Thursday, December 4, 2014

Three Forks Chicken Ranch

I think the photo above just about sums up the phrase "free range chicken."   Tracy with Three Forks Chicken Ranch sums up her free range chicken as "tasty." That was the word I kept hearing when I first spoke with Tracy about partnering up with Evins Mill in our on-going adventure in preparing and serving sustainably raised food. Maybe I had skipped lunch and that is just what I kept hearing in my mind, but either way it panned out to be an accurate description.  

We prepared the chicken breast with some of our sour apple, dried fruit stuffing and it was love at first site. The chicken is noticeably not from the grocery store with up to 10% water added. It has a flavor that I can only describe as "the good ole days" and tastes like chicken...(bet you have not heard that one before), but like chicken used to taste before we took all the flavor out.

Located in Pall Mall, Tennessee, Three Forks Chicken Ranch first began as a cattle farm (Three Forks Cattle Ranch) in 2003. Tracy and her husband Brad started there raising cattle and have now taken on 20,000 chicks in their first year of meat chicken production. A couple of the issues with serving free range chicken from a restaurants point of view is acquiring a steady supply and at a price that it can be prepared and resold without losing money.

With its ability to raise a fairly large number of birds in a free range environment - and their technique of allowing the birds to put on a little more weight instead of slaughtering as soon as they are old enough, Three Forks has kept the supply there and at a very competitive price. For more history and details about our new friends, check out their website, Three Forks Cattle Ranch. Tracy also has a blog called The Real Lives of Farm Wives.

I am very excited to "play" with such wonderful food.  I have said it before, but so much inspiration for cooking can be found in the food itself, and to play in such a naturally beautiful place as Evins Mill is the making for delicious meals all the day long. Look for Three Forks chicken on weekends this winter!  Hope to see you soon.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Harvest is In

The harvest moon has come and gone, the leaves are showing off their technicolor transformation, the sun is sleeping in and going to bed early, and I find myself, without a struggle, slipping into a new season of ingredients. As we hike through Fall, I thought it might be nice to conclude our prime growing season with a sort of annual report from the Evins Mill Garden.  

There are still a few odds and ends basking in the warm days and cooler nights, but for the most part, the harvest is in. I would probably not be writing a report on the garden had we not been very successful, but it just so happens we had our best year to date.  

Results like this year can trick you into thinking you have a clue about gardening, but I think the recipe was something more like a pound of great weather, with a dash of hard work, a tablespoon of planning, and powers greater than myself mixing it all together. Below is a list of the bounty and what types of menu items each ended up in.

  • salad greens...22 gallons, lunch and dinner salads 
  • snow peas...15 pints, dinner side, lunch salads
  • cucumbers...150 pounds! several varieties of pickles for all winter long!
  • green onion...16 bunches, salads, dressings and garnishes
  • green tomatoes...39 pounds, fried green tomatoes
  • ripe tomatoes...133 pounds, salads, sandwiches
  • cherry/grape tomatoes...37 pints, salads, side salads
  • beans...34 pounds, dinner side, cold side salads
  • summer squash/zucchini...80 pounds, dinner sides, ratatouille, soups
  • bell peppers...80 each, omelets, salads, soups, garnish
  • blackberries...9 quarts, cobblers
  • potatoes...80 pounds, breakfast, lunch and dinner!
  • butternut squash...20 pounds, butternut squash bisque
  • watermelons...15, breakfast fruit platters
  • acorn squash...12 each, vegetarian dish
  • muscadines...several quarts, garnish for muscadine sorbet, cheese boards
  • apples...50 pounds, cobblers
  • pears...50 pounds, cobblers, cheese boards
  • okra...10 pounds, dinner side, soups
We do still have fall salad greens coming in as well as mustard and turnip greens, and hopefully some of the turnip roots too. The cucumbers certainly jump out as the biggest producer; that was all off of 12 plants. They really did not look promising at first, but any free time we had in the kitchen this summer was making several varieties of delicious pickles. It is quite comical how much room they are taking up in our cooler.  

I hope all of this produce was enjoyed being eaten as much as I enjoyed growing and preparing it. Time to start planning for next year!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Calfkiller Brewery: History in the Making

It has been a few years now since I last wrote about our friends at Calfkiller, and not a second to soon. I am happy to say we still have a great relationship with the best small brewery in Tennessee. It is such a pleasure pouring one of their beers for a guest who has never had the Calfkiller experience. The compliments come quickly and continue through the second beer without fail. Being able to serve our food and drink with that kind of confidence is what we aim to do, day in and day out.

