Did you always want to be a chef?
No! The thought never crossed my mind…really, even when I started cooking in New York City (the catalyst for my career). My mother is an amazing cook—better than I’ll ever be—and she taught me the importance of a good meal, beyond just taste. She taught me and my brothers that eating real, wholesome food in community is a powerful source of connection and nourishment for mind, body and soul. When I was anxious and depressed living in NYC, I think I subconsciously picked up cooking as a way to achieve those feelings of warmth and safety again…and it snowballed from there!
How do you define healthy eating?
Healthy eating begins first in the mind. This is where you establish that you control your food; it doesn’t control you. I think healthy eating starts with an absence of judgment and guilt and an abundance of openness, positivity and self-acceptance. Then, on a more technical level, the basis of healthy eating is whole foods—foods straight from the ground and as close to the source as possible (whole dairy, butchered meat or fish etc). This is the foundation of your plate. If the majority of your food is whole-foods based, supplemented with thoughtfully chosen packaged foods or indulgent meals, you’re on the right track.
What recipe from your new cookbook would you recommend for a reluctant, skeptical cook who usually eats not-so-healthy?
Any of the following seems to win such people over: my Coconut Crusted Chicken Tenders, Holy Fudge Black Bean Brownies, LL’s Daily Green Smoothie, Sesame Maple Brussels Sprouts Bits and Meatloaf Meatballs
What would you say are some of the most underrated ingredients in your recipes?
Oh, great question! Maybe tahini, because it is so versatile and has a unique umami flavor profile that can really take recipes up a notch. Also, old school spices like garlic powder, onion powder or chili powder. I am totally down with leaving out a chopped onion in favor of the powered form sometimes. It’s easier and, if you treat it right, can create even more concentrated, captivating flavor.
What do you like to do (and most importantly, eat) on a staycation in Nashville?
Hmmm, if you mean at home (my ideal staycation), I’d start with the Grain-Free Cinnamon Waffles from my book, topped with peanut butter and some fresh fruit. Then some kind of exercise outside; a walk or hike or outdoor yoga. For lunch, I’m a sucker for anything wrapped, and I’ve been loving my Turmeric Tahini Roasted Cauliflower on Siete Foods Tortillas with some avocado, hummus and Sriracha. Followed by chocolate, always chocolate. Afternoons are again spent outside, or reading in our den. I’m a simple creature! I’d love to finish this day grilling with my husband—maybe my Lamb Burgers with a side of sweet potato fries.
If I were out and about in Nashville, I’d hit up Franklin Juice first thing for a Pitaya Bowl. Lunch would be the Kimchi Spring Rolls from Avo, and dinner would likely be shared with the hubs at Henrietta Red—fish of the day, cauliflower steak, beet risotto.
What local products do you use at home?
Currently I’m in love with the charcoal face bar by Little Seed Farm, as well as their oat bar as a body wash. I’ve also been using Clary Collection Bath & Body Oil and Uplift Organics Face Serum. Uplift Organics sent me some of their products recently, and I’m smitten. Every morning, I rub the Thistle Farms Energy Essential Oil roller on my wrists, and their lip smoothie is completely addicting.
What is your go-to gift to give?
I feel like most of my gifts these days are for new mamas, so I’m giving them Copper Pearl 5-in-1 multi-use covers. Otherwise, though, I usually just give people food! So far, no complaints :).
Nancy VanReece, Batch Nashville's Vice President of Business Development, sat down with Kristina Dolan and Justin Williams of SnapShot Interactive on From Creation to Close. Take a listen to the episode as they discuss Batch's social media strategy and branding.
What were you doing before you started Southern City Flavors?
I started Southern City Flavors 21 years ago while I was in Corporate Sales. I worked for Hill's Pet Nutrition for 23 years where I sold Science Diet dog and cat food. Southern City Flavors all started out of my hobby of cooking in Chili and BBQ contest. When my original BBQ won Tennessee State Championship and then won World Grand Championship at the Memphis in May World grand Championship BBQ contest 21 years ago is when I decided to bottle the BBQ sauce. Southern City Flavors started with 6 products and I still sell two of those.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your business?
