Monday, September 27, 2010


I will be the first to admit that until a year or so ago, I never gave much thought to what kind of vanilla extract I used. Then I met the attractive bottle pictured above. It was given as a sample from one of our food purveyors when I started asking about Tennessee products they carried. Of course, Madagascar vanilla beans are not being cultivated here locally, but it is produced and sold by Bell Buckle Company Store. They are, as you might guess, located in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, but have products available at several Nashville area stores and also online.

It only took a couple of recipes of substituting to know this would be the only vanilla we would use going forward. It adds such a rich, true vanilla flavor to anything you desire, but without overpowering. This is the real deal, no sugar added, no syrups, just vanilla beans, alcohol, and water. Do not let the "Bourbon" scare you; it will not make everything you bake taste like the bottom of a bottle of Kentucky's finest.

We are no longer using the small attractive bottles anymore, we have moved on to the half gallon size! If you love to bake, give this vanilla a try next time you run out. I think you will appreciate the difference, I sure did. Next time you give us a visit, see if you can taste that little something extra in our desserts, french toast, and whipped cream. Vanilla may be a small piece of the puzzle, but starting with only the best ingredients is key in how we create a meal you can remember until your next visit.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer Garden Spa

Gone are the nice cool mornings I mentioned back in the spring. They seem like dreams I might of been having before I woke up this summer, predawn morning to venture out into the garden. Muggy, no breeze, it feels like a dirty, dark sauna out here. I wonder if there is a market for summer garden, spa treatment?
Despite the heat and rather dry conditions this year, we have had a productive summer season. The first round of organic tomatoes were smaller and less numerous than last year but were plentiful enough to keep up with demand at the Inn. We do have another round of tomato plants beginning to make little green fruits, but they are in need of some moisture. Being planted later, they did not get much of an opportunity to establish their roots before the heat really set in. Butternut squash is doing well and will be ready for some warming soups this Fall. We will also have several watermelons to serve on our fruit platters at breakfast in the near future. Bell peppers, pumpkins, and apple gourds are still holding serve, but are not going to amount to much without a break from the intense heat and lack of rain. The Indian corn seems to be the favorite of the varmints, and has mainly served the purpose of distracting them away from the other vegetables, at least for now. Speaking of varmints, what does one do with a skunk caught in a live trap? Hmm, just wondering.
Of all the veggies, I have enjoyed our cucumbers the most this summer. We have been utilizing these by making lots of pickles. Bread and butter, sweet gherkins, and dill have all turned out great. The bread and butter recipe has been the most popular with guests though. I am including the recipe for those on our cuisine blog.
So keep an eye out for pickles and other home grown items on our menus in the coming weeks and months. We will also be planting a fall crop of organic salad greens toward the end of the month, and turnips for roasting this winter. Of course, the Dekalb County farmer's market has been there for us all summer and more than made up for my shortcomings in the garden. Stop and see them on the courthouse lawn every Saturday morning. I might see you there if I am not in my garden spa.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This Little Piggy Went to Evins Mill

In our latest attempt to find our flavors locally, it became very clear, very fast that there is something special about Benton's bacon. The unusually thick slices have a wonderful smoky scent even before cooking or opening the package! Once it started cooking, the aroma filled the kitchen like our regular bacon never did. The taste - well, it brought to mind that old saying about "slapping your mama." I do not recommend it, but the bacon is that good. Cured with brown sugar and salt, the bacon is very smokey and is a much thicker cut than you may be used to. When cooked properly though, it has a wonderfully tender bite.

On top of taste and texture, the fact that this quality ingredient is produced by a Tennessee, family-owned business sold me. We are very excited to switch to Benton's Bacon! This is the part where we give high fives around the kitchen since we get to enjoy it too.
Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams is located in Madisonville, Tennessee but ships their hams and bacon all over the country. They have earned quite the reputation. Once we started searching for Tennessee-bred bacon it was impossible to ignore all the praise Benton's receives from publications nationwide. So I had to see for myself, and yes, they lived up to everything I had read and more. This is the kind of ingredient that gets me excited about cooking. The possibilities are endless with this smoky beauty.

Enough musing about our new bacon, come try it for yourself. You are sure to see it at breakfast, wrapped around our thick cut pork chop and probably with a few other goodies along the way. To get your fix when not at the Inn, check out Benton's website for ordering information. This little piggy went to Evins Mill...and was eaten all up!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Twilight Zone

I savor those mornings when I'm able to work in our garden before the sun rises, and love watching the light slowly brighten and reveal the rows of plants and their new growth or fruit. There is a heavy, cool layer of dew giving everything a fresh, wet paint appearance. The morning is quiet save for a pesky mosquito buzzing in my ear and the morning birds singing their song. The loose dirt in my hands is still warm from the day before in contrast to the cool morning air. The minutes seem to pass more slowly before the sun finally breaks the horizon, but once it does, the temperature rapidly rises, reminding me of another reason for rising so early. With the sun shining, the bees busy themselves pollinating our garden.

