Mel’s Diner

Sharp Knives, Raw Meat and Fire


Love.  That is what the last theme of the last Weekend Cookbook Challenge is.  As I have admitted lately, I haven’t shown a lot of love.  Since last fall, my postings have been sporadic and embarrassing, a lot like my love life.  Wait, I hope I didn’t write that out loud!  The lovely and gracious Sara has hosted this piece of love for longer than I have been posting!  And, finally, she is letting it go.  Not in the, “If you love something let it go and if it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it!” sense, but in the, “it’s time has come” sense, which is much more acceptable in high society. 

This is the last day and in true Mike sense, I should be slipping in my last-minute post.  But, I’m not.  Look, this isn’t about me – this is about Sara.  She has been there for all of us, a lot more than we have been there for her (except for Ruth, who is a super-hero and doesn’t count).  In my heyday, the WCC was a milestone, it was a happy goal to meet every month.  She even let me host it TWICE and especially after the embarrassingly memorable The WCC Never To Be Mentioned (with FIVE entries, including TWO from me!).  If I had more faith in myself, I would pick up this mantle and let the Weekend Cookbook Challenege live on, like the Oldest, Reliable, Permanent, Floating, Crap Game in New York! (whoops, let my Guys And Dolls personality take over there).

Anywhoo, Sara – thanks for everything!  I love ya’, kid!


March 15, 2009 Posted by | Weekend Cookbook Challenge | Leave a comment


Wow, this is the closest I have ever come to missing a Weekend Cookbook Challenge – I seriously considered skipping this.  Not because I didn’t care or because I didn’t have any ideas or I hated the host (I don’t!).  It’s just because I’ve been lazy and busy and the 31st came on to me too fast.

Lisa from Confessions of an Apron Queen picked Fall Vegetables for this month’s challenge and I was all set for my Cheese Squash.  Well, the Cheese Squash sits unmolested on my dining room table and it’s the last day of the Challenge!  So, I broke open my sauerkraut.  What says fall vegetable more than fermented cabbage?  Well, maybe not this fermented cabbage.

I started this sauerkraut five weeks ago, but later than I usually do.  Sauerkraut will be done in 4 weeks, but only if the temperature averages about 60 degrees.  For the past month, it’s been cooler, so the sauerkraut will take longer and that’s what I’ve discovered.  I gave it an extra week and it still needs a little more time.  That being said, it was still good and I ate some, but just a bit longer fermenting will be great.  And the cookbook, it’s the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, Guide 6, Preparing and Canning Fermented and Pickled Vegetables.  Not something you run out to Barnes & Noble’s for – in fact, IT’S FREE!  How can you beat that?  Any way, here’s the sauerkraut with some kielbasa:


Here’s the cabbage still in the brine with a new weight for another week in the house.

October 31, 2008 Posted by | Recipe, Side Dish, Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 2 Comments


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


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


I love Farmer’s Markets.  I mean, I am not an outdoors kind of guy, so you would think going outside hang out with a bunch of un-reformed hippies would be the LAST thing this guy would want to do.  But, every week I jump out of bed early to get to the market.  I even prefer the hippies over the more corporate farms that dot the market here and there – I trust and like their food more.  It’s an enigma.

So, when Michelle from Je Mange la Ville picked Farmer’s Markets for this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge, I smiled like a kid in a candy store.  I had no idea what to make, but I knew all I had to do was to go to the Farmer’s Market and let it tell me what to make.

So, on Saturday I went to the market and came home with:

  • 2 heads of lettuce
  • 1 bunch of carrots
  • 1 bunch of beets
  • 7 or 8 tomatoes
  • 4 or 5 small-ish cucumbers
  • 1 bunch of onions
  • 1 donut (OK, that didn’t make it home)

So, what to make?  Gazpacho!

For a recipe I looked through the cookbooks and settled on The Silver Palate Cookbook.  The only thing that had my head cocked was the addition of EGGS.  OK, I know where my eggs come from and I wouldn’t be scared to eat them raw, but in gazpacho?  I couldn’t do it – so I left them out; I also didn’t have fresh dill, so I used dill weed.  I cut the recipe in half because I didn’t need to serve 8-10 people.  But, here’s the recipe in it’s entirety:


  • 6 large ripe tomatoes
  • 2 sweet red peppers
  • 2 med. sized yellow onions
  • 2 large shallots
  • 2 large cucumbers
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups canned tomato juice
  • 3 eggs lightly beaten
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

Wash & prepare the vegetables. Core & coarsely chop the tomatoes; save the juice. Core, seed and coarsely chop peppers. Peel & coarsely chop onions & shallots. Peel, seed & coarsely chop cucumbers. In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, reserved tomato juice, canned tomato juice & eggs. In a blender or processor with the steel blade, puree the vegetables in small batches, adding tomato juice mixture as necessary to keep blades from clogging. Do not puree completely; the gazpacho should retain some of its crunch. Stir in cayenne, salt & pepper to taste & dill. Cover & chill for at least 4 hours.

