Mel’s Diner

Sharp Knives, Raw Meat and Fire


I had to link to this post from one of my favorite sites, Ed Levine’s Serious Eats.  This contains two of my favorite cooking things…Cast Iron and Mac and Cheese.


October 3, 2009 Posted by | Main Dish, Opinion, Recipe | Leave a comment


Well, it must be fall because I’ve started canning tomatoes.  A wonderful farm stand in a nearby town sells “canning tomatoes”.  These are really nice tomatoes, more often than not, very ripe, ugly, misshapen or with a scar, just not very perfect for the main shelf.  They are also $10.00 for 25 pounds, about 40 cents a pound.  I’ve got another 15 pounds or so ripening on my dining room table and I’m getting another box for the winter.

If you have a chance to get tomatoes like these, I can’t encourage you enough to get them for winter.  Here is my procedure to can tomatoes:

Peel the tomatoes. – Cut out the stem end with a paring knife and make several slashing cuts through the skin.  Drop them into boiling water for about 30 seconds.  Remove from water and run cold water over them under the faucet, all the while peeling the skin off.  Chop

Cook down the tomatoes in a large pan (I use my turkey roaster) until reduced by quater to a third, stirring often so the tomatoes don’t burn on the bottom.

Sterilize the jars – I use my dishwasher for this.  Put the quart jars in the dishwasher and quick wash or regular wash the jars.  Just before canning, boil the tops in hot water for 5 minutes to sterilize and soften wax.

Fill clean jars with hot tomatoes to within ½ inch of the top.  Place a hot top on the jar and screw on a lid.

Place in a stockpot a wire cooling rack in it so the jars don’t sit on the bottom.  Fill with just enough water to cover jars, bring to a boil.  When the water is boiling, place jars in the pots and boil for 40 minutes.  Remove tomatoes and cool on racks or a towel.  When cool, check the canning by pressing on the center of each lid, it should not pop up, if it does, place in refrigerator for use within a week – they will still be good.

Here’s the first 15 quarts:


DISCLAIMER:  The FDA says the tomatoes we have today are not acidic enough to can without adding additional acid to them, like powdered vitamin C or lemon juice.  A low acid environment may allow the growth of the bacteria that can cause botulism; one of the most deadly pathogens known to man.  I believe cooking down the tomatoes increases the acid level and I’ve had no problems.  BUT, that doesn’t mean I won’t or you won’t.

September 8, 2009 Posted by | Local, Recipe | 1 Comment


While at the bookstore last week I picked up a little book in the sale section called The Great Salsa Book.  I like salsa and I think I make a pretty good basic Tomato Salsa Fresca.  This weekend, on a whim I thought I would try the first recipe in the book, Tomatilla Salsa Verde.  I’ve never really had a green salsa, living in New England and all, but I thought what the heck, let’s give it a shot. 

Tomatillo Salsa Verde


  • 1 lb tomatillos
  • 3 Serrano chiles with seeds (I had Jalapenos, so I used them)
  • 3/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 tbls. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt


Husk & rinse the tomatillos. Coarsely chop them & place them in a food processor or blender. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor & puree. Transfer to a serving dish but let it sit for about 30 minutes before serving.

I tried this as soon as it came out of the food processor – it was terrible!  Very bitter!  SO, I let it sit like the recipe says and, lo and behold, it was much better.  Still, fairly bitter, but quite nice on a corn chip.  Interesting.

After that, I was inspired to do more salsas!  I had two poblanos and a left over Fresno pepper and two jalapenos.  I roasted them by putting them under the broiler and flipping them as they blackened their skins.  Out of the oven and into a plastic bag to steam for 20 minutes.  Out of the bag, peel the skins off and de-seed.  I then diced my roasted peppers and put in a bowl.  Add to that a small onion, diced, one large tomato, peeled and diced.  A tablespoon or two of olive oil and 2-3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, salt, ½ small bunch of cilantro and ½ of a lime, juiced.

This one – really good.  The roasted peppers added a different dimension and it wasn’t as spicy/hot as my regular salsa. 


August 10, 2009 Posted by | Appetizer, Recipe, Side Dish | Leave a comment


Well, let’s try this again, huh?  I’ve been out of the food blogging world for a couple of months now, but I THINK I’m back.  Work was crazy beyond comprehension for months now and I just didn’t have time to blog, even have time to cook.

