Curd frosting?!

The flavor of this was okay, but it definitely needed more ginger. If you want something a little different, this is a good choice. It reminds me of East meets the South.

This recipe can be found in Paula Deen Magazine or at www.cookingwithpauladeen.com in the November/December 2009 issue, page 63.

Happy Holly-days!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes - on the Fourth Day...

Chocolate Mint Cupcakes

I love mint. Chocolate Mocha, York Peppermint Patties, Peppermint Mocha coffee, mmmmm!

The recipe calls for Andes Crème de Menthe Thins, and I had York Peppermint Patties on hand (of course). The flavor and moistness was great in this cupcake, but the Andes Thins would have been a better call.

This recipe is from Hello, Cupcake by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson, page 219.

Happy Holly-days!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes - on the Third Day...

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes

I was so excited about this Vanilla Bean cupcake, but I over cooked it! Bummer. The flavor was good with a chocolate frosting. It should be made with Chocolate Ganache. Try it with a bit more vanilla extract, I think you’ll enjoy.

This recipe can be found in Paula Deen Magazine or at www.cookingwithpauladeen.com, the January/February 2010 issue, page 53.

Happy Holly-days!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes, on the Second Day...

Orange Spice Cupcake

This recipe I decided to bake for my Step-Mom, the problem was that it called for pumpkin pie spices which included cloves and nutmeg – and she does not like those! So the cupcakes were baked, shared, enjoyed – but not by Anna. The guys, and DiAnne, at Pelly’s loved them!

One friend I shared the cupcakes with loved the pumpkin spice, someone else enjoyed the orange flavor. These are a light, warm alternative to perhaps heavier flavors during the holidays.

This recipe is from Hello, Cupcake by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson, page 219.

Happy Holly-days!


Twelve Days of Cupcakes, on the First Day...

Mexican Chocolate Pound (Cup)Cake

Last year cookies, this year cupcakes! I hope you are ready!

I have been baking all year, turning cake recipes into cupcake recipes, with a few challenges along the way.

This Twelve Days starts with something very Southern – Southern California, that is. Mexican Chocolate Pound Cupcakes. These are a little spicy, deliciously chocolately and plenty moist. Definitely something different and worth trying!

This recipe can be found in Southern Living, November 2010 issue, page 102.

Happy Holly-days!


Happy Birthday, HH

HH enjoyed his birthday, flying his colors during the Bolts vs. Colts game (Bolts win in Indy 36 to 14!) He decided on Man Food for his dining delight.

If you are not sure what Man Food is, for HH’s birthday it was “four turkey wings and a draft beer.” This actually proved to be a basket of turkey legs and wings and a beer. Oh my!

Go Bolts!


Table for Two

Thanksgiving was de-li-cious at the Diner this year. (Well, it is every year, just a different type of deliciousness this year.) Anyway, HH wanted to smoke the turkey on the Weber. After lots of research, much planning, plenty of prep the bird was read!
Here’s the brine, the rub and the grill – this bird was so amazing!

The Diner still smells like smoky goodness, oh my!

What was supposed to be more ended up being a Table for Two, it was fine. We still had plenty to be thankful for, and had plenty to share with others – a to-go care pack went out as soon as we had gobbled our way through the dinner.

The best part, there is more to enjoy for days after!

Here at Holly’s Diner, I hope you and your loved ones shared a warm, cozy, belly-filling (but not busting) good time.


Thanksgiving Update

So if you are on Diner-time, today is prepping the green beans, making the sweet potato casserole-ish-thing, last trip to the grocery store before The Big Day, vacuuming with the new vacuum cleaner. It’s amazing what a difference a new vacuum cleaner makes!


Thanksgiving Planning

Thanksgiving planning has begun, is in full swing, and that means the rest of the menu takes, well, the back seat. And I’ve been so remiss on updating the Diner. Sorry about that.

Last night at the Diner was “serve yourself.” HH took advantage and made his version of SOS – tuna melt on toast. “Man Food” he proclaimed. Definitely not a normal menu item at Holly’s Diner, but certainly delicious (to some diners.)

Anyway, back to Thanksgiving planning. To catch you up…

- Made “The List” two weeks ago, what to serve and shopping
- Went shopping on Friday
- Boiled eggs for deviled eggs on Friday
- Determined what to fix on which day of “Thanksgiving Week” yesterday
- Today, bake cornbread for stuffing, then let sit to get dry; bake yams for “sweet potato” casserole; make Cranberry Waldorf Jell-O
- Tomorrow, prep green beans; start turkey brine
- Wednesday, prep potatoes and soak in water before cooking; separate egg whites from yolks, prep deviled egg mixture; make Parker House Rolls
- Thursday, everything!

So, SS, if you need The List, just let me know and I’ll send it to you right away – there’s still time!

Ooohhh…I can’t wait!!


Mole Mole Chili

This is my new favorite chili!

I was thinking about the fabulous chicken mole my friend Luis and his wife Diane shared with me a year ago. And since it’s Bowl Season (as in dinner-in-a-bowl, not football bowls), I got to thinking about a mole chili and the possibility of the deliciousness. So I Googled mole chili, of course a ton of entries appeared - apparently this is
not as original idea as I thought.

I noticed that Rachael Ray had a pretty simple Chicken Mole Chili recipe, which I printed out and began to consider. Ancho chiles, good. Bacon, yummy! Ground chicken, check. Cocoa powder, chili powder, coriander and cinnamon, excellent.

As I continued to read and consider this recipe, I realized that I needed to make some significant changes to serve it for the first time at the Diner. Most notably, I wanted to use some of the Abuelita chocolate instead of cocoa powder.

Then I realize that all that ancho chile (three whole chiles!) was not the best way to start a chili that HH will enjoy. Finally, I really didn’t want to use two pounds of meat, I wanted some beans.

Then came a trip to the store for supplies and the recipe changed even more – ground turkey instead of ground chicken.

I started the chili, making all of my ingredient changes and couldn’t find the cinnamon! How could I be out of cinnamon? I just used it a few weeks ago. I kept looking and looking and realize the cinnamon I used last (and there was an abundance) was at SS’s when I made Gingerbread cupcakes with Miss Audrey.

Oh boy, this recipe is changing.

I got everything in my beautiful red enameled cast iron pot. It smells delicious. I added a bit more of the disk of Abuelita chocolate, but afraid to add too much especially since I didn’t have any whole ancho chiles in the mix.

Rachael Ray’s recipe was to be done in 30 minutes, but I thought it was too runny and wanted to cook it down. So I did, for 90 minutes.

I made so many changes to this recipe, I think I can know call it my own!

I served it up to the guests at the Diner, HH being the key. This chili was delicious! Oh my gosh! There was a hint of chocolate, and I had added enough ancho chile powder that everything balanced out. Wow! I am definitely making this again and again and again.

Here’s the recipe…

Mole Mole Chili – Holly’s Diner style
1 tbps vegetable oil
6 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1 ¼ lbs ground turkey
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 can (14.5 oz) diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 can (14 oz) black beans, rinsed
1 can (14 oz) chili beans, rinsed
1 can (14 oz) pinto beans, rinsed
½ disk Abuelita chocolate, shaved
2 tbsp ancho chili powder
1 tbsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 32-oz container chicken stock
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese for topping
Sour cream for topping

In a large Dutch open or stock pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add turkey and cook over high heat, breaking it up with a spoon, until browned. Lower the heat, add the yellow onion and garlic and cook until softened. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste. Stir in tomato paste. Stir in roasted tomatoes, beans, chocolate, ancho chili powder, coriander, cinnamon and simmer for a few minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a low boil.

Lower heat to allow chili to simmer for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve in bowls (of course!) and top with cheese and sour cream as desired.



Cupcake Substitute

This Orange Spice cupcake did not start off as one of substitutions, but it sure ended up that way.

A cupcake cookbook I recently borrowed talks about enhancing or fortifying a box cake mix into a little something more. Instead of adding the traditional combination of water, oil, three eggs this cookbook suggests buttermilk, oil, four eggs and some flavor enhancers depending on the final desired flavor.

Today - Orange Spice cupcakes. I had accumulated everything this weekend, except the buttermilk – I wanted to find a pint container like I saw in Alabama instead of the quart container I find here. Then, time to make cupcakes today and I forgot about the buttermilk!

No problem, Google “buttermilk substitute” with a number of options. I chose a tbsp of white vinegar and adding enough milk to make a cup; let stand for five minutes and instant buttermilk, well, substitute anyway.

Then I read the 1/3 cup of oil, and for some reason my brain registered 1/3 cup of shortening. As I have said before, I don’t use shortening. I did have an extra jar of baby food prunes (organic, of course) so I made the substitution. As soon as I dumped the pureed prunes in with the cake mix, my brain registered clearly and I saw that I could have added oil. Oh well.
I had accumulated pumpkin spice this past weekend, so I would good there, but thinking I forgot the orange for the orange zest (an excuse to use my zester!). No problem, I have orange extract so I substituted ½ tsp.

Mixed it all together. Poured in the cupcake papers. Baked for 18 minutes (toothpick a little moist but not sloppy), remove from oven. Cool. Frost – lazy today, just a can of cream cheese frosting. And viola! Orange Spice cupcakes!

