Sunday, November 21

food I can't live without: A Culinary Ode to Lancaster

Having lived in Las Vegas for more than 3 years now (yikes!), it gives me a different perspective on growing up in Lancaster County. I remember the first time I went back home to visit after living across the country for 6 months. My appreciation for pine trees, open fields and back country roads had never been stronger. Not to mention the food. While I am also very appreciative of the opportunities Vegas has provided me and the friendships I've created, this "city" can feel very cookie cutter-ish. (Cue theme song from Weeds.)

Last weekend I went back East for a last-minute visit to see my parents. For as many people who come to Vegas to get away, for me it felt like a vacation to get outta here even if for only a few days. When in PA there are certain foods I must eat in order to get my Lancaster foodie fix. Foods you can't get anywhere else that hold a special place in my stomach of a heart. So, in addition to my love of that fresh-smellin' country air, the following is a mixture of food I just can't live without.

1. Central Market in downtown Lancaster -- I know technically this isn't one food item in particular, but collectively this place houses tons of delicious food I absolutely love. It would be almost impossible for me to be in Lanc and not wander through market at least once.

2. Let's hear it for whoopie pies! Considered a Pennsylvania Amish tradition, I've been eating these pies since I was little. My taste buds would ordinarily choose salty edibles over sweet, but nothing beats a homemade whoopie pie. Pictured left, a chocolate whoopie pie with peanut butter frosting (my fave) and a pumpkin whoopie pie with cream cheese frosting. Hats (or should I say bonnets) off to the Amish, who in general know what's up when it comes to delicious, farm-fresh food.

 3. Turkey Hill ice cream, iced tea, etc. An original a la Lancaster County, Turkey Hill is something you don't quite appreciate the culinary value of until it's no longer a car ride away. Their ice cream is creamy, smooth and well worth the calories. This particular photo features a pint sized container of Turkey Hill ice cream stuffed with Tastykake Chocolate Cupcake (also born in PA). Chocolate ice cream with chunks of chocolate cupcake! No, this is not a joke folks. Apparently it is also half the fat or calories or something and let me just say, it's a revelation. Bravo.

 4. Grandma Utz's Handcooked Potato Chips. OK, so deep down, I am really a fat girl at heart...and this is my absolute number one go-to snacky when I can get my hands on a bag. I l-o-v-e potato chips. Like a fat kid loves cake, I heart Grandma Utz Potato Chips. I'm sure most of you are familiar with regular Utz potato chips, but these my friend... are a very special breed born in Hanover, PA. They are super salty, kettle-like potato chips cooked in the best kind of fat -- lard. And boy are they worth the heartburn one might experience after devouring a bag... I mean, a handful.

5. Pennsylvania Dutch food in general -- Lebanon Bologna and Egg Nog are pictured here... other favorites include (but aren't limited to) red beet eggs, apple butter, chicken pot pie (the kind with homemade noodles) and pretzels.

6. Downtown Lanc is home to some really good, locally owned restaurants and bars. A handful of which I insist upon eating at when back home. Alley Cat Pizza is greasy, thin and full of flavor. Order with extra cheese and pepperoni and you'll be one happy camper. Their tasty blend of cheeses and the way the crust and pepperoni edges crisp up is what makes it for me. Other restaurants/bars I love... Character's, The Belvedere Inn (try the caesar salad, it's grilled and one of the best I've ever had), Annie Bailey's, Rachel's Creperie, Carr's... the list continues.

Thanks, Lancaster. See you at Christmas.

Monday, November 8

Chicken Pot Pie on the Go

So after a week of summery 85 degree weather, it was finally chilly enough for some layers today! It was windy and cold (well, for Vegas) while walking to my car which got me in the mood for warm, feel good comfort food to end my Monday. This recipe is a take on one I'd found online some time ago courtesy Miss Paula Deen, but I of course spruced it up with fresh veggies and created a healthier version than the original (i.e. omitting a stick of butter).

