You had me at avocado.

This month I’m celebrating one of my favorite ingredients – the AVOCADO. I partnered up with the I Love Juice Bar and am bringing you some fun facts and history of this crowd favorite. Guess what?!? You can also read this post here! Yay for guest-blogging, watch out world! Either place you read it, get ready to “avo” a good time!

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Let’s be honest, we are all about avocados every month. First, there was guacamole and now the delicious avocado toast. We just can’t resist the smooth and simple green berry.

That’s right, an avocado is actually a large berry with a single seed inside. It grows on a tree just like bananas in sub-tropical climates and generally won’t thrive any farther north than Florida or California. There goes my hopes for growing avocados in my Tennessee backyard. While the popular Hass variation is cultivated in California, the country that is responsible for several times more avocado production than any other is Mexico. Our southern neighbor is also where we have found the earliest artifacts of the green berry.

The avocado is ANCIENT! The oldest traces were found in a cave in Puebla, Mexico just south of the nation’s capital. The artifacts date back to 10,000 B.C during the Stone Age, long before the Aztecs. While cavemen were crafting tools and weapons for the first time, they very well could have been munching on avocados and as the original farmers might have been growing them in their backyard. Thousands of years later, around 1400 A.D. the avocado became a popular food for the Aztecs.

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In the Aztec language, the word for avocado is “ahuácatlwhich oddly enough translates to a certain male’s body part, referring to its round shape and how they hang from trees. The avocado was actually known as an aphrodisiac in the Aztec culture. According to ancient tales, families would keep their young vulnerable females inside during the harvest season to make sure they stayed out of trouble. While we did get rid of that tradition as well as the human sacrificing, thank goodness, we did not get rid of the original way the Aztecs prepared avocados – mashed up into a creamy consistency called “avocado soup,” or guacamole!

The nutritional value of an avocado is very rich just like its history. It has the honor of being recognized as a “nutrient-dense” food because of the multitude of nutrients packed in its small amount of calories. In one serving you get nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin B, Vitamin E, Folate, Fiber, Lutein, Riboflavin, Vitamin C,  Iron, Magnesium, and way more Potassium than bananas. You can imagine the enormous effect all these nutrients have on the function of your body! Unlike any other fruit, the avocado also has a low sugar content while being very high in protein and good fat. This creamy, yummy source of monounsaturated fats has the ability to lower blood cholesterol levels, balance insulin and glucose levels to manage diabetes, and can reduce the risk for various types of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Wow! It sounds like an avocado a day can also keep the doctor away!

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Next time you go to your local I Love Juice Bar, order one of the new smoothie bowls to get your avocado for the day. My favorite is the Go Go Green, but you can also try the Chocolate, Açaí, Golden Turmeric, Aloha, or Dragon Fruit Bowl and they will all give you that amazing boost in nutrients and of course satisfy you with the avocado’s yummy taste that’s been enjoyed for centuries.

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Margarita Day! Hay!

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In honor of this very important national holiday, I have for you the best ‘ritas around Knoxville (if only you could get tipsy from pictures)! Go try one for yourself and find something to celebrate. You could cheers to this bizarre holiday, or that it’s Thursday, maybe to your good friends, or maybe just to being young and alive. Celebrate something – it’s good for your soul – and so are really delicious margaritas!

BALTER’S SMOKY MANGO HABANERO ‘RITA

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HANDS DOWN, this is my favorite ‘rita in Knoxville.  The Smoky Mango Habanero Whisky provides the most unique sweet and spicy kick. Don’t worry though, it has the perfect balance to make the drink interesting, but subtle enough so that every palette would enjoy it. I had a couple in a row … it was that good. Thanks to my sweet friend, Holly who celebrated Saturday with me and also didn’t get too embarrassed when the bartender cut me off, jk. 🙂

BABALU’S CRAZY ‘RITA SELECTION

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This is the Babarita, flavored with pomegranate juice. At Babalu, you literally have over SIX different ‘ritas to choose from. The Shine-a-rita (with Sugarlands Peach and Lemonade Moonshine), Pineapple Margarita (with house-infused pineapple tequila), Mojarita (with fresh lime mint), Sangarita (with house-made sangria), AND they always have a special one like Strawberry Sriracha or Cucumber Jalapeno.  

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Babalu is the perfect setting for a group of people and I’m still savoring the night I had with the New2Knox crew. P.S. If you want to make new friends, follow them on Instagram  (@New2Knox) and go to their next social. Maybe we will do another after-party at Babalu and we could share a margarita together (or their crazy good guac)!