Oh, and what’s this next to the frosted cupcake container on the counter…

Hmm, better start paying attention more. The cupcakes were nice and spongy and moist, it all worked out. This may not be HH's favorite, because there is no chocolate involved. I'll have to find other diners to share with.


Cupcake Adventure

I did something new today. I entered my first-ever food competition.

I have organized food competitions; judged food competitions; promoted food competitions; created food competitions. I have never entered a food competition, until today.

When my latest Food Network Magazine arrived a few weeks ago, there was a piece about the Chocolate Adventure Contest sponsored by Scharffen Berger Chocolate and tuttifoodie.com. This competition, like most others, is about an original recipe – not what I believe is my strength. I’m much better at following directions the first time, then adding my personal touch forever after.

This food competition was about using Scharffen Berger chocolate (of course!), and one of 14 “adventure ingredients.” Here’s the list to choose from:

Adzuki bean
Almond flour
Bee pollen
Coconut butter, cream or milk
Fresh beet
Fresh or whole dried chili pepper
Meyer lemon
Molasses (light, dark or blackstrap)
Stout beer
Sweetened condensed milk
Sumatra coffee bean

What to use? What to pick?! Well, buttermilk and coconut milk looked the most familiar to me. Then I had to find a recipe. Julia’s Queen of Sheba cupcakes weren’t going to work. There is no way I could (or would) pass off Julia’s recipe for an altered
one of my own.

Then I looked at the refrigerator, and there it was. Grandma Baker’s Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake – one of HH’s favorites!

I had made these earlier in the year, and although I am sure this recipe is not unique to Grandma Baker, it is the treasured family recipe that Cousin Rhonda cleverly transformed into a potholder in Grandma Baker’s own handwriting for the family last year. This is the one.

Looking at Grandma Baker’s ingredients, and upon opening up the frig, I decided that buttermilk was the way to go (since there was buttermilk sitting in the frig from the recently successful Chicken Fried Chicken). The dilemma was buttermilk and mayonnaise in the same recipe; would it be too…tangy? Oh well, it was worth a try.

For me, entering this contest is not about winning; it’s about entering and honoring family traditions in a slightly updated way. So I went for it, substituting the 1 ½ cups of water in the recipe for buttermilk.

I made the batter. Tasted it. Ooooh, a bit tangy for sure. Oh well, what are you going to do?! Just need to forge ahead. I tried to make sure I filled the cupcake cups only 2/3 full (I’m getting better at that.) They cooked up. I wanted to make sure they were not dry, so I started at 12 minutes cook time; tested; put them back in for 3 more minutes and pulled them out to cool.

They looked good. Perhaps still a little on the moist side inside since the fuller ones were a bit concave.

I let them sit to cool. When I checked back, more had “fallen.” Hmm, time to taste-test to see how they turned out. I selected one of the concave ones so no one else would have to eat what could be “the bad ones.”

Very moist, probably just cooked, so delicious! This cupcake was not tangy at all! The moistness required me to eat it fast so it didn’t completely fall apart in my hands.

HH arrived at the Diner a little later, he said they looked good, but not done – no frosting. (The frosting is another story…) He finally sampled (using a plate and fork), and declared them delicious! Moist, chocolatey, melt in your mouth. Success!

Now we wait. The Chocolate Adventure Contest doesn’t conclude until after the New Year. I confirmed that my entry was received; I’ll keep you posted on the progress…


Southern Adventure - Saw's BBQ

After returning from Homewood, Alabama over Halloween (my annual trek), I have to dedicate an entry to Saw’s BBQ. OMG, Amazing!!

SS and I were talking and realized that I have only had BBQ one other time during my visits to Alabama, I remember once. I don’t even remember the food, just the slight bit of tension at the table. Believe it or not, babies are not born with table/restaurant manners. So at the age of about four or five, Miss Audrey was a bit of a challenge to her Dad that night.

So this trip, it was decided that we would get take-home from Saw’s BBQ in Homewood for the Auburn game on TV.

We stopped next door at Dreamcakes first to have a little afternoon pick-me-up; I chose the red velvet cupcake, yum! Then SS, Miss Audrey and I went next door to Saw’s BBQ. We walked in and I knew this was my kind of place.

Down-home, stuff all over the walls, only a few tables, locals eating and enjoying, orders served in those plastic little baskets with a piece of deli paper to hold the food – no fuse, no muse – type of stuff.

I started snapping photos – diners hunkering down to pulled pork slathered in BBQ sauce, amazing looking Mac and cheese, smoke coming from the back, personality everywhere.

As I’m taking photos, I can hear SS tell the cashier who I was and what the heck I was doing, I’m sure he wondered – crazy woman walks in and starts taking photos of everything! It turned out that he was the husband of a teacher SS teaches with, and Saw’s is their place. Once hear the story, he pointed out a few things like the chalk board menu above his head and offered to let me take a few photos of the back. But watch your step; it’s a little slick from all that smoky barbeque porky goodness!

SS said we were getting the pulled pork, pulled chicken, coleslaw, Mac and cheese and, red and white BBQ sauce. What?! Red and White?! Red for the pork, of course, and white for the chicken. Wow, a new experience, cool!

Saw’s BBQ even had a sign that fit the evening – Auburn football and BBQ in the fall in the South.

So, homeward-bound in Homewood for a new BBQ experience. Next came plating, anticipating and learning. SS said the white BBQ sauce, although it looked like pan gravy (mmmm, pan gravy…oh, sorry, got distracted), it was more like a ranch dressing. John didn’t use sauce, he expects the meat to hold and communicate the flavor, and it did. But as a girl who likes sauce, I slathered it on. Both sauces were thinner than I’m used to back home, and more vinegary than I imaged, but delicious nonetheless. The Mac and cheese creamy and yummy too!

As I look at the menu remembering the smells, sights and slipperiness of the place, I see that I missed the Carolina Dog with chili and slaw! Darn! Next time, Carolina Dog at Saw’s and another Red Velvet cupcake from Dreamcakes. Yum.

So the next time you pass through Homewood, stop at Saw’s BBQ, what a multi-sensory treat!


Southern Adventure

I made my annual trek to my favorite Southern town, Homewood in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s my favorite for a lot of reasons – SS is there; Miss Audrey is there; my favorite independent book store, The Alabama Booksmith, is there; the Piggly Wiggley in all it’s glory; my extended Southern “relatives”; the fall colors; Halloween traditions. Oh, and it’s pretty much the only Southern town I have spent any time in!

I still want to get to Monroeville, Savannah, New Orleans, Bogey’s Pad (not the proper name), and a few more.

This year’s Southern adventure meant Mexican soup (really chili with corn) on the patio in the evening in Dots and Daisy mugs (SS picked it up at the school bake sale), delicious; multiple trips to the Piggly Wiggley, first to get HH’s fix of Smucker’s Peach Jelly (why can’t stores in my neck of the woods carry this?!) and my new friend, George, the manager who is going to send me a Piggly Wiggley apron (that’s another story I’ll tell if the apron actually arrives, SS was dumbfounded by this one!); grass-fed beef burgers at Do Di Yo’s in the “cosmopolitan” part of Homewood (Miss Audrey had chicken fingers and fries, SS and John had plates that fed them for two more days!) And all this was in the first 24 hours!

Then it was a day for SS and I; we gave up last year’s opportunity to get ready for the big Halloween party for Miss Audrey and friends. We prepped for the “family get-together” that night and had lunch at Flips Burgers.

Believe it or not, this was my burger!

SS had the Asian BBQ - a burger with braised short rib sitting on top.

I had the Thai Chicken “flip” - really a delicious chicken burger with a full salad on top in a lettuce wrap. I was a little surprised when it arrived I really wants a taste of that bun, but it was delicious.

That evening we prepared a hearty fall feast for my extended Southern relatives (really SS’s, but I’m claiming them!) – rosemary rubbed, prosciutto wrapped grilled chicken and drizzled with balsamic syrup (that's right, isn't it SS?); pumpkin risotto with parmasean; sautéed green beans with cranberries (okay, craisens really). All served on the Dots and Daisies that SS has, started by and inspired by our grandmother, Nana.

The next day we were getting ready for the Auburn football game that evening. Miss Audrey and I made gingerbread cupcakes (in anticipation for The Twelve Days of…).

SS and I had a conversation about the best part of making cupcakes – I say the batter! Licking the beaters and the bowl, specifically. Someone's got to teach Miss Audrey the good things in life!

SS was shocked! “What about the raw eggs?,” she said. I just don’t think they “count” when it comes to batter - pish posh. She thinks the best part if the frosting.

Same family, growing up in different households, therefore different parts of the cupcake. A good combination.

We also visited Dreamcakes earlier in the day, I had to have a Red Velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting, sooo good! This was our late afternoon pick-me-up. Next we went to Saw’s BBQ, OMG! We walked in and my breath was taken away! This was my kind of place! I couldn’t get me camera out fast enough! Snap, snap, snap!! More on Saw’s next time…

Fortunately, Auburn won that night. I got more education on college football (not quite the same as rooting for the Chargers.)

My Southern adventures, and dreams, continue. Halloween is such a great time to visit the South. Who knows where my adventure will lead to in the future, I can’t wait!


