HH and I recently celebrated our 10th anniversary, very exciting!  We wanted to go to dinner somewhere local, some place new, some place that we had heard good things about and some place with air conditioning (it was a hot day.)

We found all of this in a local place with some national attention call The Trails Eatery.  The Trails had been featured on Restaurant:  Impossible on The Food Network, and we saw the owner this past summer on The Food Network’s Next Food Network Star.

The Trails is close, has air conditioning, serves breakfast and lunch daily, and dinner four nights a week.  The menu is a combination of comfort food with some healthy options also.

On our visit, HH and I opted for comfort food – he had fried chicken and waffles (with a side of PB for the waffles) and I had mac and cheese with chicken (I just got the chicken because I thought it too decadent to JUST have mac and cheese for dinner.)  The mac and cheese was delicious with a four cheese blend, herbs and panko breading.  HH was a bit skeptical about the concept of fried chicken and waffles but I told him it was very Southern.

I should have done without the chicken, but mind was still very good.  HH enjoyed his also.

Then dessert, it was our anniversary so dessert was a must!  We had the special which was a flourless chocolate torte with vanilla bean ice cream and caramel sauce AND the house special…Maple Bacon Cheesecake.  They were delicious.

But truth be told, it was too much richness I think.  By the time we got done I felt like there was too much bacon (in and on) the cheesecake, which I didn’t think was possible – too much bacon.

We’ll be back to The Trails Eatery I think for breakfast next time.

By the way, today marks the fifth anniversary of Holly’s Diner.  It’s very exciting that I have had enough to say about food for the Diner to be open for five years.  Thanks for being part of my journey.




Did I tell you about the meatloaf I fixed at the Diner a few months ago?  I don’t think so, so here’s how this little story goes.


My Mom made meatloaf occasionally when I was growing up, it was not my favorite meal I preferred hot dogs.  In the last 15 years or so I have decided that maybe I like meatloaf, I have had it a few times at restaurants and it was pretty good.  So I started looking for a recipe.


I have found a few recipes, put them in my “to cook” stack, but never made one.  So this past winter I ran across a recipe for meatloaf that called for it to be covered with bacon.  That seemed like the recipe to try.


I made the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and some green beans and served it at the Diner.  HH and I ate it, but it was not memorable.  Maybe I’m not ready for meatloaf.  I didn’t even save the recipe to share with you, which should say a lot.


Chicken, Staying with the Tried and True

A few months ago I tried a few new chicken recipes trying to find “the one.”  There was one that was a baked “fried” chicken with the chicken breast coated in crushed up corn flakes to fool HH into thinking it was actual fried chicken.


It was okay, but not “the one.”  The mashed sweet potatoes and harvest salad were delicious, though.


Next was an Alton Brown recipe, Paprika Chicken.  I thought it was pretty good, but no HH’s favorite – also not “the one.”  But the potatoes were pretty good.


So, at the Diner, I’m still sticking with the tried and true Chicken Fried Chicken.  HH likes it even more now that I’m including boneless skinless chicken thighs along with the chicken breasts for me.


Diner Update

Holly’s Diner has been undergoing some major updates in the past month.  This is how the long galley kitchen looked previously:


It was bright and white with original cabinets that had been painted a wonderful light green (I love these cabinets).  The natural light from the windows always helped to make things fresh and welcoming.  In the past few years, the white tile counter tops and backsplash have been, well, wearing out their welcome.  Although the tile stayed light and clean, the grout just could not be cleaned no matter what I tried.  And more recently I have noticed that the corners of some of the tiles are chipping.


I came to the conclusion a while back that the previous owner had probably done the tile job themselves, and it was probably a first-of-its-kind project for them.  I think the grout was the wrong kind of grout, or it had not been sealed properly, and the grout on the window side of the kitchen was different than the grout on the stove side of the kitchen.


HH and I had been talking about a facelift for the countertops, but choosing a material and color just seemed overwhelming.  Then, suddenly, this summer the project bug bit us!  After some research, asking friends and getting quotes we settled on this:




The first question I asked all the reps was “Can I use spray bleach on the surface to clean up raw chicken juice when preparing an…order?”  The solid surface materials suited my needs, and Corian won out.  Abalone counters with integrated Cameo White 50/50 double sinks was the winner!  I would have loved the farmhouse sink, but HH and I do dishes in the sink so we need two basins one each for washing and rinsing.  The color was light enough to keep the kitchen light and bright, yet a bit warmer than the white tile so it is a better compliment to the hardwood floors we put in a few years ago.


Next came the backsplash decision; this was a challenge.  I wanted white to keep the light, bright kitchen and I didn’t want something too contemporary as I was afraid it would be out of place in our 1949 kitchen.  After visiting a number of places, looking a design ideas online (that didn’t help!), getting someone else’s POV and finally buying on six (6) different color/pattern/size choices to compare, we settled on a glass and stone mosaic that compliments the kitchen very well (good job, HH and Anna, showing me “the light.”)