Chicken pot pie is like delicious, homemade meatloaf -- for me, it brings about that warm fuzzy food feeling I love so much. This recipe doesn't call for homemade dough and I bought a whole roasted chicken from the grocery store which makes it very time and kitchen friendly. The ingredients are simple, and from prep to cooking should only take you about an hour. It is a fabulous (and delicious) take on "homemade" chicken pot pie. I baked mine in a 2 quart casserole dish, but for a more elegant touch you could absolutely divide the mixture up into individual ramekins and serve, probably about 6 servings. Feel free to add whatever veggies you like, I've added potatoes in the past as well as corn and winter squash.

Easy Chicken Pot Pie
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
1 cup frozen peas
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 cups instant biscuit mix
1 cup milk (I used 1%)
1 can condensed cream of chicken (I used the 99% fat free version)
1 cup chicken broth or stock

Preheat oven to 350F. In saute pan, heat one tablespoon of EVOO. Add carrots, celery, onion, garlic and fresh thyme and saute until almost tender, about 3-5 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together cream of chicken, broth/stock, pepper, salt, red pepper flakes and garlic powder. Add in veggie mixture along with peas and chicken, stir to combine. Transfer to greased casserole dish. In separate bowl, whisk biscuit mix and milk until smooth. Pour evenly over pot pie filling and bake until golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Note: With 10 minutes left, brush top with EVOO and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper. This will help with the browning. Let set about 10-15 minutes after removing from the oven. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3

A Halloween Wedding

A pair of our most favorite people sealed the deal this weekend. They had a costume wedding on Halloween and it was one of the best weddings we've been to in a long time. In lieu of a traditional dinner, they opted for more of a pot luck. Everyone was asked to bring a dish that served 6-8 people, preferably finger foods and appetizers. Of course, I was thrilled! Sharing food with friends brings me much joy. I do my best to be present, or in the moment so to speak, when I'm creating food (despite kitchen mode, ahem) and try to actively put love into what I serve.

Boyfriend was an inspiration in the following foodie creation. He is a super fan of a cannellini bean and kale side dish that I make and his suggestion was that I bring it to the wedding. Since there would be no easy way to keep the dish warm (we didn't have access a stove, microwave, etc. at the reception) I didn't love the idea, but after giving it some thought I came up with one of my first original recipes... a kale and cannellini bean crostini! I did a practice run on Friday before the wedding and alas, it was a success. I actually ended up making this dish two ways, raw and cooked. The first time, I cooked the cannellini bean and kale mixture as I usually do and then pureed it. It was delish. The second time, I combined all ingredients and decided to serve it raw. Also delish! There were a few reasons I went with raw. First, kale is considered a "superfood." And green superfoods in particular have the highest concentrations of easily digestible nutrients, fat burning compounds, and vitamins and minerals to protect and heal the body. (If you aren't familiar with this term and are interested in what superfoods are and how they can impact your own health, click here to read more.) For those of you who don't eat loads of kale, it has a very earthy, strong flavor when served raw. Many people prefer to eat it similar to how they would collard greens. Of course when you cook it, as with any vegetables, you lose some of those essential nutrients. So, with the following recipe, feel free to try it based on your own preference. If you've never tried raw kale I encourage you to give it a shot. The kale in this recipe isn't overpowering due to the other ingredients which helps mask the kale to create a more subtle flavor. If it still tastes too strong, try adding more parm. I do top the crostini with chopped tomatoes and add a whole roasted garlic bulb into the puree for added sweetness.

Cannellini Bean & Kale Crostini with Roasted Garlic
1 bunch kale, rinsed thoroughly with tough stems removed and roughly chopped
2 cans cannellini beans, drained
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (or more as needed)
1 lemon, juiced
1 roasted bulb of garlic
1/3 cup EVOO
1-2 baguettes, sliced on an angle
1 tomato, chopped and drizzled with EVOO, S&P

Preheat oven to 400F. 
To roast garlic, cut in half horizontally, drizzle with EVOO, S&P and wrap in foil. Roast for 45 minutes to one hour, depending on bulb size. After garlic is done roasting, lower heat to 375F. Place baguette slices on cookie sheet, drizzle with EVOO, S&P and bake until toasted and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. For puree, combine kale, beans, red pepper flakes, pepper, salt, parm, lemon juice and garlic cloves into food processor. Pulse until just smooth. Slowly, steam in EVOO until you reach desired thickness. Season to taste.

To assemble, scoop heaping tablespoon of puree onto each baguette slice and top with chopped tomatoes. Enjoy!