Mel’s Diner

Sharp Knives, Raw Meat and Fire


Oh, yeah, baby – grass fed beef is it!  In the new Acura commercial for the TSX or something, grass-fed beef finally get’s it’s props:

You know it, “sometimes luxury needs to howl at the moon, find a rare, grass-fed steak in a red leather booth…”

And you all thought I was a crazy with my grass-fed beef…


April 30, 2008 Posted by | Grass fed, Opinion | 3 Comments


For many years now, one of the most off-putting, most annoying phrases I hear is “Gourmet”.  Whenever something is called “Gourmet”, I immediately think it’s cheap.  This might be the exact opposite of what is intended, but that’s what happens.  If something needs to be called “Gourmet”, it’s not.  It’s not even close.  Fine food is Gourmet.  This doesn’t mean complicated food.  It doesn’t mean expensive food.  It means fine food.  My Grandfathers beans are gourmet.  A perfectly made omelet, not dry, not runny, is gourmet.  It doesn’t mean anything other than just perfectly made.  Beef Wellington, fresh out of the oven, the beef pink and juicy, mushrooms soft, not mushy and foie gras not gamy, that’s gourmet, too.

I guess, gourmet means made by hand WELL.  Gourmet doesn’t come in a box, it doesn’t come in a bag from your freezer, it doesn’t come in a bottle.  You make gourmet food, sometimes, even I do.  The supermarket doesn’t, Unilever doesn’t, General Foods doesn’t.

Make your own gourmet food.  Need to start simple because you can’t cook…YET?  Figs and Riesling.  Buy fresh figs and eat them while drinking a decent Riesling.  Trust me – that’s a food pairing so sublime, so mind-blowing, it’s Gourmet.

April 29, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 3 Comments


Carla from the fun named blog Chocolate Moosey is hosting this month’s Cookbook Challenge and in a twist has chosen Vintage Cookbooks as her theme.  Now, because she’s just a college kid, her definition of “vintage” is prior to 1980.  I’m tempted to go on and on about that (I started high school in 1980), but I won’t.  Ok, maybe a little….

1980?!?  My first car was a fairly new 1979 Olds Cutlass.  I was old enough to be interested in the 1980 Presidential election (remember John Anderson?).  1980 was the breakout year for Judas Priest.  Oy….

Anyway, obviously when I think vintage, I think a little bit older than 1980.  Way back in September, the theme for the WCC was favorite cookbooks and I confessed mine was The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.  Seeing no reason to abandon a sure bet, that’s my cookbook for this months Challenge, too – but, with a twist.  See, the recipe for this month’s challenge comes from the 1918 edition of her Boston Cooking-School Cookbook – the last one authored by Fannie Farmer herself.

What recipe to make?  Well, that was kind of a no brainier.  If you’re cooking from The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, what else to make but Boston Baked Beans?  This recipe is found in the Pork section of the cookbook, so obviously the beans are there to compliment the salt pork, not the other way around.  Interesting little culinary tidbit, huh?

Boston Baked Beans 

Pick over one quart pea beans, cover with cold water, and soak over night. In morning, drain, cover with fresh water, heat slowly (keeping water below boiling-point), and cook until skins will burst,-which is best determined by taking a few beans on the tip of a spoon and blowing on them, when skins will burst if sufficiently cooked. Beans thus tested must, of course, be thrown away. Drain beans, throwing bean-water out of doors, not in sink. Scald rind of three-fourths pound fat salt pork, scrape, remove one-fourth inch slice and put in bottom of bean-pot. Cut through rind of remaining pork every one-half inch, making cuts one inch deep. Put beans in pot and bury pork in beans, leaving rind exposed. Mix one tablespoon salt, one tablespoon molasses, and three tablespoons sugar; add one cup boiling water, and pour over beans; then add enough more boiling water to cover beans. Cover bean-pot, put in oven, and bake slowly (Slowly?  What is that?  I chose 300 degrees because that’s what the new Fannie Farmer recipe says) six or eight hours, uncovering the last hour of cooking, that rind may become brown and crisp. Add water as needed. Many feel sure that by adding with seasonings one-half tablespoon mustard, the beans are more easily digested (I skipped the mustard). If pork mixed with lean is preferred, use less salt.

The fine reputation which Boston Baked Beans have gained has been attributed to the earthen bean-pot with small top and bulging sides in which they are supposed to be cooked. Equally good beans have often been eaten where a five-pound lard pail was substituted for the broken bean pot.

