For many juvenile Southerners, like young and tender me, lemon lives in the libation section of the memory because it of its inextricable association with tall and frosty vessels of our beloved iced tea. And though a bright yellow wedge of citrus perched happily on the edge of a glass signals sweet refreshment for some, it is a vision that makes my tongue curl in abject terror.
You see, while my child hood was, largely, a sweet time that was filled with culinary delights provided by my Mamaws,
including one, Mamaw Ethel, who was not only a fine cook but also a master baker, it was also a time of certain frugalities. Though Mamaw Ethel would splurge on any number of cake ingredients, for her nearly constant companion, a giant jar of iced tea, she was content to spike her beverage with a healthy dollop of commercially concentrated lemon juice from a pale green bottle that lived in the door of her fridge.
Perhaps you can see the appeal? When compared to the cost of real lemons, this was a bargain of nearly incomparable magnitude.
But to poor, lil’ ole me who was accustomed to liking so many of the things at Mamaw’s table, the accidental and inevitable and always shocking swallow of her overly faux-lemoned tea was ruinous to my normally sweet complexion.
And thus it has ever been. To this day, good southern folk smile indulgently at the village idiot who orders “Iced tea, no fruit.”
And after all those years of suffering through the vile torture of sweet natured folks who just couldn’t believe that anybody would want tea without lemon, it has taken a long time for me to see the lemon as a friend.
But I am not alone. Little did I know that I was experiencing literally some of the most potent figurative aspects of this particular citrus. For in painting and in other matters artistic, the lemon may represent bitterness or wealth. The lemon’s pith, as I imagine you know, is a tongue bending taste – all on its own it’s fiercely bitter to my mouth – which, according to various voices on the inter-webs, is what you’re supposed to understand should you see a peeled lemon in a painting. It’s certainly what I see when I recall Mamaw’s free-flowing lemon in a jar.
Likewise, like black pepper and other spices, lemon once was a hard to get and expensive provision. If there was a lemon on your table, your neighbors might shake their head and cluck, “You can’t hide money…”
I don’t think Mamaw worried what the neighbors thought – I suspect she was just keeping her pennies for better uses: she did make a luxurious Coconut Cream Cake at a time with when coconut was much dearer in rural East Tennessee than it is now.
At any rate, I avoided lemon bars, slandered lemon ice-box pie, and nearly gagged at the thought of lemon cake for years. But it was, in fact, a well glazed lemon pound cake that changed my mind and my sweet life forever.
Of course, I didn’t know there was lemon lurking in every bite of that beautiful cake – it was the first pound cake that ever I saw crowned with a layer of nearly sculpted white glaze. It was perfect, and it was love at first sight; and even after the first bite, infused though it was with lemon, lemon, lemon, I was enthralled like Romeo (but without similar consequences).
The bright and happy sweetness of fresh lemon well blended with sugar and flour was so delightful, I even wanted to kiss the little bit of zest I found lying in wait in each mouthful. I did not eat this cake delicately, nor did I eat slowly or modestly with good sense. I ate my second slice with the same ravenous mouth that bolted down the first. I am not ashamed. I had years of eating to make up for.
Thus, with all due respect to Mamaw, it pleases me more than I want to admit that Mahasti has opted to share this particular Flour Head recipe. It is, methinks, the lemon loaf that greets the soul at paradise. It’s moist enough as it is with a generous cloud of sour cream, but once you add the lemon syrup and seal it with a kiss, er, that is, a smooth layer of lemon glaze, you may feel compelled to sing and, perhaps, quote Shakespeare.
Flour Head Bakery’s Lemon Loaf with Fresh Berries
For the Cake:
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cup Sour Cream
1 1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
2/3 cup oil
3 TBL Lemon Zest
2 TBL Lemon Juice
2 c All Purpose Flour
2 2/3 tsp Baking Powder
2/3 tsp Salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a 9x 5 loaf pan and set aside.
