Tomato Head’s Collard and Creamed Leek Pie

I grew up attending a small and fiery little church, where I learned that we were right and you were wrong.   In fact, there was a joke about us…

A Baptist minister who, upon entering heaven, asked St. Peter for a tour of the place.  They moved past many different halls, each filled with hosts of Presbyterians, Methodists, Quakers, etc., until they came to a room belonging to my childhood church.  St. Peter turned to the minister and said, “Shhhh – you must be very quiet now– these people think they’re the only ones up here.”

It’s easy to claim something all for yourself, but the vast nature of the world means that you probably aren’t alone in your special family traditions, and there’s even a chance that your secret handshake isn’t utterly unique.

As the author of Ecclesiastes says, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

And that’s also true for food.  Just think about BBQ – everybody I know thinks they’re the only people to do it right.  But most things, BBQ included, are shared experiences.  Even something that’s as tied to a culture as much as collard greens are to the South are shared with places far away and, perhaps, long ago, too.

Roman Poet Ovid wrote a lovely poem called “Baucis and Philemon,“ a touching, 2000-year-old story about love and grace and hospitality.   The hospitality part includes two poor folks opening their homes to strangers and offering them a supper of greens with pork.  Ovid might have meant turnip greens, he might well have meant collards, too.  Even so, the whole dish sounds mighty familiar, doesn’t it?

Across time and space, we humans share a lot of experiences (and ingredients too).   The way we interpret and expresses ourselves in terms of those things may vary considerably or maybe that, too, is part of the great, repetitious turning of the world mentioned in Ecclesiastes and made pop-culturally famous by The Byrds in 1965 with “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Turning to our recipe today, Mahasti takes some liberties with her collards by gently sautéing them and putting them into a pie.  It’s a riff on creamed greens – don’t squint, you know you like creamed spinach even though you may prefer to call it Spinach Maria.  The dish combines two Southern favorites, collards and biscuit, with leeks and Gruyere cheese.

It’s a nice side dish that has a comforting and familiar flavor but has some nuance that sets it apart from the same old thing.  Leeks bring a light onion flavor with a hint of sweet garlic, and a soupçon of maple syrup adds a hint of sweetness and a little flavor mystery that gives the whole thing the kind of uniqueness that we like in food that we put our name on.

But, if you want to call it your own, we won’t out you – you might very well have created it all by yourself.  These things happen.

Tomato Head’s Collard and Creamed Leek Pie

For the biscuit:

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. Salt

1 Tbl baking powder

½ stick unsalted butter

¾ cup buttermilk

In a medium bowl, mix all dry ingredients together. Cut butter into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or 2 knives. Stir in buttermilk until a soft dough forms. Pat dough down into a greased 12-inch cast iron skillet or pie pan. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

For the Leeks:

¼ cup oil

4 cups sliced leek

½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

¾ cup heavy cream

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add leeks, salt and pepper and sauté until leeks are tender. Add heavy cream and cook down until cream has thickened, about 2-3 minutes on medium high.

For the Collards:

¼ cup oil

1 bunch Collards chopped, about 8 cups

1 Tbl cider vin

2 Tbl maple syrup

1 tsp salt

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add collards and cook down for 3-4 minutes stirring frequently. Add salt, cider vinegar and maple syrup and sauté stirring frequently until collards are tender, about 4-5 minutes.

For the breadcrumbs:

1 cup bread crumbs

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

Melt ¼ cup butter over low heat. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter. Set aside.

To Assemble:

1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded

Spread the collards, followed by creamed leeks, gruyere and breadcrumbs, evenly on top of the partially baked biscuit. Place the pie in a 400-degree oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until cheese has melted and breadcrumbs are golden brown.

Allow the pie to cool slightly before serving.

Serves 8

Deviled Eggs

My relationship with eggs is a Facebook status:

It’s complicated.

And like many a well-documented social media bond, my affair with eggs has always been mercurial and overly sensitive to the delicate shadings of status updates.

Today, I’m a fan of eggs of all sorts – boiled, deviled, poached and even shirred.  But it’s been a tempestuous affair.

