Mel’s Diner

Sharp Knives, Raw Meat and Fire


Tonight, I managed a two ‘fer.  I made a dish for both Presto Pasta Night and Sara’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge.  This is the one year anniversary of Presto Pasta Night (“Congratulations, Ruth!”) and this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge theme is All Things Nigella and I am all about Nigella.  So, this needed to be good, really good.

And it was.

Thumbing through How To Eat, I found a recipe for Butternut Squash and Pasta Soup.  Wow, what a good idea!  Beauty and brains, just like my wife.

Her recipe calls for a soup pasta, like ditalini – which makes sense, I mean, it’s a soup.  At the store while I was looking for ditalini, I came across a pasta I had never seen before.  It’s a tiny, cheese-filled ravioli called, not surprisingly, ravioletti.  I thought, “Hey, that’s gonna be great in this soup!”, so, I bought.



  • 1/2 Tbls. Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Small Onion, minced
  • 8 ounces of Butternut Squash, 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/4 cup of White Wine
  • 2 1/2 cups Vegetable Stock
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 2 ounces of Ravioletti
  • Salt

Put the oil in a biggish, heavy-bottomed pan on the stove and when hot add the onion. Cook for about ten minutes, stirring regularly, until soft, then add the cubes of butternut and turn well in the pan for 2 minutes. Pour in the wine, let it bubble up, then add the stock and the bay leaf. Bring to a simmering point, then leave to simmer away for about 10 minutes. Take out a ladleful, purée it, then put it back in the pan. Turn up the heat and add the ravioletti. Cook for about 15 minutes until the pasta is cooked, then taste for salt.  Ladle this thick, sweet stew of a soup into your bowl. 

The original recipe calls for grated Parmesan on the soup, but the cheese in the ravioletti is enough and it didn’t need the grated cheese.

I made my favorite Moosewood Veggie Stock for this and it was a good as always.  The final product was very good, a little sweeter than I expected, though that was balanced pretty well by the cheese in the pasta.  Maybe a touch of heavy cream wouldn’t be bad, either and hey, a little bit of fat is always good!



February 28, 2008 Posted by | Pasta, Presto Pasta Night, Soup, Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 2 Comments

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR. (1925-2008)

Still sick with what I’ve found out to be touch of pneumonia, I was set back on my heels this morning when I heard of the death of Mr. Buckley.  As many of you know, he is the Godfather of conservatism in America, starting a little weekly in 1955 called National Review – giving voice and life to a way of thinking that was to halt the seemingly inevitable movement towards Socialism in the U.S.  It’s not hyperbole to say without Buckley and National Review, the United States might be just another Socialist experiment gone wrong.

Although I never met the man, I do feel a connection to him.  Maybe 15 years ago, I wrote a letter to him asking why National Review and Ayn Rand couldn’t, to quote Rodney King, “just get along”?  Much to my surprise and delight, I received a personal letter back from Mr. Buckley explaining their differences.  I always felt that I was not the only person to receive such a gesture of respect from a living icon. 

A lover of good company and dinner parties, he and his wife Pat would often entertain friends three or four times a week.  I’m sure a lover of fine food, perhaps his most favorite thing to eat was the humble peanut butter.  UPDATE:  Brian Williams has a fun tribute to his fellow peanut butter lover.

God rest your soul, Mr. Buckley – and please say, “Hi” to my Grandfather for me, you’ll really like him.

February 27, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 2 Comments


The past few days, I’ve been sick with a fluish-cold.  Ironically, I have the immune system of a superhero – so I don’t often get sick, so this has been odd for me.  I attempted to make a Nigella recipe tonight, but got totally distracted by a phone call and all went to Hell.  I put things in at the wrong time, I forgot other stuff, and when all was done – it was as good as you think it is.  Hence, no recipe, no picture, no nothing.

What does that have to do with me being sick?  Nothing, but I’m searching for excuses for a total, amateur screw up.

Anyone?  Anyone?     

