The Quest - Part VI

This month The Quest for Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume One, by the way) led me to yard sales, thrift stores, book sales and a special cookbook store.

Although I bought over 50 cookbooks this month for the San Diego County Fair project I’m working on, none of them were MTAOFC. I found books by James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Graham Kerr, and Jeff Smith (anyone remember the Frugal Gourmet and his sudden drop off the face of the earth?) I found compellations by Gourmet Magazine, Sunset Magazine and Southern Living Magazine.

There were books for 75% off on January 8 in honor of Elvis’ 75th birthday, and a 2 for 1 deal last week on just cookbooks – both at the Thrift Korral. I visited The Cookbook Store in Kensington for the first time ever (hard to believe!) with lots and lots and lots of cookbooks, but no MTAOFC.

I did speak to the owner of The Cookbook Store and learned that although she had a number of Julia Child cookbooks a year ago, the debut of Julie & Julia in theatres wiped the books off her shelves. I told her of the Quest, and she politely smiled and shook her head as if to say “good luck with that.”

We talked about “seasoned” cookbooks, she had an industry term for that but she knew what I meant. We talked about the joy of finding a seasoned cookbook with the previous cook’s notes in the margins. She told me I could find a copy on Ebay if I wanted, and I told her that the last time I looked they were going for as much as $300, far out of my price range.

So I continue, diligently looking, always hoping that someone is done with their MTAOFC, ready to pass it on and I will be able to “rescue” a seasoned copy at a used book price. If it takes me a couple of more years, and it just might, I will relish the day I can add MTAOFC to my cookbook collection - adding my own seasonings to its pages, as well.

The Quest continues…


Albondigas Again

It's "winter."

The Diner has a new enameled cast iron red stock pot.

HH has a cold.

What better excused to serve Albondigas at the Diner?

And it just looks so yummy simmering on the stove in this new pot!

If you haven't tried it yet, now's the time.


Chocolate and Vanilla, Vanilla and Chocolate

It seems to be a cupcake year, not a cake year in 2010.

Currently featured at the Diner, we have Grandma Chocolate Mayonnaise (cup)Cake(s) with vanilla frosting. It’s the family recipe I received in November at HH’s family reunion.

These cupcakes are really good and sooo moist! As I was trying to frost them, if I wasn’t careful, the cake would fall apart in my hands. And although HH doesn’t remember his Grandma making this cake, he is sure she would approve of the cupcake version.

Next - Vanilla Bean Cupcakes, a Paula Deen recipe, with dark chocolate frosting. If you follow any Paula Deen recipe as it’s written, you can’t go wrong. And that’s what I did with these cupcakes. I probably could have used a fresher vanilla bean, but it was fine for the first try. (I think my vanilla bean has been hanging around for about ten years.) And my fat substitute would have been healthier than a cup of oil, but I gotta go with the recipe as it’s written at least the first time.

The frosting was nothing to write home about in either case, but were fine in a pinch, especially with HH and others anxiously awaiting fresh baked treats from the kitchen!


Tasty Thai Shrimp ans Sesame Noodles

I served something in the Diner a few days ago that has been in my repertoire but off the rotation for a few years. The recipe is Tasty Thai Shrimp and Sesame Noodles, but chicken was on hand, therefore a Holly’s Diner original Tasty Thai Chicken and Sesame Noodles.

This recipe is really easy, really good and you could even substitute tofu for the protein if you liked. HH would never go for that!

The recipe came from the San Diego Union/Tribune a while ago, probably 10+. I can tell it’s been around awhile because the newspaper is yellow and there’s a coupon for Taster’s Choice on the back. I don’t remember the last time I saw a coupon for Taster’s Choice.

Anyway, here’s the recipe, with my modifications in (parenthesis). Who needs Pick Up Stix?!

