Mel’s Diner

Sharp Knives, Raw Meat and Fire


If Mike is anything, he’s consistent.  And a constant here at Mel’s Diner is squeaking in at the very last second a Weekend Cookbook Challenge entry.  Carla at Chocolate Moosey is hosting the WCC this month and the deadline is tomorrow – meaning this entry is actually a whole day early, come to think of it.  There’s no reason for this to be so late, after all she’s picked a theme near and dear to my heart and many others – garlic.  As many of you know, I get about fifty heads a year from my Garlic Guy at the farmer’s market, so this was just perfect.

But, what to make?  I bandied about making a 40 clove chicken or perhaps a garlic soup.  What I finally settled on was an Aioli – a garlic-mayonnaise dip.  I also decided I would use the recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook, one of the first cookbooks we ever had – Molly got it as a present from her boss over 15 years ago.  But, when I was ready to start today, I couldn’t find the cookbook!  Not letting that slow me down, I checked out other aioli recipes from other cookbooks.  There was a basil version from Eric Ripert that looked very nice.  But, I settled on an obscure cookbook I have, Dips, Salsas and Spreads from the Easy Entertaining series, because it was similar to the Silver Palate version.



  • Large pinch of salt
  • 6-12 cloves of garlic
  • Large pinch of breadcrumbs (I didn’t use them)
  • 2 Egg yolks
  • 2 Cups of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons of lemon juice

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade or in a blender, process the salt and 6 cloves of garlic to form a paste.  Add remaining garlic cloves as desired.  Add the bread crumbs and process into a consistent paste.  Add the egg yolks and process mixture until smooth.  With motor running, pour in the olive oil in a slight trickle and gradually incorporate into the mixture.  As the sauce begins to thicken noticeably, the oil can be poured in a steadier flow.  After half the oil has been added, add the lemon juice.  Continue adding oil and, if necessary, a bit of water until the desired quantity of sauce is reached.

Very garlic-y, very good-y, too.  It took just a few minutes to make and didn’t use anything I don’t have on hand anyway.  Shamefully, this is the FIRST time I’ve made it and I’m kicking myself for waiting so long – you can be sure I’ll make it in the future. 

Here’s my ingredients.  As you can see, I used only 5 or 6 big cloves.  My garlic is a “super garlic” strain, so even though there are just a few, it is a whole head and they are strong.


Here’s the garlic in my mini-food processor. 


I found it chopped it fine, but then just pushed the pieces up against the wall of the processor.  So I pulled them out and put them trough my low tech food processor – the mortar and pestle.


I put the mashed garlic back in the processor and finished it.


Into a serving bowl with green peppers.


September 29, 2008 Posted by | Appetizer, Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 1 Comment


It must be fall because I made sauerkraut.  Well, technically it’s not fermented YET, so let’s say I’ve started the sauerkraut.  Yes, I make sauerkraut.  After all, it’s all part of pickling and you know what I aspire to be.  Besides, I like sauerkraut. And so do my kids.  And so does my wife – wait, check that.  Um, like I said…my kids like it, too.

The recipe comes from the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, Guide 6, Preparing and Canning Fermented and Pickled Vegetables.  I know, it’s hard to imagine someone as skeptical of the Federal Government in everything they do as me using this handy little guide as much as I do.  Well, I said I was a skeptic, that just means I DOUBT they do anything right until it’s proven.  And this has been proven to be all right in my book.

Back to the recipe, it’s ridiculously easy with just two ingredients – fresh cabbage and salt.  And, like every recipe with very few ingredients, those ingredients must be the very best.  The cabbage should be picked the day you make it.  So much of sauerkraut requires the cabbage to be as full of water as it can ever be and cabbage dries out very quickly.  And the salt – no table salt!  Iodine is not sauerkraut’s friend.  The recipe recommends using canning salt, which would work great, but I use good old fashioned Kosher salt.  Cheap, easy and in most cooks homes.  Also, because we are fermenting here, cleanliness is not only next to Godliness, it’s sitting on it’s lap!  I use a big glass crock I picked up at Wal Mart and I wash it in hot water and then sanitize it with just a touch of chlorine.  Now, chlorine is perfect for killing any nasty little buggy’s that might contaminate the sauerkraut, but if it’s not washed off completely, it will also kill the nice little buggy’s I want to ferment my cabbage – so wash, wash, wash!  I also clean my Christmas plate (you’ll see) and the outside of the gallon Ziploc I use (you’ll see that, too).  And don’t forget, wash, wash, wash!