The number of hours you end up working. Most people think owning your own business would be fun and your would have lots of free time. But it is far from the truth. Most of my friends tell me I work more now than I ever did in the corporate world, and it is true.
When you're cooking are you most happy—at the grill or in the kitchen or somewhere else?
I am most happy when I am cooking for friends and family, no matter if it is in the Kitchen or at the grill or at my smoker. There is nothing more rewarding to me than to see my family and friends gathered in the kitchen or around the grill or at the table enjoy good food, great conversation—to me that is real love.
What makes a good barbecue sauce?
Any all natural sauce that you love! Everyone has different flavors they like. It would be a boring world if everyone loved the same flavor. That is why I have 6 different flavored BBQ sauces and will soon have a new one BBQ Espresso, a coffee flavored sauce. Some like a really sweet sauce, some like a spicy, and some like it a little of both.
Do you have a favorite recipe for your Stone Ground Grits?
Yes, my cheese grits. Cook your grits in 3 parts chicken broth to 1 part grits plus a little butter and a touch of onion and salt to taste. Takes about 30 minutes to cook real old fashion grits. Add Havarti cheese at the end. I like Havarti because it is a cream cheese and I believe it blends well with the grits.
What local products do you use at home in addition to Southern City Flavors?
I am always trying other local products I find, even competitors. Honey, BBQ sauces, spice rubs, jams, pepper jellies. I even recommend other local products to a customer looking for something different than on of mine.
We are all small business people trying to make it. Not like the big corporate food companies who bad mouth their competitors and try to steal shelf space away from each other.
What is your go-to gift to give besides Southern City Flavors?
I really don't have a go to gift besides my products. I like to pick out gifts that match the person I am giving it to. Their personalty and what I know they like and enjoy.
While we don't promote that our Discovery Boxes have a theme, we always want the items to go together. For the standard Batch Subscription Men's Discovery Box, we selected items that you can enjoy outdoors. The Lynchburg Master Que Mild Sauce is tasty slathered on anything you want to grill from pork to veggies. Chef Hal from Lockeland Table in East Nashville has thrown his hat in the Nashville Hot Chicken spice game. Plenty hot but with nuanced flavor, we recommend it on the bird but also fries, or mixed in the Ranch Dressing. Speaking of hot, it's hard to believe that Ousley's Ouch Hot Salsa is not the hottest flavor in the line of salsas. There are three more degrees of hot salsa but we would have to send a fire extinguisher if we sent those. To cool of your tongue and quench your thirst, mix up a Margarita with White's Spicy Margarita Mix. Yes, it's spicy but, well, why not. Finally, use the TruBee Lip Balm for lips dry from all of this time in the summer sun.
The deluxe version has all of the goodies in the standard plus more treats for the sweet tooth and the bar. We discovered these Wildflower Caramels made with honey lavender deep in the heart of Texas. The perfect ending (or beginning) to a hot summer night. For your bar, we've shipped two Nashville Skyline pint glasses. They work best with craft beer but we won't stop you from filling up with sarsaprilla. For your spicy margarita, you can't beat Walkers Hot Sea Salt Rimmer. It's a match made in spicy heaven—that's between to sweet and saucy heaven. Finally for the bar or kitchen, TruBee's Barrel Aged Honey is sweet and smoky and meant to be enjoyed any way you want.
Cheers to the Batch Women’s Discovery Box, the standard box busting with decadent treats for the bar and the body. Kristen Walker has made the perfect summer cocktail mix with her Classic Mojito Mix—just add rum, club soda, raw sugar, and lime wedges. While we know the Hester and Cook stemless wine glass is not the Collins glass that Mojitos are usually served in, we love these because they are so durable. Whether on the front porch, the boat deck, or the patio, these glasses will bounce rather than break and you’ll look good holding it. We discovered these Wildflower Caramels made with honey lavender deep in the heart of Texas. They melt in your mouth and your hands so pop them quick. Caitlyn and Cailey craft their Cheap Chicks Flowerchild Bath Bomb with all-natural organic ingredients. TruBee has been a favorite vendor since the first subscription box we sent in September 2013. Their lip balm is made with beeswax from their hives in Arrington, TN.