In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, sour cream, sugar and oil. Add lemon Zest and Lemon Juice. In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and whisk just until combined. Some lumps will be left; don’t overmix.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Drop the oven temperature to 325 and bake another 35 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
While the cake is baking prepare the lemon syrup and lemon glaze.
2 TBL Lemon Juice
3 TBL Confectioner’s sugar
After you remove the cake from the oven, and while it is still hot and in the pan, spoon the lemon syrup over the top of the cake. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 30 minutes to an hour. Remove the cake from the pan, onto a cooling rack or plate.
1 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 TBL Lemon Juice
1 TBL Lemon Zest
Carefully pour the glaze over the entire length of the cake, and smooth it out with the back of a spoon, covering the top.
Slice and serve with fresh berries.
They say you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. Sometimes, I guess, that means habits, and
sometimes it may refer to the native accent. The degree to which that is true varies widely, I suspect; but I’m betting that the old saw’s veracity is more likely if the country boy is remembering good beer, and the country roads that take him home are in Germany.
And if you meet Nico Shulz of the Schulz Bräu Brewing Company, or just get a good swallow of his beer, you’ll thank God he’s a country boy who missed the sudsy comforts of home enough to recreate them here and share.
When Nico first moved to the US to study food science in Lexington, KY, he says he quickly began to “miss my good German beers, so I started making my own.” Later, when visiting his soon to be wife in Knoxville, he was disappointed he “couldn’t really find a brewery that I liked, at least, none with German beer. Of course, it was some years ago and there weren’t many breweries around. So I started to think that Knoxville needed a German brewery.”
The result of Nico’s contemplations is Schulz Bräu Brewing Company located just off Central on Bernard Avenue. It’s an impressive facility and beautiful, too. The exterior is imposing and belies the comfortable surroundings and pristine brewery inside. Though he’s a passionate beer man in mission and vocation, Nico trained as a scientist – and his brewery, one might say, reflects the discipline of his discipline. And while science and tradition may sometimes make uneasy bedfellows, at Schulz Bräu, they’re like horse and carriage.
That’s one of the reasons we love it.
At Tomato Head, we try to keep our taps of beer made close to home, so it’s been a great time for us as Knoxville’s brewers have fruitful and multiplied. And that’s never been truer than this month when Nico was finally able to contribute Schulz Bräu to our taps.
That makes us happy in lots of ways. First, of course, the closeness of the beer’s birth means that it’s fresh and also means that we get to celebrate our favorite town with every pull of the tap handle.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Nico makes an authentic and outstanding German Pilsner that’s crisp and refreshing, and one that makes good music with all our food in addition to tasting pretty fine all by itself, too.
But one of the brightest jewels in Nico’s crown is his commitment to the ideals of the Reinheitsgebot. That mouthful of a word refers to the German Beer Purity Law. Nico describes it as, “the oldest food safety law in the world. It basically dictates that you can only use four ingredients to make beer: water, hops, malt and yeast. So that’s all we use – we’re not adding any flavoring, and we add no chemicals to it. Everything is brewed traditionally – no preservatives nothing like that. It makes brewing quite harder and less efficient, but I prefer the traditional way – it’s the healthier way.”
It’s no secret to beer lovers that beer can be made with any number of artificial additives, Nico estimates that “there are dozens of chemicals
approved by the FDA that you can add to your beer: things to give a higher yield, a longer shelf life -but it’s just not worth it to me. You can add color, antioxidants, and there’s even stuff you can add so the kettle doesn’t boil over, but I’d rather have it boil over than add chemicals to my beer. There’s just no need for it – it’s easier and more efficient, yes, but that’s it. And that’s unhealthy, so we don’t use them; we just want to make something that we take pride in.”
And that’s something we take pride in pouring.
PROST! And Zum Wohl, too!
By day, Casey Fox is the celebrated manager of Library Fund Development for the Knox County Public Library. Featured as one of the Knoxville News-Sentinel’s “40 under 40,” Fox gets kudos for her fund-raising efforts, particularly a capital campaign to help digitize the library’s historic archives.