The Evins Mill garden is having a productive year thus far. The salad greens are still coming in, and
as long as the heat is not too intense, should continue do do so through the end of June. Our tomato plants appear healthy and are beginning to feature small yellow blooms. Just this week new comers are poking through the soil. Cucumbers, green beans, yellow squash, zucchini, Indian corn and water melons all germinated within a week of their planting and appear happy so far. I still have gourd, pumpkin and butternut squash seed to plant in another week - and hopefully seeds for a few pepper plants as well. The garden will keep me more than busy when I am not cooking! As there are so many delicious things to grow, I find it hard to know when enough is enough. Maybe when my wife and children stop helping - they are making a "chef scarecrow" even as I type.

I love creating and cooking healthy and good tasting food for our guests...and rising before the sun does so I can grow the produce that makes that homegrown cuisine available in the first place. We hope you will join us soon to enjoy our fresh produce inspired meals!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tennessee Strawberries Are Here!

One taste of a locally grown, Tennessee strawberry freshly picked from the vine in May reminds us we have been eating cardboard cutouts of strawberries shipped across the country for the previous eleven months. While we sometimes forget that strawberries are not supposed to be hollow in the middle, our own beautiful berries wakes us from our complacency. They may not have the "super size" look but are equally red and more than make up for their smaller size with superior flavor.

Strawberry farms are so common throughout the state that nearly every Tennessean is within a half hour drive of a little piece of berry heaven. Most of these farms are set up so you can pick your own and save a little money, while some will pick them to save you time. I prefer the latter as it leaves me more time to create with them! As with any berry, strawberries are of course highly perishable but can be frozen in a variety of ways for use during winter when you get the craving for a taste of Tennessee spring. Your farm of choice will be happy to give you some freezing tips.

We will be using these berries in abundance in the coming weeks here at the Inn. We had a strawberry extravaganza for our Mother's Day brunch, strawberry meringues this past weekend and have a strawberry cobbler in mind for the days ahead. We are buying them in bulk, using what we can fresh, then freezing or making sauce out of what remains. It is very satisfying to know we are doing our part to support these local farms so that the fruits of their labor will remain available to us in the future. I would be disappointed to see even a single berry rot on the vine because we chose to buy the cardboard ones. Besides, those will be around the rest of the year.

We are using a couple of farms. Amazing Acres in White County and Food From God Farm in Dekalb County have both been a pleasure to work with and would love to see you too. Before you visit, make sure to contact the farm beforehand to verify their hours of operation and inventory. You probably have at least two more weeks to take advantage of the season, so don't wait too long and enjoy them while they last!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Good Earth

Spring is my favorite season. It is like reading your favorite book over and over. Even if you know how it begins, progresses and eventually ends, it remains a joy to experience, with something new to discover just when you thought you had it all figured out. Allergies not withstanding, it is near bliss being outdoors taking it all in. I love that something new blooms everyday, overpowering the gloomy gray of winter with every possible shade of green imaginable. Did I mention that Spring is my favorite season?
I am excited to report that a few of those shades of green have started to appear in the Evins Mill garden in the past few days. I do not exaggerate when I say that every single lettuce and green seed we planted is sprouting, as well as a few weeds. We might need some thinning out in there. Green onions are also poking through the ground and have already asked permission to be in a guest's salad dressing or special soup that has yet to be created. They asked me to pass this request along to you.
Now that we have the first round of seeds up and growing, it is time to get a second round in the ground. Hopefully this will help extend our home grown salad season as long as possible before the heat of summer sets in. Greens and lettuce tend to bolt and go to seed once the hot weather arrives. Also on the slate for this week is to prepare the tomato bed so we can get the first setting of those plants into the ground by the end of the month. Tomatoes, unlike the greens, love the heat and not the chilly nights we are presently experiencing. The Herb Cottage, here in Smithville supplies our organic tomato plants, and its owner Susie Yelverton transplanted just on time.
I am looking forward to the first plates of freshly cut greens leaving the kitchen for your table. It will not be long now!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Who are the People in Your Neighborhood?

