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

Bridge Brew Craft Beers Shine in Private Tasting

I had a wonderful opportunity to sample some truly fine West Virginia craft beers at a holiday gathering this week.

At The Manahan Group’s ‘Winter Manaland,” my buddy/owner George rolled out the green carpet (and made it snow on Capitol Street!) for friends and clients at a private tasting of three brews from Fayetteville’s increasingly popular Bridge Brew Works. Then it was downstairs to ever-popular Pies & Pints for a smorgasbord of mighty fine pizza, salads and more beer.

On the special tasting menu …

  • LONGPOINT LAGER: A local interpretation of a “Dortmunder Export” brewed in the traditional German style, this lager gave off aromas of biscuits and hops and was smooth-going-down with a malt-derived caramel, nutty and slightly bitter finish.
  • BELGIAN-STYLE TRIPEL: Brewed in tribute to the beers of Trappist monks, this strong pale ale was a complex blend of malty brewer’s yeast balanced with lemon and spices for an effervescent almost Champagne-like feel going down. Really nice.
  • TRUBELL STRONG ALE: This powerful (11.2% alcohol) Belgium-style “quadruple” made with vast amounts of malted barley and traditional yeast was so-named because — after a pint or two — one might easily find themselves in a little “trubell.” So take it easy, but enjoy the dark fruits, caramel, spices and underlying tropical fruit that mark this masterpiece. I’ve really never sampled a beer quite like it.

It was a great night of food, friends and tasty adult beverages. Tis the season!

Shrimp + Bacon + Spinach + Cheese = OMG!

We’ll soon be saying goodbye to a family who lives on our street as they pack their bags and head elsewhere to face new opportunities.

This is bad for two reasons. One, they’re good neighbors. More importantly, they occasionally feed me.

As sad as I am to see them go, I’m thankful that I at least got one recipe out of them before parting ways. They once served this to-die-for shrimp appetizer at a neighborhood gathering and now it will provide even sweeter memories each time I make it.

Like me, Carla doesn’t follow precise recipes, but her dish goes something like this …

  1. Get a bunch of shrimp and set aside. Preheat your oven while chopping up some fresh spinach into some feta cheese.
  2. Lay a piece of shrimp on a slice of uncooked bacon with a pinch of the feta-spinach mixture and wrap the shrimp in the bacon.
  3. Bake on a cookie sheet with sides just long enough for the bacon to crisp up. Enjoy.

Don’t worry about exact measurements, precise oven temperatures and the like. This “recipe” is pretty forgiving — and delicious.

Put a Lil’ Pumpkin in Your … Cocktail Glass?

Long a hero ingredient in a variety of pies, breads and other baked treats, pumpkin can also play a role in your next cocktail party. Not on the table, but in your glass.

Try mixing up these unique adult beverages ..

Pumpkin Smash
Pumpkin Smash
Pumpkin Smash

1 ¼ oz. hazelnut liqueur
1 ¼ oz. dark rum
¾ oz. pumpkin puree

Shake hard with ice and strain out into a martini glass.

Garnish with sprinkle of ground clove or nutmeg.

 

Pumpkin Pie Fizz

Pumpkin Pie Fizz

2 oz. dark rum
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. pumpkin puree *
1 egg yolk
club soda

Dry shake, shake with 3 ice cubes and strain into a wine glass. Garnish with star anise.

Pumpkin Martini
Pumpkin Martini

Pumpkin Martini

2 oz. vanilla vodka
½ oz. cream liqueur
½ oz. pumpkin puree
1 tsp. whipped cream

Pour the cream liqueur and vodka into a shaker filled with ice. Add the pumpkin puree. Shake again.

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

 

* TO MAKE PUMPKIN PUREE: Take 1 pumpkin, cut in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff, lie face down on a foil or  baking sheet with. Bake at 350 degrees until soft, about 45 minutes to an hour. Cool, scoop out the flesh and puree in blender along with 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon ground ginger, 1 tablespoon ground cloves and 16-28 ounces simple syrup (adjusted to desired sweetness). Store in the fridge and freeze whatever you don’t use for future use.

Time to Upgrade Your Burger & Dog Toppings

We’re getting painfully close to Labor Day weekend, when a flurry of cookouts will celebrate the last hurrah of summer.

