Baking Tradition

One of my favorite things around the holidays is tradition. And one of the most delightful that has lasted is baking with the boys. As I have said before, this started when these two were 3 and 1 ½. Their mother, Laurie and I, thought it would be fun to have a baking day, so cut-out gingerbread cookies with decorative icing was our plan.

As I remember, it took us five or six hours to roll, bake and decorate with all the enthusiastic little helping hands we had. As the boys got bigger, became better helpers and we were all around more efficient, we baked as many as four or five recipes in our five to six hours.

This year the boys are 16 and 14 ½, and due to scheduling challenges we opted for just cut-out gingerbread cookies with decorative icing and those fabulous chocolate ginger with chocolate chip. The boys helped, the decorating is more creative and avante garde, and we did it all in just under three hours! Wow! What a different 13 years makes!


Tasty Thai at the Diner

This one bears repeating…
The first time I posted about Tasty Thai Chicken (or shrimp or tofu) was almost two years ago; probably the last time the Diner served it. I’m not sure why there is so much time in between its featured time on the menu, but that’s how it is.

This time it was served with some of those fabulous mandarin orange slices (so much easier when the cook peels and veins them – the mandarins, that is.) Look close; you can even see the steam rising from the dinner-in-a-bowl in this photo!

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.


Mountain Mandarins

It just won’t be the holidays without some fresh, sweet mandarins. For a few years, this meant spending time in Auburn helping at the Mountain Mandarin Festival and packing as many mandarins as I could carry in my suitcase for the trip home.

Now a-days, it means a wonderful surprise special delivery from Nor Cal friends. This year’s special delivery was even better – it was in person!


Man Food - Simple Homemade Goodness

The other night required some special Man Food at the Diner. The Chargers had a night game, their previous month’s results had been dastardly dreadful and HH needed a pick-up. So I dug through the recipe book and came up with some simple homemade goodness, Holly’s Diner-style of course.

When HH called to say he was on the way to the Diner, he wanted to know what was being served for such an important night. Man Food and freshly baked bread, I responded.

What he didn’t know was that I had found the before-Holly recipe that he had of “One Pot Creamy Chicken and Noodles” that was about 12 years old, well seasoned and I’m sure he used to make for himself when dinner was up to him.

When he arrived at the Diner on this particular evening, he saw that the Man Food was in progress but looked nothing like any Man Food he was apparently imagining, especially when he saw a mound of grated cheddar cheese sitting, waiting. He really questioned what I was calling Man Food, and when I whipped out this recipe that called for canned chicken and bouillon cubes, it all came back to him. It would be a good night for a man. What was different was that the bouillon cubes were replaced with organic chicken broth, and the canned chicken was replaced with smoked turkey (another opportunity for leftover Thanksgiving turkey.)

HH was still a bit skeptical about the freshly baked bread I was “selling,” but after biting into the warm, buttery Pillsbury loaf(especially after my recent bread attempt), all was good with the world.  And look, it's a dinner in a bowl as well!  Cool!

The Chargers won this night, by the way.

So the moral of the story, sometimes simple homemade goodness in a Holly’s Diner-style way is all it takes to set the karma right in the world – and assure a Chargers win.

One Pot Creamy Chicken and Noodles – Holly’s Diner-style

3 cups chicken broth (organic if you have it)
8 oz egg noodles
1 cup mixed veggies (peas & carrots worked good, I used frozen)
½ cup chopped onions
1 – 10.5 oz can cream of chicken (or mushroom, if you prefer)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup milk
2 – 5 oz cans chuck chicken, flaked (or what smoked turkey you have stored in a sandwich sized ziplock bag)
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

In medium saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Stir in uncooked noodles. Cover, simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add vegetables and onion. Cover, simmer for five minutes, or until noodles are tender and most liquid is absorbed. Add soup, cheese and milk, mix well. Stir in chicken and pepper. Heat through, serve.


Twelve Days of Brownies & Breads - On the Twelfth Day...

Looks pretty good
Vanilla Bean Brioche with Vanilla-Honey Butter – now here’s a decadent treat. I’ve never made Brioche, but if I can make Popover Rolls I’m ready to try Brioche.

Once again, it’s a Paula Deen so it has to be good.

And as the process progressed, the dough never looked exactly like I thought it should – but what do I know, I’ve never made Brioche. The baking smelled delicious with all that vanilla (by the way, I used vanilla paste instead of vanilla bean). And there was so much butter in it that by the time I got to the “tent and rotate” part, I was sure I needed to drain some of the butter the loaf was swimming in but I refrained.

