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

I’m sure I’ll take some heat for this – “Who does this guy think he is, telling me what I can and can’t drink!?” – but New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is my new BFF now that he’s on a crusade to ban Big Gulps in the Big Apple.

I’m all for freedom of choice, but if the choices people make are killing them why SHOULDN’T someone step in to try to stop them. If you saw someone hurt on the side of the road, would you really drive on by saying, “Well, it’s really not my place …”

For those who haven’t heard, Bloomberg made a splash when he announced he was proposing an unprecedented ban on super-large sodas and other sugary drinks at the city’s restaurants, delis, sports arenas and movie theaters. Concerned about our nation’s growing obesity epidemic, he wants the city to limit those drinks to 16 ounces max – an amount that used to be “large” but is now considered “small” in a world of Big Gulps, Super Big Gulps, Double Gulps, Super Double Dog Dare Gulps.


We’re carrying around vats of soda – each containing something like 37,0700 calories and a 5-pound bag of sugar – and yet we wonder why we keep getting thicker in the middle.


If a 16-ounce soda – a full bottle of pop … a quarter of a giant 2 liter, for goodness sake – here’s a novel idea. Drink some water.

You go, Michael. It’s an uphill battle, but one that needs fought and won.

If you took your mom out to eat for Mother’s Day today, good for you. You probably did better than most.

According to a recent survey of 760 moms by the Freschetta® pizza company, 87% reported they did not want to have to cook today.


But what is surprising is that same survey revealed that 60% of them expected they would be spending their special day in the kitchen.

Some said it’s because their husbands don’t know how to cook (16%), while others felt they needed to so their kids would get a healthy meal (44%). Sadly, 40% reported they had no other choice.

Malden Fourth-Graders: Food Critics for a Day!


There are a lot of cool perks that come with this job.

Free food samples, being recognized when I’m out and about – “Hey, you’re The Food Guy!” – the occasional, though always unsolicited, special treatment in restaurants. But when it comes to true rewards, it doesn’t get more fulfilling than this …

Last week I got to spend an afternoon at Malden Elementary, where fourth-graders had invited me to come talk about what it’s like to get paid for eating for a living – and how they can grow up to do something equally exciting.

School counselor Ditty Markham said the idea of me visiting came about when one boy in class, Tyler Hudson, expressed an interest in growing up to be a food critic some day. But when quizzed about their future career plans, most of the children had limited ideas of what types of jobs were even possible.

They tended to cite jobs that, to them, seemed to pay really good salaries, but were actually on the low end of the scale. We wanted to let them know there are not only higher-paying options out there, but that they could also look for jobs where they get paid to do something they’re truly passionate about.

For me, that’s food and cooking, so over the course of a few hours I talked to them about my role at the newspaper and other job opportunities in the journalism field and beyond. I also fielded a wide variety of questions.

They asked about everything from my best meal ever (The French Laundry) to my favorite chain restaurant (maybe Olive Garden). They wanted to know about the foods I hate (beets and peas) and some of the strangest things I’ve eaten. I answered that one by explaining the delicacy of soft-shell crabs, since they’re in season, but in retrospect they would’ve gotten a much bigger kick out of the rattlesnake nuggets I munched on in Arizona.

They were equally excited to talk about the foods they love and hate, the restaurants they can’t get enough of, even the meals they cook at home. (Austin Stephenson, I want to try some of those pancakes!)

Then they invited me to join them for lunch in the school cafeteria, after which we could come back to the classroom and discuss how we’d go about writing an actual restaurant critique of the meal we just had.

With visions of awesome cafeteria lunches dancing in my head, I jumped at the chance to sink my teeth into some savory Salisbury steak and gravy or spaghetti with meat sauce or warm-from-the-oven pepperoni rolls.

“What’s on the menu?” I asked with excitement.

“Cook’s Choice,” they replied.

