Braising Meats

I received a very pretty bright red braising pan from my friends Loretta and Jenny at my tea party bridal shower earlier this year.

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It is made of heavy cast iron with enamel coating. The bright red exterior is complimented by a cream-colored interior. The light-colored inside allows you to see your food cooking and browning on the bottom. You can get this same one at Target. It’s good quality, it’s pretty, and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg! I also have a cast iron dutch oven that I use to braise larger pieces of meat that my husband bought me years ago for Christmas. These heavy cast iron pans will last you a life time if you take care of them. There are so many options, and so many varying prices. You don’t have to buy the most expensive one, but I do think it is important to get one with the cream-colored inside so you can see the food you are cooking!

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I have been using this pan a lot lately especially since it started getting chilly outside. One thing that I have been making quite often is braised chicken. I have seemed to achieve perfection when I make chicken this way…. It always comes out sooooo juicy and falls right off the bone. You can make a simple dinner from it with some steamed veggies or you can pull it off the bones and use it in all kind of dishes.

I like to make chicken thighs because I love the dark meat but I have used breasts and even a whole chicken. I buy the bone-in, skin-on chicken and it should be cut into pieces if you’re going to cook a whole bird.

Start by heating the pan over medium-high heat and adding olive oil or butter (or both). Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides and place it in the hot pan skin side down. Leave it alone so the skin sears and becomes brown and crispy. You’ll know when it is ready to turn when it releases from the pan without resistance. Don’t pull the chicken or try to get it unstuck before this point, you’ll just end up pulling the skin off.

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Flip the chicken over and let it cook on the other side for the same amount of time, until the chicken releases from the pan by itself, don’t force it.

Add in cut up garlic and onions (or whatever other veggies and herbs you want) to the pan and just saute them for about a minute.

Add in chicken stock until it covers about half of the chicken (usually about two cups). You should be able see the top of it above the broth.

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Bring it up to a bubble and then cover it. Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for about an hour. You can also move the pan into the oven at this point and let it bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. You’ll get pretty much the same result.

If I have large pieces of chicken, I usually put it in the oven. If I am just making a few chicken thighs, I leave it on the stove.

Here’s what happens when it is done…

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You can touch it with a utensil and it will just melt apart!

Mmmmm…

You can save the braising liquid to make gravy by adding it to a roux or you can use it in soup. It is packed with a lot of flavor. The onions and garlic become super soft and pretty much just fall apart. You can strain it if you want but I usually just leave the aromatics in it and use the liquid as is.

Here’s a few simple dinners I made:

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Braised chicken with mashed sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli.

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Chicken braised with leeks and white wine added to the braising liquid, sauted mustard greens and broccoli.

This chicken meat is also great to add to soups and noodle bowls, added to pasta dishes, and it is delicious in chicken salad for sandwiches.

I have made several other meats using this method. The cooking time varies but it is the same basic process. Here’s a few more examples…

Braised Short Ribs and Root Veggies:

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Dredge the short ribs in flour, salt and pepper and sear on all sides. Add carrots (unpeeled), garlic, onion, and rosemary to the pot and saute for one minute. Use a stout beer as your braising liquid, I used root beer stout home-brewed by a good friend of mine. Add in some beef stock to bring the liquid about up to the top of the meat (about 1 cup). Bring everything up to a bubble, close the lid, and place in the oven at 350 degrees for 2-3 hours (depending on how large your short ribs are). You can check them by pressing on the meat with a utensil. If the meat starts to separate then they are done. The fat in the short ribs with render and they will fall apart and melt in your mouth! The carrots will hold their shape if you leave the skins on, just clean them well.

You can make gravy with this braising liquid or just spoon it right over the meat when you serve it. I served mine atop mashed parsnips.

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Ginger Braised Pork:

I used a pretty big pork roast for this – about 4.5 lbs. I had to cook this in my larger dutch oven.

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Sear the meat on all sides.