Chilling the soup is a necessity and you won’t mind waiting the four hours after you taste how good it is.  A perfect soup for a decidedly un-perfectly hot day, which it was.

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Appetizer, Local, Soup, Vegetables, Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 3 Comments


Well, after a disastrous Weekend Cookbook Challenge just six months ago from which the much loved WCC has barely recovered, I, once again, attempt to host the Weekend Cookbook Challenge, so lovingly raised and nurtured by the gracious Sara.  This time (mercifully), there are more than five entries (yes, I said FIVE – two of them by ME).

First up in this salad extravaganza can only be the queen herself, the first of TWO (yes, I said TWO entries), the effervescent Sara with her Peach and Goat Cheese Salad, (hubba-hubba):


Next is Michelle from Je Mange la Ville with a sexy and delicious Italian salad:


Judy from Judy’s Gross Eats comes up with something not gross at all:

Here’s my entry for the Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Cumin Salt:


Lisa from An Apron A Day has a Big, Fat, Greek Salad that makes this Big, Fat American pretty happy:

Megan from My Baking Adventures comes up with simplicity itself, maybe nearly the perfect salad:


Gucci Girl (and fellow heat-hater) has a marriage-making potato salad with a bonus sweet ending:


Lauren from I’ll Eat You may have the quintessential Asian chicken salad:


Coming in for a redux, Sara has a lovely Jamie Oliver recipe for Walnut and Cheese Salad… hello?  Who doesn’t love those two?:


Anne has our one and only desert salad, a Strawberry and Kiwi BLISS-ful salad:


My second entry is this crazy Spicy Beef Salad with Green Peppercorns, which must be eaten that day – no leftovers!:


Mrs. L from Pages, Pucks and Pantry is next up with a to-die-for egg salad from the incredible Silver Palate Cookbook:


Haalo from Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once may have the most perfect salad; it’s so good that out of pure jelousy, I no longer accept that the website exists.  I know, it’s bit harsh, but JUST LOOK AT IT!:


Finally, we have a newcomer to the WCC – Valerie from Foodie With Family with her Cornbread Salad (in three parts) – both with bacon and vegetarian (why, again, the vegetarian?):


So, we managed to just squeak in just under three times the submissions of the WCC That Must Not Be Mentioned.  I no longer feel like a curse upon the Weekend Cookbook Challenge and I owe it all to you.  Thanks, everyone for the wonderful salads – just in time for summer!

July 2, 2008 Posted by | Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 5 Comments


Dipping back into Where Flavor Was Born, I’ve come up with my second submission for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge – Salads.  This recipe comes out of the Pepper chapter and for good reason; it has four different kinds of peppers in it, black, green, mild and HOT! 


Marinade and such

  • 8-ounce boneless sirloin steak (I used a small porterhouse I had)
  • 2 tsp. oyster sauce (I omitted because I’m allergic to shellfish)
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce (I upped to 4)
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp. of freshly ground black pepper
  • Oil


  • 2 Tomatoes, cut into 6 (make it 8 or 9) wedges each and seeded.
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 two-inch chunk of cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into sticks
  • 2 mild chilies, seeded and diced (I used jalapenos)


  • 2 Tbls. fresh green peppercorns (I used brined)
  • 2 Tbls. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1-4 small bird’s-eye chilies, bruised
  • 2 tsp. fish sauce

Pat meat dry with a paper towel.  Combine the rest of the marinade ingredients (except oil).  Marinate the steak for a few minutes.

Heat a bit of oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Sear the meat for 2 minutes on each side and then return to the marinade.  Let rest for 2 to 4 minutes.

Set the skillet back over medium heat this time and cook for a few minutes on each side until medium-rare.  Transfer to cutting board and rest for 3-5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, scallions, onion, cucumber and mild chilies.  Crush the green peppercorns with the side of a knife.  In a small bowl, combine the rest of the dressing ingredients with the green peppercorns.

Cut the meat diagonally across the grain into ¼ inch slices.  Add to the salad along with the dressing and toss well. Serve immediately.

I thought it had too many green peppercorns – I would go for only 1 tablespoon.  Was the re-marinate worth it?  I think it was – it…I don’t know…it was just really good.  I also hate to say this – but the dressing could have been a bit thicker, more emulsified.  I think the next time I would add some oil and emulsify it before I mix in the chilies. Other than that, it was fun to have hot meat in cold greens and tomatoes – a total winner.

June 29, 2008 Posted by | Recipe, Weekend Cookbook Challenge | Leave a comment


So, I’m hosting the Weekend Cookbook Challenge again (we must never speak of the first charnel house of a hosting I did).  This time, I picked something really fun, salads.  Now, who doesn’t love a salad!  We have green salads (ignored, but unjustly so), composed salads, like the ever famous Waldorf, Jell-O salads, just like my Grandmother used to make, (over and over again), potato salads, egg salads, Asian beef salads, etc.