It all started as a child when cousin Johnny and I could happily divide a boiled egg (he the white, I the yolk) until one day, without warning, poof!  The love was gone. I was done.  Just done.  In an instant, even quicker than Tayor Swift can sing, “Never, ever, ever,” my egg splitting days were over.  I don’t know that there was a reason, but, while I continued to hang out with Johnny, the egg and I were over.

Much later, after a late and very merry night, friend Ann made us a boiled egg and toast as a buffer against our indulgence.  It was a medium boiled egg, crunchy with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper eaten in succession with bites of good bread, well-toasted and slathered with rich, Normandy butter.  Heaven.  A perfectly textured nibble, generously endowed with my favorite treats (salt and fat), it rekindled an old flame burning in my heart.  For years, even long after I abandoned besotted evenings about town, that egg service has remained my favorite snack:  we were reunited and it tasted so good!

Despite that reconciliation, my prejudice against deviled eggs persisted even longer.  It may have a been a lingering and unpleasant memory of limp and tepid examples from church socials where the yolks were so pale and pasty that not even a sprinkle of tasteless grocery-brand paprika could enliven their visual appeal.  First impressions are strong, and this one endured until only a few years ago.  The change transpired at a family Thanksgiving when my new favorite aunt presented a plate of eggs stuffed with a deep yellow yolk flecked with parsley and garnished with a half a green olive on top.  In moment, better far than a metaphor can ever, ever be, I wasn’t just in love – the egg was love:  Delicious, simple but well considered, and pleasing to all the senses.

That, of course, is the truth of all great food loves – a good eat is a well-rounded appeal to at least 4 senses (and sometimes all five if there’s a sizzle involved).  And that’s exactly what this recipe for deviled eggs has going for it.  The addition of a little sriracha deepens the color of the stuffing and puts a little of the devil in it too, giving both the eyes and the tongue a treat. Red onion adds some texture and capers, with a little punch from Dijon, bring a refreshing savor for the aroma and the taste too. But, of course, all these elements perfectly frame the rich and smoky flavor of the salmon which also affixes a luxurious silkiness to each bite.

It’s a festive deviled egg to be sure, but it’s just the right kind of celebratory for the Fourth July or any gathering with the people you love.  That’s the real reason we spend time in the kitchen – it’s a palpable way to show our love, and a good recipe makes it a palatable and enduring affection, too.

 

Tomato Head’s Smoked Salmon, Red Onion and Caper Deviled Eggs

6 large eggs

3 TBL Mayonnaise

1 TBL Dijon Mustard

1 TBL red onion, chopped fine

1 TBL capers, chopped

2 TBL Smoked Salmon, chopped fine

1 tsp sriracha

1/8 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

Boil eggs for 10 -11 minutes. Remove the eggs from the hot water and place in an ice bath. Peel the eggs then cut them in half lengthwise and gently remove the yolks, keeping the whites intact.

Place the yolks in a small bowl. With a fork mash the yolks with the mayonnaise and mustard until smooth and creamy. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Fill the egg whites with the yolk mixture. Cool for 1-2 hours and serve chilled.

 

Tomato Head’s Grit Casserole with Mushroom Cream Sauce        

I can’t recall my first memory of grits.

I may have blocked it. That’s not because of any dislike, per se, but more likely it comes down to shame.  I suspect that my first

Grits and Cast Iron

encounter with grits involved copious butter with lots and lots of sugar, too.  And as any self-respecting Southerner will tell you, sugar and grits are a dishonorable combination that casts considerable shade over the house that dares to serve it.  You will understand, of course, why I may have repressed any such memory, if, in fact, it ever transpired at all.

Or it may be that I suffered at the hands of hurried or inconsiderate cooks who didn’t care to or know how to cook grits properly and, thus, served up some al dente.  As far as I’m concerned, an underdone bowl of grits is a far greater transgression than a sweet one; and it’s much more horrid to the young and sensitive palate.  Imagine the shock of that first, granular bite – why you’d want to forget that, too.

But whatever it was, something happened way back when to make me more than a little suspicious of this staple; and that’s wreaked havoc with my love of fine dining in town over the last decade or so as there are more grits on pretty plates than you can shake stick at.

In the intervening years, I have managed to accept grits or at least to taste them with an open mind, not because of the number of talented chefs giving grits a loving and careful treatment, but because of an old friend and roommate named Harry who shared his conviction that all grits are improved by good casserole treatment.