So we settled in for ham, turkey and cheese sub sandwiches with Baked Lays, fresh watermelon and a salad bar. In reviewing the meal afterward, we decided it was not bad overall but we did have a few suggestions for improvement:

  • The sandwiches were a little skimpy, so a better selection of toppings to jazz them up would’ve been nice. Pickles were a popular suggestion, and I would’ve paid good money for a packet of mayonnaise.
  • The watermelon was a hit, but some students wondered if there should be a couple of fruits to choose from, maybe some sliced peaches or chunks of pineapple.
  • And we all thought the salad bar could use a little love. Especially with several kids not touching their sandwiches – or only plucking the slice of cheese from them – a salad bar with more options would help ensure they could find enough food to fill them up. There was lettuce, tomato, cucumber and peppers, but no broccoli, cauliflower or other veggies to add bulk. A simple pasta salad would also offer a good second entrée option for those not liking the day’s main dish.

On a scale of 1 to 10, some loved it and others hated it, so we averaged out at around a 5 or 6.

Malden drawing
Malden Elementary fourth-grader Kimberly Legg gave me this awesome drawing she made herself!

As the invited guest, I politely scored it a 7, reminding the class that you always have to judge a restaurant with realistic expectations. You’re not going to get a Chop House experience at a McDonald’s booth, so be sure to pass judgment accordingly.

“Our cooks may never forgive you for producing about 40 critics who now think they are qualified to judge them each day on presentation, taste, quality and quantity of food, ambiance, etc.,” Markham said.


But I hope they take it all in stride, because this was the most enjoyable day at “work” I’ve had in a long time. And these kids couldn’t have been more interested, appreciative and well-behaved! They gave me hugs, took photos, asked if they could sit with me at lunch and one girl even gave me a picture she had drawn. (Thanks, Kimberly Legg. It’s hanging up in my office!)

“Steven, thanks so much for visiting Malden Elementary. Our fourth-graders really enjoyed learning from you,” Ditty wrote in a follow-up note after the event. “If you are not in a school every day, you probably can’t appreciate the significance of 10-year-olds who were attentive listeners and participants for over two hours. It is rare that anyone holds their interest for over 30 minutes. So, give yourself a pat on the back.”

Actually, Ditty, with three boys at home I know all too well how challenging it is to harness youthful exuberance on a daily basis.

So the pat on the back goes to you and your students!

Malden Elementary fourth-graders
Katelynn, Dennie Lester, Steven Keith, Derek Carney, Makayla Walls
Malden Elementary fourth-graders
Austin Stevenson, Steven Keith, Tyler Hudson
Malden Elementary fourth-graders
Kendall Merrell, Hannah Symns, Amelia Ford, Hannah Fridley
Malden Elementary fourth-graders
Kimberly Legg, Madison Harmon, Hanna Ho, Steven Keith, Rayna Scott, Hailey Tagayun
Malden Elementary fourth-graders
Jorden Wooding, Steven Keith, Matthew Terry, Matthew Shannon, Jevon Booker








So Cinco de Mayo has come and gone, you still have a little tequila left on your hands, but you’re all margarita’d out?

No problem.

Sometimes you just need to shake things up a bit. If you’ve got an ache to shake, try these tequila-enhanced cocktails that go beyond the traditional margarita …


Tequila Cosmo

1 oz. tequila
1 oz. cranberry juice
½ oz. orange flavored liqueur
¼ oz. fresh lime juice 

  1. Shake all ingredients with ice.
  2. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a slice of orange.


La Paloma

1.5 oz. tequila
grapefruit soda (not juice)
½ oz. fresh lime juice

  1. Pour all ingredients over ice in a highball glass.


 Tequila Mojito

1.5 oz. tequila
2 fresh sprigs of mint leaves
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup 

  1. Muddle mint leaves with simple syrup and lime juice in a mixing glass. Pour in tequila and shake over cracked ice.
  2. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Add a splash of soda and garnish with a sprig of mint.


Beer and tacos are a match made in heaven, but what about beer IN your tacos?

I can dig it.