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Add in onions, garlic, and two apples (skinned and diced) and saute for about a minute. Add in a bottle of ginger beer – I used a home-brew again made by a friend. You can find ginger beers in some fancy bottle shops or you can substitute with any kind of fall beer or lager. I think it’s important to note that I used beer flavored with ginger, I did not use the ginger beer that is like ginger ale soda- I’m not really sure how that would turn out… probably too sweet but who knows! Leave me a comment if you try it!

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I used vegetable stock to bring the liquid level up higher – about half way up the roast. Let it come up to a bubble and cover it with the lid. Place it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 3 hours.

You’ll be able to tell it is done by pulling at it with a pair of tongs. If the meat pulls apart easily, it’s done. If it doesn’t pull apart, just put it back in the oven and check it periodically.

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Once again, you can make gravy with the braising liquid or just use it as-is. I served this pork with roasted mixed fall veggies and rice. I added it to my version of an Asian noodle bowl with bok choy, rice noodles, and ginger flavored broth. I also made a stuffed squash with a mixture of pork, mushrooms, rice, and cheese.

Braising does take time, but if you make more than you need for one meal, you can freeze it. I have made so many dishes using the meat that I braised and saved in the freezer. Just portion out about 1 cup per freezer bag. If you add a little of the braising liquid to the bag that you freeze it in, the meat will still be moist when you defrost it. Check back for upcoming recipes and ideas for using the braised meats – I have a lot!

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Downtown for the Holidays in Lacaster

I had a great Saturday with my girlfriends in downtown Lancaster. We went out for a day of shopping and holiday fun.

Here’s how our day went…

We started with brunch at Rachel’s Cafe and Creperie. They have a bunch of special holiday crepes right now and a few special coffee drinks, like peppermint mocha and gingerbread chai served in nice big white mugs.

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We stopped at Lancaster Central Market to pick up some veggies.

Doesn’t everyone look excited!?!

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Saturdays at Central Market are part of my weekly routine. I have been cutting my grocery store visits down a lot and getting everything I need down at the market. I have been picking up the essentials that I can’t get at Central Market at some of the other smaller groceries near my house. I could walk to most of them, like Lemon Street Market. Buy Fresh, Buy Local!

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There’s a new store on King Street! It’s called Seasons Taproom and it is dedicated to quality olive oils and vinegar. I tasted some oils and flavored vinegars and they are excellent quality and the flavors are delicious. I plan on going back to taste more and to maybe make a few purchases. I’m trying to cut back on buying more olive oils because I have many bottles at home that I have to use up. They don’t last forever you know… but I joined an olive oil club that I just can’t quit so I have a lot. Seasons is a great place to buy some nice hostess gifts or something for that friend that just loves to cook.

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And they have those large metal dispensers that I love… just like the other oil shop in Lititz, Pa.

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We walked up King Street to Lancaster’s Eastern Market. A holiday craft market was scheduled from 9-5pm and we wanted to check out the goods. They had a variety of items including cheeses, wines, cards, jewelery, belts, hats, and all kinds of homemade goodies.

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This market is open regularly in the summer months and has a bunch of food and veggies stands. They do have some special seasonal events, like this craft market, at other times throughout the year. They also run skill share weekends that showcase some local talents where you can learn a thing or two. Check the website for upcoming events.

On our way back to the heart of the city, we stopped at Tellus 360 – a shop full of reclaimed wood furniture (beautiful, but out of my budget) and sustainable gift items – some made in Lancaster and some from some major brands. Definitely worth a stop when you are in town! They even have live music some nights and an art gallery in the back.

Here’s our town’s official Christmas tree! If you’re lucky enough to be here on the evening right after Thanksgiving (Black Friday), you can catch the Mayor’s tree lighting and Tuba Christmas.

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Tuba Christmas is an old tradition in Lancaster City where – you guessed it – a whole lotta tubas play Christmas music, everyone stands around outside and the Mayor lights the Christmas tree. Good old-fashioned family fun 🙂 It actually is fun – and there are lots of shops open welcoming customers, market is open late, and there are a good bunch of cozy bars right in the area to choose from to warm your self up in afterwards. Like the Spring House Taproom, Lancaster Dispensing Company, and Annie Bailey’s.