You can see it didn't rise in the pan
The loaf came out REALLY NOT looking like the photo, but it still smelled good. It was flaky on the outside from all the butter, and plenty dense! The flavor was good, and even better with a dab of vanilla honey butter. HH was a bit skeptical, and doesn’t like all the hard crust around the edges, but with a bit of butter he smiled and sampled. Although I think I’ll be finishing off the loaf myself.

The final verdict – good tasting, substantial bread, but too bad the active yeast didn’t seem to activate. Next time perhaps I need HYPER-active yeast!

Vanilla Bean Brioche with Vanilla-Honey Butter
(Featured in Cooking with Paula Deen, May/June 2011)

3 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and divided
½ cup milk
1 (1/4 oz) package active dry yeast
3 eggs, divided
3 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flower, divided
2 tbsp sugar
½ tsp sea salt
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, softened and divided
1 tbsp milk or water
2 tbsp honey

Scrape seeds from 2 vanilla beans into milk, heat to 110º. Add yeast; let stand 5 minutes or until foamy. Lightly beat 2 eggs; stir into milk mixture.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, stir together 3 ½ cups flour, sugar, and salt. Using the dough hook attachment, gradually add yeast mixture, beating at medium speed until dough is smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes.)

Cut 1 cup butter into small pieces; gradually add to dough, 1 tbsp at a time, beating until combined after each addition (dough will be quite sticky). If needed, gradually add just enough remaining flour to make smooth, sticky dough.

Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning to grease top; cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 12 hours.

Divide dough into 6 equal portions, and form each into a 4 ½” cylinder. Arrange dough pieces crosswise in a 9” x 5” load pan; cover and let rise 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375º. Whisk together remaining egg and 1 tbsp milk or water. Lightly brush over dough.

Bake bread for 25 minutes. Tent bread loosely with aluminum foil, and rotate in oven. Bake for an additional 35 – 40 minutes or until golden brown and firm. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool completely on a wire rack.

In a medium bowl, combine honey and remaining ½ cup butter. Scrape seeds from remaining vanilla bean into butter mixture. Beat at medium speed with a mixer until well combined and fluffy. Serve with brioche.



Twelve Days of Brownies & Breads - On the Eleventh Day

I struggled for a final brownie recipe, because goodness knows one can only eat so many brownies! Then it came to me, it was right under my nose all the time, how could I have forgotten it?! Oatmeal Brownie Gems.

Oh, and these are my favorite brownies – a girl can have two favorites, can’t she!?

Oatmeal Brownie Gems are a tradition at the annual cookie baking day with my friends. Laurie found this recipe and we have never looked back! (Thankfully, because if you eat too many of these you really don’t want to look back!) We have been baking them for over ten years, oh my, has it really been that long?

Anyway, these are delicious and chocolaty and gooey, especially when they are warm. But be warned, they do crumble pretty quickly so eat them fast, share them and enjoy!

Oatmeal Brownie Gems

2 ½ cups oatmeal, uncooked
1 cup flour
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup butter, melted
1 12 oz package M&M mini baking bits (or regular size chopped up)
1 19-21 oz package fudge brownie mix (batter prepared as directed on box)

Preheat oven to 350ºF. In large bowl combine oats, flour, sugar, nuts and baking soda; add butter until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Toss in M&M bits until evenly distributed. Reserve 3 cups of this mixture. Pat remaining mixture onto bottom of 15” x 10” x 1” pan to form crust. Pour prepared brownie mix over crust, carefully spreading into thin layer. Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture over top of brownie mixture. Pat down lightly. Bake 25 – 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs. Cool completely. Cut into 48 bars (that never happens!!) Store in tightly covered container.



Twelve Days of Brownies & Breads - On the Tenth Day...

My DiAnne shared this recipe, too. The recipe is for Banana Blueberry Muffins, but I modified it for bread. Please do as you wish, either would be delicious and so good for you.

DiAnne’s Banana Blueberry Muffins

2 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup butter – melted
½ cup frozen blueberries, thawed
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ cups flour
2 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt

Mash bananas. Combine bananas, eggs, sugar and butter until well blended. Stir in blueberries and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add liquid mixture. Mix until blended. Pour into bread pan.

Bake at 350º for 25 – 30 minutes.



