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

Pork Battle! A New Chef Wins Celebrity Throwdown

This year’s Celebrity Chef Throwdown at the West Virginia Culinary Classic presented two interesting twists.

One, last year’s same chefs competed in a heated (not really) rematch between returning winner Chef Gene Evans for Northern Community College and challenger Chef Tom Grant from Carver Career and Technical Center.

And, two, the competition threw in a reality show-like whammy this year!

Just five minutes before both teams started cooking, each chef got to select an ingredient (in addition to the mystery ingredient) that the opposing chef HAD to incorporate into one of their dishes.

Chef Gene took it easy on Chef Tom, choosing flatbread that was sautéed in olive oil to serve in an Italian-Mediterranean-style dish of pesto gnocchi with red peppers, toasted flatbread and fried basil leaves. Tom did not return the nicety, giving Gene Corn Chex that had to be incorporated into a dish.

Undeterred, Gene presented a pork roulade stuffed with a goat cheese and Corn Chex stuffing that looks pretty darn tasty.

It wasn’t enough, though. In a heated (not really) battle, Chef Tom dethroned Chef Gene’s team by capping off his three-dish presentation with an Oreo crème brulee made on-the-spot without the benefit of an oven.

While all of this was going on, there were NO winners at a new “Man vs. Food” event in which four strapping guys were challenged to try to finish a two-pound pulled pork sandwich (complemented with a pound of slaw and fries) in just an hour’s time.

I thought someone would do it, that is, until I saw these sandwiches, which were BEASTS. Not a single guy met the challenge, but God bless ‘em for trying. I’m sure they still haven’t recovered!

After an expansive buffet of hearty breakfast options, fruit and pastries (yum!) and a “Make Your Own Bloody Mary” bar (ingenious!) I enjoyed two great demonstrations at the West Virginia Culinary Classic at Stonewall Resort.

Problem was, there were four sessions to choose from and I wanted to sit in on all!

I opted to bypass “Cooking with Fresh Ingredients,” which I already buy into, and “Sous Vide Home-Style Cooking,” pressurized cooking with liquids, which sounded fascinating. But I had two other callings …

“Braising Meats” and “Wine Sensory Tasting.”

Although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on both topics, I still thought they were among the best all-around sessions I’ve seen on either subject in years. Both gave basic 101 tips for beginners (and good reminders for more experienced cooks) but also dove into more interesting tips, methods, insight and more.

Be sure to check out my column in Wednesday’s Charleston Daily Mail or on http://charlestondailymail.com/foodandliving/TheFoodGuy for the great tips I picked up from both sections – and for a complete roundup of another awesome Culinary Classic!

Last night’s opening night Dine Around at the West Virginia Culinary Classic was better than ever, with some of the region’s top chefs and culinary programs showing off their skills for hundreds of guests at Stonewall Resort.

The sights, sounds and smells combined into a sensory overload of sorts (but in a good way!) with sizzling pans, gorgeous plates of food, free-flowing wine and some great live Appalachian music touching on rock, country, bluegrass and more.

As I made my way around the room and addressed the crowd between tunes, I kept crowning a new “favorite” dish until I finally just gave up and enjoyed them all!

Among the highlights …

  • A fantastic homemade sausage and sautéed greens slider atop cornbread from the Regatta Grille at Morgantown’s Waterfront Place Hotel.
  • A soul-satisfying braised short rib ravioli in roasted red pepper pasta from Canaan Valley Resort. Their bloody mary with candied bacon was a hit, too. (They called it “breakfast in a glass.” I called it “a party in my mouth.”)
  • A mushroom tart topped with braised short ribs and truffle greens from Smokey’s on the Gorge in Fayetteville.
  • Tasty peppery pork tenderloin atop five-onion risotto from The Greenbrier.
  • A colorful and delicious lightly dressed salad of cabbage, peppers, carrots and herbs from Graceland Inn & Conference Center in Elkins.
  • Then there was the carpaccio with lemon-olive oil sorbet from Mountain State University, the crab cake bar from Columbus Culinary Institute, Stonewall’s sprawling antipasto spread, Huntington Prime’s gorgeous and decadent cakes and tortes – and the list goes on.

