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

Halloween is less than a week away and we STILL don’t have our punkins – a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the 4, 6 and 8-year-old little ones in our house.

When we finally make our trek to the market to get them (soon boys, swear!) we’ll use these tips to help pick the best of the bunch.

How to Pick a Perfect Pumpkin

  • For Show: A mature pumpkin will be difficult to scratch, bright orange, have a green stem and be fully hardened. A shiny skin indicates that it was picked too soon. Also check for scaring, soft spots and bruises.
     
  • For Painting: The best pumpkins for painting have smooth skin and shallow ribbing. The varieties Orange Smoothie, Cotton Candy and Lumina are great for this purpose.
  • For Carving: Choose a pumpkin with structural strength, a flat bottom, sturdy stem and the ability to last several days after being carved. (It will sound hollow when tapped.)
  • For Eating: Look for a pumpkin that feels heavy for its size, an indication that it will have more dense, edible flesh. Popular “pie pumpkins” include the Small Sugar (also known as Sugar Pie, New England Pie and Northern Pie), Winter Luxury, Cinderella, The Cheese and Golden Cushaw.

And speaking of eating, check back here every day from tomorrow (Oct. 26, 2011) through Halloween next Monday for great recipe ideas using pumpkin. From sweet and savory treats to pumpkin-infused cocktails, I’ll give you the scoop!

Get Your Family Recipe on Grocery Store Shelves

If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing your favorite recipe appear right on the supermarket shelf, here’s your chance!

Two lucky winners of this year’s West Virginia Recipe Challenge will be given the opportunity to develop their recipes into a marketable product – complete with packaging, production, strategic business planning and everything they’ll need to bring their family favorite to the store.

This grand prize for existing entrepreneurs is valued at more than $2,000, while new entrepreneurs will receive services worth more than $10,000.

But you must act fast! The deadline to register has been extended through this Wednesday, Aug. 10, and winners will be chosen at the West Virginia State Fair in Lewisburg next week.

For more information, call 304-645-1090, visit
http://www.wvstateu.edu/announcement/2011/07/13/enter-2011-wv-recipe-challenge or look up “West Virginia Recipe Challenge” on Facebook.

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 …

HONEY BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

  • 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.

Check Out These Crazy Chips: Squid, Browned Eel?

If you think the flavored potato chip craze has gotten out of hand in the U.S. — what with all the chili-and-lime this and cracked-pepper that — you should take a look at the snacks you can find abroad.

In May’s new travel food issue, Budget Travel magazine offers a roundup of some of the more exotic flavors of potato chips you can find across the country and around the world. Among the selections …

  • Voodoo Gumbo Zapp’s in Louisiana, Crab Utz in the Mid-Atlantic and Heinz Ketchup Herr’s in Pennsylvania.
  • Squid or browned-eel flavored chips in Japan, and shrimp or spicy rice cake chips in Korea.
  • Garlic pea chips in Taiwan, falafel-flavored in Israel or mint chutney chips in India.
  • Sweet basil Lays in Thailand or ham-flavored Ruffles in Spain.

Those last two actually sound pretty good, along with my favorite find from England — Marmite Crisps that taste like “baked potato skins washed down with beer.”

Bring it on!

Local Raw Foods Expert Offering Mini-Boot Camp

If you’re one of the few people who haven’t yet given up on a New Year’s resolution for healthier eating, a local raw foods expert is offering a weekend mini-boot camp you might want to check out.

Sally Miller, owner of Eats of Eden, will lead an eight-hour workshop – divided into two sessions: “Foods That Can Heal” and “Moving into Raw Foods” – on March 4 and 5. She’ll teach participants about the “Living Foods” philosophy (that all enzymes, vitamins and minerals the body needs to heal and maintain optimal health are found within the foods we eat) and show how proper food preparation is the key to unlocking these benefits.

From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. that Friday, she’ll focus on the four main foods for healing based on the “Ann Wigmore” program, which includes the concepts of blending and fermenting food. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. that Saturday, she’ll focus on food selection and shopping.

Over the course of both days, everyday recipes will be shared and you’ll get “hands on” experience preparing (and tasting) some of them. You’ll learn how to make dairy replacements, breakfast and lunch items, plus hear important information about organic fruit and vegetable selections. You’ll even learn how to set up your own raw foods kitchen.

This workshop will take place in a private home in Charleston, so space is limited. The cost is $227.90, which includes all instruction, recipes and food throughout the weekend, plus a course manual and all taxes. Reservations and payment are due by Friday, Feb. 25.

For more information, contact Sally Miller at eatsofeden@suddenlink.net or 304-744-8748.

Here’s a pretty cool new website to check out …

Do you take pictures of your food and post them on Facebook? Do you like to show off what’s cookin’ in your own kitchen? Do you like chatting with others about great recipes, cooking tips, unusual ingredients, funny cooking stories or even food catastrophes?

If so, Los Angeles-based Chef Jeffrey Nimer (owner of HauteChefsLA) has created just the site for you. Welcome to the Social Culinaire Network (www.socialculinaire.com), a new online community celebrating all things edible!

You can upload your own photos, create a profile, make your own food photo albums, find out about upcoming events – or simply just join the national “foodie” conversation. Enjoy!