The rich, earthy undertones of a nice dark beer are intensified by additional chipotle peppers and garlic in these delicious tacos created by Jackie Dodd, a k a “The Beeroness.” He recommends using Bootleggers Black Phoenix, but I’m guessing that’s going to be pretty hard to find around these parts. He says any nice, dark stout should substitute just fine though.

Stout-Braised Beef Tacos
Beer and tacos, good. Beer IN tacos, better!

Chipotle Stout Braised Beef Tacos

¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
2 lb. tri tip roast
1 large bottle dark stout
½ cup beef broth
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 large white onion, peeled and quartered
2 large chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, chopped
1 Tbsp. Adobo sauce
12 6-inch tortillas

Pico de Gallo

1 large jalapeno, stem and seeds removed, chopped
½ cup chopped red onion
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. salt
½ cup tomatoes, chopped
¼ cup cilantro, chopped 

  1. In a large pot or cast iron enamel dutch oven, heat olive oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Sprinkle the roast on all side with salt and pepper. Sear the meat on all sides until browned, about 4 minutes per side. Add beer and bring to a simmer, reduce heat to maintain a low simmer.
  2. Add the garlic, onions, chilies and adobo sauce. Allow to simmer until fork tender and falling apart, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. During the cooking process, turn the meat over about every 30 minutes. If the liquid in the pot gets low, and too thick, add additional beer or hot water.
  3. Once the meat is done, shred in the pot using two forks, remove any large pieces of fat that have not rendered. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  4. While that is cooking, make the pico de gallo by placing all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.
  5. Remove meat from pot and serve inside tortillas, covered with pico de gallo.


Since tequila may play a starring role in your beverage of choice for this Saturday’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, you need to brush up on your knowledge before the big day arrives.

There are several different types of tequila, so designated by how long they are aged. And because of the varying lengths of that process, each one provides different nuances to your finished drink. Here are a few of the most popular:

  • Blanco – Aged under two months, this style of tequila is the purest and imparts the natural flavors of the blue agave plant.
  • Reposado – Aged two to 12 months, this tequila meshes the mellowing traits of wood with the herbal qualities of the blue agave juice.
  • Anejo – Aged over one year, these tequilas possess vanilla flavors of the oak in which they’re aged.

If you want to combine a classic Mexican cocktail with one of the most traditional Mexican flavors, check out this recipe from Don Julio for a Smokin’ Margarita that gets its kick from a jalapeno pepper!


Smokin' Margarita
The classic margarita gets a jalapeno kick!

Smokin’ Margarita

1 ½ ozs. Tequila Don Julio Reposado
¾ oz. agave nectar
½ oz. fresh lime
½ oz. fresh squeezed orange juice
1 whole fresh jalapeno for muddling 

  1. Thinly slice a jalapeno and muddle it in a shaker.
  2. Combine tequila, agave nectar, orange juice and lime juice into the shaker with the muddled jalapeno with ice.
  3. Shake well and strain over ice in a rocks glass.

 Created by Los Angeles Mixologist Nicholas Vitulli

Everything Tastes Better with (Flavored) Butter

I was recently flipping through one of the countless food magazines that proliferate around the house when I came across a gorgeous recipe and photo for Tilapia with Garlic-Lime Butter.

I do like tilapia, but it was the glistening butter that caught my eye.

Everything tastes better with butter, even more so when you sauté, drizzle or whisk in a nice flavored butter.

They’re so easy to make, too. Just soften butter and mix in your chosen ingredients, then let it harden back up in the fridge or use as-is. You can also simmer butter with add-ins to create a nice sauce.

No doubt it was the garlic and lime that really made that recipe sing, so here are a few other combos for flavored-butter inspiration:

  • Parsley-Shallot Butter
  • Smoky Paprika Butter
  • Toasted Almond-Cardamom Butter
  • Bacon Bourbon Butter
  • Chipotle-Lime
  • Porcini-Red Wine
  • Tumeric-Mustard Seed
  • Nori-Sesame

These Easter Goodies Better Than Good

There’s a place to get really fantastic West Virginia-made chocolates right here in town – let’s hear it for Holl’s! – but it’s always nice to try out foods from other places.

