Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili

I remember the first time I had sweet potatoes and black beans together. Like it was yesterday. I fell in love. Well maybe that’s a little dramatic, but the memory is still pretty clear. At the since-closed Earwax Cafe in Chicago a few years ago, I ordered a sweet potato and black bean quesadilla one late afternoon with friends out on the patio. Something about the flavors and textures of those to ingredients just struck a chord.

Sometime last year, I started making this chili. I don’t remember where I got the inspiration for a chili version, but this is more or less the recipe I make most often. It’s easy to riff on the ingredients – go heavy on the black beans, but any other kind of bean will do. I’ve also added in butternut squash with the sweet potatoes, and you can add heat with chipotle peppers like I did below, or with red pepper flakes, hot sauce – anything you want. Get creative with the toppings, too. I love stirring creamy sour cream or plain yogurt into something warm, with cilantro sprinkled on top. Mmmmmm.

I also love this recipe because it includes inexpensive ingredients, many of which I already have on-hand — canned beans and tomatoes in the pantry, a few sweet potatoes hanging out in the fridge, and the toppings can vary. It’s also a healthy meal, loaded with veggies (and no meat, unless you go for the crumbled bacon!), and very little fat. It also gets better the longer it sits, so it’s a great leftover meal.

Hope you enjoy! If Earwax ever reopens I’ll have the share this recipe with them. :)


Sweet Potato & Black Beach Chili

Yield: 6 servings

Prep Time: 20 min

Cook Time: 30 min or a few hours

Total Time: 50 min

Feel free to riff on the toppings! Crumbled bacon, green onions or tortilla chips would be nice additions. This dish gets better the longer it simmers - if you're serving to guests, try making the day before and reheating.


3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 medium peppers, chopped (preferably poblanos but bell will work)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 bottle of beer (preferably an amber Mexican-style beer like dos equis)
3 medium sweet potatoes, chopped (skin left on)
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
2 cans black beans
2 cans other beans (Great Northern, red, pinto, even chickpeas will work)
2 chipotle chili peppers, diced (from the can)
1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from canned chipotles)
Vegetable/chicken broth, optional (for thinning, if necessary)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Sour cream or plain yogurt, optional
Cilantro, optional
Avocado, optional


1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook until translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add chopped peppers and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Add cumin and oregano and cook for 1 minute more to toast. Add beer, and let reduce by half.

2. Add canned tomatoes and their juices, canned beans (do not drain), sweet potatoes, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer at least 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Thin with broth, if desired.

3. Serve with sour cream, chopped cilantro and sliced avocado, if desired. Excellent with cornbread!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Win Two Free Tickets to Taste of Nashville

Friday, November 18, is The Phoenix Club of Nashville’s Taste of Nashville, held at Cannery Ballroom. In its 10th year, Taste of Nashville does just that – gives folks a taste of what Nashville has to offer. I can’t wait to experience this event for the first time. For a girl who always has a long list of dining destinations she wants to visit or revisit, and never enough time, this will be a great way to check in with some of my favorites and hopefully experience some new ones. And because catering an event like this is always a challenge (transportation, holding the food, keeping it warm, presentation, etc.), I’m always interested to see what people come up with, especially new and interesting off-menu items. I just can’t wait! And the kicker to it all? All proceeds go to The Boys and Girls Club of Middle TN. Good food for a good cause. Can’t beat that.


Click here for a full list of food/drink vendors. The list is substantial…

So…now to the “Win” part! I’m so excited to say, I’ve generously been given two free tickets to Taste of Nashville and two more to give away on my blog. Tickets are $50 ($60 at the door), so it’s definitely worth your time to enter.

Simply complete at least the first form of entry below. All additional forms are bonus entries (but please make sure to link your bonus entries as separate comments). I’ll randomly select a comment on Thursday 11/10 at noon CST and notify the winner via email.

1) (Must complete this to enter!) Leave a comment on this blog telling me what part of Taste of Nashville you’re most excited about. Is it a restaurant? Distiller? Brewer? Location? Entertainment?All of the above?!

2) (Additional Entry) RSVP on Taste of Nashville’s Facebook page and leave a comment (and link your post back here as a comment)

3) (Additional Entry) Follow @annakatet on twitter and tweet something like the following : I hope I win 2 free tix to @TasteofNash 11/18 from @AnnakateT!    (and link your tweet back here as a comment)

Good luck!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Alimentum Eat & Greet Tour: Farmers, Artisans and Unique Producers – THIS SUNDAY!