February 23, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 2 Comments


When my back was turned and I wasn’t feeling well, I got memed!  My friend Deborah, who understands what it’s like to be cool like me, tagged me with a meme, Seven Things About Me.  Never one to turn down a challenge, (unless work is involved, then I’m not your man.  I’m not even your woman, child or slow cousin!), so, here goes:

  • I learned to love cooking from my family.  My mom and her parents, mostly.  Did I mention it was my family?  Well, not wholly.  I worked in a resort in purchasing and the Executive Chef, Tim Cardillo, taught me about all kinds of foods I never ran into at home.
  • I’m allergic to shellfish, as I was reminded of this week when I made Molly’s scallop chowder.
  • I’m a right-wing, Christian Conservative, war-supporting, Bush-is-too-liberal, “cut our hair, pull up your pants and get a job” Republican.
  • Alton is really all I like on the Food Network now.
  • The only nuts I really like are peanuts – although almonds and hazelnuts are pretty good, too.
  • I love The Cure – suicide rock will always have a soft spot in my heart.
  • I was chased into the deep reaches of Death/Black Metal (yeah, Venom, Slayer and Metallica when they didn’t suck) in the late ’80’s by people like Bobbie McFerrin and Foreigner.   
  • Bonus fact, you tell me if it’s embarrassing:  My wife is the only girl I have ever dated seriously.

So, who should get this next?

  • Though she’s too popular and too pretty not to have gotten this before, I tag Mary The Breadchick
  • I also tag my good friend Mary, who has promised to start her blog, so I’ll add the link this weekend  Update:  She’s online!  Check her out at Cooking For Five!
  • How about someone who has made it?  It won’t work, but maybe Adam the Amateur Gourmet.
  • Because fools rush in where fools have gone before, I tag Michael Ruhlman.

February 20, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 1 Comment


Anybody older than the 30 remembers this Arnold Scwhartzenoggeriggerogger movie that introduced us to a very hot Sharon Stone when she kept her clothes on, legs together and died violently.  It also has to do with the largest meat recall in American history!  143 million (with a “M”) pounds of beef was recalled over a rogue, undercover video showing mis-treated cows, those which the FDA says are potentially very sick and should not be in the “food stream” (that sounds appealing, huh), being put in that same stream.  I saw this on the ole- WWW about a two weeks ago, courtesy of Michael Ruhlman and Chris Cosentino.

You know what?  I wasn’t at all surprised, I was mad, but I had no, “Oh my God, what have I been eating?” moments.  Because, as you all know and anyone who will stand still for a second knows, I don’t eat that garbage.  I buy local, grass-fed, grass-finished beef from a farmer who raises these cows and who I look in the eye.  E-coli stained, mis-treated, nearly killed with corn cows are what other people eat.  I don’t want them to eat it, but cheap meat is what we American’s want and if that’s what they want, then that’s what they get.

Of course, this sounds like the ravings of a madman to a lot of readers (or would, if I had a lot of readers).  But anyone who has read The Omnivore’s Dillema or The Way We Eat knows exactly what I’m talking about.  People, open your eyes, see what goes into your belly!  Then, go to and fill it with “happy meat”.

Happy Cows

February 20, 2008 Posted by | Grass fed, Opinion | Leave a comment


This was supposed to be my THIRD Nigella post of this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge, but we all know what happened to the Zabaglione.  Oh, well – we all learn from our disasters.  But, a lot was riding on this post because I haven’t had a lot of luck so far.  The stew was waaaaayyy to mace-y and the zabaglione was, well waaaaaayy to pasty.

No worries, though.  The Pea and Garlic Crostini were wonderful and to quote James Barber, dead easy.  A sure thing for my next party:


  • 1 French baguette
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 8 oz. frozen young peas
  • 1 tbls. butter
  • 2 tbls. freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbls. chopped mint

Slice the baguette into 1/2 inch slices, coat each one with olive oil and place on a racked baking sheet.  Place in a 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes until they start to turn light brown.  Take out and let cool.

