Mel’s Diner

Sharp Knives, Raw Meat and Fire


3 frickin’ posts?!?  That all I did in February?  I’m so ashamed, and I mean that.  I had other things to post about, but I didn’t.  I’m just out of the habit.  My best blog buddy Sara (who I haven’t reached out to in weeks) has retired the Weekend Cookbook Challenge and I didn’t even know.  I haven’t posted to that in months!!  I’m such a loser!  I swear to her, I swear to you, I swear to God, I will post more.  My Lenten observance will be to post at least three days a week (notice I didn’t say, “three times” a week, I could do that in one day by splitting a post into three parts).


February 28, 2009 Posted by | Opinion, Random Blather | 4 Comments


Quite a while back I picked up Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman.  It was in Charcuterie that I got the basis of the Corned Beef recipe I’ve used.  Soon there after, I loaned it to a friend and never saw it again for two years.  Just a few weeks ago, I got it back and I had forgotten how wonderful it is.  Flipping through the book, I stumbled upon his sausage recipes and vowed to try the Italian Sausage recipes, mainly because it wasn’t intended to be cased.  I picked up some ground pork and went to town.


  • 4 pounds of boneless shoulder butt, diced (I used the ground pork I bought)
  • 1 pound pork fat back, diced (I used about ½ pound of lard I had)
  • 1 ½ ounces (3 Tbls) kosher salt
  • 2 Tbls Sugar
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 Tbls fennel seeds, lightly toasted (maybe 1 Tbls would be better)
  • 2 tsp coarsely ground pepper
  • 2 Tbls sweet paprika
  • ¾ cup of ice water
  • ¼ cup chilled red wine vinegar
  1. Combine all of the ingredients except the water and vinegar and toss to distribute the seasoning.  Chill until ready to grind.
  2. Grind the mixture through the small die into a bowl set in ice water. (The ice water keeps the mixture cool.  If it warms up, even to room temperature, the fat separates and reduces the quality of the cooked sausage.)
  3. Add the water and vinegar to the mixture and mix with the paddle attachment (or sturdy spoon) until the liquids are incorporated and he mixture has developed a uniform, sticky appearance, about 1 minute on medium speed.
  4. Sauté a small portion, taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

OK, a few things.  Obviously, you need a meat grinder or, more likely, a KitchenAid with the grinder attachment, like I have.  I bought ground pork, but I still mixed it with everything and put it through the grinder anyway. 


It was good.  It was very good.  Maybe a little to fennel-y, but, still very good.  Still, I wondered if the texture wouldn’t be better if I ground the meat myself. 


Last week, I bought some pork butt and found some pork belly, oddly cut into 2 inch thick slices instead of being baconfied, so I bought that for the fat back part of this recipe.  I did make it again, but because it was Ash Wednesday and I’m Catholic and I couldn’t eat meat, so I didn’t actually try it.

February 28, 2009 Posted by | Pork, Recipe | 2 Comments


The first time Clearblogs, my first blog hosting service disappeared, I said I wasn’t all that unhappy because it gave me a chance to repost all of my best recipes.  Of course, Clearblogs reappeared and I never reposted any of the great recipes.

Then, just a month or so ago, Clearblogs disappeared again and this time, it looks for good.  So, I’m taking this opportunity to repost some of what I consider my best recipes.  And one of the best is Mike’s Mac and Cheese.  This post will actually be the THIRD time it has graced the cyber-pages of Mel’s Diner.  The first post was obviously the original Mel’s Diner post and it re-appeared as a link on a Best of… post. 

I made this two times this weekend, perfecting the recipe.  I made it on Saturday for the family to eat for dinner that night and again on Sunday to bring in to work for some very deserving friends. 

As I said in the original post, what makes this Mac and Cheese so good in the Béchamel Sauce (actually an extra cheesy Mornay Sauce).  Steeping the diary in a mirepoix and bouquet garni adds a depth of flavor to the resulting cheese sauce that regular mac and cheese can never match.  Trust me, if I had this as a weapon in high school (or college), I would have had a lot more girlfriends that I did.  Chicks dig guys who can cook.

