Tomato Head’s White Bean Kale Butternut Squash Stew

Recipe

Beautiful Colors

 

1 cup navy beans, dry

¼ cup oil

¾ cup onion, chopped

1 tbsp garlic, chopped

2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes

1 cup fennel tops and fronds chopped

1 – 14 oz. can petit diced tomatoes

4 cups water

Coming Together

3 Tbsp tomato paste

1 Tbsp salt

1 Tbsp sugar

1 bay leaf

2 cups kale, chopped

 

Look through the navy beans for rocks; rinse and soak overnight.

Drain the beans.  Pour the beans into a medium pot and fill with enough fresh water to cover the beans by 2 inches.  Place the beans on high heat, when they come to a boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook the beans until soft.

Meanwhile, chop the rest of your vegetables and measure the rest of your ingredients.

Warm and Hearty

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the Onions and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes.  Add the butternut squash, fennel tops, diced tomato, water, tomato paste, and bay leaf.  Bring the mixture to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes until the butternut squash is soft.

When the navy beans are soft, drain them and pour them into the pot.  Add the salt, and sugar (recipe can be made ahead up to this point and refrigerated for several days).

When ready to serve add kale; stir to submerge all the kale and simmer until Kale is softened, 2-3 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Serves 6-8

Collard Green Salad

 

Recipe

3 large Collard leaves

2 TBL Oil

¼ cup chopped onion

1 medium tomato – about 1 cup, chopped

1 TBL Parsley, chopped

1 TBL cider vinegar

½ tsp salt

Wash Collards in several rinses of cold water.  Shake off the excess water and cut the leaves into 4-5 long strips.  Cut the strips, including the stems into ½ inch strips crosswise.  Keep the stems separated from the leaves.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add oil then add the collard stems and sauté for 1-2 minutes.  Add the collard leaves and sauté just until all the leaves have turned bright green.

Lucky Foods – New Year’s Day

I am not superstitious. Not very much anyway.

Though it is true, as a rule, that I don’t break mirrors, walk under ladders or open umbrellas indoors, and I certainly never, ever utter the name MacBeth aloud in a theatre.  But despite what you may think, it’s not superstition – it’s practical magic.  After all, shards of glass are decidedly unlucky, as is a hammer, or any object, when dropped from an elevated position; and while I don’t mind raindrops fallin’ on my head, a wet entryway has only ever brought me unhappiness and a sore backside.

As for saying the name of Shakespeare’s bewitched tragedy – I don’t worry about bringing a curse upon my head by saying the name aloud.  I do however, worry about other people who worry.  Believe you me, you meet one neurotic actor who believes in that superstition, and you’ll honor it all your days.

Nonetheless, I eat lucky food on New Year’s Day because I believe.

Almost every culture has a set of good fortune foods. In the South, many of us make a habit of eating collard greens and black-eyed peas, often with fried hog jowl or any bit of pork in order to guarantee good luck for the coming year.

Prep is Done

Where Collards are concerned, my mama says it’s all about the color of money.  And that sounds reasonable enough to me, though one wonders if this hearty green is thought lucky because of its preference for cool weather.  Green vegetables that taste better after a frost seem like a providential find for folks who grow their own.

Black eyed peas come with a whole host of luck associations – some tracing the tradition to a reference in the Babylonian Talmud about foods to eat at Rosh Hashanah, and others crediting the humble but plentiful pea with saving countless starving Southerners after the Civil War.  But, as with collards, both of these associations may have their roots in more pragmatic thought than a concern for fortune.  A good bowl of peas can last you for a couple of days so you don’t have to cook daily, and it’s an abundant crop that keeps well.

In many parts of the South black-eyed peas are mixed with rice and, thus, create Hoppin’ John.  Rice itself is an ancient symbol of prosperity and fertility, and, I reckon, putting the two to together makes some powerful juju that can carry you through 365 days of life’s varied twists and turns with a favorable edge.

But, of course, it’s only good juju if you actually eat it.  And honestly, a plain old can of peas and instant rice isn’t gonna be very

Ready to Eat…. Lucky You!

tempting.  But if you’ll take a look at Mahasti’s recipe below, at the very least you’ll have pretty good luck at getting folks to eat your New Year’s creation.  It’s a simple recipe with an unexpected and delicious ingredient that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Plus, Mahasti tops her Hoppin’ John with a vibrant collard green salad that adds a very healthy crunch and a welcome splash of the color of money.  I can’t swear that it’s good luck, but I can assure you that it all tastes good.

