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

Fetch Some Good Chili at Wagging Tails Cook-Off

Come out and join me for a doggone good time (sorry, had to) as I help judge this Saturday’s Wagging Tails Chili Challenge” at Olde Main Plaza in St. Albans.

A benefit  for Dog Bless, a dog rescue group in the Kanawha Valley, the event is classified as a “homestyle” cook-off, meaning anything goes in terms of ingredients. Cooks can whip up a pot of red, white, green or vegetarian chili – loaded with beans or nary a one – for a chance to win the top prize of $300, a trophy and the opportunity to represent St. Albans in the 2016 ICS World Championship Homestyle Chili Cook-off.

Wagging Tails logoThe event, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, is sanctioned by the International Chili Society (ICS) and co-sponsored by St. Albans Riverfest in cooperation with the City of St. Albans. Chili sampling tickets are 50 cents each, and guests also can enjoy music, beer, retail booths and children’s activities.

The event takes place rain or shine.

And if you’re ready to steak (sorry, again, couldn’t resist) your claim on chili bragging rights, it’s not too late to enter. Organizers will accept contestants up until Friday who email

Dog Bless, a local 501(c)3 charitable organization.  Since its start in 2012, the group has saved more than 2,000 dogs from euthanasia and homelessness through the efforts of its volunteers, foster homes, rescue partners and community support. Dog Bless volunteers will be at the cook-off to share information about the group’s rescue efforts and how people can get involved. Learn more about the group and cook-off at

Local Mac & Cheese Cook-off Now World Qualifier

As if Charleston’s second-annual Mac & Cheese Cook-off weren’t exciting enough, there’s an even bigger reason you won’t want to miss this year’s event …

Coordinator Rachel Scudiere recently learned the local cook-off has been selected to be a qualifier for the “World Food Championships” competition in Florida this November.

That’s big news, y’all!

As a result, Scudiere is extending the registration deadline for those who would like to participate until next Wednesday, March 18.

This year’s event takes place Saturday, March 28, at Charleston’s Capital Market. For more information, check out my previous story at or visit

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

City Man’s Winning Recipe Now on Salsa Jars

Winning recipe on a jar of Mrs. Renfro's Salsa

Regular readers may remember that back in December I wrote about a Charleston resident whose Tex-Mex Gringo Amigo Cheesecake Bites were named a grand prize winner in a national recipe contest sponsored by Mrs. Renfro’s specialty salsas.

As part of his prize, Tom Hilliard’s winning recipe (individual baked tarts featuring crushed tortilla crusts filled with a cumin and lime-flavored cream cheese mixture topped with raspberry salsa and fresh cilantro) now appears on jars of the company’s salsa available nationwide. He’s now a bonafide recipe-makin’ rock star.

Pretty cool, eh?

Check out photos of one of the jars and the dish itself – along with the winning recipe – all included here.

Tex-Mex Gringo Amigo Cheesecake Bites

1 ½ cups finely crushed tortilla chips

¼ cup butter, melted

2 8-oz. pkgs. cream cheese, softened

3 eggs

1 ½ Tbsp. flour

1 cup sour cream

1 Tbsp. lime juice

1 Tbsp. lime zest

½ tsp. ground cumin

½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, divided

1 jar Mrs. Renfro’s Raspberry Chipotle Salsa 

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Spray 5 miniature tart tins with nonstick cooking spray. In bowl, combine chips and butter until moistened. Press 1 teaspoon into bottom of each tin. Bake 8 minutes or until toasted and set. Let cool.
  2. Beat cream cheese on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each. Beat in flour, and then sour cream. Stir in lime juice, zest, cumin and half of the cilantro.
  3. Spoon 1 tablespoon filling over each tart base. Bake 20 minutes or until filling is set. Let cool, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  4. Run knife around edge of each cheesecake to loosen and transfer to serving platter. Spoon 1 tablespoon salsa over each tart and garnish with cilantro. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
Tex-Mex Gringo-Amigo Cheesecake Bites

Well, we did it.