Queen of Sheba

The other day I attempted one of Julia Child’s signature desserts from Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MTAOFC) – Reine de Saba. Or at it is referred to in Julia’s The Way to Cook – Queen of Sheba cake.

I’m not doing cakes right now, much to HH’s shagrin, but CUPcakes as I get ready for The Twelve Days of Cupcakes this Christmas. So off I go to make Queen of Sheba Cupcakes.

Since I followed the recipe in MTAOFC, I had read through it a few times with MTAOFC arrived at the Diner (what a day!) Then I read it again during the summer, refreshing my memory on my next recipe from MTAOFC. Then again a few weeks ago when I was compiling the list of cupcakes to try for The Twelve Days. Then last week when I was putting together the grocery list. And finally two more times, very carefully, yesterday as I pulled ingredients from the cupboard, got my equipment ready, put on my apron, getting ready to begin.

Julia writes her recipes a little different from most others, she has the ingredients and equipment in bold on the left 1/3 of the page, and the instructions for those pieces and parts on the right 2/3 of the page. So it takes a little getting used to (hence, all the reviewing.)

I start by shaving the chocolate and melting it with 2 tbsp of dark rum in a double boiler,

then creaming the softened butter and granulated sugar in one of my favorite bowls – my large yellow Pyrex mixing bowl from Donna.

Separating yolks and whites;
pulverizing almonds in the blender;
beating egg whites in the counter-top mixer and…

Julia Slow Down! You are going too fast! There is just too much going on at once in so many bowls! Remember, I like “Dinner in a Bowl,” you know, one bowl meals?! This is a lot.

Okay, deep breath, and…

Add chocolate mixture to butter/sugar mixture; stir in almonds and almond extract. IMMEIATELY stir in ¼ egg whites. Delicately fold in 1/3 remaining whites, the sift 1/3 flour folding – Oops! Wrong kind of flour, need cake flour not regular flour. Alternate RAPIDLY (more of that “hurry up” thing!) with more egg whites and more flour until all incorporated.

I know this last sequence did not look like it was supposed to, but that was I to do! I was going as fast as I could and Julia was STILL saying “hurry!”

That's a little better.

Then the part where Julia turned over in her grave, instead of a cake pan, I put the batter in paper cupcake holders. Oh, well. I’m never going to be Julia, I can only be Holly of Holly’s Diner, and this will have to do.

I filled the cupcake holders just ½ ways, baked at 350º for 12 minutes (the cake called for 25). The center is supposed to be “molteny” (I told HH this; he looked at me funny and said “what’s molteny?”) You know, volcano-y, you bit in and the center may ooze out – yummy!

I took them out, let them cool. Not molteny, but moist and very delicious.

Thank you, Julia. Success!


Chicken Pot Pie

During a drizzly week, Chicken Pot Pie was the feature one night at the Diner.

Now I’ve made chicken pot pie before – chicken, chicken soup, frozen veggie mix, cut up Pillsbury biscuits on top. This recipe was fine, but it was time to step it up. So with a little inspiration from Paula Deen and Taste of the South’s Foodimentary author, viola! A Holly’s Diner version of Chicken Pot Pie.

Chicken Pot Pie, Holly’s Diner style
1 tbsp olive oil
1 chopped carrot (at least ½ cup)
2 large chopped red potatoes (about 2 cups)
½ chopped onion
½ cup chicken broth
2 (10 ¾ oz) cans cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
½ tsp dried parsley flakes
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
2 chicken breast shredded, cooked, skinless
½ cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 package Pillsbury crescent rolls

Preheat oven to 350º. (Cut chicken into “tenders”; season and cook.) Chop carrots and red potatoes into small bite-sized pieces, place in a oven-proof bowl; drizzle with a little olive oil and season; bake for ≈45 minutes, until fork potatoes are fork tender. Spray 4 (2 cup) ramekins with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onions until translucent, about 3 -5 minutes. Add potatoes and carrots. Add chicken broth and cook until reduced by half, about 3 – 4 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine coup, sour cream, parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Stir in vegetables, chicken and cheese. Spoon into prepared ramekins.
Place two flat triangles of crescent roll over each ramekin so they form a square and drape over the sides. Poke holes in crescent roll top to allow steam to escape. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Note: Make sure crescent dough is flat across top of bowl, not sunken; if sunken, the depressed part will cook slower and you run the risk of uncooked dough.

Note for next time: Although not my favorite, Chicken Pot Pies just needs the green of peas. Next time I’ll add some frozen peas to make this pie complete.



It’s HH’s favorite time of year – Dinner-in-a-Bowl Season!

Beef Stroganoff was on the menu the other night. A new recipe from Paula Dean, but surprisingly no butter in the recipe!

This was a slow cooked beef tip and onion dish – I even put the cream of mushroom soup in that it called for, I DO NOT like mushrooms. But in this format, not so noticeable – it’s a texture thing.

Anyway, egg noodles, slow cookin’ ready for the dinner crowd at the Diner on a gloomy day – perfect!

Oh, and it has my favorite condiment in it – sour cream. Ohhhh, I love sour cream. After scooping out of the container what is needed, I get to lick the spoon, yummy.

Sorry, got sidetracked. Beef Stroganoff served with bread and butter, just like HH likes it.



Before my fiasco with the blender and three cups of sugar, I had intended to change up the weekday AM breakfast routine at the Diner. Normally on weekdays, it’s a scrambled omelet with fresh spinach and topped with fresh salsa. I wanted to try a breakfast smoothie – which requires a blender!

Well, now that the fantastic HH has fixed the blender I made breakfast smoothies this AM.

Here’s the recipe:

1 cup milk
½ package of tofu (≈ 7 oz)
2 really ripe bananas
½ tsp vanilla
Some honey (≈ ¼ cup)

Throw everything in the blender. Blend. Done. Delicious!

Thank you HH for saving the day.


Don's Pie

Garlic Gal sent me a recipe a few months ago, something Chef Don of the regionally famous Bevi Bistro and world renowned Any Bozzo Can Cook had perfected. The recipe is Crostata Di Proscuitto, Spinaci E Formaggio or in Diner lingo “Don’s Pie.”

Wow! When Garlic Gal sent it to me, I was very impressed, but not sure I could live up to the photo. I was a little concerned about the pie pastry because I know that, in general, pie pastry is not easy. I have made the pie crust from Melissa d’Arabian of Next Food Network Star fame, so I thought I would try a new one – until it came right down to it.

I whimped out and made the pie crust from Melissa, I just felt more comfortable with it. She did such a good job in her recipe at describing what the dough should look like along the way. And although I’ve talked about it before, this time I’m including photos of the steps along the way.

Anyway, back to Don’s Pie, before you attempt this know you have to like onions. Fortunately, the standard dinner crowd at Holly’s Diner likes onions!


Pulsing a bit more (maybe a little too much!)

Resting (and into the frig)





Washing (a little overkill)

The Crostata Di Proscuitto, Spinaci E Formaggio (Don’s Pie) at Holly’s Diner didn’t look like it probably did at the Bevi Bistro, but is sure tasted delicious!

I told HH that there was Italian ham in it, he was very excited. Then he figure out that “Italian ham” is paper this, tasty but not the manly ham he was expecting. He actually had a lot more vegetables on “Don’s Pie” Night than meat, and that’s always a victory!

(Chef Don and “Attenzione Magazine” July/Aug 1982)
Pie Pastry
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup butter at room temperature
1 egg
Pinch salt
4-5 Tablespoons Chilled White Wine
• Mix the flour and butter until crumbly
• Add egg, salt and wine. Mix until dough is completely moistened. Like pie dough.
• Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
• Divide Dough and roll to fit a 10 tart pan with removable bottom.

Pie Filling
2 packages frozen spinach (10 ounces)
4 tablespoons butter
2 onions thinly sliced
1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese grated
1/3 cup heavy cream
½ pound porsciutto thinly sliced
5-6 ounces of Fontina cheese, diced
1 egg lightly beaten (for egg wash of pie)
• Preheat oven to 375 F
• Cook spinach according to package directions. Drain thoroughly.
• In medium skillet melt the butter, when butter foams, add onions and sauté over medium heat until they have a pale yellow color.
• Add spinach, salt, pepper, Parmesan and cream. Mix to blend and cook 1 -2 minutes. Let cool
• Cover the bottom of the pasty shell with one layer of porsciutto, followed by half the Fontina cheese
• Add the spinach mixture and an additional layer of Fontina followed by porsciutto.
• Roll the remaining dough into a circle and place on tart pan. Pinch together to seal top and bottom crusts.
• Reroll the trimmings or cut or form into leaf, stems and buds. Arrange on top to make an attractive pattern. Brush surface with beaten egg and prick the top in 5 – 6 places with fork.
• Bake 40 Minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes before serving. (Also great at room temperature.) Can be made one or two days ahead.



Tomato Harvest 2010

Tomato Harvest 2010 was a definite success!

There were tomatoes for homemade tacos, tomatoes for BLTs, tomatoes for Caprese Salad, tomatoes for sandwiches, tomatoes for burgers, tomatoes for side salads, tomatoes to share, tomatoes to can, and tomatoes for Mother Nature.

This season’s harvest came to an end a week and a half ago. I had left the last tomato on the last plant to ripen. I went out the about a week ago to see if it was ready, it was but Mother Nature sent one of her critters over to “lunch.” Apparently the last tomato of the season was not for me.