  • 15 – 18 lbs. cabbage
  • Salt

I used cabbages I purchased at a local farm stand, each about 10 – 12 pounds.  When I asked when they cut the cabbage, the farmer looked at his watch and said, “Well, about 8:30 this morning.  It’s 10:30 now, so… two hours ago.”  Can’t beat that.  I got out my 10-inch chef’s knife and cut each in half through the stem.  I flipped each over and cut them in half, again through the stem.  I cut out the stem and then thinly sliced them.  After each quarter was sliced, I put about a third of that in the crock and added ½ Tablespoon of salt over it.  In goes another third and another ½ Tablespoon of salt.  The final third and salt again.  Reach in and toss the cabbage to mix the salt throughout.  Then press down with your hands – HARD.  Make fists and press down with your body weight to compress the cabbage as tightly as possible.  Repeat with the other quarters.  When you toss a layer, you don’t need to toss the layers beneath, just the one you’re working on.  After you have cut, salted, tossed and pressed a whole cabbage, you’ll see water coming up from below to start covering the layer you’re pressing down – that’s why you need fresh cabbage.  Keep this up until the pressed cabbage is 4-5 inches from the top of the crock.  By this time, water will be covering the cabbage as you press down by 2-3 inches.

At this point, I add my Christmas plate, which just fits through the top of the crock to hold down the cabbage.  I then fill the gallon Ziploc about 2/3rd full of warm water and 4 tablespoons of salt.  I then fit it into the crock to hold down the plate and add another layer of weight to keep the cabbage under the brine.  The bag has the salt in it just in case it leaks or breaks; if it does, the salinity level won’t be reduced, allowing those nasty buggy’s back in.  Then to my backroom to keep it at about 65-75 degrees for 4 weeks.

In four weeks, if all goes well and it doesn’t funk-a-fy (fingers crossed), I’ll report back and show you the finished product.

Here’s the crock about half full

More cabbage ready to go in


Here’s my last quarter (I used 1½ cabbages) just filling the crock.  The darker cabbage is where the brine line is.


It’s hard to tell here, but I have just pressed the last quarter down and it’s covered with water.


My Christmas bread plate


Here you can see the brine covering the cabbage


In goes the bag.  The angle is bad and it looks like the crock is only half full, but it’s really 2/3’s to 3/4 full with soon to be sauerkraut.

September 27, 2008 Posted by | Recipe, Side Dish | 3 Comments


Remember “Freedom Fries”?  Remember how the left in the United States thought (rightly) how stupid that was?  Remember how much it reminded us all of the asinine-like change of name of sauerkraut under the Wilson and Roosevelt Administrations to “Liberty Cabbage“?

Well, it seems that bastion of acceptance, tolerance and diversity, San Francisco has once again shown what real liberalism is like in America.

A star of the Chilean wine scene, an CERTIFIED ORGANIC Syrah named Palin has suffered a severe decline in sales after the Governor of Alaska, a conservative Republican named Sarah Palin was chosen as the Vice Presidential nominee.

September 24, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 1 Comment


Shhh….It’s Karl’s birthday on October 12.  He’s of German descent (though not nearly as German as he should be…he doesn’t like sauerkraut!) and he really likes Spaten beer.  So, for his birthday present I went to Straub’s in Nashua, NH and picked him up the “official” beer glass of the Munich Oktoberfest – The Spaten mass krugSpaten is brewed in Munich and has been for like 4 thousand years, so the worlds largest Oktoberfest centers around Spaten beer.  And real Oktoberfest-ers drink their beer in these huge glasses – hence, the perfect birthday present.

