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

Oh, Deer! What To Do With All That Venison?

With another deer-hunting season wrapping up, many of you may find your freezers full of rich venison meat waiting to be put to good use.

Well look no further!

Today’s Charleston Daily Mail offers a variety of suggestions to inspire you, including ideas from some from the area’s finest restaurants. (You can check them out here: And here’s another idea from my own experience …

My mother-in-law has served venison for big family dinners twice in the past week – and the results have been phenomenal. Born and raised in Austria, Louise Wiseman knows her way around the kitchen, and is especially skilled at baking world-class desserts and preparing flavorful, fork-tender meat.

This week’s venison was no exception.

Although she’s hesitant to reveal her precise recipe, I can tell you she braised it in a flavorful broth seasoned with mushrooms and onions until a fork pierced it as if it were soft butter. (You can make your own braising liquid, or use any combination of prepared broths/soups to create the taste you want.)

Pair this awesome venison with some roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts and a hearty red wine for one heckuva meal!

The 3 S’s of Fall — Soups, Stews and Side Dishes

When temps start to fall, my taste buds turn to the three S’s of fall – soups, stews and sides.

A creamy potato soup. A chunky beef stew. A filling side dish. The heartier the better!

And soups, especially, are so easy to make at home.

“People are often intimidated when it comes to making tasty soups, but it’s not nearly as challenging as it may seem,” says Ryan Fichter, Executive Chef of Thunder Burger. “Great tasting soups are within reach for everyone to make.”

Here are his 5 tips for making it happen:

  1. STOCK UP. The soup base, or stock, is a big part of the equation. Good tasting stock makes good tasting soup. Homemade is best, but if that’s not an option choose a store-bought kind low in sodium.
  2. MIND THE MACARONI. If you are going to have pasta in your soup, be sure to cook it before adding it in. Many people skip this step, and it can throw off their whole recipe.
  3. FRESH IS BEST. When it comes to any of the ingredients going into your soup, fresh is the best option. If that’s not an option, go for frozen over canned.
  4. USE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT. Using the right kitchen tools is important. Some people prefer to use a slow cooker, which is fine. If you will be using a pot, choose one that is large and heavy. Also, an immersion blender makes easy work of creaming/pureeing soups.
  5. THE FINISHING TOUCH. Enhance the soup’s presentation by using a garnish. Also, most people prefer to have something with their soup, so choose the right addition, such as crackers, biscuits, muffins, bread or breadsticks.

“One of the great things about soup is that it is so versatile,” Fichter adds. “Soup can be a great appetizer, side dish or even a main course. Leftovers also heat up well for lunch the next day.”

Here here, I say.

And here here is his recipe for a simple Creamy Potato Soup. You can bulk it up with veggies or top it off with fresh herbs or crumbled bacon.


Creamy Potato Soup Recipe

2 Tbsp. (1/4 stick) butter
1 cup chopped onion
2 small celery stalks, chopped
1 medium leek, sliced (white and pale green parts only)
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 ½ pounds of Idaho potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 5 cups)
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 ½ cups heavy cream

1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add chopped celery stalks and leek, sauté about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 2 minutes.

2. Add sweet potatoes, chicken stock, allspice, and nutmeg; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

3. With an immersion blender puree soup in blender until smooth.

4. Add cream and stir over medium-low heat to heat through. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead).

Yield: Serves 6 to 8.

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!

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

I know I’m not breaking any new culinary ground here, but today’s delicious new take on a traditional lunch is definitely worth sharing.

There are few things kids (or adults, for that matter) like better than a bowl of tomato soup with a melty, toasty grilled cheese sandwich. But the “gourmand” in me has a difficult time serving something so simple when there are all KINDS of interesting things you could add!

Shrimp or crab, maybe another vegetable or two in the soup. A slice of salami or fresh herbs in the sandwich.

Not wanting to rock the boat too much, I made today’s soup with a little fresh chopped basil stirred in and a sprinking of Romano cheese on top.

As the commercial goes, “Mmm, mmm, good!”

Sometimes “Bad” Means Oh, So Good!

The boys and I have this fun game we play at dinnertime.

Whenever I make a dish I’m particularly proud of, I deliver it to the table — head down in shame, all sullen-like — apologizing in advance for how bad it’s going to taste.

