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

‘Tis the Season … for Eating!

As I mentioned in this week’s column ( the holidays are a great time for family gatherings, heartfelt gift-giving and, especially, overeating. With office parties and tailgates and potlucks – oh my! – even the most vigilant of calorie-counters can lose their way.

Fortunately, you can adopt a few easy habits to help limit the damage:

  • Eat a substantial snack before going to a dinner party. I know eating before eating may not sound like a sound diet strategy, but it’s the same advice behind the concept of not going grocery shopping when you’re hungry.
  • Cut calories wherever possible. For example, replace regular cream cheese with the reduced-fat variety and you can shave more than 2,000 calories and 120 grams of fat from a typical cheesecake.
  • Give seconds a second thought. Wait 10 minutes before having a second helping. The delay can help keep you from eating too much before your stomach realizes it’s full.

So enjoy the holidays, just don’t ring in the new year with a Santa-sized midsection.

A Holiday Cooking Hotline to Save the Day

The holiday season is here, and if you’re looking for a great resource to find fresh ideas for at-home entertaining, Turning Leaf Wines is offering a toll-free hotline to save the day.

At 877-TLWINE-3 (or 877-859-4633), you’ll hear automated tips offering instant entertaining advice from experts on everything from how to pair wine with your meal to what to do when 20 people RSVP to your dinner party when your table only seats 10. They’ll even suggest ways to incorporate prepared foods with your own to help ease the stress of entertaining.

And from 2-8 p.m. on Nov. 20-22, during that crucial weekend before Thanksgiving, the hotline will feature live access to a trio of experts including Turning Leaf winemaker Nicole Hitchcock, lifestyle and entertaining expert Robyn Moreno, and wine expert Maureen Petrosky. They’ll be available to answer questions about wine pairings, menu ideas and even what to do with your leftovers.

The hotline is open 24 hours a day through Dec. 31.

Here’s a toast to great West Virginia tastes

Last night’s tag-team Ambler Spirits/Bridge Road Bistro tasting was a blast, most notably because it showcased some mighty fine West Virginia food and drink.

As the evening started, guests were offered their choice of special cocktails: a “Candy Apple Vodka” (nicely light and sweet) or a “Cucumber Gin” made with fresh cucumber puree and a touch of simple syrup. Both were tasty.

Next came shots of Smooth Ambler vodka, and later gin, each paired with a trio of bite-size appetizers. I enjoyed the Georgia Caviar (from across the waters, not from the Peach State) and really liked the New Potato with Caraway Seed and a delicious Smoked Trout with Apple Relish.

Both spirits were good, too. I’ve tried Ambler’s vodka before, so I was really taken with the gin — something I’ve seldom tried. What a nice blending of herby, slightly floral and piney notes with a smooth finish!

Before the evening started, Smooth Ambler owner Tag Galyean shared a little history about his new distillery and announced the small-batch spirits being produced there are already scoring among the highest brands in tasting competitions. And they’re all made right here in the Mountain State. Love that.

Nothing to Whine About at Expanded Wine Shop

So I finally had a chance to check out the newly located (and larger!) Wine Shop at Capitol Market. Since moving down the hall to the space formerly occupied by Perdue’s, the shop has been able to rearrange and, more importantly, expand its offerings. There’s now room for more craft beers, more imported cheeses and, of course, more wine. The most exciting change for me, is the addition of a special climate-controlled room that houses a nice collection of premium wines. Not that I’ll be a frequent purchaser of these pricier bottles, but it makes me happy knowing they’re being well taken care of.

And the service is still great. After years ago proclaiming a Rust en Vrede Stellenbosch one of the best red wines I’ve ever had — and recently going ga-ga over a Rustenberg Chardonnay — I’m pretty much ready to declare South African wines the best in the world. (And that’s a big statement coming from this French and California-loving wineaux.) When I asked owner Ted Armbrecht for something similar, he directed me to a few bottles of Pinotage, the wine that put South Africa on the map. My favorite was the Wildekrans Estate Pinotage from the Walker Bay area. At $17.99, it was worth every penny.

Just like walking into a room in your house after the furniture has been rearranged, browsing through the new Wine Shop takes a few minutes to get used to. You have to re-learn where things are and the new lay of the land. But that’s a small price to pay for progress. And pampered bottles.

*  *  *

Speaking of libations, I’ll be heading down to Bridge Road Bistro tonight for a special vodka and gin tasting featuring Smooth Ambler spirits paired with some of the Bistro’s tasty morsels. (Check out the full story here: I’ll post all the juicy details after the event tonight or tomorrow morning. Or tomorrow afternoon, depending on just how potent these potables turn out to be!

