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

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

December’s Featured Brewery: Blue Pants Brewery

This month Tomato Head taps will be flowing with craft beers made just about 4 hours south of us in Madison, Alabama from the Blue Pants Brewery. Madison is a fast growing and prosperous city in the Hunstville Metropolitan Area, and, from all indications, it’s a forward thinking, can-do kind of place; that attitude is clearly mirrored in Blue Pants’ tag line: “We like to make unreasonably good beer.” Actually, that’s more than a tag line, it’s a manifesto.

Blue Pants has established a good track record in the 5 years of their being with a wide assortment of tasty froth that’s covered all the major beer styles. Still, unsatisfied with leaving well enough alone, Blue Pants has shown a penchant for reviving old beer styles, getting jiggy with infusions, presenting playful variations on core brands, and daring the heights of high gravity brews.

There are so many interesting things available from Blue Pants that you can look forward to several surprises flowing from taps.  A number of those are TBA, but we’re very excited to offer their Sour Amber; and that’s being kegged just for us, so Tomato Head is the only place in the world for you to sample this brew.

But don’t be a tap snob because then you’d miss the chance to try Blue Pants Cantaloupe Alalambic!  It’s a 2 year old lambic that we’re offering in 750ml bottles, and it’s too delicious to miss.

So, put on your own blue pants and comes taste ours.  You’ll be happy to have both.

Blue Pants Brewery IPA

Blue Pants Brewery IPA

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

December’s Featured Artist: Lindsey Teague

Lindsey Teague is an artist who is inspired by Knoxville: “I live on Gay Street so I walk downtown all the time and notice the smell of the local business and the lights when the sun’s setting – all the things that make the city what it is – I like to capture that scene.”

Though our Featured Artist for December isn’t a native of the city, she says she has a deep seated love of the area that began while she studied at UT, “I’ve lived here for 10 years, I’m from West Tennessee, but I love Knoxville. It’s cool to be local now, and I love that – people appreciate their city and find value in it.”

Though Lindsey’s art is drawn from a variety of inspirations, it’s hardly surprising that, more often than not, she’s drawn to subjects that have historic and local value. In fact, one of her most popular subjects is an icon not only for the city, but for the State of Tennessee too: “There’s one scene that I’ve worked on from the very beginning, though it’s the same image I like to change the composition. It’s the Tennessee Theatre.

“I’ve noticed that people are drawn to things that say what they are. I have a Sunsphere piece that says Knox; people are drawn to the words as well as the image. Maybe it’s because that you know it’s an image of your home town but when someone else sees it, they know it’s from your home town, too.”

Teague’s medium lends itself to permutation. She starts with a photograph, then prints it on wood and finally adds layers of paint to create her signature style. A free-lance graphic designer by trade and training, the way she came to this technique is proof that necessity is the mother of invention.

“It’s something that I’ve picked up in the last 3 years, and it happened by accident. A friend, Kelly Absher, asked me to do an exhibit for Central Flats and Taps for a First Friday – they had an artist back out. So I did some photography. He asked me to do it again the next year in the same spot, but I wanted to do something different.  Something with my photographs but with more of a fine art application. So I was playing around with different mediums and techniques to develop a vintage rustic style that I liked. And I thought printing on wood was cool; and so I developed my pictures into vector images and printed them on the board. Once I got to that step I started playing with painting them to add some color back to them.”

The resulting pieces are certainly familiar, and while Lindsey adds dimension and a separate personality to each that distinguish her vision, it’s never at the expense of the subject itself. Nevertheless, sometimes, she says, the materials take over and speak for themselves: “The paint will go on one color and dry another. There’s one board of the Tennessee Theatre that I originally wanted to be red. Red’s the trickiest. But it dried orange. I thought, well, that’s okay. It’s Knoxville.”

You can see Lindsey’s Art Boards at the Tomato Head Market Square from December 7 through January 3 and at the Gallery location from January 5th through February 1st.

Tennessee Theatre by Lindsey Teague

Tennessee Theatre by Lindsey Teague

Tomato Head’s Jamaican Pepper Pot

In anticipation of the inevitable dip in temperature, Mahasti is sharing a delicious way to warm up that comes with a bit of heartwarming history: Jamaican Pepper Pot Soup.

The name Pepper Pot probably entered the minds of most Americans more through Pop Art rather than a steaming bowl of the soup itself. Andy Warhol’s iconic depiction of the soup can called Small Torn Campbell Soup Can (Pepper Pot) sold for over $11 million dollars in 2006.

Like many dishes, this soup belongs to multiple regions each with its own variation on the recipe. Guyanese Pepper Pot, a traditional Christmas food, is distinguished by the addition of Cassareep – a thick sauce made from ground cassava root and spices. Around the West Indies the thickness, spiciness and the primary protein of the dish vary considerably. Jamacian Pepper Pot is traditionally made with Calloo, a unique Caribbean vegetable that tastes like a hybrid of spinach and broccoli, though spinach is a frequent substitute.

And closer to home Philadelphia, the Birthplace of Freedom, is also the birthplace of an American variety of Pepperpot.

