Mel’s Diner

Sharp Knives, Raw Meat and Fire


Well, once again I have neglected my posting duties.  I have no excuse other than I was/am just out of posting mode.  As for yesterday, I couldn’t have posted if I wanted to – I was canning a bushel of tomatoes, and that ain’t easy, brother!  I started about 10:00 AM and it went through to 5:00 PM.  I had to peel all the tomatoes by plopping them in boiling water and then after 30 seconds or so, moving them to ice/cold water.  The skins come pretty much off and then to the cutting board.  There I cut the stem out and cut them into pieces and into my turkey roaster – both top and bottom!

(The cocktail shaker in the back was a reminder of what awaited at the end of all this tomato steam)

I cooked them down for about 2 – 3 hours to concentrate the tomato and then into old 28 ounce spaghetti sauce jars (pretty crafty, buying those the past two years, huh?).  Then, into the stock pots to hot-water can for 45 minutes.  I did three rounds of those and in the end I had 16 jars of canned tomato.  Seems like a lot of work for just 16 jars, but they are really good and I will enjoy them this winter.


August 31, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather, Recipe, Vegetables | 3 Comments


Where did the week go?  Work was absolutely nuts – I came home and wanted nothing to do with nothing!  Hence, no posts.  Cooking wasn’t too bad, but there was a whole lot of nothing special.  Last night?  BOXED Mac and Cheese. 

I’m so embarrassed.

Today, I went to the farmer’s market.  I picked up some stuff, but most importantly, I ordered my garlic.  I went to my garlic guy and ordered 60 heads – 30 for me, 15 for my friend Mary and 15 for a friend at work.  I ordered 50 last year, gave about 8 away and threw 5 or 6 away (this summer) because they were no good.

After the market I went to Wilson’s Farm (a farm stand) and picked up some basil and a LOT of tomatoes!  A whole bushel!  These are less then perfect and are put in a box for people like me who want to can tomatoes and don’t care what they look like.  I bought two ½ bushels ($9.99 each) and put them out to ripen.  Next weekend, I’ll can as many ripe ones as I can and buy more to ripen.  Come November, I’ll have fresh-tasting tomatoes, all because I covered my dining room table for a few weeks in September.  I also picked up some fresh basil for pesto next winter.

The tomatoes:

The basil:

August 23, 2008 Posted by | Local | Leave a comment


I’m not a big grill fan.  I mean, I’m not a big griller.  I know, I know, guys are supposed to love grilling!  Standing outside, cooking slabs of meat over fire – now that’s a guy thing! 

Uh….not for this guy.  Grilling time is summer time and summer time means heat, bugs, humidity, etc.  I hate it.  That’s why I have a gas stove – I get cook with fire every night.  So, when the lovely and gracious Sara picked grilling as the theme for this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge, I was concerned. 


Before moving to New Hampshire, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I lived in North Carolina for five years.  And North Carolina means two things – College Basketball and Barbecue, often at the same time.

Now, I don’t know what “barbecue” means where you are, but in New England it means hot dogs and hamburgers cooked on a grill.  In North Carolina, it means a Boston butt (in a case of confused geography, it’s really a cut from the shoulder of a pig) smoked for 8-12 hours until the juicy meat falls from the bone.  Oh, baby!

Smoke it?  Yes, you need a smoker for this.  You may be able to jerry-rig a smoker with your grill, but a dedicated smoker will make a better butt.  A smoker usually has a separate smoke chamber so the meat isn’t over a direct flame.

I don’t have one of those.  I don’t know anybody who does.  BUT, I do have a friend with the king of ceramic cookers, the Big Green Egg.  And the Big Green Egg acts as a damn fine smoker.

Equally as important to the meat is the sauce (or dip).  This is where the schism happens.  There are two kinds of sauce, Eastern-style and Lexington and may God have mercy on the souls of those using the wrong one.  The wrong one is the one you don’t use.  And your loyalty here is required and must be all consuming – there is no “this-way, that-way”.  In North Carolina, apathy to barbecue sauce is akin to rooting for more than one college basketball team – it’s just not done.  You have three teams to pick from, Carolina, Duke or State and then you fight to the death for your team.  And it’s the same for your barbecue sauce.