But when she’s not busy contributing to the Library’s mission, Fox has a secret identity, and it’s one that Tomato Head has proudly unveiled and put on public display in our Market Square restaurant.
Casey Fox is also a photographer.
Now through May 1st, Fox presents her first solo exhibit in our downtown location. Titled “Landscaped,” the exhibit features a collection of images that Fox captured over the last 7 or 8 years but without intending to create a series. Fox says it was only after the fact that she realized that not only did she have enough shots for a show, she had also uncovered a style:
“I was just looking back through my pictures and realized, ‘oh this is what I do’. I remember sitting on the couch once looking through all my stuff and putting some pictures together in the computer and then turning to my husband, Jesse, and saying I think I have a show.”
Fox’s style is a natural one – the photos in the show are largely unrefined with only minimal post processing. This raw naturalism says Fox, is, in some ways, related to New Topographics, a movement that arose in the 1970s. The movement, in the words of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, marked a shift in photography as “Pictures of transcendent natural vistas gave way to unromanticized views of stark industrial landscapes, suburban sprawl, and everyday scenes not usually given a second glance.”
Fox captures this quality – her lighting is all natural and the photographs are almost always straight on with any attempt to manipulate the landscape – not even through angled shots. She makes a point of that because, “I like the subjects to speak for themselves. I guess that’s another reason I don’t do weird angles or anything – I just like presenting the buildings, or whatever the subject is, and letting it be there and not projecting a lot on to it. “
But that’s not to say that there’s no romanticism in Fox’s exhibit – there very well may be, but it’s a romanticism that the visitor and viewer will bring.
Many of the shots in “Landscaped” were captured in East Tennessee, and some of those are practically redolent with
nostalgia – an abandoned and overgrown store front, an old house seemingly inhabited by the trees that crowd it, even a shot of empty road and overpasses evoke a distinct feel of a familiar landscape and the travels and memories once made there.
Of course, those are personal reactions – you’ll enjoy forming your own.
“Landscaped”, an exhibit of photographs by Casey Fox will be on view at the downtown Knoxville Tomato Head Restaurant from April 3rd to April 30th, 2017. The exhibit will then display at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from May 2nd to June 5th, 2017.
As a younger person, I never grasped the concept of comfort food. For me, food fell into only two categories – things I liked and things I didn’t. And the categorization was complicated – one might assume that peanut butter was in one category or another, but it wasn’t. A piece of bread, spread thick with the smooth and creamy nut butter was something likeable unless it was it was folded in half (or topped with more bread), in which case I didn’t like it. No, not one bit.
I can still remember my poor father’s baffled expression when I wouldn’t eat the snack that only moments before I had noisily craved. What he didn’t understand was that there was a vast difference between a peanut butter sandwich and what I called a peanut butter top. And so, when he enacted the dreadful fold, the craving died and the luster was off the nut – as I’m certain he thought I was off my nut, too.
I couldn’t explain it. It just was – might as well ask me why I have a big toe. I just do.
As a grown person, I don’t have that particular obsession anymore, well, not in the same degree. Nowadays, peanut butter sandwiches have zero appeal without jelly, but I retain an admittedly strange obsession with canapes and other foods served open-faced. And there is nothing that catches my heart, appetite, and eye quite like an open faced cookie. For it was the thumbprint cookie that revealed not only why I turned my countenance from Daddy’s sandwich but also transformed my inexplicable obsession into explicable reason.
At least to my mind.
My mother was fond of sandwich cookies – Vienna fingers or vanilla creams were a constant and welcome presence in the pantry. But there was one day, a glorious and epiphanous day, when some kind and generous soul gifted mother with a bag of Pepperidge Farm Strawberry thumbprint cookies.