When Good Recipes Go Bad

Although I pride myself on being able to pick out good recipes from bad based on just a quick glance, sometimes my super powers fail me.

Take tonight, for instance. I was reading my beloved Bon Appetit over the weekend and spotted a recipe I knew would be a winner. How could you go wrong with a stew of cannellini beans and fresh kale flavored with onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil? Well, for starters, the dish had zero taste. There wasn’t enough onions or garlic to make an impact, and even a generous shower of salt didn’t help. It wasn’t bad — it just wasn’t anything. Thank God I had made some buttery cornbread to go with it.

But all hope is not lost. One of the reasons I decided to make this dish is because the leftovers could be used in an Italian-inspired soup to serve later in the week. Love the double-duty so, as directly, after dinner I sauteed carrots and celery in a pot and added some of the bean-kale mixture (with its liquid) along with diced tomatoes, garlic and more herbs, simmering the mixture until the flavors came together.

Much, much better. And now Wednesday’s dinner is done!

Wash Those GROSS-ery Bags!

So, do you want to be CLEAN or GREEN?

Next time to head out to the grocery store — all proud of yourself with eco-friendly resuable bags in hand — consider this bit of frightening news from a recent study. (SPOILER ALERT: Gross details below!)

During a recent test, scientists from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found that nearly half of the reusable grocery bags they sampled contained traces of fecal bacteria, including E coli. Eewww.

Here’s how it happens: You put fresh fruits and veggies in your bag, and germs from the surface are left behind when you remove them. Or you buy a package of raw meat and some of the juices leak out, possibly contaminating other items — and your bag.

The solution? Wash your bags after every trip. Yes, that uses more soap and water (kinda negating the eco-benefits or skipping plastic bags) but at least you’ll stay safe and healthy.

SOS … Save Our (Pumpkin) Seeds!

The best thing to come out of carving jack-o-lanterns (besides the obvious smiles from delighted young-uns) is the mound of tasty pumpkin seeds you can harvest from the gourd’s innards. I know it’s a mess to salvage seeds amid all that goop, but you’ll be glad you put forth the effort.

To make the process go a little quicker, plop your pumpkin guts into a large pot and fill it with water. This helps separate seeds from pulp, making it easier to divide the two. Once you have your seeds rinsed and dried, you’re ready to turn them into a tasty snack. You have several options. Simply season with salt and toast in a hot oven until slightly browned. You can also toast as above, but sprinkle with brown sugar afterward for a sweet option.

Or try something a little different, like I did this weekend. I separated my seeds into two piles and experimented with savory flavors. I sautéed one batch in olive oil, salt and cumin, and the other in sesame oil with soy sauce and a little ginger. Then I toasted both in the oven as above. YUM.

Got Goetta?

Work took me to Cincinnati this week, where I was introduced to one of that area’s regional culinary specialties. Not chili smothered in a mountain of shredded cheese, but a delicious German specialty called goetta. Pronounced ged-da or get-uh, it’s a rustic sausage made with ground meat (usually pork) and oats that became popular among poor families trying to stretch out their food supply in the early 19th century. (Thus the oat “filler.”) It’s usually seasoned with a blend of salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary, and can include minced onions and vegetables inside as well.

Peasant food no more, goetta’s modern-day popularity has garnered it the nickname “Cincinnati caviar” among aficionados. You’ll find it served on a bun with spicy mustard and onions, of course, but it also pops up in omelets, pastas, pizzas and a number of other dishes, too. I loved my goetta omelet and – because of the oats inside – even pretended it was “good” for me. Not a chance, but it tasted so good I didn’t care.

Go get ya’ some goetta!

Welcome to the new “Food Guy” food blog!

Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to the new “Food Guy” food blog!

If you’ve followed my weekly food column in the Charleston Daily Mail for the past 10 or so years, you already know I’m pretty obsessed with cooking, recipes, restaurants, wine — pretty much anything food-related. Or maybe I just like to eat. Either way, I figure I’m not alone, so I hope you’ll check back here often so we can share our love of all things yummy together. I’ll still be writing my weekly column for the newspaper, but this here blog is where I’ll start sharing cooking tips, restaurant updates, new food finds, random rants and more on a more frequent basis. And I look forward to hearing what you have to say, too.

So welcome, food friends! And let the discussion begin!!