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!