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

Biting into the Governor’s Homegrown Tomato

So I had this tomato.

Not just any tomato, but a GINORMOUS one.

Tomblin's tomato
Tomblin’s tomato

And not just any ginormous one, but one homegrown and hand-picked by the governor himself.

As West Virginia’s Earl Ray Tomblin gave me a tour of his Governor’s Mansion garden recently (check out the full story here), we were marveling at the height of the tomato stalks rising before us. Then he reaches over and picks one to give us a closer look at some of the bounty he’s been enjoying on the dinner table this summer.

This thing was a beauty! Plump, red and nearly bursting at the seams.

I felt a little guilty when he offered it to me, but snatched it from his hands nonetheless. Journalistic ethics be damned.

Then it sat in my kitchen a few days while I debated how to make the most of it. It seemed wasteful to chop it up into a sauce, bury it on a sandwich or toss it into a salad where its righteousness would be compromised by the ingredients alongside it.

So that left me with only one choice. I bit into that beast like an apple, letting its juices drip down my chin.

Then I sprinkled on a bit of salt and did the exact same thing again and again.

Wild & Wonderful!

A stroll through the governor's garden
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin takes The Food Guy on a stroll through his garden.

BBQ Survey: We Love It With Chicken in Texas

     As backyard grills are getting a workout this weekend celebrating (lamenting?) the end of summer, the folks at commissioned a survey  to settle American’s barbecue debate once and for all.
     That survey uncovered some interesting trends about America’s obsession with all things BBQ, including our views on the most “all-American” foods.
     A whopping 84% said they plan to enjoy some sweet ‘n’ tangy barbecue at some point over this Labor Day weekend. But surprising to me, chicken beat out pork (39% to 30%) as their barbecued meat of choice, followed by beef at just 26%.
     Putting the whole South vs. Southwest turf war to rest, America chose Texas as the best barbecue destination (43%) beating out Memphis (24%) and North Carolina (15%).
     Additional findings …
  • When  it comes to what consumers consider the  most all-American food, apple pie took the crown with 28% of the  vote, followed by hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecue at 25%, 20% and 17% respectively.
  • Four  in 10 Americans believe slow-smoked is the one true way to cook great  barbecue. (Well duh.)
  • And 91% said they either “love or like” barbecue. (Double duh. What’s not to love?!)


The AmazonLocal Barbecue Survey was conducted online online and reached a national sample of  1,050 American adults ages 18 and older. The margin of error is +/- 3.1%, with a 95% confidence level.

Ice, Ice, Baby! Chill Out with these Clever Cubes

I was recently enjoying a couple glasses of wine one night and – in an EXTREMELY rare occurrence – had a few sips left that I didn’t feel like finishing. (Still can’t figure that one out!)

Not enough to save, too much to toss. So I poured it in a small plastic container and popped it in the freezer. A few days later I was making a pan sauce for a beef dish and needed a little something to punch up up.

The wine!

So I dropped my little red wine ice cube into that pan and whisked it in as the sauce reduced. Fantastic.

Then a few days later I see this article in Taste of Home magazine touting “Clever Cubes.”

“Don’t ditch those last dabs and dribbles,” it said. “They’re culinary gold after a spell in the deep freeze.”

Among items the magazine suggested freezing in an ice cube tray to work into recipes later …

  • Chopped onions frozen in water can be quickly thawed to stir into soups, sauces and more.
  • Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.
  • Yogurt, which can be added to smoothies to thicken and chill.
  • Lemon and lime juice.
  • Tomato paste for savory sauces.
  • Pesto or any other chopped fresh herbs.
  • Chicken broth for sauces, rice dishes and more.
  • Coffee, to add a kick to desserts and gravies.
  • Tomato juice – to chill your Bloody Mary!
  • And, wait for it, wine!

Food Network Got it Right. Cam’s Ham is Da’Bomb!

The latest issue of Food Network Magazine names the Sugar-Flaked Ham Sandwich at Huntington’s Cam’s Ham the single must-try sandwich in West Virginia.

There are probably a handful of state sammiches I’d put on said list, but Cam’s is SO one of them.

Growing up in Huntington I often indulged in this piled-high plate of perfection, and still manage to sneak one in from time to time when I go back for a visit.