“I tried so hard to make you something nice, but this just didn’t turn out at all.”

Their faces light up like fireworks, because they know I’m pulling their legs.

They dig in and immediately burst into a chorus of “yums,” lapping up every last bite. Then they play their own trick on me.

“You’re right, Daddy, we didn’t like it,” they say, with frowns that quickly turn upside down. “We LOVED it!”

The latest installment of these shenanigans happened just a few days ago with a dish that garnered immediate entry into The Food Guy Hall of Fame.

I sauteed some Italian sausages and then set them aside to rest. In the same skillet, I cooked down a bunch of red and yellow bell peppers (cut into strips) in the scant sausage fat that remained, adding a little water at times until they softened a bit.

I ordinarily would have used beer, but I was feeding the kids. You know, Child Protective Services and all.

As the peppers cooked, I mixed up a pan of grits made with homemade chicken stock. When all was said and done, I had gorgeous bowls of creamy grits topped with sauteed peppers and sliced Italian sausages, with a little drizzle of pan drippings around the edges.

It took fewer than 30 minutes — which included frequent breaks to referee fights — and it was restaurant-quality good.

When my wife walked in the door and saw all of our empty plates, the boys hung their heads and apologized that the dinner was so bad we had to feed everything to the dog.

She looked bummed but sat down, took a bite and then fake-gagged.

“You’re right boys, I don’t like it.”

They squealed.

“I love it!”

Five satisfied bellies and one puffy chest. That’s a good night.

I recently shared my secrets for great marinating – finding just the right balance of flavors and soaking time to make your meat melt in your mouth. But one ingredient I neglected to throw into the mix was fruit juice.

I’ve often added a splash of orange, lemon or lime juice to make seafood sing or salad dressings dance. They work beautifully in both cases, so why not try them in marinades, too? You get some great flavors naturally, without all of the added sugar and sodium bottled sauces often bring to the table.

Citrus, apple, grape and even more exotic tropical juices all make excellent marinade bases, but with so many flavors to choose from the choices are plentiful.

To get you started, here’s a quick barbecue recipe using good ol’ Welch’s …

Tangy Grape Barbecue Sauce

1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made with Concord grapes
1/2 cup Welch’s 100% White Grape Juice made with Niagara grapes
1 cup canned tomatoes, crushed, diced or pureed
3 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
2 Tbsp. chopped garlic

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium size saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cool slightly before using.

A generous client of my wife’s just gave us a stash of fresh morels, those prized mountain mushrooms that are a rite of spring for food connoisseurs everywhere. Also known as “molly moochers,” these rare edible fungi pack an intense earthy taste that pairs so well with cream and wine sauces, beef and so much more.

If you’re not convinced how sought-after these babies are, just take a look at how much they cost. A quick online search today showed options ranging from $17 and ounce (yep, for one ounce) up to nearly $1,900 for a 15-pound bag. Holy sticker shock, Batman!

So to make the most of these high-falutin’ mushrooms, we did a little digging (BA-DA-BING!) and got a great idea from our pediatrician. She recommended drying them in an low-heat oven, which not only intensifies their flavor but also enables you to preserve them longer. We Googled (when did that become an acceptable verb, by the way?) her idea and found an easy process that yielded great results …

  1. You rinse and soak them in a brine of salted water for several hours, which helps draw out any impurities that might be present. (Mushrooms can be a little iffy, you know, so this step made me feel better about eating something culled from the wild.)
  2. Then you let them dry on paper towels before arranging them on a cooling rack placed on a cookie sheet to go in the oven.
  3. Place them in a 140-degree oven and let them slowly dry out all day — up to 6, 8 or 10 hours — until all the moisture is gone but before they completely shrivel away. They will shrink quite a bit, but that’s OK. The flavor not only remains, but is more pronounced.
  4. Now place them in an airtight contrainer and either store in the refigerator (if you plan to use them within a few days) or freezer (to keep them much longer). When ready to use, you can either reconstitute them by soaking in boiling water to fatten ’em back up — although you lose some of the flavor — or, better yet, just chop up to give soups, salads or sauces an out-of-this-world kick.

I dried ours yesterday and now have a little Ziploc full of goodness just waiting to tantalize our tastebuds!

