Just Dew It with a side of Pecans

The approach of Big Ears, in addition to a fantastic slate of music, gives us pause to appreciate things homegrown.  It also reminds us of how nice it is to be in Knoxville, and how lucky we are to have witnessed and participated in all the work that has gone into making our city a place where something as cool as Big Ears can find a home.  We’re looking forward to the festival and all the good things that come with it.  So we’re celebrating in Tomato Head fashion with lots of southern themed specials and, of course, desserts.

In the spirit of East Tennessee and its sense of humor, we’re commemorating one of our most famous soft drinks, Mountain Dew.  As with any notable product, the actual origins of the recipe for this soda are subject to some disputation, but it is undisputed that the product was first trade marked by Barney and Ally Hartman who ran a bottling plant in Knoxville.  And that’s good enough for our purposes, especially seeing as we’re not here to pick a fight- we’re just baking a cake.

Mountain Dew cake is a recipe that comes from any number of possible sources, but we’ll be using Paula Deen’s recipe which combines a lemon cake base, supplemented by lemon pudding and a can of good ole Mountain Dew.  It’s a very limited offering that we’re baking up just for the festival, so if you want to “do the Dew” by living out a few of Mountain Dew’s slogans  and “tickle your innards” or “get that barefoot feelin’” you’ll want to stop in early this weekend before the Dew evaporates.

We’re also putting up our Pecan Pie – it’s the kind of dessert that gives us the warm fuzzies and makes us feel at home whenever we see it, let alone eat a piece.  Part of that comes from the fact that we like to claim the pecan as a particularly Southern nut- and we’re mighty fond of Southern nuts, particularly if they’re our relations.  But if the truth be told, pecans belong to a large swath of the United States – the name itself is an Algonquin word that, according to the vast wisdom of the web, means something like, “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”

Certainly Pecan Pie remains a decidedly Southern dessert whose nutty, rich, buttery and gooey excellence occupies a place of honor in the pantheon of our regional cuisine and the images upon which fond recollections of an unspoiled youth in the country are founded.  It’s also a young-ish recipe, but nobody’s really certain when the pie came to be; it didn’t show up in cookbooks until the 20th century.

Still, it’s a potent symbol of Southern hospitality and tradition and the value we place on gathering together to break bread.  Of course, a real Tennessee table knows no strangers – so whether you’re visiting to hear a little music with Big Ears, or if you’re one of the neighbors that we see all the time, we’ll be tickled pink to see you!  Come one in and sit a spell.

March Artist Rick Whitehead

This month on Market Square, Tomato Head will be the home to an intriguing exhibit by artist Rick Whitehead; it features a dramatic series of pictures from the equally dramatic tornado season of 2011 when funnel clouds and hail descended upon Knoxville in nearly Biblical proportions. “It’s a series of photographs that I took over the course of several days. There’s no zoom and no cropping. I call the series the ‘Tempest Solarized’,” he says, “and that refers to the technique pioneered by Man Ray in the 20’s and 30’s. It’s an effect [that happens to the photo] when you’re in the dark room and open the door to the light for a few seconds.“

This is the first time that he’s had the chance to show the pieces together as a group, and it’s an exciting opportunity to see the sky through Whitehead’s lens. The collection owns an almost surreal effect that’s a natural element of cloud gazing – particularly on the stormy days when Rick was shooting. He remembers that “these were all very close by, all the churning clouds. The formations were very dramatic… this one reminds me of a landscape and this is just the churning of the tornado. And others become more like abstract shapes that you don’t recognize as clouds.”

Photography is only a small part of Whitehead’s métier – painting and drawing are his principle foci, and his show will include some of examples of that work. “I’ve been experimenting with pressed charcoal and I’ll have some of the latest pieces and also some from my Aboriginal Series. I didn’t want to keep the show completely in the clouds.”

Rick draws inspiration for his painting from many sources, including dream-life: “There are dream pieces that are directly from dreams, but mainly I think it is that when I look at certain things, especially a lot of the series of landscapes, they’re more like visions.” Still, the quality of the dream seems to pervade much of his work, which, at least to this eye, gives the whole exhibit a vast array of associations.

Whitehead is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and his work has been exhibited throughout the country and internationally in Belgium and Spain. And while the exhibit that we’re hosting is only a small part of his work, it’s enough to make us want to know and see more. And while you can see more on his website, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to these absorbing works in person.

Rick’s show will hang downtown through April 4th and then transfer to the Gallery through May 2nd.

National Tortilla Chip Day

Although many people celebrate National Tortilla Chip Day with big bowls of yellow or white chips, we like to pause on this auspicious day and ponder the chip less taken; the blue tortilla chip.

