National Bagel and Lox Day at Tomato Head

First of all, we’re early – but we’re okay with that. National Bagel and Lox Day is actually on February 9th, which is this coming Tuesday; but that doesn’t feel right to us at all. Seeing as Bagels and Lox are really one of the essential parts of a worthwhile brunch menu, we reckon that whoever decides these holidays ought to take a cue from the way Labor Day works and figure it as the first Sunday in February or something like that. But no matter – we celebrate this classic combination every weekend of the year, so this go round we’ll just make a little merrier as a prelude to the actual day itself.

The list of Bagel and Lox’s loveable attributes might start with its place as a metaphor for the American experience.  If you think of all the influences that go into putting together this dish you’ll have to consider input from at least Polish, Scandinavian, Italian, British, and Jewish sources and perhaps more. It’s a veritable melting pot of its own.

Like much of the American commingling of influences, it would appear that the Bagel and the Lox first hooked up on the streets of New York probably around or just before the time that Ellis Island was getting into full swing, when bagels were the hot ticket for easy to carry and eat food. But when that happened is impossible to say and, ultimately, not very important to the appetite. It is almost certain that the addition of cream cheese to the mix didn’t happen – or at least not very often – until after 1872 when, according to an article in the Jewish daily, Forward, “a dairyman named William Lawrence, from Chester, N.Y., accidentally invented cream cheese while attempting to make a batch of French Neufchâtel. Legend has it that he erroneously doubled the amount of cream in the recipe and was delighted by the results of his mistake.”

Although cream cheese and variations of it had probably been made in American homes for a century or more before Lawrence’s happy accident, his result lead directly to the commercial product that we know and love today – especially it shows up smeared on fresh Flour Head bagels piled with beautifully smoked salmon, tomato, capers and onion..

It makes one of those magical combinations that manages to fire many of the cylinders that make our food brain run happily ever after. It’s a textural head rush from the first bite and crackly snap of the bagel’s incomparable crust and soft, chewy interior all the way to the creamy rush of the cream cheese, the luxurious, almost silky feel of the lox, with a cool, crisp crunch of onion and the bright pop of capers.

Likewise, it’s a feast for the taste buds. The flavor of a fresh bagel, somewhere between the fantastic worlds of fresh, crackly baguette and big, chewy pretzel, brings a light salty flavor that’s just tinged with sweet that marries perfectly with the slight tang of cream cheese, the rich, smoky and heady flavor of the salmon, all of which benefit from the meaty and sunny savor of tomato, the zesty sweetness of sweet red onion and the caper’s briny exuberance.

Now – that’s quite enough with the words; let’s get this party started. And if there’s anything else to be said about bagel and lox, let’s say it with our mouths full.

Tomato Head’s Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

A quick glance back over January used to distress me. The opening month of the New Year was littered with broken promises; all the assurances to myself that the New Year would bring a new me lay in ruin alongside the detritus of failed resolve: candy wrappers, self-help books, and, in one particularly ambitious year, a 15 pound dumbbell.

Happily, I wasn’t alone – according to a handful of articles I read to find out what was wrong with me I learned that only about 8% of resolution makers manage to make those resolutions stick for any length of time. For most of us, the first week is devastating, let alone the whole month, which is, as far as I can tell, really just a build up to more and more football parties and an endless parade of party food led by what may be the cruelest resolution wrecker of them all – cheesy Rotelle dip.

So at my house, we’ve given up the annual resolution game. We take a cue from a certain friend of ours who calls the month “Eff-it January.”  She eschews all the pressure to make a brand new start on January 1 and starts her return to healthy eating in February – though, admittedly, she is seemingly immune to the siren call of Super Bowl snacking.  Rather than try to strap ourselves to a new diet or reinvent our eating lives overnight, we do just what she does and start with a return to healthy eating – not for the whole year, but one meal at a time.

And the best meal with which to start that program is breakfast.

Folks who know better than I do will always tell you that eating a good and healthy breakfast is one of the simplest things that you can do to make your life better. Of course we all know that, but motivating ourselves is a whole different kettle of fish. That’s why we keep breakfast interesting. So during this week’s visit to WBIR’s Weekend Today, Mahasti will show you one of the ways that we like to make the first meal fun, filling, and worth just a little effort: Quinoa Breakfast Bowl.

It’s a great thing to make in quantity with the family on a weekend – that way you can easily assemble and reheat leftovers on the busier weekdays when the early morning rush to get out of the house can lead straight to the sugary start.

The bowl features a base of Quinoa, a beautiful and protein packed seed that comes from the same food family that contains spinach, Swiss chard, and beets. In addition to having plentiful protein, quinoa is generally nutrient rich with good levels of several B vitamins, vitamin E and dietary fiber along with calcium, magnesium and manganese.