Yellow-eyed beans are very good when baked.


I followed this recipe exactly as written except I halved it.  Two pounds (1 quart) would be too many for my new beanpot and with so few ingredients and simple preparations, I didn’t think it would suffer.  When I say exactly as written, I mean exactly as written.  I blew on the beans and I threw the cooking liquid out of doors and not in the sink.  Notice how little sweetening is in the recipe – it is definitely a very old recipe going back to when sugar and even molasses was scarce.  My favorite recipe has one pound of beans and 3/4 cup of sugar – this has two pounds of beans and 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of sweeteners. 

Here’s the beans about to go into the oven:


Here they are after 6 ½ hours and several “waterings” throughout to keep the beans just covered:

The beans were really good.  Because there was so little sugar in the recipe, the flavor of the beans mixed with the pork really came out.  Some day when you have all day to cook, give them a shot.

April 25, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 4 Comments


I bought some new stuff!  The more astute of you guessed that by the post’s title, but I still had to say it.  Yesterday, I went to my local Agway store because they have a New Hampshire section to buy a beanpot.  Why?  Check back this weekend – you’ll see.  Anyway, the beanpot is from Salmon Falls Stoneware in Dover, NH and I think it’s quite beautiful:


Today, I went to Macy’s to buy a new food processor.  I have an ancient, but fully functional Cuisinart my friend gave me.  It’s so old, it’s the kind you turn on and off by twisting the cover, no On/Off buttons for this!  BUT, Macy’s is having such a sale, the 11 cup processor, normally $199.00 is on sale through Saturday for $99.00!  I had one in my hands when I put it back because, heck – mine still works!  As I passed the Martha Stewart stuff I saw a display of her enameled, cast-iron Dutch ovens.  The 5 ½ quart was $99.99, but through the stand tag I could see “SALE $49.99”.  I asked the Macy’s guy when that started and he scanned the item – it was $39.99!  Needless to say…

April 24, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 4 Comments


Well, I’ve done it again, gone almost a week with no posts.  I have to tell you, I haven’t done anything exciting food-wise, either.  Even as the weekend rolled around and I had time, I did nothing.  I was going to attempt an onion soup, but I screwed up the beef stock so badly that it must not be mentioned here again.  And I cannot force myself to use the “stock in a box”, I mean they’re called “beef-flavored” stock and even the one’s at Whole Foods had, “Beef Stock (Water, Beef Powder)”.  Sorry, I’m a total snob about this.

So, I thought I’d comment on food stuff.  First off, who has seen the new Taco Bell Commercial for their bacon chalupa where one of the ladies at the bar has one in her purse to attract men?  Of course, three men come right over and start talking about her “intoxicating scent”.  Who doesn’t think that would work?  The bacon smell would get a bit old after a while and probably drive the man away in search of food, but as an initial attraction, I could see it working.  Perfume makers need to create a bacon scent that morphs into something else after a short period of time.  You heard it here first.

Serious Eats directed me to Randy at box vox talking about the Droste effect in packaging.  The Droste is a “study in infinity” with the package having a smaller picture of the package on it, therefore causing an infinite number of progressively smaller packages to appear.  The first example given is the Land O’Lakes butter package.  It immediately spoke to me because I remember as a small child being fascinated by that butter package and the ever smaller Indian women holding a butter box.  It fascinated me then and fascinates me now.

April 21, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 2 Comments


This is inspired by my friend Sara’s post about a misguided search term and the poor souls brought to her page.  I don’t have the same level of creepy Sara experiences, so I won’t even try.  What I want to share is what all of the happy web-surfers like about Mel’s Diner.

The favorite post for a long time was the Red Pepper Gnocchi.  This was the first real post of the new Mel’s Diner and little did I know it was a recipe a lot of people wanted every day.  For the longest time, it ruled; it was so far ahead of everything else – it was crazy. 

Then came Nigella.

After my Nigella recipes, a weird thing started to happen.  More and more search terms coming to my page had “Nigella” and “Anchovies” in them.  And just yesterday, my FAILED Nigella recipe became the number one clicked page at Mel’s Diner! 

Now, I think I should call my page Nigella’s Diner.

PS.  My sister in law would be happy to know that almost twenty people have come to my page searching for “Chicken Meredith“.  I named that recipe after her because she liked chicken a lot and I was trying to impress her sister without embarrassing her sister, either.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 3 Comments


According to Bruce Aidell, a York-Style ham is, “Mildly cured (that means not too salty).  After brining it can be cooked in a court-bouillon, or…you can smoke your ham..”)  I had a uncured ham (or pork roast to the rest of the world) and decided to try this.  So, off we go!