CHIVO’S CLASSIC MARGARITA

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This drink has put me back financially a few times, because it is SO good and one is just not enough. It has the perfect mix of flavors, with top-shelf tequila (Espolon Blanco), Triple Sec, Agave, and Lime. Order “The Chivo” either classic or flavored with Blackberry or Strawberry; anyway you have it, expect a good time!

There’s my favorite ‘ritas in Knoxville and there are plenty more good ones in this growing city! Hope you get to go try one and have fun celebrating National Margarita Day!

Raise your ‘ritas, Knoxville, cheers!

Hello, Chef Kendale

This guy is killing it in Knoxville, one pop-up brunch at a time, and I’m pumped to tell you about who he is and what he’s got cooking for you in the future.  

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Chef Kendale of Simpl Food, Arts, & Catering grew up in Newport with a grandpa who was the master chef of the neighborhood. Watching good ol’ Lloyd craft southern classics every Sunday for the people he loved, Kendale experienced how art could happen in the kitchen. Years later, my friend is doing the same thing for our city (every Sunday).

I don’t think there is time to tell you about every step Kendale has taken in life that has led him to where he is today. It’s a story of many jobs, many lessons, and many seasons. His previous career though was selling cars. He was making all the moohlah he could want and beating sales records, but got to a breaking point, “Here I was, working 60 hours a week and making Ted Russell millions of dollars, but I wanted to do something for me, for my name.” ENTER, CHEF KENDALE!!!

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Because he was mesmerized by the kitchen growing up, Kendale began to seriously consider culinary school. He started pursuing this dream by cooking for his friends. A chef in the making, he began getting creative with foods and loved watching people enjoy what he made. The day Kendale knew there was no turning back was when Chef Scott Conant from Chopped agreed to meet him via twitter at his New York restaurant. Kendale shared that he had always wanted to be a chef and Scott’s response was simple yet the right amount of empowerment he needed – “Well, then make it happen, Chef.”

“Making it happen” is exactly what Chef Kendale has done in the past year. He enrolled in the UT Culinary Institute AND no big deal started HIS OWN BUSINESS 6 months ago called Simpl Food, Arts, & Catering! It’s so cool the momentum people have when they know their purpose, right?

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If you don’t follow @simpl_food_arts on Instagram, check it out because you can find out what Chef Kendale is doing every week. Bank on him having a pop-up brunch most Sundays at Honeybee Coffee South. On Fridays, at Awaken Coffee, you can get his homemade baklava. Throughout the month, he has private dinners, catering events, and is even putting on his own special experiences like whiskey and bourbon pairing nights. What he is doing could really go anywhere – maybe a future food-truck, large event caterer, restaurant owner, who knows!? His goals right now are to continue growing as a chef, building his business, and taking the next step when it is time.

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His next step is already here!!!  Simpl Food, Arts, & Catering will be the official in-house food service of Pour Taproom. Beginning September 28th, Chef Kendale will be serving his pork sliders, possibly beer cheese nachos, and other features every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Old City! YAHS! 

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Let’s talk FOOD already! The name Simpl represents Chef’s approach to food – keep it simple, fresh ingredients and good cooking. He also likes to push the envelope on what you might expect in a dish. I made a deal with Chef Kendale that my hubby and I would bring the wine and dessert if he would make the magic in the kitchen … a private dinner at his place!!! It was so cool to watch a chef create right in front of you. He prepared for us a delicious avocado bruschetta for an appetizer. Then, for the main course – beef tenderloin over a carrot puree with barley and radishes. We got to watch and learn about the sous-vide cooking style he used for the meat. Translating to “under-vacuum” in French, the style uses vacuum sealed bags in heated water at a precise temperature, resulting in literally a perfect piece of meat. This colorful dish reminded me of an elevated “steak and potatoes” – filling, seasoned to perfection, and honestly one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had.

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What was special about this meal and Chef’s cooking is the daring and forward-thinking approach that pushes him forward. He is not scared to try new things. He takes risks with interesting combinations and in result makes something that surprises people. I’ve never had carrot puree, but Chef Kendale’s got me dreaming about carrots in blenders! At his brunches, some of my favorites are fried chicken and waffles with an apple slaw and maple cayenne syrup OR delicious shrimp and grits with pickled red onions. It’s not often that I eat in Knoxville and truly feel surprised by something on my plate. So, this new chef is a rare gem if you ask me.

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If you meet Chef Kendale in person, you will see for yourself, he is one of a kind – not just as a chef, but also as a friend and husband. He and his sweet wife, Courtney, have two great danes and live downtown. He loves to travel, be outdoors, is obsessed with minimalism, admittedly OCD, and loves creating vegan dishes for the challenge. Friends, eat his food AND get to know him – you won’t regret either!