Twelve Days of Brownies & Breads - On the Ninth Day...

THESE are my favorite brownies, for a number of reasons.

I found these Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies in Saveur – The New Comfort Food cookbook. There are many wonderful things in this cookbook, but this is the first recipe I tried.

These brownies are more like a flat chocolate cake or torte, so dense and chocolately and decadent! You must try them!

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies
(From Saveur - The New Comfort Food cookbook)

A version of this recipe accompanied an interview with the actress Katharine Hepburn in the August 1975 issue of The Ladies' Home Journal. This brownie recipe, which calls for the smallest amount of flour, produces incredibly chewy bars with a full but mellow chocolate flavor.

8 tbsp. unsalted butter,
plus more for greasing
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
1⁄4 cup flour
1⁄4 tsp. fine salt

1. Heat oven to 325°. Grease an 8" x 8" baking pan with butter. Line the pan with parchment paper; grease the paper. Set the pan aside.

2. Melt the butter and the chocolate together in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir to make a smooth batter. Add the walnuts, flour, and salt; stir until incorporated. Pour the batter into the baking pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40–45 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Cut and serve.




Twelve Days of Brownies & Breads - On the Eighth Day...

So I got the original recipe for Popover Rolls from The Food Network Magazine and Alton Brown. Although HH coined them “Popover Pockets” after a few other unflattering names were nixed. Then I found one from Melissa D’Arabian and found the Popovers had more substance – you be the judge.

Either is a great vehicle for a dab of butter or dollop of peach jam.

Basic Popover
Recipe Courtesy Alton Brown, Food Network
Serves:6 large popovers

• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus 1 teaspoon room temperature for pan
• 4 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 1 cup
• 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 2 large eggs, room temperature
• 1 cup whole milk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Grease a 6-cup popover pan with the 1 teaspoon of butter.
Place all of the ingredients into a food processor or blender and process for 30 seconds. Divide the batter evenly between the cups of the popover pan, each should be about 1/3 to 1/2 full. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes. Remove the popovers to a cooling rack and pierce each in the top with a knife to allow steam to escape. Serve warm.

Foolproof Popovers
Recipe courtesy Melissa d'Arabian, Food Network
Serves:8 popovers

• 3 tablespoons melted butter, divided
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup milk, warmed for 30 seconds in the microwave (should be lukewarm to warm)
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Special equipment: muffin tin
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Using a pastry brush, coat 8 muffin cups with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter and put the tin in the oven for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the eggs in a blender until light yellow. Add the warmed milk and blend. Add the flour, salt and remaining melted butter, and blend until smooth. Pour the batter into the warmed muffin tin and return it to the oven to bake until golden, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm.



Twelve Days of Brownies & Breads - On the Seventh Day...

My DiAnne (that’s her name around the Diner) shared this recipe with me. She told me it is the most sought after brownie at the dog agility trials in Southern California! That’s my exaggeration, not hers.

Anyway, the brownies were good, but maybe the running around makes them better to her and her group of friends – my favorite is still to come…

Pecan Pie Brownies

Pecan Topping:
1/2 cup butter or margarine
¼ cup Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 cups coarsely chopped pecans
1box Betty Crocker® Original Supreme brownie mix (with chocolate syrup pouch)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water
2 eggs

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease bottom only of 13x9-inch pan with cooking spray or shortening.

In 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Stir in flour until smooth. Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and 2 eggs until well blended. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture just begins to boil. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and pecans.

In medium bowl, stir brownie mix, pouch of chocolate syrup, oil, water and 2 eggs until well blended. Spread in pan. Spoon pecan topping evenly over batter.

Bake 35 to 38 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely, about 1 hour. For 36 brownies, cut into 6 rows by 6 rows. If desired, garnish each brownie with a pecan half.



Twelve Days of Brownies & Breads - On the Sixth Day...

Well, instead of the traditional gingerbread cookies, how about some gingerbread bread, or loaves? Miss Audrey Rose helped me with these and SS and I thought they were great. We did make only half the recipe, 12 loaves is a LOT of bread even if they are minis!

These loaves are gingery, taste like a fall harvest and are ever so dense.