Cut the top off the garlic head and and drizzle with olive oil.  Place on a piece of foil and fold the foil over, creating a tent and place in a 400 degree oven for 45-50 minutes.  When soft, take out and cool.  Cook the peas in water until soft, no crunch wanted here.  Drain and put into food processor with garlic squeezed from the head, butter and cheese.  Process until nearly smooth and season with salt and pepper.  Spread on the cooled bread slices and sprinkle with chopped mint.

It’s very good.  I found that if you sprinkle the crostini with just a smidge of salt, they’re outrageous.  They’re bright green, easy to make and tasty – what else could you ask for?


February 18, 2008 Posted by | Appetizer, Recipe, Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 1 Comment


Opening my freezer downstairs, looking for a roast this weekend, I found I had a pretty sizable package of short ribs.  So, what the heck-o, I decided to make Chet’s short ribs (Chet is what I named my cow when I bought a side of beef this summer)

Looking for a recipe, I found Bruce Aidell had a recipe in the February 2008 Bon Appetit.  That issue was focused on going green, using local ingredients, etc.  This recipe was originally for bison, but grass-fed beef is actually a lot like bison (or is bison like grass-fed beef?).  They are both “gamier” (i.e., actually taste like something), low in saturated fat and high in CLA’s, owing to the grass they eat.  As an aside, it’s the corn we feed our cows that makes the beef “bad for you” – so, it’s not beef that’s bad for you, it’s corn-fed beef that’s bad for you.  And now that some farm-raised salmon is being fed corn, very soon salmon will be a “bad” food, too. 

COFFEE-MARINATED SHORT RIBS (adapted from Bruce Aidell)

4 cups water
3 cups chilled strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup coarse kosher salt
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoons chopped dried (I didn’t have fresh) rosemary
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups ice cubes
4 pounds beef short ribs, cut between ribs to separate

Short Ribs:
1/4 cup chopped bacon (about 1 1/2 ounces)
2 1/2 cups chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small jalapeño chile, seeded, chopped
1 cup strong brewed coffee
1 cup homemade chicken broth
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce

For marinade:
Stir 4 cups water, coffee, 1/2 cup coarse salt, and sugar in large bowl until salt and sugar dissolve. Add syrup and next 3 ingredients; stir until ice melts. Add ribs. Place plate atop ribs to keep submerged. Cover and chill 4 to 6 hours. Drain ribs; discard marinade. DO AHEAD: Drained ribs can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.

For short ribs:
Sauté bacon in pressure-cooker over medium heat until beginning to brown. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to plate. Increase heat to medium-high. Sprinkle ribs with salt and pepper. Working in batches, cook ribs until browned on all sides, about 7 minutes per batch. Transfer to large plate. Add onions, garlic, and jalapeño to pot. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook until vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add coffee and broth; stir, scraping up browned bits. Add ketchp and all remaining ingredients; bring to boil. Add bacon and ribs, cover, and bring up to pressure. Braise until meat is tender, about 45 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm in 325°F oven until heated through, about 20 minutes, before continuing.

Transfer ribs to plate; tent with foil to keep warm. Spoon fat from surface of sauce. Boil sauce until reduced to 2 cups, about 5 minutes. Pour sauce over ribs.

Short Ribs

Cooking in the pressure cooker reduced the cooking time in a 325 degree over from 2 1/4 hours to 45 minutes!  I actually was going to cook them in the oven, but my afternoon was taken up by bringing my 9 year old girl to see Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers in 3-D! (If you have young girls, this will make sense to you).  You couldn’t really taste the coffee, but it brought such an amazing depth of flavor!  This was really good and I will make it again

February 13, 2008 Posted by | Grass fed, Main Dish, Recipe | 1 Comment


I tried to make another recipe for this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge; a simple one that I thought I could throw together and post about real quick-like.


I mean, c’mon – it’s three ingredients.  THREE!!  2 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons of superfine sugar and 4 tablespoons of Marsala.  Put the yolks in a bowl with the sugar and whip over simmering water until they triple in size and whisk in the wine.  Hello?!?  Any moron can do this.

