Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I threw a (mostly) vegan dinner party on Sunday, and no one starved. In fact, the food and company were delicious and plentiful. I say "mostly" vegan because I realized that Quorn crumbles--the base for my empanada filling--have egg white in them. No worries, I just made a batch with a spicy black bean filling.

I was determined to take pictures--of the two sheet pans of gorgeous vegetables, waiting for the grill...of the aforementioned empanadas with their raisin, redwine, chipotle, and caper-spike filling...of my favorite quinoa and black bean salad...of the last minute salsa I whipped up that I could eat every day until I die...of the grilled peach halves with a scoop of coconut sorbet melting on top. But I didn't. I didn't take a single picture and while I know that just means we were having too much fun to bother with it, I'm mad at myself.

Oh well, yet another reason to do it again, and soon. After a summer of not entertaining at home I am energized and planning 10 different gatherings in my head. I do love a hoopla.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Unemployed Cook Omnivore’s Hundred

Fun little experiment on this site, with the following instructions:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.

2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.

3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

Well, I'm working late and my editor is on his dinner break so why not?

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos Rancheros
4. Steak Tartare
5. Crocodile (well, Alligator)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24.Rice and Beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce De Leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken Tikka Masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly Pear (does prickly pear juice count?)
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu (I've had soju, is that close?)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (I feel Blackberry Farm should count for something here, but alas)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft Shelled Crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermador
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
100. Snake

Pretty random and arbitrary little list, isn't it? But that killed a half hour. Oh dear, am I really to be here until 2am? Ouch.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Summer Sides

Fall is looming, even if the temperatures don't show it. Labor day is literally around the corner and my enormous maple tree is flecked with orange, gearing up for its big show (and making me dread all of the raking to come). But at the Farmer's Market, and in my little kitchen, it's still pure summer.

I've never been one to curse the heat and pray for the relief of fall. Fall, while very lovely, always makes me a bit melancholy. I think it's because no matter how gorgeous fall is, winter is around the corner. And I hate winter, even the mild winter we have in East Tennessee. If I had my way it would be winter just for 6 weeks around Christmas and New Year's Eve, then Spring would takeover.
One of my favorite post-Farmer's Market activities is shelling beans. Tedious to some, I find it very relaxing, and of course it helps that fresh shelled beans are truly delectable--a seasonal treat not to be missed. These lovely beans are Purple Hull Peas, and they are tender and flavorful. They hardly require a recipe, just shell, cover with water, and simmer until they are as tender as you prefer. Since I was making a Very Southern Sunday Dinner I dropped in a couple of slices of salt pork and a vegetable boullion cube. The salt pork has a clean, porky flavor but doesn't add smoke. And the boullion, while not very fancy, is how Chris' grandmother cooked her peas and they were always so delicious.

I also picked up some very perfect zucchini. I know this is about the time when people start to feel overwhelmed by their squash and zucchini harvests but I just LOVE zucchini. I probably have a dozen favorite ways to make it, though this is a new favorite. The inspiration came from my friend Jessica highly recommending this squash recipe. It looked like comforting goodness, but I like my squash to have a bit more texture to it. Also, I just had zucchini, no yellow squash, so I had some meddling to do.

Zucchini Casserole
serves 4
salting the zucchini while sauteeing helps draw out the moisture, avoiding a soggy casserole.

2 large zucchini, chunked
Vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sour cream
kosher salt and fresh pepper
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup crushed saltine crackers tossed with 1 tbsp melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat a splash of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add zucchini and a generous pinch of salt and saute until beginning to soften. Dump zucchini into a sieve and let drain for 10 minutes, pressing gently with the back of a wooden spoon on occasion.

Wipe out your skillet and melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the onion in butter for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and mix all ingredients together except cracker crumbs. Pour mixture into a buttered casserole dish and top with cracker crumbs. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Leftover Lunch: Sweet Pea Risotto Cakes with Grilled Shrimp and Corn Vinaigrette

Ah, the mighty leftover. Last week I made a delicious risotto loosely based on a Cooking Light recipe. It was a veggie-packed risotto in a lovely moat of sweet corn broth, and I topped the lot with grilled garlicky shrimp. Pure summer, and good for you to boot. And of course, I cooked for your average family of four, as I often seem to. I dutifully packed the leftovers away and vowed to not let them go to waste.