My good friend at work, Lana, mentioned watermelon rind pickles a few weeks back.  She was fondly remembering the pickles she used to have as a little girl 29 years ago and I chimed in with me remembrances of the same pickles I used to have as a kid (more than 29 years ago).  I impulsively said I would make some for her along with Mike’s world famous Fire and Ice Salsa, maybe the perfect use of watermelon.  Now, what I wasn’t ready for was the breeding and genetic engineering we have done to watermelons.  Because no one in their right mind uses the rind, we have bred our watermelons to have a very thin rind, about half as thick as when I was a whipper-snapper back in the last century, so the pickles are a bit thin.


  • 2 quarts water
  • Rind from 1 large watermelon
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cloves
  • 1 small stick cinnamon, in pieces
  • 2 tablespoons whole allspice


Remove the pink pulp from the watermelon and cut the rind into manageable pieces. Cover with boiling water and boil for 5 minutes; drain and cool. Cut off the green outer skin of the watermelon rind and remove any remaining bits of pink pulp. Cut the rind into 1-inch strips or squares or any shape you prefer. You should have 8 cups of cut-up rind. Mix the salt with 1 1/2 quarts cold water and pour over the rind. Let stand at room temperature for about 6 hours. Drain, soak in several changes of fresh, cold water, and drain again. Cover with fresh, cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer just until tender when pierced with a fork; drain. Mix the vinegar, 1 cup water, and the sugar in a pot, then add the cloves, cinnamon, and allspice tied in a cheesecloth bag. Simmer until the sugar dissolves. Add the watermelon rind and simmer until it is clear, adding more water only if necessary. Remove the spice bag. Pack in hot, sterilized jars and cover with the boiling liquid, leaving 1/4-inch headspace, and seal. If you wish, process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

Like I said, I was dealing with new watermelons, so I’m not sure I had 8 cups of rind, but it was pretty close.  I had about 1/3 cup of pickling brine left over, but I did fill two pint jars.


The pickles were just what I remembered and Lana thought she had died and gone to Heaven; she found them to just as she remembered, too.  Quick and easy, they are worth a try for anyone.


July 28, 2009 Posted by | Recipe, Side Dish | 2 Comments


When I was growing up, one of my favorite canned recipes that came from my Grandparents kitchen was the chili sauce (like this, but better).  The chili sauce I ate was a sweet, spiced, vinegar-y tomato sauce that was served as a side dish to beef.  This wasn’t made all the time, not every year – it was like a total afterthought to extra tomatoes.

As I got older, I realized nobody was making this but my Grandfather every once in a while.  So, I went to his house one day and asked for the recipe.  He went to an ANCIENT book with recipes taped to the pages.  He came to a page with a handwritten recipe on it called, “Mrs. Bingley’s Tomato Chili”.  The Bingley’s were a family that lived in the village of Bancroft, Massachusetts where my Grandparents lived.  Mr. Bingley even built me a little wooden chair when I was born that I have to this day – my cousin Craig refinished it and my kids still sit in it.  That recipe must be well over one hundred years old.  And today, I present it you. No strings, no copyrights, it’s for you to enjoy and if you don’t, you’re the worse for it.


  • 18 Large Tomatoes, peeled and diced (I used a #10 can of whole tomatoes)
  • 4 large onions, chopped
  • 4 large bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups of cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tsp. of allspice
  • 1 ½ tsp. of cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tsp. of cloves
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. of salt


Combine all ingredients in a large stockpot (8 quarts or so) and bring to a boil.  Simmer, uncovered for 3 hours until thickened. 


Can in pint jars in boiling water for 20 minutes.

It’s so good, sweet and tangy – a perfect side to almost anything, but especially beef.  It’s also a great addition to meatloaf.

March 22, 2009 Posted by | Recipe, Side Dish | 1 Comment



I always make my own chicken stock.  Beef stock? Not so much.  I still haven’t had the best luck with that and that’s because I can’t get beef neck bones.  At least, that’s what I believe.  I really need to go to a cooking school class for this, seriously.

Chicken, I’ve got.  I make a great roasted chicken stock.  And I think you can, too.  I haven’t purchased chicken stock from a store in years.  I make a roast chicken nearly every Sunday because, heck why not?  It’s good and if you watch the flyers, it’s cheap and everyone likes it.  PLUS, you get a chicken carcass, perfect for stock.  If you’re not ready to make stock, you can freeze them for later.


