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.

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

Tomato Head’s Cauliflower Soup

¼ cup Oil

1 cup Onion

2 Celery Stalks, about 2 cups

1 Cauliflower

3.5 cups Water

2 tsp Salt

¼ tsp Black Pepper

Chopped spinach

To prepare the Cauliflower: Remove the leaves, and rinse under cold water. Cut Cauliflower in ½ and cut small florets off one half, and set aside. Cut the remaining cauliflower into medium chunks and set aside.

For the Soup:

Heat the oil in a medium pot, over high heat. Add the onions and saute for 1 -2 minutes. Add Celery, medium chunk Cauliflower, Water, Salt and Pepper. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer soup covered for 40 minutes or until cauliflower is soft.

Remove the pot from the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender, or allow soup to cool if using a standard blender (see note), and puree for 2 minutes or until soup is very smooth. Add Cauliflower florets, return the pot to low heat and simmer until florets are soft, about 10 minutes or longer depending on your taste.

Serve immediately topped with chopped spinach.

Serves 4

Note: be very careful – hot liquids will splash out of a standard blender

Tomato Head’s Summer Zucchini and Poblano Soup

If you’ve spent anytime at the Market Square Farmers’ Market over the past few weekends, you’ve noticed an abundance of summer squash. This simple recipe for Mahasti’s Summer Zucchini & Poblano Soup is a great alternative to preparing zucchini the traditional summer way – standing over a hot grill.

Incorporating poblano peppers adds a slightly sweet and earthy flavorful without overwhelming your taste buds with lots of heat. In case you missed her cooking segment on WBIR last Saturday, we’ve shared Mahasti’s on our blog so grab some local homegrown squash on your next shopping trip and give this recipe a spin in the comfort of your kitchen.

Enjoy!

¼ cup olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and diced

2 large garlic cloves

1 large poblano pepper, cored, seeded and sliced

5 medium zucchini, ends removed

4 cups water

1 bunch cilantro

2 tsp salt

Peel and dice onion and set aside. Peel garlic, roughly chop and set aside. Rinse pepper, cut down the middle, remove stem and seeds, and cut into 1inch strips and set aside. Remove the ends off all of the zucchini. Cut 4 of the zucchini into 1inch rounds and set aside. Shred the remaining zucchini and set aside separately.

Remove about 1/2 inch off the bottom of the cilantro stems. Place the cilantro in a large bowl of cold water, swish around, and then lift the cilantro out of the water. Repeat the wash process with fresh water until there is no dirt left in the bottom of your bowl when you remove the cilantro. Roughly chop the cilantro and set aside.

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onions are translucent. Add zucchini, pepper and water. Bring the soup to boil, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cilantro and salt and blend with an immersion blender until soup is smooth. If using an upright blender, wait for soup to come to room temperature before blending to avoid burning yourself.

After soup is blended add the shredded zucchini. If you used an immersion blender soup will be ready to serve immediately. If you cooled your soup in order to use an upright blender, the soup can be re-heated after you add the shredded zucchini.

Serve with Flour Head Bakery bread and enjoy.

Serves 8- 10

WBIR Tomato Head Summer Zucchini Pablano Soup Recipe

Tomato Head’s Pozole Verde

Mahasti’s variation on pozole verde is a great excuse to visit some of Knoxville’s Mexican and Latin American markets for the tomatillos and poblano peppers called for in this recipe. Share your version with us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Ingredients

9 cups Water

3 Chicken Breast, bone in with skin

2 Bay Leaves

2 Poblano Peppers

1.5 lb Tomatillo

1 cup Cilantro, leaves and stems

1 cup Onion

3 lg cloves Garlic

¼ cup Oregano

3 – 15.5 oz cans Bush’s Golden Hominy, drained and rinsed

1 Tbl plus 2 tsp Salt

For Serving:

Shredded lettuce

Sliced Radishes

Diced Onion

Cilantro leaves

Thinly Sliced Jalapeno

Sour Cream

Tortilla chips

Rinse chicken breast in cold, clean running water. Place chicken and bay leaves in large pot covered with 9 cups water. In a large pot, bring water to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook chicken for 25 minutes. Remove chicken from pot. Discard bay leaves. When chicken is cool enough to handle discard skin and shred chicken. Reduce heat to low.

While chicken is cooking, rinse, de-stem, and de-seed poblano peppers, set aside. Rinse and de-husk tomatillos, set aside. Wash cilantro, leaving stems attached. Peel and cut onion into medium size pieces. Peel garlic. Pick ¼ cup of oregano leaves. Drain and rinse hominy.