Cam’s has always been an institution in the Tri-State Area, but it would be hard for most to understand why. The restaurant itself is in an out-of-the-way location (between downtown and the west end) and the building itself is pretty non-descript, borderline past its prime.

But inside, regulars gather for filling sandwiches, plate lunches, ice cream treats … and a mighty fine sandwich.

Regarding the Sugar-Flaked Ham Sandwich, editors wrote: “Ninety percent of orders here are for this sandwich, piled with shaved sweet ham and a tangy sauce.” And at just $2.75-$3.50, it’s a steal.

It joins 49 other notables in the feature “50 Sandwiches, 50 States,” available on newsstands now and at

For the magazine’s annual survey of the best dishes across the country, editors spent six months scouring the country for the most delicious sandwich in every state. They learned two things along the way:

“One, you can put pretty much anything between bread; and two, almost everything tastes better that way. We considered sandwiches of all kinds — hot, cold, round, square, tall, pressed, wrapped, meaty, cheesy — and narrowed down our list of favorites to a single must-try sandwich in each state.”

Cam’s Ham is located at 809 First St. in Huntington. Call 304-522-7012 for more information.

Get Your WV Food Product on Grocery Shelves

Have a West Virginia food product that you’d like to market to the world? Here’s your chance.

Potential food entrepreneurs from across the state can once again compete for more than $10,000 in prizes — and the chance to have their specialty food launched in the marketplace — during the seventh annual West Virginia Recipe Challenge at the West Virginia State Fair.

Launched in 2006 by the West Virginia State University Extension Service (in collaboration with the State Fair of West Virginia, Tamarack and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture) the contest is designed as a launching pad for emerging entrepreneurs who dream of taking their home-cooked product to the grocery store shelf.

The challenge consists of two categories: new entrepreneur and existing business. Prizes in the categories differ but include recipe refinement, packaging design, label development, nutritional panel creation, technical assistance, production time in a commercial kitchen, product marketing and more.

Registration is now open for this year’s event (along with more information and complete rules) at

Guys Redeem Themselves with Feast Fit for a King

 I just spent a long weekend away with “the guys” as part of an annual getaway we look forward to each July. 

Chillin' in Canaan Valley
Chillin’ in Canaan Valley

We meet at cool spot in Canaan Valley for several days of golf, frosty beverages and general shenanigans – all set to a backdrop of gorgeous mountain views. 

And as guys tend to do on such occasions, we threw nutrition to the wind every chance we got.

Brownies for breakfast, chips and dip for lunch and loaded pizzas and/or stuffed burritos for dinner were pretty much the norm, although we did shake things up a bit. One guy actually had his burrito for breakfast and a few others managed to find real meals for lunch. (If a tower of hot honey habanera wings count?)

I myself sunk to new levels – or reached new heights, depending on your outlook – when I inhaled a large burger topped with bacon AND mac ‘n’ cheese.

But rest assured, we redeemed ourselves on the final night.

Bacon Burger with Mac 'n' Cheese
Bacon Burger with Mac ‘n’ Cheese

With beverages flowing and music blaring, we grilled out fat French-cut pork chops, roasted asparagus with sesame oil, baked potatoes with white cheddar and rosemary, cooked baked beans with peppers, simmered mushrooms with wine – and whipped up a wicked five-cheese mac ‘n’ cheese flecked with thick-cut bacon and a butter-crunch panko crust. (We are guys, after all.)

It was a feast fit for kings, which is pretty much how we lived the weekend. And I’m already counting the days to next year’s nosh.

Top-Shelf Recipes Raise the Bar

So my friends at Maker’s Mark called to ask if I’d like them to send me a big ol’ bottle of their premium Kentucky bourbon.


“To use in some of our recipes,” they say.

Really? Can’t I just sip and savor this liquid gold as one should? But if I’m going to agree to accept the sample, I need to play by the rules and give their recipes due diligence.

So it was with great pain that I poured four precious cups of Maker’s Mark into a pitcher of lemon and orange peels, sugar, fruit juice, nutmeg and Champagne to stir up a creation called “Fancy Bourbon Punch.”

