A day or so ago I got into a discussion about favorite diner foods. Lots of people chose things like biscuits and gravy, grilled cheese, etc. For me, however, my favorite diner food memory goes back to this terrible terrible diner in Central PA that we used to frequent before we were old enough to drink. We would drink sixteen cups of coffee while smoking just as many cigarettes, until the waitress would start to complain about us hanging out and not eating anything. At which point we would order grilled blueberry muffins.
To make the perfect grilled blueberry muffin: 1. Take one blueberry muffin, cut it in half vertically. 2. Place on a diner griddle along everything else that is already on there, mainly bacon, sausage, pancakes. 3. Forget about it for ten minutes. 4. Slather it with 4-5 tablespoons of butter. 5. Drop it on a plate and unceremoniously dump it on table 12 were those kids are always hanging out doing nothing but drinking coffee.
It’s hard to replicate the diner grilled muffin experience in the home, mainly because the true flavor comes from all of the junk on the griddle. However, talking about them this week prompted me to make some blueberry muffins of my own.
The original recipe was for six muffins, but I just picked up this pretty antique muffin tin that I wanted to use, so I doubled the recipe. Since these are corn muffins they aren’t quite as sweet as regular muffins, but I kinda dig that; it makes you feel like you’re not eating a tablespoon of butter in each one. I was a little disappointed about how well they rose though. They ended up being slightly flatter that I would have wanted. Despite this though, they are moist without being too dense and the lemon flavor is a nice highlight on top of the blueberries. And of course because I can’t leave well enough alone, I enhanced the recipe with a couple of glugs of Grand Marnier. Glugs is, of course, the technical term for dumping in a random amount that seems right. I’m going to say two tablespoons worth.
Blueberry Lemon Corn Muffins
Adapted from Gourmet, August 1998
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1.5 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1 cup blueberries
Preheat the oven for 375. Melt the butter and let it cool. While it’s cooling, whisk the flour, baking powder, cornmeal, 1 cup of sugar and lemon zest together in a large bowl. In a second bowl, beat the milk, eggs and butter together, then combine with the dry ingredients until just mixed. Gently stir in 3/4 of the blueberries. Distribute the mixture into 12 paper-lined baking cups. Press the remaining blueberries into each each cup so there are blueberries on top of each muffin. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar evenly over the tops of each muffin. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the tops start to brown and a toothpick comes away clean. Remove from tin and let cool on a rack.
You know what would make these muffins even better? Bacon. You can overdo some things in life but never bacon. I think I’ll try to grill some of these muffins in a pan that I’ve cooked bacon in and see if I can replicate the diner experience.
Life Lessons From the Diner
We always had the same waitresses at the diner. The older ones actually didn’t mind us too much, and some of them even called us things like “Hon” and “Sugar” like characters in an old movie. One in particular used to make us vanilla cokes, which weren’t on the menu. I’m pretty sure she was just dumping some vanilla extract into our cokes. These older women seemed perfectly content to be waitresses in a diner, acted like they had been, and would, be there forever and for the most part were pretty friendly.
The exception was one waitress who was much younger than all the others. In truth she was probably only a few years older than us. She wasn’t mean exactly, but she wasn’t super friendly. It was as though she didn’t want to settle in, get too comfortable with the clientele because she wasn’t going to be there long. I remember she had olive skin, wore far too much makeup and you could always see her black bra through her white waitress uniform (maybe a conscious effort to garner more tips). Of course, being nothing but a big ‘ole sack of hormones at the time, I loved this waitress.
I was back home visiting the folks recently and went back to the diner with Dr. Fiance. Even though the diner had literally burned down and been rebuilt three times since I left town, that same waitress was still there waiting tables. She still wears too much makeup, and the white uniforms are now black t-shirts but she’s still there. The difference is that instead of being exotic and and sexy, she now looks old, tired, and melancholy. It was a sad reminder that if you don’t get your ass out of the diner it’s likely you’re going to stay in the diner forever. Just sayin.