So the kitchen is transformed, the dishes are ALWAYS done (no stinkin’ dirty dishes on the counter these days), a few less things on the counters (no clutter, either), and Julia’s MTAOFC in its place to the left of the stove.


It’s so exciting, so beautiful, so wonderful to have new countertops, backsplash, hood over the oven (stainless replaced the white one), faucet and garage disposal!!


Stop by the Diner any time.


Cookbook Find - Fire in My Belly

Fire in My Belly by Chef Kevin Gillespie was an accidental find last fall.  Here’s the


I was with SS at the Alabama Booksmith (my favorite independent book store)when I spotted a promo for the following week, Chef Kevin Gillespie was going to be at Alabama Booksmith signing and cooking from his new book.  I was a week too early but asked Jake the owner about the event anyway.  SS asked who this guy was and I told her he was on Top Chef a few seasons back.


What I remembered specifically about Chef Gillespie (as I watched a day’s worth of Top Chef leading up to that season’s finale one Saturday afternoon a few years ago) was that he did a lot of cooking with bacon, that he was from the South and that everything he prepared seemed very approachable.  He cooked real food that real home cooks could cook, and that families would eat – not frooffy stuff like some of the other contestants cooked.  Chef Gillespie was a finalist that year, and although he didn’t win he certainly made a big impression on me.


I worked it out, and as a birthday present last year I arranged for a signed copy of Fire in My Belly to be sent to me, very exciting!


I started perusing the cookbook, reading it cover to cover, enjoying the stories and marking the recipes that sounded good.  What I found that this is mostly a book about cooking meat, chunks of meat, which is not something I do really well.  But I had high hopes that I would be successful under this Chef’s direction.  And success was what I found!


I successfully and deliciously prepared:




Flank Steak




Coca Cola Pot Roast

Pan Roasted Pork Chops (HH’s new favorite), recipe below.




Cincinnati Chili (although I had been using another recipe and enjoying this for a bit)




Sunday Chicken Sandwich (a take on the South’s favorite Chick-fil-a’s chicken sandwich not available on Sunday’s, this one is my favorite)

And I’m about to try to homegrown tomato roasting recipe for flavorful tomato sauce to use in the fall.

If you are looking for a new cookbook that it down-to-earth, easy-to-use, fun to read with stories of family and the South, I recommend Fire in My Belly.  It sits on the counter at the Diner right next to Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.


Here’s the recipe for the Pan Roasted Pork Chops to give you a “taste” of what it’s like.



Pan-Roasted Pork Chops with Apples and Redeye Gravy

From Fire in My Belly by Kevin Gillespie

DIFFICULTY: 3 of 5 (5 being hardest)

Pork chops are not easy to cook. The loin, where the pork chop comes from, is the single most difficult part of the animal to cook properly. It has the least flavor and the least fat and is the most likely to dry out.

To get something delicious, your seasoning has to be aggressive and your technique flawless. I built the flavors here from two iconic foods that work consistently well with pork—apples and redeye gravy. The apples play up the sweetness of the pork and the gravy emphasizes the earthy diet of pigs, which root around eating nuts and seeds. If you’re not familiar with redeye gravy, it’s a thin sauce made in the South by cooks who used what they had available to them. After cooking ham, they would deglaze the pan with brewed coffee. When you put the gravy in a white bowl, the coffee sinks to the bottom and the pork drippings rest on top. Viewed from above, it resembles the iris and pupil of a human eye.

Redeye gravy doesn’t have much fat, so it’s important that the pork chops stay nice and juicy. You want the heat high enough to brown the meat but not so blazingly hot that the chops dry out. Medium-high heat is about right.

It’s also important to let the pork rest after cooking so the juices can redistribute throughout the meat. That way, every bite tastes juicier.

Feeds 4 hungry folks

Fuji apples – 3 crisp
Apple cider vinegar – 1 tablespoon
Honey – 1/4 cup
Turnips – 4 golf ball–size baby purple-top turnips or 1 baseball-size
Grapeseed oil – 2 teaspoons
Butter – 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon
Country ham, preferably Benton’s
about 1/3 cup cut into ¼ inch dice, 2 ounces
Pork loin chops – 4 thick chops, each about 8 ounces and 1 inches thick
Ground black pepper
Strong brewed coffee – 1 1/2 cups
Chicken stock – 1 ½ cups
Lemon juice – ½ teaspoon

1. Peel and core the apples. Using a mandolin, slice one of the apples into very thin rounds and put the rounds in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and seal with plastic wrap, then microwave on 100 percent power until the apple is very soft and the kitchen smells of pure apple, about 5 minutes. Carefully remove the bowl from the microwave and let the plastic wrap shrink around the dish, creating a vacuum. Just let it sit there as the juices soak back into the apple. Cut the other 2 apples into ½-inch wedges and, in a small bowl, toss with the vinegar.

2. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat, parchment paper, or nonstick aluminum foil and set aside.