These glasses are billed as 1 liter, that’s 33 and some odd ounces, just over a quart to us who use God’s measuring system, Imperial units.  Being a concerned and caring friend, I felt the need to try out the glass I had bought myself, so I bought a six pack of beer.  Now, each beer bottle is 12 ounces, so getting out my slide rule, I figured I could get nearly three bottles in the glass with a little left over to sample before I drank the real thing.  Pop, pop, pop – the caps come off and I start pouring.  When I was done all three bottles were in there with lots of headroom – I figured enough for nearly, if not all, of a fourth bottle!  Out came the slide rule again and I determined that a 1 liter mass krug holds nearly 48 ounces of beer.

Now I know why Oktoberfest is so popular in Munich. 

September 23, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 1 Comment


Politics has taken over my life – again.  As only some of you know, I was a political junkie FOR YEARS!  Ten years ago, I started my own website for the family, posting pictures and stuff of our newborn Katie for the family up north (we lived in North Carolina at that point) and I started posting a rant (there’s no other word for it) every week called Mike’s Musing.  We moved back to New England and I kept it up, just not as much.  Then, one morning, I impulsively started a blog over at blogger – the first Mel’s Diner.  I posted about politics, often times twice a day!

I gradually lost interest in politics and soon food took over my life and the next incarnation of Mel’s Diner appeared, this little blog (it started over at Clearblogs).  Well, starting early this year, that ole’ political bug came back and for six months nearly all my internet and television time is politics and my food blogging has suffered for it.  Well, on Friday, I decided to have a “politics-free” weekend. 

And it’s been good.

Unfortunately, I know I won’t be able to stay politics-free, not until after November 4th, at least.  Should the “wrong” ticket win, then it will remain even harder, but I will try.

Anywhoo, on my politics-free weekend, I made a great steak!  I had purchased a London Broil and knew I had marinate it.  So, I mixed together red wine (about 1 ½ cups), balsamic vinegar (about a 1/3rd of a cup), a tablespoon of pickling salt because it dissolves in cold liquids, ½ teaspoon of dried time and a pinch each of onion and garlic powder.  In went the steak (about 1 ½ pounds) for three hours.  Into a grill pan for a few minutes each and to rest for five minutes.

WOW!!  It was good!

You’ll notice the lack of pictures and measurements for everything – that’s because I was winging it and didn’t expect it to come out so good.  Oh, well.

September 21, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | Leave a comment


Hot Dogs + Bacon = Controversy?  In LA, yes, it does.

How two of the happiest things in the world could be causing such problems is beyond me, but hey – it’s the left coast and no one knows what’s going on there.  It seems a favorite street food is bacon wrapped hot dogs and nothing in the world could make more sense to me, except if they were cheese filled and deep fried, that is.

But, like so many things we have in our kitchen, bacon is classified as a “hazardous” food and therefore special handling and equipment is required whenever you deal with bacon.  And street vendors, do you think they have all of the equipment required by “the man”?  No way.  So, cops are cracking down on these vendors, coming in garbage trucks and tossing all the food AND THE CARTS into the truck and hauling the vendors off to jail time.  Thank God the people of LA are protected from violent pork products – I’m sure everyone sleeps better.

Here’s a link to Drew Carey’s show on the illicit bacon-dog trade.  I can’t for the life of me get it to embed.

September 16, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | Leave a comment


September 11, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | Leave a comment


I read somewhere, oh, a hundred years ago, that the average cook settles on 10-15 dishes and makes those over and over again.  I thought about that and said to myself, “Self, you’re so much better than that.  So much more well rounded, (watch the fat jokes there, Sara!) well read and adventurous – you’re not like that at all!”