I brined it for six days before cooking it in Bruce’s court-bouillon.  I found it, contrary to Bruce’s assertions, to be fairly salty.  Not over the top, but a bit too salty for my tastes.  Maybe I would brine it for 4 to 5 days instead of the full six, but still, it was VERY good.


Mild Ham Cure

  • 1 pound (2 Cups Morton’s Kosher Salt, 3 cups of Diamond Crystal Salt)
  • ½ pound (1 Cup) Light Brown Sugar
  • 1 Gallon Ice Water
  • 8-10 pound Fresh Ham or Boston Butt

Put salt, sugar in a 3-gallon or larger plastic tub, stainless-steel, crock or glass container.  Add ice water and stir until salt is completely dissolved.  Submerge the pork in the brine and weight down with a plate.  Refrigerate.  After three days, remove pork and stir the brine and return the meat.  Refrigerate another three days.  Remove pork and discard brine.


  • 24 oz. lager beer
  • 2 quarts of water
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons of dried
  • 16 whole black peppercorns
  • 6 juniper berries
  • 2 unpeeled onions, each studded with 4 cloves
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut in half
  • 4 garlic cloves (I forgot this)
  • 2 celery stalks
  • ¼ cup of cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Add the ham.  Continue to cook at a simmer or just below until meat is tender and has an internal temperature of 145 to 150 degrees, about 2 hours.

April 14, 2008 Posted by | Main Dish, Recipe | Leave a comment


Last weekend I totally splurged and bought a tenderloin roast, a little over three pounds and more money than I will admit to here.  I cooked it Sunday, and if I do say so myself, it was perfect.  When dinner was over, we had just under a pound left over, just right for Beef Stroganov later in the week.

Wednesday night, I looked through Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and another odd cookbook I have, Russian, German & Polish Food and Cooking, edited by Lesley Chamberlain.  Both have Beef Stroganov (or Beef Stroganoff, depending on the book) recipes, both fairly different.  Julia’s recipe has no onions, heavy cream (shocker!) and Madeira.  RGP has a lot of onions, sour cream and tomato paste.  Both have fillet and mushrooms.  So, I did what I always do – I combined them.  Oh, there is also no picture because my second rate camera finally died.

Leftover Beef Stroganoff (Stroganov)

  • 1 pound leftover tenderloin/fillet, thinly sliced into strips.
  • 1 Large Onion, sliced
  • ½ pound of Mushrooms, sliced
  • Butter
  • ¼ cup Madeira
  • ¾ cup of Stock (I used roasted chicken stock or use beef stock)
  • 2/3 cup of Sour Cream
  • Salt & Pepper

Sauté the mushrooms in a 10″ frying pan, spreading them out and not messing with them so they can lightly brown, turning over once to brown the other side.  Remove the mushrooms and sauté the onions, adding more butter if needed.  When the onions are done, add back the mushrooms, the Madeira and stock.  Let it boil down to about 1/3 cup.  Add in leftover beef, cook for 1 minute.  Add in sour cream, stirring to combine and warming everything.  Add salt & pepper to taste, serve over noodles.

April 12, 2008 Posted by | Main Dish, Recipe | 1 Comment


This post is kind of a cheat, but not really.  I first posted this recipe back in May of 2007, but it was flawed and because it’s so good when made right, I felt I needed to fix it.  So, tonight I made it again and this time, I paid attention to what was different. 


So here it is, my updated, revised, pretty stinking perfect Mac and Cheese.


(I would post the whole thing all over again, but why?  So here’s the link to the updated recipe.  I hope this counts for the Blessed Ruth.)


Mike’s Mac and Cheese

April 10, 2008 Posted by | Pasta, Presto Pasta Night | 1 Comment


I have a minor issue with my Briney Weekend.  There will be no Corned Beef.  Due to complete and total laziness, I didn’t start it in time.  So, I’ve popped the round into the freezer.  I’m not sure what’s going on next weekend, but my goal is to do it then.  What that means is I will start the brining this weekend.  It needs at least 7 days to brine because a round isn’t as flat as a brisket.  I’ll start it this Friday and take a picture or two along the way.

I did start the fresh ham.  That will brine all this week and I will cook it in Bruce’s Court Bouillon this weekend.  You can be sure I will report. 

April 8, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | Leave a comment