After the quinoa, this breakfast of champions is one layer of good stuff after another with sautéed kale, mushrooms, luxurious slice of avocado and a fried egg topped as much Sriracha as makes you happy.

It’s a healthy, filling and luxe way to start the day. It might not be as fun as lifting a few sets with a 15 pound dumbbell, but it tastes good. And while it probably won’t ease the craving for snacking on cheesy dips when they appear before you, a good breakfast can help keep you from diving in headfirst with a spoon. And, to steal a phrase from a certain celebrity, that’s a good thing.

Tomato Head’s Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

To cook Quinoa:

½ cup Quinoa

¾ cup water

¼ tsp salt

Place quinoa in a strainer and rinse under cold water. In a small pot, over high heat, bring rinsed quinoa, salt and water to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, place a lid on the pot and simmer the quinoa until all the water has evaporated, about 20 minutes.

4 cups Kale, rinsed and chopped

1 Tbl Vegetable Oil

¼ tsp Salt

1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar

In a large skillet over high heat, sauté kale with oil just until the kale begins to wilt. Add the salt and balsamic vinegar. Continue sautéing for one minute longer.

2 cups Button Mushrooms, washed and sliced thick

1 Tbl Vegetable Oil

½ tsp Salt

¼ tsp Black Pepper

In a large skillet over high heat, sauté mushrooms with oil, salt and black pepper. Continue sautéing for 3-4 minutes until mushrooms have browned and are starting to crisp.

2 Eggs

In a small skillet, over medium heat melt 1 Tbl of butter. Crack eggs into pan, and cook according to taste, over easy, medium or hard.

To assemble Dish:

1 Avocado

Cooked Quinoa

Cooked Kale

Cooked Mushrooms

Fried Egg

Sriracha

Divide cooked quinoa between 2 plates or bowls. Divide kale and mushrooms and place on top of quinoa. Divide avocado in half, remove pit and slice each avocado half; scoop avocado on top of quinoa. Place fried egg on top of pile of ingredients and serve with a bottle of Sriracha, and some additional salt and pepper for the egg.

 

Happy New Year!

Whenever I think about superstition, my mind almost always turns first to Tom Sawyer. He and his gang were fierce believers in this almost practical magic that relates certain behaviors to otherwise unrelated outcomes: dead cats and a special chant will cure warts, a dog’s howl signals death, and an inch worm found on the body brings the promise of a new suit. And it’s an enduring part of real life, too. Avoiding black cats, cracks in the sidewalk, and opening umbrellas indoors remain second thoughts in my mind even today despite Stevie Wonder’s admonition:

When you believe in things that you don’t understand,

Then we suffer,

Superstition ain’t the way.

Still, superstition is often rooted in practical elements; walking under a ladder, especially an occupied one, may not be unlucky, but it isn’t particularly smart. Similarly, a broken mirror may not really foretell 7 years of woe, but shattered glass seems to linger longer than the proverbial bad penny – and it’s certainly no fun to find a remaining shard in your big toe.

But with food superstitions, the practical element becomes more elusive. In my family we had the traditional Southern meal for January 1: black eyed peas, collard greens, and hog jowl. It was served without much commentary – it was just good luck for no good reason.

If you google New Year’s superstitions, though, you’ll learn that black eyed peas represent coins (albeit funny looking ones), or that they indicate coming prosperity because they plump when you cook’em. There are plenty of explanations to satisfy the curious. But it’s the money and wealth associations that seem to be the most enduring: greens, because they represent the color of our currency, indicate a flow of cash; and pork, owing to its richness or the pig’s habit of successful and forward rooting, foretells a year of wealth. So, eat lots and prosper.

Naturally, we’re not convinced of that relationship between a good luck meal and a growing bank account (primarily owing to 40-some years of experience), but are a couple of other elements of this superstition, particularly as it relates to black-eyed peas, that have some merit to our way of thinking.

The first associates good fortune with an absence of vanity. Black eyed peas and other pulses are humble foodstuffs that are often associated with the poor, at least that’s true before New Southern cooking elevated them to the food pantheon. My guess is that somebody decided that the meek would literally inherit the earth, so perhaps if you started the year with a little less swagger and ate like the meek then you, too, could qualify for a little piece of earth and a nugget of gold.

That sounds silly; but it’s true that if you’ll start eating better, then your fortunes will improve in a number of ways – even if your purse doesn’t swell up like a slow-cooked pea. Black-eyed peas are good for you.