Remember when I posted about the Alimentum Eat & Greet Tour on Nolensville Road a few weeks ago? It was awesome. Paulette created a great video with a recap of the tour. Check it out below. It gives me goosebumps! AND, read on for details of the next tour which is this Sunday! This time, we’re going to highlight farmers, artisans and unique producers around the region. We didn’t reveal this in the press push that went out a few weeks back, but the special lunch during the tour is going to be at Miel Restaurant in West Nashville! They’re opening on a Sunday just for us. I’m so excited.

Here are the details of the next tour:

Who:    Alimentum Eat & Greet Tour: Farm/Artisan Tour
Paulette Licitra, Publisher & Tour Host
Annakate Tefft, Public Relations & Tour Host

When:   Sunday, October 23, 2011 9:30am to 4pm

What: Guided tour costs $95 per person, limit 10 people. Tour includes transportation (from group meeting point), lunch, the latest copy of Alimentum Journal, and fun times with fellow local foodies.

Where: Tour departs at 9:30 am sharp (we’ve got a lot to cover!); meeting location TBD

To buy tickets and learn more, click here or email

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fig Thyme Jam

Figs are a true delight. Raw, they’re so sweet and complex you can enjoy them as they are with cheese or cured meats. Roasted in a baked good or alone, the gooey insides further liquefy into a sweet melted mess. A favorite preparation is to half them, plop a little pat of goat cheese on top, then wrap them in bacon and roast for 20 minutes or so.

This time, I decided to make jam with my figs. (Well technically these are preserve since the shape of the figs is preserved in the finished product. ) I’m trying to get a jump on  holiday gifts, and I’ve found homemade jam always goes over well. I got this interesting recipe from Bon Appetit magazine, here. The thyme gives it an herbal note, which matches the figs well. It also lends a savory element which complements a savory cracker, cheese or meat well.

Figs are in season late summer and early fall. If you’re in Nashville, I found these tasty figs at Whole Foods. The varieties of these figs weren’t labeled when I bought them, but I believe the brown ones are Mission figs and the green ones are Calimyrna figs. I only used the Mission figs in this recipe.

I love this recipe because it includes sorghum, which is a syrup made from a cereal grain. It’s smoky and complex and goes well with the figs. I was afraid it’d overpower it in the recipe, but not so. Here are the ingredients you’ll need, minus the sorghum. I quartered the figs before I started cooking them.

You don’t need to add artificial pectin to the recipe as many fruits already contain pectin, and citrus has an especially high concentration. So the orange zest you add will make the jam set. It won’t be as firm as a jam recipe that calls for artificial pectic, but that never bothers me.

The end result was only a few small mini jelly jars (each holds 4 oz.), but the smaller batch makes the jam extra special. Enjoy!


Fig Thyme Jam

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Prep Time: 10

Cook Time: 30

The canning directions are derived from "The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and other Sweet Preserves" by Linda Ziedrich. The recipe, as noted above, is from the September issue of "Bon Appetit" magazine.


1/2 cup sorghum syrup or honey
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 sprigs thyme
Pinch of sea salt
1 pound fresh figs, stemmed, quartered


Place sorghum syrup in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add orange zest, thyme sprigs, and pinch of salt. Simmer sorghum mixture for 1 minute. Add figs. Continue to simmer, gently stirring occasionally, until figs are soft but still hold their shape, 5–10 minutes, depending on firmness of figs.

Ladle the preserves into jars. Add lids and rings, and process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Remove and let cool. Make sure you hear the "pop" or the jars will need to be refrigerated

Bon Appetit Magazine, September 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

Speed Dating at Food Blog Forum Nashville

Well, speed dating (sort of) with local businesses, that is. At the opening party for Food Blog Forum Nashville, which was held at the Nashville Farmers’ Market, and themed “Taste of Tennessee,” I walked around to each booth to experience all sorts of goodness from restaurateurs, purveyors, artisans and more from the Middle Tennessee region. And it made me fall in love all over again with Nashville. The Nashville food scene really seems to be blowing up, and I’m so proud to be here to taste, sip, snack and support it, the best I can. I’m was so inspired by the event (and huge shout out to Beth, Lindsay and Leah for all the work they put into planning this for our fair city) that I’m blogging about it the very same day!