Oh joyous day – every obsessive nerve in my little body quivered – here was the peanut butter top of cookies, and it had jam. JAM! But most importantly it was then that I knew! I knew why the peanut butter top was essential, and the peanut butter sandwich was vile. It was at the first moment of biting that cookie when I understood that the open face always smelled better and! And! AND! the impression of the first bite was not dominated by the bread or the cookie but was shared equally with the always magnificent, always delightful filling!
First impressions DO matter.
More important than my own epiphany, now my poor father would feel the sting of my refusal less keenly! He would understand, as I understood, that my rejection of the sandwich was a textural and olfactive thing and not some oedipal grudge. And he would no longer think that I was off my nut.
Alas, fathers, like children, I suppose, don’t always act like we want them to do– even 45 years later my dad remains uncertain about my sanity. But I know – and that’s enough.
And while my affection for peanut butter has changed significantly, there are two things that have become essential truth in my eating life: One is that peanut butter is always better with jelly; the other, good food with good open faced presentation is the road to Nirvana. And thumbprint cookies are the fast lane.
Sunday, April 2nd is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. You may celebrate with a sandwich if you must, or you can really put the hammer down by making Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprint Cookies. Mahasti has provided a recipe below – and will show you how easy it is to celebrate in open-faced style on WBIR’s Weekend Today.
And while baking these cookies and celebrating food holidays may only affirm your family’s worry that you’re off your nut, they’ll be grateful that you’re tasteful about it.
Flour Head Bakery’s Peanut Butter and Jelly thumbprint cookies
½ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts ground fine
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Place peanuts in the bowl of a food processor and grind until fine. Place peanuts in a bowl, add sugar and set aside.
For the cookie:
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Place butter in bowl of stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg and mix until well combined. Add vanilla and milk and mix well. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until all the flour is mixed in. Place the cookie dough in the refrigerator for an hour. Remove the dough and scoop into balls. Roll the dough balls in the ground peanut mixture and place 1.5 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven, allow the cookies to cool for 1 minute, then gently press your thumb in the middle. Spoon a small amount of your favorite jam in the imprint and serve.
Makes 20 – 24 1 inch cookies.
Beth Meadows’ current studio is a working space, not open to the public; but if you were to find your way there, you would find yourself in a nest of ideas – one lined with images and materials that the artist collects because they draw her attention. In the exhibit now hanging at Tomato Head Market Square, Meadows has assembled a collection of pieces that feature two prominent classes of things that consistently catch her eye: fashion and food packaging.
Many of the images depicted might seem familiar, and that’s because they’re drawn from the pages of fashion magazines. “They’re super models, “ Meadows says, “and the clothing is made out of a collage of food packaging. The idea was to mix this fascination I have with fashion that’s grown over the years with a negative feeling I have about grocery shopping. I don’t love it, grocery shopping, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m trying not to be swayed by how things are packaged – because I don’t want to be marketed to or persuaded to buy things that are packaged beautifully. That’s really hard for an artist like me because I’m aesthetically inclined.”
The works are a mix of collage and drawing that are, in fact, based on photographs of super models; but as the she creates the piece, Meadows creates her own line of clothing for each – one that’s built from the food packaging that she normally resists:
“In order to make these I let myself go to the grocery store and buy packaging that was just really attractive. It made that shopping experience really enjoyable for the first time in a long time, so now I go specifically to buy certain colors. And I have friends who just hand me food packaging now because they know I’m collecting it. Actually there’s somebody at Tomato Head who works in the kitchen who’s been giving me some of their food packaging.”
One of Meadows’ pieces will feature a design created from a discarded onion bag; another, a sack of flour. Some of the packaging is evident – a handbag made from a ginger ale label or a belt from a cheese wrapper – other bits are mere moments of color, say a flash of gold from some Shiner Bock.
The combination of fashion and food is easy fodder for anyone looking for what playwright Edward Albee would call, “connective tissue” that might link issues or the artist directly with the works they create. But like Albee, Meadows eschews any direct connections to issues personal or otherwise.