So, there you have it, a little introduction to one of Knoxville’s upcoming chefs. He is pretty special and unique and I know that his future is going to be just that as well. What I have loved most about hearing his story, is being inspired by the choice he made, to follow a new path for himself. A lot of people stay stuck in one sucky job or one career or one way of thinking about themselves, but he took the risk to pursue something new. He told me, “I’m not positive where I will end up, but I know that I am building a future for myself.” It’s pretty inspiring. I hope it gives you some kind of encouragement, maybe to keep pursuing your craft, maybe to take the risk you’ve been running from, or maybe just to know that we are all watching our stories unfold. How cool is it that years, jobs, and seasons later, Kendale is responding to the purpose he saw and felt as a child and now years later is creating meals for his community just like his grandpa did?!?

Hello, Basil

The King of Herbs, it’s claim to fame, basil has always been an herb of highest honor. While reserved in the past for only the finest kings and queens, for me so many years later, this herb was my very first farm-to-table experience. When I was just a youngster and would hang around the kitchen trying to find my place in it, my mom would give me a pair of scissors and tell me to go fetch some basil from our garden. I don’t know why it felt so thrilling to me, but regardless I loved seeing the fresh ingredient transfer from a plant outside and into our dishes. As I was thinking of another ingredient to celebrate, that memory came to my mind and I am so excited to take a second right now to relish in the simplicity of an herb that has been transforming dishes for centuries.

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Basil has a bizarre history over the past 4,000 years with countless tales of its role in different cultures. It is known to have originated from the Asian region, spread through China, and into Egypt, where get this – it was wrapped up with corpses to preserve them and I’m guessing help the smell.

If the thought of decaying corpses doesn’t inspire you to cook with basil in the kitchen, then I don’t know what will. 🙂

On a more romantic note, there is an old practice that if a young male takes a sprig of basil from a lovely female, then well, that does it. They are engaged. That never came to my mind as an option when I was waiting … patiently … sorta patiently … for Ryan to propose to me. Hah! 

The bizarre basil stories do not stop (I seriously had way too many to choose from). My other favorite comes from the mythical world of ancient Greece. Apparently, basil was the weapon against an infamous dragon-like creature called the Basilisk. With the body of a serpent, wings of a bat, and … the head of a rooster (doesn’t get more intimidating the poultry), the Basilisk would kill you with just one glance. However, basil could come to your rescue and upon eating it would cure you from the dragon’s deathly stare.

After thousands of years of gaining various reputations in cultures, this special herb came to America in 1621 with the colonists and the rest is history. Skip another 400 years and find my family growing it in the backyard to put on fresh tomatoes.

Enough history – let’s talk about the tastes surrounding this kingly herb. Basil. Full of flavor, robust and confident. It is bold without trying and takes dishes to a whole other level of sophistication. When I think of basil, I imagine it’s flavors completing so many of my favorite dishes, from the simple Italian pasta or Margherita pizza to the Indian curry that I never dare make at home, or to the Vietnamese Pho that I fell in love with last winter. With basil on top, any dish is honored with kingly status.

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To celebrate the herb, I made 3 special dishes. The Caprese Salad shown above is a long-time favorite of mine that started with the basil in my mom’s garden. It requires no recipe – sliced tomatoes, basil, drizzled balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. I’ve been taking a tomato, sprig of basil, and tiny container of balsamic to work recently as such a fresh addition to my lunch. Try it.

Both of the next dishes are awesome and somewhat unique because basil is the central ingredient. The first is a salad dressing that I was inspired to make when I visited Abingdon, Virginia recently for my husband’s work. I ordered a predictable house salad, but it had a basil arugula dressing that blew my mind. I licked the little dressing container clean and decided, I must make this. After a little experimenting, I nailed it. So, here is the recipe. It is DELICIOUS!

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Basil Arugula Salad Dressing

  • 2 cups Basil
  • 1/4 cup Arugula
  • 1 1/2 cups Greek Yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp Honey
  • 1/2 tsp Lemon Juice
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  1. In a food processor or blender, pulse the basil, lemon, and honey.
  2. Add the greek yogurt and pulse very lightly until just combined.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.

The next dish is also inspired from the kitchen of a restaurant and it is one that I particularly love. Emilia is a charming little Italian restaurant in Knoxville where you will find the world’s greatest homemade pastas and bread. Confession, I’ve gotten the same dish every time I’ve been there and I walk away craving it over and over. So, here is my rendition of a pasta that has stolen the heart of my stomach. 

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Simple Pesto Pasta inspired by Cafe Emilia

  • 1/2 Box of Pasta Noodles of your choosing
  • 1 cup of Arugula
  • 1/2 cup Cherry Tomatoes, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons Classic Pesto (recipe below)
  1. Very simple – after making your pesto and preparing the noodles, combine all the ingredients. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

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Classic Pesto Recipe comes from Mario Batali

  • 2 1/2 cups basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (raw)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  1. Pulse in a food processor the basil, garlic, and pine nuts.
  2. Drizzle the olive oil while pulsing.
  3. Add the cheese and pulse lightly.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.