According to legend, George Washington, while encamped at Valley Forge under the siege of a harsh winter, painful deprivation, and frequent desertions, was finally able to fortify his troops with a spicy version of this stew that was unique for its use of tripe – the muscle wall that lines a cow’s stomach. In the story the dish was an inspired and soldier-saving brain wave from the Baker General of the Continental Army, Christopher Ludwick. Of course, it’s far more likely that the dish came to Valley Forge by the same sad route that brought both rum and slaves to the colonies.

Pepper Pot is still available in some Philadelphia restaurants (and is also the name of the city’s Public Relation Awards), including the City Tavern Restaurant, though tripe has been replaced by beef shoulder.

Mahasti’s version, eschewing both tripe and beef shoulder, is vegetarian but hearty with lots of potato, sweet potato and spinach. It’s also spicy – in both senses of the word. The recipe includes a ½ teaspoon of allspice, which contributes a warming flavor and aroma that’s reminiscent of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Interestingly allspice has a number of aliases, including Jamaica Pepper.

The recipe also calls for habanero pepper, which is no shy violet, living, as it does, near the top quarter of the Scoville heat index. Depending on your taste, you can add or subtract as much of the pepper as you want – just make sure that you remove the seeds and take care to handle the pepper with caution. More than a few cooks have made the mistake of touching their eyes after handling the habanero without gloves or a thorough hand washing. The pain is unmistakable and dangerous; avoid it.

But don’t avoid the soup! It’s nourishing, filling and delicious. If you tune in to WBIR’s Weekend Today on Saturday (12/5) and Mahasti will help you put it all together.

Tomato Head’s Jamaican Pepper Pot Soup

2 Tbs Vegetable Oil

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

Leaves from 3 Thyme sprigs

4 cups water

8 oz fresh spinach

1 small Yukon gold potato, rinsed, and diced

½ – 1 habanero pepper, seeds removed, chopped

1.5 tsp salt

½ tsp allspice

1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar

1 medium sweet potato, rinsed and shredded

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent. Add thyme leaves, water, spinach, potato, and habanero – bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to simmer until potatoes are soft. Add Salt, Allspice, and Vinegar.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth – or allow soup to cool and puree in a traditional blender (do not blend hot soup in a traditional blender – it will splatter all over you) Add the shredded sweet potatoes to the pot and simmer until sweet potatoes are soft.

Serves 6-8

Sweeten up your holidays with Tomato Head cookies.

From our holiday-inspired flavors like Gingersnap and Peppermint Crackle to the classic lineup of Tomato Head cookies including our vegan and gluten free varieties, you’ll find plenty of goodies for your holiday gift giving, celebrations, and office parties. Just stop by either bakery counter, or call Market Square at 637-4067 or our 7240 Kingston Pike location at 584-1075 to place your order. Cookie bags of 8 ($9.75), small cookie box of 16 ($17.95), and a large cookie box of 24 ($25.75) are available.

Yum Yum Yum!

Holiday Cookies 2016

Holiday Cookies 2016

Tomato Head’s Turkey Pot Pie

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

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

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

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

There are two things that make Mahasti’s Pot Pie stand out. One is the inclusion of turnip. It will be easy to think about leaving that out, but, if you do, you’ll miss a rich and almost mysterious flavor element that really amps up this recipe. When cooked like this, turnips, especially small ones, add a sweet and earthy element that matches perfectly with potato and cream sauces. If they’re young and fresh, they also take on a tender almost silky texture.

The other element that makes this recipe stand out is that instead of a pie crust or puff pastry, Mahasti tops the pie with biscuits. I don’t have to tell you what a biscuit can to do a meal, but when it sits on top of a pot pie it gets a beautiful brown top, a fluffy middle, and a bottom that’s happily situated in the pie’s gravy-like sauce.

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

Mahasti will show you how to put it all together on Saturday during WBIR’s Weekend Today!

Tomato Head’s Turkey Pot Pie

For the cream sauce:

2 ½ Tbl unsalted butter

2 Tbl all purpose flour

1 cup whole milk

½ cup water

2 Tbl heavy cream

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

1 Tbl fresh sage or Italian parsley, chopped

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk until all the flour is absorbed into the butter and no lumps remain. Add the milk, water, and heavy cream and whisk constantly until the sauce thickens slightly.

Add salt, pepper and herbs – remove from heat and set aside.

For assembling the pot pie:

1 Tbl vegetable oil

2/3 cup onion, diced

1 cup cooked Turkey meat

1 medium potato, peeled, diced and boiled

1 medium carrot or 2/3 cup cooked carrot

1 small turnip or 2/3 cup cooked turnip

1cup cooked greens

½ tsp salt

½ tsp chili flakes, optional

Peel potato, dice into 1-inch cubes and boil until soft. Drain potatoes and set aside. In a 10-inch case iron skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 1 minute. Add carrots and turnips, if raw and sauté just until the turnips start to brown a little. Add cooked turkey, greens, potatoes, salt and chili flakes and stir to mix. Remove the skillet from the heat and add cream sauce, stirring well until all the ingredients are mixed up.

Top your pot pie with 6-8 three inch biscuits – made from our Best Biscuit Recipe from National Biscuit Month.

Place assembled pot pie in a preheated 425 degree oven and bake just until biscuits are cooked and starting to brown ~ about 13 minutes.

Serves 4.

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design