Valentine's Day at home: RT Lodge and Southern Kitchen collaborate on a 3-course meal

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

Planning on staying in and cooking for Valentine's Day? With the help of the historic RT Lodge in Maryville, Tennessee, we have you covered with a pear and arugula salad, a hearty braised short rib dish and a sumptuous chocolate dessert, too. 

But first, a bit about RT Lodge. Originally a 26-room estate christened "Morningside," the inn was designed by owner Susan Wiley Cooper Walker in 1932 as a place for the wealthy widow to spend her golden years

The original wooden board building, painted white with green shutters, included a three-car garage and a carriage house.

The home and its satellite buildings served a variety of uses after Walker's death before becoming a Ruby Tuesday company retreat in 1997. The restaurant corporation would restore the main lodge, add a number of outbuildings and expand guest accommodations before once again finding private ownership in 2021.

RT Lodge amid the lush greenery of the warm season.

Now, RT Lodge boasts a destination restaurant, fittingly named Restaurant at RT Lodge. Overlooking the scenic koi pond and surrounded by lush vegetation, the restaurant is a romantic spot with a new-Southern menu directed by executive chef Trevor Stockton and pastry chef Caitlyn Cox. 

Valentine's Day without the crowd::Cake and cocktail recipes to help you celebrate at home

Romantic dessert:How to make easy chocolate-dipped strawberries with your Instant Pot

Below, Southern Kitchen has provided a red-wine braised short rib recipe, courtesy of longtime contributor Virginia Willis. Her recipe is bookended by a salad and dessert recipe from Stockton and Cox, respectively. 

More about RT Lodge at www.rtlodge.com.

Arugula-pear salad with a sorghum vinaigrette.

Course 1: Pear and arugula salad

This salad, a combination of buttery toasted walnuts, creamy goat cheese and sweet pears with a tangy-sweet vinaigrette, is the perfect start to your Valentine's Day meal. This recipe comes courtesy of RT Lodge executive chef Trevor Stockton.

Makes 2 servings


For the salad:

5 ounces arugula

2 pears

4 ounces goat cheese

½ cup toasted walnuts (recipe follows)

1 whole shallot, peeled and minced (or fresh chives)

Sherry sorghum vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

For the walnuts:

2 tablespoons butter

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 cup walnuts

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

For the vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons sorghum

2 ounces sherry vinegar

4 ounces grapeseed oil


Make the walnuts:

This recipe makes 1 cup of walnuts, so you’ll have enough left over for your salad after snacking on them.

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Meanwhile, warm butter with the thyme in a saute pan on medium heat. Once butter is foamy, add walnuts, sea salt and black pepper. Toss for a minute on the stovetop then transfer to the oven for another 8-10 minutes or until toasty

and aromatic. Remove from oven and empty walnuts out onto a plate lined with a paper towel.

Make the vinaigrette:

This recipe makes about 1 cup. There will be some left over. Dressing will keep, covered, in your refrigerator for several weeks. 

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except oil and whisk until combined. Slowly drizzle the oil in while whisking constantly. 

To complete the salad:

Cut the pears in quarters and remove the seeds and core. Thinly slice the pear and add it to a bowl with the arugula and shallot. Add a pinch of sea salt and black pepper.

Toss with a small amount of the vinaigrette (arugula may wilt quickly so don’t mix until

right before serving). Place in a serving bowl, top with goat cheese and toasted walnuts and serve.

Fresh seasonal berries are a great addition to this salad if you have some on hand.

Blustery winter days are perfect for braised meats and hearty soups and stews, such as red wine-braised short ribs made with a mirepoix of onion, carrot and celery.

Course 2: Red wine-braised short ribs

This recipe, created for Southern Kitchen by chef Virginia Willis, calls for cooking in a heavy pot on the stovetop, but you can easily adapt it for cooking in a slow cooker or an Instant Pot once the meat is browned.

Serve these ribs with grits, mashed or roasted potatoes, or other roasted root vegetables.

Makes 4 servings


4 to 5 pounds English-cut beef short ribs

Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 sweet onions, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon miso paste

1 (750-ml) bottle red wine, preferably Pinot Noir

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

4 sprigs fresh thyme, 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, 2 bay leaves, tied together in cheesecloth

1/4 cup dried mushrooms such as porcini, morel, or a blend, crushed (optional)

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 to 2 1/2 cups beef stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium beef broth

1 pound small cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered

Stone-Ground Herbed Grits, for serving

Chopped fresh parsley, for serving


Season the ribs all over with salt and place on a wire rack set on a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate until the ribs have re-absorbed all of their exuded liquid, 1 to 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 375.

Tie each short rib with food-safe kitchen twine. This step will keep the meat attached to the bone while it braises. It’s definitely an extra step that you could skip, but it will help prevent the meat from literally falling off the bone. Season the ribs with pepper.

In a large, heavy-duty Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Brown the ribs on all sides, in two or three batches so as not to crowd them, 5 to 7 minutes for each batch. Return the ribs to the wire rack. 

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pot. Add the onions, celery and carrots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.

Decrease the heat to medium. Add the flour, tomato paste and miso paste and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, until the flour and pastes are incorporated and they begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the wine and vinegar and bring to a rapid simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook, uncovered, until the wine is somewhat thickened, 5 to 7 minutes.

Return the browned short ribs to the pot and add the bundled herbs, dried mushrooms, if using, and garlic. Pour in enough stock to almost cover the meat. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover and bake until the meat is tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. 

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked short ribs to a warm platter and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Spoon off any excess oil left on the surface of the sauce and discard, along with the bundled herbs. Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce and vegetables until smooth. (Alternatively, transfer the sauce and vegetables to a blender in batches and puree until smooth. Return the pureed sauce to the pot.)

Bring the sauce to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat and cook until ​​​​​​the sauce coats the back of a spoon; thin with more stock, if needed, to achieve the proper consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

To serve, return the short ribs to the sauce and turn to coat. Add the reserved cooked mushrooms. Heat briefly over medium heat if necessary to rewarm, then serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Chocolate budino from RT Lodge

Course 3: Chocolate budino

Budino is Italian for pudding, but this rich and creamy chocolate dessert is so much more than just that. If you'd like to fancy it up, top it with freshly whipped cream and shave some extra dark chocolate on top. This recipe is courtesy of RT Lodge pastry chef Caitlyn Cox.

Makes 4 servings


5 egg yolks

⅓ c sugar

2 c heavy cream

8 oz. dark chocolate (70%)

½ tsp salt

½ tsp vanilla


Place your chocolate, vanilla and salt in a mixing bowl. Place your yolks in a separate mixing bowl. Place sugar and cream in a small pot over medium-low heat and bring it up to a simmer.

Temper in your eggs by ladling the hot liquid into the egg bowl while whisking at the same time. Pour back into the pot and heat on low until it thickens to a crème anglaise and coats the back of a spoon. Strain.

Pour this hot anglaise mixture over the chocolate bowl and mix until all the chocolate is melted and fully combined. Pour into 4 individual bowls and let set up in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com