Oh well, there are still tomatoes to enjoy at the Diner, with the first of the canned tomatoes used for Albondigas.

It didn’t look any different. It didn’t smell any different. But is sure tasted different!

So delicious, so flavorful, so full of summer sun! Okay, maybe I was projecting that, but it sure was great to use our homegrown tomatoes!

I also used the sauce this past week for pasta and red sauce, and a little left over for a deep dish pizza – equally as tomatoey fresh and delicious. It’s really cool to savor the summer on a cool fall evening.


Southern-Style Specials

Well, as the weather starts to change in Southern California – from 80º+ to the mid-60s – so does the menu at the Diner.

We started off the week with Texas Chili on the menu, perfect for watching Sunday Night Football. This is a chunky, beefy chili which we added beans too – white and chili. I just need some beans in my chili.

Next was my first attempt at chicken fried. I have always read “chicken fried steak” on menus and been very confused by that. What is it? Chicken or steak? So now with Paula Deen’s help I have figured it out. It’s a flat steak coated and fried like chicken.

Paula’s recipe was actually Chicken Fried Chicken, which sounded much better to me. I got all ready to fix the chicken breasts when I thought “HH does not prefer a big chicken breast on his plate.” Chicken breast incorporated in pieces, or stuff is okay but not just the breast. So I stopped and put the menu on hold for a night.

The next morning I went out, got some chicken thighs and proceeded with Chicken Fried Chicken that Night.

Part of my on-going anxiety of fried chicken is that I am NEVER going to do it as well as HH’s Mom or sister, they have been fixing it forever and I have not.

Paula’s recipe called for a coating that includes soaking in buttermilk and egg and then dipping in flour and crumbled saltine crackers.

I started with the thighs, then the breasts. The thighs turned out marginal – just barely cooked through and the outside over cooked. The boneless breasts, on the other hand, turned out great! A quick fry on either side to golden, and because they were pounded out they cooked fast and remained moist.

HH tasted both, and liked the breasts! Since they are coated and fried, it makes the big hunk of chicken breast okay!

Maybe MY fried chicken will be the Chicken Fried Chicken boneless breasts. Maybe I don’t have to do fried chicken like HH’s Mom and sister. Maybe he can look forward to having their fried chicken occasionally, and when we have fried chicken at the Diner, it’s Chicken Fried Chicken. I can do that!

Here’s Paula’s Recipe:

Chicken Fried Chicken
Paul Deen Magazine – July/August 2010
2/3 cup whole buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 sleeves saltine crackers, crushed
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp seasoned salt
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2” thickness
Vegetable oil for frying

In a shallow dish, wisk together buttermilk and eggs.

In a separate shallow dish, combine crushed crackers, flour and seasoned salt.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place a cooling rack over baking sheet.

Dip chicken in buttermilk mixture, letting excess drip off. Dredge in cracker mixture to coast. Place chicken on prepared cooling rack, and let stand for 20 minutes to set crust. (Try not to freak out about having the raw chicken sit out for 20 minutes; I didn’t like it but no one got sick, so it’s okay.)

In a large skillet, pour oil to a depth of ½”. Heat oil over medium-high heat at 360º.

Fry chicken, in batches if necessary, for 4 – 6 minutes per side or until chicken is golden brown and cooked through. Set chicken on a clean cooling rack, and keep warm.



Game Day Breakfast

The breakfast crowd at the Diner was in a hurry this morning. Our special beer pancakes with a side of sausage and fried eggs were on the menu.

Unfortunately, the cook was feeling the pressure of a 10 AM Chargers at St. Louis start. Replacing water with beer in the pancakes makes them lighter and fluffier, unless you don’t add enough beer! That’s what happened during this morning’s breakfast rush.

The pancake batter poured out like cement, no extra beer available and the clock ticking. These cakes ended up so thick they were, well, cakey not fluffy. They tasted fine, but I have to talk to the cook about rushing it. She can do better than that!


What's Cookin'?

What’s Cookin’ where you are? For the past nine years I have spent the first two weeks in Fresno for the Big Fresno Fair, BFF for short. This year, I’m at the Diner! Not in the 90º+ weather, but enjoying the overcast and potential rain. I’m cooking and harvest (the last of the season) and getting ready for “The Twelve Days of…” at Christmas.

As I update you in the next few days on What’s Cookin” at Holly’s Diner, share what’s cookin’ where you are. It's meal-in-a-bowl season here, HH's favorite!

In the meantime, I have a quick sugar story. So today I’m working on two recipes for “The Twelve Days of…” and I need some powdered sugar to finish a frosting recipe. I only have about a cup of powdered sugar on hand and need three cups (so I didn’t do a very good job of adding that to my shopping list yesterday!)

I looked on-line “powdered sugar substitute.” Something came up that said I could measure out granulated sugar, put what I needed in the blender and blend on high until powdered. There were a few reviews that followed that confirmed this worked. Great, I thought. So I tried.

The problem: Dang!

The blender stopped working before the sugar was fully powdered. The frosting was a little “crunchy,” it gave it texture.


Rubber Chicken

If you stop by the Diner, you never know what will be on the menu. Often it’s chicken. And while the chicken pot pie is bubbling, or the chicken mole enchiladas are simmering, or the stuffed chicken breast is sautéing, or HH's favorite chicken is frying we might just break out the “Girls” for an impromptu rubber chicken toss.

The Girls are the Henrietta chickens. The more petite ones are for kids, and the adults always get the big girls. No matter the time of year you will find them in their purple polka dot bikinis with their red lipstick in place, ready for a toss.

While in Seattle I found Earl.

Need I say more? Probably not, but the resume that came with Earl stated the following:

Earl – The Utimate Chick MagnetMeet Earl, conceived in the back of an old pick-up truck in Memphis, Earl became a legend in his own mind. He never looked back at his less than humble beginnings, preferring instead to bask in the glory of his alter-ego, “Earlvis.” Between gigs at the now famous nightclubs, “Charred & Feathered” and “Escape the Coyote”, Earl is very busy breaking hearts wherever he goes. A life-long bachelor, Earl’s smoldering good looks and charming personality make him the ultimate “chick” magnet. Now semi-retired, Earl owns a small honky-tonky joint in Daytona Beach where “Earlvis” sightings are occasionally reported.

Oh my! The Girls are definitely going to have to educate Earl on the pecking order of the Diner!

By the way, all the chickens make noise. The Girls have their squeaker in their throats, so when you squeeze them they sound like, well, a chicken. Earl’s squeaker, on the other hand, is located in his…pants. When you squeeze him it sounds like something rude boys do and need to say “excuse me” for. I’m sure the Girls will teach him well.


Gig Harbor Chowder Cook-Off

Our timing is mostly great for the Seattle area (Big Star Diner, not so much). We happened to be around for the last Kimball Drive Farmers’ Market of the season that included a Chowder Cook-off.

We arrived a little after 10 AM, with just enough time to visit all the vendors before the Chowder Cook-off began.

One vendor had these very interesting “flowers,” we have never seen this artwork before so we were very intrigued.

There was a vendor with blown glass, he saw my San Diego shirt and said he used to sell at the Seaside Flea Market in Encinitas – what a coincidence! Then there was Eau de Joe. Joe was sampling his lotion, and at first I thought he was just there to help his mom or something and she was temporarily away from the booth. No. The booth belonged to Joe! Visit eaudejoe.com for more details – I bought the Christmas trio of glycerin soap from him since they were on sale and I can’t resist supporting a kid.

The fruits and vegetables looked amazing, but there is not enough time left in Seattle to purchase anymore…but we have time for bread. We bought this asparagus, mozzarella, black olive bread. (So delicious with butter, although is certainly didn’t need any!)

Then just before 11 AM it was time for the Chowder Cook-off. Five restaurants participated with samples of their chowder; they were clearly competing for bragging rights. One was O’Callahan’s, one was Tides Tavern (where we ended up having lunch), one was Mallard’s Landing a retirement facility and the chef had competed against Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America in December 2009!

There was the Heritage at the Inn of Gig Harbor, and a last minute arrival; the guys had made a hand-written sign on a napkin – very roadhouse inn-ish! And one other that clearly did not make much of an impression.

Anyway, we tasted and retasted and tasted again. HH picked the Tides Tavern chowder; I picked Mallard’s Landing the retirement facility (no nasty comments about the direction my taste buds are going, it was good chowder made by an Iron Chef competitor!) And the winner….Mallard’s Landing for Peoples’ Choice and the official judged competition. Tides Tavern was second for Peoples’ Choice and third for the official judged competition. Delicious!


Here Fishy Fishy

Part of our lodging choice in Seattle was based on the fishing. HH often talks about “finding a cabin on the lake,” so he can fish and I can read (and write for the Diner.) In Seattle on Lake St. Claire, this is our view.

And this is the fish HH caught off the dock for breakfast the other morning, a trout.

This is HH’s breakfast.

Then for dinner that night we sat on our balcony overlooking Lake St. Claire and enjoyed the bounty of Pikes Place Market – smoked salmon, salmon jerky, sautéed shrimp in garlic and butter, juicy red grapes and some plump raspberries (not from Pikes Place, so not as high quality as everything else, but good.)

