Valentines Day at Tomato Head

For some of us, Valentine’s Day elicits a cynical response. It’s a holiday of strange expectations, most of which fail – often miserably. In the spirit of those failures, I admitted to a friend that I had once received an electric can opener as a Valentine. She laughed and replied that she had once gotten a 2 inch teddy bear from a drug store checkout line. At least, she opined, the can opener was (probably) useful. And to be honest, I had suggested to my beloved only a few weeks earlier in a post-Christmas rant that I didn’t need any more tchotchkes; I preferred practical gifts. Admittedly, then, it was a thoughtful, if decidedly unromantic gesture. You do, in fact, reap what you sow.

Of course, even if I mouth the words “the holiday doesn’t mean much” or “please don’t go to any trouble”, it’s hard for me not to want some small but well considered gesture that shows just how much you love me.

You do love me, right?

I suspect that deep down, many people share the thought; and so, perhaps, the bouquet of long stemmed roses or the big, beribboned box of chocolates is worth the expense and effort. But to my mind, the real gift of love in this harried and hurried era of regular smart phone alerts is the gift of undivided time and attention. So, consider a Valentine date and dinner with your phone turned off and your attention turned on your beloved.

Naturally, I think that sitting down to a meal of real food, made by real people who care about what they do is the best way to celebrate any day – so, sharing one of our pizzas and a Kepner Melt followed by a luscious Valentine cupcake or two makes an ideal date. But, even if you stay in or go out for sushi, keep your eyes on what you really love, and the day will be a success – even if there’s a can opener under that bow.

A wise friend once shared some ancient wisdom that says if there’s something that you really want, you must first give it away. So if you think about it, time and the attention are the only gifts that keep on giving.

Happy Valentine’s Day – hope we see you and yours soon.

Happy National Chocolate Cake Day!

It doesn’t seem that long ago that chocolate always meant milk chocolate, and, more often than not, that meant Hershey’s. Even now when I check out through certain grocery store lines and see the collection of candy bars I can find myself singing an old Hershey’s commercial under my breath: “Hershey’s is the great American, great American chocolate bar.” As commercials go, that campaign had a pretty long life span from its inception in 1970 all the way through 1994.

Times sure have changed, and how we think of the great American chocolate bar is much altered, too. A stroll through even the most mundane grocery store’s candy aisle offers at least a handful of dark chocolate options – even the baking aisle offers varied brands, shades and intensities of chocolate experience.

But while to our minds chocolate in nearly any form is the source of smiles and more than a few giggles (as long as it’s real chocolate, and not some over sugared, palm oiled or waxy imposter that comes wrapped in cheap, colorful foil), it’s the breath-taking glory of chocolate cake that we celebrate as much as any other cocoa incarnation.  That’s especially true as we do the special dance reserved for National Chocolate Cake Day.

Still, as we celebrate this much-celebrated treat, it seems strange to think that, as far as time goes, the history of chocolate cake as we know it, just like the history of America itself, isn’t that long. The fact of the matter is that idea that lead to chocolate cake may have been born only about 12 years before the founding of our country – or even later.

While the separate histories of both cake and chocolate themselves are as old as dust, it seems that in North America it was only in 1764 when Dr. James Baker put cocoa beans between millstones to pulverize them, that chocolate assumed a physical form that might have encouraged its inclusion in American baked goods. Still, there’s no clear evidence that a chocolate cake meant anything except a cake to be eaten while drinking chocolate until even later than that.

According to the William L. Clements Library, chocolate didn’t even make it into sauces or frostings until after the 1830’s, and recipes for chocolate cake didn’t start appearing until the end of that century. Even then, the cake could hardly be called chocolate by our standards. Molly Malcolm writes in the Library’s blog that “Early chocolate cakes were much lighter in color than modern cakes, because they used significantly smaller amounts of sugar and cocoa. “

A recipe from Linda Larned’s 1899 cookbook The Hostess of To-Day includes a mere 2 squares of chocolate per 2 cups of flour. Of course, we’re not sure how big those squares were, but it just sounds parsimonious and certainly insufficient to assuage our choco-longings.

You won’t find such chocolate deficiencies in our chocolate cupcakes.

When we make chocolate cake, we mean it. And we want the flavor of chocolate to suffuse our minds and bodies and wash away the cares of the day, lower our blood pressure and get us in a good mood. We may be biased, but we certainly believe in the benefits of chocolate consumption. Of course, we also have evidence – we always feel better after eating a chocolate cupcake. And that’s pretty much all we need to know. But we encourage you to do your own research to expand your knowledge and to celebrate Chocolate Cake Day.

