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

A Sweet Time Judging Charity Dessert Competition

Had a great time judging this week’s Sweet Charity Dessert Competition at the Columbia Gas Pipeline Auditorium in Kanawha City, but having a tough time convincing people how hard a job that is.


Strawberry Sugar Cookie TartI mean, do you start with the sinfully rich peanut-banana-chocolate cupcake or the strawberry cookie tart? The Kahlua crème cup or the apple pie cheesecake? The plate of colorful macaroons or the blackberry-filled key lime cupcakes.

It’s a tough job, people. (Wink-wink.) But dive in I did, along with fellow judges Maestro Grant Cooper and West Virginia Tourism Commissioner Amy Shuler Goodwin. With the maestro waving the baton for “Creativity,” the commissioner leading the charge for “Presentation” and moi heading up “Taste,” the three of us spent a good 45 minutes sampling and re-sampling 8 different entries to determine our favorites in each of those three categories.

MacaroonsSo who claimed sweet victory?

Best “Creativity” went to local chef (and fellow Gazette-Mail columnist) April Hamilton, whose homemade WV-themed apple pie featured fresh Mountain State fruit, local J.Q. Dickinson salt and Smooth Ambler ice cream made by Ellen’s.

Best “Presentation” went to Sugar Pie Bakery’s rustic-meets-elegant display of colorful French macaroons in a variety of delicious flavors.

And best “Taste” honors went to the guy who came in second place in all three categories last year. Talk about sweet revenge! Fennie’s Sweet Confections took top honors with a delicious sugar cookie tart topped with rich whipped cream and blanketed by fire-engine-red ripe strawberries drizzled in a sweet glaze.

WV Apple PieThe event was a benefit for Faith in Action of Kanawha Valley, a non-profit community volunteer group that provides helpful services to senior citizens who are striving to live as independently as possible. It’s a great group and a super-fun event.

And speaking of faith, I pray they ask me back to judge next year!

You can catch a glimpse of some of the tasty entries by looking up “Sweet Charity Dessert Competition” on Facebook.


The Scoop on WV’s Black Walnut Ice Cream

West Virginia celebrates a big birthday this week (its 150th, y’all!) which has prompted a fair amount of discussion on the Mountain State’s contributions to the culinary world.

Pungent ramps. Rich and creamy biscuits and gravy. A piping hot pepperoni roll.

But let’s not forget black walnut ice cream, which has a rich heritage throughout the South and Midwest but is consumed most in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri and, yep, ol’ West By God.

The American Black Walnut is a 100% wild nut that’s been hand-harvested by locals for generations. Its bold, robust flavor is perfectly highlighted in cool, crisp ice cream.

And not only are we celebrating the state’s sesquicentennial this week, but July is National Ice Cream Month. That’s two reasons to seek out a scoop of Black Walnut Ice Cream – or just make a batch of your own with this recipe!



1 cup superfine sugar
2 cups light cream
1 cup half-and-half cream
½ tsp. black walnut extract
½ cup to ¾ cups black walnuts, chopped

  1. Blend together sugar, cream, half-and-half and black walnut extract. Pour into container of an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. When ice cream is done, fold in black walnuts and transfer to a freezer container. Freeze until solid.



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

Get a Little (Coco)nutty With This Year’s Pumpkin Pie

I know Thanksgiving is a traditional holiday filled with family traditions played out over a spread of traditional dishes.

But you gotta shake things up SOME of the time.

If you’d like to add a nice, creamy twist to this year’s pumpkin pie, consider mixing in a little coconut milk. The flavor combo works will together and the recipe is easy as — wait for it — pie! (Seriously, it’s in the oven in 5 quick minutes.)

Coconut Pumpkin Pie

1 frozen unbaked deep dish pie crust
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can (15 ozs.) pumpkin
1 can (14 ozs.) coconut milk 

  1. Place frozen pie crust on foil-lined baking sheet.
  2. Mix eggs, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt in large bowl until smooth.  Stir in pumpkin.  Gradually add coconut milk, mixing well.  Pour into pie crust.
  3. Bake in preheated 425 degree oven 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake 55 minutes longer or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack.
  4. Serve warm or refrigerate until ready to serve.  Garnish with whipped cream and sprinkle with additional pumpkin pie spice, if desired.  Store leftover pie in refrigerator.

Talk About Tradition … This Pie’s from the ’50s!

New reader Leah Bostic says she just discovered my column a few weeks ago and enjoyed the one about using fresh pumpkin for pies, something she’s done in the past.

“I cook the pumpkin in a six-quart pressure cooker for about six minutes and it’s ready to use for pies,” she said, adding that she has a great recipe that came from her mother’s 1950s cookbook, which “looks like a thick dictionary, down to the hard cover and thumb tabs!”

“It’s easy … and makes the absolute best, hands down, pumpkin pie I’ve ever eaten. One year, Mom served a Sam’s Club pie at Thanksgiving, and my three grown daughters still haven’t let her live it down. Mom thought they wouldn’t notice, but they knew immediately and really gave her a hard time about it.”

You’d like to see said recipe, would you? But of course! 


1/8 tsp. salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 ½ cups cooked pumpkin

  1. Mix salt, sugar and spice together; add to slightly beaten eggs. Stir in milk and pumpkin.
  2. Pour into pie shell (it makes one) and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.
  3. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake 30 minutes more.

Pumpkin-Palooza, Part Deux: Delicious Cannoli

Yesterday I shared a simple recipe for a nice ginger and cinnamon-spiked creamy pumpkin soup. Today brings a sweet pumpkin cannoli — filled with mascarpone, pumpkin puree and chopped pumkin seeds and topped with whipped cream and mini chocolate chips.