The event was a great chance to get up close and personal with a strong representation of Nashville’s finest in food and drink. I wanted to take this opportunity to show off a few of my favorite vendors of the evening.

Corsair Distillery’s Triple Smoke American Single Malt Whiskey was amazing. Sooo smokey, but not in the artificial burnt toast kind of way – in a really smooth, deep way. The gal conducting the tasting also shared that their tasting room in Marathon Village is about to open, which means not only are they distilling spirits on location, they’re finally going to be able to sample them. They had to build out a separate space with its own door, apart from the distillery (damn you Tennessee liquor laws).

Next up is Bathtub Gin. With their spiked fruit spreads in flavors like Limoncello Strawberry, Rum Raisin Mission Fig (yes, that’s all one kind), and Basil Vodka Golden Tomato, I knew I had to sample these spreadable delights myself. Amy (one of the two sister creators) was a doll, and so excited to share her creations.

Then I ate half a hot dog. A hot dog smothered in Mista Dale’s Gourmet Mustard Slaw, that is! Mista Dale himself was so charming, and passionate about his slaw. After turning 50 last year, he says he knew he wanted to do something he was truly passionate about, and he knew he made a mean slaw. So one day he packaged up one of his prized concoctions and mailed it to Kroger in a used mayonnaise jar. Six weeks later he was invited to present his product in the Kroger national headquarters in Cincinnati, and now you can be find Mista Dale’s around Nashville and soon around the Middle Tennessee region. Gotta love stories like that. I tried the more mild of the two spicy slaws and it sure was tasty. Reminded me of a chow chow or relish over a slaw because of its heat and bright yellow color (from the mustard). Growing up in the Midwest, our slaws were pretty bland…Marzetti Dressing anyone? The ingredient list contains whole, real foods, too, and no preservatives. Nice, Mista Dale!

The Bloomy Rind, created by cheese enthusiast Kathleen Cotter, bills itself as “an artisan cheese shop in the making.” How lovely! While she doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location yet, Kathleen keeps busy doing wonderful things like creating the first-of-its-kind Southern Cheese Festival, partnering with all kinds of restaurants, breweries and other vendors (like Bathtub Gin) to provide cheese all over town, and selling her cheese — both local and national varieties — at local shops like Turnip Truck and farmers’ markets. Way to go, Kathleen — it’s so great to have access to so many wonderful cheeses, and have someone so knowledgeable to share them.

Last on my short list of faves was Perl Catering. They’re a husband-and-wife team who offers local, organic, restaurant-quality food to their catering clients. I snacked on a pumpkin seed romesco crostini with truffled spaghetti squash on top. Holy crap was it good!

And that was just the start. Goo Goo Clusters, Olive & Sinclair Chocolates, Yazoo who custom made pint glasses featuring the FBF logo, Loveless Cafe,  Grinder’s Switch Winery and O.Liv Body Bar were present as well. Arnold Myint also did a cooking demonstration and his newest restaurant concept, AM & FM, offered up delicious crostinis of roasted beets, egg salad with pickled mustard seeds, and shrimp with pickled caper berries.

So many good folks, food and festivities tonight, and it’s all just the start. Excited to attend FBF tomorrow, to learn some blogging tips and tricks so that I can blog more and better about the excellent purveyors of Middle Tennessee, with whom I am most definitely in love.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Never use the wrong bread plate again

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at a full, round table, and all of a sudden, you can’t find your bread plate. Some people have used the one on the left and others the one on the right. Which is yours? Come to think of it, which is your water glass? The table is loaded with multiple plates for each person (entree, salad, bread, etc.), a starter plate or two is crowding the center, causing everyone to shuffle things around to make room. Plus you’ve got wine, water and maybe even coffee mugs on the table. Things are hectic

Fear not, fellow diner! I’m about to blow your mind with a simple solution. I can’t remember who taught me this trick, but it is one of the most useful little tidbits I’ve added to my collection of somewhat random facts. Without fail, I use this trick at nearly every group restaurant outing I attend.

Enter the b-d trick. First, make your left hand into a lowercase “b,” like so:

b = bread


Next, make your right hand into a “d,” like so:


Am I cut out to be a hand model or what? Now, it’s possible you see where I’m going with this, but in case not, I’m going to drag it out a bit more. You may ask, how will I know to make by left hand the “b” and my right hand the “d”? What if I switch them? Unless you have an extra thumb on the back of your hand, you can’t. With that, voila:

The b-d trick, revealed!