After all, the more you know…

Chocolate Cupcakes

Edna Lewis’ Sweet Potato Pie

For children, this season of light and merriment brings earnest hopes that past deeds won’t diminish the quality or quantity of treats that they feel certain will appear in colorful wrapping paper with big, bright bows. In my experience adulthood comes with smaller and, often, fewer packages, a less frenzied unwrapping and tearing of that colorful paper and some careful efforts to preserve those big, bright bows. Of course, that’s not a bad thing, though I’ve always wanted one of those giant ribbons that shows up on gifts that get parked in the driveway; adulthood brings a different savor of memories, hopes, and all the gentle smiles of life – it also comes with a tacit understanding that pie is good for the soul and, therefore, exempt from calories counts and diet points and all other parsimonious and Grinch-like accounting.

A good pie is a thing of beauty especially during December – and since we believe in both good food and beautiful things, we’re happy to help you avoid the indignities that can come from an average crust with filling. After all, this is a season of celebration, and you’ll want a pie that matches the mood.

This month, as always, Tomato Head is chock-full of good things to eat in and take home, but right now we’re particularly proud of our pecan and sweet potato pies. Each comes with good memory associations (both from the past and from the ones currently in the making) and the kind of flavor that arises from real people baking things the right way with real food. In general, it’s always a healthier choice if your indulgence isn’t a highly processed food.  Of course, if Grandma is baking pies, that’s practically health food – at least for the soul. Tomato Head pies are the next best thing.

This coming Saturday, Mahasti will show you how to whip up our delicious sweet potato pie. We talked about this sweet thing in October for our celebrations of National Dessert Month, but what we didn’t mention is that our recipe is particularly special because it comes from one of angels of Southern Cuisine. If you’re not familiar with Edna Lewis, get thee to a cookery book right now.

In 2006 the New York Times wrote that Ms. Lewis “revived the nearly forgotten genre of refined Southern cooking while offering a glimpse into African-American farm life in the early 20th century.” By the time of her death in 2006, she had a list of honors as long as your arm, but to our minds the greatest tribute is the lasting legacy of good taste that endures in Lewis’ exceptional recipes from her cookbooks, including The Edna Lewis Cookbook, The Taste of Country Cooking, and In Pursuit of Flavor. Her sweet potato pie recipe is a perfect example of Lewis’s appreciation for good flavor and good technique – it has the traditional kind spices you expect, but her method brings a delightful lightness to the filling. The secret? Separating the eggs and adding the whites separately after beating them to a froth.

Just this year, writer Frances Lam revisited Lewis’ legacy in the Times (Edna Lewis and the Black Roots of American Cooking, October 28, 2015), and it’s a fascinating read. But there’s one observation that really strikes a chord with us: “Foods, Lewis argued, are always temporal, so all good tastes are special.” That seems particularly true for this time of year. Because sweet potatoes (and pecans, and apples, and cherries, etc) are available almost all year long, you can make pies any old time you want to do – but I’m pretty sure they don’t taste as good on Labor Day.

We’ll serve this pie as a special dessert on Saturday, December 19 at both locations. If you’d like us to make one for your holiday celebrations and family get-togethers, just stop by the bakery counter at either location, or call 12 Market Square at 637-4067 or 7240 Kingston Pike at 584-1075 by the close of business this Sunday to place your order.

Edna Lewis’ Sweet Potato Pie

Makes 2 – deep dish 9 inch pies

2 – deep dish 9 inch prepared pie crust

For the filling:

2 cups mashed sweet potato

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

3 medium eggs, separated

2 tsp vanilla extract

2/3 cup melted unsalted butter

1 2/3 cup whole milk at room temperature

In mixing bowl combine the sweet potato, sugar, spices, salt and the egg yolks, vanilla and melted butter. Mix thoroughly. Beat the egg whites to the frothy stage and stir them into the batter. Divide the batter between the 2 pie crusts, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 – 45 minutes or until the filling is set.

Serve the pie at room temperature with some whipped cream.

Edna Lewis’ Sweet Potato Pie

Edna Lewis’ Sweet Potato Pie

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

Sweeten up your holidays with Tomato Head cookies.

From our holiday-inspired flavors like Gingersnap and Peppermint Crackle to the classic lineup of Tomato Head cookies including our vegan and gluten free varieties, you’ll find plenty of goodies for your holiday gift giving, celebrations, and office parties. Just stop by either bakery counter, or call Market Square at 637-4067 or our 7240 Kingston Pike location at 584-1075 to place your order. Cookie bags of 8 ($9.75), small cookie box of 16 ($17.95), and a large cookie box of 24 ($25.75) are available.

Yum Yum Yum!