  • A couple of chicken carcasses, maybe two or three
  • Two medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • One large carrot, peeled and cut into quarters
  • One large celery stalk, quartered
  • A bundle of parsley stems, 6-7 black peppercorns, a bunch of thyme and a bay leaf or two, all tied in a cheesecloth bag.  (Or loose, I’ve done that with no problem)

Put everything in a stock pot and push the bones down to not have too much empty space.  Fill with water to cover 2 or 3 inches over the bones.  Bring to a bare simmer on the stove and skim any yucky stuff off.  Set into a 190 degree oven and cook for 4-8 hours.  Remove and skim or cool until a fat raft forms and remove raft. 


I then freeze it in straight sided pint Bell jars until ready for use.

This is so much better than what you buy in the store.  It doesn’t take that much work, but it does make some great stock.  Often, you can use it in place of beef stock, so your stock buying goes down that much more.

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Recipe | 2 Comments


I can’t seem to stay away from Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie!  Snooping over at his blog, I saw he had a beef jerky post from his book.  Realizing my oven has a drying setting, I figured why not try?  At the store, I had a top round roast in my hand when I went to one of the employees working the counter as she was telling another patron that the best way to make jerky was to buy one of the round roasts and have them slice thinly for her. 

“A grand idea”, I thought. 

So, when she finished with the other customer, I asked for a brisket (for corned beef – It’s St. Patrick’s Day next week!) and asked her to slice my roast for jerky.  I got the brisket and the sliced roast.  I thought they might trim the little bit of fat before slicing since it was for jerky, but they didn’t.  So, when I got home, I set about to trimming the fat from each slice.  It wasn’t too bad considering the thin, even slices I got, but next time (and there will be a next time!) I will pick out an eye of the round because that has no fat.

Michael’s post from his blog substituted chipotle powder for the chopped chipotles in the original recipe.  I happened to have some chipotle powder, along with some ancho chile powder, which is less hot and sweeter than the chipotle.  So, I modified Michael’s modified jerky recipe


  • 2 ½ ponds of lean beef (round is great), sliced thinly
  • 1 ½ Tbls. Kosher salt
  • 1 ¾ tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1 ¾ tsp. Onion Powder
  • 1 tsp. Chipotle chile powder
  • 1 tsp. Ancho chile powder
  • 1 Tbls. Brown sugar

Cut the beef into thin strips about a 1/8th-inch thick and an inch wide (length is not critical).  Combine the remaining ingredients and toss to coat evenly.  Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.  Place strips on a rack over a pan so that all sides dry. 


Dry the beef at 90 degrees F. for 16-20 hours.  If your oven does not go to 90 deg., try the lowest setting with the door propped open, checking every so often.  The beef should be dry to the touch, dark, and very stiff.  If completely dried and stored in an airtight container this beef jerky will keep for several months or longer at room temperature.

I added the brown sugar because almost all of the other jerky recipes had some kind of sugar in them and after tasting the beef, I felt it needed just a touch of sweetness.  I’m able to lower my oven temp to 100 degrees in drying mode, but I felt the beef would dry out better with the door cracked open, so I dried the jerky at 120 degrees for 12 hours and it was perfect!  Oh, I only “marinated” the beef for 4 or 5 hours because that’s all the time I had and I don’t believe it suffered.  In fact, it may habe been the best jerky I haave ever eaten.  I’m looking forward to many more times being a jerk!


March 8, 2009 Posted by | Recipe | Leave a comment


A couple of times in my blog postings, I’ve mentioned that I had nothing to post because I wasn’t making anything special enough to post about.  Often, that’s true, but equally as often, what I’m making is still pretty good and worthy of posting.  Case in point, my kicked-up Rice Krispie Treats.

Now, who doesn’t love these?  Sticky, marshmallow-y treats, all sweet and yummy?  I’m in the habit of kicking them up by adding additional cereals to the Rice Krispie’s, like Fruity Pebbles and Fruit Loops.  I once, in a Bart Simpson Squishy moment, made a treat with ALL Fruity Pebbles.  Let’s just say it was so sweet, I woke up with the same sugar hangover Bart did.  This one was pretty good, though:


  • 3 Tbls butter
  • 1 bag of marshmallows (about 11 oz.)
  • 4 cups of Rice Krispie Cereal
  • 3 cups of Fruit Loops

Spray an 8 X 8 or 11 x 7 pan with non-stick spray.  Gather the cereal in a large bowl, ready to add.  Melt the butter in a large pot.  When butter is melted, add marshmallows and stir to melt.  Once melted, quickly add to the cereal and stir to combine.  It’s going to come together quickly and mold into a huge ball around your spoon if you don’t get a move on!  Spoon into the prepared pan and wet you hands.  Push down and mold into the pan; it will be ready to cut in 15 minutes.