Tasty Thai Shrimp and Sesame Noodles

1 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined (or chicken breast or tofu)
1 – 8 oz bottle Newman’s Own Light Italian Dressing (divided use) (any Italian will do)
2 tbsp chunky peanut butter
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp grated peeled ginger root (sometimes I used candied ginger because I always have that on hand)
1 – 8 oz package capellini or angel hair pasta
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded (washing and grating will do)
1 cup chopped green onions (about 3 -4, depending on what you like)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro for garnish (I always forget this, so…)

In medium bowl, mix shrimp with 1/3 cup Italian dressing. Cover and refrigerate one hour.
In small bowl, with wire whisk or fork, mix peanut butter, soy sauce, honey, ginger, red pepper and remaining dressing. Set aside.
After shrimp has marinated one hour, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
Meanwhile, in 4-quart saucepan over high heat, heat vegetable oil and sesame oil until very hot. In hot oil, cook carrot one minute.
Drain dressing from shrimp; discard dressing. Add shrimp and green onions to carrot. Cook stirring constantly, about 3 minutes or until shrimp turn opaque throughout.
In large bowl, toss hot pasta with dressing mixture and shrimp mixture. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.



Food, Food and more Food - but not much to eat

I am consumed by food lately, which is a good thing! The only bad part is that very little of it is happening in the kitchen!

I’m working feverishly on the food theme for the San Diego County Fair this summer. Things like:
Demonstration kitchen design
Competition kitchen elements
What’s in the kitchen to cook with
Who’s cooking in the kitchen
Contest rules
Candy Isle (the working title)
Food music research
Food scents
Food video games
Food movies – that are family friendly
Cooking DVD’s – The French Chef, look out!
Local specialty food purveyor
And on and on and on…

Last weekend I visited the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco with my good friend Joan. We had a great time, but were totally overwhelmed. We didn’t eat as much as we thought we would, which was fine. We saw “The Chef in Black” from Shark Tank, discovered a group called Savor California, and found two local gourmet food purveyors from San Diego County! More on those later.

What’s happening in the Diner? Nothing new! Lasagna, chili dogs, Ancho Chili Corn Chowder. Nothing you haven’t already heard about.

But I just wanted to touch base and let you know the Diner is still open, just not as inspired as December, but my food knowledge is increasing daily!

What fun to HAVE to do research on something I want to spend all my time on anyway!


Pie Crust

I have never in my life attempted pie crust, until yesterday.

I have always thought it was one of the hardest things to get right and the possibility for failure was so great. Then Melissa d’Arabian came along.

Last summer I watched Melissa on The Next Food Network Star, watching her surprise the other contestants by preparing a savory pie during, and pleasing the judges with the pie’s taste and texture. Then on her first show in August, she made a Potato-Bacon Torte with this pie crust. It looked easy enough that even I could do it. I printed the recipe, looked at it for months, and then yesterday…

I successfully made pie crust! This savory Potato-Bacon Torte (with green onions and 150% more bacon) was beautiful, flaky, tender, delicious. On my first try! Amazing! I am Queen of the Diner!

When I served it last night, HH saw how excited I was about this. As we took a seat at the Diner, he waited with great anticipation to watch me take my first bit, making laugh from the intensity. Then he tried the torte, didn’t say anything, got up and headed down the hall to do something very naughty. I won’t tell you what, but I will say I heard the toilet seat lift!

With his next bite he said it was delicious!

Now, I have to say the entire process to an hour and a half to prep, then 50 – 60 minutes to bake. So it’s not a quick dish, not something I’m going to serve every day at the Diner, but now I KNOW I CAN!

Here’s the pie crust recipe in case you want to give it a go:

Pie Crust

by Melissa d’Arabian of the Food Network

1 cup butter (2 sticks), cubed and chilled
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
8 – 10 tbsp ice water

Put the butter, flour, and salt in the food processor, and pulse lightly just until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the water, 1 tbsp at a time, pulsing briefly after each spoonful of water. Keep adding water until the dough just begins to gather into larger clumps. Transfer equal amounts of dough into 2 resealable plastic bags and pat each into a disk. Let rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Remove 1 of the disks from the bag to a flour coated surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 10-inch round. Gently fit the rolled dough into a 9-inch pan, and refrigerate while you prepare the torte ingredients.