At the end of the day, though, I believe less in good luck than I believe in good habits.  This simple dish is nutritious, frugal, and easy to make at home in family-sized batches that keep well.  And while I don’t make resolutions for the New Year, I do believe that making a start with good food habits is a sensible response to the sheer indulgence of the previous weeks; I can weigh the sugar I’ve consumed in pounds.  And getting into the habit of eating well and eating things you’ve cooked with or for people you love is the kind of good sense that may not make good luck but will make you feel pretty darn lucky.

Find our recipe for black-eyed peas here and one for the collard green salad here.

Pinto Beans and Cornbread and Sauteed Greens – Facebook Live Episode 5

In an age of convenience, it’s pretty easy to grab a can of well-seasoned beans, a can of whatever kind of greens – mixed or not- that suits you, and you can even grab a round of cornbread neatly wrapped in cellophane and head to the self-scan checkout in about 10 minutes if there’s no line.

You can do that for almost any kind of food that suits you – if that suits you.

I suspect we all want to eat better, fresher food and to eat with our families, perhaps even to cook with them, too.  It’s an ideal and authentic urge that we watch happen on screen, we talk about it and even write passionate posts about it, but, like Mark Twain said about the weather: everybody talks about it, but nobody actually does anything.  Perhaps that’s a little too broad – many of us try to cook.  Even if it’s just frozen fish sticks, we feel the need to make the effort from time to time.

We eat with our aprons on

But regardless of nutritional consideration, there are a host of good, solid memories that never get created if we don’t take a little time in the kitchen with the ones we love.   And these memories are investments that keep paying out for a lifetime.

In today’s episode, Mahasti’s making a simple country dinner – maybe you call it soul food, or maybe it’s comfort food to you; for me, it’s a memory of Mamaw Ethel and a special time and bond that we created nearly 40 years ago.  Even thinking about it makes me miss her and love her and feel special all over again – just like I did then when she and I would sit alone in the kitchen with a bowl of beans and big shaker of garlic powder.  Nobody else in my family seemed to love this seasoning like we did, so when we shared this moment, we would giggle as we made the surface of our beans white with garlic.  It was our moment.

It’s a simple memory, I know, but my heart swells and my eyes water with longing to live it once more.  Mamaw Ethel left us 17

The finished dish

years ago, but her cooking, beans, yes, but also stack cake, and oyster dressing, and cornbread and apple dumplings and more live in me so much that she’s with me every time I smell and eat them or any of the food that she made and shared with a heart full of love.

You can’t get that from a can.

It’s not just good nutrition that you give your family when you take the time to cook and break bread with them – it’s a lifetime of

comfort and love that you’re creating.  Maybe you have memories like that?  If you do, you know the value of time spent in the kitchen.  We hear a lot about gifts that keep on giving – this is one of the best of them.

When we say Food Gotta Cook it isn’t just a tag line for us – it’s a way of living and a way of loving that sticks to the ribs of the soul.  It’s not as convenient as a can, but it lasts a whole lot longer.

 

Pinto Beans

Finished beans with toppings

1 cup dry Pinto Beans

3.5 cups water

½ tsp Salt

¼ tsp Black Pepper

Look over the pinto beans and discard any rocks.  Place the beans in a small bowl and cover with enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches, and let soak overnight.

Drain the beans in a sieve and rinse with cold water, then place them in a small pot.  Pour 3.5 cups cold water on the beans and bring to a boil.  Cook the beans for 45 minutes to an hour, until the beans are soft.

Add the salt and black pepper.

Serve the pinto beans immediately.  Beans can be made a day or 2 ahead and re-heated or frozen, thawed and reheated.

Serves 3-4 people

Prep time 5 minutes

Inactive time 12 hours

Cook time 1 hour

 

Sour Cream & Buttermilk Cornbread

Cornbread batter ready to bake

¾ cup Sour Cream

¾ cup Vegetable Oil

2 Eggs

1 cup Buttermilk

1 ¾ cup Cornmeal

1 TBL Baking Powder

1 tsp Salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl whisk together the sour cream, oil, eggs and buttermilk.   In another medium bowl mix together Cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with whisk until all the ingredients are mixed well.