Unless You’re Careful, Those Spuds Can Be Duds

Although the tasty salad mentioned in the blog post below ( rocked, the Potato, Spinach and Leek Fritatta was only so-so. Not bad, just not exceptional.

I kinda suspected that would be the case before I even made it. I blame the potatoes. It would’ve been much better without them.

As I sauteed the leeks in butter, added a little fresh garlic and tossed in some spinach, a wonderful aroma filled the kitchen. Amy even came over to sneak a taste, saying, “Oh, that’s SO good!”

But after I added the potatoes and eggs, topped the think with breadcrumbs and cheese, and baked it to what should’ve been savory perfection, the flavor kinda fell flat.

I blame the potatoes. Potatoes have no taste and can easily suck the life (and dilute the tastes) of other ingredients in a dish.

Oh sure, they’re great fried to a crisp and dipped in ketchup … or baked in cream and cheese … or whipped with garlic and butter. But unless you prepare and pair them up with some pretty strong flavors, they don’t do much for the ol’ taste buds.

After The Great Fritatta Fiasco, I ran across a similar recipe that called for using bread instead of potatoes as the “filler” needed to give the fritatta a little heft. You’d have the same flavor-sucking problem there, unless you used cut-up garlic toast or some sort of herbed bread — which might be pretty good, actually!

My, What a Good-Looking Dessert You Have

If you happened to catch my column in this week’s Daily Mail ( you read all about the opening night of this past weekend’s indulgent West Virginia Culinary Classic at Stonewall Resort.

And you’re probably wondering, “What does one do the morning after gorging themselves on SO MUCH delicious food?”

By gorging themselves on an overflowing breakfast buffet, of course. Then making (and eating) multiple desserts. All before 10:30 a.m.

Said sweet treats came from an interesting culinary demonstration I sat in on about making plain desserts extraordinary with a little plating razzle-dazzle. Your family or dinner guests may not complain if you serve them a simple brownie or slice of cheesecake. But you can definitely get your fill of “oohs and aahs” if that dessert is served on a sugar-dusted, sauce-drizzled or otherwise blinged-out plate.

And that’s just what the friendly folks from Gordon Food Service showed us. Through several demonstrations (followed by an awesome “do-it-yourself” dessert-building finale) we learned how ridiculously easy it is to take a simple cookie or slice of pound cake and turn it into one of those fancy (read: overpriced) desserts served in restaurants. 

Here are just a few of their suggestions:

  • Mini-desserts are all the rage these days. People want to indulge, but would like to do so by keeping their waists slim and their wallets fats. Restaurant desserts are usually huge, with an equally oversized pricetag. Make your own mini-shots by drizzling your sauce of choice around the inside of a small glass or dessert dish, then filling it with alternating layers of pudding, mousse, whipped cream, peanut butter, jam, whatever. For the piece de resitance, add those fillings from piping bags for smoother shapes and curves.
  • Have a scrapbooker in the family? Borrow some of her stencils, places them over a plate, then sprinkle on powerdered sugar or cocoa to fill the designs. (Use whichever colors provides the most striking contrast with your plate color.) Carefully lift the stencil and you have a gorgeous pattern to accentuate your dessert. If you don’t have stencils, cut out your own designs or shapes with paper and scissors.
  • Use a sauce to drizzle a nice pattern (or completely random squiggles) on each plate before adding the dessert to it. So easy, so striking.
  • Run a toothpick through the middle of a dollop of sauce to create a heart shape. Or drizzle concentric circles of sauce around the plate (larger each time as you move toward the outter edge), then place a toothpick in the very center and drag it in radiating lines toward the outside. Instant spider web.
  • Or just “paint” your plate! Add dollops of sauce and then run a clean paintbrush or pastry brush through each one and across the plate to create colorful streaks.
  • Use small cookie cutters to cut shapes (flowers, hearts, butterflies) out of slices of brownie or pound cake. Place these atop mousses or other desserts for a cute garnish. Or, use the brownie/cake “frame” you now have and fill the center (a cut-out heart with raspberry sauce, for instance) for a totally different look.

Bottom line is, play around and HAVE FUN! They say we eat with our eyes, and that’s probably no more true than with desserts. Make people “ooh and aah.” 

NEXT UP: Check back tomorrow for a bite-by-bite account of the weekend’s closing night banquet. Delish!