3. Add the honey to a 10-inch ovenproof sauté pan and cook over high  heat, shaking and agitating the pan nonstop. When the honey starts to boil, the bubbles will be very large, and as it continues to caramelize, the bubbles will get smaller and smaller. It will only take about 2 minutes for the honey to caramelize. When the bubbles are small and the honey is caramelized, pour in the apple wedges and vinegar. Toss in a pinch of salt and return to a boil. Cook just until the edges of the apples start to soften, another 3 minutes. The apples will continue to cook and soften during the cooling process, so don’t worry if the centers are still pretty firm. Using a heatproof silicone spatula, scrape the apples and honey into a small mound at one end of the lined baking sheet. The apples will release a little liquid and form a small puddle of juice as they cool. The juice will be added to the sauce later.

4. Preheat the oven to 475°F.

5. Peel and quarter the turnips if they’re small. If you’re using one large turnip, peel it, cut it in half across the equator, and then cut each half into 8 wedges. This way, the pieces will be the right size and the cooking time will be perfect

6. Add the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter to the sauté pan and, over medium heat, swirl the pan until the foam subsides, about 30 seconds. Add the ham and sauté until it’s golden brown, about 2 minutes, shaking the pan so the butter doesn’t burn. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ham to a small mound on the other end of the baking sheet from the caramelized apple wedges. Reserve the ham drippings in the sauté pan.

7. Pat the pork chops dry and season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Heat the saute pan with the ham drippings over high heat and add the pork. Cook for 30 seconds. Spread the turnips in a single layer over and around the pork and transfer the pan to the oven. Cook for 5 minutes, then carefully remove the pan from the oven. Flip the chops over and redistribute the turnips in a single layer over and around the pork. Return the pan to the oven and cook until the pork chops reach an internal temperature of 140°F, another 5 to 6 minutes. The turnips should be fork-tender. Transfer the chops and turnips from the pan to a plate and tent with foil to keep them warm. Remember that the pan handle is still hot, so use a towel or potholder to pick up the pan and pour out the fat. Return the pan to high heat, add the coffee and chicken stock, and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping all the browned bits into the sauce.

8. Carefully pour the sauce into a blender and set the pan aside. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the microwaved apples into the blender, reserving the juice. Add the cooked diced ham to the blender and blend until smooth, stopping and scraping the sides of the pitcher to incorporate everything into the sauce. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids. Return the sauce to the saute pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cut down the heat so the sauce is at an aggressive simmer and cook, stirring now and then, until the sauce is thick and reduced to about 2/3 cup, 15 minutes or so. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice and the reserved juice from the apple wedges. Swirl in the remaining 1 teaspoon of butter.

9. Pop the apple wedges into a microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave just to re-warm them, about 30 seconds.

10. Slice each pork chop in half on the diagonal, lay one piece flat in the center of each plate, and prop the other piece cut side up along the cut side of the flat piece. Spoon the turnips over the pork and drizzle about 2 tablespoons of the sauce on and around the pork. Garnish with the apple wedges.


Summer Delights - Napa

Summertime and food…. Yumm!


Second stop on the summer food train – Napa.  The first stop was a return visit to Sift the bakery which won on Cupcake Wars on the Food Network a few years ago.  The selected flavors of the day – Vanilla (may sound a bit plain Jane, but it was delicious, very moist), and Pink Champagne.  I had the Pink Champagne last year, and it was calling my name again this year.


Next, I wanted to visit the Soscal Café.  I had heard about it during last year’s visit
and never made it so this year I was determined to do so.  The Soscal Café is a little, greasy spoon, hole-in-the-wall.  It had six or seven booths and about 12 spots at the counter that was it.  It was clean and neat yet warn in and comfortable, definitely a local spot.  I had the Huevos Rancheros and my friend had her favorite Breakfast Burrito.  The Huevos Rancheros were different than any I have had before with black beans and the tortilla underneath the mount of Mexican goodness was a crispy, fried flour tortilla.  The whole concoction was very yummy!


Note – When I told some of my Napa friends that that I visited the Soscal Café they were very surprised.  Basically, with all the great restaurants in Napa, why the Soscal Café, it’s such a greasy spoon?  That was the point!  And they all agreed it has great food with generous portions.


A quick shout out to Vallergas Market a very upscale, home-grown version of Whole Foods with gourmet fare, pre-prepared food stations, great looking produce and meat counter.  But for me the best part was the tea aisle.  I always stop at markets outside of my neighborhood to see if they have any type of ginger peach tea (my favorite).  Vallergas carries the brand Tea of the Republic (which can be found at Whole Foods or Cost Plus) but they carried the flavor, Tea of Inquiry which is a green tea with toasted brown rice.  I know it sounds kind of funny, but it is delicious and I have not been able to find it for about three or four years.  SS introduced me to green tea this way, and it is still my favorite green tea (plus it was a SS recommendation so I have fond memories.)


Then it was back to Taqueria Maria for a Huevos con Tocino breakfast burrito (eggs and bacon with beans, sour cream and salsa.)  So yummy, and a good compliment to the Chorizo burrito I had last year.  The guys who run this place are very friendly and accommodating, plus I was able to call my order in then walk over and it was ready to go.


Everything was delicious, I’m looking for more Napa adventures next year.