One of the perks of being a hope-to-someday-be-famous food writer is that companies often send you their products in the hopes that you’ll sample, savor and spread the word about them.

That’s exactly what happened with renowned Pittsburgh chocolatier Edward Marc, who sent me a case of their Easter goodies to nosh on. We broke into them today and were really impressed with everything we tasted.

Featuring top-quality ingredients from across the globe, the Vanilla Salt Caramels, filled chocolate eggs (loved the mocha, peanut butter and nut meltaway) and dark chocolate bunnies were so fine. You can check them out, and order your own, at

A few weeks ago, we also sunk our teeth into some fantastic gourmet cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake, with locations in New York and Washington, DC. Almost too pretty to eat (almost!) we enjoyed both vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, but especially the red velvet and carrot cake options. A mound decadently rich buttercream (in deceptively light pastel colors) topped each one.

Delish. You can browse or buy at

Try This New Take on This Year’s Easter Ham

If you’re looking to jazz up this year’s Easter ham, check out this week’s recipe for one basted with grape jelly and fresh thyme, then roasted with grapes and shallots.

Again, a little non-traditional, but the unusually paired flavors really sing.

Easy and delicious, this ham is great served with roasted or au gratin potatoes with either steamed green beans or grilled asparagus. You can also adapt the recipe to your own taste by substituting orange marmalade or currant or apple jelly instead of the grape jelly, and chopped fresh rosemary or sage instead of thyme.

If you’re cooking for a smaller crowd, make a smaller amount of the basting mixture and brush over ham steaks you can pop in the oven with the grapes and shallots.

Thyme-Basted Ham with Roasted Grapes

6- to 8-pound cooked bone-in ham, trimmed
1/2 cup grape jelly
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cut into 4 to 6 pieces
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
3 cups whole grapes (red, green or a combination)
4 shallots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices

  1. Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Place the ham flat side down in a large shallow roasting pan and score a diamond pattern about 1/8-inch deep into any fat. Season with pepper and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the jelly, butter and thyme, whisking occasionally until the jelly and butter melt together and the mixture comes to a gentle boil, 1 to 2 minutes. Cover and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the grapes and shallots. Set aside.
  3. Baste the ham with the jelly mixture. Continue baking, basting with the jelly mixture and/or pan juices about every 15 minutes. When the internal ham temperature reaches 120 degrees, add the grapes and shallots to the roasting pan, stirring to coat with the pan juices. Continue baking and basting until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees, 15 to 18 minutes per pound total cooking time.
  4. Remove the ham from the oven, transfer to a cutting board, and let rest 15 to 30 minutes. (If the grapes and shallots aren’t tender yet, take the ham out but return the roasting pan to the oven.) Slice ham and arrange on a serving platter. Season the roasted grape, shallot and pan juice mixture with pepper and spoon some on top of the ham. Serve the remaining grape mixture on the side.

Wheeling Pizza Named Among Best in Nation

Several years ago I was asked to be a contributor for a new book capturing the nation’s fascination with pizza. In “Everybody Loves Pizza: The Deep Dish on America’s Favorite Food” (, I also recommended the top spots in West Virginia to get a truly amazing pie.

That research took me to some tasty places statewide, including the original DiCarlo’s in Wheeling, where I inhaled an ethereal slice (or was it three?) of the restaurant’s remarkably simple pizza. It’s a tiny place that looks like any other run-of-the-mill pizza counter, but the works of art coming out of the oven here were masterpieces.

Looks like other foodies have taken notice as well.

In an article touting America’s best pizza joints in last week’s Parade magazine, DiCarlo’s made the Top 10 list of “runners-up” nationwide. In making the designation, the article said …

“The unique pies at DiCarlo’s feature a tomato-glazed crust that is flash-baked with minimal cheese, then pulled from the oven and topped with shredded provolone and, if desired, pepperoni discs and peppers.