…Wiener Shop, that is! I grew up spinning on the counter stools at this Pottstown institution. While Sunshine & I love our shopping adventures at Zern’s in search of insanely cheap produce, Lebanon bologna & $1 vintage jewelry, it’s not necessarily a place we stay to eat. On our way out of town, we decided instead to stop for a bite at The Very Best, a downtown deli known for its chili dogs for almost 90 years. I LOVE their perfectly textured tangy chili atop a flat-top seared dog with raw onions & cheese (add mustard for an “everything dog”). With a side of macaroni salad, a fountain coke, & the debate over a slice of their homemade cakes, you can’t ask for a better greasy spoon lunch. It is still is one of the “very best” places to grab a bite in Pottstown…
The Very Best Counter Companion
The Very Best Chili Cheese Dog
The Very Best Aftermath
The Very Best Weiner Shop | Since 1921
252 East High St. | Pottstown, PA 19464 | 610-323-5224
Easter came & went and I’m finally resurrected from the blogging dead. Between a full hardrive and an external crash, I was graciously interrupted by a perfect vacation to Miami with Dre. I’m back in Philly now with some catching up to do, so here goes!
In early March, Sunshine suggested meeting up for dinner snacks at Varga Bar. I’ve been wanting to give it a try and surely looked forward to catching up with one of my favorite people. There was some Yelp! drink special going on so I went for the Cadillac Margarita & Sunshine chose the Renegade Root Beer, both $4 apiece.
Soon after our cocktails arrived, the waitress presented a marble slab with 5 cheeses & accoutrements. I’ve blanked on the specific cheese varieties, but I know we had (2) raw goat cheeses, a goat’s milk sharp cheddar, a creamy blue, and a gouda that was definitely not a gouda (but still delicious!). The platter included pairings of garlic dolce de leche, some other dolce de leche, bourbon honey mustard, grapes, granny & gala apple slices, & a fruit relish. We each had our favorites and surely appreciated the server who graciously brought us a 3rd plate of baguette.
Next up, a tower of crisp fries topped with melted white cheddar, parmesan, & tender jump lump crab. With or without the peppery homemade ketchup, they were quite tasty. Overall, the service & ambiance were ok, the food was good, & the company was certainly great!
Cheese Plate & Jumbo Lump Cheese Fries - Varga Bar
I grew up with the luck of enjoying my Grandma’s home-cooked dinners every night. My favorite of her dishes was the Chicken Divan – a casserole of broccoli, pulled chicken, & a cheesy sauce. If she wasn’t making it fresh for dinner, she was always sure to have portions frozen to indulge my divan requests. Not too long ago, I finally convinced her to share her recipe.
Grandma's Chicken Divan
We had a serious surplus of broccoli in the fridge so I had to get creative with ways to get rid of it. A giant casserole of my Grandma’s Chicken Divan seemed perfect. The first direction on the recipe was to blanch broccoli and layer it in a greased casserole.
I thawed half a chicken worth of white & dark meal STILL hanging out from my Rustic Roasted Chicken dinner. I can’t believe how many Leftover Lightning! meals came out of it!. I pulled it & layered it on top of the broccoli.
Pulled Chicken layered on the Broccoli Base
I was missing some ingredients from the next step, so I improvised with what my pantry staples could offer. I only had (1) can of Cream of Broccoli & Cheese Soup, so I combined it with mayo, lemon juice, & some water to loosen it up. Grandma’s recipe called for smoked paprika, but all I could dig out was some chili powder. My spice cabinet is really a disaster right now. Once the cheesy mixture was combined, I spread it on top of the pulled chicken & broccoli layers.
Cheesy Soup Blend over Pulled Chicken over the Broccoli Base for Chicken Divan
I melted some butter, combined it with seasoned bread crumbs, & sprinkled it over the whole casserole.
Breadcrumbs over the Cheesy Mixture over Pulled Chicken over the Broccoli Base
And then I realized I missed a step in the recipe. What’s new. But this was an important step. The CHEESE! How could I FORGET THE CHEESE? I quickly shredded mild & sharp cheddar cheeses and had no choice but to layer it on top of the breadcrumbs. It was only a minor mistake, just a good thing that I caught it. The casserole looked & tasted so delicious. I know I did my Grandma’s recipe proud!
Grandma's Chicken Divan
P.S. Follow along with my steps & feel free to recreate, but my Grandma’s actual recipe will remain a secret among family
I had of leftover Roasted Chicken and was stuck with the Cheddar Biscuits turned Pancakes from our snow day dinner. Leave it to Dre to have the brilliant idea to use them as bread on a chicken sandwich. I toasted the biscuits in the toaster oven, smeared them with light mayo, and piled on romaine, Lorraine swiss, & leftover roasted chicken breast. Turned out to an easy & tasty dinner!
Roasted Chicken & Swiss on a Cheddar Biscuit
Dre’s main request for Friday’s dinner was Mac & Cheese WITH BACON to accompany my Roasted Tomato, Mushroom, & Smoked Mozz Stuffed Chicken Breasts. On a shopping trip last week, I picked up the most adorable red casserole dish and this was the perfect opportunity to christen it. I needed to refresh myself on Mac & Cheese basics and Alton Brown seemed like my go-to man. I forgot how easily you can turn a basic rue, some milk, onion, & cheese (and bacon, of course) into the most comforting of foods. Mmmm, Mac & Cheese!