Pour the cornmeal batter into a greased 10-inch cast iron skillet.  Bake the cornbread for 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or a thermometer register 195 degrees.

Cornbread can be frozen, thawed and reheated in a 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes until warm in the center.

Prep time:  15 minutes

Bake Time 25 minutes

 

Sautéed Greens

Sauteeing the kale

4 cups Kale leaves or other greens

1 TBL Vegetable Oil

2 tsp Balsamic Vinegar

¼ tsp salt

Wash Kale.  Cut the stems into ½ inch pieces and set aside.  Cut the leaves in half lengthwise, and into ½ – ¾ inch strips.  Keep the stems and leaves separate.

Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add kale stems and sauté for 1 minute.  Add leaves and sauté just until the leaves are beginning to wilt.  Add the Vinegar and salt and sauté 1- 2 minutes longer.  Remove from heat and transfer the greens to a small bowl.

Serve Family style or to assemble:  Cut a piece of cornbread and place on a plate, top with a ladle of pinto beans, followed by sautéed greens and chopped onions.  Serve Immediately.

Serves 3-4 people

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 5-7 minutes

Purchase Mahasti’s Suggested Utensils

Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls

Measuring Cups

Glass Measuring Cup

Measuring Spoons

Whisk

Silicone Spatula

10″ Iron Skillet

12″ Iron Skillet

2-Quart Saucepan

Strainer

Stainless Tongs

Turkey Pot Pie with Buttermilk Sage Drop Biscuits

Every holiday has a unique set of traditions, of course, but Thanksgiving is special because it comes with an extra set of conventions for the flip side of the holiday.  Naturally, there’s football, football and football, but there’s more: many families use the day after Thanksgiving to put up a Christmas Tree; there’s the annual depleting or deploring of stores that open on Black Friday; and there’s also the ritual complaining or rejoicing about the abundance of leftovers.

For many folks, eating the remains of the day is a simple thing; turkey sandwiches are legion and come layered with dressing, perhaps a generous spread of mashed potatoes and a side of gravy for au jus style dipping.  And it can be a fun way to close the holiday and play top chef as you present your creation with chefly jargon like “a clever riff on the holiday” or “a deconstruction of the feast.”

And as much fun as all that can be, leftover turkey presents yet another opportunity to gather together at table, touch the souls of your family and friends, and maintain the comfortable mood of the holiday regardless of bad punt returns, strands of lights that expire only after they’re on the tree and even the stress of maddening crowds at the mall.

A steaming pot pie, fresh from the oven is a nearly iconic symbol of the special kind of comfort that comes with a Sunday at Grandma’s house. But it’s easy to create that feeling at your own home with Mahasti’s simple recipe – especially since the bird is cooked, and you’ll probably have many of the other ingredients on hand, too.

There are two things that make Mahasti’s Pot Pie stand out. One is the inclusion of pumpkin.  It will be easy to think about leaving that out, but, if you do, you’ll miss a rich and almost mysterious flavor element that really amps up this recipe.  When cooked like this, adds a subtle sweetness and earthy flavor that matches perfectly with potato and cream sauces.  And it enhances the velvety, even luxurious texture of the sauce.

The other element that makes this recipe stand out is that instead of a pie crust or puff pastry, Mahasti tops the pie with biscuits.  I don’t have to tell you what a biscuit can to do a meal, but when it sits on top of a pot pie it gets a beautiful brown top, a fluffy middle, and a bottom that’s happily situated in the pie’s gravy-like sauce.  These particular biscuits get a seasonal surge from the inclusion of fresh sage that fills every bite with flavor – and if you haven’t tried sage and pumpkin together, you’re missing a very fine savor sensation.

Pot Pie is a simple way not only to put those leftovers to a delicious use but also to extend the warmth and fond memories of family time around the table.

For the Filling: 

¼ cup oil

1 cup celery. diced

1 cup carrot, sliced into half moons

¾ cup onion, diced

1 medium sized potato -1 cup diced

1 cup cooked turkey, shredded or diced

Peel the potato, cut into ¼ inch thick slices.  Cut the slices into strips and dice the potato.  Place the potato in a pot of cold water.   Place the pot on the stove and cook the potato until it the chunks are just firm, 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of your chunks.  When the potatoes are cooked through, drain them and place them in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, dice celery, carrots and onion, and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté for about 1 minutes, then add celery and carrots and sauté for 2-3 minutes until vegetables are just beginning to soften.   Add the vegetables to the bowl with the potatoes.  Add the cooked turkey.