Ahhh, life at the lake is good.


Pikes Place Market

A trip to Pikes Place Market a few days ago meant fish, fruit, tea, and, well, the most interesting fish & chips I have ever seen.

One of our stops in Seattle definitely needed to be Pikes Place Market. It was a beautiful day, we got lucky on parking and it was off to the market for an abundance of, well, food of course! I have to say that it wasn’t exactly as I anticipated, there were a lot more merchandise booths than I had envisioned. But the food certainly did not disappoint!

(Look at that Ling Cod hanging over the display!)
The first fish monger that sucked us in gave us samples of salmon jerky and smoked salmon, OMG! They were delicious, especially the jerky. The produce stands were next with beautiful Honeycrisp Apples and Starkrimson Pears, oh, and juicy red grapes for HH. We sampled and moved on, agreeing to not make purchases until we were on the return trip.

Next we passed the pasta stand; they were sampling chocolate fettuccine suggesting that you add a creamy sweet sauce for dessert – how decadent! Then we were at a fork in the road, HH was hoping I didn’t spy the tea shoppe, too late! In we ventured, and they were sampling a house special market tea of cinnamon and orange – naturally sweet and delicious. I was sure we would not pass that again, so I had to buy some.

We kept meandering, passing what must have been the first Starbucks as you could hardly get in – I don’t know that one more person could have FIT in the shop, it was overwhelming. I kept an eye out for the first Sur La Table; I had read that they originated at Pikes Place Market also. We saw the famous pig statue, and as HH commented “I wonder how many people have touched that.” We continued without touching the pig.

We were getting hungry, had looked at a few menus, were beginning to feel the plethora of teriyaki places and decided to go back to the fish and chips we saw earlier. We stopped at Athenian’s with a view of the water (of course) and both ordered fish and chips. HH also got the frosty-est mug of beer we had ever seen.

As we waited patiently for our order, we contemplated what we would by on the way back to the car and how delicious our fish should be considering we were in Seattle. Our fish and chips arrived and…

They were…orange – this is not the cameras fault; this is the color of the fish!

Our waitress was off to service others, so we looked at one another encouragingly and dove in. The fish tasted fine, the color was just not what we anticipated. Finally, as we were about half way through with our fish, I was able to flag the waitress down and ask why the fish was orange. She said,”It’s the cornmeal batter (so far this makes sense) that reacts with the oil. The orange becomes more prominent as the oil gets older. One more shade of orange and they will change the oil in the kitchen. I actually like the fish about a shade lighter than that, and then it’s perfect.”

Boy, maybe it’s just me, but that is NOT how I would be “selling” orange battered fish! I think I would take the approach of “It’s the cornmeal batter that interacts with the oil. As the oil becomes more seasoned, it enhances the color and flavor of the fish.” Now doesn’t that sound better! Don’t tell me that the oil is past where you like it and just about too used to serve, that’s not appealing! My goodness!

Anyway, after our first round of fish and chips in Seattle, we set off to get our grapes, beautiful red Starkrimson Pears, bountiful Honeycrisp Apples, super moist smoked salmon, 8/10 count jumbo shrimp and the most amazing jerk salmon I have ever tasted (the only one too, but who’s keeping track!)

Pikes Place Market, a success.


Diner Drivin' Part 5

Yesterday didn’t start off this way, but it sure ended up this way. And bear with me; it was a long day…

So HH and I started off our second day of adventure in Seattle with a trip to Shari’s Restaurant for breakfast – nothing to write home about, and an early drizzly morning at the Western Washington Fair in Puyallup or “Pull-U-Up” as HH likes to call it. We didn’t eat anything, since we had just finished breakfast, but there were scones everywhere! We had already discovered that the SeaTac area was a teriyaki town, but the Fair was definitely all about scones! I was all about the hot chocolate on a rainy day at the Fair – it was delicious.

After two hours of walking around and seeing it all, we are Fair professionals after all - how long can it take to walk about ANY Fair?, we were on our way to…

Snoqualmie Falls was recommended by a friend’s Mom, so off we were to find Snoqualmie Falls. Now I have to give you an aside here, HH says that “when” we enter the Amazing Race I have to drive because I am a terrible navigator and can’t read maps. I want you to know that everywhere we went from Yelm to Puyallup to Snoqualmie and beyond, I did a great job of navigating! Snoqualmie Falls was beautiful and taller than Niagara Falls – so much power!
We were off to, well, we could not quite decide. We talked about Bainbridge Island because one of the stops for Diners Drive-Ins and Dives was located there. Guy Fieri suggested a place called the Big Star Diner. Getting there is not easy. It’s either taking the ferry from Seattle, which we didn’t want to venture into the city at 3:30 PM, or drive all the way around – take a look at a map and find Snoqualmie Falls then Bainbridge Island – after much discussion we decided to drive, why not!

So through some traffic, around Tacoma, up through Gig Harbor, up and around and over a couple of bridges and onto Bainbridge Island – just as the ferries were starting to drop of commute traffic at 5 PM. But no problem, they were headed north and we were headed south. I found a small map that gave me some of the streets on Bainbridge Island, locating Madison Avenue, where Big Star Diner is located just off the main drag – no problem! I directed HH to the north end of Madison Avenue, since I didn’t know exactly where it was, and the first address we saw was something like 14455 – we needed to go to 805. My map skills were not bad; I just didn’t have all the information available to me! Just a few blocks to travel. I also reminded HH that he does not like to cover the same territory twice, so this gave us a quaint scenic tour of the Island. Then Madison Avenue ended. Oops.

No worries, as we traveled down the main highway, at the next intersection we picked up Madison Avenue again, we were almost there! The anticipation was killing us! I felt as though we would be redeemed as soon as we walked into the Big Star Diner. We found it! We drove past the old diner car restaurant and what appeared to be a very available parking lot. Hmmm….
We turned around and pulled in the parking lot. The “open” sign was not on. There was only one car in the parking lot. There was a sign on the door. All of this was not good. Was it out of business? Couldn’t be. Were they closed on Thursdays?! No way.

We got out of the car, looked at the sign on the door – open until 3 PM weekdays, later on Fridays and Saturdays.


Need to read the hours of operation better next time, especially before going 75 minutes out of our way.

HH wasn’t pleased (but still had some humor, just trying not to show it); I was laughing so much I could hardly talk but trying to salvage the situation. We looked for a local to ask about a good place to eat, found one although she had just moved there recently and could only recommend two places – we were in the parking lot of one of them and she said they had the best fries on the Island, sold!

We parked. I prayed. We landed at the Harbor Public House Pub.

Our server, Sarah, greeted us, we told her of our adventure and she was very sympathetic. She was helpful with all our choices, gave great recommendations and genuinely seemed to want to help make up for our misadventure to Bainbridge Island and she did.

Great looking place.

Great view.

Great food! And the Whistling Pig brew did the trick - the best microbrew HH has ever had! It was meant to be. Thanks, Sarah, for helping to make our visit so memorable.

As we got in the car to drive the 90 minutes back to Yelm/Olympia, I reminded HH that it’s about the adventure and the memories, not always about the destination we are planning on. He had to agree.

We won’t soon forget, but may never get back to, the Big Star Diner on Bainbridge Island.


"Sponge" Bread

HH and I went garage saling Saturday morning, looking for “things we can’t live without.” As we stopped and looked at one yard sale, we noticed a bunch of squash sitting, available. I asked the seller, “how much for the zucchini?” “They’re free, please take them. We can’t use any more and our neighbors don’t want any more.”

Very pleased, since our squash got buried by the over-enthusiast tomato plants early on, I swooped up two large zucchini. Finally, I thought, I’ll be able to make zucchini bread this season from home-grown zucchini – even if it’s not from our garden.

I brought the zucchini back to the Diner; after we found a few things we couldn’t live without, and prepared for zucchini bread. The first obstacle, no cinnamon. Lots of ginger and nutmeg but no cinnamon. How is that possible? So across the street I went with my tsp in hand to Patty’s, her roommate Donna found some cinnamon thankfully.

Next came the lemon zest, no fresh lemons on hand. Although, the recipe calls for vegetable oil but I have a wonderful citrus olive oil from Temecula Olive Oil that I bought during the San Diego Co. Fair, hopefully this will due.

I had everything out; measured the dry ingredients, set out the wet ingredients and started to grate the zucchini. After a few passes on the grater, the zucchini was just too big to hold as one piece so I cut it in half. As I looked at the center of the fresh cut zucchini, it occurred to me something was not quite right. The center core of the zucchini was much more fibrous and the seeds were much firmer (not edible) like a zucchini should be.

I thought back to the morning, the guy I got the zucchini from said that the zucchini were hybrids of some sort. They were volunteers from last year, and they had zucchini, patty pan squash and a few other things in the area, but this year’s crop tasted fine and looked fine. I remember when I first picked up the zucchini that it was a little light for its size. Hmm, curious.

As I looked at the core of this zucchini I had just cut, I realized it might be a luffa gourd hybrid. Luffa gourds are in the squash family and look a lot like zucchini when they grow, but you let them cure on the vine to dry; harvest them and dry them more, finally peeling away the hard exterior when they feel like they weigh nothing to reveal a natural sponge.