March 6, 2009 Posted by | Dessert, Recipe | Leave a comment


Who doesn’t love old recipes?  Who doesn’t love combing two of them into one great new recipe? That might even be better.  I was able to buy up on ground beef, so I was looking for good ground beef recipes for dinner this week.  For inspiration, Tommy and I checked out his lunch menu from school and what should I find right at the top?  Meatball subs!  Normally, I don’t like meatball subs because they are so saucy and…well, saucy.  Figuring I could do better than that, I threw it up on the menu board for this week – Tuesday to be exact.

Firstly, I got the sauce going.  I decided I would make Mario’s basic tomato sauce.  This sauce is so good, I’m in awe every time I make it.


  • 1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 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.

OK, now to the meatballs.  There is only ONE meatball recipe in Mike’s House, that’s from my buddies at the Pacific St. Social Club.  Aside from the meatballs being the best I have ever had, I would lie just to be a part of the club. Old men, drinking wine, making meatballs….it doesn’t get better!


  • 1 cup cubed stale bread (as from an Italian loaf)
  • Milk for soaking the bread
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, such as sirloin
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves (I use 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese (OK, no Romano or Parmesan, so I used Monterey Jack because that’s what I had and any cheese is good cheese)
  • 2 large eggs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, combine the bread with enough milk to just cover and let the bread soak for 10 minutes. Squeeze dry and chop fine.

In a bowl, combine the bread with the meat, garlic, parsley, Romano or Parmesan cheese, eggs, and salt and pepper to taste. Form into 12 to 14 meatballs, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, and chill until ready to cook.

The original recipe says to brown the meatballs in olive oil and then finish cooking in homemade red sauce (Sunday Gravy).  Instead, I always cook in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes; they never fall apart on me that way.

OK, cut the meatballs in half and also cut the sub rolls in half, too.  Place 4 to 5 meatball halves on one half of the sub roll.  Cover with more shredded Monterey Jack and some basic tomato sauce.


Oh, yeah!  Oh, yeah!  Oh, yeah!

March 3, 2009 Posted by | Main Dish, Recipe | 1 Comment


I’ve been counting on Google and their cached webpages to supply me with info and recipes from my old blog hoster (is that a word) Clearblogs and the original Mel’s Diner.  As I went back for this post, I was shocked to find it gone!!  It was just there a few weeks ago, I used it for the recipe for this post!  I don’t have that recipe written down!  Fortunately, Google had a cache of my last Clearblogs page and it’s posts and at the very bottom, the last post cached was my recipe!  Saved! 

And we are very lucky for that because it’s my corned beef recipe.  And by corned beef, I mean the recipe for the brine to corn the beef.  It’s a cobbled together recipe, partly from Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie (again) and partly from iliketocook’s lovely and gracious Sara’s much despised recipe for Irish Spiced Beef.  I first made it two Thanksgiving’s ago and I liked it a lot, though I found it to be too clove-y.  This time, I cut the cloves and made the best corned beef I have ever had in my Irish roots, I-eat-a-lot-of-corned-beef life!



  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 cups (1 pound) Morton’s kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 ounce (5 teaspoons) Saltpeter
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp ground cloves (down from ½ tsp in the original recipe)
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp whole peppercorns, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp Mustards seed, ground
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground mace
  • 3 dried bay leaves

Combine everything in a pot and bring to a boil to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Once combined, remove from heat and cool down to room temperature.  Refrigerate the cooled mixture until well chilled.  Add a 4-5 pound beef brisket to chilled mixture, weigh it down with a plate and refrigerate 5 days.  I removed the beef and, because we weren’t eating it soon, I froze it. 


That was a week and a half ago.  Saturday, I defrosted it and I cooked it yesterday.  I put the brisket in an 8 quart stock pot and covered it with about a gallon of water.  I brought it up to a boil and simmered it for 5-10 minutes.  I drained the water to rinse away any excess brine and salt from the beef and added another gallon to 6 quarts of water and brought it to a boil again.  I simmered it for 3 ½ hours, adding carrots, cabbage and potatoes near the end to cook them.  I sliced it, served it with the veggies and……WOW!



You’re welcome.  Sounds a bit vain, but, c’mon, when your right, you’re right.

March 2, 2009 Posted by | Best Of...., Main Dish, Recipe | 1 Comment