For the deluxe version, we added another Hester and Cook stemless wine glass. The pair of glasses fit any occasion from formal to flip flops on the beach. Speaking of the beach, the Turkish T Basic Beach Towel is a lightweight, carry-with-you-anywhere beach towel. Small enough for a tote but soft enough to lounge on, it’s a must-have summer accessory.
It’s not always easy to bring the family together, but one sure way is to gather around the table for a meal. The Batch Discovery Standard Family Box is filled with the ingredients for a family dinner. With the Batch-design peony towel hung on the kitchen towel rack or thrown over your shoulder, start by mixing a beer (we recommend The Picnic Tap Honey Biscuit Blonde) with the Soberdough beer bread and put it in the oven. While the Soberdough bakes, bring the handmade Nicoletto’s Pasta to a boil. When al dente, coat it with the balanced Café Nonna’s Marinara Sauce. Ring the dinner bell and join the family at the table. We’ve even included Willa’s Butter Pecan Shortbread cookies for dessert. Made by Eric Rion in Madison, TN, with simple ingredients these cookies will go fast.
The goodies in Batch Discovery Deluxe Family Box are meant to be enjoyed the rest of the day. Everly’s new larger packet size means it’s easier to make their thirst-quenching drinks. Make any meal or snack tastier by topping it with Nut Butter Honey Vanilla or some of Gary Baron's Nashville Jam Peach Salsa. Trubee’s Barrel Aged Honey is a flavorful twist on their wildflower honey. The only better thing than honey is barrel aged honey that can be used in coffee, recipes, or cocktails for slight, smoky flavor. For the home, we’ve included the summertime scented Little Seed Farm Grapefruit Lemon Soap.
We asked Teresa Blackburn, our friend and world-class food stylist, to help with the shoot. She brings years of experience and closets full of props to every shoot—whether it's Cracker Barrel, Christie Cookie or Batch. While the finished photos look alive and effortless, the work is painstaking. Teresa mixed cocktails to highlight our Walker Feed Co. drink mixers. When we needed to add a flare of interest to our Saucy Austin Gift Batch, Teresa squeezed some Yellowbird Habanero Sauce at the edges of the frame.
Teresa recommended Stephanie Mullins to shoot the products. Stephanie has been shooting food and products for years, often teamed up with Teresa. The setup took advantage of the natural light at Teresa's house. Since we decided to shoot from overhead we used simple backgrounds that added depth without distraction.
The focus of the photos is the gift batch but shooting wide allowed for Teresa to use the edges of the frame for highlighting the items in the boxes. While we always need to show the packaging of the products so it's clear what you or the gift recipient is getting, we know it's also important to see what's inside.
Be on the lookout for our launch of the new Gift Batches and even a redesigned website this summer.
Ryan Coover, the man (along with his family) behind Coover Caramels, took some time off from making his sweet, buttery drops of heaven to answer a few questions. We find out what led him to start Coover, what has surprised him about starting his business, his go-to gift (spoiler alert) Coover Caramels, and more.
What were you doing before you started Coover Caramels?
I was using my creative license and my background as an architect to do my best as a stay-at-home dad. I have been successful because of my supportive wife, Shirien Coover. She is one of the finest physician assistants, and Central Austin Dermatology is lucky to have her. When she’s not working, she’s rocking the kids’ world with her loving touch! When we started Coover Caramels in 2014, our children, Layli and Kai, were six and four years of age.
How would you describe the taste of a caramel to someone who has never tried one?
So many people start by telling me they don’t like caramel. In fact, at my first corporate meeting, I was passing out samples to nine sales reps, and one said, “Oh, I don’t like caramel. Give it to Judy, she’ll eat it.” I kindly smiled and began to tell my story about why I was making caramels with my kids. About halfway through my story, I was abruptly interrupted with, “OH MY GOD – this is so GOOD!” This was the same person who was so adamant about not liking caramel. She really helped me seal the deal!