It’s a gorgeous dessert, tastes great and is definitely something out of the ordinary. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Cannoli
Pumpkin Cannoli

Pumpkin Cannoli

8 ozs. mascarpone cheese
¾ cup fresh pumpkin puree
¾ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
½ cup chopped pumpkin seeds (pepitas), divided
2 Tbsp. mini chocolate chips
½ cup heavy whipping cream
12 cannoli shells (two 4 oz. boxes)
powdered sugar for dusting 

  1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together mascarpone cheese, pumpkin puree, powdered sugar, ricotta and pumpkin pie spice until blended.
  2. Fold in 1/4 cup of the pumpkin seeds and the mini chocolate chips; set aside. In a chilled mixing bowl, whip cream until stiff peaks form. Fold into pumpkin mixture. Cover and chill for 1 to 2 hours.
  3. Right before serving, pipe pumpkin filling into cannoli shells, going all the way to the ends. Sprinkle the ends with remaining 1/4 cup chopped pumpkin seeds.  Sprinkle shell with powdered sugar and serve. 


Recipe courtesy of


New Cupcake Shop Coming to Capitol Market

Here’s some sweet news to start your day!

According to published reports this morning, a new cupcake shop will open in Charleston’s Capitol Market early next month, settling into space between current vendors Purple Onion and The Wine & Cheese Shop.

Owner Sara Lane (who also owns Custom Cakes in Cross Lanes) plans to bake a variety of cupcakes and cake pops off-site, then bring them into the shop to sell. She says customers can expect a diverse selection of flavors and interpretations.

This is good timing, too. Cupcakes are all the rage these days, gracing the cover of fancy food magazines and replacing traditional cakes and birthday parties, baby and bridal showers, even weddings!

Café Cupcake has agreed to a temporary six-month lease, and will be open on weekends during regular market hours.

When Life Hands You Ugly Pies, Make Cobbler!

File this one in the “If At First You Don’t Succeed” category …

When tasked to bring a dessert to a summer cookout yesterday, I thought something bursting with fruit would elicit the oohs and aahs I craved. So I decided to make a gorgeous, colorful pie version of a fruit tart that’s garnered standing ovations in the past. For that dessert, I line the bottom of a tart crust with a thin layer of almond paste and layer the berries on top of that for a wonderful fruity-nutty combo.

It so rocks.

Hoping to apply those same flavors to my pie, I filled a crust with fresh strawberries and blueberries and sprinkled crumbled almond paste (marzipan) over the top. Sure, it would’ve been easier to mix it in with the fruit – or, better yet, just stir in some almond extract – but my thinking was that as the pie baked, the almond paste would melt down through the fruit, drenching it with flavor while leaving a slightly browned, crumbly crust on top.

Totally bombed.

The marzipan didn’t melt a lick, it just sat there and nearly burned. So I jerked that uncooperative thing out of the oven while pondering my next step.

Hey, I said to myself, I have enough dough for one more pie crust!

So I scooped out the fruit and almond pie filling from my near-disaster, stirred it all up to incorporate the almond paste and spooned it into a new tart dish. I covered the mixture with a new pie crust, scored the top and baked the re-imagined dessert until the crust tanned beautifully.

Voila! A nice-looking fruit cobbler that bore no resemblance to the hot mess it replaced.

Never Too Late to Taste the Red, White & Blue

The Fourth of July may have come and gone, but who says the patriotic party can’t continue. Here’s a recipe for a great red, white and blue Berry Almond Tart worthy of celebrating any day of the year!

Taken from Nielsen-Massey’s “A Century of Flavor” cookbook, the recipe uses both pure vanilla and almond extracts to add unique flavors to the dessert table. It’s a slightly different recipe from the version I usually make (where the berries rest on a thin layer of almond paste) but the combination of almond, berries and cream is still a winner.

Almond Berry Tart
Almond Berry Tart

Berry Almond Tart

Pastry Dough:
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Almond Cream:
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp. pure almond extract
1 egg
¼ cup almond flour (or almonds ground into flour)
3 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour

Sugar Glaze:
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup water
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
Vanilla Pastry Cream (recipe below)
Red and blue berries of choice

  1. For the dough, cream the butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Add the flour gradually, beating on low speed until just incorporated; do not overmix. Shape into a round disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill until firm.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll the dough to a ¼-inch thickness on a lightly sugared surface, turning over once. Roll the dough up onto the rolling pin, and then place the pin across the tart pan at the center point and unroll the dough. Press the dough into the tart pan and trim the edge by rolling the pin over the pan so the dough falls freely from the edge.
  3. For the almond cream, cream the butter, granulated sugar and almond extract in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Beat in the almond flour and all-purpose flour. Spread evenly over the pastry dough. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the almond cream is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
  4. For the glaze, combine the granulated sugar, water and vanilla extract in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Let stand until cooled.
  5. To assemble, spread Vanilla Pastry Cream over the baked Almond Cream. Arrange the berries over the pastry cream. Brush the Sugar Glaze generously over the fruit. Chill until ready to serve.

 Vanilla Pastry Cream

2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 ½ Tbsp. cornstarch
1 ½ cups whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. butter, softened

  1. Whisk 2/3 cup sugar, the egg, egg yolks, vanilla extract and cornstarch in a bowl. Cook the milk and 1/3 cup sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat until foam rises, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  2. Temper the eggs with the hot milk mixture. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan. Cook over low heat until the pastry cream reaches 160 degrees and becomes thick, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Spread over parchment paper to cool.