The next day I scooped out two balls of the chilled risotto, flattened them slightly, and dredged them in cracker meal. Not unlike the more traditional arancini, I then quickly pan fried them in a little olive oil.

The warm cakes found their home on a pile of baby lettuces, topped with the cool leftover grilled shrimp (I didn't want them to be overcooked so I didn't reheat them). The corn broth I whisked into a quick vinagrette, which made a sweet savory dressing that perfectly complimented the salad. All told I think it took me 10 minutes to make this leftover lunch that ended up being worthy of first-run respect. Yum.

Sweet Corn and Pea Risotto with Corn Broth
serves 2, with leftovers

for the corn broth:
2 1/2 cups water
2 cups fresh corn kernels
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine 2 1/2 cups water and 2 cups corn kernels in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until corn is tender. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt. Place corn mixture in blender or food processor; process until smooth. Strain corn mixture through a sieve into a bowl. Set aside and keep warm. This would also make a lovely soup all on its own!

for the risotto:
3-4 cups organic vegetable or chicken broth
2-3 tablespoons butter
1 cup uncooked arborio rice
1/2 cup diced onion
1 medium carrot, minced (or more if desired)
1 medium stalk celery, minced (or more if desired)
1 cup frozen green peas
2 cups fresh corn kernels
grated Parmesan cheese and basil, chives or parsley for garnish

Warm broth either in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add rice; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add onion, carrot, and celery; cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add warm broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next. Add peas, corn kernels, a good grating of the cheese, and herbs, stirring until blended and hot.

Place a mound of risotto in a shallow bowl and ladle some corn broth around it. Top with more cheese and herbs if you desire. This is great with some garlicky grilled shrimp piled on top, but also makes a lovely light vegetarian meal. And obviously, these pictures are not of the original recipe, but of my leftover feast. Enjoy!

Roasted Baby Eggplants

What is it about tiny fruits and vegetables? Why do I find them so endlessly appealing and adorable? Take these mini eggplants:

ADORABLE! And look at these tiny heads of garlic:

I mean people, I practically squealed.

So excited was I to find these at the Farmer's Market that I quickly came home and prepared them for dinner. I split the eggplants almost completely, leaving the tops intact, and stuffed them with crushed tiny cloves of garlic (eee!) and slivers of lemon.

I drizzled olive oil and lemon juice over the tops and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Some thyme sprigs rounded things out.

Cover and cook for 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven, then uncover and cook until they are as soft as you'd like.

As ravenous as I was, I didn't get a shot of the final product in the dish, but it's very pretty. I did catch the leftovers, which I took with my lunch the next morning.

The result? Did the tininess make the eggplants more delicious? Honestly they were a little bitter but made a good foil against some rich salmon we had alongside.

But you can't beat them for sheer adorableness.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Change is good...change is good...sometimes I have to tell myself this, creature of habit that I am. But change is good, it's exciting and it's challenging.

For a while now the magazine I write for has been moving in a new direction, not a bad one, but...different. Moving away from the standard food and wine review and more towards straight journalism--interviewing chefs and owners of local restaurants. Interesting and insightful, but also not my passion.

And so, I'm taking some time off, and to be honest I'm really excited. I am feeling energized about the blog again and I plan to incorporate more reviews into the current structure, along with the literally dozens of great recipes that I've taken photos of, but haven't written up yet.

Eventually I would like to create an email list for those Knoxvillians interested in receiving my latest review in their inbox. My partnership with Foodbuzz is going to be great for this as well.

So it's true, change is good. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Quickie: Salmon Niçoise Salad

Oh, delicious! I slow roasted the salmon using Bill Granger's method--steep a handful of cherry tomatoes and a couple bruised garlic cloves in a generous splash or two of olive oil. Warm up the whole thing in a 350-degree oven until it smells delicious and the tomatoes have split.

