Hoppin’ John

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

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.

Biscuits and Gravy Day

One of the many beautiful things about food is that not only can it tell you where you are, it can also take you where you want to be. Biscuits and gravy tell me that I’m at home in the South, but, on many of my long spells living away from home, that same dish helps ease the homesickness that seems to afflict Southerners in a particularly poignant way.

Part of this dish’s magic comes from the memory-summoning charms of the smells that fill a house where it’s being made properly: warm aromas of buttermilk biscuits rising in the oven followed by the fragrance and sound of country sausage popping in an iron skillet. It’s a hearty dish, too – the kind that fills you up like only a grandmother’s cooking seems to do. In a way, for me at least, it’s one of the miracle foods; it fills me up, warms my heart, and floods the mind with happy thoughts of people and places that I love.

Ultimately, it’s a simple dish that, like much of Southern food, was probably born of hard times or a least a keen sense of frugality that rests in the memory of times when “waste not, want not” was neither proverbial nor cliché. Just imagine a harried cook over a wood burning stove with a handful of flour left over from rolling out biscuits alongside a pan of fat remaining from frying up pork sausage. With just a little milk and a couple of minutes, there was not only more food to put on the table, there was also nothing to throw away.

Like all classic foods, this breakfast staple has been and will continue to be modified and reinvented with riffs on the breadstuff itself and all sorts of mutations of the gravy, too. And while we Tomato Heads are all about some innovative cooking, we cling to tradition in the basic approach to this most classic of breakfast foods. All it takes is six ingredients and a little bit of love.

This Saturday, Mahasti will present her simple and simply delicious recipe for Biscuits and Gravy on WBIR’s Weekend Today so you can make it yourself. Here’s a link to the recipe for The Tomato Head’s Sausage Gravy. But if you find that your craving is stronger than your will to roll out biscuits, just come on down to either Tomato Head. We’ll share ours with you! And while we can give you all our happy memories, we’re happy to help you make some of your own – one biscuit at a time.

Valentines Day at Tomato Head

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

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

You do love me, right?

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

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

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

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

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

Sriracha

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.

 

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

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.

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

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design