After watching Dave and Don and their hard working crew succeed at producing what they love and growing it into a sustainable business, you just get that feeling that you are witnessing history in the making. Calfkiller beer has gone from being a novelty draft we started serving a few years ago to a household name and our best selling beer by a long shot. I am still amazed by the number of folks who arrive from all over the state, recognize and ask for it with an enthusiasm only equaled from children on Christmas morning.

My continued enthusiasm for Calfkiller will come to a head (pun intended) on Saturday, August 9th at Evins Mill! I am proud and excited to announce yet another Calfkiller Tasting Dinner. The menu is in the works and will feature, as always, many Calfkiller tainted or inspired items, as well as Evins Mill produce and many other local Tennessee products. Dave, Don and hopefully their better halves will be here sampling their latest wares as well as their tried and true. This event has grown in popularity over the years and space is limited, so make sure not to get cut off (pun intended, again), and make your reservations now. We will see you soon, Cheers!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Evins Mill Garden Update

The Evins Mill garden, while it is not one of the larger suppliers to our kitchen operations here at the Mill, is one that is near and dear to me since I get to be present for every step from seed to the plate.  There is a certain care and attentiveness that goes into preparing food that you grow.  It also gives you a glimpse into what other farmers have to go through in getting that produce to the consumer.  For me, knowing more about the life of the food and gaining a healthy respect for the process makes for a better finished product. That may be a little deep for a food blog, but there is plenty of time to ponder such things out there playing in the dirt.

The Evins Mill garden has been steadily growing more and more veggies since 2007, except when a drought decides to happen or the animals decide they needed the food more than I did.  Heirloom tomatoes and salad greens are still the bulk of what I plant.  This year is no exception with 100 tomato plants and almost 500 square feet of salad greens going out...we will have to see what comes back in!  The asparagus bed had to be moved this winter; it was getting a little crowded.  We will not get to harvest any of it this year as it needs to reestablish itself, but sacrificing this year will make for a nice crop next year and plenty of room for it to expand.

Coming soon to the plates will be what looks like our best crop ever of snow peas.  I am very excited for these since we have been trying several years to get it right and I think we may have finally succeeded.  Green onion and lettuce are coming in nicely now as well.  Coming up in the warmer months will be several kinds of beans (including Dragon Lady!), potatoes, okra, cucumbers, melons, peppers, basil, and depending on the perfect weather, apples, pears, berries, walnuts, muscadines, and concord grapes.  Oh, and the 100 tomato plants; I almost forgot.

I could not write about the garden this year without mentioning our newly hired hands.  Sylvia (7) and Wade(5) are old enough to help with weed pulling and knowing the difference between weed and plant; it is moderately important to know the difference!  Sylvia has learned to chase that dollar since that is what it takes to buy Madam Alexander dolls (mom and dad are not buying them!).  She did painstakingly plant everyone of the snow pea seeds so I must give credit where credit is due when we serve them this weekend.  I am very proud of her and of our garden.  We hope to see you soon, and be sure to ask what is fresh out of the garden.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Short Mountain Shine

Moonshine is certainly nothing new in "these here parts" surrounding Evins Mill, but it seems to be all the rage recently sweeping the nation.  From the reality shows to all the coolest bars and restaurants, moonshiners and their goods have made it mainstream. Lucky for us, we have the best right here in our own backwoods!

Adding a much needed ingredient to our growing list of local food producers, we now have Short Mountain Distillery's moonshine.  These guys are making award winning moonshine that is nothing short of tradition, history, pristine ingredients, and a passion for their craft all in one bottle.

We recently enjoyed a tour of the facilities which anyone can do Thursday through Saturday.  You can learn all about what goes into each bottle and even get a sampling while you're there.  Taking the one of these tours is highly recommended on your next stay with us.  We also hosted our first Short Mountain Distillery tasting dinner here at the Mill a few months ago and will certainly be planning another. It was an evening flowing of moonshine and a menu to soak it all up!

Short Mountain Distillery's shine is certainly on our bar menu and is featured in seasonal cocktail specials, but has become one of my favorite new inspirations for creating in the kitchen. Our local honey, moonshine caramel sauce may be the best use so far, but the personal meat loaf with Benton's bacon, moonshine ketchup glaze was not too shabby either.