“You just work, work, work and then you look back and think, wow it might mean that. But I’m not thinking about it. I’m just looking at stuff all the time, things that are fascinating to me – this manila folder is on my desk is full of magazine pages. I have ideas that I want to paint and create and sometimes I’m wondering why am I drawn to this, but it’s not the first thing that I think about. Someone might say, ‘well it’s like you’re trying to be deep with these’ but it wasn’t the initial inspiration. It was just that I wanted to go buy beautiful food packaging from the grocery store.”
Even so, Meadows’ work is thoughtful and thought provoking. And her fascination with fashion informs her work in multiple ways.
“On a personal level, I wake up in the morning and there are decisions I have to make. Someone was coming to take a picture of me this morning so I look a lot more put together than I usually do. But my daily question is am I doing this for me or am I doing it for somebody else? It’s hard to ride that line of whether I’m taking care of myself for me instead of looking for someone else’s affirmation of me.”
“Looking at supermodels, and the fashion industry in general, is so interesting to me because on the surface these women look very powerful and exude confidence because of what they’re wearing – but all the layers underneath that are also interesting to me. Usually the designer’s a man, usually he’s adorning these women – so then they become objects. I’m intrigued by what these women are thinking and, then I wonder if, at the end of the day, do they feel valued after and how much of themselves is still in those photos after they’ve been photo-shopped.”
It’s not hard to make a similar connection to food packaging – how often does it match what’s inside? And that’s just beginning of many ideas that flow from this Meadows’ work – the exhibit excites the eye and conversation.
Meadows has a broad range of work, in addition to visiting her exhibit at our downtown place, you’ll want to explore the complete range of her portfolio and find out more about her on her website: http://withbearhands.com/.
I spend a lot of time resisting it but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I can’t afford any of that and I probably never will be able to afford it because it’s also inaccessible to me but I think that’s what interesting to me is this bag was free so I’m using free and accessible materials to talk all about a subject that’s completely inaccessible to me and most people I know.
I hate to admit it, but there’s something about that word that puts me off. Maybe it’s because it sounds like vulgar or because in the years before my food awakening I had no idea what it was and just assumed that I’d hate it. It’s safer if you don’t try things, right?
Of course, that, as they say, is bull…
And in the case of bulger, that would be exceptional bull.
You may have had this cooked and cracked bit of wheat grain if you’ve had tabbouleh. Bulgur has played major role in Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries, and it is a bona fide ancient grain with 4000 year old ties to the Hittites, Hebrews and the Babylonians to boot.
Bulgur is wheat that gets a partial cooking before it’s dried and cracked. The grain has a nutty flavor and a substantial
and chewy texture that’s a very satisfying by itself, in salads, and, as in our recipe today, in soup, too.
Bulgur comes packing a bunch of good things. A cup of cooked bulgur has about 150 calories, is loaded with 8 grams of fiber, 5 and a half grams of protein, almost 10% of an adult woman’s recommended iron intake (and ~22% of men’s), and a healthy dose of thiamin, niacin, folate and vitamin B-6. All that and it can taste good too.
Bulgur works well with lots of seasonings and matches well with various foods, but today we’re pairing it with its long time nutritional partner in crime, the amazing lentil. Those of us with certain Sunday School backgrounds may remember the infamous bowl of lentils that Jacob used to acquire Esau’s birthright – like bulgur, lentils have an ancient pedigree: the legume was cultivated along the banks of the Euphrates some 4 millennia ago and remain an important part of that region’s diet.
If you combine these two foods you have a whopping bunch of fiber, protein, and vitamins; if you combine them in our soup recipe, you’ll be less concerned about how healthy your food is than with how well you’re eating. Mahasti combines cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, and turmeric in this soup which echo the flavor of the history that these two ancient staples share. More importantly, the spice blend creates a fragrant aroma and deceptively rich taste. Both lentils and bulgur bring a lot of texture to the pot, so it’s a hearty mouthful of satisfaction that tastes as good as it smells.