Both sauces are vinegar based, not at all like the sickeningly sweet Kansas City-style barbecue sauces you buy in the bottles at the grocery store.  The main difference between the two Carolina styles is tomato.  There is none in Eastern and some in Lexington and people come to blows over which one is best.



7-9 pound Boston butt

(That’s it for the meat.  Some people want to add a rub to the meat.  That is an unnecessary distraction.  We want the flavor of the meat and the smoke, nothing else.  There was one more step for me – give the meat to my friend Joe to cook on his Egg.)

Smoke the meat until the internal temperature is between 190 – 200 degrees.  The meat will be so succulent, so juicy that you can shred it with your gloved hands or two forks.  Serve with a Lexington barbecue sauce and don’t be prissy with it.

Check out the pink “smoke ring” – that means it was done right.


(From the Yadkin County Homemakers Extension Club Cookbook)

  • 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 onion  – chopped
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan and boil slowly for 15 minutes.  Strain and put in a squeeze bottle.

August 17, 2008 Posted by | Main Dish, Pork, Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 5 Comments


Shannon is my boss.  And frankly, if the soup wasn’t so good – I wouldn’t be writing this post right now.  You see, Shannon is on vacation this week and the rest of her team (including me, obviously) is picking up her duties and it’s been a….a week, let’s say.

A few weeks ago, I made a turkey breast over the weekend and then, because the backbone was attached, made a stock from what bones I had.  I mentioned I was going to make a turkey soup and Shannon told me about the soup she makes.  I was pretty intrigued because she uses barley (my old New England family uses macaroni) and few vegetables.  So, realizing I had everything at home, I made it.


  • 3 Tbls. Butter
  • 1 large Onion, diced
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 3-4 Carrots, diced
  • 2/3 cup Barley
  • 7 cups of Turkey Stock
  • 1/8 tsp. Poultry Seasoning
  • 1 ½ – 2 cups diced, cooked turkey

Melt butter in a 3-4 quart pan.  Add onion, garlic and carrots and sweat over low-ish heat until onions are soft.  Add barley, stock and seasoning and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for an hour until barley is soft.  Add cooked turkey and simmer for a few minutes to warm turkey.  Serve.

Yeah, that’s it.  It’s so simple, but the flavors really came through – I was blown away.  And the barley was so much better then the pasta my family always used.  This will be my go-to-soup in the future.   

August 14, 2008 Posted by | Recipe, Soup | Leave a comment


So, it’s that time again.  That Cookbook Thing II‘s next chapter is a near perfect brunch dish, maybe something for a big breakfast – Rapee Morandelle.  What?  What is a rapee?  It sounds like some kind of thin sword, maybe something guys named Desmond or Thurston use for exercise practice at the club.  What it is is a quiche with no crust, a gratin or, if you come from the corner of 10th St and 2nd Avenue, a potato kugel.

It’s also very good.  It’s a simple dish with eggs, grated potatoes, ham (thereby making it not TOO much like a potato kugel), cheese, onions and herbs – all mixed and baked together into a yummy happiness.


  • ½ cup onion, finely minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ½ cup cooked ham, diced (3 ounces)
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley chopped and/or chives and chervil
  • 2/3 cup Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
  • 4 tbsp whipping cream, light cream or milk
  • Pinch of pepper
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • 3 medium potatoes, (about 10 ounces) peeled and coarsely grated
  • 2 tbsp butter to plus ½ tbsp butter cut in little pea sized dots

Here’s what everything looked like before I started:


  1. Cook the onions slowly in butter and oil for 5 minutes or so over low heat, until tender, but not browned.
  2. Raise the heat slightly and add the ham and let cook a moment more
  3. Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl and add the garlic, herbs, cheese, cream or milk, and seasonings. Blend in the ham & onions
  4. Peel the potatoes and grate them. Squeeze out the excess water.  Stir them into the egg mixture. Check seasoning.
  5. Heat 2 tbsp of butter in the dish. Once foaming, pour in potato and egg mixture.  Dot with last bit of butter pieces.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes in preheated oven until top is nicely browned.

