Potato Leek Soup

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Potato Leek Soup

It’s the tail end of Winter.  It’s late February, and here in grand West Virginia, it’s not quite snow temperatures, but still cold.  Spring is just outside of our grasp, taunting us with little flashes of warm weather.  Birds chirping.  Snow melting.

It doesn’t change the fact that it’s still freaking cold, yet I wanted a quick taste of spring while still warming the bones.  A hearty soup with a quick zip of fresh vegetables.  That is where potato leek soup comes in.  Read on!

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Grandma’s Peanut Butter Cookies

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Grandma's Peanut Butter Cookies

I’ve mentioned in the “About Me” section that one of the things I got after my grandmother’s passing was her hand-written recipes, most of which are for cookies and bread.  It’s the cookie recipes I cherish the most, but for as long as I’ve had them, I’ve not made anything out of them.

I decided to change that.  Recipe to follow.

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Grilled Chicken

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Grilled Chicken

Today was the first really nice day of the season.  It was 66°F here, in the middle of February.  Unheard of, for sure, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.  I threw on my favorite flowy skirt, a pastel beater (since this is spring weather and all), and my comfy flats and proceeded to clean, cook, and take pictures.

I also decided to GRILL.  My grill is my best friend.  My grill and I have logged many an hour making piles of tasty food.  I simply couldn’t neglect my faithful grill on this uncharacteristically warm day.  So, I decided to grill chicken.

But the big question when grilling chicken is HOW you want to grill it.  Chicken breast can be kind of bland if grilled alone, so I decided to marinate it.  But marinate it in what?  The marinade I have isn’t that great, so I decided to make my own.  Yet I’ve never made a marinade before.  I decided to just start throwing things in a bag and see how it came out.  Some of the best recipes happen that way.  So I grabbed some stuff from my fridge, pantry, and spice rack, marinated the chicken in it, then grilled it up.

It was divine.  Read on!

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Cottage Pie

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Cottage Pie

I live in West Virginia.  It’s February.  It is COLD out.  (Okay, I’m lying.  It was 50 degrees Fahrenheit today.  But it WAS cold.)  When it’s chilly, you tend to crave hearty food.  Stuff that sticks to your bones and warms the belly.  And carbs.  Lots of carbs.  Anyone who lives in areas that regularly get dumped on come Winter knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Cottage pie is the perfect meal for the freezing cold months of Winter.  It has everything you could ever want in a warm, savory dish.  And it is, by definition, man-friendly.  This is meat and potatoes at it’s finest.  It may even be proposal-inducing.  Read on.

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Goodies for a foodie!

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As I’ve gotten older, my Christmas “do-want” list has gotten shorter and, without a doubt, more practical.  Stuff for my apartment, clothes, money.  Gadgets now and then.  This year, I got some really fantastic gifts (Penguins hockey tickets!!  Lower level seats for a Toronto game at the new Consol Energy Center!  Have I told you thank you yet, Ray?  I love you!  :P) but since this is my food blog, I’m going to narrow that down to things that would actually pertain to this blog.

The first was from Mat.  I practically rolled over and begged for a Canon Powershot SX 210 IS.  I even mentioned it in here in my blog.  I did extensive research for an affordable camera that gives me some control over shutter speed, aperture value, and focus, but was still something I could slip into my purse.  I settled on the Canon, in black, and told him it would count for my birthday gift too, if he got it for me.  When he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I simply replied “My camera” and nothing else.  When he asked what else I wanted, I said “my camera” and I’m sure he got annoyed with me more than once.  I then bookmarked the camera on Amazon and put the bookmark in his folder on the computer.  Hey, I know what I want.  Lo and behold, on Christmas Eve, he handed me a small, wrapped box, and inside was my new baby.  🙂  He swiftly got annoyed with me as I took pictures of everything in the room, as I was playing with settings.

My baby:

 

The other foodie-related gift came from my father.  I had complained to him about the abuse I was putting my poor hand mixer through, especially after making two cheesecakes for Ray (the second of which burnt out the motor of my poor mixer, and while it works, it’s on death’s door, for sure) and mused out loud (perhaps purposefully) that I’d really love to have a KitchenAid stand mixer.  To ensure my not-so-subtle hint would not go unnoticed, I pulled up the mixer on Target.com and pointed to it.  “I would love to have one of these” I told my Daddy.  Please and thank you.