Tomato Head’s Red Lentil and Bulgur Soup
½ onion, chopped
½ cup oil
1 Tbl Chopped Garlic
3/4 cups Red Lentils
3/4 cups Bulgur Wheat
7 cups water
3 cups Tomato Juice
1/4 cup Fresh Lemon Juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
1.5 TBL Turmeric, ground
1 tsp Cayenne pepper
2 tsp Cumin, ground
1/4 tsp Cracked Black Pepper
½ tsp Cinnamon
1 TBL Salt
1.5 TBL Sugar
Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion and Garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add red lentils, bulgur, water, tomato juice, lemon juice, tomato paste and spices. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 -40 minutes until lentils are soft.
Serve topped with chopped mint, and chopped cucumber.
George Washington Carver
If you were to scroll back through past posts of this blog, you’d find that we have a lot of fun with National food days. We celebrate them, we make fun of them, and sometimes we make fun of ourselves for celebrating them. And we’re still not sure of who even creates them. Even so, we plug along, dutifully checking our calendars to see whether or not it’s time to celebrate National Lima Bean Respect Day.
But a few of these holidays call to mind subjects that are richer or more important than the day itself. Today for example is National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day and, while we love peanut butter – and our pie proves it – it’s a good day to remember the life and work of George Washington Carver who, though he did not invent peanut butter, was the original Peanut Promoter Extraordinaire.
If you don’t know Carver’s story, we can’t think of a better time to learn more about it: it’s one of those stories that might never have been – just because of its very beginning.
Carver was born into slavery around 1864 in Diamond Grove, Missouri and, after his mother, Mary, disappeared, presumably kidnapped by slave traders who still roamed the South at that time. George, an infant at the time of Mary’s disappearance, was raised by Moses and Susan Carver – the same folks who had owned his mother before she vanished.
George was a sickly child and unfit for the kind of hard labor that many freed slaves endured after the war; so he stayed close to home learning domestic chores and tending the garden. He developed an interest in plants, and the Carvers provided him with some education – both of which would come to define much of Carver’s life.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the Iowa State Agricultural College in 1894 and in 1896 completed a graduate degree with intensive work in plant pathology. Carver established a reputation as a brilliant botanist which would lead him to work for Booker T. Washington at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute where he would head the agricultural department.
That’s such a simple paragraph to write, but the truth is a complex thing, made especially so by the always difficult, often fatal challenges that followed former slaves in the years after the War.
Among those challenges, there were some that were shared by impoverished Southerners of all stripes – including the
creation of a sustainable lifestyle. Carver’s work and studies in crop rotation and alternative cash crops to cotton at Tuskegee substantially improved the lives of farmers and sharecroppers all over the South. But it’s his work with the humble peanut that really sticks in the mind – famously, Carver discovered over 300 uses for the crop which also acted as a rejuvenator for fields ravaged by nutrient depleting cotton.
Among Carver’s nutty discoveries – well, there was shoe polish, goiter treatment, and laundry soap, but there were over 100 food uses that included cookies, cake and pie crust, too. And there were savory recipes including peanut sausage and a peanut and cheese roast – we’ve included those recipes below, but you can read all of them at this Texas A&M site.
So what if somebody else invented peanut paste or as we know it now, peanut butter? George Washington Carver was one hell of a contributor to the American Dream, and his work improved the quality of countless lives – we barely do his memory justice here.
Carver’s work made peanuts an indelible and enriching part of Southern life – I’d say that’s worth celebrating over a piece of our Peanut Butter pie anyway – how about you?
Happy Peanut Butter Lover’s Day!
42, PEANUT SAUSAGE
Grind 1/2 pound of roasted peanuts, 1/2 pound pecans, 1 ounce hickory nuts, and 1/2 pound walnut meats. Mix with six very ripe bananas; pack in a mould, and steam continuously for two hours; when done remove from lid of kettle or mould, and when mixture is cold turn out and serve the same as roast meat sliced thin for sandwiches, or with cold tomato sauce or other sauce.