So, I made a few small changes.  I didn’t feel like cooking a whole ham for a measly 3 ounces, so I used Irish bacon from a local smokehouse.  It was just as fatty and just as good as anything Julia used in 1961.  I also used a whole clove of garlic (why not?) and Ementaler cheese and I used the chives.  I cooked mine in a 12 inch pan as prescribed and found the pan too big.

The dish cooked quicker than expected and came out a bit thin.  BUT, it did taste good.  Mary from Cooking For Five made it with me and couldn’t stop eating it.  My daughter (who is 9) patted my shoulder and said I could make it again.

Also, it was a simple dish.  I think so many people are afraid to cook from Mastering The Art of French Cooking because they think everything in it is soooo complicated  This proves it’s not.  Open the book, take a look around.  Sure, you want to make something complicated – it’s there.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Simple is good, too.  That’s the Art of French COUNTRY Cooking – simple.

Thanks again to all my friends in this:

PS – Here’s the first two posts:

PPS – We have recieved honorable mention as part of Julia’s 3rd annual birthday celebration from Lisa over at Champagne Taste

August 11, 2008 Posted by | Friends, Recipe, That Cookbook Thing II | 5 Comments


What a crazy week!  This has been so nuts, I haven’t even checked my own blog!  I’ve squeezed in some email, but only about 15 minutes TOTAL this week.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t cooked.  I made a great turkey soup (courtesy of my boss), but not much else, but you need to wait for that.

Yesterday, I went with Mary from Cooking For Five to several foodie stores.  I went to Karl’s Sausage Kitchen (a little slice of Heaven), The Hilltop Steakhouse Market, Penzy’s (see below) and Whole Paycheck.  The Hilltop has a HUGE cold room full of meat at near wholesale prices (whole chickens, $0.59/pound, Rib Eye $4.99/pound, etc), but this is all foreplay for Karl’s.  Yes, I said foreplay.  Karl’s makes and smokes their own sausage, rouladen meat, BACON, TRIPLE SMOKED BACON!!!, Liverwurst, etc.  I need a cigarette and a nap after leaving Karl’s.  Penzy’s is, well….Penzy’s.  Who doesn’t love Penzy’s?  And Whole Foods?  Well, that’s…Whole Paycheck.  Good, great in places, but VERY EXPENSIVE in other places.  At least no water from New Zealand….

August 7, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 2 Comments


Well, pickle boy is back!  Really, that sounds kind of creepy, like a porn name or something, and as much as I would love to be confused with a porn star (I’m thinking Buck Naked), but still…  So, let’s try again.

In my quest to be pickle king of New Hampshire I have branched out into something completely different.  I ran into this in my local paper last week in an article about quick pickling and I knew I had to try it.  I never thought about pickling grapes, of all things, but I could see how it would work, so I tried it.


Adapted from Catherine Plagemann’s “Fine Preserving”

  • 3 cups of stemmed red seedless grapes (about ¾ pound)
  • 1 ½ cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of white wine vinegar
  • 3 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • 1 Tbls. minced onion
  1. Wash grapes and divide into three pint-sized canning jars
  2. In a small saucepan, bring sugar, vinegar, cinnamon and onion to a boil.  Pour the syrup evenly over the grapes and insert cinnamon stick in each jar.  Seal tightly and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

OK, first of all – the recipes needs some modifications.  This doesn’t make 3 pint jars, it makes 2.  If you want three, add 1/3rd to everything – presto.  First of all again, they’re too sweet.  I would go with only 1 cup of sugar.  First of all again again, they were good.  Too sweet, like I said, but there is a lot of promise here.  I’ll make them again.

Here they are before they syrup:

And after:

August 3, 2008 Posted by | Recipe | 2 Comments