Gingerbread Mini Loaves
From Paula Deen’s Holiday Baking 2011 – Special Issue

Makes one dozen mini loaves

10 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp ground ginger
4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups molasses
2 cups water
2 cups butter
1 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350º. In a large bowl, stir together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, salt, allspice, and baking soda. In a small saucepan, combine molasses and 2 cups water; cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until well combined.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty sand mixer, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until creamy; add eggs, one at a time, beating until well combined. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with molasses mixture, beating just until combined. Add crystallized ginger. Divide batter among 12 (3” x 5”) loaf pans. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with a few crumbs attached. Cool completely on wire racks.



Twelve Days of Brownies & Breads - On the Fifth Day...

Blondies - how appropriate for Holly’s Diner, and these have chocolate chips. HH wasn’t so sure about these at first, “blonde brownies?” How’s that supposed to work? When I “sold” them as chocolate chip cookies in a bar, he was all about the Blondies.

These are a Paula Deen recipe, too. I under cooked mine a little too much, but they were still delicious!

Paula Deen's Blonde Brownies
Adapted from The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook


2 eggs
¾ cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups self rising flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp. vanilla
12 oz. semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat eggs and butter together and add sugar. Gradually add flour and mix well. Stir in vanilla. Fold in nuts, coconut, and chocolate chips. Bake in greased and floured 9x13 pan for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool, cut and serve.



Twelve Days of Breads & Brownies - On the Fourth Day...

It’s banana bread time, but let’s do something special for the holidays – Chocolate Banana Bread, mmmm! And it’s a Paula Deen recipe, so you know it’s going to be delicious.

This was good stuff, and HH was sorry there wasn’t more – I was sharing the bread with others so the Diner didn’t end up with all of it, and my exercising didn’t have to be endless!!

Chocolate Banana Bread
(Featured in Cooking with Paula Deen, September/October 2010)

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
¾ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
¼ cup butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups ripe mashed banana (about 4 bananas)
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate.

Preheat oven to 350º. Spray a 9” x 5” baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking soda and salt. In another large bowl, combine butter, eggs, bananas, yogurt and vanilla, whisking until smooth.

Fold flour mixture into butter mixture until well incorporated. Stir in chocolate. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.



Twelve Days of Brownies & Breads - On the Third Day...

I discovered these Outrageous Brownies from The Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. How could I resist an outrageous brownie?

As good as these brownies were, I have to confess, and I don’t know that I would make them again anytime soon – once was enough, just look at what is in them!

1999, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook This was adapted from a recipe for chocolate globs in the Soho Charcuterie Cookbook.

• 1 pound unsalted butter
• 1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
• 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
• 6 extra-large eggs
• 3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
• 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
• 2 1/4 cups sugar
• 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 3 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and flour a 12 x 18 x 1-inch baking sheet.

Melt together the butter, 1 pound of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour into the baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into 20 large squares



Twelve Days of Brownies & Breads - On the Second Day...

I know Zucchini bread is normally a summer thing, with the fresh zucchini picked off the vine. But really, zucchini bread is good any time and this recipe from HH’s Mom’s neighbor is a Diner favorite.
Zucchini Bread – Holly’s Diner Style

Mix together –
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (sea salt)
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix together –
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup Olive Oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon zest, if you have it

2 cups shredded zucchini (heaping)
1 cup chopped walnuts

Add flour mixture to egg mixture. Beat until blended. Add zucchini and walnuts. Pour into two loaf pans.
Bake at 325º for 55-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.

Cool for ten minutes before removing from pans.



Twelve Days of Brownies & Breads - On the First Day...

It’s that time of year - time for baking and indulgence and deliciousness.

This year I decided to do a combination of sweet and savory, so it’s brownies and breads. The brownies are all sweet (obviously), and the breads are sweet and savory. Get ready for the ride, here we go!

I was in the mood for something a little spicy and found these Mexican Brownies. The recipe was easy, the brownies were yummy (yes, were!) But remember, brownies are always better a little under done, at least I think so.

Recipe courtesy Aaron Sanchez for Food Network Magazine

• 2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
• 2 cups sugar
• 4 large eggs
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2/3 cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon ground Mexican cinnamon (canela)
• 1/4 teaspoon pequen chili powder or cayenne pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides. Press the paper into the corners of the pan and lightly grease the paper with butter.
Melt the 2 sticks of butter in a nonstick saucepan over medium-low heat; do not boil. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla to the saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
Add the cocoa, flour, cinnamon, chili powder, salt and baking powder and mix until smooth. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out fudgy, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack, then use the parchment paper to lift out the brownies before slicing.