But, deep down, this New England cook is a lot like that.  I might find new Cucumber and Tomato Salads to make from half-a-world away or try to cook dishes from Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, but when I write out the menus for the week (yes, I’m a geek), they all center around my Go-To Dishes.  A Go-To dish is one you make a lot, like it a lot and always seem to have the ingredients on hand.  Here are some of my Go-To Dishes:

  • Shepherds Pie – A favorite my whole life, literally.  I use less vegetables than a “real” Shepherds pie, but most people (like myself)  also use a lot less lamb than the real one, too – so I don’t feel too bad about it.  Here’s my baked potato version.
  • Chicken Meredith – A fancier dish, but when I need to make food for company, this is the first thing I think of.
  • Sunday Gravy – I know, what is an guy of Irish Descent making a classic Italian-American dish, even going as far as to use the Italian-American vernacular for red sauce?  Two words: Sara Moulton.
  • Baked Beans – My grandfathers, what can I say?
  • Corn Chowder – I love thick, cream or creamy soups.
  • Fresh Salsa – OK, I don’t have the ingredients on hand all the time, fresh tomatoes are only available for a month or 6 weeks a year, but canned tomatoes work pretty well, too.

I know there’s a few I have left out, they’ll come to me while making next weeks menu, but this gives good flavor to Mike’s Go-To Dishes.

What are yours?

September 10, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | 1 Comment


Flipping through the September Bon Appetit, I came across an article on family meals at various restaurants.  Family meal is the staff meal before service, usually something not all that wonderful using leftover and sometimes questionable ingredients.  Of course, some restaurants make a big (or at least bigger) deal and these are the places Bon Appetit highlighted.

The meal that caught my eye was from Mario Batali’s Otto (There’s no link because Mario’s site seems to have been hacked and infected with viruses) in New York – Chicken Parmesan.  It’s the recipe of choice when the Morning Sous is cooking.  It uses Mario’s Basic Tomato Sauce, something I’ve never made.  I’ve been hesitant to try it because it has carrot in it and I just couldn’t understand that.  But, I made it and I used my canned tomatoes.  Speaking of those, I picked up another box of tomatoes and they ripened so quickly, I had to can them Thursday night.  They were starting to soften and split and no way would they last another few days, so as I watched John McCain, I steamed up the kitchen.  Anyway, this is my adaptation of Otto’s Family Meal Chicken Parmesan

Mario’s Basic Tomato Sauce

  • 1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon dried
  • ¾ cup medium carrot, finely shredded
  • 28-ounces peeled whole tomatoes
  • Salt

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook for 5 minutes more, or until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes with their juices. Bring to a boil, stirring often, and then lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Season with salt and serve.

OK, this was the best tomato sauce I have ever had!  It was outrageous!  The only problem is I’m not sure if it was the carrot or the tomatoes that made it so good, but one way or the other, it was incredible.


  • 3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups of fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup of flour
  • 2-3 cups of mozzarella
  • 1 ½ cups of grated parmesan-asiago-romano cheese, mixed

Cut the breasts in half lengthwise.  Add the flour to a gallon zip bag and add the 6 chicken breast pieces and shake it up until the breast pieces are coated.  Add olive oil to a on-stick skillet and bring up to temp over medium-high heat.  Mix the eggs in a pie plate and add the breadcrumbs to another plate.  Shake off the excess flour from the breast pieces, dip in the egg and then into the breadcrumbs and then into the skillet without overcrowding.  Cook on each side for 2 minutes.

While the first batch is in the skillet, add some of the tomato sauce to the bottom of a 9×13 inch glass baking dish.  Move the first three chicken breasts to the dish and top with ½ the remaining sauce and ½ the cheeses.  After the next three breasts are done, add to the dish and top with the remaining sauce and then the cheese.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.


Oh, yeah – just look at it.  It was as good as it looks.

September 7, 2008 Posted by | Main Dish, Recipe | 1 Comment


Boy, did it rain here yesterday!  As I was making dinner, Hurricane Hannah came rushing through off the coast and drenched us all!  The winds weren’t bad, but the rain!  We live on a main street in town and this is what it looked like in front of our house:


That’s why I was INSIDE cooking dinner.

September 7, 2008 Posted by | Random Blather | Leave a comment