What an interesting summer this has been. The overabundance of rain has been a real challenge to those dedicated farm families who work so hard to provide us with the fresh vegetables and fruit that we so long for from October to May. These are the days, as August slips into September, to take advantage of the vegetables that are available at the local produce stands.
Perhaps you didn't realize that tomatoes, watermelon and cantaloupes have been in short supply this summer because there has been too much rain. (In an average summer we complain of not enough rain.) The corn yield has been up and yet there were weeks when sweet corn was scarce because those hard rains in the spring resulted in fields so muddy that the growers couldn't get in them to plant. So that "we" can have corn through most of June, July and August, the farmers anticipate being able to do weekly plantings to keep up with our demands.
In my humble and aged opinion, the average consumer is too far removed from the reality of where the food that we take for granted comes from. This past weekend I was a volunteer at the Great Eastern Shore Tomato Festival in Vienna, Md. When we were planning activities for this in March, we decided that "the public" might enjoy the opportunity to participate in a tasting of Heirloom tomatoes.
Many of us who are more mature remember tomatoes that had a different flavor and texture. Those were the days when you went into the garden in the morning and picked what you would have for dinner that evening. You didn't worry about "shelf-life" because your tomatoes were going straight from your garden to your table and they were NOT going to sit on a shelf.
As large grocery chains replaced small family markets, consumers started to expect that those chains would have the same fresh vegetables. But consider this: Have you ever seen a large garden patch behind an Acme or Giant? Consumer demand drove the agri-scientists to experiment to produce vegetables that could be picked, shipped and still look appealing when it finally got into those mega stores. And those same consumers wanted a wider window of availability of this produce. As the years rolled on, many of the flavors and characteristics that made the "fresh-from-your-garden" vegetables so delicious were sacrificed to allow for more "durable" produce.
I had the pleasure of hearing folks say "Wow! Now this tastes like the tomatoes that I remember" when they stopped by to taste the variety of Heirloom tomato offerings that, through the cooperation of Fifer Orchards in Wyoming, we were able to share at The Great Eastern Shore Tomato Festival. This week I urge you to go out to Fifer's and select five or six or more tomatoes from the wide variety of Heirloom tomatoes that they offer and take some home so that your family can participate in a tomato-tasting and realize how many flavors and shapes and colors there really are in the tomato plant family. The variety of colors should amaze you.
Page 2 of 2 - While you are out there, pick up some green beans to use in preparing Roasted Parmesan Green Beans. I served these with grilled chicken breasts flavored in 4 Ingredient Chicken Marinade and Cracker Barrel's Hashbrowns Copycat Casserole and, of course, sliced tomatoes!
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Roasted Parmesan Green Beans
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed, washed and completely dried
3 teaspoons olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the green beans in a plastic bag and add the olive oil. Seal the bag and shake so that the olive oil goes over all the green beans. Spread the green beans out in a single layer on the aluminum foil covered baking sheet and sprinkle with the sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place tray on a rack in the lower third of your oven and roast for 10 minutes. Shake the pan gently to turn the beans and roast for 5 minutes more. Remove from oven and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
4 Ingredient Chicken Marinade
(this makes marinade for approximately 16 boneless chicken breasts)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup apple cider or plain white vinegar
Whisk these ingredients together to blend. Place chicken breasts in a zip-lock plastic bag and pour on just enough marinade to cover them. Seal bag and refrigerate chicken in marinade for several hours. Place UNUSED remaining marinade in a covered container and refrigerate for up to two weeks. ALWAYS discard any marinade that has been in contact with the chicken. Place the marinated breasts on a grill over medium-high heat and grill for about six minutes. Then flip them over and grill for five minutes more. If you have purchased gigantic chicken breasts, cut them in half before grilling so that the chicken will grill evenly. Use tongs to turn the chicken (do not prick with a fork).
Cracker Barrel's Hashbrowns Copycat Casserole
32-ounces frozen hash browns, thawed in the refrigerator
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (10 1/4 ounce) can cream of chicken soup
16-ounces sour cream
1/2 cup peeled and chopped sweet onion
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a shallow 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss so that the ingredients are well-mixed. Spoon into prepared baking dish and bake for 45 to 50 minutes until bubbly and golden.