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Onward we marched down to the 300 Block of North Queen Street to visit the antique stores and a huge sort of co-op store called Building Character. They have lots of old stuff turned into new things. Like these magnets:

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It really is fun to look through everything in this warehouse-turned-fancy. You can get an old hinge to match the other old hinges in your house, if you need that kind of thing. You can get second-hand clothes and housewares. You can get new handmade furniture. You can get cards and other crafty stuff. You can even get a rubber duck with a snorkel. It’s also the home to the old printing press that used to be in the Heritage Center. There is a guy there that will show you how to work the press and even let you use it! Building Character also hosts fun events. Check their website to see what’s going on soon!

We ended the night going to see one of our local favorite bands – Vinegar Creek Constituency. We made the trek across the Susquehanna to Burning Bridge tavern. A night of awesome music and lots of friends – and I had this awesome beer to top it all off! Friendship Brew by Green Flash Brewing Company.

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So… I had an awesome day in Lancaster, PA! If you find yourself looking for something to do, go downtown and spend a day just wandering around. There are so many cool shops to stop in and explore.

Check out the Lancaster website for events and information. There are two more weekends before Christmas for you to shop downtown and lots of upcoming events!

Home Brewing and Spent Grain Dog Treats

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We spent Sunday home brewing our next beer for an event that our friends put together called Fe-brew-ary – more on that event in a later post. I think this batch is going to come out good, but time will tell…

We brewed an all-grain batch of brown ale this time. We used a lot of grains… too many for our pot… so we ended up rigging up this cooler system. It was pretty funny, but it worked.

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Throughout our brewing process, the dog seemed a little stressed out that we were rearranging the kitchen. He’s in the picture above looking distraught.

Making an all-grain batch of beer leaves you with A LOT of spent grains. It seems like such a waste to throw them out so I started making Monk some doggie treats out of them. Maybe if he knows treats come after beer he will relax a little.

A little FYI – Dog can not have hops!! It can really hurt them. You can read about it here. The spent grains come from the step in the beer making process BEFORE you add hops – so they are safe to use. If there are hops mixed in with your grains, do not use them for dog treats! Here is our boiling pot after we added hops… don’t let your doggie get into that!

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For the dog treats:

Collect about 4 cups of the spent beer grains and drain them well. The more moisture they contain, the longer your biscuits will take to dry out.

In a stand mixer combine 2 1/2 cups flour, 4 cups of spent grains, two large eggs, and about 1 cup of peanut butter. Mix until everything is combined.

You can make the treats two ways: squares or roll them into small balls, just like mini meatballs! It is kind of difficult to make them into other shapes because the dough is super sticky, not really cookie cutter friendly.

To make the mini meatballs, just roll the dough out into small balls and place them on the tray. It’s ok if they touch a little bit because they will break apart. Bake the treats for 1 hour at 350 degrees F for about an hour. Break up any treats that have stuck together and turn the oven down to 200 degrees F. Let the treats bake for a few hours, or until they are hard. Make sure they dry out throughly or else you won’t be able to keep them for long… they will get moldy!

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To make square biscuits, spread the mixture onto a sheet pan in a layer about 1/4 inch thick. Bake it at 350 degrees F for about an hour. Remove the pan from the oven and cut the sheet into smaller bite size squares. Separate the squares, turn down the oven to 200 degrees F and place them back in the oven for a few hours. Make sure they dry out, remember they won’t keep if they are still moist inside. If you use this method, make sure you cut the treats after an hour – If you bake it for too long and let the whole pan get hard it is really difficult to break apart.

Another variation is to add some beef flavoring to the treats instead of peanut butter. I recommend using these new concentrated broth packets made by Knorr. There’s a lot of flavor packed into the little packet and it won’t make your treats too wet like adding regular stock would.

I hope your doggie likes them… Monk does! He patiently waits for them to come out of the oven.

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Butternut Squash Lasagna

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This is one of my most favorite meals for fall. It is creamy, delicious and can be made so many ways!