Place skillet back on the burner, over medium heat and make the sauce.

For the cream sauce:

2 ½ Tbl unsalted butter

2 Tbl all-purpose flour

1 cup whole milk

1 cup water

½ cup heavy cream

1 cup pumpkin puree, optional

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

1 Tbl fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Add the butter to the skillet.  When the butter has melted, add the flour and whisk until all the flour is absorbed into the butter and no lumps remain.  Mix together the milk, water, and heavy cream, pour the mixture into the butter mixture and whisk constantly until the sauce thickens slightly.  Add the pumpkin puree, if using, then add salt, pepper and parsley.  Pour the sauce over the cooked vegetables and turkey mixture and stir until the everything is mixed well.

Pour the pot pie filling into an 8×11 baking dish.  Top with Sage Buttermilk Drop Biscuits and bake in a 400-degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes, until biscuits are slightly golden brown on top, and the mixture is bubbling.

Remove the pot pie from the oven, and serve.

Serves 6-8.

Prep time: 30 – 45 minutes

Cook time: 20 – 25 minutes

Purchase Mahasti’s Recommended Utensils

Measuring Cups

Measuring Spoons

Cutting Board

Chef’s Knife

Vegetable Peeler

8″ x 11″ Rectangular Baking Dish

Tomato Head’s Chile Rellenos Casserole

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.

Chicken Enchiladas

I’m ashamed, sometimes, to admit the truth of my personal history with the enchilada.  There are two chapters in that story, neither is particularly impressive for culinary authenticity, and I’m not sure which came first: One chapter is set in a Taco Bell; the other, in Velveeta.

If you’re an eater of a certain age who dabbled in fast food in the errant days of youth, you may recall an entrée called the Enchirito.  I remember it because I ate it. A lot.  Served in an oval cardboard bowl, it was a corn tortilla folded around beans, ground beef, a sprinkle of onion, then smothered in red sauce, and capped with dollop of sour cream and a sliced black olive.  And it was heaven.  I’m not sure what it was about this particular assemblage that set my little taste buds a-tingle, but I craved it.  And it was a treat, too, because this was back in the day when Taco Bell was a pricey proposition – long before the dollar menu was a twinkle in some CEO’s eye.

The second chapter happened at home when Mom and Aunt Ellner discovered large flour tortillas that they could stuff

Pre-rolling

Pre-rolling

with ground beef and fat slabs of processed cheese.  You could roll those babies up early in the day and just leave them to hang out and chill until the extended family finally made it to the party.   A quick dollop of sauce and a few minutes in a hot oven, and insto-presto, there was a delicious and exotic feast for everyone.  And ooey, gooey sorta cheesy they were – which is to say, delightful, and, therefore, a big hit at family hoedowns.

But my family wasn’t unique in that regard; enchiladas have long been popular in the average American home.  In fact, the first printed mention of an enchilada in the states showed up in a church cookbook from the Heartland itself.  The “Centennial Buckeye Cookbook” was first published in 1876 by the good ladies of the First Congregational Church of Marysville, Ohio to help raise money for a parsonage.

And that recipe (contributed by the honorable Anson Safford, Governer of Arizona) like Aunt Ellner’s recipe, and Taco Bell’s too, was true to the concept of the enchilada as formulated by the Aztecs.  An authentic enchilada isn’t difficult to achieve as the essential element is that there is a tortilla in a chile sauce.

Beautiful to see and to eat

Beautiful to see and to eat

Sadly, Aunt Ellner got the tortilla wrong – authenticity demands corn – but we’ll cut her some slack ‘cause we like her and her cooking, too. Besides, I imagine that you can use whatever tortilla suits you without upsetting anybody – especially after the first bite.   And it’s unlikely that the ole Aztecs loaded up their tortilla with bright yellow, melty cheese, but I dunno -I never asked them.

What remains really right and important about the enchilada is that it’s easy to assemble ahead of time, it’s delicious and, if you’re a sharing kind of person, it’s pretty impressive, if simple party fare, too.

That’s especially true of the Tomato Head’s super simple and mighty tasty version.  If you’re up early – you can catch Mahasti making the treat live on WBIR’s weekend today – if not well, we’ll put a link right here so you can check whenever you’re ready to cook.