As you can see, the “b” on the left indicates you should use the bread/appetizer plate on that side. The “d” to the right indicates that’s the water/wine glass you should go for. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled out this trick, covertly under the table. I’ve also met very few people who have heard this before. You’ll have to show off your new skills to your friends.

Were you in-the-know about this little trick before? Think it’s smart? Dumb? So awesome you’re at a loss about where to begin? Leave a comment and let me know! You can thank me later. :)


Monday, September 5, 2011

First Look: Five Points Pizza

My friend Mikah said it best when we walked into Five Points Pizza for the first time – it doesn’t feel like a “new” restaurant, even though it is. And she’s right: The place already feels well-seasoned and comfortable and they haven’t even opened the doors to the public yet. The grand opening is tomorrow, September 6, at noon.

The restaurant was created by some friends of mine, Tara Ertischek Tieman and David Tieman, self-proclaimed “recovering attorneys,” who came up with the idea for the NY-style pizzeria in the Five Points neighborhood, along with a third partner, Tanner, who helped create the successful Sticky Fingers BBQ chain across the Southeast. I had the great privilege of getting a sneak preview of Five Points Pizza in East Nashville last week during their friends and family event, and boy was it a treat.

I don’t remember exactly when they started talking about opening the pizzeria but it was awhile ago. We’ve watched it grow from a fun topic of conversation discussed over beers in their living room, to a living, breathing, pizza-producing restaurant in a great space just down the street on Woodland from 3 Crow Bar. It’s been fun watching the pieces fall into place, and see our friends work through all the details. They even got married in the process.  (They had a surprise wedding in Vegas while they were attending a pizza trade show!)

The space, long before it was the bike shop East Side Cycles, was a grocery store. The original grocer now owns the building and is the pizzeria’s landlord. He had some old black-and-white photos of the space as a grocery store from way back when. These now adorn the booth-side of the restaurant. On the opposite wall is a giant painting, in vibrant primary colors, featuring an abstract jazz band, painted by a friend of theirs (which you can kind of see in the reflection of the photo below).

They have big ambitions to offer something for everyone in East Nashville. With a mix of Bob Dylan, Andrew Bird and Bruce Springsteen on the radio, the vibe is relaxed yet up-beat. The pizzeria will be open six days a week (closed Tuesdays, after their grand opening), noon to midnight on weekdays and until 2am on weekends. They want to be a place families can bring kids, a place to grab late night pizza-by-the-slice in a neighborhood that doesn’t offer much after 10pm, and even a place to catch a football game – there’s one flat-screen TV above the bar. Though the TV will be turned off unless there’s a game on – a detail I really appreciate.

Now, to the food. Five Points Pizza remains true to its motto. With the exception of three salads and two appetizers, the menu is devoted to hot pizza and cold beer. The dough for their NY-style pies is made from scratch daily, aged in-house, hand-tossed and baked on two-inch bricks in an old school gas-fireddeck oven. It’s thin crust and crispy, but still has achewiness.

Before I just glaze right over the appetizers, I need to show a little love to the Antipasto Platter. Holy crap. With roasted peppers, marinated artichoke hearts and briny kalamatas; prosciutto, Genoa salami, provolone and fresh mozzarella, this is one of the best antipasto plates I’ve ever had. They’re using really quality ingredients on this platter and you can tell. The plate is $15 but worth every penny. We  also tried the oily garlic knots with marinara ($5) and the Caprese salad ($10) which featured dark reddish purple tomatoes and moist, pillowy mozzzarella. While they tomatoes weren’t sourced locally, they were extremely tomato-y, a far cry from the light orange, anemic-looking, tasteless supermarket variety you so often find.

Finally, the pizza. I got so caught up taking pictures of the space and jotting notes that I forgot to actually photograph the pizzas. Take a peek at their Facebook Page (and “like” it while you’re at it!) for some pizza pics. (They’re also on Twitter.) All pizzas come in 14″ and 18″. If you build your own pie, you can choose from lots of different fruits and veggies (broccoli to pineapple plus all the classics), cheeses and meats. One-topping pies start at $13 for a 14″ pie and $16 for an 18″ pie. Additional toppings are a few bucks more, depending on the topping and pie size.