Mushrooms and Cream

Harry’s Sunday habits were practically set in stone and included the New York Times, mimosas, biscuits, country ham and cheese

grit casserole.  The paper was for Harry to read aloud to you whether you liked it or not, but everything else was selected for sharing.  Harry’s house was one of those places where you never knew who might show up hungry.  And being a firm believer in hospitality, Harry always had something to offer – provided, of course, that they would listen to his selected readings from the Times.

I don’t recall his exact recipe, but the one that follows is very close.  And, as Harry would tell you, it feeds plenty and can sit happily in line with ham or whatever you serve for any upcoming family feasts or breakfasts or brunches for a crowd, waiting its turn and keeping its good taste and texture as everybody fills up their plate.

Tomato Head’s Grit Casserole with Mushroom Cream Sauce        

2 cups Whole Milk

Comfort on a Plate

1 cup Water

½ cup Heavy Cream

½ tsp Salt

¼ tsp Ground Black Pepper

1 ¼ cups Stone Ground Grits

1 TBL Butter

1 cup Cheddar Cheese, shredded

2 eggs

Place the milk, water, heavy cream, salt and ground pepper in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk until mixture starts to let off steam.  Gradually stream in the grits while whisking, reduce heat to low and whisk constantly until mixture thickens.  Remove the grits from the heat and add in butter and cheddar.  In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, add ¼ cup of hot grits to the eggs and whisk until combined.  Add the egg mixture to the cheese and grit mixture and mix well.

Pour the mixture into a greased 10-inch cast iron skillet and bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes until the top is browned.

Serve the Grit Casserole in the skillet with Mushroom Cream Sauce on the side.

For the Mushroom Cream Sauce:

6 cups Mushrooms, sliced

2 TBL Butter

1 tsp Salt

½ tsp Black Pepper

¾ cups Heavy Cream

In a large skillet over high heat, melt butter.  Add mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes.  Add salt, pepper and cream.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until the cream thickens, about 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat and pour Mushrooms into a small bowl.

Serve with Grit Casserole

Serves 6-8 people.

 

 

 

Collard Green Salad

Yum

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.

Hoppin’ John

Yum

Recipe 

1 lb black eyed peas

8 cups water

¼ cup oil

¾ cup onion, chopped

1 TBL – 4 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup parsley, chopped

½ cup soy sauce

Check over black-eyed peas looking for stones and place in medium pot.  Add water and bring to boil over high heat – reduce heat to low and cook partially covered for 45 minutes, remove the lids and cook another 15 minutes or until peas are soft.  Check periodically to make sure water does not run out and add water by the cupful if water runs low (you should have approximately 2 cups of liquid in the pot when the peas are cooked).

When the peas are soft, over medium heat, in a small skillet heat oil, add onions and garlic and sauté until fragrant.  Add onion mixture to peas followed by parsley, and soy sauce.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve over steamed white or brown rice top with Collard Green Relish.

Serves 4 – 6

Tomato Head’s Creamed Corn

Ingredients

Prepping the corn

3 tablespoons oil

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 tsp jalapeño pepper finely chopped (optional)

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

3 ears of corn, kernels removed (3 to 4 cups)

1.5 cup heavy cream

On the burner

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, jalapeño and rosemary and sauté until onion is translucent.  Add corn kernels and stir until corn and onions are mixed together well.  Add cream and bring mixture to a boil.  Stir and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer, stirring occasionally for fifteen minutes.  Remove rosemary sprigs.  Serve immediately.  Can be refrigerated and reheated over low heat.

Serves 6-8

Ready to eat

Cucumber Salad

If you’re anything like me, the presence of a large bowl of cucumbers and onions dressed with vinegar and perhaps a IMG_0205little sugar or salt is a sure sign of a well-balanced summer meal.  As long as there’s a platter of sliced tomatoes, some well-buttered ears of corn, and cold hunks of melon to look forward to, it’s a warm weather feast worthy of any country table and any country appetite.

But that bowl of pale green and white has a special place in my heart because it represents some pretty sensible kitchen magic.