Lower heat to 250-degrees, remove the tomatoes and garlic, and lavish a couple of salmon fillets in the scented oil. Add a hefty sprinkle of kosher salt and pepper and roast until cooked to your desire--20 to 30 minutes usually. It's hard to overcook the salmon with this method and it flakes apart beautifully for salads.

I made mine with the usual suspects for a Niçoise, as well as my most favorite Perfect Vinaigrette ( opted for raw tomatoes but the slow roasted tomatoes are very nice as well. Summer in a bowl, I tell you.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Escape To Your Own Backyard

Blackberry Farm feeds mind, body, and soul with untold luxury
(Some content originally published in Cityview Magazine. Photos by Christie Chassareau)

You want to be pampered. You want 5-star accommodations; you want all of the amenities that you’re always reading about in the world’s top food, wine, and travel magazines. But…

Airfare these days is so expensive, and even if you land a flight reservation you must endure the endless indignities that accompany air travel these days. And really, for $1500 for travel alone, don’t you deserve to be treated with some respect?

What if I told you that one of the top 10 small hotels in the world was 40 minutes outside of Knoxville? What if I told you that it was consistently ranked #1 in service by the most esteemed publications in the world? And, what if I told you that you could experience, on top of the immaculate service and surroundings, a food and wine event befitting royalty?

Welcome to Blackberry Farm, the five star resort located in Walland (yes, Walland!), Tennessee. Maybe you’ve heard of it, mentioned here and there. Maybe it’s been dismissed as too expensive, too exclusive, too close to home. I am here to tell you, however, that it should be faulted for none of the above. For you can travel to a place unlike any other, for an experience of a lifetime, without having to refill your gas tank.

Yes, Blackberry Farm is for you, East Tennessean. It is, in fact, a resort that celebrates absolutely everything about this area that you might love—it just does it so much better. Are you an outdoor lover? Revel in the miles and miles of hiking trails, the fly fishing lessons, the horseback riding. Is relaxation and meditation more your pace? There is one of the only Aveda Destination Spas in the country at Blackberry, as well as yoga aside a tranquil pond and countless picturesque nooks in which to curl up with a book. Does your passion lie in the epicurean? Sign up for one of the culinary events Blackberry is quickly becoming famous for, and experience, as I did, an awakening to all of the things I never realized I adored about our fair corner of this state.

Driving through Maryville towards Walland, I am happy to see that the trip has not changed so much since I was a girl—maybe a new antique mall or two, an unfamiliar billboard here and there—but it’s the same drive through lazy foothills, grey-blue mountains looming on the horizon. The road to Blackberry Farm is an admittedly unremarkable one, dotted with horse and cow-filled pastures and modest country homes. And yet, the air changes once you come across the signature white fence…the road gets a bit more curvy, the forest dense and green even after our drought-plagued summer. Pulling up to the Oak Cottage, Blackberry’s outpost, everything familiar about East Tennessee is suddenly taken up a notch.

And that is really the crux of Blackberry Farm—it does not fight its Foothills birthright, instead it gives tribute to it in the most remarkable way. If only every person, resident or not, who has dismissed East Tennessee as pedestrian or backwards could have a stay here. It is truly the very best of our homeland, highlighting and showcasing the things that natives are lucky enough to be acquainted with already.

I am checked in before I even realize I’m here, whisked onto a cozy golf cart with a cool bottle of water and my own personal guide to the estate. He whisks me through a garden, past the Main House where the dining room and some guest accommodations are located. Suddenly, ducking through two outbuildings, we burst forth upon the crest of a hill and all I can see is mountains, a pond, and a pastoral collection of sheep seemingly there for solely the benefit of my view. I’ve been at Blackberry for less than 10 minutes, and away from home for just under an hour, and I am positively enchanted.