My own journey away from the yellow and white chips of my errant youth began in my mid 20’s during a visit to Santa Fe. It was the first time that I had eaten blue food. Of course, I don’t count the many bowls of strangely colored cereal, including Boo-Berry, of my childhood – in retrospect I’m not sure that they qualify as real food, though, in fairness, I loved them. But during that New Mexican fall, when an afternoon cocktail demanded salty afternoon snacks, my traveling partners and I encountered a basket of strangely hued, corn tortilla chips for the first time and learned the reason for this oddity; it was blue corn that did it.

I recall that, unlike my compatriots, I wasn’t surprised by the idea of blue corn because my dad had once planted flint corn, a multi-colored variety which he knew as Indian corn. Even so, the blue triangles prompted a lot of conversation about the merits of corn chips themselves, and, if I recall correctly, we concluded that a blue chip was heartier than a yellow one and that we liked them, especially after a couple more of those afternoon cocktails.

Blue Corn itself is a fascinating vegetable that has more protein than yellow or white corn and has a lower glycemic index. The color comes from anthocyanins – the same flavonoid and anti-oxidant that makes red wine red and blueberries blue, too. Though, to be fair, by the time a blue corn kernel becomes a blue corn chip, it may not have all the qualities that have made anthocyanin a nutritional darling in recent years. But who eats tortilla chips for their anti-oxidant qualities anyway?

Blue corn is in fact a variety of flint corn all of which share a thicker exterior than its yellow and white cousins. That thickness can make it a little harder to grind, and contributes to the textural difference in the resulting chips. And, according to some tasters, the flavor of blue corn has a nuttier quality than paler varieties.

So, despite being under the influence of Santa Fe’s beauty and booze, we weren’t completely off our noggins to conclude that blue corn chips, color aside, seemed somehow different than what we normally munched while swilling tequila. Admittedly, I haven’t reached this conclusion via the scientific method and exhaustive taste tests, but most of the blue corn chips I’ve met, even without a margarita, have more heft and a heartier crunch than the average yellow crisp.

That’s certainly true of the Garden of Eatin’ blue chips we serve at the restaurants. Made from organic blue corn, they have a hint of nuttiness and pack a wallop of crunch that’s perfect with a scoop of hummus. As you celebrate National Tortilla Day in your varied and personal ways, consider joining us in making the party a big blue crunchy one. You may just gain a new perspective on tortilla texture and find, as we have done, on a day like today where crunchy happiness is paramount, that blue has made all the difference.

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


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.



Although we anticipate this lasting until late March, the groundhog didn’t see his shadow so it could be even earlier. Beginning immediately, they are: Monday – Thursday (11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.), Friday (11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.), Saturday (10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.), and Sunday (10 a.m. to 9 p.m.)

Keep an eye on our homepage for updates. This change is just for Market Square not our location in The Gallery of Knoxville.

See y’all soon!

[Photo cred: Inside of Knoxville]

market square winter hours

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

January’s Featured Artist: Jonathan Howe

In Nature, Emerson wrote, “love of beauty is Taste. Others have the same love in such excess, that, not content with admiring, they seek to embody it in new forms. The creation of beauty is Art.”

Jonathon Howe, our featured artist this month, finds beauty in many places – from the warmth behind a face to the captivating views of nature that he finds on mountain peaks and the forests, fields and streams beneath them. Howe is both a portrait and landscape artist, and while his style for each form may vary, his work always manages to communicate the essential and individual energy of his subject. For him, beauty, art, love, and creation appear to mingle freely.

In this exhibit, Howe concentrates on his recently completed oil landscapes. These paintings, he says, share an effort “to capture dramatic lighting situations, stunning skies, and those brief transitional moments of early morning or late evening.”

Jonathon defines his style for landscapes as Impressionistic Realism. It’s something he discovered and developed when he started thinking about expanding beyond portraiture: “I wanted to diversify the subject matter of what I was painting and began experimenting with landscapes. But I found that the tight detailed style I was using for my portraits really didn’t communicate what I wanted in my landscape paintings. I wanted to set a mood in my landscapes much like capturing a person’s expression in a portrait. And in order to do that, I had to loosen up my style to be more impressionistic, focusing more on how I build color tones with multiple layers of brush strokes to let the paintings glow.”