Shredded Mozz, Cheddar, Smoked Gouda, & Velveeta
I put Dre in charge of finishing up the Mac & Cheese. He crumbled bacon and tossed it into the macaroni & melty cheese mixture. The jumbo macaroni were perfectly filled up with the bacon & gooey cheesiness. He gets half the credit on this cooking venture for that move!
Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese
No Baked Mac & Cheese is complete without a crunchy crust and why not have it add to the cheesiness! Dre crushed up some Cheez-Its, tossed with melted butter, and sprinkled on top. It added a crunchy texture to the creamiest, yummiest Mac & Cheese I’ve ever tasted, if I do say so myself! And how cute is that casserole dish?!
Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese w/ a Cheez-It crust
Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese
adapted from Alton Brown’s Macaroni & Cheese Recipe
- Macaroni – (1) lb, cooked al dente
- Farfalle, Orchiette, Spirals & Shells all work well, too
- Butter – (3) T + (2) T
- Flour – (3) T
- Milk – (3) cups
- Whole Grain Mustard – (1) T
- Paprika – (2) tsp
- Bay Leaf - (1)
- White Onion – (1/2) med onion, chopped
- Shredded Cheeses – (4) cups or more
- I used (2) cups Mild Cheddar, (2) cups Mozzarella, & (1) cup of Smoked Gouda
- Velveeta - (8) oz, cubed
- Smoked Bacon – (4-5) slices, cooked & chopped (optional, I guess…)
- Cheez-Its – (1.5) cups, crushed
- Cook macaroni until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Melt (3) T of butter in a heavy pot on Med and add flour. Stir for about 5 min until it turns a light caramel brown, watching closely.
- Add Milk, Mustard, Paprika, Bay Leaf, Onion, & S&P and stir. Bring to a simmer on Med for about 5 min. Remove Bay Leaf.
- Immediately add the cheese mixture to the pasta in a large bowl or your stock pot and coat. The bacon crumbles can go in now, too.
- Pour mixture into a large, greased baking dish or casserole.
- Crush (1.5) cups of Cheez-Its in a sealed plastic baggie and then toss with (2) T melted Butter in a bowl. Sprinkle over Mac & Cheese.
- Bake for about 30-40 min until bubbling. Remove and let it sit for (5) min before eating.
The weather is getting cold and it couldn’t be a better time for my bi-annual batch of Turkey Chili. Each time, it’s delicious in its own way, but this round may be my best to date! It was smoky & spicy with a hearty texture from the mix of Ground Turkey & Turkey Kielbasa. I topped it with shredded Cheddar and Sour Cream and paired it with Egg Noodles for leftovers.
Chipotle Turkey Chili w/ Cheddar & Sour Cream
Chipotle Turkey Chili
- Turkey Kielbasa - (1) package cut into half moons
- 85/15 Ground Turkey – (2)lbs, browned & drained
- Chili Mix – 1/2 packet of Hot, Medium, 0r Mild
- Sriracha – a few squirts
- White Onion – (2) medium, chopped
- Garlic - (2) T, minced
- Crushed Tomatoes – (1) large can
- Chicken Stock – (1) can, low-sodium
- Black Beans – (1) small can
- Chipotles in Adobo Sauce – (2) peppers from can, chopped
- Worcestershire Sauce – (4) heavy dashes
- Dried Parsley – (1) T
- Brown the Ground Turkey in an oiled pan and transfer to Crock-Pot or Dutch Oven.
- Saute Onion & Garlic in same pan with a tablespoon of butter until aromatic & translucent.
- Combine Onions, Garlic, & remaining ingredients in Crock-Pot or Dutch Oven.
- Cook on HIGH 3-5hours or LOW 6-8 hours, stirring occasionally until you can’t resist a bowl!
I finally took Dre on an Amish adventure to Lancaster County complete with a stop at Shady Maple Smorgasbord. I regret that I went to one of my favorite places to eat and didn’t take any pictures! Shame on me! We did, however, make a few farm stand stops on our scenic ride home where I picked up a beautiful head of Cauliflower. I knew I’d have to transform it into a tasty creation though, if anyone was going to enjoy it as much as I would!
I recalled an episode of 30 Minute Meals where Rachel Ray make a quick batch of her Smashed Cauliflower with Cheese. I stuck to the basic parameters of the recipe but impressed myself with the addition of shredded Smoked Gouda (from the never ending wedge in my fridge). The smokiness really enhanced the depth of flavors in such a simple dish. It was so good, I didn’t even have to pass it off as mashed potatoes, though you know I tried!
Farm Fresh Cauliflower & our Jack-o-Lantern
P.S. We also picked up a pumpkin on our Amish adventure that Dre & I carved for Halloween. BOO!
CHEESY SMASHED CAULIFLOWER
adapted from Rachel Ray’s Smashed Cauliflower with Cheese
- Cauliflower – 1 large head cut into florets
- Chicken Stock – about 3 cups, 2 cans, or enough to cover Cauliflower
- Butter – let’s say 2-3 T of the REAL stuff, no oleo here!
- Cheddar, Smoked Gouda, Mozzarella, Parmesan, etc. – (1)+ cup of your favorite shredded cheeses
- Place Cauliflower florets in a medium pot & cover with Chicken Stock.
- Bring to a boil over high heat. Then cover & reduce heat to a simmer until Cauliflower is tender, about 15 min total.
- Drain the cauliflower once tender, reserving the stock. (You could also turn up the heat and reduce the stock instead of draining, but who has the time?!)
- Add the butter & cheese. Smash with a potato masher, adding in stock until you reach desired consistency. Think “thick grits”!
- Season w/ S&P and serve. It reheats really well, too, so feel free to make a double batch to enjoy all week!