The Food Guy, Steven Keith Eating his way through the state, plate by plate

Tomorrow (May 28) is National Hamburger Day (WOOF!) and it’s hard to top a good ol’ classic burger of meat, lettuce, tomato, mayo and/or ketchup and/or mustard.

Topped with a slice of Kraft American cheese, of course.

But since today’s a special occasion and all, why not elevate your burger with a fat slab of artisan cheese instead? Combine that change with subbing your traditional bun for specialty bread and – voila! – you’ve instantly created a new American classic!

What kind of cheese? There’s no wrong answer …

• Fresh mozzarella with a few leaves of basil.
• A creamy European-style cheese with sautéed mushrooms.
• Pepper jack with a smear of guacamole.
• Crumbled bleu … or feta … herbed chevre.

Here’s a shout-out to my buddy Paco Aceves, Executive Chef at Stonewall Resort, who is featured in the latest issue of Hotel F&B Magazine, a national publication covering the hotel restaurant industry.

“F&B” is industry-speak for “food and beverage.”

Steve Ludwig, Stonewall’s director of sales and marketing, said the magazine asked Paco the following question: “How do you signal to the guest that you are transitioning from spring to summer ingredients in your restaurant lounge menus?”

His response?

“Our restaurant menus include a changeable backdrop upon which we highlight new items, local ingredients and relay the story of our products and their sources. Additionally, we’ve begun to leverage social media, like Facebook, to communicate menu changes and upcoming events to our patrons,” he said.

“Summer is a wonderful time in West Virginia and the offerings from our local farmers markets really drive the menu. The colors, scents, textures and tastes … really inspire fresh, creative and flavorful menu ideas.  Keeping foods simple and not over powering them with heavy sauces or too many spices keep the flavors true and uncomplicated. Our summertime menu will highlight seasonal fruits and vegetables. They will be incorporated into salads or light soups and lighter entrees.  We’ll do more grilling and sautéing and less braising and stewing.”

In announcing the magazine’s coverage, Ludwig said: “Chef Aceves is a true culinary talent. We’re pleased he’s garnering this type of national recognition.”

Here here!

Capitol Roasters Rolls Out New Sandwiches

Since I work from home, I occasionally pack up ye’ ol’ laptop and head out to one of my many branch offices to break up the monotony of the day. These are cozy spots where I can settle in for a few hours, sip coffee or grab some lunch and, of course, scam free wi-fi.

For me, these places are lifesavers. You simply know them as Capitol Roasters, Taylor Books, Panera Bread, Books-a-Million, First Watch and the like.

So I popped into Capitol Roasters (corner of Quarrier and Summers streets) the other day and noticed they’ve offering a few new sandwiches on the menu. In addition to their always tasty wraps, soups and larger-than-life baked treats, I’m especially fond of their fantastically flat paninis and other warm and melty sammiches.

And now there are a handful of new ones to try:

  • Alaskan Salmon Melt — Flaked, wild-caught Alaskan pink salmon with lemon, sprices and smoked mozzarella cheese on ciabatta.
  • Chicken Athena — Pulled chicken breast with feta cheese, roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomato pesto mayo and smoked mozzarella on focaccia.
  • Florentino — Oven-roasted turkey breast with baby spinach, marinated artichoke, roasted red pepper, basil pesto mayo and havarti cheese on focaccia.
  • Chicken Chutney — Pulled chicken breast with cracked pepper, topped with creamy gorgonzola spread, apple-pear chutney and buttery havarti cheese on ciabatta.
  • Get Roasted — Tender roast beef with roasted red peppers, caramelized onions and cheedar on ciabatta. 

If this lineup is anything like the last, you’re in for a treat. And if you want a little heads-up before you try them, check back here often for my take on them …

I guarantee I’ll work my way through the new menu in the coming weeks!

A generous client of my wife’s just gave us a stash of fresh morels, those prized mountain mushrooms that are a rite of spring for food connoisseurs everywhere. Also known as “molly moochers,” these rare edible fungi pack an intense earthy taste that pairs so well with cream and wine sauces, beef and so much more.

If you’re not convinced how sought-after these babies are, just take a look at how much they cost. A quick online search today showed options ranging from $17 and ounce (yep, for one ounce) up to nearly $1,900 for a 15-pound bag. Holy sticker shock, Batman!

So to make the most of these high-falutin’ mushrooms, we did a little digging (BA-DA-BING!) and got a great idea from our pediatrician. She recommended drying them in an low-heat oven, which not only intensifies their flavor but also enables you to preserve them longer. We Googled (when did that become an acceptable verb, by the way?) her idea and found an easy process that yielded great results …

  1. You rinse and soak them in a brine of salted water for several hours, which helps draw out any impurities that might be present. (Mushrooms can be a little iffy, you know, so this step made me feel better about eating something culled from the wild.)
  2. Then you let them dry on paper towels before arranging them on a cooling rack placed on a cookie sheet to go in the oven.
  3. Place them in a 140-degree oven and let them slowly dry out all day — up to 6, 8 or 10 hours — until all the moisture is gone but before they completely shrivel away. They will shrink quite a bit, but that’s OK. The flavor not only remains, but is more pronounced.
  4. Now place them in an airtight contrainer and either store in the refigerator (if you plan to use them within a few days) or freezer (to keep them much longer). When ready to use, you can either reconstitute them by soaking in boiling water to fatten ’em back up — although you lose some of the flavor — or, better yet, just chop up to give soups, salads or sauces an out-of-this-world kick.