Now I wonder, is this going to work? I know you can eat luffas like zucchini if you treat them like zucchini when they are growing and simply slice them up. Although I’ve grown luffas for a sponge, I have never harvested them to eat – looks like I’m going to this time.

Well, with everything measured and prepped, it looks like I’m committed to this bread. Whatever it is.

So I shred – look how the core fibers continue to stay in the center of the squash and turn back inside, I kept having to cut and clean out the fibers as I went.

And mix. And pour.

And bake. And cool.

And slice.

And butter.

And eat.
Tastes just like it’s supposed to. And the texture is fine too. Who knew “sponge” bread could be so good!


Chili Dogs and Man Food

For the 2010 premier of NFL season, I thought I would serve up some Man Food at the Diner. I decided the special would be chili dogs – hearty, filling, no vegetables insight, “steak” included (tube steak, that is.)

I told HH what was going to be on the menu for NFL season premier, Saints vs. Vikings, “chili dogs, real Man Food!” I said, with great enthusiasm. I was informed, “That’s not football food. You can’t eat a chili dog at the stadium, it’ll get everywhere. And it’s not Man Food.” I was shocked and taken aback!

HH informed me that I like chili dogs, chili cheese dogs to be exact, much more than he does. “Wings are what we need for the start of football season - wings and cheesy garlic bread.” Now that doesn’t sound like stadium food to me either, but what do I know! I only go to one game a year, and it’s pre-season!

So last Thursday, for the kick-off of the 2010 football season, I had chili cheese dogs and HH had wings and cheesy garlic bread. Everyone was happy.

I have learned something new this football season - just because no vegetables are involved, don’t assume it’s Man Food.


What's Cookin' @ the Diner

We had a busy Labor Day weekend at the Diner – replacing some windows and holiday barbequing in between.

On Sunday it was burgers, always a favorite at the Diner. I think this was the last of the big homegrown tomatoes on those burgers for this season. Although there are still lots of cherry tomatoes to harvest, the bun-sized tomatoes are done.

Then for Monday, it was tri-tip on the smoker. HH was the Chef of the Day, so the tri-tip went on the Weber to smoke with his new remote temperature gauge – it worked really well!

I did the corn-on-the-cob on the grill. It was five ears for $1, so I got ten. I grilled all ten, we ate our fill and I de-kernelled the others to freeze for corn chowder this fall/winter.

Ten little corns on the grill

We had the rest of the giant tomato from the burgers the night before on the side with the corn-on-the-cob and tri-tip. So delicious!


What's Cookin'? - Labor Day Weekend

Welcome to a new series at Holly’s Diner – What’s Cookin’?

As cooking season approaches with cooler days, football, time in the kitchen and the holidays just around the corner, I introduce you to What’s Cookin’?

What’s Cookin’? will be an intermittent, on-going series that is looking for what you are cooking at your Diner, with a follow-up of what’s cookin’ at Holly’s Diner.

So let’s start with Labor Day weekend – tell me, what’s cookin’?


Any Bozzo Can Cook

By request, there is a picture of Any Bozzo Can Cook. Now don’t judge this book by its funny cover! This cookbook is filled with great recipes, all of Gilroy-decent. If you are really interested in a copy, I’ll connect you with Garlic Gal, and she can help.



It’s been a summer of autographs, in my cookbooks, of course.

It started in June during the San Diego County Fair with Alton Brown, who was on-site filming a portion of an upcoming series for the Food Network. I talked to my friends and was able to get my copy of Feasting on Asphalt signed by Alton.

Then Guy Fieri arrived for his weekend show. I sent my books back stage, and again my friends were able to get Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and More Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives signed by Guy.

(A little back story - I knew that Guy had done other live shows like this before, but word was that when he and his crew arrived on-site they talked to the San Diego County Fair crew about the potential size of the crowd. Guy had played to an audience of a couple hundred, but not a couple thousand! Guy had done shows in more theatre-style, so the grandstand set-up was a whole new thing. Everyone made it work, and the crowd loved it!)

I just got a Deen Family Cookbook signed by Paula Deen a few weeks ago. It was a special through the Food Network, and I’m happy to have it in my collection.

In July when I was at the Gilroy Garlic Festival (GGF), I realized I had another signed cookbook. I think it was 2008 when two of the stars of the GGF came out with their own cookbook – Any Bozzo Can Cook by SakaBozzo, Twins Separated at Birth. Sam Bozzo and Gene Sakahara may not look like twins (or even brothers for that matter), but they are brothers in the kitchen, for sure.

When I got back from the GGF this year, I was looking through my autographed version of Any Bozzo Can Cook, remembering there was a recipe Sam came up with inspired by the movie, The Big Night. The recipe is Timballo di Maccheroni e Melanzane. Sam based this on an amazing looking dish which was the highlight of the night in The Big Night.

Anyway, I started going through Any Bozzo Can Cook just to see what I had missed the first leaf-through. And low-and-behold! There was a recipe from Sam’s neighbor, and Chef at the Bevi Bistro, Don! Don’s White Sauce!

This winter, I’m going to be making Don’s White Sauce, especially since HH loves Alfredo sauce. And next year, if I am lucky enough to return to the GGF, I’m going to add Chef Don’s autograph to my cookbook collection. Can’t wait!

By the way, if you are interested in your copy of Any Bozzo Can Cook, you can order one through:
Gene Sakahara
7200 Yorktown Drive
Gilroy, CA 95020


Just Dessert

HH and I visited the State Street Bistro, with Uncle Larry as the head chef. You may remember Uncle Larry from the Frito Pork Roast, so yummy! Anyway, with the Bistros wonderful view of downtown San Diego, we got the best table in the house – literally.

Anyway, Chef Uncle Larry did a great job on a delightful grilled dinner on a very warm summer night. HH and I were asked to bring dessert, and something light for the summer seemed in order. So, Lemon Angel Food Cake with Blueberry/Lemon Sauce.

The dessert recipe started off as Orange Angel Food Cake with Fruit Compote, which meant dried apricots and dried cranberries. But that just didn’t sound good, so I changed it. The new Holly’s Diner creation was delicious, if I do say so myself!

Here’s the Holly’s Diner recipe:

Lemon Angel Food Cake with Blueberry/Lemon Sauce
1 ½ cups of egg whites (11 – 13 large)
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/3 cups baking sugar (extra fine)
1 tbsp finely shredded lemon peel (one lemon)
1 cup sifted cake flour
1 1/3 cups water
1 pint fresh blueberries
2/3 cup lemon juice (a little less is okay)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp lemon extract
Splash of almond extract

In an extra-large bowl allow egg whites to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Add cream of tartar to egg whites. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually add the 1 1/3 cups baking sugar, about 2 tbsp at a time, beating until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight).

Sprinkle lemon peel over beaten egg whites. Sift about one-fourth of the flour over beaten egg whites; fold in gently. Repeat, folding in the remaining flour by fourths. Pour batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Gently cut through batter to remove any large air pockets.

Bake on the lowest rack in a 350º oven about 40 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched. Immediately invert cake (leave in pan); cool thoroughly. Loosen sides of cake from pan: remove cake.

Meanwhile, for sauce, in a medium saucepan combine water, blueberries, lemon juice, the 1/3 cup sugar, cinnamon sticks, vanilla, lemon extract, almond extract. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for ten minutes. Remove from heat. Discard cinnamon. Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl. Serve warm or cool over cake slices.

Side note: Next time I would cook the sauce longer to end up with a compote – a little thicker.



Emergency Preparedness

HH brought an article home the other day. It’s been sitting on the lunch counter, and I thought I would share it with all my Diners. It’s an article about foods to have on hand in case of an emergency, whether man-made or created by Mother Nature.

Here it goes:

Peanut Butter – we have plenty of that, both Jif crunch and nature crunch
Nuts and trail mix – well, we have some, but the nuts that have been sitting there the longest are the almonds which are no longer crunchy and the peanuts in a can that are so salty I can hardly stand them! And the Wild West trail mix is all gone; have to wait until it’s on sale again at Henry’s
Cereal – does knock-off Frosted Flakes count?
Granola bars and power bars – the only thing close are the Fiber One bars and they gave HH and I such stomachs after the first try, I’m not sure this works in an emergency!
Dried fruits – Yick. Oh! I have craisins, that will work!
Canned tuna, salmon, chicken or turkey – canned tuna √
Canned vegetables – I grew up on these and refuse to eat any put canned corn IN something; HH will do better with his canned peas and green beans than I will “in case of an emergency”
Canned soups and chili – tomato for me; vegetable for HH; Oh! And the fixin’s for Baby Dipper Dip – canned chili, canned tamales, just need some cream cheese
Bottled water – Hmm, I thought we were supposed to be getting away from this and the five gallon jug is a bit challenging; I’ll have to work on this
Sports drinks – there’s one bottle of Gatorade in the frig, but have you read the ingredients list lately? There’s some kind of oil substance in it, and that’s just not right!
Powdered milk – I don’t think I have EVER had this in my cupboard
Sugar, salt, and pepper – check, check and check
Multivitamins – do they still need to be current?

Well, I hope this has been helpful to you diners. Also, please do what we have done at the Diner, create an evacuation list. Now this should not come as any surprise to some of you that the Diner has a list! HH and I did this a few years ago, and I updated it and made sure I was ready during the wildfires three years ago.