One of the challenges for me in our campaign to procure only "clean" food is finding folks who are producing local, organic and all natural goods. Rather than calling up the largest restaurant supplier in the country and placing my order for anything the culinary heart desires, we have started building relationships with farmers and producers on a smaller and more personal level. Once we find them, we have to work through the details of supply issues, prices and solutions for shipping, delivery or pick up. This takes time. Now instead of two or three purveyors, we have dozens. On a household level, it is easy to see why so many of us shop at the "super" stores. Getting it all in one place saves time and money. Currently, it just does not make since for most restaurants to operate with multiple purveyors.
Regardless of the tough work, Evins Mill is in for the long haul. The best is not always the easiest when deciding what goes on your plate. The relationships that take all that time to build only have to be built once if they are with producers that are as passionate about their food as I am about preparing it. Once we have our family of producers on board, the process 0f purchasing their products will become as simple and common place as calling the big guys. I know we will not be able to stop using the large purveyors for certain items and during certain seasons, but we can try. It is great to be able to cut out the middleman when we can and know that the farmer is getting what he wants for his product and not what he was pressured into selling it for.
One relationship we have enjoyed for almost eight years is with The Herb Cottage here in Smithvillle. They are great model for what we want to achieve with our new purveyor friends. Susie Yelverton is the owner along with her husband Eddie - a goat farmer after whom my daughter named her prized stuffed goat. Besides being good neighbors, they grow all the fresh organic herbs and cut flowers we use here at the Inn. Susie sells starter vegetable, herb and flower plants in the green houses and is known as the local expert on herbal supplements, of which she carries a wide variety. The Herb Cottage is open Tuesday through Saturday and is a great place to visit during a stay at the Inn. One thing they do not have is a website. You can reach them at 615-597-2926 or click on the link above to google map them.
Forget about the extra work in finding neighbors to supply your food; that just might be the most rewarding part...aside from cooking and eating it! Off to find more neighbors.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Moo Moo

Growing up in rural Tennessee, one would be hard pressed to travel far without beholding a pasture of grass grazing cows. Even as an adult, I am reminded by my grandmother every now and then that as a child I fondly referred to any cow I saw as "my moo moo." As my grandparents raised cattle when I was young, I witnessed the process that began with a calf and wound up as a delicacy. I still love a good steak today.
It is no secret that most Americans love beef. Not everyone of course, and I respect those that refrain from eating meat for whatever reason. There are valid reasons for staying away from our mooing friends, but today we are talking about beef. Demand for beef, or at least for the inexpensive variety, is so strong that the big beef industry employs practices that would make many think twice about partaking of their products. When enjoying a favorite cut of bovine, no one wants to consider all the antibiotics they give the cows, the crowded disease prone conditions - or the fact that their steak never saw, much less ate, a blade of grass. By the way, they are supposed to eat grass.
There is an alternative to factory beef. In our push this year to offer locally and organically raised and farmed food, we have made some new friends. Josh and Kathy Gunn are the operators of Gourmet Pasture Beef, located in Springfield, Tennessee. These guys know their beef and are producing an excellent product. Their beef is pasture raised and pasture finished, organic, all natural, and dry aged. It tastes as good as it sounds. They have done a great job detailing the health benefits of their beef on their website, as well as their mission and other folks who use their product. I am excited to work with the Gunns! What a pleasure to know exactly whence your dinner comes - and that your tastes and health, as well as the conditions in which your entree was raised, were considered during the process - from their farm to our table.
You can order products right off their website - or come see us! We will be serving Gourmet Pasture Beef's Flank steak and New York Strip steak, and a variety of other products from their farm will become regular fare on our menu for a long time to come. That is my moo moo!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is it Spring Yet?

As February draws to a close, thoughts of playing in the dirt and working with fresh, home grown produce start to consume me. Yes, it is still a month away before I can actually plant some of the early greens, but the time to prepare is upon me. Once the snow melts, I will begin turning the ground and adding some all natural fertilizer (i.e. manure). Before any of the hard work begins, we have to decide what to grow this year. Picking out seeds might be the most exciting part of winter...except for the holidays...and my daughter's penguin birthday party, but it is a close call.
This year we are going to focus on salad greens on a larger scale and more extended season. Last year we supplied the Inn with its salad greens for about three weeks. Not a crop to retire on, but a good start from which to learn. Greens we will try to grow include arugula, purple mustard, kale, cress, sorrel, radicchio and several lettuces. We have decided to focus on greens since they can be started much sooner than most other crops we grow such as tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins. This will help extend our growing season and keep us busy until it is time to plant summer crops.
We are making a conscious effort this year to use only organic seeds and plants in the Evins Mill garden. All our salad green seeds are from Seeds of Change, a company with which we are proud to partner. They supply all organic seeds and plants but also give a lot back. They sponsor a seed donation program that helps dozens of community, school and outreach programs all over the world. Visit their website if you are interested in growing organic. An online application for their seed donation program is also available if you know of a gardening project that it would benefit.
The seeds are here! Now we just need a little Spring.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Writing It Down