The cucumber itself is the perfect summer food because it is truly cool – its interior is about 20 degrees cooler than its surface.  That relates to the fact that the vegetable is 96% water and wears a well-insulated jacket in a fashionable shade of green.  What makes the summer table work so well is the presence of lots of moisture, and cucumbers, like much good, fresh produce, is bursting with hydration.

cuke salad ingredientsWith all that goodness going on, you wonder why on earth you’d want to cover it up with any dressing at all?  But the cucumber salad takes on an additional level of brilliance for the summer table precisely because of that dressing and its slightly sour disposition.

Vinegar’s acidity commends it to the summer diet because of its refreshing quality.  What, you don’t think of vinegar as refreshing?  Perhaps you’d prefer a glass of lemonade or a crisp gold glass of sauvignon blanc?  What makes both of those beverages work in the summer sun is their acidity – think of it as a brightness that acts in the same way as does a squeeze of lime over a taco or lemon over fish.

When the cucumbers dive into their dressing, they are literally bathed in extra refreshment.  It’s a relish, really, that’s light, summery and enlivening and a perfect match to food from the grill. And if you’re a fan of the cold fried chicken picnic, cucumber salad is almost a miracle worker for making the mouth sing after the richness of the crisp and golden-brown main course.

Tomato Head’s version of this Southern staple combines the traditional recipe with a little mint and jalapeno.  The dab of heat actually works to increase the refreshment quality because it wakes up your mouth’s receptors.  And mint adds additional refreshment with an alluring flavor that sets this dish apart from granny’s delicious but predictable version.

It’s quick, it’s fresh, and it’s cool.  Just like a cucumber ought to be.

Tomato Head’s Cucumber Salad

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

For the Dressing:

¼ cup cider vinegar

1 Tbl sugar

3/4 tsp salt

Mix vinegar together with sugar and salt in a small saucepan, and heat just until sugar dissolves. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

For the Salad:

4 cups cucumber

1/2 cup onion

2 TBL minced jalapeno

2 TBL mint, chopped

2 TBL of vinegar mix

Thinly slice the cucumbers and onion and place in a medium bowl. Add the chopped Jalapeno and mint. Pour the dressing over the cucumber mixture and allow the mixture to sit for 30 minutes.

Serve as a side dish with Fried Chicken, or any grilled meats.

Serves 6-8 people.

Happy New Year!

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

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

Then we suffer,

Superstition ain’t the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomato Head’s Yellow Squash Crostini with Pesto

Walking into the Knoxville air and feeling it push back, being caught daily in random patches of heavy rain and lightening, and sweating your ~you know what~ off over the past few weeks of this summer is paying off. Not only did we all sweat out a few pounds and increase our water intake by 200%, but also this time of the year is wonderfully ample in fruits and vegetables. The payout is an abundance of foods like cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, and so many more.

This month’s WBIR recipe for yellow squash crostini with pesto certainly pays attention to the local and available.  Although the origins for this recipe are Italian, the addition of one of the three sisters gives this recipe an American twist.

To cook up this dish, you’ll need:

5 cups yellow squash, diced

5 cups tomatoes, diced

½ cup fresh basil, chopped

⅛ cup olive oil

⅛ cup cider vinegar

1 tsp salt

Place all ingredients into a medium mixing bowl and toss well to incorporate all of the flavors.

To assemble the Crostini, you’ll need:

Flour Head Bakery Knoxville Sourdough or Baguette*

Olive Oil

Tomato Head Pesto**

Slice the bread to the thickness you desire. Brush lightly with olive oil on both sides. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in a 400° oven until toasted. Remove the toasted bread from the oven, spread each piece with a liberal amount of pesto, and top with a generous portion of the squash mixture.

A Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, or even a Vino Verde that is not overly effervescent, would pair nicely as white wines. If you would rather have red, consider an Italian red that is both bright and slightly earthy, such as a Chianti or Barbera.

Although this dish does not seem to be compatible with beer for most, it is possible. Belgian ales pair nicely with the strength of pesto, as the herbs and spices of the ale complement the pesto.

*Flour Head Knoxville Sourdough and Baguettes can be found at Three Rivers Market and Kroger in Bearden

**Tomato Head Pesto can be found at both Tomato Head locations, Three Rivers Market, Butler and Bailey Market and the following Kroger stores:  Fountain City, Cedar Bluff, Farragut, Bearden and Northshore

 

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design