Be prepared!


Canning - Day Two (Who Knew!)

So, Canning – Day Two...
After Day One taking longer than I anticipated, I started earlier and closed the Diner for the day, just in case.

I had all the tomatoes, onions and garlic prepped from Day One; I knew the process; had the stock pots out and the oil ready for sautéing – I was ready!

I went out and found two more large tomatoes that were ready for harvesting and prepped them real quick to all the process as many “into the pool” as possible! Today was going to be sauce and quart, wide-mouth jars (HH offered to go out at the end of the day on Day One to get more, it was obvious I needed more!)

But sauce meant cooking down, pureeing the hot liquid, straining, cooking down, and then canning! So what started off as “an earlier day” didn’t take any less time, that’s for sure.

On Day One I got 11 pint jars of tomatoes. On Day Two I got four (4) quart jars and one (1) pint jar. I would say I could have used more tomatoes (there was more room in the stock pot for the cooking down process), but the pureeing and straining of the hot liquid was a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, I had time to clean up the splatter of RED in the kitchen before anyone might notice. Although, who knows what will be found in days to come…

I realized after everything was done that I had forgotten one step on Day Two – getting the bubbles out of the jars before the final “hot bath” – that’s not a problem, right? If they didn’t explode in the hot bath, they’ll be fine…I hope.

I did take SS’s advice and put them out in the garage for storage instead of the pantry. If one explodes it won’t cover all the other food – just the golf clubs and fishin’ poles. Don’t tell HH!


Canning Tomatoes

Well, all those tomatoes had to go somewhere and I can only serve so many! Anyone that comes within 50 feet of the Diner gets a bag of tomatoes. Menu planning, this time of year, is done around tomatoes. But there can only be so many days of scrambled omelets with tomatoes for breakfast, tomato sandwiches for lunch and, well, you’ve-heard-it-before for dinner.

Last year I decided I would save some tomatoes for the winter and freeze them – whole. When I took the three bags of tomatoes out of the freezer in December to make Art’s Special Sauce last year, the tomatoes looked fine and I was hopeful. Then I thawed them out – not so good. What a lumpy, soggy, squishy mess! The tomatoes promptly went into the compost pile!

So this year I was determined to can. Then at the Garlic Festival last month, I ran across some coupons for Ball/Kerr canning kits and jars. Aha! It was meant to be!

The next challenge was finding a recipe. Then the September issue of The Food Network Magazine arrived in the mail with recipes and photos for the canning process. Great! Well, it turned out a little “exotic” (Spicy Tomato Jam) for my first try. I finally found two recipes on the Ball website – freshpreserving.com – and printed them. One was for simple canned tomatoes, the other for tomato sauce.

I knew I needed some time, but was still not realistic about how much time!

I tackled the task on Sunday, thinking the Diner was open for breakfast and dinner that day (with HH fixing breakfast), so piece of cake! I would have all afternoon! I started at Noon and stopped at 4 PM, with only the canned tomatoes complete! Oh my, 11 pint jars and I was only a little over half done!

I decided to take all the cherry tomatoes (and the few yellow pear tomatoes from my neighbor), but prep all the tomatoes – even all the big ones for the sauce. I had been harvesting every other day all week, and not giving any away, to make sure I had enough. I talked to someone last month who canned tomatoes for the first time and she talked about how what looked like an over abundance of tomatoes in her stock pot cooking down to less than half the volume. That was NOT going to happen to me! If I’m canning, there will be plenty.

There were plenty - it took me an hour and a half to harvest a bit more, clean and cut all those tomatoes!

There were three big stock pots on the stove, two with jars and lids and one for tomatoes. And I did NOT have a problem with not enough tomatoes, I had to do one batch, and then cook down the rest – of just cherry tomatoes for canning!

In the middle of all of this, SS called and asked a simple question, “what are you up to?” “I’m canning!” So I had to fill her in and tell her all about it, she gave me her canning tips, all of which she has learned from Housewives of New Jersey and Cake Boss, none of which she has personally practiced. But all helpful and made me think…later.

By 4 PM I was exhausted, and the dinner crowd was still due at the Diner for the Scampi special that was on the menu!

Here are the fruits of labor for Day One, tomorrow, Day Two.



“Summertime and the livin’s easy...” (Everybody sing along!)
Ahh, that’s what cookin’ in summer, should be…easy. As you may have noticed, recipes are a bit lacking these days. Although there is cooking going on at the Diner, it’s more about grilling and smoking and what to do with all those tomatoes (there is still abundance, thankfully.)

Recently, HH did the grillin’ and we had steak, baked potatoes and tomatoes on the patio. I am so bad at buying cuts of meat, it’s very sad. I’m GREAT at purchasing and cooking with hamburger, but when it comes to an actual cut of beef, I’m a little lost and have very little confidence.

The steaks HH grilled, I got recently and thought they were good-sized, thick cuts of rib-eye (I think). But when HH served them, they were much skinnier (not nearly as thick) as I anticipated and a bit of a disappointment. I try to get steaks every now and then because HH is a “meat and potatoes” man, but, unfortunately for him, he married me – a hamburger girl.

Oh well, he remain patient with me, but I really think I need to leave the “meat” buying up to him!


Tomatoes Galore!

The bumper crop of tomatoes continues; that will happen when you plant seven plants and have a volunteer from last October! So the sweet summer tomato fest continues at the Diner with:

Burgers on the grill with tomato slices as thick as the burgers
Deep dish pizza with tomatoes
BTL’s with lots of “T”
Scrambled omelets with spinach, tomatoes, cheese and avocados
Home-made tacos with beautiful red, delicious tomatoes
Caprese salad, so delicious

I really do plan on canning some this summer to make marinara sauce in the fall – anyone have canning instructions/recipe to share?

In the meantime, each meal at the Diner is served with tomatoes, and all of our friends and neighbors are enjoying tomatoes too!


Smokin' at the Diner

It was smokin’ at the Diner this weekend! In a good way!

HH was in charge of the cookin’ on a beautiful summer evening – it could not have been any more perfect for a mid-summer evening. HH decided he wanted to smoke ribs, so I got the baby back ribs; he did the research and tricked out the Weber; we searched for a “starter” rub and the smokin’ was on.

The ribs were delicious! Although there were a lot of ribs for our table of two!

HH has a few ideas for his next attempt; they tasted pretty perfect to me!

Anyone else smokin’ out there this summer?


Gilroy Garlic Festival 2010

The festival is about the people. Meet some of my Festival friends.

Sauce City featuring Dave (right).

Utilities 3, Clyde
– Clyde and his wife Lois travel all the way from Gila Bend, AZ each year to volunteer at the Festival and make things happen!

Some of the Pyro Chefs in Gourmet Alley, including William (right) one of the youngest members of the exclusive Pyro Chef team.

By the way, I got to savor a non-menu delicacy and one of my favorites this year, with the help of Clyde. A bowl of freshly made marinara sauce with a plain cake donut to soak up the sauce! It’s really delicious and worth a try…


Dinner at the Bevi Bistro

The Gilroy Garlic Festival now includes an invitation to the very exclusive Bevi Bistro - very exciting! Each year as homage to the Festival the hostess of the Bevi Bistro, Garlic Gal, creates a “mantle of art.” This year it is simple and elegant, based on the 2010 poster.

In the kitchen of the Bistro, there is a fabulous cookbook collection that is housed right next to one of the best looking butcher blocks I have ever seen.

On the evening’s menu was brick chicken on the grill, green beans, bread and a refreshing salad. It was all so delightful.

Thank you Garlic Gal and Chef Don for the home-spun Garlic Festival preview!


Los Pericos

Ahhh, Los Pericos in beautiful downtown Gilroy. I get to visit Los Pericos maybe once a year, during the Garlic Festival. This year, I wanted to be sure to share the experience…

The first time I experienced Los Pericos was because LL offered to bring breakfast one morning to the Festival. She brought chorizo burritos from Los Pericos. This burrito was the best breakfast burrito I ever had. Unfortunately, Los Pericos doesn’t open until 9:30 AM and the opportunity for breakfast has not happened since.

I was able to have a bean and cheese burrito for lunch the other day, which was great. And here’s LL showing off her carne asada burrito – both so delicious!


Taiwan Tastes

So I’m back in San Jose, on my pre-Garlic Festival visit, and of course Donna and I stop at Taiwan Restaurant in Willow Glen.

We enjoyed crispy Fried Wontons, surprisingly savory Money Bags, sweet and crispy Honey Walnut Shrimp, and Broccoli and Cashews (we had to have some vegetables). We were stuffed and had enough left over for lunch the next day.

Then a surprise arrived, Donna’s sister-in-law Terry (one of the hostesses) sent over Taiwan’s Fried Bananas with chocolate sauce. They were crunchy and light outside, yet creamy and sweet inside – so delicious! We each had one, and since I hadn’t sampled these before I took a picture for the Diner, which I normally would not write about but it was different this time…

Donna and I were talking about HH’s surprise of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and contemplated more fried bananas, when two young ladies and their mom approached our table. The girls said they were curious and wanted to ask (I was sure they were going to talk to Donna something, she knows everyone in San Jose!)…was I a food critic? They saw me taking the picture and just wondered. Oh my gosh! No, I said, and I explained about Holly’s Diner, my trips to San Jose, Honey Walnut Shrimp. What a surprise! Maybe I would have some new guests stop by the Diner!