43, PEANUT AND CHEESE ROAST
1 cup grated cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon chopped onion
1 cup finely ground peanuts
1 tablespoon butter
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the onion in the butter and a little water until it is tender. Mix the other ingredients, and moisten with water, using the water in which the onion has been cooked. Pour into a shallow -baking dish, and brown in oven.
Casserole is a magic word.
It’s also a word with an excellent genealogy. Its immediate roots are from the French language and a word for sauce pan, which seems reasonable enough, especially when you consider that we use the word for both the cooking vessel and the food within it.
But if you trace further you’ll find that the word relates to the Latin word for bowl, and the ancient Greek “kyathion” which is like a pet name for the “dipper for the wine bowl.” So, if you ponder it, the word casserole both begins and ends with sharing.
Casserole has a long tradition of spreading the wealth – for those of us who grew up in the rural South, a church social often meant long tables laden with oblong and deep serving vessels full of tuna bake, hamburger pie, scalloped potatoes with ham, and any number of dishes full of creamy chicken concoctions or green beans dressed with fried onions and cream of mushroom soup.
For me, those are the bright memories of an otherwise difficult relationship with the little fundamentalist church that dominated so many of my greener days. But for every recollection of that experience that troubles me, there’s also the image of my Mamaw Ethel and every other good cook who would fill the tables of a church supper with food. Mamaw and her cohorts always brought extra to those gatherings – even if their own pantries were thin, it was essential that the church supper was a feast. Never a matter of pride, they believed in having more than enough to share.
And if you were a visitor caught unawares by the feast, or perhaps a poorer member who couldn’t contribute much or anything to the table, then those sweet ladies would practically manhandle you to the front of line. For them, the only sin on that day was if anyone went away hungry, and the only message to preach was to share and share alike.
And sharing, as you may know, is a particularly potent form of magic: it has the power to create friends and banish loneliness; it warms the heart and comforts the sad; and for traditions and thinkers as diverse as Lao Tzu and St. Francis, sharing is the key to happiness as well as the root of goodness.
It may seem a little too much to expect from the humble casserole. Cynics may see only that casseroles are convenient, easy ways to feed a crowd. But as far as I can tell, if you’re even thinking about feeding a crowd, then you’re on the track.
Even so, casseroles don’t have to be open and dump a can conveniences or concoctions of dubious merit – and they shouldn’t be. As you can see below in Mahasti’s recipe, a well-considered casserole not only shares lots of food, it shares lots of flavor. In this case, the excellent taste of Chile Rellenos is deconstructed into layers that are simple to assemble without sacrificing the savory joy of the original dish.
Perhaps you’ll tune into WBIR tomorrow morning for Weekend Today – Mahasti will be live showing you how easy it is to make magic and share the love.
Tomato Head’s Chile Rellenos Casserole
3 Poblano Peppers
Rinse Peppers and place on a cookie sheet under the broiler. Turn peppers until charred on all side.
Remove the peppers from the oven, place in a covered container and allow to cool. When peppers are cool enough to handle, with gloved hands, peel and de-seed peppers. Dice Peppers and set aside.
After Broiling, Turn your oven to 425 degrees.
½ cup Masa Harina
¾ cups Whole MIlk
Mix Masa Harina into milk and set aside.
¼ cup Vegetable Oil
1 cup Onion, Diced
1 lb ground Pork or Beef
½ jar Frontera Ancho Adobo
1- 28 oz can Fire Roasted Diced Tomato (puree ½ of the can in the blender – leave the other half diced)
2 tsp ground Cumin
2 tsp Salt
½ – 1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
½ tsp paprika
2 tsp Sugar
½ cup Cilantro, chopped
2 cups Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until fragrant. Add ground meat, sautéing to break up lumps until meat is cooked through. Add Adobo, and sauté until meat is coated with sauce. Add remaining ingredients, as well as chopped poblanos and cook on low for 10 minutes.