After a daylong sampling of nearly 60 different municipal, purified, bottled and sparkling waters from across the world, me and a handful of fellow food/travel writers and water experts chose winners in the prestigious International Water Tasting in Berkeley Springs last night.

And for the first time since 2004, the top five tap water winners at the annual festival all came from towns and cities in the United States. Even though it was a blind tasting, I guess our palate’s preferred to “drink locally.”

Daytona Beach, FL, was rated the best tasting water in the world, a title they also won in 2005. A pair of California waters – Desert Hot Springs and Santa Ana – won second and third respectively.  Desert Hot Springs has won two gold medals in the past.  Oxford, MI, and Kent, Ohio, rounded out the list. 

Rain waters were surprise entries this year, and two of them won first and fifth in the purified water category. Texan Independence Water from League City, TX, won best purified for their harvested rain water, while their sister water, Virginia Natural from Charlottesville, won fifth.

Another Texas water, Rain Fresh, won second, although it is not harvested rainwater despite its name. Mothers Finest of North Carolina was third and the hometown Berkeley Springs Purified was fourth.

Bottled water came literally from all over the globe to compete, including Argentina, Japan, Tasmania and Switzerland. Selected as best bottled water in the world was perennial entrant – but first time winner – Muskoka Springs from Jarratt in Ontario, Canada.

Second place went to Pristine Springs from nearby Clear Springs, MD, while third was captured by first-time entrant, Highbridge Springs of Wilmore, KY. Almost Heaven from Manassas, VA (bottling water from Berkeley Springs) placed fourth and former gold medalist, English Mountain Springs Water of Dandridge, TN, was fifth.

Winning sparkling waters included two Bosnian waters in first (Esparanza) and third place (Tesanjski Dijament). Second place went to Mountain Valley Springs Water from Hot Springs, AR, fourth to Antipodes from New Zealand and fifth to Arctica of Marchand, MB, Canada.

Including both preliminary and final tastings, judges spent hours tasting 99 waters from 23 states and 10 foreign countries to determine the winners. That’s a LOT of H20!

Want to catch all the action in person next year, the 22nd annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012. For more information, call 800-447-8797 or visit

I’m having a great time up here in beautiful Berkeley Springs as an official judge at the International Water Tasting Festival. It’s both wild and wonderful on so many levels …

  • In that there actually is such a thing as a “tasting” competition for water, a liquid that – at its best – exhibits virtually no taste.
  • That this tiny West Virginia town has, for 21 years, hosted what is now the largest and longest-running water-tasting competition in the world.
  • And that it truly is international in nature. In addition to a handful of waters from West Virginia and a heavy contingent from Ohio, others come from as far away as Colorado, California, Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Argentina, Colombia, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, Bosnia, Japan and South Korea.

Yesterday was full of interesting seminars (really!) on the history of water’s healing properties, water safety, conservation efforts and more. The actual judging happens today – in municipal, bottled, sparkling and purified divisions – but not before we esteemed judges are put through a training process to “learn” how to “taste” water.

I kid you not.

Check back later for a recap of what I learned, along with tasting notes from the judges’ table!

Win a Stack of Free Pancakes – Every Day of the Year

Love you some pancakes?

IHOP will reward one lucky winner with a year’s supply of free pancakes (that’s one short stack every single day of the year) through its “Stacks for Good Acts” online contest, which coincides with the company’s annual free pancake giveaway fundraiser benefitting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

Good Samaritans everywhere are invited to submit a story of 250 words or less on about a good deed they or someone they know did in 2010. Entries will be judged on emotional impact, originality and entertainment value. One grand prize entry will receive free pancakes for one year.

Entries can be submitted now through midnight Feb. 25, with the winner announced on National Pancake Day, March 1. On that day, IHOP will also give customers a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes from 7-10 a.m. in exchange for a voluntary donation to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals or another local charity.

For more information and rules, visit