 

 

Tomato Head’s Chicken Enchilada

 

For the Chicken:

1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast

1/3 cup Oil

½ large Onion, largely diced

8 cups of Water

1 Tbl Salt

To Assemble the Enchiladas:

2 -8 oz packages Frontera Enchilada Sauce

8 – Corn or small Flour Tortillas

½ lb Shredded Monterey Jack Cheese

Sour Cream

Chopped onion

Cilantro

Heat the oil, in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add chicken breast, water and salt. Increase heat to high, when water starts to boil, reduce heat to low and allow chicken to simmer for 20 minutes until done.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the chicken from the broth; let the chicken cool until it is cool enough to handle. Shred the chicken by pulling it apart. Set aside.

Pour 1/3 of the packet of enchilada sauce into the bottom of an 8 X 11 baking dish. Arrange 3 or 4 corn tortillas on your work surface. Place approximately ¼ – 1/3 cup chicken on each tortilla followed by ¼ cup of shredded cheese. Roll the tortillas up to form cylinders. Place the tortillas seam side down. Repeat the process until all the tortillas have been filled and place in the baking dish.

Pour the remaining sauce over the rolled tortillas, making sure they are covered entirely. Sprinkle any remaining cheese on top of the sauce. Bake the enchiladas for 20 minutes – or until the cheese melts and the sauce is starting to bubble.

Remove the dish from the oven. Serve with Sour Cream, cilantro and chopped onion.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

National Grilled Cheese Day

In my personal pantheon of comfort foods, a grilled cheese ranks in the top tier of edible idols. And, despite the legion of silly food holidays, this sammie not only warrants a national day of observance, it really ought to have its own month.  It’s a particularly cozy comestible because it begins so simply with an irresistible combination of pantry standards that, when treated to a special kind of love in a frying pan or on a griddle, turn into magic: gooey, melted cheese and good bread made better by the unmistakable crunch that comes of frying it in butter.  This remarkable combination of flavor and texture make it one of the great joys of eating – especially when paired with a rich tomato soup that you can dunk your sandwich in.

The only downside to the sandwich is that the grilled cheese is all too often shunted over to the kids’ menu. And believe you me, it takes great fortitude and a mighty will for a person of a certain age to order from the kids’ menu under the glare of a disapproving server (and even some unsympathetic spouses), whose eyes smolder with an unspoken injunction, “Oh, please, grow up!”

In most cases, I’m immune to people throwing shade over my cravings but, here, not so much.  I love kids as much as the next person, and I don’t mind sharing a grilled cheese with children; but they hardly merit having it all to themselves.  Besides, bread and cheese are among life’s most sustaining joys – I’m pretty sure that you could live off of that combination alone.  I’m certain I could.  And judging from the world’s many essential foods that consist mostly of bread and cheese, I’m not alone.  Whether it’s an Italian panino, a South African Braaibroodjie, French Croque Monsieur or an English Toastie, the grilled cheese’s many incarnations are vast and vital, delicious and decidedly grown up.

Although I’m not always in agreement with the urge to update or improve every classic dish in the cooking canon, the sheer number of possible combinations of bread and cheese along with the wealth of foods that meld and melt perfectly between them make it impossible to remain a purist about the grilled cheese.

So, in celebration, the restaurant is going full tilt on the indulgence scale for a sandwich built for the happy adult.  Today, which is National Grilled Cheese Day, we’re serving a special combination of Montery Jack, bacon jam, apple chutney, gritz, and crumbled potato chips (yep, you read that correctly) all on delicious Flour Head 100% whole wheat bread.    It’s an explosion of everything that we love about the sandwich, from intense flavor to hearty texture, which we’re certain will make you glad you got up and out today.

And what’s more, we’ll celebrate again on Thursday with even more Monterey Jack on whole wheat but this time topped with red pepper pesto and roasted kale.

Of course, if you’re really celebrating, you’ll want a cup of good soup; and for that we recommend our Tomato Chipotle soup, which is now available every day.   It’s a rich potage with a lively kick of chipotle’s smoky spice and a smooth but hearty texture that makes it a prime candidate for expert sandwich dunking, which, as far as I can tell, is a life skill that only fully develops in the adult of our species.

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.

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design