I got the original recipe from Giada DeLorentis, from the food network. Her version was made to be a side dish and didn’t include meat or other vegetables, so you could leave those out if you want a simpler version of this lasagna. I haven’t actually read that recipe in a while because I have been tweaking this recipe ever since I started making it.  I added in some things to the layers to take it from a side dish to a hearty main dish. There are a few components to this dish that you must prepare before you layer it all together; the cream sauce, the butternut squash puree, and the sautéed kale (If you choose to add it). You make each one separately and then layer them in a large baking dish with cheese and lasagna noodles.

For the creme sauce:

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small chopped onion

2 large cloves minced garlic

4 tbsp flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

4 cups whole milk

salt and pepper

a piece of whole nutmeg (or about 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg)

1/2 cup packed fresh basil

Add 2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil to a large saute pan. Add the chopped onions and 2 cloves of the minced garlic and saute just for a minute. Add 4 tbsp Flour and whisk while cooking for a few minutes to make a roux. Whisk until the four mixture turns a golden color. Add 1/2 cup chicken stock and whisk until it is absorbed by the roux. Add the warmed milk 1 cup at a time and whisk until the sauce starts to thicken. Add each cup while whisking and simmer on low until sauce is a nice creamy consistency. Season with salt, pepper and about 1/2 of a freshly grated nutmeg. Put the fresh basil into a blender and ladle about two cups of the white creme sauce into the blender. Blend until the basil is fully incorporated, pour the mixture back into the rest of the sauce and stir to incorporate.

For the butternut squash puree:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 medium-sized butternut squash

1/2 cup chicken stock

salt and pepper

4-5 small Amaretti cookies

In a sauce pot, heat the olive oil and saute the butternut squash until some are lightly golden. Add in the chicken stock, cover and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender. Blend the squash in a food processor until smooth and add in 4-5 Amaretti cookies and blend until they are crushed and mixed in.

For the sautéed kale:

1 bunch of purple kale

2 cloves minced garlic

Salt and pepper

a piece of whole nutmeg (or about 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg)

Clean and cut up the kale. In a large saute pan, heat the oil and begin to saute the kale, add in the garlic when the kale starts to wilt. Saute the kale until it is wilted and soft and season it with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

To assemble the lasagna:

24 No-boil lasagna noodles (Barilla makes this and they are pretty easy to find)

1 lb Ricotta Cheese

1 lb shredded mozzarella cheese – or you can use your favorite blend of any Italian cheeses

Basil creme sauce

Butternut squash pure

Sautéed kale

1 lb of you favorite turkey sausage

Sautéed the sausage and brake it into small pieces until it is cooked through – I like the cranberry sausage, apple sausage, or sage sausage from The Turkey Lady in the Lancaster Central Market. I would choose a sweeter sausage rather than a spicy one for this dish.

In a 9×13 inch baking dish,  begin with a layer of creme sauce (a little less than 1/3 of the sauce), top it with about 6 noodles, depending on how they fit, just make sure you make a solid layer. Add about half of the butternut squash puree and about half of the ricotta cheese to the next layer. Top that with the turkey sausage and cover it with another layer of noodles. Cover those noodles with another third of the creme sauce. Add the sauteed kale in the next layer and about half of the shredded cheese. Add another layer of noodles, the rest of the butternut squash puree and the rest of the ricotta cheese. Top it with another layer of noodles and cover them with the rest of the creme sauce. Make sure the whole top layer of noodles is covered or they might not get fully soft. Top the whole thing with the rest of the shredded cheese.

Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the cheese on top starts to get brown and bubbly. Let the lasagna sit for about 15 minutes before cutting – otherwise the layers might slide and the pieces might fall apart.

I hope you enjoy this dish! It does have a lot of steps but it is delicious. I bet it will become one of your favorite fall foods!

A note about freezing this lasagna:

*You can use a 9×13 inch baking dish or two smaller baking dishes to build this lasagna. It freezes great – both uncooked and cooked!