And it was with baited breath that I blended two tablespoons of top shelf bourbon into a brick of cream cheese for a “Blueberry Bourbon Cream Cheese Pie.”

My first thought as I was mixing up both creations was … SACRILEGE!

Would you use Kobe beef to make Hamburger Helper? Would you break open a $100 bottle of wine to make a pitcher of sangria? Well, maybe. I guess it would be better than using lesser-quality ingredients.

But when bias gave way to objectivity, I’ll have to say both treats were pretty tasty – especially after their respective flavors had a chance to meld overnight.

The cocktail still had the depth and punch of bourbon, but with a sweetened, fruity, spiced twist. (The nutmeg did wonders!) And the dessert was like a traditional blueberry pie atop a thin cheesecake base, with a hint of bourbon laced through both layers.

Well played, Maker’s Mark. Not a waste after all!


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The folks at recently compiled a list of “All-American Eats: Must-Try Foods from the 50 States” featuring the ingredients or dish they felt best represented each place.

Some interesting items showed up, including white barbecue sauce fromAlabama, prickly pear cactus from Arizona, buffalo burgers from Montana, knoephla (a German potato and dumpling soup) from North Dakota, and fried chicken and waffles from Georgia.

There were some pretty unusual entries, too. Chocolate gravy and biscuits from Arkansas, a horseshoe sandwich from Illinois (an open-faced meat sandwich covered with fries and cheese sauce) and cashew chicken from Missouri. Who knew Missouri was so … oriental?

But there were no such surprised when it came to West Virginia. Ramps, baby!

“Garlicky, pungent ramps are a rare green with a short growing season, but they are ample in the Appalachian region, and seem to thrive in the cool mountains of West Virginia,” the article said.

“Also known as wild leeks, these strongly flavored greens are highly sought after when available. They are used in all types of dishes, from roasts to pastas to egg breakfasts. But their unique flavor might be best savored in a quick, simple sauté with a quality olive oil, salt, and pepper.”

The site also suggested where to get you some good ones.

“Richwood is the capital of the wild ramp. The town is home to the National Ramp Association and the Annual Feast of the Ramson, which takes place every April. Because ramps are such a seasonal food, it can be difficult to find them on restaurant menus, even in the heart of ramp country,” it said.

“But at the peak of the season, in very early spring, check out the Bluegrass Kitchen in Charleston. The restaurant focuses on making fresh, local food packed with regional vegetables and other West Virginia specialties.”

Pretty cool.

The feature also included an elegant recipe, courtesy of Oprah Magazine, for flash-sautéed ramps with sugar snap peas and pattypan squash with toasted walnuts and fresh pea tendrils. We’re a little late in the year for fresh ramps, but clip this idea in case you saved any in the freezer or to tuck away for next spring.

Have your own ideas about what dish should represent the Mountain State? Share your suggestions socially at


Blueberry Bourbon Cream Cheese Pie

4 cups fresh blueberries
¾ cup sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
4 Tbsp. Maker’s Mark bourbon
½ cup cream cheese, at room temperature
1 pre-baked pie shell 

  1. Mash 2 cups of the blueberries with the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of bourbon. Place the berry mixture in a medium pan and place it over medium heat. Bring the filling to a boil, stirring, and boil it until it is thickened and clear, about 3 minutes. Let the filling cool to room temperature.
  2. Beat together the cream cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons bourbon. Spread the cream cheese over the bottom of the pie crust.
  3. Stir the remaining blueberries into the cooled berry filling. Spread the berry filling over the cream cheese layer. Chill the pie at least 2 hours, or until it is cold. Serve with lightly whipped cream. 

Recipe by Ian Knauer, Food Writer and Cookbook Author


Sauteed Ramps with Squash
Sauteed Ramps with Squash

Sauteed Ramps, Sugar Snap Peas & Pattypan Squash

1 bunch ramps or scallions
1 pound sugar snap peas
2 Tbsp. walnut oil or olive oil
½ pound baby yellow pattypan squash or 2 medium yellow squash, chopped
1 Tbsp. orange zest, finely grated
salt and pepper
½ cup pea tendrils
¼ cup walnuts, chopped 

  1. Trim roots from ramps and finely chop white bulbs. Slice green leaves into 1/4-inch strips. String sugar snap peas, cut off stem ends and leave whole.
  2. Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add white part of ramps and cook 1 minute. Add peas and pattypan squash. Sauté until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in zest, salt and pepper to taste and ramp greens.
  3. Remove from heat and stir until greens slightly wilt. Add pea tendrils and walnuts before serving.