The guide to my cabin tolerates my endless patter of questions with an exemplary attitude, showing that no matter the job at Blackberry, everyone is more than capably trained. We dart across the main road while discussing the fact that I will be staying in one of the newest cabins built on the property, just opened in late July. We pull in to the golf-cart sized driveway where I immediately spy a cart of my own to use when traversing the thousands of acres encompassing the resort. My cabin, aptly named Speckled Sussex after a breed of chicken housed on the farm, is the embodiment of luxury, encased in a cozy “rustic” shell. Keihl’s toiletries, Frette linens, wide slabs of antiqued wood that disguise heated floors, and a fully stocked (and complementary, outside of the alcoholic offerings) pantry and fridge—I’m not exaggerating when I say I could happily while away many days in this spot. The beds are a confection of memory foam, feather beds, and luxe linens, and a flat screen television lurks behind a panel of biological prints.

But there is not time for too much relaxing, not yet, because I am not here for any average visit. No, I am attending this weekend’s “Smoky Mountain Table” event, featuring lectures from the Farm’s master gardener John Coykendall, Guest Vinter Bob Lindquist of Qupé Wines in Napa Valley, and Blackberry’s new chef, Peter Glander. I quickly freshen up and hop back in my cart to zip across the hills to the Welcome Reception listed foremost on my event itinerary.

The “reception” is honestly a relief—I am expecting some sort of forced revelry but instead I am handed a fantastic glass of champagne and left to enjoy the magnificent view from the Main House’s veranda. Not that the weekend’s attendants and hosts are anything but friendly—I am quickly greeted and made to feel at home among the diverse crowd. Before much longer we are ushered inside to kick off the dinner, where Blackberry proprietor Sam Beall welcomes all of the guests and gives us a glimpse of what is to come in the next few days. As he speaks, servers glid in like ghosts and set before us our first bite of food for the evening—Smoked North Carolina Steelhead Roe with Crème Fraîche Panna Cotta & a Fingerling Potato Chip. Hilariously, the first thing I think of is the best smoked salmon and cream cheese I can possibly imagine—and I mean that as a compliment to the highest degree. This salty bite is a mighty harbinger of the delights to come.

Along with the incredible food that night—and incredible it is, featuring such delights as Diver Scallop Tartare, Torchon of Foie Gras, Lamb Breast Confit, and Wagyu Beef Sirloin—is a selection of wines that does nothing more than make me want to learn everything about the people behind Qupé wines. Lindquist, a charming bear of a man, imparts the joy and rapture only one that truly loves his work can communicate, and his wife Luisa shows a similar passion. After this one night, people I first looked upon as strangers have already become familiar, and everyone is feeling convivial indeed.

Bright and early the next morning I head to the garden, for a tour and lecture from Master Gardener Coykendall and breakfast under the shade trees on the periphery. Coykendall quickly charms with both his knowledge and delightful personality—I am quickly realizing that no one is involved with Blackberry Farm that isn’t beyond passionate about their calling in life. After a lovely stroll through only a fraction of the Farm’s massive gardens, we are treated to a refreshing breakfast, starting with heirloom tomato and watermelon juice and quickly followed by tiny, jewel-like figs, syrupy melon wrapped in salty local ham, and an assortment of sweet breads. After the previous nights feast, this light repast is exactly what I am craving.

Which brings up yet another point about Blackberry—the incredible intuitiveness of the staff and grounds themselves. There is very little that you could hope for or desire that couldn’t be delivered upon, and there were multiple times throughout the experience where I simply thought of something that would make things that much better and the literally appeared. I don’t want to know what witchcraft is involved to make this happen—I just want more of it.
Our morning in the garden then bleeds into a trip to the wine cellars at Maple Cottage, most recently the site of all cooking classes/demonstrations for the Farm. My hardy group, however, is the last to use this gorgeous home for such an occasion, but don’t weep for the future quests—an incredible new facility is being polished off as we speak…more on that later.