When I walked into my Dad’s house on Christmas Eve, I spied a rather large box, wrapped in pretty, festive paper, that was pretty much the size of a KitchenAid stand mixer.  Could it be?  Was this the mixer of my dreams, tucked underneath the Christmas tree?  On Christmas day, I tore off the pretty, festive paper in a frenzy, and indeed!  Indeed it was my new stand mixer, a KitchenAid Classic in pearly white!  Exactly what I had been wanting, and needing, for quite some time now.  I can’t wait to use it.  🙂

My new gadget:

 

Between my new camera and my new stand mixer, this blog should be jumpin’.  🙂  Winter foods and desserts will be coming right up!

In Memory

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As I’ve mentioned in my “About Me” section, I fully credit my grandmother, Norma Helisek, as the one person who perked my interest in cooking.  She taught me her skill, gave me her recipes, encouraged my interest, and formed memories I will always cherish in the tiny kitchen of her home.  She was a mother-figure to me for many years.  I spent summers and weekends at her house, cleaning (as she was in very ill health the last five years of her life), cooking, watching her soap operas (her “stories”) and playing rounds of bingo with her and my brother.  She was stubborn, a bit abrasive, commanding, but incredibly loving.  I took care of her in the last couple years of her life, as she took care of me for much of mine.  She meant more to me than any other soul on this earth.

It is baking that reminds me of her.  She was always making pies, cookies, cakes, and so forth.  One of my fondest memories was me and her sitting at her kitchen table while she instructed me on how to make chocolate chip cookies.  She just sat in her chair, reading off the recipe to me while I mixed it up, spooned it out, baked them, cooled them, and then she and I poured ourselves a glass of milk, and we ate some cookies together.

Little did I know at the time she was in the advanced stages of liver cancer.  She didn’t tell my brother or myself, and I wouldn’t know it until after she had passed.  She sought to protect us from an ugly reality that would shortly thereafter put her through agonizing pain, then take her from us.

To this day, I associate chocolate chip cookies with my grandma.

She passed away five years ago today, after a long battle with emphysema, liver cancer, and an aging body that was slowly failing.

I got home from work and sat at my computer, thinking of the various issues on my mind when my thoughts came to rest on my grandmother, and the anniversary of her passing.  I thought of her, all our memories, all the things she taught me, and how much I loved her.  I stood up and went to my kitchen, where I had spent the day baking batches of cookies for Christmas, among those batches chocolate chip cookies.  I took one from the bag, sat back down on the couch, took a bite out of a chocolate chip cookie, and started to cry.

I miss her something terrible.  Five years later, I still get choked up thinking about her, because I love her so much.  She helped make me into the woman I am today.  She taught me many things.  She was a major pillar of my life.

I think I’ll spend today baking, in memory of her.

In Loving Memory

Norma Jean Helisek

May 23, 1934 – December 19, 2005

 

The Cornucopia Project!

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A while back I was contacted by Schaefer and Tiffany of The Guerrilla Gourmet, asking if I would like to represent West Virginia in a compilation of Thanksgiving Day recipes, experiences, and memories.  How could I turn that down?  I replied that of course, I would love to represent West Virginia, and after a little bit of e-mail tag, things were smoothed out.

For The Cornucopia Project, I submitted my mashed potato recipe.  You can view my submission to the project, and the project as a whole, HERE over at the Guerrilla Gourmet!

Thanksgiving: Turkey

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Thanksgiving is approaching, and people are starting to get things together for the big day.  And what is Thanksgiving without the main event?  That’s right.  Turkey.  The centerpiece to Thanksgiving dinners for generations.  How could I not post a recipe for Turkey?

Well here I go, then.

Turkey can be a pain to cook.  The problem with turkey (or any fowl for that matter) is it is comprised of both light and dark meat, both of which require different cooking methods and temperatures to come out just right.  Dark Meat usually requires a slightly higher temperature to cook properly, but doing that often dries out the breast meat.  Simply put, you need to find middle ground.