They also offer eight specialty pizzas including a Sausage Ricotta pie and a Pizza Bianca (white pizza). These range from $15 to $24 depending on size and toppings. Because we’d ordered so many appetizers that night, we stuck with trying slices only. Each day they’ll offer different pizzas by the slice and on this particular day the options were cheese ($3.25), pepperoni ($3.75), artichoke hearts and feta ($4), pepperoni, green peppers and black olives ($4) and prosciutto, fresh basil and pecorino romano ($5). While a $5 slice of pizza might not be everyone’s choice, as a food dork, I appreciate the options. If I’m feeling frugal maybe I’ll opt for cheese; but most often I’d probably go for one of the specialty offerings. On the night we were there, I tried the artichoke feta and it did not disappoint.

The beer selection ranged from drafts of Yazoo to cans of Porkslap and lots in between (no liquor). Speaking of the bar, make sure you pay special attention to the wooden bar area with stools (perfect for scarfing a slice of pizza) in front of the actual bar. Tieman made it himself from an old piece of wood.

It’s touches like these that lend the character, charm and sense of a place to Five Points Pizza in a way that feels unusual for a restaurant that hasn’t even opened its doors.

Once you’ve tried it out, please report back! I’ll be curious to hear everyone’s thoughts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Announcing: Alimentum Eat & Greet Tour – Nashville Edition

So, I’m pretty excited about something new I’ve been working on. My friend Paulette and I are hosting a series of culinary tours right here in Nashville! Paulette is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Alimentum Journal, a literary review all about food. She also teaches Italian-themed cooking classes here in Nashville. We both share a love of food and travel, and thought, “why not?” Nashville has a lot to offer food-wise, especially when it comes to ethnic eating. We wanted to plan something to make some of the more off-the-beaten-track places more approachable.

Our first tour will take a group of 10 to Nolensville Pike. The nuts and bolts are below, from a recent press release. Also, check out Chris Chamberlain’s awesome Bites post from the Nashville Scene.

Hope you can make it!


  • Alimentum Eat & Greet Tour: Nolensville Pike
  • Paulette Licitra, Publisher & Tour Host
  • Annakate Tefft, Public Relations & Tour Host

When: Saturday, September 17, 2011 9:30-4pm

What: Guided tour costs $95 per person, limit 10 people. Tour includes transportation (from group meeting point, TBD), lunch and tastings from an assortment of restaurants, markets and bakeries along the Nolensville Pike corridor, the latest copy of Alimentum Journal, and fun times with fellow local foodies.

Where: Tour departs at 9:30am sharp (we’ve got a lot to cover!); meeting location TBD

Why: To wake up your palate, push your culinary limits, and expose a relatively untouched world of ethnic dining in our own backyard. And honestly, why not?!

To buy tickets and learn more, please visit or email

The next tour will be October 22 and will be to a local farm. Details to come!

Please feel free to ask questions here, or email us at the above address. Hope you can make it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Italian Panzanella Salad

Do you subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated? Well if not, you should consider it. I learn so much about food and cooking through this excellent publication. I love the notes from readers, sharing tips and asking questions. The “What Is It?” section is neat, too — they include a sketch of an often antique cooking device and explain its origin and meaning. And the “Quick Tips” section is so useful. In the latest issue I learned a trick for trussing chicken if you’re out of kitchen twine (use a leftover wire champagne cage to twist around the legs!) and a good suggestion for squeezing the liquid out of cooked spinach (place spinach in a colander, then use a glass or metal bowl to press out the liquid). Genius. The recipes are diverse and they provide a ton of background info on why things turn out the way they do. This publication is truly a culinary treasure. There’s also a great online database of all their recipes you can pay to use, and I’ve heard their cookbooks are fab too, though I haven’t used them. If you’re serious about cooking (or getting serious about finally getting serious about cooking), subscribing is a great first step.

In the last issue, there was a great recipe for panzanella salad. This Italian Bread salad is one of my favorites, and a great use for the all the tasty tomatoes available right now. When I bit into my first tomato of the season, I realized I rarely eat tomatoes out of season anymore. The anemic, flavorless supermarket variety just really don’t cut it for me. But back to the salad. Panzanella is a great way to use up stale bread. Seems like every culture has a use for stale bread – the Mexicans have chilaquiles to use up stale tortillas, the French have their toast, and I’m sure there are a million others. I often make croutons with stale bread.