If your plans call for plain-jane burgers and dogs, consider jazzing them up a bit with these high-falutin’ condiments …

  • FLAVORED MAYO — Stir in a spoonful of pesto, olive tapenade, chopped chipotles, smoked paprika, curry or a little wasabi.
  • FRUIT RELISH — Chop up apricot preserves, apple jelly, a little horseradish, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves, to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Or just buy a jar of prepared chutney!
  • SPICY KETCHUP — Stir in a little Dijon mustard, roasted garlic, even a little vodka. Ooh-la-la!
  • CLASSY CONDIMENTS — Stack on curried pickles, wild boar bacon, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms or roasted garlic.
  • FANCY CHEESE — Add a slice (maybe two?) of smoked Gouda, a sprinkling of crumbled bleu or an herbed chevre.

The “Taste of Home Cooking School” is coming to the Charleston Civic Center’s Little Theater at 2 p.m. Sept. 17, 2011.

During a two-hour interactive session, guests will watch culinary expert Cheryl Cohen demonstrate 10 new easy-to-make recipes they can re-create in their own kitchens. Door prizes will be given away during the event, and all guests will take home a gift bag featuring an assortment of products and coupons, including two Taste of Home magazines.

Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. this Monday, Aug. 15, at the Charleston Civic Center box office and www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets for reserved seats are $15 each. A limited number of VIP tickets will be available for purchase at the box office only. These include special reserved seating, a backstage meet-and-greet with Cheryl Cohen, an autographed hard bound Taste of Home cookbook and free parking.

Doors to the lobby vendor area will open at noon and doors to the theater will open at 1:30 p.m.

For more information, call 304-345-7469 or visit www.tasteofhome.com or www.charlestonwvciviccenter.com.

Homemade Honey Mustard Beats The Bottle

Need a super-quick honey mustard dressing and don’t fancy forking over several bucks for a store-bought version that won’t be nearly as good?

Make your own! You probably have everything you need already in your kitchen.

HONEY MUSTARD DRESSING

3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. grainy mustard
1 Tbsp. honey
½ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the above ingredients in a food processor and mix until smooth. That’s it!

Never Too Late to Taste the Red, White & Blue

The Fourth of July may have come and gone, but who says the patriotic party can’t continue. Here’s a recipe for a great red, white and blue Berry Almond Tart worthy of celebrating any day of the year!

Taken from Nielsen-Massey’s “A Century of Flavor” cookbook, the recipe uses both pure vanilla and almond extracts to add unique flavors to the dessert table. It’s a slightly different recipe from the version I usually make (where the berries rest on a thin layer of almond paste) but the combination of almond, berries and cream is still a winner.

Almond Berry Tart
Almond Berry Tart

Berry Almond Tart

Pastry Dough:
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Almond Cream:
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp. pure almond extract
1 egg
¼ cup almond flour (or almonds ground into flour)
3 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour

Sugar Glaze:
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup water
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
Vanilla Pastry Cream (recipe below)
Red and blue berries of choice

  1. For the dough, cream the butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Add the flour gradually, beating on low speed until just incorporated; do not overmix. Shape into a round disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill until firm.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll the dough to a ¼-inch thickness on a lightly sugared surface, turning over once. Roll the dough up onto the rolling pin, and then place the pin across the tart pan at the center point and unroll the dough. Press the dough into the tart pan and trim the edge by rolling the pin over the pan so the dough falls freely from the edge.
  3. For the almond cream, cream the butter, granulated sugar and almond extract in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Beat in the almond flour and all-purpose flour. Spread evenly over the pastry dough. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the almond cream is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
  4. For the glaze, combine the granulated sugar, water and vanilla extract in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Let stand until cooled.
  5. To assemble, spread Vanilla Pastry Cream over the baked Almond Cream. Arrange the berries over the pastry cream. Brush the Sugar Glaze generously over the fruit. Chill until ready to serve.

 Vanilla Pastry Cream

2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 ½ Tbsp. cornstarch
1 ½ cups whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. butter, softened

  1. Whisk 2/3 cup sugar, the egg, egg yolks, vanilla extract and cornstarch in a bowl. Cook the milk and 1/3 cup sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat until foam rises, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  2. Temper the eggs with the hot milk mixture. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan. Cook over low heat until the pastry cream reaches 160 degrees and becomes thick, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Spread over parchment paper to cool.