His appreciation of and his hope to do justice to the wonders of creation comes honestly; Howe is an avid hiker. “My two favorite places to hike are Mount LeConte and Andrew’s Bald. I love LeConte for the challenge and the continually changing habitats as you climb up the mountain. The high elevation habitats have a certain smell and feel that you just can’t get anywhere else. And Andrew’s Bald is a favorite relaxing hike at high elevation. It was there on Andrew’s Bald that I proposed to my wife, so it’s a very special place. “

His engagement with the outdoors informs his style. When asked what draws his eye to a subject, he says, “For landscapes, I am usually looking two for things. The First thing that I am looking for is Light! The right Light has the amazing quality of transforming a scene into a beautiful glowing spectacle. Secondly, I am always thinking in terms of foreground, mid ground, and background in a scene. So I’m looking for something interesting like a unique tree or stream that’s close to me, then I want to see if there is room for your eye to wonder into the far distance. I think a good landscape pulls you in so you could imagine yourself taking a long walk through it and into the distance – if that makes sense. “

Howe is a lifelong artist. He says, “My parents tell me when I was a toddler, after they brought home a brand new white rug, they found me with ballpoint pen having scribbled all over the rug. But seriously, as a kid I was constantly doodling in class, drawing pictures of the teachers or other students, and going on walks in the woods to just sit and draw some random tree.”

It’s hard to imagine his parents being happy about his rug work, but those random trees have grown into something worth seeing. You can check it out yourself at the Market Square Tomato Head in downtown Knoxville through February 7th, 2016 and at the Gallery Tomato Head in West Knoxville from February 8th through March 7th.

Jonathan Howe Landscape

Jonathan Howe Landscape

January’s Featured Brewery: Devils Backbone Brewing Company

Lexington, Virginia is situated in Rockbridge County about 300 miles northwest of Knoxville; as driving goes, it’s a fairly straight 4 hour drive trip up I-40 and I-81. There are more than a handful of reasons to make that trip, especially if you’re a Civil War buff; both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are buried in Lexington. Lee rests beneath the Lee Chapel which houses many of his family members including his father, Revolutionary War General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee. Jackson lies in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery, and the only house he ever owned is nearby and open to visitors. Rockbridge is also the birthplace of our own beloved Sam Houston.

But, there’s something else about Lexington that we’re especially fond of, and that’s beer from Devils Backbone (no apostrophe, please!). It’s a new brew for us – the brewery expanded distribution to East Tennessee this fall after a big expansion that allows them to brew up to 120,000 barrels annually. If you do decide to drive up, there are actually two Devils Backbone spots to visit: the Outpost Brewery is in Lexington and the Basecamp Brewpub is about an hour over the Blue Ridge Mountains and is home to a 500 person beer garden, outdoor bar, smokehouse, and live music stage. But you don’t have to drive all that way to get a taste; we’ve got it for you.

Although many of its fans may describe this beer as wickedly good, the brewery’s name doesn’t come directly from an agreement with Old Scratch; instead, it comes indirectly by way of a 1746 survey team that included Colonel Peter Jefferson (Thomas’ father). The team was commissioned to confirm the Fairfax Line (a boundary of the properties in Virginia that belonged to Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron). As they surveyed and cut their way through this often treacherous terrain, they encountered a particularly perilous ridge that they dubbed Devils Backbone.

While the name is an homage, the beer isn’t so perilous (in responsible quantities, of course). In fact it gets high marks for its ease of drinking, and it made good showings at 2015 Beer Festivals including the Great American Beer Festival, Virginia Craft Brewers Fest, as well as at the Australian International Beer Awards.

But why take a Festival opinion when you can form your own, eh? This month our taps will flow with Devils Backbone, and you can look forward to tasting a number of brews over the course of the month including the 3 beers included in the Brewery’s Basecamp Favorites:

  • Vienna Lager (5.2% ABV, 18 IBUs) is the brewery’s flagship beer and Gold Medal winner for 2015 at the Great American Beer Festival. Look for light caramel with a toasty nutty finish.
  • Eight Point IPA (6.2% ABV, 60 IBUs), a classic IPA, presents a snap of pine and grapefruit and a clean finish.
  • Schwartzbier (5.1%, 22 IBUs) comes in the form of a black lager laden with flavors of dark chocolate, coffee, along with a light fruitiness and a very light, drinkable body.

We’ll also have two of the Brewery’s “Trailblazer Seasonals” starting with Kilt Flasher (8%ABV, 20IBUs).  It’s a Wee Heavy Scotch Ale with flavors of toffee, dried fruit, and toast. And when that’s finished, you can look forward to Danzig (8% ABV, 24 IBUs) a Baltic Porter with luscious dark chocolate flavors melding with dark fruit and a smooth body.

Like many regional craft breweries, Devils Backbone is still very much in touch with its founding principles, which you can read on their website (http://dbbrewingcompany.com/). But one of these is especially worth mentioning:

Intensity Of Flavor Is Not Equal To Quality Of Flavor

“We strive to brew beer with personality and integrity of flavor whether it’s a 12% abv Barley wine or our 4.5% Gold Leaf Lager. We instill the same quality in all our beers and take pride in every one of them. Some of our beers are very approachable while others are more intense. All are brewed to stand alone with purpose and quality of flavor.”

We look forward to hearing what you think of Devils Backbone, so, hope to see you soon!

Devils Backbone

Devils Backbone



© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design