If you baked a large pan and you have any left over, you can cut it into single portions and wrap the pieces tightly in plastic wrap. You’ll have single servings that you can unwrap and reheat it in the microwave easily.

If you don’t bake a large pan, split it into two baking dishes and freeze one. It is nice to have it on hand to bake it when you need it. It does take a long time to bake when it is frozen… but it tastes like you just made it, even after two months in the freezer! Just make sure you really wrap it up good to prevent freezer burn. You could defrost it in the refrigerator over night or put it in the oven frozen. It may take up to 4 hours to bake through if it is frozen when you pop it in the oven. So plan ahead a little bit.

Pepper Jelly

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I tried making pepper jelly for the first time and canning it to keep for the wintery months. The first batch came out awesome! It was delicious – not too sweet, not too hot, just the right amount of kick. My second batch was a bit hotter because I switched up the peppers a bit and added in a chocolate Habanero.

I have been reading a lot of pepper jelly recipes from around the web to get ideas. I took a little advice from each of them.

I used a bunch of different peppers from around market. The stand holders have an explosion of them this time of year, as the plants produce their final peppers of the season. Since they are so abundant, you can get a lot of peppers for a little bit of money. I used a spectrum of peppers, in colors and in heat. My first two batches included peppers ranging from Habanero hot to bell pepper mild. Here are some of the peppers that I used: green bell, red bell, cherry pepper, jalapeno, chocolate habanero, anaheim chile, hungarian wax, poblano, serrano, bolivian rainbow (I think), and others that had no label at the market.

Here are a few pepper identification sites from around the web if you don’t know your peppers. some of them also tell you the heat levels – very helpful. Check them out: Epicurious, Chow, and Saveur.

I don’t think the exact peppers you use will matter that much, it’s more about the ratio of hot to mild. I am not very heat tolerant so I used a lot of sweet peppers and kind of mild hot peppers like jalapenos and cherry peppers in the first round. I’m writing a recipe that gives the overall quantity of peppers to use in the jelly mixture. The ratio you use is up to you. I think the best ratio of  4 1/2 -5 cups mild/sweet peppers to 1/2 cup hot peppers. It really depends on the type of hot peppers you use… warning: if you use 1/2 cup of Habanero then your jelly is going to be hot!

Pepper Jelly

5 – 5 1/2 cups peppers

1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar

3 1/2 tbsp. pectin

1 cup raw honey

2 cups organic cane sugar

Cut up all of your peppers really small, or put them in the food processor and pulse them until they are cut into small pieces – but don’t turn them into paste.

Bring the peppers and vinegar up to a boil and gradually add in the pectin, stirring constantly. Allow the mixture to boil hard for a few minutes. Add in the sugar and honey and bring the mixture back up to a rolling boil. Allow to boil again for about 5 minutes, stirring the mixture.

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Prepare your jars and lids. Here’s a really good resource on how to prep your jars so they are clean and sterile.

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Fill your heated jars with the jelly, leaving about 1/4 inch head-space in each jar, make sure the edges are clean, cover with lids and screw the bands on. Boil the jars for ten minutes and remove from canner. Allow the jars to cool, they will seal and the jelly will set within 24 hours.

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The seals are usually good soon after you remove them from the canner and they start to cool. Check the lids and if they did not seal within 24 hours then process the jars again. This jelly is not as thick as regular fruit jelly. If your jelly is sliding around in the jar, it is ok! It is a good consistency for placing atop a piece of cheese.

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A few lessons I learned from reading and from experience:

1. Be very careful when handling the peppers! Wear gloves – seriously, really – wear gloves. If you cut up and clean the seeds out of a bunch of hot peppers… your hands are going to burn. It might not happen right away, but a little while later, or right about when you have to start canning the jelly, your hands are going to be on fire. I have had this happen to me both times I made this jelly. You think I would have learned after the first time, right? Well I did learn but silly me just tried to put plastic baggies on my hands for protection because I didn’t have gloves. That was a mistake because my hands still hurt and burned.