The other origin story of this little legume’s magic rests in the miracle of gratitude. During and after the ravages of the Civil War, when any foodstuff worth eating was burned or taken, the humble cowpea and its cousins were left alone – by most accounts they weren’t considered fit for human consumption. But starving confederate soldiers, who were sometimes able to make a meal of them, counted themselves lucky to have them.

By the same token, for most slaves sustenance came from food that wasn’t quite suited for wealthier white tables – so it was the likes of the black-eyed pea, along with things like collard greens, hog jowl, etc. that made up the meals of the enslaved. It may be that, like the Seder table, a meal of humble foods celebrates the good fortune of a people freed from bondage. That was especially true in January of 1863 when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

This January, we’ll celebrate the opening of a New Year and all the hope it brings by filling our bean and rice bowls with black-eyed peas. We’ll also be serving Brunch from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. so you can eat some superstition in style.  While we can’t guarantee any good luck for the entire year, we do promise good taste every day.

A Great Gift For Your Honeybee

Made in Grainger County by the most adorable couple ever, Bob and Delores Moore, Moore’s Acres Creamed Honey is delicious when spread on sandwiches, used as a sugar substitute in recipes, or drizzled over an earthy and nutty cheese. Our favorite way of enjoying it is slathering it on a biscuit for breakfast. It’s sold at the Flour Head Bakery dessert counters at each restaurant in 1lb. tubs for $10.

Yum Yum Yum!

Moore's Acres Whipped Honey

Moore’s Acres Whipped Honey

Happy National Have A Bagel Day

Almost all breadstuffs come with a history, often happily or fiercely disputed. A few manage to rise, literally and figuratively, out of their history to settle into a solid cultural identity. If they can do that and remain delicious, well, that’s history worth eating. The Bagel is just such a food. Its origin is shrouded in the ever shifting mists of time with some food writers opining that there’s hieroglyphic evidence that even the Ancient Egyptians had bagel (or at least a round breadstuff with a hole).

The more common story sets the bagel’s genesis around 1683 in the shop of a Polish baker in Krakow who celebrated King Jan Sobieski’s dramatic rout of Turkish Invaders at the Battle of Vienna by sending him a roll formed in the shape of the kingly stirrups. The homage was a double whammy of gratitude from the baker as Sobieski was responsible for allowing Jews to bake bread within Krakow’s city walls.

True or not, the bagel has remained identified with Jewish culture and, for better or for worse, is often used as a metaphor for the Jewish experience.

But ever since Murray Lender and his brothers started shipping frozen bagels across America, which he called the “Jewish English Muffin,” via their mass expansion of their father’s business, H. Lender & Sons, the bagel as become part of the mainstream American diet. And that’s the way the great American melting pot should work – acceptance, inclusion, and celebration. Our only caveat to that story is that today, thankfully, there’s almost no good reason to eat a frozen bagel.

Over the weekends, our brunch menu includes toasted Flour Head bagels available with cream cheese or the classic combination of cream cheese, lox, capers, and onion. The bagels are fresh from the bakery and have the unmistakable chew and flavor that makes this bread so very lovely to eat. But sometimes you don’t want to get out of the house on the weekend – that happens to all of us – and if you’re lucky enough to make that happen, there’s still no reason to resort to the freezer. Just plan ahead and swing by Three Rivers Market, just ripe or Kroger Bearden to pick a personal supply of Flour Head’s bagel.

The plain bagel is a classic, chewy example of why we love this breadstuff; but the bagel is also available sprinkled with sesame seeds or with a particularly rewarding, slightly sweet permutation that includes the imminently satisfying combination of cinnamon and raisin. And while we love all of Flour Head’s bagels equally, it’s hard not to favor the Sour Cherry Walnut bagel with a little extra adoration. The combination of tart-sweet cherry with walnut makes an acutely delicious partner with the flavor and texture of the basic bagel. It’s beautiful, toasted or not, with cream cheese and makes beautiful music with lots of toppings from butter and brie to prosciutto and pear.  It’s also just fine by itself, straight out of the bag while you ride home.

But at Tomato Head, we’re having some tasteful fun in honor of National Bagel Day – we’re celebrating with BBLTs! (You’ll have already figured out that the extra “B” is for bagel.) Each restaurant is serving its own riff on this all American adaptation; Downtown, you’ll find the classic sandwich ramped up with the addition of pimento cheese, while at the Gallery the “T” stands for Tomato Jam. Both of these options give the schmear a nicely southern attitude – and what better way to celebrate the Bagel than by dressing it up in homespun fashion?