So, there you have a tiny moment to celebrate something simple, an ingredient I love. I hope you take another moment to use the King of Herbs in your kitchen or  enjoy something else that you love.

Thanks for listening. 

Hello, Lemon

I think my earliest memory of a lemon was when I was little and had a sore throat. I woke up in the middle of the night coughing and my mom mixed together lemon juice with honey, heated it, and sat with me patiently in the kitchen as I gulped it down. It was so delicious the way the honey sweetened the sour taste of the lemon and how it went down my swollen throat with so much comfort.

I love this memory – one, because it reminds me of my momma being a darn good momma and two, because it reminds me of how ingredients can bring such warmth into someone’s heart when served with care and affection. So, this special memory inspired me to make the lemon my first ingredient feature.

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Bright. Sour. Fragrant. Bold. The lemon is that friend who you always invite to add some fun and spirit to a soiree.

The lemon is a fruit grown on thorny evergreen trees most commonly in warm climates like South America. Most that you find in your grocery store come from Argentina, Mexico, or California.  The lemon is said to have first been found in Asian regions growing wild, which I just love to imagine ingredients being discovered for the first time. It’s fame began to spread to Italy by the first century AD and Egypt where it was used to make the “Lemonade of Pharoahs,” a sugar, lemon-water concoction enjoyed only by royalty. Good ol’ Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds to the US and later the juices were used for their medicinal magic to treat scurvy in sailors and gold-miners, revamping their immunity with Vitamin C. Now today, I know the lemon as my first sore-throat healer and the hidden sensation behind so many of my favorite dishes. 

When I taste it’s fragrant and sour flavors, I imagine it perfecting to a tee every seafood dish. I imagine it squeezed into a chicken piccata sauce on the stove with butter and capers, ooooor combined with raspberries to make a tart in the summer. The lemon, while not often featured as the main ingredient, sneaks its way into that spot by its bold and lasting impression in any dish. It is the lemon that begins and finishes whatever it takes on in the kitchen. It is the star ingredient, the hidden sensation.

As a tribute to this unique ingredient, here are my 3 favorite uses of our now wonderfully appreciated fruit: Lemon Mint Water, Lemon Chicken Brine, and Lemon Iced Cookies.

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Lemon Mint Water

The reason why I love this gem is because it has helped me lose weight and who doesn’t love losing weight 🙂 Drinking a glass of this in the morning and throughout the day has become one of my favorite health regimens. Two reasons it helps – lemon juice boosts your metabolism so you are burning calories faster throughout the day, yay! Also, this simple act of drinking the glass of iced water (before eating or drinking anything else) I swear does something to me mentally. It’s like I am committing myself to good health that day, with joy and care.

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Recipe:

Mix together lemon slices, mint, and water!

Easiest recipe I will probably ever post. Try it out every morning for a week before anything else and see if you don’t get addicted like I am.

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Lemon Chicken Brine

The chef at The Kitchen in Chicago explained to me how to make this and I am forever grateful. Something about a recipe coming from the creator itself is spiritual. It was the tastiest chicken I had ever tried and then HOLY MOLY I’ve gotten to make the divine dish over and over at home.

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Recipe:

Chicken thighs 

2 Lemons

Garlic, Rosemary, Oregano

¼ cup Salt

  1. The day before or at least 4 hours before, prepare the following: Large soup pot filled a little more than halfway with water, all the salt, 2 lemons sliced, and sprinkle in as much garlic, rosemary, and oregano as you want 🙂 I do about a teaspoon. Don’t forget the chicken breasts and then cover and refrigerate.
  2. After at least 4 hours, place the chicken in a casserole dish and cook at 400°F for about 35 minutes.
  3. Take the chicken out and drizzle each thigh with honey. Then, broil it until the tops get oh so crispy, about 3 minutes.

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Lemon Iced Cookies

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I wish I could claim these scrumptious treats as mine, but they belong to Knoxville’s own Ham n’ Goodys. The owner told me he thinks half of Knoxville are addicted to these cookies. I believe it as two people came in to buy a dozen after me. He said the recipe dates back to 1979 when his father opened the store and it hasn’t changed since. The recipe is a secret. So, these are purely eye candy 🙂 but these and lemon cookies like them are one of my absolute favorite ways to use a lemon.

So, there you have it – a moment to appreciate an ingredient that brightens up so many plates. Go, enjoy another moment for yourself. Squeeze a lemon and let its lively flavors inspire you to make something special in the kitchen.