You can learn all about Short Mountain Distillery on their website or better yet go and see them. These guys have painstakingly covered every detail when it comes to making the best, most authentic moonshine available, and it shows. Keep your shine on guys!  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dismal Creek Flowers

Dismal is one of those words that really does not come to mind around Evins Mill. If someone asks me to describe my cooking or the ambiance at the waterfall or even my relationship with the owner, dismal would be a stretch to use. Although not too far away, there is a quiet, tranquil place by the name Dismal Creek. I am not sure how its name came to be, but it is the home of one of our long time staff and her business, Dismal Creek Flowers.

If you are a regular to Evins Mill, there is a good chance you crossed paths with Diane's drinks at the bar or her graceful, professional service at your dinner table. Maybe not as well known as the other feathers in her hat, Diane has an eye for natural beauty in flowers and the gift of arranging them in a way that makes you feel as though they were never touched by human hands.  

Diane's Dismal Creek Flowers produces wonderful arrangements for our guests to place in their overnight accommodations, on their dinner table or even as extensive as weddings.  They are available in all sorts of sizes and are always in an interesting, creative vessel that makes the entire arrangement feel well thought out from beginning to end. It is obvious that Diane's flowers are full of love and gathered with care.  She uses only flora that are in season and are locally grown and cultivated - most right on her organic farm. This makes everything Diane does unique and very personal.

Dismal Creek Flowers are a natural choice when you need to add that extra special touch to your next stay at the Inn. Just mention "dismal" to our reservation office and they will know what you are talking about. We will see you then!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wedge Oak Farm

What is your favorite thing to cook? Where did you go to school? Can I get the recipe? How long have you been cooking? How long have you been at Evins Mill? 

These are some of the many questions I am asked on almost a daily basis. Chef small talk is fun, and I love meeting guests and finding that common ground that binds us all together - FOOD. Well, after cooking for a number of years - 20 as of this summer - I have come up with a question of my own that I do not believe I've been asked by a guest. I am not sure that I have asked it myself until recently - Where do I find my inspiration to create and keep cooking?

Creating new or recreating old dishes has always just kind of happened for me, but maybe the natural aging process has caused me to ponder an answer deeper than the surface. I think it has been an evolving answer over the course of my career, but I have certainly found the muse these days in a love for the food itself. Not the finished dishes - I am talking of food in the purest form. 

Knowing the food personally from as early in its life as possible. Like noticing the tiniest green tomato after the bloom has fallen and watching it grow and then using it on a salad. Or the breed of chicken that laid the green egg that made such a brilliant yellow creme brulee. Or that the pork chop I just grilled was taken from a pig down the road that was selected just for me. That personal relationship with the food holds me to a higher standard. I want to prepare that food the way it would have prepared itself if it could. 

I have always joked with the staff when a guest wants to know the secret ingredient I used in a certain dish - tell them it's love I say. Well, maybe there is more truth in that than I realized. 

The inspiration for writing this blog was not so that I could answer my own questions but to show some love for our newest partner in our Farm to Table adventure. Wedge Oak Farm is located in Lebanon, Tennessee and has provided us with the best pork loin money can buy, as well as Poussin, spring chickens that are as perfect in size as they are in flavor. I knew we were in for a treat when I met with Karen a couple of months ago to discuss logistics. 

I love her approach to not having loads of items in the freezer waiting for us to order. We send an email to let her know what we want and she looks out at the farm and decides which animals are ready to go. Next thing you know we are serving farm fresh meat for dinner. That is all the inspiration I need to get the creative juices flowing. We featured these two items along with French wines recently at one of our wine tasting events. I must say that the Tennessee meats paired well and might have even stole the show. 

Anyone familiar with Allen Benton of Benton's Bacon will also be interested to hear that he has dubbed Karen's pork chop as the best. If any one opinion of pork should be respected, it is Allen's. I was also interested to learn that Wedge Oak is one of the suppliers of pork to Benton's. So nice to be part of a smaller food chain! 

If you would like to learn more about Wedge Oak Farm and their line of products, just check out their blog.  My hat is off to Karen and Wedge Oak Farm. Thank you for inspiring me, and here's to many delicious, creative dinners ahead at Evins Mill.