Nestled in what tourists call the "quiet side of the Smokies," in Townsend, Tenn., is a peaceful mountain resort called Dancing Bear Lodge. There Chef Jeff Carter prepares a menu that reflects its Southern locale and is refined but not fussy.
"I love cooking comfort food, the food that fits this place, the log cabin look," he explains.
Like so many chefs, Carter's cooking emphasizes local ingredients: fresh water trout is smoked and paired with spicy black-eyed peas, locally ground cornmeal becomes creamy polenta, and collard greens and country ham are served alongside sorghum-glazed chicken breasts. In fact, Carter has a special affinity for the Southern staple, sorghum, particularly the light Muddy Pond sorghum produced in Monterey, Tenn. He uses it in desserts like his Tennessee Whiskey Cake and Sorghum Ice Cream, as well as in entrées such as his pistachio and rosemary-dusted pork tenderloin with sorghum sweet potatoes.
"Using sorghum is like using maple syrup or molasses. Anything that calls for molasses, you can use sorghum. It's a little lighter, and the flavor is a little different," he says.
Here are a few of Carter's recipes particularly suited to the holidays—cheese puffs are a great party food, and whiskey cake is a great dessert perfect to have on hand for any holiday get together.
By Anne Hattes, a food writer in Hartland, Wis.