Recipe from O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine

Blueberry Bourbon Pie
Blueberry Bourbon Pie

If you’re a fan of bourbon , or just tasty food and drink, be sure to check out today’s column ( sharing my adventures in the kitchen mixing up a fancy bourbon punch — seriously, it’s called Fancy Bourbon Punch — and a bourbon blueberry cream cheese pie.

I never would’ve dreamed up either recipe, but both were nice, so thanks to my friends at Maker’s Mark for suggesting I try them. And for the big bottle of liquid gold they sent so I could do so!

The pie recipe made the paper, but below are recipes for the punch and bourbon-spiked burgers that would be awesome on the grill. Enjoy!


Fancy Bourbon Punch

1 liter Maker’s Mark bourbon
1 cup granulated sugar
Peels of 3 lemons and 1 orange
Juice of peeled fruit
1 liter of strong tea (preferably green tea)
250 ml champagne or club soda
Freshly grated nutmeg 

  1. Combine sugar and citrus peels in the bottom of a punch bowl. Muddle together until sugar starts to clump together. Let sit for about 2 hours.
  2. Brew the tea for about 30 minutes, remove loose tea or tea bags, and allow to cool. Add the juice of the peeled fruit, tea and bourbon. Stir.
  3. Top with champagne just before serving and stir gently. Top with freshly grated nutmeg and serve.

Recipe by Matt Wallace, Seven Grand


Maker’s Mark Kobe Beef Burger

4 six-ounceKobebeef hamburger patties (or regular ground beef)
½ cup plus 2 tsp. Maker’s Mark bourbon
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 pieces plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
2 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 large onions, cut in half and thinly sliced with the grain
salt and black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
4 soft hamburger buns, brioche preferably 

  1. Marinate patties in shallow baking dish with ½ cup of bourbon. Sprinkle patties with ¼ of the minced garlic. Refrigerate for two hours, then flip the patties and sprinkle with another ¼ of the garlic. Refrigerate another two hours.
  2. While burgers are marinating, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place cut tomato halves on a parchment lined sheet tray, cut side up. Brush tomatoes lightly with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, thyme and remaining garlic. Place in the oven and allow tomatoes to slow roast for about 1½-2 hours until they are slightly dehydrated and begin to color. Once tomatoes have cooled, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of bourbon over them and refrigerate until needed.
  3. While tomatoes are cooking, caramelize the onions. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add vegetable oil and onions to pan. Season onions with salt and cook until they begin to soften, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes more until they begin to break down more and color slightly.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook onions, stirring occasionally, for roughly 2 hours, or until the onions caramelize deep golden brown. Add water to the pan as necessary if the onions begin to stick. Once onions are cooked, transfer to a small container and stir in 1 teaspoon of bourbon. Refrigerate until needed.
  5. Heat the grill, grill pan or griddle to high heat. Remove burgers from marinade, lightly brush both sides with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Cook your burgers to desired doneness. To assemble, lightly toast bun if desired. Add the burger patty and top with caramelized onions and two pieces of tomatoes.

Recipe by Hiassam and Ali Beydoun, Frites ‘N’ Meats

In case you missed it in last week’s Daily Mail, South Hills Market & Cafe will once again feature a special cherry dish on its menu asWest Virginia’s chosen restaurant to help celebrate National Rainier Cherry Day all week. (The big day was Wednesday, July 11.)

Northwest Cherries has selected one restaurant from every state to feature a uniqueRainiercherry dish incorporating the famed fruit’s crisp bite and pale yellow flesh. Chef Richard Arbaugh received 40 pounds of cherries to play around with and, in doing so, came up with a pan-seared foie gras with Rainier cherry gastrique, pan-seared Hudson Valley duck breast braised with Rainier cherry and buckwheat cake, and a Rainier cherry and almond baklava.