In the mood for more tomato recipes? Check out some from some blogger friends of mine, Adrien, Vivek, and Beth. I haven’t tried any of these yet, but I will. They all sound so scrumptious!

So, to kick off the Panzanella, check out these beauties, straight from the garden. The recipe calls for 1.5 lbs; this is a little under two.

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Then chop up the bread. I used some white Italian bread and a-touch-past-its-prime whole wheat sandwich bread. Toss it with some olive oil and salt, then spread it out on a baking sheet to toast. I added some whole cloves of garlic as well.

After you chop and seed the tomatoes, you need to let some of that juice drain out. Strain the tomatoes in a colander sprinkled with a bit of salt. I stirred them around a few times to help with this.

Once the tomatoes have drained, mix up the dressing which is a classic vinaigrette plus some tomato liquid. I love using the tomato liquid in this way! Do you all use jars to make your dressing? It’s so much easier than the drizzle and whisk method. You just toss everything in and shake. Granted after a few minutes the dressing will start to separate, but if you add it to your salad right away you’re fine.

Then, mix it all together and voila! Summer on a plate. Make sure you don’t add the toasted bread until right before you’re ready to eat or it’ll get quite soggy.

Any Cook’s Illustrated fans out there? Tell me why you love the mag. And, please share any tips you’ve learned.


Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)

Yield: 4 servings

Total Time: 30 minutes

(Headnote and recipe from Cook's Illustrated, July 2011) Panzanella recipes benefit from the liquid exuded by the tomatoes, so we tossed them with some salt and let them drain in a colander until they’d shed a good bit of juice. Using that juice in our Italian Bread Salad’s dressing boosted its fresh flavor. Staling the bread in the oven until it turned golden brown gave our Panzanella a nutty flavor and allowed the dressing to lightly saturate the pieces of bread before we stirred in the tomatoes.


6 cups rustic Italian or French bread , cut or torn into 1-inch pieces (1/2 to 1 pound)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
6-8 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled (I added this to the bread as it was toasting)
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced thin (I omitted this as I was out, and the salad worked just fine)
1 shallot, sliced thin
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss bread pieces with 2 tablespoons oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and garlic; arrange bread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Toast bread pieces until just starting to turn light golden, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

2. Gently toss tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt in large bowl. Transfer to colander and set over bowl; set aside to drain for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally.

3. Whisk remaining 6 tablespoons oil, vinegar, and ¼ teaspoon pepper into reserved tomato juices. Add bread pieces, toss to coat, and let stand for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.

4. Add tomatoes, cucumber, shallot, and basil to bowl with bread pieces and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Cook's Illustrated, July 2011

Friday, July 29, 2011

Gluten Free in Nashville

As a self-proclaimed foodie with professional experience in the food and nutrition industries, I would consider myself more educated than the average bear about gluten intolerance. That is, until a very dear friend of mine with a sensitivity to gluten came to town the other week from Portland, Ore. I know she doesn’t like to make a big deal about her gluten issues, so I (attempted to) plan ahead. I live in East Nashville, so on the day of her visit I picked up some Almond Thin crackers (gluten-free) from the Turnip Truck, and made sure I was stocked with fruit, yogurt, juice and nuts so she’d have lots to snack on while she was here. So far so good.

Before I dive into this, here are some things you should know (and that I learned AFTER my friend’s visit) about gluten issues:

  • According to the Whole Grains Council, gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat (including farro, spelt, durum and others), barley, rye, tricticale and oats. Oats are a tricky one as they’re inherently gluten-free but can become contaminated during processing.
  • Gluten issues aren’t the same for everyone. Some people are completely intolerant and require a dedicated kitchen that’s free from all gluten-containing elements. Some, like my friend, just have a gluten sensitivity, so if she has a nibble of something with gluten, she’ll be uncomfortable later but it’s manageable (or so she says).
  • Beyond grains, gluten can be hidden in all kinds of things to soups and sauces to condiments and spreads (often it’s used to thicken things).
  • Celiac disease is an autoimmune form of gluten intolerance. But not everyone who has a sensitivity to gluten has Celiac disease. I’ve also been told that gluten intolerance is NOT an allergy. Nutritionist friends and those that are educated about gluten intolerance please jump in and correct me here if I’ve misspoken on anything.

