By  Samantha Gianulis –  Apron Strings

I think I have learned more from the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives than any other cooking show.

Culinary culture has always captivated me. In Sara Moulton’s old show, Cooking Live, she often had a woman who was a food historian on her show discussing origins of certain cuisines and ingredients. Alton Brown has a regular food anthropologist on Good Eats who chimes in during his sketches every now and then, my favorite is the discussion of the marshmallow’s evolution, which takes place in a “swamp.”

Open-Face Turkey Sandwich with Mashed Potatoes

for the sandwich:
(1) 1-2 lb. turkey breast, preferrably bone-in
1 slice thick bread, such as ciabatta
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
1 tsp. dried rosemary or 1/2 sprig of fresh rosemary
1/2 cup chicken broth
1-2 tbsp. all purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste


for the potatoes: *
1 lb. peeled potatoes
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup milk
1 stick butter
1/3 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste


Bring a pot of water to a boil for potatoes. Add potatoes to water as soon as it begins to boil.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Pour olive oil over turkey breast, sprinkle over poultry seasoning, marjoram, rosemary, salt and pepper.
Roast turkey 15 minutes per pound, plus 10 minutes, or until internal temp is 165 degrees.


By this point, your potatoes should be boiling away.


Remove turkey from pan, set aside.
Over medium-high heat, add flour to pan, stir/wisk with pan juices, to form the roux.
When you have a light brown roux, add chicken broth, and keep stirring, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Keep your gravy on low, stirring occasionally, while you mash the potatoes.
Let the turkey breast continue to rest.


Slice the bread into sandwich size pieces.
Toast your bread under a broiler (not for long! be careful!) or in a conventional toaster.


Mash the potatoes with a potato masher, add in butter. When butter is melted, add in cream, milk, sour cream, salt and pepper.
* You may prefer less liquid than we do, but I add in the cream and milk gradually until I get a consistency that I am happy with.


Slice turkey for the sandwich now, in a size that works for the size and thickness of your bread slice.


Place turkey on top of bread, a scoop of mashed potatoes on top of turkey, and gravy on top of potatoes. Or do the mashed potatoes on the side. Up to you.

Food can be smart as well as cool.


I believe the two intersect in diners. Not the show, but the American culinary icon. I absolutely LOVE diners. They’re living history. They started as mobile food stands (carts) in the 19th century to feed employees of newspapers. Around the turn of the century, diners went from carts/lunch wagons to stainless-steel sided, immobile establishment. Diners were not always shiny exterior, vinyl booth establishments at their height in the 40s and 50s. (And on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the predominant culture among diner-owners are Greeks, who opened more than 600 in NY between the 50s and the 70s. I sure married into the right culture). From lunch wagon and food cart to steel panels, diners were designed to feed hungry people good food in between the things a productive new world had them doing.


Sounds familiar, huh? I know. I think that is why I like it. I am certain I ran such an eatery in a past life. Diners have been consistent, from the Reconstruction era, through World Wars, the Depression, baby booming, the 60s, 70s, and into the modern world, where “retro” still tastes delicious.


My affinity for diners could be explained by their cinematic significance. That diners are important locations in some of the best movies ever made; Easy Rider, Goodfellas, Diner. There is a strong connection between diners and film. Just last month, I sat at Corvette Diner in San Diego, beneath a poster of James Dean, with a television screen mounted on the wall playing North by Northwest. Diners, food and American culture have evolved together, are dependent on each other, and celebrate each other (first diner was created for writers – HELLO!).
And I’m not saying I don’t love the classic cooking shows, the ones that pre-date the Food Network: Yan Can Cook and Great Chefs, for instance. When Food Network first came to cable in my city, I didn’t watch anything else (I still don’t, really – except the History Channel). I feel asleep every night, pregnant with my first child, watching East Meets West with Ming Tsai, and adored Jamie Oliver for his clean, yet obsessive approach to food.


But on DDD, “triple D”, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, there are people just like me cooking food that has been in their family for a respectable amount of time. Time, as in history, as in, tradition, as in, identity.


Some of the cooks/chefs on DDD are classically trained, but most are people who love food as well as making other people happy. You don’t get on that show if cooking is just a job. You don’t get in people’s heads or hearts unless your passion is evident and tangible.


The methods and secrets of cooking by diner cooks and chefs are just as important as the recipes, that is, if they even follow a recipe. It’s a vision to watch a Southern woman say in the kitchen of a diner she’s operated for 50 years, “When ah [I] can smell it, then ah [I] know it’s duhn [done].”


That is how I kind of operate around here. It’s the same thing as if the kids are quiet, they’re up to no good.


Now, asking me to pick my favorite diner food would be like asking me to choose my favorite book, but as we’re approaching Thanksgiving, I think I’ll post about open-faced turkey sandwiches and mashed potatoes with gravy.


I haven’t used the “c” word at all in this post. Because you know what comforts you, and if you like diners as well, maybe, if I have done what I intended to do, this post was comforting too, and made you want to go to a diner for lunch today. And look for Bobby DeNiro, or the pucker-mouthed waitress with a pen behind her ear that calls you “Hun” when she asks you if you want your usual, whatever your usual happens to be. And Buddy Holly or the Stones playing in the background.


If you can’t accomplish that today, for dinner, make this.

Smantha Gianulis

Samantha recently released my her family food memoir, Little Grapes on the Vine…Mommy's Musings on Food & Family .

Samantha is a self-taught chef. She worked in the Catering and Special Events industry for seven years before becoming a stay at home, now a work at home, Mom.
She appeared on NBC's ivillage Live.

Smantha Gianulis

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