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • Bouquet Garni (bay leaf, peppercorns, parsley stems, thyme, etc.)
  • 4 cups of Light Cream
  • 2 tbs. of butter
  • 1 ½ cups of shredded cheese (cheddar, jack, muenster, etc. Must be at least half  Cheddar!)
  • ½ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano 
  • 1 1/2 Tbls. flour
  • 2/3 pound of pasta
  • nutmeg, cayenne, salt and white pepper

Make the Béchamel:

Add the onion, carrot, celery and the bouquet garni into a large pan with the milk and cream.  You can see I couldn’t find my cheesecloth, so my bouquet ended up in the pot along with the mirepoix:


Heat to a boil, turn off and allow the aromatics to steep in the dairy for thirty minutes.  After thirty minutes, strain the dairy into another pot and bring to a simmer.  While that is happening, melt the butter and add the flour.  Stir into a roux and cook the roux to a pale stage. Add the hot dairy and whisk until it comes to a boil.  After it thickens, it will be the consistency of gravy.

Make the Mac and Cheese:

Cook the pasta in another pot (I prefer small tube pasta, like macaroni) until totally done, no al dente, please.  Add the cheeses to the sauce and whisk to combine.  I used 1 cup of cheddar, one half cup of jack cheese and, of course, the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

 After the sauce is smooth, add the pasta to the sauce.  Add the nutmeg, cayenne, salt and white pepper to taste.  It is going to be VERY soupy – don’t panic.


As it cools, the pasta will soak up the sauce until it’s just right.  It seems dry, add more cream, or as I did the last time, a bit of the past water and re-taste for salt and pepper.


February 16, 2009 Posted by | Best Of...., Main Dish, Pasta, Recipe | Leave a comment


Well, I guess Mike is back!  Mike is the guy that will try stuff, Mike is the guy that loves bacon, Mike is the guy willing to go where no one has gone before!  OK, people have gone here before, specifically Dave Lebovitz, but normal people won’t go there.   I mean, c’mon, bacon IN ice cream?  Bacon anywhere near ice cream?  That’s the Mike we all love and know.  That’s the Mike I love and know!

I had been promising a lot of friends at work that I would be making this, but never did.  Well, this weekend I decided it was time.  So, I went for it.  The first time I read his recipe/article, I was screaming, “Where’s the maple sugar?”  I’ve had maple “flavored” bacon, and boy it makes the house smell good, but the taste has always been sort of fake.  So, I thought perhaps Lebovitz’s recipe could use a little bit of real maple flavor, so I went down that road.  I used maple sugar on the bacon and made a maple ice cream.



  • 5 strips bacon
  • about 2 tablespoons maple sugar

Ice Cream

  • 1 cup Grade A maple syrup
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 large egg yolks

Make the bacon (“makin’ bacon”)

To candy the bacon, preheat the oven to 400F (200C).  Lay the strips of bacon on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or aluminum foil, shiny side down.  Sprinkle 1½-2 teaspoons of maple sugar evenly over each strip of bacon, depending on length.  Bake for 16-20 minutes. Midway during baking, flip the bacon strips over, cost with more maple sugar and drag them through the dark, syrupy liquid that’s collected on the baking sheet. Flip and coat every 5 minutes.  Continue to bake until as dark as mahogany. Remove from oven and cool the strips on a wire rack.  When cool, cut into rice size pieces.

Ice Cream

In a small saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a simmer and cook until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.  In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk, reduced maple syrup, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat.  Beat the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Whisk 1 cup of the hot cream into the egg yolks. Gradually add the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream, to the hot cream. Return to medium-low heat and cook, whisking, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container.  Cover with plastic wrap, pressing down against the surface to keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours.  Remove from the refrigerator and pour into the bowl of an ice cream machine. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Just before done, add bacon pieces.

Wow!  It was so incredible!  It’s subtle, odd, interesting, sweet, bacon-y – just nothing you’ve never had.  I brought it to work and everyone liked it but one, who just couldn’t wrap her mind around bacon in the ice cream.  David, in the original recipe, called for thick cut bacon.  My bacon was fairly thick, but I think thinner bacon might be better, as long as it got very candied, not burnt.  A candied, crunchy bacon is the key to making this work.


February 2, 2009 Posted by | Dessert, Recipe | 2 Comments