Trifecta of Food Holidays

3 is a magical number.  In Roman and Chinese systems, it’s one of the few numbers that’s written with as many strokes as the number represents.  It’s a significant number to Christians, Hindus, Pagans, and Pythagoras, too. In less consecrated  ways, those who fancy a flutter on the gee-gees on Derby Day or anytime Keeneland is open have the option of betting Trifectas – a challenging but profitable prediction of the order of first, second and THIRD place winners.

Even cultural superstitions are pervaded by the number – third on a match dies, celebrities die in trios, and the third time is a charm.

Although we’re not especially superstitious, nor particularly wont to wager, as we consider the number 3 alongside our immediate future, it becomes clear that the prognosis is good, bright, and perhaps even wondrous.  We might even play the numbers.

May 13, 14 and 15 constitute a Trifecta of taste, practically a Tomato Head triduum, which celebrates three of the foods that are dear to our heart and hunger.  First comes National Hummus Day, followed by Buttermilk Biscuit Day, and finally Chocolate Chip Cookie Day.  Can you imagine a better way to celebrate the middle of the lusty month of May?

Hummus remains one of our most popular offerings in and out of our restaurants – you can find it on the shelves of 14 area grocery stores (you can see where here).  Our blend of pureed chick peas, tahini and (sort of) secret seasonings is a wholesome and tasty snack that makes a lot of sense for today’s diet – it tastes great, it’s packed with protein, and, best of all, it’s made by your neighbors.  If you have yet to spread hummus on a sandwich or tortilla come on down to see us on May 13th, and we’ll happily show you how it’s done.  Heck, come any day – Roger Roger and Lucy are just hanging out on the sandwich menu waiting to meet you, while Jose Jose Burrito practically pines for your attention on this special day.

Lucky for us all, May 14, better known as National Buttermilk Biscuit Day, falls on a Saturday this year, so you don’t have to postpone your party.  You can celebrate on schedule at brunch when we have a little bit of biscuit heaven available right here on earth.  We talked about the noble biscuit and shared the best biscuit recipe, too, in this blog entry from September.  Still it’s worth remembering that biscuits are not just an important part of a good southern diet, they make for a party day extraordinaire in Knoxville.  We serve our biscuits in classic fashion with gravy galore, but you can also really throw down with our option to top the biscuit with scrambled eggs, Sweetwater valley smoked cheddar, our housemade breakfast gravy & your choice of either ham, Benton’s bacon, chorizo, housemade soysage, or baked tofu.

Finally, you can wrap up this exceptional trio of tasty days with national Chocolate Chip Cookie Day which, as you may have gathered, falls on Sunday Fun Day.  For Tomato Head, this day holds a lot of significance – not just because of our inner cookie monster but because we can share the day with so many people.  It’s a good day for us to reflect on the value of having Flour Head Bakery in our lives because they give us three kinds of chocolate chip cookies including the traditional recipe along with options for both the Vegan and the Gluten Sensitive folks that we love.

The great thing about this trifecta is that the bets always pay off. And if you’re superstitious, the only thing bad that ever happened to the third person on a cookie is that they had to ask for another cookie.

So, party on.  And if you aren’t inclined to party like a rock star, you can certainly eat like a king. Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

Strawberry Pie

Our fresh strawberry pie was featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel! To celebrate the official kick-off of strawberry season in East Tennessee, our very own Mahasti Vafaie shares the full recipe and explains what farmer’s markets mean to her.

INGREDIENTS

½ cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup frozen cranberry juice, thawed

¾ cup water

6 cups fresh strawberries, quartered

 

DIRECTIONS

1 Mix sugar, cornstarch, juice and water in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat whisk mixture until thickened and boiling. The mixture will be cloudy when you start and take on a deep rich color when done. Pour mixture into a medium bowl and allow to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2-3 hours or overnight.

2 Prick bottom and sides of pie crust with a fork. Line with parchment paper or a few coffee filters. Fill with pie weights or beans and bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool a little and then remove the pie weights and parchment or coffee filters and bake an additional 5 minutes until the crust looks dry. Cool crust completely.

3 Remove the sugar and cranberry juice mixture from the refrigerator and whisk until smooth. Stir in the strawberries and pour all ingredients into pie crust. Refrigerate pie for 2-3 hours before serving. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

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.

Banana Bread

As a child, I never liked the mushy texture of bananas unless, of course, my grandmother transformed them into a magical loaf of sweet bread that was as good to eat hot from the oven as it was toasted and bathed in butter the next day. Banana bread has all the qualities I require in a breakfast repast, a mid-morning snack, a treat for lunch and… honestly, banana bread knows no particular mealtime allegiance; it’s good all the live-long day.

Like muffins, biscuits, pancakes and scones, banana bread is a quick bread – one that gets a swift rise from a leavening agent like baking powder or baking soda that, unlike yeast, doesn’t require time to rise. In terms of baking, this means instant gratification. That the bread is quick is only an incidental pleasure where this treat is concerned. It’s also a great tool for the smart manager since it shows its finest qualities when made with fruit that’s over-ripe. So when little Ella, Stanly, Pat and Bing are mortified by the sudden appearance of big, black spots on the once cheerfully yellow fruit, the time for our favorite kind of recycling effort has come.

When the countenance of the banana changes, there’s something sweet going on beneath that darkening peel; all the fruit’s starch is mutating from complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. And not only is the fruit getting sweeter, it’s getting softer –thus, all the nasty mushiness, too gross to eat as it is, will go a long way to making a moist loaf of irresistibly and deliciously sweet character. Talk about sweet water from a foul well – this is it on a plate.

Banana bread makes a fine kitchen staple – it’s a reasonably healthy snack (even with a little butter), but it also makes a neat base for dessert – think a scoop of ice cream with a drizzle of honey or some warm pineapple preserves or cherry jam and a dollop of whipped cream. That assumes, of course, that you and yours don’t succumb to the very powerful temptation to eat it all just after it emerges warm and fragrant from the oven.

There are lots of variations on this particular quick bread, but if you tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today, Mahasti will show you how to make her favorite version. Here’s the recipe in case you wanna have everything ready to bake along:

FLOUR HEAD BAKERY’S BANANA BREAD

1 ½ cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/8 tsp Clove
1/2 tsp Salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbl Sugar
2 eggs
½ cup Canola Oil
1 ½ cup Mashed Banana (about 3 bananas)
2 TBl Sour Cream
1 tsp Vanilla
1 cup Walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, sift Flour, Baking Soda, Cinnamon and Salt – add the nuts, stir with a wooden spoon and set aside.

In another medium bowl whisk the eggs with the sugar, and canola oil. Add the mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla and whisk well. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients all at once and stir with a wooden spoon just until thoroughly combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 1 to 1 hour and 10 minutes (a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean). Check the banana bread at 40 minutes, if it is getting too dark, tent it with some foil and continue baking.

Cool the banana bread for 30 minutes in the pan on a wire rack, and then remove it from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature.

Serve at room temperature or toasted with soft butter.

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.

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

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

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design