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

In case you missed it in last week’s Daily Mail, South Hills Market & Cafe will once again feature a special cherry dish on its menu asWest Virginia’s chosen restaurant to help celebrate National Rainier Cherry Day all week. (The big day was Wednesday, July 11.)

Northwest Cherries has selected one restaurant from every state to feature a uniqueRainiercherry dish incorporating the famed fruit’s crisp bite and pale yellow flesh. Chef Richard Arbaugh received 40 pounds of cherries to play around with and, in doing so, came up with a pan-seared foie gras with Rainier cherry gastrique, pan-seared Hudson Valley duck breast braised with Rainier cherry and buckwheat cake, and a Rainier cherry and almond baklava.

You can enjoy the baklava at the restaurant this week – or try making it yourself with the recipe below! It’s a wee bit labor-intensive, though.

Located at 1010 Bridge Road, South Hills Market & Cafe is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Call 304-345-2585 for more information or reservations.


Rainier Cherry & Almond Baklava

Nut Filling
1 1/4 Cups of Whole Almonds
2 Tbsp. Sugar
1 1/2 Tsp. Ground Cardamom

Cherry Filling
6 Ounces Cherries
1/4 Cup Apricot Jam

1 Pound Filo at Room Temperature
6 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Melted

1/3 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Honey
2 Tbsp. Amaretto

3 Tbsp. Chopped Toasted Almonds

For the Filling:

Place the almonds in a bowl of a food processor and blend until finely chopped, (about 15 to 20 seconds) add the sugar and the cardamom pulse three or four times. Transfer to a medium bowl.

To Prepare the Cherry Filling:

Place cherries and apricot glaze in a bowl pulse until it is a course mixture. Transfer mixture to a small bowl.

To Prepare Filo: 

Remove from packaging and unfold so the stack lies flat on work surface. Cut the stacks in half crosswise, then trim each half to measure 8inches by 8 inches. Stack them on top of each other and cover with a damp cloth. Place your first piece in greased 8by 8 inch pan. Lay each piece of filo in the pan brushing melted butter lightly. Do not saturate with to much butter, repeat with five more pieces of filo.

Cover the top piece with about a 1/3 of a cup of the nut mixture. Repeat this process only using three sheets of filo and two more layers of the nut filling. Place three more sheets of filo and with an off set spatula place the entire cherry filling across the pastry. Place three more sheets of filo on top and cover with 1/3 cup of nut filling repeat three times. You should have used up the nut filling by now.

Top with five sheets filo buttered lightly. Place the baklava in the freezer for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F. After the 30 minutes has passed pull baklava out of freezer and cut to desired shapes with a sharp knife. Place the pan in oven and bake for 25 minutes. Turn oven down and bake an additional 20 minutes and remove from oven letting cool on rack. Retrace cuts with knife and make sure that you cut all the way through.

To Make Syrup

Place sugar and water in a sauce pan and cook over medium heat. Use a candy thermometer and cook until the temperature reaches 218 F. Remove from the heat. Stir in honey and amaretto, return to the heat and cook until it reaches boiling. Pour evenly over cooled baklava and top with the toasted almonds. Allow the syrup to saturate the pastry (2-3 hours)  the baklava will be at its best after 8 hours. Store with a loose covering up to five days.



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 (, 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.”

I’ve got to give a big shout-out to Charleston’s April Hamilton, who has been named a “hero” in celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution to establish healthier eating habits in schools and communities across America.

In addition to pitching in when Oliver filmed the inaugural season of his new show in Huntington last year, Hamilton also introduced the “Launch a Lunch” campaign to improve the food served in school cafeterias here in Charleston. According to, she also organized a fund-raising campaign that generated enough money to hire a consultant to conduct a countywide assessment of changes needed to improve school menues.

Outside of this cause, Hamilton is known for the cooking classes and deomonstrations she conducts around town, often for children. My own boys have attended one at the downtown library and can’t wait for their next lesson from “Chef April.”

They’ll get their chance with a variety of programs coming up this summer. Stay tuned here and in the Charleston Daily Mail for more details!