Place poblano peppers, and cilantro in the jar of your blender. Remove 1 cup of cooking liquid from the pot of chicken and add to the blender. Blend the peppers until smooth. Pour most of the blended pepper mixture into a large bowl, leaving about 1 cups worth behind in blender.  Add tomatillos, onions, garlic and oregano to the blender and blend until smooth. Pour tomatillo mixture into poblano mixture.

When Chicken has been removed from pot – add tomatillo-pepper mixture to pot. Add shredded chicken, hominy and salt. Increase heat to medium, stirring occasionally bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer soup for 15 – 20 minutes.

Serve hot with Sides of shredded lettuce, sliced radishes, diced onion, cilantro leaves, jalapeno, sour cream and tortilla chips.

Serves 10 – 12

¡Esperamos que lo disfruten!

Pozole Verde

The Tomato Head’s Bacon and Cheddar Soup

If you weren’t up early on Saturday tuned in to WBIR, you missed Mahasti presenting what’s sure to become a favorite for gatherings of family and friends.

Simple to make, warming and good, this soup’s one to prepare in advance and have on the stove top for snackers while the “big dinner” is in the works.

The Tomato Head’s Bacon and Cheddar Soup

½ lb bacon, diced
1.25 cups celery, finely chopped
½ cup onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 – 2 small jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped
1 Tbl fresh thyme
1 ½ stick butter
2/3 cup flour
6 cups water
3 cups heavy cream
14 oz mild cheddar cheese, shredded
12 oz smoked cheddar cheese, shredded

In a 6 quart pot over medium heat sauté bacon until bacon is crisp. Add celery, onion, garlic, jalapenos and thyme. Sauté the vegetables until onion and celery are translucent. Add water, and cream. Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium skillet. Add flour, whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth. Add the flour mixture to the soup and stir constantly until the soup thickens slightly. Add cheeses and stir soup until cheese has melted.

Serve.

A Soup to Celebrate Spring

You can’t deny the crocus, daffodils, Bradford pears, rain and robins. Spring is here. And with spring comes a new season in the kitchen. As your cravings begin to seek out new seasonal flavors, this soup, Carrot Orange topped with cranberry mint crema, may be just the thing to celebrate these early days of spring.

Mahasti presented the recipe on WBIR this morning, but if you missed the show, now worries. We’ll be serving it at both restaurants today. Enjoy!

Tomato Head’s Carrot Orange Soup topped with Cranberry Mint Crema

For the Soup:
1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
½ cup onion, diced
4 cups carrots, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 -3 inch strip of orange zest
3.25 cups water
½ cup orange juice
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
½ cup sour cream
½ cup heavy cream

Heat the oil in a medium sauce over medium heat. Add ginger, carrots, orange zest, water and orange juice to pan. Bring the mixture to boil, then reduce heat, and simmer 15 – 20 minutes or until carrots are soft. Remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients.

If using an immersion blender – blend soup till smooth. Serve immediately topped with cranberry mint crema. If using an upright blender – allow soup to cool (see note). Blend soup in 2 batches – heat before serving.

Note: blending hot ingredients in a traditional upright blender can cause severe burns. Make sure your soup is at room temperature before blending.

For the Cranberry Mint Crema:
½ cup sour cream
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
3 Tbsp heavy cream
1/8 tsp salt

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Tomato Head’s Curried Lentil Soup

Whenever the restaurant makes its Curried Lentil Soup, a customer will come asking, “can I have the recipe?” It’s an ideal soup for this season and Mahasti is excited about sharing the recipe. She’ll be presenting it this morning, Saturday, November 6th, on WBIR around 8:15-ish.

Also, both Knoxville and Maryville restaurants will be featuring the soup today. So…tune in and taste up!

Tomato Head’s Curried Lentil Soup

½ cup onion, finely diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 lb dried lentils, looked over for rocks
1.5 cups carrot, peeled and sliced
1.5 cup fresh spinach, chopped
8 cups water
1.5 tbsp curry powder
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and sauté one minute longer. Add carrots, lentils, spinach, and water. Bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat and allow soup to simmer for 35 – 40 minutes or until lentils are soft. Add curry powder, salt, and cayenne pepper.

Serve hot with fresh bread.

Yields 8 cups of soup.
Serves 6 – 8

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design