2. I made up another theory about what might be happening to cause the burning on my skin. I have no scientific evidence to back this up so it might sound dumb. I was not wearing gloves while cooking the jelly and all of the steam was hitting my hands as I stirred. I realized that some of the capsaicin had to be going into the air because it was making me cough. So I am not sure, but I thought maybe that was what was making my hands burn. I will be doing more research on this. I will also be buying a box of gloves and wearing them every time I cut up a bunch of hot peppers.

3. The jelly is a thinner consistency than fruit jelly normally is. I like this consistency. It is good for spreading on a cracker with cheese. If you like your jelly a little thicker, add about 1/2 tbsp more of pectin to your batch. I also read that some people drain their peppers before they cook them with the vinegar. I didn’t want to do that because I felt like I was loosing a bunch of the flavor.

4. I list 5-5 1/2 cups of peppers because it is hard sometimes to get an exact amount with out wasting some of the peppers. I also don’t think that it’s necessary to be that exact when measuring out the peppers. I had a few little differences in the batches I made and they both came out great. You should measure out the other ingredients pretty accurately because the other ingredients will have more of an affect how your jelly turns out.

5. I used the small 4 oz. ball jars. This batch filled about 16 of them. I think they are a great way to serve the jelly. You can set the jar out next to a piece of cheese and it looks cute with a little serving spoon in it. You don’t have to search for a small serving bowl and you can just put the lid back on if there is any left… but there probably won’t be any left.

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I paired this savory jelly with wheat crackers and a specialty aged cheddar cheese from Cabot Creamery. This is my new favorite snack… and quiet possibly my favorite cheese combination ever! You will be hooked after you try it.

If you are interested in cheese making – I know I am – then watch this video on one of Cabot’s specialty cheeses. I would love to visit the place where they age all the cheeses or visit the creamery itself.

Thanks to my chef friend Aaron for some inspiration with the pepper jelly and paring, I had his version a few weeks back and it was amazing!

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One Super September Saturday!

October is almost over and it is getting a bit chilly! Right before the weather began to change I had one fine Saturday at the end of September. It began with an outside brunch with my friends Janeen and Carrie. We sat outside in the sunshine in front of Fork’n’Spoon Cafe  on Prince Street in downtown Lancaster and had a few delicious dishes.

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Carrie had the BLT and I had the poached eggs over tomatoes and spinach (pictured above, and perfectly cooked). The french toast that Janeen had (pictured above) was smothered in bananas, walnuts and carmely sweet syrup. Everything was great and it was really nice to sit outside enjoying warm coffee with some of my best girlfriends. I think it’s safe to say that we would all recommend Fork’n’Spoon Cafe, especially for an outside brunch.

I made my way over a block to the Central Market, my favorite part of my Saturday morning routine. I found some great produce at one stand that I really like Stoner’s Home Grown Vegetables. They always have homegrown heirloom veggies and they are now open on Saturdays!

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I made this awesome salad later in the week with all the veggies I bought… yes, there are edible flowers in it!

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Janeen and I decided to go up to Lititz, PA and spend a little time walking around. There is a new olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting shop called Olio. While it was quite fun to taste all of their olive oils and balsamic vinegars, I just wish they put out some crackers or bread to cleanse your palate between tastings. They did have water and I tried to limit myself to a few tastings… but I really wanted to taste every one of the olive oils they had.

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I loved these metal containers that held the oils and vinegars. I would love one to dispense olive oil in my kitchen. They were beautifully polished and poured the liquids out slow enough to get a small tasting amount. How I wish I could find one of these! I might just have to do some hunting on the internet.

I settled on Moroccan EVOO and Chocolate Balsamic vinegar – both of which I plan to use on a salad with fresh strawberries and maybe some Parmesan cheese.

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Olio also carries several salts, spices, their own condiments, olives, and various other goodies. I saw this long pepper (below) and I wanted to try it. So far I have used it to spice up sauces, veggies, and braised meats. It is actually a dried cattail reed. I have been crushing it up with a mortar and pestle, it smells very fragrant and adds subtle flavor.

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So… Lititz has a wine tasting room now.