It was great night, and the food fun continues today!

First up this morning is a “Make Your Own Bloody Mary” bar in the Grand Lobby, followed by four concurrent sessions covering everything from wine tasting to a braising meats demonstration. The popular Celebrity Chef Throwdown (an Iron Chef-like affair) starts at 1 p.m., immediately followed by a new “Man vs. Food” challenge. Get this …

Four volunteers will go head-to-head to see if they can eat a 32 oz. pulled pork sandwich (that’s two pounds, folks!) plus fries and cole slaw in under 45 minutes. The winner gets a free pass to next year’s 10th annual Culinary Classic, valued at several hundred dollars.

And then tonight brings another cocktail reception followed by the grand finale – a five course food and wine dinner in the Grand Ballroom.

The fun begins in minutes, so off I go. But stay tuned for more updates!

Chefs Meet Charity Challenge, And Then Some!

So I had a capital B-last at tonight’s second-annual Covenant House Chef’s Challenge Dinner (http://bit.ly/AexpKS), an elegant fund-raiser at the Clay Center in which five local chefs each created a gourmet dish for several hundred guests consisting of ingredients found in a typical food pantry.

It was a great evening of friends, fellowship and do-gooding – or would it be good-doing?

Either way, let’s get to the food!

There were five chefs, five creative dishes – and not a bad one in the bunch …

  • Chef Joe Zando of Catering Unlimited started things off with a really nice Creamy White Bean & Sausage Soup. The sausage of choice (chorizo) gave the soup a slightly spicy bite, and I loved the rustic texture featuring pureed white beans along with whole beans for “oomph.”

The next three dishes, served together family-style, included …

  •  Edgewood Country Club Chef Jeremy Still’s Caribbean Spiced Tuna Cakes, which took me back to one of my all-time favorite childhood dinners – my mom’s awesome tuna croquettes. Only difference here is these were drizzled with a zippy crème.
  • Embassy Suites Chef Mark Schnurrpusch added a nice broth-boosted quinoa that was very couscous-y.
  • And Thomas Memorial Hospital Chef Mark Sabal prepared awesome Fresh Southern Green Beans, perfectly cooked to al dente then tossed with sautéed onions, bacon, red peppers and chicken stock. Delicious.

And then, the hit of the night … 

  • “Semi-retired” former Bluegrass Kitchen Chef Gary Needham finished things up in grand style with a show-stopping Low Country Sweet Potato-Pecan Pie with Bluegrass Whipped Cream. Loved the sweet potato influence, which made the dessert rich and fulfilling, but toned back in the sugar department, and – OH! – that cream!! Everyone at the table kept saying, how does he do that? Well, I know. Instead of traditional whipped cream, he whisks up a thick, rich, decadent heavy cream-mascarpone-cream cheese that looks like a big scoop of ice cream plopped on top. 

Although all dishes turned out great, that result wasn’t guaranteed going in. So why do these chefs subject themselves to such a challenge? Chef Zando explained it this way:

Any chef can take great ingredients and turn them into a great dish. But there’s something special about taking “peasant food” and turning it into something great. 

And as for the Covenant House charity forum … 

“There are so many food challenges these days, but we chose this one,” Zando explained. “The call to serve is a powerful one.”

Flurries? Quick! Get the Soup on Lickity-Split!

Honey Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Honey Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Were those flurries I saw outside today? Is it really going to dip below freezing tonight?

Quick! Get the soup on before it warms up again.

And by “warm,” I mean, “hot.” The high this Thursday is expected to approach a summer-like 80, so you’d better act fast.

We recently used the remains of a roasted turkey and lots of softening use-them-or-lose-them veggies to make several quarts of homemade stock to serve as a base for many experiments in the coming weeks.

Pots of silky Honey Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and a colorful Mediterranean Potato Bean Soup are two of the first on the list. Here are both recipes in case you want to try them, too. If you do, let me know what you think.