Because for now, the wines! Bob Lindquist leads us through a wine tasting that is as enjoyable as it is informational, and he manages to keep the interests of both the novices and true collectors. Indeed, most of the group is clamoring for more information on where to buy these remarkable and relatively affordable wines (qupé.com for more information). Pleasantly relaxed after the tasting, we head upstairs to find an impressive lunch waiting for us, including a soup that I will probably never forget—soft shell crawfish in a corn broth with heirloom tomatoes. Never has a dish captured a Southern summer in a more simple way.

A busy morning leads into a free afternoon to explore Blackberry’s other offerings. Some go horseback riding; others lounge by the pool, soaking in both the sun and the mountain view. I choose to curl up on my cabins porch with a cup of tea to do some writing. In the early evening I make my way to the main house and have a spectacular cocktail—the Farm’s own version of a mint julep. Made with small batch whiskey, homemade vanilla syrup, and garnished with a whole vanilla bean, I am quickly learning that you really can’t go wrong at Blackberry Farm.

That evenings dinner is on my own, letting me sample the dining experience the average guest has privy to. This is quite something on its own—a four course dinner with immaculate service. The food is divine, as expected, but I most enjoy the spirited conversation with one of Blackberry’s sommeliers. He recommends a white burgundy that is as delicious as it is in my budget, and I love that his enthusiasm carries over to even the more modest choices in the impressive wine list.

The next morning I wake up in my bowl of whipped cream masquerading as a bed, refreshed and excited about the mornings events. While a more elaborate breakfast is served in the Main House, I choose to duck across the way to the game room for some lighter fare. Settling in to a large leather chair with a bowl of berries; I nibble on some sweet bread and sip coffee until the time for my next encounter arrives. Today we are to be treated to a cooking demonstration from new head chef Peter Glander. Glander, who has a pedigree unlike anyone in the area I guarantee, has moved down to Walland to open The Barn, Blackberry’s newest 5-star dining experience. This barn, converted from an old structure moved from Pennsylvania, will not only house an amazing restaurant that will allow the Main House to take on a more casual, homey role; it will also contain the cooking classes and demonstrations, as well as an enormous wine cellar. But I digress…

Glander moves with the ease of someone with years of experience in a kitchen, yet he is also a fantastic teacher, answering questions all while preparing a selection of dishes that will also be featured in that evening’s grand finale dinner. Blackberry has provided notebooks with information on all of the wines we have sampled during this culinary journey, as well as the recipes Glander is preparing for us in the stately demonstration kitchen—a nice touch appreciated by anyone who has ever tried to frantically jot down the directions streaming from any television chef’s mouth.

Another afternoon free gives us time to reflect on the past few days, and to prepare for the once in a lifetime experience ahead of us. Rain is threatening the plans to dine in the stately gardens, and so our little troop becomes not only the last culinary group to utilize Maple Cottage for such an event; we are now the first ever group to dine in the new Barn facility. It is not complete, but is incredibly impressive nonetheless, and everyone involved is honored to be there for its christening.

Dinner is… amazing. I soak up conversation from new friends all while eating food that is as fresh and inviting as Blackberry itself. That night we are also treated to some of Qupé’s vintage selections, including one Roussanne that only remains in twelve cases.

Basking in the warmth of company and special treatment, I sit back and reflect on the past three days, which feels like over a week and miles and miles away from home. I came to Blackberry thinking it was out of my price range, that it wasn’t worth the money when I could use that to travel somewhere more exotic, further away. But now I have an entirely different outlook—where else could I experience a weekend like this? Could I learn about heirloom seeds and olive-oil poached salmon? Could I try wine varietals I’ve never even heard of? Nowhere, at least nowhere that I know of. Blackberry Farm is a place for you. A place to reconnect with your roots, to discover treasures in the land in Tennessee you never knew of, and to soak up the knowledge of a group of experts gathered for your benefit. The saying is more than true—Blackberry Farms is easy to find, and oh so hard to leave.

Blackberry Farm
1471 West Millers Cove Road
Walland, Tennessee 37886

(865) 380-2260

(out of a possible five stars)
Accommodations: *****
Dining: *****
Service: *****
Atmosphere: *****
Overall: *****