Holiday Cookies 2016

Holiday Cookies 2016

Sweeten up your Thanksgiving with our holiday pies!

Tomato Head Thanksgiving Pies Are Now Available!

Our autumn-inspired flavors include Spencer Mountain Farm sweet potato, Shwab Farm apple, and pecan. You can also order vegan and gluten-free versions of each 9″ pie. Regular and vegan versions are $29.50. Gluten-free pies are $32.50.

Just stop by the bakery counter at either location, or call 12 Market Square at 637-4067 or 7240 Kingston Pike at 584-1075 by the close of business this Saturday to place your order. Pies will be ready for pickup the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Yum Yum Yum!

Holiday Pies

Holiday Pies

Our love for National Peanut Butter Month

At last, the chill of autumn seems to have arrived, and with it comes a heightened sense of holidays. There are an incredible number of things to celebrate, including a fete for which we are truly grateful: National Peanut Butter Month. Actually, there are a whole bunch of food products that claim November as their month; but to our minds only peanut butter seems worth the fuss – of course, that’s due to the fact that peanut butter is so very, very lovable, and its appeal can last a lifetime.

My family had the typical, usually loose rules about food: clean your plate; don’t spoil your appetite with snacks; eat your peas. And most of those didn’t bother me much once I learned how to push food around my plate and hide peas in my pockets. There were, however, more onerous restrictions, killjoys really, about how to eat certain things; and those really bugged me. After all, they were silly rules, like, “Don’t drink milk out of the carton” and “You can’t eat peanut butter straight from the jar!”

Who among us, I ask you, can resist the urge to lick peanut butter right off the spoon and plunge it back into the jar for a second helping?!? Even as an adult I still lick the spoon, though I have let go of the urge to double dip – not out of a new found maturity, per se, it’s just that I’m always embarrassed when, inevitably, I get caught. Even so, I’ve progressed from the first time when I was caught, quite literally, with my hands in the peanut butter jar. Even as my mother swatted my hands away for a second scoop, I was thinking, yeah, this is worth it.

I don’t know what it is about Peanut Butter that creates such longings, but at Tomato Head we celebrate it every day in one way or another. If you’ve yet to try our peanut butter cookie, you just need to go do that now. It’s a tender little bit of heaven that strikes a craveable balance between cookie sweetness and the habit-forming flavor of peanut butter. And our baker (with a wicked grin, I’m sure) tops the cookie with a nearly irresistible pool of chocolate glaze that makes it hard not to eat the cookie in about 10 seconds flat.

Of course, there’s another worthwhile holiday lurking about the corner near the end of this month, and it’s one that particularly suited for our other favorite nutty indulgence: Peanut Butter Pie.

Resistance is futile once this pie is on the table. We take a lot of rich, creamy peanut butter and blend it with cream cheese to create an enticing fluff to fill up a chocolate crust. Once we add a little chocolate topping, it becomes a seriously beautiful dessert that never weighs us down or makes our fingers too sticky.

And in the midst of all this nutty happiness, we’re going to tell you part of our secret for unforgettable peanut butter ecstasy. It’s something you can do at home – and, honestly, it’s a treat you and yours deserve. It’s a simple matter of using all natural and trans-fat free peanut butter.  It’s a difference that’s worth looking for; it tastes better, and it’s better for you, whether it’s in a cookie, pie or straight off the spoon.

We hope to see you soon for a little peanut party to celebrate this special month.  And if you like to eat your peanut butter pie without utensils, that’s okay by us – after all, it’s finger licking good and, although we can’t speak for mamma, we certainly won’t slap your hands.

Inverted Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes

Inverted Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes

Why October makes perfect sense as National Dessert Month

The scent of autumn takes on many nuances as it wafts through October. There are smoky gusts of bonfires in the air, a musty, earthy smell swirls from the trees alongside multi-colored leaves, and beneath all of that the air itself has a new and brisk scent that’s as crisp as it feels. Inside, the fragrance of home changes too, from baskets of fresh apples, pears and the smell of baking which takes on richer, sweeter tones as the year begins to fade.

It makes perfect sense that October is the month we celebrate desserts. It is, after all, the month for treats (and a few tricks, too), plus the weather affords cooler days and warmer kitchens and stimulates the appetite for baked goods. Of course, we keep delicious treats handy all year round, but somehow they taste sweeter once October rolls around.  Maybe we feel like we’re in training for the feast days that lie ahead? Regardless, it’s a sweet month, and while our celebrations include the familiar abundance of tender cookies and cupcakes piled high with thick frosting, it’s the best time of year for a sweet we don’t see as often as we’d like: sweet potato pie.