I recently shared my secrets for great marinating – finding just the right balance of flavors and soaking time to make your meat melt in your mouth. But one ingredient I neglected to throw into the mix was fruit juice.

I’ve often added a splash of orange, lemon or lime juice to make seafood sing or salad dressings dance. They work beautifully in both cases, so why not try them in marinades, too? You get some great flavors naturally, without all of the added sugar and sodium bottled sauces often bring to the table.

Citrus, apple, grape and even more exotic tropical juices all make excellent marinade bases, but with so many flavors to choose from the choices are plentiful.

To get you started, here’s a quick barbecue recipe using good ol’ Welch’s …

Tangy Grape Barbecue Sauce

1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made with Concord grapes
1/2 cup Welch’s 100% White Grape Juice made with Niagara grapes
1 cup canned tomatoes, crushed, diced or pureed
3 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
2 Tbsp. chopped garlic

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium size saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cool slightly before using.

Unless You’re Careful, Those Spuds Can Be Duds

Although the tasty salad mentioned in the blog post below (http://blogs.charlestondailymail.com/foodguy/2011/05/09/pricey-pinenuts-kicked-to-the-curb-for-now/) 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!

My, What a Good-Looking Dessert You Have

If you happened to catch my column in this week’s Daily Mail (http://charlestondailymail.com/foodandliving/TheFoodGuy/201103150645) you read all about the opening night of this past weekend’s indulgent West Virginia Culinary Classic at Stonewall Resort.

And you’re probably wondering, “What does one do the morning after gorging themselves on SO MUCH delicious food?”

By gorging themselves on an overflowing breakfast buffet, of course. Then making (and eating) multiple desserts. All before 10:30 a.m.

Said sweet treats came from an interesting culinary demonstration I sat in on about making plain desserts extraordinary with a little plating razzle-dazzle. Your family or dinner guests may not complain if you serve them a simple brownie or slice of cheesecake. But you can definitely get your fill of “oohs and aahs” if that dessert is served on a sugar-dusted, sauce-drizzled or otherwise blinged-out plate.

And that’s just what the friendly folks from Gordon Food Service showed us. Through several demonstrations (followed by an awesome “do-it-yourself” dessert-building finale) we learned how ridiculously easy it is to take a simple cookie or slice of pound cake and turn it into one of those fancy (read: overpriced) desserts served in restaurants. 

Here are just a few of their suggestions:

  • Mini-desserts are all the rage these days. People want to indulge, but would like to do so by keeping their waists slim and their wallets fats. Restaurant desserts are usually huge, with an equally oversized pricetag. Make your own mini-shots by drizzling your sauce of choice around the inside of a small glass or dessert dish, then filling it with alternating layers of pudding, mousse, whipped cream, peanut butter, jam, whatever. For the piece de resitance, add those fillings from piping bags for smoother shapes and curves.
  • Have a scrapbooker in the family? Borrow some of her stencils, places them over a plate, then sprinkle on powerdered sugar or cocoa to fill the designs. (Use whichever colors provides the most striking contrast with your plate color.) Carefully lift the stencil and you have a gorgeous pattern to accentuate your dessert. If you don’t have stencils, cut out your own designs or shapes with paper and scissors.
  • Use a sauce to drizzle a nice pattern (or completely random squiggles) on each plate before adding the dessert to it. So easy, so striking.
  • Run a toothpick through the middle of a dollop of sauce to create a heart shape. Or drizzle concentric circles of sauce around the plate (larger each time as you move toward the outter edge), then place a toothpick in the very center and drag it in radiating lines toward the outside. Instant spider web.
  • Or just “paint” your plate! Add dollops of sauce and then run a clean paintbrush or pastry brush through each one and across the plate to create colorful streaks.
  • Use small cookie cutters to cut shapes (flowers, hearts, butterflies) out of slices of brownie or pound cake. Place these atop mousses or other desserts for a cute garnish. Or, use the brownie/cake “frame” you now have and fill the center (a cut-out heart with raspberry sauce, for instance) for a totally different look.

Bottom line is, play around and HAVE FUN! They say we eat with our eyes, and that’s probably no more true than with desserts. Make people “ooh and aah.” 

NEXT UP: Check back tomorrow for a bite-by-bite account of the weekend’s closing night banquet. Delish!