There’s one more interesting thing that happens to foodstuffs if they find a place in the right heart, and that’s poetry.  If you haven’t read Pablo Neruda’s Ode to the Watermelon or Ode to Salt, then you owe it to food loving self to check them out. But the bagel, too, has friends who frame their thoughts in verse. So we leave you to ponder the bagel through the words of David Ignatow, a celebrated poet who started his career in a butcher shop and is remembered for his popular verse about common folk.

The Bagel Poem

I stopped to pick up the bagel

rolling away in the wind,

annoyed with myself

for having dropped it

as if it were a portent.

Faster and faster it rolled,

with me running after it

bent low, gritting my teeth,

and I found myself doubled over

and rolling down the street

head over heels, one complete somersault

after another like a bagel

and strangely happy with myself.

—David Ignatow

Flour Head Bakery Bagel

Flour Head Bakery Bagel

The Best Biscuit Recipe for National Biscuit Month

As difficult as it may be for Knoxvillians to believe it, May, the month of the International Biscuit Festival, isn’t National Biscuit Month. That honor belongs to September. Of course, real biscuit lovers celebrate on a daily basis, and I’m not sure that the official observance attracts much attention – it doesn’t seem to come with any days off or other perks like other holidays do.  Still, it’s worth taking some time to ponder the biscuit, especially this year when we’re already feeling the breezes of autumn and the nostalgia that those winds sometimes bring.

Biscuits come with memories and stories full of mothers, grandmothers, early mornings, and big family breakfasts.  After all, it shows a special kind of love to get up early to mix flour into dough and fill the house with that most comforting of wake-up calls, the smell of biscuits in the oven. For me, every biscuit brings a smile because it recalls a favorite family story about a boy named Virgil, who, in his latter days, was also known as Papaw Mynatt.

Little Virgil loved biscuits, especially the particularly fine and well-buttered examples baked by his family’s neighbor, Lucille. She was a kind lady with several children of her own to feed, and, even though it was the Great Depression and times were tough, she always had an extra biscuit.

Virgil’s mother, Maggie, however, took some exception to his biscuit foraging. Perhaps she thought it reflected poorly on her own domestic skill, or that it made Lucille think that Virgil wasn’t getting enough to eat at home. So, mother Maggie forbade him from asking that woman for another biscuit. Virgil obliged. Instead he was soon to be found in the neighbor’s yard, strolling casually by the kitchen window singing a song of his own composition: “I just love them butter biscuits”.

Even as his mother did NOT spare the rod, Virgil protested his innocence; he never asked for that biscuit – it just came his way.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that a good biscuit is worth the risk of a good spanking. And, more importantly, a good biscuit recipe is worth having; it will endear you to good eaters (and some young songsters, too).

Of course, biscuits mean different things to different people, and nowadays biscuits come in all sorts of styles and flavors. But a few years ago, Mahasti decided that she wanted to find the best biscuit recipe – the one that would produce the most consistent and tastiest results with the least amount of fuss. After asking the public for their favorites, Mahasti worked through dozens of recipes. What she found was that the best biscuit was a simple, traditional method using buttermilk and cold butter.

Buttermilk is essential in this recipe because its acidic personality works to soften the villainous gluten which can toughen your dough. Buttermilk helps keep everything tender. Likewise, using chilled butter will make a fluffier biscuit – the butter melts in the oven and produces steam which gives our beloved bread a luscious lift.

In honor of National Biscuit Month, we dug up that recipe so you can celebrate in style.

If you’ve never tried baking your own, now’s as a good a time as any. Just promise us that you’ll try, at least for Biscuit Month, to steer clear of biscuits that come out of a can – you know how we feel about that.

Enjoy!

The Best Biscuits

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
5 tbsp chilled butter, cut into small pieces
¾ cup chilled buttermilk

Measure flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar into a medium bowl. Add chilled butter and work into flour with fingertips or a pastry cutter until the butter resembles small beads. Add buttermilk and work flour into buttermilk until you have a soft dough. Turn dough no more than 10 times.

Gather into a ball. Flatten the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 1 inch. Either trim the edges and use a knife cut the biscuits into squares or use a traditional round biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits. Gather up any remaining dough into a ball and repeat flattening and cutting the biscuits.

Place the cut biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet (placing the biscuits in the freezer at this point for 30 minutes will yield a fluffier biscuit). Bake in a 425 degree oven for 8 – 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve hot.

Makes 6-8 biscuits depending on the size of your cutter.

 

The Exchange of the Knoxville Idea

Market Square is the place to be on Saturday mornings.

We are two weeks into the new season’s farmer’s market on Market Square. As one of the largest open-air fresh markets in the region, the farmer’s market plays host to local produce, food, live music, as well as arts and crafts.