On our way out, we stopped by their table to see what they were having. Samantha, Madeline and their Mom were having Broccoli Beef, Chicken Chow Mein and Green Been Chicken – it all looked wonderful. We talked about Julie & Julia, the movie and the book and the inspiration for Holly’s Diner.

So here’s a “shout out” to Samantha and Madeline - thanks for stopping by the table and being curious, what a compliment; keep enjoying the Taiwan; and stop by the Diner any time, its open 24 hours a day!


Homegrown Tomatoes - 2010 Season

Look at these tomatoes! Cheeseburgers were the special at the Diner last night in order to accommodate the tomatoes. And the bumper crop has just begun!


Audrey's Birthday at the Diner

Miss Audrey turned nine on July 11. She celebrated by going to Disneyland, enjoying breakfast with the Characters, including Mickey Mouse waffles made by Minnie (according to Fairy Godmother in blue from Sleeping Beauty).

The rides were fun, especially the Tea Cups spun by her Dad right after breakfast – maybe not our best choice of the day…

Shopping was terrific, and then it was back to Holly’s Diner for the evening’s celebration! It was a Toy Story 3 themed birthday with colorful home-baked cupcakes with clearly too much organic food coloring. The cupcakes looked great and tasted wonderful, just ignore the puddles of frosting around the cake plate!

The grilled cheese burgers by HH were delicious, and the outdoor seating was perfect.

What a way to celebrate Nine!

Fair Rewards

So, we have some catching up to do at the Diner since the end of Taste the Fun! One of the rewards - a marvelous thank you from my staff. Look at this basket!

What a treat, they made me cry! All the things I like, HH definitely was consulted on this project…crispy Asian noodles, crunchy ginger snaps, creamy York peppermint patties, the makings for homemade salsa (or fixing’s for my morning eggs), and a cocktail sipper for the end of a long six weeks.

Best of all, they all wrote me a personal note – I LOVE those! And created a recipe for the recipe card collection I did during Fair. Here’s the recipe:

A Loaf of Holly Bread
¼ cup kindness
2/3 cup compassion
1 tsp success
2 tbsp greatness
3 cups integrity

Prep time: A Lifetime
Serves: Many

Take kindness, compassion and success, and stir together gently. Add unlimited amounts of greatness. Slip in 3 cups of integrity. Knead gently and form into a firm loaf. Bake in moderate oven. Serve to any special guest.

(It makes me misty eyed reading again!)
Thank you for all the hard work,


Taste the Fun...Done

I have been looking forward to this year’s San Diego County Fair for a year. Last year when the possibility of a food theme was presented, and then confirmed, I was beside myself with excitement. Now that we are at the end, I can say it was what I should have expected in a Fair – a true rollercoaster.

The ups have been getting Alton Brown’s and Guy Fieri’s autographs in my books while they were on-site; walking into the Tour of Tastes exhibit and hearing Julia Child’s voice on the PA, a DVD of The French Chef in full glory; some amazing food samples from the demonstration kitchen from partners and staff; Sushi Jeff’s birthday, and culinary friends who made things fun; and it would not have been doable, manageable or worth it without the amazing staff who really handle everything.

The downs have been major last minute logistic challenges that changed the layout significantly (thankfully the public had no idea); staff quitting and quitting and quitting and quitting and quitting and quitting and quitting (yes, that is seven times – all personal reasons, it wasn’t because of me!) and two others I had to let go – that’s nine of the 14 I started with, I have never lost that number of employees in total in 25 years of events, let along in one Fair!; learning that the only difference between chefs and athletes…knives. There are a few egos in every bunch.

Be careful what you wish for.


Fair Food Favorites #17 - Palapa Tacos

Palapa Tacos. Palapa Tacos by the Calico Stage (or so it used to be) was my first experience with fish tacos. I was working at the Del Mar Fair (the San Diego Co. Fair’s previous moniker), and grabbing a quick and delicious fish taco from under the palapas at Palapa Tacos was very cool.

Fish tacos in San Diego are so readily available now that the charm and uniqueness of Palapa Tacos has faded some, but I remember it as my first fish taco.


Fair Food Favorites #16 - Reno's Fish & Chips

Reno’s Fish and Chips. I do like these fish and chips at the San Diego County Fair. The problem is the serving is so large that it is hard for me to function the rest of the day after eating so much!

But Reno’s daughter, Cathy and her husband Ken have helped that dilemma – they have created Surf Tacos. A small, handheld fish taco easy to eat, cost effective and it doesn’t overfill me when working those long days and “interacting” with all those fairgoers!


Fair Food Favorites #15 - Tasti Chips

Tasti Chips. Tasti Chips are simple homemade potato chips cooked in peanut oil and smothered with a cheddary cheesy sauce – so good.

I don’t remember the first time I enjoyed these, but I try to have them every year at the San Diego County Fair.


Fair Food Favorites #14 - Roxy's

Roxy’s. Roxy’s has a permanent restaurant in Encinitas, but are here during Fair. They have the delicious healthy fare we love. The Artichoke Sandwich with avocado is our favorite, DiAnne and I share so we don’t get too filled up and can enjoy something else (if we want) during the day.


Fair Food Favorites #13 - Kettle Corn

Kettle Corn. Kettle Corn may not be specific to Fairs any more, but it is sure where I got my first taste of sweet, salty crunchy goodness. The giant copper kettles used to pop and mix Kettle Corn are so impressive.

A bag of Kettle Corn always seems pricey to me, then I look at the guy (or gal – Hi Anne!) slaving over that piping hot kettle all day long on what can be a very hot day and am thankful all I have to do is…enjoy!


Fair Food Favorites #12 - Ten Pound Buns

Ten Pound Buns. When Ten Pound Buns arrived on the scene during my first tour at the (then) Del Mar Fair, I thought I had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! A huge, thick slice of bread with whatever I wanted on top! I really like the cheese garlic bread with some tomato slices and basil on top.


Fair Food Favorites #11 - Pignotti's Pasta

Pignotti’s Pasta. Reno Pignotti and his wife Elaine started this and Reno’s Fish and Chips. Now their daughter, Cathy, and her husband Ken run them. If you like Italian food, Pignotti’s is a must at the Fair. Their ravioli are wonderful. I’ve had the lasagna, and now they have the ever popular meatball sliders. DiAnne and I had the tortellini dinner, it was delicious.

The only thing I wish they would do, in addition, is open a restaurant so I could enjoy their food year-round.

A side note – when I was in Encinitas, I would see Reno move his trailers into the property above my place during the off-season. I knew the fair season was done when Reno showed up in the fall.


Fair Food Favorites #10 - CB Cupcakes

I think THIS is my new favorite thing at the Fair! CB Cupcakes are an off-shoot (well, sort of ) of Hot Dog on a Stick. Connie Barham, who’s dad started Hot Dog on a Stick, and currently runs the business with her brother, has started CB Cupcakes.

CB Cupcakes has the cutest, most girly booth, it’s just darling! Connie has a variety of cupcakes, but the red velvet are to die for, oh my gosh! With all the deep fried wonders to tempt and try, I’ll go for the red velvet cupcake any day, definitely my new favorite Fair Food!


Hot Dog on a Stick Lessons 2010

Today was Hot Dog on a Stick lessons at the Holly’s Diner/San Diego County Fair. This year’s event was attended a record attendance! I was joined by DiAnne, JR, Tré and HH – it was HH’s first time for Hot Dog on a Stick lessons!

We got our Hot Dog’s, cheese sticks and various lemonades – well, most of us, DiAnne tried a cream cheese stick and HH had two Hot Dog’s. We discuss proper order of consumption, proper technique and desired condiment placement – not necessarily in that order.

Great fun was had by all, next year, join us, there will be lessons again!


Fair Food Favorites #9 - Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls

Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls. Eldon and Janice, Dane and Dara, and the other sisters do a wonderful job of making the best cinnamon rolls on the Fair circuit.

Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls always have the longest line first thing in the morning. When Daddy, Anna and I used to visit on Father’s Day, we would head to Country Fair Cinnamon Rolls first; have our cinnamon rolls and coffee and be ready to start our day.

Nowadays, I allow myself to have one during the 22 days of Fair – okay, maybe two but that’s it! I don’t need the cream cheese or nuts on top, I’m a purist when it comes to cinnamon rolls – but I do need a cup of coffee on the side.


Fair Food Favorites #8 - Charlie's Chicken

Charlie’s Chicken. How can you not smile when you see Charlie’s Chicken stand? The menu alone will make you smile – deep fried Oreos, deep fried avocados, deep fried White Castle burgers, Krispy Kreme chicken sandwich, broasted chicken, deep fried frog legs, and more!

Charlie spends time in the Fall with his family in the east part of San Diego County coming up with the next deep fried fascination. This year’s new item: Deep Fried Klondike Bar. Finding the balance between hot oil and ice cream that’s not in a puddle when served is tricky, but can be done!

As much as I am entertained by Charlie’s menu, I enjoy the chicken kabobs the most. Fresh grilled chicken with veggies and definitely an entire meal on a stick!