It can be difficult to pin down the origin of any recipe, but it seems likely that this dessert springs like sweet water from the foul well that was plantation life in the colonial South. In fact one of the first, if not only cookbooks published by a former slave, Abby Fisher’s What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking, published in c. 1881, includes a pretty straightforward recipe for our featured treat. Whether it was adapted from European traditions or the evolution of an African recipe, the dessert has become a soul food staple and what author and baker Rose McGhee calls the “sacred dessert of black culture.”

If you grew up with your mother’s sweet potato pie recipe, then of course you’ve already had the best rendering of the treat. Even so, we’re pretty confident that you’ll enjoy our version that sits regally in a tender crust; it’s a traditional recipe that has the added advantage of using local sweet potatoes – it’s worth a trip to the restaurant.

But then, good dessert is always worth the effort – especially since our world class bakers are hard at it to make National Dessert Month as sweet as possible.  As the month goes along, you can expect to see more flavors of autumn show up in our dessert case – I hear that there are some ginger treats on the way that are good enough to wake the dead!  But for now, you and your sweet tooth can look forward to good stuff in cupcake form including the likes of Chocolate Stout, Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chip and Gluten Free Apple Walnut! Now that’s a way to celebrate!

 

Flour Head Bakery’s Chocolate Zucchini Pan Cake

If you polled farmers about garden humor, I suspect that you’d find out that the poor, prolific zucchini is a popular subject for jokes. That’s because, like rabbits, this summer squash greets life with a singular drive to be fruitful and multiply. I have one gardener friend who tells tales about drive-by squashings; these midnight capers involve sneaking from house to house to leave big bags of the squash on the doorsteps of unsuspecting neighbors, all in an effort to make sure that the squash glut gets eaten – just by somebody else.

That’s why we have recipes galore for zucchini; from bread to cookies, thrifty and clever cooks have found all sorts of ways to use up legions of the rapid reproducer, and do it in a way that combats the inevitable squash fatigue that comes with late summer.

But what’s really great about these recipes is that they’re also excellent options for the devious parent who stays awake at night plotting ways to sneak vegetables into the food of their unsuspecting offspring.

There’s almost an industry about his kind of cunning cooking. You might remember some flack over the publication of Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, which involved accusations of plagiarism by the author of a similar cookbook that dealt with sneaking good food into kids’ diets.

Well, there’s no controversy with this recipe – it’s all ours and comes from the tried and true food resource that is Mahasti’s kitchen. It’s a chocolate sheet cake that’s not only delicious, it’s also easy to transport – and that’s a boon for tailgating, picnicking, and all sorts of places where you might want to accomplish the dastardly deed of feeding little people squash and making them love every minute of it.

The key to sneaking good vegetable matter from the garden and into your kid is subtlety.  So make this when the kids are not around. Or at least have the secret ingredient already prepped and ready to add to the recipe in a flash while you distract your kid with something like taking out the trash (even if you don’t succeed in assigning the chore, the inevitable whining will keep the juvenile mind occupied long enough for you to slip the zucchini into the batter unnoticed). And don’t be tempted to shortcut on the grinding or grating of the squash; you don’t want the vegetable to look anything like itself! After all, if you can’t see it or taste it – it isn’t really there. With this recipe – all they’ll taste is delicious.

One of the byproducts of using zucchini is that it adds lots of moisture to the cake, so it’s really tender. And in addition to the nutritional value of the vegetable, this recipe uses whole wheat flour in addition to white – so it’s a treat that you can feel pretty good about serving. Even with these nods to healthy eating, the cake remains a decadent taste sensation. From the first mouthwatering bite of cake and indulgent dark chocolate frosting the cake is chocolate, glorious chocolate, all chocolate and nothing but the chocolate. You’ll probably find yourself wanting to make this even when the garden isn’t overwhelmed with squash production.

Flour Head Bakery’s Chocolate Zucchini Pan Cake

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1.5 cups sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk

3 cups finely shredded zucchini

1.5 cups All purpose lfour

1 cup White Wheat flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Icing

1-1/2 cups dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup half and half

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. In a large bowl mix together melted butter, oil, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and buttermilk. Add zucchini and stir well.

In another large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and whisk until all the dry ingredients are mixed well with the wet.

Pour the mixture into a 9 inch x 13 inch greased foil pan and bake in a 325 degree oven for 30-25 minutes until the top feels springy or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool.

While cake is cooing, heat half-and-half on the stove in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add chocolate chips, and remove from heat. Whisk the mixture until all the chips have melted. When the cake is cool to the touch, pour the chocolate mixture on top of the cake and spread out with a spatula or the back of a spoon.

Cut the cake into squares and serve right out of the pan.

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design