I dried ours yesterday and now have a little Ziploc full of goodness just waiting to tantalize our tastebuds!

Unless You’re Careful, Those Spuds Can Be Duds

Although the tasty salad mentioned in the blog post below ( rocked, the Potato, Spinach and Leek Fritatta was only so-so. Not bad, just not exceptional.

I kinda suspected that would be the case before I even made it. I blame the potatoes. It would’ve been much better without them.

As I sauteed the leeks in butter, added a little fresh garlic and tossed in some spinach, a wonderful aroma filled the kitchen. Amy even came over to sneak a taste, saying, “Oh, that’s SO good!”

But after I added the potatoes and eggs, topped the think with breadcrumbs and cheese, and baked it to what should’ve been savory perfection, the flavor kinda fell flat.

I blame the potatoes. Potatoes have no taste and can easily suck the life (and dilute the tastes) of other ingredients in a dish.

Oh sure, they’re great fried to a crisp and dipped in ketchup … or baked in cream and cheese … or whipped with garlic and butter. But unless you prepare and pair them up with some pretty strong flavors, they don’t do much for the ol’ taste buds.

After The Great Fritatta Fiasco, I ran across a similar recipe that called for using bread instead of potatoes as the “filler” needed to give the fritatta a little heft. You’d have the same flavor-sucking problem there, unless you used cut-up garlic toast or some sort of herbed bread — which might be pretty good, actually!

Pricey Pinenuts Kicked to the Curb, for Now

I’m all for splurging on a primo ingredient to make a recipe really sing — especially for a special occasion — but even I have to draw the line at $8 pinenuts.

We invited my wife’s mom over for a special Mother’s Day brunch this past Sunday for a Potato, Spinach and Leek Fritatta with a few grilled sausages served on the side. I wanted to make a nice salad to accompany the meal, so I ran to Kroger for some fresh greens, goat cheese and dried cranberries that I planned to toss with a homemade honey balsamic vinaigrette. I thought a few toasted pinenuts would add a nice nutty crunch, so I reached for a bag and …

Spent the next few seconds trying to catch my breath!

Pinenuts have always been on the pricey side, but $7.99 for less than a handful was too much for me to handle. So I grabbed some chopped macadamia nuts instead (hey, only a buck!) which made for a really nice — and wallet-friendly — substitute.

We enjoyed them so much, in fact, that our beloved pinenuts may take a backseat until they come down a little in price.

The salad rocked, by the way, and here’s what I whisked together to dress it …


  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Honey
  • Dijon mustard
  • Pepper

The proportions depend on how much you need and how sweet, salty or tart you want it. I started with about 1/4 cup olive oil, then added a tablespoon (maybe two) of vinegar, a squirt of honey, a small dollop of mustard and a few turns of the pepper mill.

Annual surveys by folks who care what we imbibe always show that West Virginia’s drink of choice — at least when it comes to high-octane refreshment — is vodka. We Mountaineers purchase (and, presumably, consume) more of that crisp, clear liquor than we do whiskey, bourbon, scotch or what have you.

I do enjoy the occassional vodka martini (Ketel One, up, dusty, bleu-cheese olives) so you’ll get no argument from me now that the people have spoken.

And if you’d like to learn some of the more civilized ways to sip, savor and appreciate this popular libation, the folks at Iceberg Vodka (now available across the state) offer this bit of information and advice:

Vodka 101: Steps to becoming a Vodka Connoisseur

 The word vodka comes from the Russian word for water (“voda”) and means literally “little water.” With so many different brands of “little water” on the market, how do you know which one’s for you?

“Generally, the purer the water used to make the vodka, the better the taste,” says Frank Heaps, CEO of the Newfoundland-based distiller. “There is a wide range of vodka brands on the market, all distilled differently, and people should taste test them, as they would wine, to understand and appreciate the differences.

“The secret is to take the time to savor and enjoy vodka, not just as a shot or in a mixed drink. Knowing how to taste vodka and discovering a personal favorite can mean the difference between mixing an okay drink and an amazing drink.”

His five steps to becoming a vodka connoisseur? 

1.      First and foremost, use a chilled glass. Sipping vodka that has been slightly chilled brings out the natural flavours and “nose” and allows you to savor the taste. Don’t just chug it back, tempting as that is,  instead sip slowly in small swallows. The purer the vodka, the easier it will go down and its lack of hard edge will be very noticeable. Keep the vodka bottle in the fridge so it remains cold. Note: A square bottle sits better on the shelf, takes up less room and won’t roll over onto the leftover meatloaf. Never store vodka in the freezer. Extreme cold can ruin the “nose” and taste.

2.      Before taking a drink, put the glass to your nose and breathe in. A pure, high-quality vodka will have a subtle aroma of fruit, grain or spice and identifying these will ensure that you are drinking superior vodka. 

3.      Now have a drink! Depending on what it is distilled from, you should be able to identify the differences in flavor and craftsmanship of the vodka, much like with a fine wine. Corn, potatoes, rye and wheat are used for distilling vodka. Try to taste the difference!

4.      Forget about your mixer. The only way to taste vodka’s true characteristics is to drink it straight up!

5.      Pour another and enjoy your next sip! Experts became experts by practicing! (EDITOR’S NOTE: Within reason, of course.)