Pour meat mixture into an 8×11 baking dish and top with 2 cups of shredded cheese.
2 egg whites
1 tsp salt
½ tsp Cracked Black Pepper
In a stand mixer with a whip attachment or with a hand mixer, beat egg whites until stiff peaks. Gently fold Masa mixture, salt and pepper into egg whites.
Pour egg mixture over cheese layer and gently spread out to cover entire surface of baking dish. Place the casserole in oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool on wire rack for 10 – 15 minutes. Serve with sour cream, chopped onion, chopped cilantro, sliced jalapenos, corn tortillas and or corn chips.
Serves 4-6 people.
The World is Not Enough.
It’s a 007 title, yes, but I daresay that there are times in non-cinematic life when we’ve all had just about as much of the world as we can stand. But in seeking solutions, perhaps even escapes or mere moments of diversion from life as we know it, there are trying times when the unreal landscapes of fantasy and the whimsy of imaginative fiction offer a balm to the substantial and weighty affairs of the world.
For February, Tomato Head’s Market Square walls will double as portals from this world to some other less contentious ones that live in the vibrant imagination of Carson Whittaker.
For Whittaker, a Chattanooga native and graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, art, and the worlds that she creates and visits therein, offers a refreshing path through the often mundane aspect of adult life. Like most young artists, she balances a job with her personal passion; but unlike the fabled tortured artist, Whittaker says she doesn’t sweat the daily grind: “I do my regular stuff during the day; and it can get a little bit boring, a little bit routine, so I’m always looking for a splash of imagination, some color, to help me have fun with it. It’s just the way I live my life, I don’t try to be too philosophical with it – I think it’s important to be light hearted.”
Whittaker’s personality and work both evince this joie de vivre. A brief glance at her piece, “Delilah stops to play in a field of passion flowers and falls in love… with herself” communicates that joy along with a serious sense of play in a landscape of trees that might be honeycombs and where a pink serpentine beast finds inner fulfillment. And, Whittaker is all about sharing that vibe.
“Whimsy, fun, and playfulness – I like to carry that into my work. It’s like an escape from reality.
It puts me into a creative space where I can use my imagination and do whatever I want and fill this imaginary world and get really playful and fun. It just goes with my flow.”
Her attachment to whimsy has a serious side, though not in a particular issues oriented way. She admits, “I’ve tried to get more serious and focus on more serious issues in my art but I get stuck, it gets too heavy and I get frustrated trying to get my point across. I always find the path of least resistance is to make it fun and light, then it all comes to me.” But, through efforts to keep a sense of joy and play, she hopes that her work “can stop someone in their daily routine they look at this imaginary crazy animal and it brings some new life back into that person. Maybe it stops their routine, and they look at this wild fantasy and, maybe, it brings more color and fun to life.”
Her exhibit at Tomato Head will include a lot of color and fun. This show’s pieces, Whittaker says, “are from a series called ‘Alt World’. The series comes from an ongoing daydream I have of an alternate reality where I rule my Queendom as the Bird Queen. Each print is a window into what Alt World looks like. In this land of enchantment you can see many fascinating landscapes and discover the wonderful characters that live there. I use screen printing and watercolors to bring the pieces to life.
My newest paintings depict a beer garden where different types of folks are
drinking beer and socializing. I’m interested in how people interact with one another in social settings like bars and restaurants. I like to emphasize the quirky, individuality of each character. I use lots of color to do that. I hope these pieces inspire people to laugh, play and have fun with life.”
Whittaker’s work has a considerable narrative, and, she says, many of her paintings are created “within the parameters of that story. So in this one imaginary world where this one adventurer goes to discover different landscapes in this world he’s in, looking for a greater truth.”
You can look for that truth or just enjoy being swept away by the fantastical at the downtown Knoxville Tomato Head from February 6th thru March 5th, 2017. Her work will then be displayed at the West Knoxville Tomato Head from March 7th thru April 3rd, 2017.