Maybe It’s Time You Just Picked Up the Phone …

Still haven’t settled on a menu or picked up your turkey for Thanksgiving Day? You’re SERIOUSLY running out of time. Unless you thrive on stress, you may want to let someone else do your dirty work …

A few great local restaurants (Bridge Road Bistro, South Hills Market & Café) were offering pre-made holiday feasts you could order ahead of time, pick up Wednesday and take home to reheat on the big day. But those ships (i.e. deadlines) have sailed.

You may still have time to grab a Bob Evans carry-home Farmhouse Feast featuring a variety of almost-like-homemade holiday favorites. The hearty meal comes complete with your choice of a slow-roasted whole boneless turkey breast or sliced boneless ham, bread and celery dressing, mashed potatoes with gravy, buttered sweet corn, green beans with ham, cranberry relish, rolls, a loaf of pumpkin bread and a pumpkin pie with whipped topping.

Call, stop by a restaurant or order at www.bobevans.com now through December, or while supplies last.

A few local hotels (including the Marriott and Embassy Suites downtown) are also serving Thanksgiving Day buffets. Just be sure to call ahead for more information and reservations.

Cross Wine Shopping Off Your Thanksgiving To-Do List

Although it’s a wee bit early to start any Thanksgiving cooking, you can go ahead and cross wine shopping off your list today.

Few things stress out hosts more than the pressure of pairing perfect wines to complement the food they’ll be serving. Lucky for them, a traditional Thanksgiving menu is so varied in flavors that a complex (or even a specific) wine is not really your best bet. There are several simple reds AND whites that should work out just fine.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • White: German Rieslings are usually crowd-pleasers because their sweetness appeals to those who don’t think they like wine, yet they are subtly nuanced enough to be appreciated by more experienced wine drinkers. I still prefer a creamy and buttery Chardonnay, but a sweet Riesling or light Pinot Grigio will usually please more of the masses.
  • Red: The Gamay grape goes well with turkey, so look for a nice Beaujolais from France. (It’s light and fruity enough to please most without offending any.) Beaujolais Nouveau is the most prevalent you’ll see, but splurge a few dollars more for a better cru Beaujolais, like Morgon and Fleurie.
  • Sparkling: A festive bubbly is fun, and the touch of sophistication it adds leaves no doubt that you’ve gathered for a special occasion. Champagne (France) is nice, but don’t overlook a less-expensive Prosecco (Italy) or Cava (Spain) either. In fact, you could try both for the cost of a single bottle of decent Champagne.
  • Worth a Splurge: When you have the urge to splurge on some fabulous fruit of the vine, a big red is always a great choice. Opus One is a popular choice, but will set you back about $200. You could buy four or five really nice bottles for that price, so I’d go that route instead. Just explain what type of wine you like and let a knowledgeable employee or friend point you in the right direction. As for a high-end bubbly, there’s pricey Dom Perignon and Cristal, or the more reasonable – but still highly regarded – Veuve Cliquot.
  • And for Dessert: Choosing a dessert wine can be tricky, but Ports are a perfect winter treat with bottles running the price gamut – from $15 to $100-plus. My pick is a richly decadent Sauterne, a fortified French dessert wine that tastes of fine brandy and butterscotch more that straight sugar. Delicious!

Having just spent a less-than-pleasant hour at a crazier-than-usual Kroger, trust me when I say you need to come up with your Thanksgiving menu – and secure all the necessary groceries – speedy quick.

You do NOT want to be battling these crowds the day before your feast, when there’s enough stress to deal with already.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

The star of your table is a no-brainer (you’ve already bought your fresh turkey, right?) although may want to serve a small ham alongside it for variety. After that’s settled, most of your obligatory side dishes fall neatly into place …

You have to have stuffing, but also mashed potatoes for all that good homemade gravy you’re making. And not just mashed potatoes, but sweet potatoes too. And rolls. (This is definitely a “no carb left behind” kind of meal.) A few token veggies are a must – usually green beans on my side of the family, but peas on my wife’s.

But I always like to throw in at least one or two new sides each year, just for kicks. This year I’m leaning toward a Brussels sprout hash (sautéed with a little bacon) and maybe a colorful succotash with edamame and fresh corn.

And we’ll round things out with buffet of sweet treats – pumpkin, pecan and apple pies, plus some sort or rich chocolate torte.
It’s a pretty basic menu, sure, but the holidays are all about keeping long-standing traditions alive. So bon appétit!

When to Buy that Delicious Big Bird

When you’re ready to head to the store to buy your big bird, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Plan on about 1-2 pounds of turkey per person. (Just depends on how many leftovers you want to enjoy and/or deal with!)
  • If you’re cooking a fresh turkey, allow only 1 or 2 days between buying and roasting it. Be sure to store it in the refrigerator on a tray or pan to catch any juices that may leak out. And don’t worry if your “fresh” turkey seems a little on the frozen side. By law, even fresh ones have to be kept no warmer than 30 degrees.
  • Avoid prestuffed turkeys, as harmful bacteria may be in the stuffing.

And if you go down the frozen route, here are two ways to safely thaw that beast:

  • In the refrigerator in the original wrapper – Allow approximately 24 hours of defrosting time for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.
  • In cold water – Submerge it in cold water, allowing about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. But be sure to change the water every 30 minutes, and cook the bird immediately after thawing. (Do not refreeze!)