Yield: 2 – 9” pie crusts



It’s a wonderful thing when HH walks into the kitchen of the Diner and says, “Oh, Honey!” He is excited about the final plating, and what is being served for dinner.

After hearing all the pounding (of the chicken) and banging (of the grill pan on the stove top trying to create pan gravy with those ridges in the bottom of the pan), I know he was a little concerned last night. But when he sees the final product, he didn’t even say anything about the garlic bread that the kitchen “timer” (aka smoke alarm) almost went off for.

What is becoming the “House Special Chicken” was a hit, and the appreciation is what I cook for!

House Special Chicken at Holly’s Diner
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (let someone else to that part of the work, i.e., buy them that way!)
4 slices of finely sliced deli ham
4 slices of your favorite white cheese (mozzarella was on-hand last night)
Poultry seasoning
Olive oil

Take the chicken breasts and pound the heck out of them! The idea is to get to ¼” thick, but I don’t think I EVER get to that point even with all my pounding. Pat dry.
Sprinkle with poultry seasoning on top (best looking side), then turn over and repeat. Now with the not-so-good-looking side up, lay two slices of ham and 2 slices of cheese per chicken breast. Roll chicken breast and secure with a wooden toothpick – it’s important not to forget about this toothpick later!
Take your pan, in this case my new cast iron enamel coated red grill pan, and lightly coat with olive oil and heat. When heated, place chicken breasts in pan and brown a few minutes, turn over chicken breasts and repeat.
Pre-heat oven to 350º, place oven-safe pan with chicken breasts inside oven and cook for ≈40 minutes.
Remove pan from oven, remove chicken breasts from pan to rest. With what’s in the pan, you can make pan gravy if you like. I use a little chicken broth, flour and milk.
Cut chicken breasts in pieces at an angel, remembering to remove toothpicks before serving. Dribble pan gravy over the top, if you like.



Three Recipes, One Successful Day

The New Year started off with a bit of a challenge, the oven wasn’t working properly. What I intended to be a weekend of cooking, ended up being a day. But unlike Three Recipes, One Long Weekend, these three recipes in one day went well!

With all the Christmas cookies gone, I decided the Diner needed to be whined off sweets by making cupcakes! It actually does make sense, especially with a resident Cookie Monster (HH); I thought we needed a way to slowly back off the sweets. So I made Red Velvet cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese frosting and Egg Nog cupcakes with Egg Nog icing.
We sampled them at the Diner, enjoyed them this weekend, and starting this afternoon anyone remotely close to the Diner is getting cupcakes! The fewer we have sitting around, the better for my apron strings.

The third recipe in this trilogy was the dinner special – Orecchiette with Bolognese and Italian Sausage. Okay, so that’s the fancy way of saying pasta with meaty red sauce (Art’s Special Sauce) and some bite-size chunks of Italian Sausage. It just sounds so much better as “Orecchiette with Bolognese and Italian Sausage.” When HH asked what the special was and I rolled off “Orecchiette with Bolognese and Italian Sausage,” he looked a bit concerned. Then when I served it he said, “Oh, spaghetti with, what are these chunks?” Now doesn’t “Orecchiette with Bolognese and Italian Sausage” sound so much better?

Orecchiette for two; mine with extra cheese and using-the-smoke-alarm-as-the-timer for the garlic bread on the left, HH's with extra Italian sausage and lightly toasted garlic bread on the right.

It was a successful day.

Oh and how did I get the oven working again? Because you can’t bake cupcakes with the oven working at 500º+! Holly’s Diner has a resident appliance repair man, HH! He was a Magic Chef Repair man in another life. Boy does he wear a lot of hats at the Diner – Cookie Monster, Head Cupcake Taster, Pasta-naming Simplifier, and All-Around Handyman (including appliance repair man.) What would I do without him?!

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope your cooking adventures are all “a success” in 2010!