Honey Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

12 oz. white wine
1 oz. vegetable oil
2 oz. chopped shallots
6 oz. diced celery
3 oz. diced carrots
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
2 lbs. cooked butternut squash
2 oz. olive oil
4 oz. honey
3 qt. vegetable stock
8 oz. heavy cream
Salt and white ground pepper, to taste                                             

  1. Peel and seed squash and cut into 1-2” cubes. Place in a medium bowl, mix with olive oil and honey to lightly coat.
  2. Spread squash over a sheet tray and lightly season with salt and white pepper. Roast at 300 degrees for approximately 1 hour or until fork tender
  3. Heat oil in a medium saucepot over low heat. Add shallots, garlic, celery, onion and carrot. Cook slowly until soft/translucent. Add white wine and simmer 2 minutes. Add cooked squash and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour.
  4. Puree in a blender or food processor until very smooth, then strain. Repeat if necessary to achieve desired consistency.
  5. Add heavy cream and return to heat; simmer 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning with honey, salt and white pepper to taste. Serve immediately. 


Mediterranean Potato Bean Soup

1 ½ tsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup chopped onion
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
3 medium red potatoes, unpeeled and cubed
3 carrots, sliced
¼ tsp. ground pepper
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 15-oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup (2 oz.) whole wheat noodles, uncooked
2 cups fresh spinach (or 1 cup frozen spinach)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese, shredded 

  1. Heat oil in a 2 quart pot, then sauté garlic and onions about 3-4 minutes. Add chicken broth, water, potatoes, carrots and seasonings; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
  2. Add kidney beans and noodles. Bring to boil again, cook until noodles are soft. Remove from heat.
  3. Just before serving, add spinach to pot and stir gently. Ladle into bowls and serve with parmesan cheese.

Charred Corn Salad a Great Southwestern Side

Charred Corn Salad
Sauteed corn, peppers and scallions get a dusting of cumin and splash of white wine vinegar in this bright veggie side dish.

I didn’t partake in a frosty cocktail on last Wednesday’s “National Margarita Day” (darn calorie counting), but we did take advantage of the occasion to enjoy a nice Southwestern-themed dinner.

The chicken enchiladas were an easy call, but I was struggling with something semi-healthy to serve with them. The homemade Charred Corn Salad I ended up with turned out great, even though I was totally making it up as I went along.

Here’s how it went down …

I knew I wanted a veggie-based side dish and, fortunately, we had some fresh produce we needed to use up before heading out of town. 

So I heated a little olive oil in a skillet and sauteed some corn dusted with cumin until it started to slightly char around the edges. Then I added lots of chopped red and orange peppers, scallions and garlic, stirring them around until the veggies softened and the flavors started to sing.

After that, I added splashes of white wine vinegar and orange juice to create a bright and tangy, subtly citrusy dressing to complete the light salad I wanted.

Definitely a keeper!

Could You Cook Dinner for 200 from YOUR Pantry?

Love great food, a good party, the thrill of competition AND helping out a good cause?

Have I got a night for you!

At the Covenant House Chef’s Challenge Dinner at the Clay Center on March 7, six local chefs will be challenged to create a nutritious, delicious gourmet meal using only the items typically found in the Covenant House Food Pantry. And their meal needs to serve 200 guests.

Yep, that’s a challenge.

Chefs who have stepped up to tackle it are Nick McCormick of Berry Hills Country Club; Gary Needham, formerly of Bluegrass Kitchen; Mark Sabal of Thomas Memorial Hospital; Mark Schnurrpusch of Embassy Suites; Jeremy Still of Edgewood Country Club; and Joe Zando of Catering Unlimited.

Tickets for the night are $100 per person, with proceeds going to the Covenant House. For more information, call 304-344-8053 or visit www.wvcovenanthouse.org.

At IHOP, Free Flapjacks on National Pancake Day

What’s better than warm and fluffy pancakes?

FREE warm and fluffy pancakes!

Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and IHOP restaurants will celebrate National Pancake Day next Tuesday, Feb. 28, by offering a free short stack of its famous buttermilk pancakes to guests from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

In exchange, diners will be asked to leave a small donation behind for West Virginia University Children’s Hospital.

I guess that technically doesn’t make the pancakes “free.”

But I’ll bet the warm-and-fuzzy you get knowing you’ve helped those in need will make them taste even better going down.