Well, I’m not just any moron – let me be clear about that!

I put the yolks in a bowl (they did look kind of small) with the sugar (confectioners, can’t get finer than that!) and I got the old hand mixer out and went to town!  They turned nice and pale and expanded about a quarter larger and I thought all was well.

And then nothing.

They never got any larger.  I mixed and mixed and mixed and in the end I had about three tablespoons of very sweet, candy-like egg yolks. 

I have no idea what went wrong.  Help!  Anyone?  Anyone? 

Update (02/13/08):

Watching Alton, I just saw him make “fine” sugar in the food processor.  Oh, that involved regular sugar in the Cuisinart for two minutes.  Anyway, the little factoid-blurb said confectioner’s sugar has “corn starch and other additives” in it.  Have I found my issue?  Corn starch would thicken water and fat (egg yolks are made up of both).  I believe I have found the problem!  As Homer would say, “I am so smart. S-M-R-T”

February 11, 2008 Posted by | Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 2 Comments


OK, so how is Lent going?  As you may or may not know, I’ve given up processed foods for Lent.  By processed foods, what I mean is foods that are broken down beyond recognition.  Cheddar cheese is NOT processed.  Sure, it’s milk that’s been “processed” into cheese, but cheese isn’t processed (in my world).  Taco shells dance along the border of processed.  Boxed mac and cheese?  Processed.  Home made bread?  Not processed.  Wonder?  Processed.  These may or may not fit into the classic definitions of processed food, but this is my resolution and I make the rules.

That doesn’t mean I can make the rules easy.  I just want to make them realistic.  So, how’s Lent?  My biggest issues come from snacking.  The kids had some Lunchables (not that they get these often) today and I found myself stealing a bite of Chicken Dunks (don’t ask) or Katie’s Nachos – all very processed and a definite no-no.  Lunches have been a small issue, too.  On Wednesday, I was scrambling to make a salad dressing and Friday’s lunch was just bread I had (I made it a few weeks ago – I took it out of the freezer) and an olive oil/herb dipping sauce.  I seem to forget I can’t buy lunch until the last minute and run around the house, looking for something to bring to work.

So far, so good – but, snacking is an issue.  I get hungry at work and….nothing.  I can’t eat anything from the snack machine, I have to hope I brought an apple.  BUT, that’s a VERY good habit to form. 

February 9, 2008 Posted by | Lent | 2 Comments


I’m one of those people you see in the grocery stores who bring in their own canvas bags.  I don’t do it to save the environment; I don’t want to say I could care less, but it’s not one of my priorities.  I do it because I’m lazy.

I do a lot of things I do because I’m lazy.  And I use canvas bags for the sheer amount of stuff they can hold, meaning less trips out to the car when I get home.

I shop at my local Hannaford’s most weeks. It’s a good store, locally oriented (somewhat) and I’m very happy to shop there – right up until it’s time to check out.  At that point, I must deal with the bagger.  I usually scan the baggers to see if I can recognize one who I remember is good.  I will wait in line to get a good bagger, because a bad bagger can ruin the whole canvas bag experience.  Case in point:

Today, I may have had the worst bagger ever.  She was a young girl and if the store wasn’t such a madhouse, I would have skipped the line.  You see, young kids are more likely to have just been taught the basics of plastic bagging (don’t mix anything, put no more than six or seven things in a bag, etc) and applying that mindset to canvas bags is like applying the basics of a microwave to a convection oven.  She asked me if I wanted them packed “heavy or light” and I said heavy.  It went downhill from there. At one point, I added more items from the belt to a bag she had just packed.  But, nothing compares to how much she put in this bag:

Bag 2

Bag 1

I understand the turnover rate at the checkout lines in a grocery store.  I understand everybody wants everything different from everyone else.  But, there’s got to be something grocery stores can do about training baggers.  The baggers at Whole Paycheck and Trader Joe’s know how to bag in canvas, surely the people at Hannaford’s can learn, too.

February 9, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | Leave a comment