I have always been the type of chef that never really follows recipes. Creatively, this is great because it encourages me to make things new and better, but guess what - no one else can make it. So, after being politely asked, in some cases for years, I am slowly beginning to spoon these out onto paper. It is gratifying to share these recipes with guests as well as with the other chefs at Evins Mill, for when I am too old to stand for twelve hours a day, I can rest in my lawn chair knowing that the dish was prepared properly and tasted good. Just kidding!

Soup is what brought me here this week. A regular patron of the Inn recently asked me about our butternut squash bisque. He enjoyed it on a prior visit and requested the recipe, but somehow I've yet to respond. Hmmm....Well, the new me will make that bisque today - and will write it down!

I am especially excited about the butternut squash, because they are of excellent quality and come from our friends Brent and Mary Bain, who own and operate their family farm in Warren County and who can be found at the Warren County Farmer's Market just about anytime it is operating. They grow an abundance of fresh produce practically year round and also specialize in annual flowers. Their dedication and expertise are evident in the quality of their products. We started working with them this winter, procuring from them our winter squash, turnips and mustard greens, and look forward to spring and more tasty veggies from the Bain family farm!

Well, it is time to make the soup! Keep an eye out on the recipe blog next week for Butternut Squash Bisque. And if you find yourself in McMinnville, I invite you to visit Brent and Mary at the Farmer's Market - and tell them we sent you.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sheep's Milk Cheese

Last week's wine tasting hosted by Rob Ramsey of Stonehaus Winery was so well received that we've decided to make it a regular event at the Inn. During the wine tasting I realized what our next topic on "Our Table" should be. The cheese board, a staple around the Lodge before dinner, featured a nice selection of Tennessee sheep's milk cheese and was a big hit! Since I love cheese, we keep a wide variety of it in house but were showcasing some of Tennessee's finest to compliment our Tennessee wine. This cheese was a new discovery for me in 2009, but from the reaction of our guests, it will be around for the long haul.

Locust Grove Farm is responsible for this collection of fine cheese. They make five different kinds, including two "reserve" cheeses that have been aged at least six months. All of their cheese is handmade from raw sheep's milk collected on their own farm. They use old fashioned techniques and only the basic ingredients. This is cheese that tastes the way nature intended it to.

Locust Grove Farm's cheese has circulated its way through our entire menu - from the cheese board to salads to even grits. I recommend taking a look at their website to learn more and order some for your home. Keep an eye out for it here at the Inn this weekend and beyond!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Welcome to Our Table

Hello, I am Jason Evans, Executive Chef at Evins Mill. We created this blog to give our guests more incite into the food that they enjoy at the Inn and how it ended up on their table. We will focus on something new each week as well as post updates on the progress of the Inn's own garden.

In the quest to offer the best product possible, we are focusing more than ever on local, green, organic and sustainably farmed food and will highlight these foods and the fine folks who produce them. Whenever possible, we will pass along contact information should you want to use these products at home.

We seriously consider what we serve at Evins Mill and hope this blog will be a fun and informative way to share those considerations with you.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter Garden & Stonehaus Wine Tasting

With winter in full swing, the garden to the naked eye is looking pretty bleak. It only takes a rare January day above freezing though to stir thoughts of seeds, weeds, and with vines ripened, the heirloom tomatoes we will serve at the Inn this summer. This is the time for planning and preparing. What will we grow, how to grow it better and what will we do with it when it is ready are just some of the thoughts wondering around in my fleece hat, covered head this week.

Since our guests need more to chew on than my garden dreaming, we have a fun indoor evening planned with one of our Tennessee purveyors Friday night. Rob Ramsey with Stonehaus Winery in Crossville will host a tasting of their most popular and award-winning wines before dinner. We are even getting to taste a Merlot that is still in the barrel phase and not yet bottled, a rare treat. Rob is an expert at explaining wines, their flavors and the process that goes into making them. Stonehaus Winery is a long standing, Tennessee, family run business and we are proud to keep a few of their wines on our menu. It is a must to stop by the winery for a tour and tasting to see the combination of expertise and love that goes into making these Tennessee wines.

We look forward to seeing you at the Mill. It is back to the kitchen for me. Time to stop dreaming of the garden and get to work on our wine tasting dinner!