You can enjoy the baklava at the restaurant this week – or try making it yourself with the recipe below! It’s a wee bit labor-intensive, though.

Located at 1010 Bridge Road, South Hills Market & Cafe is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Call 304-345-2585 for more information or reservations.


Rainier Cherry & Almond Baklava

Nut Filling
1 1/4 Cups of Whole Almonds
2 Tbsp. Sugar
1 1/2 Tsp. Ground Cardamom

Cherry Filling
6 Ounces Cherries
1/4 Cup Apricot Jam

1 Pound Filo at Room Temperature
6 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Melted

1/3 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Honey
2 Tbsp. Amaretto

3 Tbsp. Chopped Toasted Almonds

For the Filling:

Place the almonds in a bowl of a food processor and blend until finely chopped, (about 15 to 20 seconds) add the sugar and the cardamom pulse three or four times. Transfer to a medium bowl.

To Prepare the Cherry Filling:

Place cherries and apricot glaze in a bowl pulse until it is a course mixture. Transfer mixture to a small bowl.

To Prepare Filo: 

Remove from packaging and unfold so the stack lies flat on work surface. Cut the stacks in half crosswise, then trim each half to measure 8inches by 8 inches. Stack them on top of each other and cover with a damp cloth. Place your first piece in greased 8by 8 inch pan. Lay each piece of filo in the pan brushing melted butter lightly. Do not saturate with to much butter, repeat with five more pieces of filo.

Cover the top piece with about a 1/3 of a cup of the nut mixture. Repeat this process only using three sheets of filo and two more layers of the nut filling. Place three more sheets of filo and with an off set spatula place the entire cherry filling across the pastry. Place three more sheets of filo on top and cover with 1/3 cup of nut filling repeat three times. You should have used up the nut filling by now.

Top with five sheets filo buttered lightly. Place the baklava in the freezer for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F. After the 30 minutes has passed pull baklava out of freezer and cut to desired shapes with a sharp knife. Place the pan in oven and bake for 25 minutes. Turn oven down and bake an additional 20 minutes and remove from oven letting cool on rack. Retrace cuts with knife and make sure that you cut all the way through.

To Make Syrup

Place sugar and water in a sauce pan and cook over medium heat. Use a candy thermometer and cook until the temperature reaches 218 F. Remove from the heat. Stir in honey and amaretto, return to the heat and cook until it reaches boiling. Pour evenly over cooled baklava and top with the toasted almonds. Allow the syrup to saturate the pastry (2-3 hours)  the baklava will be at its best after 8 hours. Store with a loose covering up to five days.



Bean Me Up, Scotty! Anything Goes in this Chili

If you’ve always been one to snub your nose at all those “official” rules governing sanctioned chili cook-offs – No beans! No filler! No ground beef! – have I got a contest for you.

Charleston’s 14th Annual Smoke on the Water Chili Cook-off next Saturday along Kanawha Boulevard at Haddad Riverfront Park has added a new “Homestyle Chili” category this year in which anything goes. (If you like beans in your chili, bean that pot up!) Better still, Homestyle is now an official International Chili Society (ICS) cooking category, so that winner here not only scores $500 but also advances to the ICS World Championship Chili Cookoff in Charleston in October.   

This is the first year for Homestyle and the rules are less restrictive than they are for other cooking categories: red chili, verde chili and salsa. Homestyle is defined by ICS as “the cook’s favorite combination of ingredients resulting in a dish seasoned with chili peppers and spices.”  That’s it – there are no restrictions or requirements as to what ingredients do or don’t go in. The only rules are that the chili must be homemade and cooked entirely on site the day of the cook-off, with a minimum of two gallons prepared. The entry fee for the new category is $20.

“The Homestyle Chili competition is a great way for folks who may not have competed in a chili cook-off before to get started,” said Jennifer Piercy Igo, chair of the Smoke on the Water planning committee.  “People can cook the same kind of chili they cook at home, or they can get really creative and use non-traditional ingredients,” she said.

For more information about Smoke on the Water and the Homestyle Chili category, contact Jennifer Piercy Igo at (304) 553-3125 or To compete in the Smoke on the Water Chili Cook-off, cooks need to register online at the ICS website here.