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Waltz vineyards opened a small wine tasting room where you can taste wines for $5. Their vineyard isn’t too far away, located in Manheim, PA. We learned that they offer tastings with cheese parings regularly and they also hold a few paring dinners a year at the vineyard. I will probably be visiting the actual vineyard soon. Some of the wines that this winery produces are probably the best Pennsylvania wine I have ever had. Pennsylvania wine is usually too sweet for my taste but this vineyard has a few wines that range from slightly sweet to very dry. I am not going to pretend that I know a lot about wine… but I did like their Merlot.


We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around some of Lititz’s little shops. Most are kitschy but it was such a beautiful day to walk around the tiny town. We finished our visit with little rest at a sidewalk table at the Bull’s Head Public House, enjoying a pumpkin ale and the crisp air.

And, yea, we stopped for cupcakes on the way home…

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Sublime Cupcakes… they are sublime, but they need some tables so you don’t have to eat them in the parking lot… or I guess you could just get them to go. But seriously, they are delicious cupcakes, very moist with awesome icing! It was a good snack to keep us going until we got to our next destination of this super Saturday…

The end of September brings Oktoberfest into full swing. One tradition that my friends and I have been enjoying for several years now is the Lancaster Liederkranz‘s Oktoberfest. This German Society holds the Oktoberfest at a picnic grove surrounded by trees and decorated with Bavarian flags and twinkle lights.

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Did you know that Oktoberfest officially begins with the tapping of a keg of beer? The keg is brought into the fest in a parade-style manner and a baby rides into the festivities on top of.. it is true.

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There are many German delights to be had at the Oktoberfest. You have to buy these tickets to purchase anything at the fest.

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There are giant Bavarian pretzels…

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Bratwurst with sauerkraut…

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Giant potato pancakes served with apple sauce…

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…and many other German delights! Just get there early – I think this Oktoberfest is getting really popular – they ran out of many other German meats before we move to the front of the food line!

There are also fun activities for kids, like painting Koo-Koo clocks and puppet shows.

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German dancing goes well into the night. There are several traditional German dances displayed throughout the weekend. Many of them tell a story and use props like the one shown below.

You can even join in the fun and learn how to polka dance and line dance to some German music. Here’s one of our favorite tunes that has a dance that goes along with it – Fliegerlied.

Enjoy the end of October – there might still be time to catch an late Oktoberfest somewhere. I do hope to see some new faces at the Lancaster Leiderkrankz grounds next year!

Butternut squash and leek Macaroni and cheese

Butternut Squash and Leek Macaroni and Cheese

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This is a great fall dinner. It is perfect for a chilly night and it can be deliciously paired with a spicy pumpkin ale.

2 lb. butternut squash

1/2 sweet onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced

2 leeks, cleaned and sliced

1 lb. pasta – shells, or your other favorite smaller shape

6 tbsp. unsalted butter

3 tbsp. flour

1 cup chicken stock

2 cups milk

1/2 lb. cheddar cheese, grated

1/2 lb. Gruyere cheese, grated

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

a handful of basil, chiffonade

3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Clean and cut the butternut squash into smaller chunks, about the same size as the pasta you chose to use. Saute the squash, onion and half the garlic in 1 tbsp. butter. Cook until the squash is close to being soft all the way through – check it by sticking a fork through it.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta to al dente according to the package directions. Save some of the pasta water to thin out your sauce in case it gets too thick.

Saute the leeks and the other half of the garlic in 3 tbsp. of butter until tender. Add in the  flour and whisk in until smooth. Add in half the chicken stock, whisk until smooth again. Warm the milk (in the microwave or on the stove) and add it into the sauce, whisk until creamy. Let the sauce cook down until it is a little thick – keep whisking it so the bottom doesn’t burn. When the sauce thickens add in the cheddar and Gruyere cheese and whisk until all the cheese is melted.

Mix the sauce, cooked pasta, basil and squash mixture together. If the sauce is too thick, thin it out with a little bit of pasta water. Pour it all into a buttered 9×13 inch baking dish.