The first evening of her visit, we’d planned to see a concert at Mercy Lounge. So, budget-minded and ever-so-thoughtful friend that I am, I decided to take her to Eastland Cafe for their award-winning happy hour menu with lots of heavy apps and drinks for just $5. I screened the happy hour menu in advance, and thought I’d identified several options on the menu that would be substantial enough for dinner. Fail #1. I chose Eastland as my other go-to places for a tasty yet affordable dinner close to home (Burger Up, Silly Goose, Cooper’s) seemed to have a lot of gluten-y (word?)  items on the menu, and I wanted her to have options.

Please note this is no slam against Eastland Cafe. I did not call ahead to ask, and when we got there, we had about three minutes to order before happy hour ended, so we weren’t able to see if the server would make any substitutions.

From this tasty menu, we ordered

—   Fish tacos – I assumed there would be the option to get them grilled or fried, right? WRONG. They were fried, and thus contained a light breading with gluten. They also did not come with corn tortillas (but again, we didn’t have time to ask).

—   House-made hummus with olive oil – I thought, “well it comes with carrots on the plate in addition to the pita, so that should be okay, right?” WRONG. Do you know how not-fun it is to eat wimpy carrot sticks with your hummus when there is a giant pile of gluten-laden, freshly grilled pita bread, steaming in your face? It’s not fun.

—   Vegetable spring rolls – They’re made with rice paper, right? Not always. I think they were won-ton wrappers, but whatever they were they definitely had wheat in them. After a quick google search I learned that if you’re making any sort of spring or Asian roll, you need to expressly make sure the wrapper doesn’t have gluten in it, as I guess that’s pretty common.

—   Housemade smoked jalapeno pimento cheese – Both my friend and I are originally from Ohio so I thought I’d introduce her to this certain Southern specialty. Same problem here as with the hummus and pita — the celery was kind of sad next to the sturdy, salty pretzels.

Now we did ask for extra celery and carrots for our various dips, but wow was this a big fat fail! Instead of a gluten-free feast I basically fed her a dinner of poison. Luckily my girl is low maintenance and kind, so she toughed it out.

And the cocktails were tasty.

The next day for lunch I took her to the Local Taco in Brentwood for lunch. Mexican can be safe for those with a gluten sensitivity as the tortillas and chips are often made of corn, which doesn’t contain gluten.

After lunch, I was feeling better about my restaurant choices and announced that I planned to make a barley risotto with lots of garden veggies and Parmesan for dinner. Oh, Annakate. Barley is one of the no-no grains as well. Fail #2. Again, my friend was super nice about it and reminded me that that wouldn’t really work, so I laughed at myself and quickly changed the subject so as not to dwell on her gluten intolerance the entire trip! When I had a free moment I googled “what has gluten” on my iPhone in the bathroom and worked out an alternate plan for dinner (tilapia simmered with a tasty Trader Joe’s Indian Simmer Sauce with chickpeas, spinach and jasmine rice. Sigh.

My friend is so not a pain, and gracefully rolled with the punches each time. In a way, I’m glad I had this experience because I learned a lot. I wanted to post this blog entry to share with others so maybe someone else wouldn’t make the same mistakes. After she left I did some further research on gluten-free restaurants via bloggers who cover this topic in Nashville. I’ve just listed a few restaurants/bloggers here. Please contribute your favorite gluten free-friendly restaurants/blogs in town as well!


  • Gluten Free Cat Heather has a lovely blog and writes about many of her personal experiences at restaurants in Nashville. Do a search for “Nashville restaurants” in the search bar on the bottom right for a few suggestions. She also has a link for gluten-free products and resources at the top.
  • Gluten Free Nashville I don’t know this blogger personally, but she has a great roundup of gluten-free restaurants in town.

East Nashville Gluten Free-Friendly Restaurants:

  • The Wild Cow (ironically I went here for the first time the night after my friend left.) They have tons of gluten-free items on the menu
  • Mad Donna’s (they offer Aunt April’s gluten free bread if you ask)
  • Pizza Italia (offers gluten-free crust)
  • Aunt April’s Bakery (located inside the Green Wagon)
  • Rosepepper
  • I’m sure there are tons more!

[UPDATE (9/19/11) - I recently learned Silly Goose in East Nashville, even though it's a couscous restaurant, usually has gluten-free bread on hand for their sandwiches and can get creative to accommodate other requests. ]

Of course, on all these places, make sure you call ahead to confirm it’s safe for you or your friends.