On top of that, turkey, just like chicken, can dry out and become bland and flavorless.  You cannot just unwrap a turkey, throw it in the oven, and expect nirvana on a plate when you take it out.  You really have to work with turkey.  You must soak it in a brine to lock in the moisture, you must cook it at the proper temperature, you must add seasonings.

And so, I shall tell you my methods for an excellent Thanksgiving Day turkey.

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Restaurant Review: Lavender Cafe

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Of all of the restaurants I’ve ever eaten in, one shines among 5-star restaurants and upscale eateries.  It is a very humble restaurant, burrowed into a rundown building on Beechhurst Ave in Morgantown.  That restaurant is Lavender Cafe.

Lavender Cafe is a Taiwanese restaurant.  It is the only Taiwanese restaurant in town, and in the few short years it has been around, it has been an amazing success story.  It replaced a small Chinese takeout place, and completely remodeled the inside, painting the walls bright colors, putting in nice tables and chairs, and rolling out a large and diverse menu.  In a town with multiple greasy Chinese takeout places, Lavender shines like a beacon, providing tasty Asian-style dishes without the grease and careless put-together.

The menu is a mix of American-Chinese (like General Tso’s Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pork), real Chinese, some Japanese, some Korean, and some Taiwanese cuisine.  They also offered a variety of bubble teas.  Later on, after enjoying great success, Lavender Cafe expanded into the neighboring unit and opened a modest sushi bar.  The restaurant is consistently packed.

Mat and I have been going to this restaurant roughly since they opened.  We watched the restaurant grow in it’s success, then expand both it’s store front and it’s menu, and eventually offering delivery through phone and DubVMenus.com.  We have eaten there so much that we are greeted warmly by the staff, and they often stop at our table to chat.  They know our favorites and preferences.  We always feel welcome there.

The food is always piping hot by the time it reaches us, and the plating is artistic and makes the meal appear even more delicious.  They will bring side plates for you and those you are eating with, if you would like, so you can share.  The food is perfectly spiced, and there was never a dish I’ve eaten off their menu that was badly done.  I didn’t always like the taste of the meal, though that is no fault of the restaurants, merely my own palate.  Ingredients are always fresh.  Prices are reasonable.  Everything is perfect.

I am fond of the Shrimp Wonton Noodle Soup, which is apparently Taiwanese.  It hits the spot in the cold West Virginia winters, and it comes in generous portions.  It is made with firm egg noodles, baby bok choy, and wontons made with shrimp and pork, all in a rich broth.  I snapped a picture at Lavender the last time I was there.

Mat is fond of the Assorted Meat and Vegetable Hot Pot.  This dish is one of their finer masterpieces.  Your entree arrives in front of you still sizzling in an earthenware pot.  The veggies are still crisp and delicious, while the meats are cooked to perfection, all in a rich sauce that compliments each portion of the dish.

I apologize for the crappy iPhone pics, but I don’t normally carry my camera.

The only problem with Lavender Cafe is the parking.  Lavender Cafe shares parking with the neighboring Papa Johns and Campus Cuts.  The parking lot is small to begin with, and on nights where Lavender is boasting a great night, parking can be scarce.  The idea of parking elsewhere is a scary thought in Morgantown, with tow trucks prowling like wolves.  The staff say you can park behind the building, but parking there is not clearly marked, and it makes me anxious to park there.

All in all, I highly recommend Lavender Cafe.  The dishes are superb and reasonably priced for generous portions.  The restaurant decor is relaxing and cheery, and the staff are all very welcoming.  This is the place to go.

Lavender Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thanksgiving: Stuffing

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Stuffing is one of those things you cannot go without on Thanksgiving.  It’s practically required, right behind mashed potatoes and turkey.  So, yet again, I’m going to present a Grandma Original Recipe, for stuffing.

I do understand though that a lot of concern has been had about actually putting the stuffing in your Bird of Choice due to the possibility of salmonella contamination.  This recipe can also be adapted to cooking separately in a pyrex dish and will come out just as good.

I must say though, I will be referring to this dish as stuffing regardless of whether you stuff it into your Bird of Choice, or if you cook it separately (which is technically called “dressing.)  Where I am from (Pittsburgh) the stuff you make with bread, veggies, and spices that you can put into your Bird of Choice is called stuffing.  So there.

Anyway.

Recipe after the jump.

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