Make a mixture of 2 tbsp butter cut into small pieces, the Panko breadcrumbs and the parmesan cheese. Mix it with your finger tips to separate the butter. Sprinkle it on top of the pasta and bake in the over at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until your breadcrumbs look toasted.
For all you bacon lovers out there – try adding some bacon crumbles to the top before you bake it…. mmmm!

Sweet Potato and Bacon Soup

This soup was kind of an accident. I don’t know what made me want to turn sweet potatoes into soup – but I am glad that I tried it because it has quickly turned into one of my favorites. I have made it twice now, with and without leeks, both were delicious.

Sweet Potato and Bacon Soup

4 slices bacon

1/2 medium-sized sweet onion

2 carrots

3 ribs celery

3 cloves of garlic

1 large or 2 thin leeks

1 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes

3 cups vegetable or chicken broth

a hand full of chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup light cream

creme fraiche

Cut the bacon in small pieces and cook over medium high heat. Allow the fat to render and remove the crispy bacon bits that remain in the pan. *The bacon bits will get soggy in the soup so make sure you remove them at this point.

Dice the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery stalks and saute them in the bacon fat for a few minutes. Clean and slice the leeks and add them to the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste and saute until all veggies are tender.

*Here’s a little hint about slicing the leeks. Most recipes tell you to slice the leeks into half-moons. We are going to blend this soup with a hand blender. I find that when the leeks are sliced like this they tend to get stuck in the hand blender and leave stringy pieces in the soup. If you slice the leeks lengthwise and then cut them across, you get very small square pieces that do not get stuck in the hand blender. If you are going to use a regular blender and spoon your soup into it, it probably doesn’t matter which way you slice the leeks. Here’s what they looks like cut up small:

After the veggies are tender, add the sweet potatoes and saute about 5 minutes. Add in the stock and bring to a boil, simmer until the potatoes are tender.

Chop the basil and add it into the pot. Turn off the heat and use a hand blender to blend the soup until creamy. Add in the light cream and stir. You can thin the soup with more broth if you like it a little thinner.


Serve the soup topped with a dollop of creme fraiche, a little more basil, and bacon crumbles on top.

Sunday brunch at POUR

I had a brunch date with my husband on Sunday. Brunch just might be my favorite meal to go out and eat. It is always relaxing and fun whether it be with two people or a bunch. You could dress up in your fancy pants, or dress down in jeans and bring along your market bags. It’s a great way to start your day.

Dan and I decided to try POUR on Prince Street. It was kind of a rainy and cold day so we couldn’t sit outside. It was cozy inside and they have awesome coffee that warmed us up from the cold.

POUR has a small but well put together menu that had a nice variety of brunch choices. We both chose egg dishes that included some delicious meats. I had the toad-in-the-hole which was topped with two local sausage links. The bread was a piece of thick cut brioche with a fried egg inside a cut out ring. My only slight disappointment was that the egg was really runny. I like a runny yolk but I don’t like when the white is runny… a little too much slime for me. The sausages were delicious and topped with a mustard gravy. Very Oktoberfest, appropriate for fall, and very tasty.

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Dan had the steak and eggs. His egg was poached perfectly- soft yolk and cooked white, not too slimy. The steak was also cooked exactly how he ordered it (medium). The wild chanterelle mushrooms on the side made this dish a step above your regular steak and eggs breakfast. Everything was served atop creamy grits. Of course I had a taste, a little bite of all of it, and it was delicious.

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We finished up brunch with an order of drinks instead of dessert. The beer menu is impressive here, pretty well curated. Dan ended up with a Hennepin from Ommegang Brewery. I had a Bloody Mary – ordered a little less spicy than they normally make it. It was garnished with some of my favorite things… meat, cheese, an olives… so I loved it!

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One thing that I really wanted to try was the charcuterie offerings. I was so stuffed that I couldn’t create a tray for myself this time but I will be ordering it first next time I come to POUR. They had a variety of meats and cheeses that seemed to all catch my eye. You choose the ones you want and they create a board just for you. This is right up my alley… I need to go back.