Also, in total Mike fashion, I waited until the very last second to post (and this is just the first!)  I promised some people I was going to do a Jell-O salad, but…sorry, I’m not.  What I did do was go back to Where Flavor Was Born, the wonderful cookbook the lovely Sara asked a bunch us to review.  Looking for some salads out of the ordinary, I found this one:


  • 1 Tablespoon of whole cumin seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons of coarse sea salt
  • 1 Medium cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 2 Tomatoes, sliced
  • ½ Vidalia onion, sliced
  • Olive Oil
  • Lemon Juice

Toast the cumin seeds in a pan for 1-2 minutes, stirring/shaking very often.  Grind coarsely in a mortar and pestle and mix with salt.

Arrange the tomatoes, cucumber and onion on plates (or one big plate) and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and a little of the cumin salt, serving the rest of the salt on the side.

As he kids would say with their texting, OMG!  This was so good, even my kids loved it!  Katie and Tommy ate the whole salad (including the onions! – Well, Tommy only ate the tomatoes, but Katie ate everything!)

June 28, 2008 Posted by | Recipe, Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 3 Comments


I am so excited I get to host Sara’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge again!  After the last debacle, the last disaster, the last Urkel-age I inflicted upon her happy little world, it’s an honor, nay, a gift to be back.

As summer starts to rear it’s ugly, hot, sweaty…I mean, beautiful and happy face again, what better theme then salads?  I’m not talking just the lettuce, cucumber, tomato, etc. kind, were talking all kinds of salads!  Composed salads like the famous Waldorf, pasta salads like…well, pasta salads, the 1950’s favorite Jell-O salads and every other kind of salad you can think of!  Cool off as the nightmarish heat of summer descends upon us like the fire’s of Hell, I mean as the weather warms. 

So on or before June 29th, send me:

  • A link to your post
  • A picture of your salad
  • Your name



May 28, 2008 Posted by | Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 1 Comment


Wow – a double here.  It’s been OVER A WEEK since I posted and my reasons/excuses run the same gamut Jake Blues (John Belushi) gave the jilted lover (Carrie Fisher) in The Blues Brothers:

“I ran outta gas. I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from outta town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake, a terrible flood, locust’s. It wasn’t my fault!! I swear to God!!”

And just as truthful, too.

And secondly, I’m squeaking in just under the wire for this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge.  It’s so late, I was even taunted by the lovely and gracious Sara about it.  Deservedly so, mind you, considering I am the host of next month’s challenge!

Yesterday, while watching Jamie At Home, I suddenly remembered I hadn’t submitted an entry, heck, I hadn’t even THOUGHT of an entry!  So, as I turned to the TV screen, Jamie started a Rhubarb Marinated Pork and I said, “OK, Rhubarb Marinated Pork it is!”

Of course, the Food Network DIDN’T post this recipe, but I managed to find a link to it on Jamie’s site, in the forum section.  Jamie uses pork belly in the recipe because he likes the layers.  I didn’t have any pork belly, but I did have some pig jowl, which is much like pork belly, so I used that.

Rhubarb and Crispy Pork

Wet Stuff:

  • 1 pound rhubarb
  • 4 tbsp runny honey
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 fresh red chilie, chopped
  • 1 heaped tsp five spice
  • thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

Not wet stuff: 

  • 2 pounds of pork belly or jowl, cut into cubes.
  • Vegetable oil
  • Diced red chilies
  • Diced green onions
  • Cooked noodles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put all the wet stuff ingredients in a food processor and whiz up until juicy, then add ½ cup of water.  

Put pork in an oven safe dish (and one you can put on the stove if possible, if not, don’t fret) with wet stuff and cook in oven for 90 minutes, watching for boil over.

After dish comes out of oven, remove pork with a slotted spoon.  Cook remaining marinade for a few minutes to reduce, skimming fat, if possible, to thicken.  Set aside. 

Heat oil in sauté pan and brown pork in batches.  It browns quickly because of the honey, so don’t walk to far away. 

Serve pork and sauce over noodles, garnished with chilies and green onions, if desired.

Now, after the pork came out of the oven, I though it was going to be pretty disgusting.  Pork jowl and belly are very fatty* and I had these big, ole’ hunks of pork fat facing me.  Well, I soldiered on, not even bothering to make noodles and took one for the team, only to find out it was really good!  Now, it’s definitely a modern take on a very old dish, but that’s part of it’s charm.  Eating  hunks of fried pork fat is encoded in our genes and I immediately understood I was eating as my ancestors did.  In my last WCC entry, I made a hundred year old baked bean recipe and commented on how the beans were there to compliment the salt pork, not the other way around and this is very similar.  You can’t eat a lot of this pork and getting 2/3 of the women today to even entertain the idea is ludicrous, but that doesn’t make it bad. 

Go Jamie!


May 25, 2008 Posted by | Pork, Recipe, Weekend Cookbook Challenge | 6 Comments