But looking back, I’ll never forget our first batch of caramel. It was so delicious that it brought tears to my eyes…. And that was just the beginning. Eating Coover Caramels is truly an experience. Not too sweet, not too sticky—they’re a rich, creamy, buttery sensation. Watch Layli at age three eating caramel right out of the tray. This really says it all.
What’s the most surprising thing about starting Coover Caramels?
I was surprised by how difficult the food industry is, even with a single product like caramels. As I launched into a simple project with my kids, I had no idea that I’d stumble into so many regulations at the local, state, and national levels. One regulation spawned another, and for each requirement I was completely unprepared. But as the orders kept rolling in, we just kept walking through the hoops… and now we’re off and running.
I was also surprised to discover that when you set out to produce a local product, you inevitably make a connection with the community, which is very powerful. For me, this connection is what it’s all about!
Do you have a favorite recipe that uses Coover Caramels?
My personal favorite is making caramel apples in our own creative way.
Here is a video of how I made them with the kids before bedtime.
What local products do you use at home?
Austin’s Good Flow Honey Company honey and Sweet Leaf organic mint and honey green tea are our family’s favorite local products. It seems like we really love our sweets!
But, my real favorite local products come from my neighbor: Mrs. LaFuente’s made-from-scratch salsa and chocolate cupcakes. I am not sure if you can get any closer to local than this, which is a kind reminder that food brings us all closer together. So, the next time you are test-kitchen’ it, open your door, knock on the door next to you, and share!
What is your go-to gift to give besides Coover Caramels?
You know, I can’t legally answer this one!
Tell us how we can Make Life Sweeter.
We started a social campaign called “Be More Than Just Sweet” after volunteering at SAFE: Stop Abuse For Everyone. As I help others, I also want to teach my kids to become servants to humanity. Here’s how you can help:
“Make every action brilliant!” – Ryan Coover
To learn more, please visit: http://www.coovercaramels.com/life-really-can-be-sweeter
In closing, I’d like to send a big, happy hugging thanks to Courtney, Carolyn, Sam, Rob, and the other friends at BATCH for their positive actions in supporting small batch makers like us. I love being able to call y’all family!
You know you're going to drink coffee and you know you'll need to take with it you. Then get this exclusive tumbler with a hand drawn illustration of the Nashville skyline. You'll have your coffee and a eye-catching tumbler.
Tame the Beast Body Lotion - $18
This moisturizing skin lotion is made with natural ingredients including aloe barbadenis leaf juice, guarana, chamomile, and green tea.
Ranger Station Oak Moss Candle - $30
Hand-poured in East Nashville, the Ranger Station Oak Moss candle "was inspired by early mornings of watching the sun rise over Little Blue Lake in Zimmerman, MN with a fresh cup of coffee."
These stylish bandanas are a cute accessory for any pup from the tiniest Teacup Chihuahua to brawny Bullmastiff. Handmade in East Nashville by Mutthead, they come in a variety of prints.
Southern City Flavors Dirty Martini Mix - $6
A simple way to make an iconic drink, Southern City Flavors Dirty Martini Mix is the bar staple every home cocktail bar needs. Just add gin or vodka and ice, then shake or stir.
Ashwood Estates Rub-a-Dub Baby Wash - $13
All natural and non-toxic, Ashwood Estates has made a baby wash that is gentle, soothing and light enough to bring relaxation and delight to bath time.
Ok, we know this not a new product but, wow! The new packaging for Olive and Sinclair's chocolate bars brings a fresh, clean design to one of our best sellers. In case you're looking for a reason to try an old favorite.
This charming spot with a scenic view of the Colorado River is known as one of the 10 hottest brunch spots in Austin. The Mother’s Day brunch buffet is the gift that keeps on giving with crab cakes, chicken and waffles, avocado toast, mac and cheese… We could go on but you’d better stop reading and call for reservations.