The chain hopes to raise some $2.7 million for affiliated Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals this year. For more information, check out www.ihoppancakeday.com.

Aphrodisiac Recipes: Love on a Plate, Guaranteed?

I’m not sure I buy into the concept of food aphrodisiacs.

Sure, a glass or two of nice wine may put you in a “bow chicka’ wow wow” state of mind, but can eating oysters or chili peppers really – and chemically – make you wanna, you know?

I find that hard to believe (especially with oysters being so foul) but that’s what they say.

If you want to spice up your Valentine’s Day with some easy-to-make Latin aphrodisiacs, check out these fairly simple recipes from Nuevo Cocino Latin Foods that’ll make your date think you were in the kitchen for days.

Start with a creamy Oyster Corn Chowder that wakes up your taste buds with a combination of sweet, salty and spicy. Then, you and your date can feed each other fondue (for dinner!) featuring Chocolate and Chipotle Mole Sauce with chicken or beef for dipping.

OYSTER CORN CHOWDER

  • 1 pkg. corn soup mix
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ½ cup diced carrots
  • ½ cup sweet corn kernels
  • salt to taste
  • 1/3 tsp. black pepper
  • 4 cups of low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 ½ cups of diced white potatoes
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 8-oz cans of oysters in water, with liquid
  • ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

 

  1. In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the onions, celery, carrots, corn and season with salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper (to taste).  Sauté until all vegetables are tender.
  2. Add contents of the corn soup, plus the white potatoes, water and chicken broth.  Bring to a rolling boil and let boil for 1 minute. Lower heat and simmer until potatoes are done.
  3. Stir in the cheese, the oysters and the parsley and simmer for 8 more minutes or until oysters are cooked. 

 

CHIPOTLE CHOCOLATE MOLE SAUCE WITH BRAISED CHICKEN OR BEEF

  • 1 pkg. chipotle taco seasoning
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds
  • ½ tsp. cumin seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup of chopped cilantro
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 20 whole unsalted almonds
  • 1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 5 medium tomatoes
  • ½ cup sweet corn kernels
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cups of low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth
  • 3 ozs. of unsweetened baker’s chocolate
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. of chicken (and/or beef) strips

 

  1. Toast the sesame and cumin seeds.  Add the olive oil, garlic, cloves, cinnamon sticks, cilantro, tomatoes (with skin) and onions.  Sauté for 10 minutes.  The skin of the tomatoes should blister some. Add the chicken broth and chipotle taco seasoning package and cook for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Blend the mixture, along with the corn, chocolate, pumpkin seeds and almonds to a smooth consistency.  The mixture is now a mole sauce.  Simmer the blended mixture for 1 hour, stirring often to keep mixture smooth.  Serve warm. 
  3. Cut the chicken (and/or beef) strips into medium cubes.  Rub them with salt and black pepper and braise them (fully cook them in a little water and oil).  Serve the mole as a dipping sauce with the chicken (and/or beef) on the side, along with short bamboo skewers.  Eat as a fondue.

Not-So-Sweet News: Not All Chocolate Good. GASP!

If you’re planning to buy chocolates for someone special on Valentine’s Day – and aren’t we all? – the folks at Consumer Reports suggest you purchase wisely.

Based on the results of recent testings, editors learned two important things:

  1. All chocolates are not created equally.
  2. Higher price does not always indicate better quality.

Big names like Hershey’s, Russell Stover and Whitman’s were deemed “merely so-so.” Even Lindt, perceived as a gourmet brand, only received a “good” rating.

The good news is they found 12 excellent (though pricey) chocolates they described as “ultra-smooth.” Among those recommended are, in order of taste, Norman Love Confections Signature Gift Box, Woodhouse Assortment, Christopher Elbow  and Candinas.

But the bad new is, most are only available online.

If you’re looking for something you may be able to find in local stores, Godiva’s Gold Ballotin earned praise for a good selection.

But your best bet – and my VERY STRONG RECOMMENDATION – is that you check out Holl’s at Capitol Market. Those wonderful, West Virginia-made Swiss-style chocolates are divine.

Check them out at www.holls.com.

As for the Consumer Reports test, full ratings are available at www.consumerreports.org.