The whole square is hopping, usually to the tune of jazz or big bands. Restaurants (like us) are open for brunch, often featuring items purchased from local vendors in the market. Vendors also sell homemade items such as clothing, soap, pottery, and woodworking. If you don’t like big crowds, then come down on Wednesday mornings, when produce vendors set up shop for a quieter day at the market.

The most amazing thing about the Farmer’s Market is that is an accessible connection to Knoxville’s history.

The support of communal bonds and fresh food is something that Knoxvillians have gathered around for nearly 160 years. Where Market Square stands today was once a building where farmers would gather to sell produce, and city dwellers came to buy their groceries. I’ve had people visiting our restaurant tell me stories of catching a bus to the Farmer’s Market with a pocket full of change that would be just enough for fresh snacks, a movie on Gay Street, and vegetables to bring home.

In today’s food climate, buying local food is healthier, fresher, and all around better than purchasing over-preserved vegetables from chain grocers. Not to mention, the money spent on produce, meats, and breads is remaining within our community, helping to sustain economic growth and jobs.

As Jack Neely put it, spending time and money at the farmer’s market “is an investment in the idea of Knoxville”. The Farmer’s Market is the culminating beacon of our city’s dedication to their neighbors that serves as a promise for up-and-coming community driven initiatives such as the Striped Light and the Knoxville Darkroom.

We support the farmer’s market because it supports our community.

Eating fresh strawberries, corn, and other produce is a perk that we also enjoy—and share on our menu. Remember that as the seasons cycle, so will the types of produce that are being offered. It’s important to return every few weeks if not every week, to see what has ripened. While you’re downtown, stop by to say hello. Stay and eat if you’re hungry.

Market Square Farmers Market Carrots Knoxville Tomato Head

Tomato Head’s Buttermilk Biscuit with Benton’s Bacon, Avocado, and Rhubarb Marmalade

Who said breakfast had to be confined to downing hydrogenated breakfast bars or cereal and milk while juggling house keys, your bag, and trying to find your matching shoe? I often find that enjoying my mornings with a flavorful breakfast and warm coffee or tea can later make even the worst parts of my day much more bearable.

Furthermore, cooking up breakfast myself starts me off with a happy feeling of accomplishment and puts me in a much better mood. This recipe for buttermilk biscuits with Benton’s bacon, avocado, and rhubarb marmalade will be sure to set your day off in a positive direction.

For the rhubarb marmalade, you’ll need:

2 cups onion, sliced

¼ cup oil

4 cups Rhubarb, sliced

4 Tbl sugar

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

½ tsp salt

Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, then reduce the heat to low and sauté gently for 5 minutes. Add the rhubarb and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add the sugar, vinegar, and salt. Cook the marmalade gently, stirring occasionally for another 5-8 minutes.

To make the biscuits:

We suggest using the award-winning biscuit recipe from last year’s International Biscuit Festival.

Split a freshly baked biscuit in half. Place cooked Benton’s bacon on the bottom half of the biscuit. Top the bacon with ¼ of an Avocado. Spread a generous amount of rhubarb marmalade on the top of the biscuit. Place the top back on the biscuit and serve.

This seasonal treat is great for making any spring morning a time to enjoy yourself or company.

Click the photo below to watch Mahasti make this delicious recipe on her WBIR cooking segment.

biscuit with marmalade

Tomato Head’s Tex Mex Featherbed Eggs

6 cups cooked cornbread from your favorite cornbread recipe

4 Green Onions, sliced

1 Poblano Pepper, cored and diced

1 ½ cups Andouille Sausage, sliced

2 cups Shredded Cheddar

2.25 cups Milk

3 Large Eggs

1 tsp Salt

And additional 1.5 cups of shredded Cheddar for topping

Dice or tear the cornbread into 1 inch pieces and place in a large bowl.  In another small bowl mix the milk with the eggs and salt.

Add sliced green onions, diced poblano, Andouille sausage and cheddar to the cornbread and toss well to mix. Pour the milk mixture over the cornbread mixture and toss until all the cornbread is covered and absorbing some of the milk.

Pour the cornbread mixture into a 2 quart greased baking dish or cast iron skillet. Top with another 1.5 cups of shredded cheddar. Place a piece of Saran wrap directly on top of the cheese and then place a pan the same size as the one you used on top of the saran wrap, and weight it down ( you can place a few cans or some items from your fridge on top). Leave the eggs refrigerated overnight.

The next morning, remove the weights and the Saran wrap. Place the eggs in a 350 degree oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until top is browning and an instant read thermometer register 160 degrees.

Let the eggs cool down for about 5 minutes before serving.

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design