In Celebration of the Tomato

1-Tomatoes

I have proclaimed this every year since I moved back to the south and I will do it again- southern tomatoes are the best tomatoes in the world! It’s true. Our neighborhood in Nashville believes in this so much that it hosts the Tomato Art Festival which grows in numbers of attendees every year. With it happening this coming weekend, I thought it was a good time to post some of our favorite tomato recipes from this summer. And just in case you need more ideas, here is the link to last year’s recipes.

Tomatoes are perfect on their own. Growing up, a small plate of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers was always on the dinner table throughout the summer. This year, Grant and I have been enjoying this simple salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches, lemon basil from our garden, and sea salt and pepper.

2-Tom Cuke Peach Salad

I am afraid I didn’t write out actual recipes for most of these tomato creations this time. But, here are the ideas. They are all super easy and the ingredients are all so awesome, they are pretty hard to mess up no matter what measurements you use.

3-Bread Salad

I used to make this bread salad all the time, so much so that I think I got a little tired of it. I rediscovered it as a way to use up lots of leftover Bella Nashville sourdough bread. First, cut up leftover bread into cubes. Heat a large iron skillet. Add some butter. Toss in the bread cubes and saute to make croutons. You can toss anything in this salad- cucumbers, tomatoes, steamed green beans, olives, capers, basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, red onion, chopped garlic, peppers, scallions… add the homemade croutons and sprinkle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper if needed. Enjoy! If you need a real recipe to follow, Ina Garten has a great one here.

4-Chicken Eggplant Parmesan

We had so many tomatoes and little eggplants in our CSA box one week that we made a Chicken Eggplant Parmesan. It was so beautiful and super yummy. We didn’t follow a recipe. First we roasted up all the tomatoes with some garlic and a little olive oil in a baking dish at 400 degrees in the oven. Once they got all nice and roasted, we pulled them out and added in a bunch of fresh herbs from our garden and ground them in a little food processor. Voila- the sauce was ready! I sliced the eggplants and brushed them with olive oil and roasted those in the oven on a baking sheet until they were slightly brown. Next, we flattened two chicken breasts and cut them into pieces. We dipped them in egg and lightly coated them with a flour mixture and lightly fried them in an iron skillet. Then, we layered all the elements and added some Parmesan Reggiano and baked in the oven at 375 for 20-30 minutes.

5-Grit Stuffed Squash

I used some leftover cheese grits and roasted cherry tomatoes to come up with this next recipe. We had so many patty pan squash in our CSA basket and I had seen some recipes recently for stuffed patty pan squash that I decided to give it a try. Using the cheese grits as a base, I added a little crumbled bacon, roasted cherry tomatoes, some of the squash I cut out of the patty pans, fresh herbs, sauteed onion and garlic. I mixed it all together, stuffed it into the squash, topped with cheese, and baked in the oven.

6-Mac Cheese Prep

Some of my favorite ingredients to mix with tomatoes are cheese and bacon! I had this idea for a decadent Macaroni & Cheese for about a week and finally had time to make it. It was delicious! I used a fun new cheese (to me) that I got at The Bloomy Rind called Suffolk Punch from Parrish Hill Creamery in Vermont. I used this recipe for Mac & Cheese, below, that is an adaptation of a recipe from my Sister. I pulled the dish out of the oven a little early and added tomato slices, crumbled bacon, and I also topped the Mac & Cheese with some Pecorino to give it some sharpness. I then placed it back in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Delicious!

Mac & Cheese
olive oil
2 cups macaroni (I use Montebello brand)
2-3 cups grated cheese (I use combination of sharp cheddar & gruyere usually)
1 tsp butter (to coat bottom of baking dish)
1 tsp salt
1-2 tsp hot sauce
2 tsp dry mustard
2 eggs
2 cups milk

Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and blanch with cold water. Cover bottom of buttered baking dish with 1/2 of pasta. Spread 1/2 of the cheese over. Repeat. Beat eggs, milk, and spices together. Pour over. Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes.

7-Mac Cheese

I served it with some green beans from my cousin Johnny’s garden that I steamed and then sauteed with a little olive oil and mixed herbed nuts and some sauteed yellow squash and Vidalia onions!

7-Mac & Cheese

A musical highlight for us this summer was an outdoor concert at the Frist Art Museum one evening a couple weeks ago of Marty Stuart and his band, The Fabulous Superlatives. The show coincided with Marty’s photography which is on exhibit there now. I have so much respect for the man and his art. What a fun way to spend a summer evening (and celebrate my birthday!).

MS-1

MS-2

Go listen to some Mary Stuart music and be sure to check out his many books of photography. They’ve got a new album in the works and I can’t wait!

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OKRA, TOMATOES, AND CUKES! OH MY!

We’ve been growing okra every summer since we moved to Nashville. Okra loves the heat which is why it was impossible to grow it up in the Pacific NW when we lived there. Okra is great for sauteing up with tomatoes and corn or cooking it into some gumbo. Our two favorite ways to prepare okra have become pickling it and roasting it which is about as simple as you can get. Roasting it takes away the sometimes unpleasant slimey texture which can be present. It also brings out a great almost nutty and corn flavor. And, it is incredibly easy. All you do it wash it, dry it, lay it out in a roasting dish, sprinkle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and then roast it up. I usually roast it at 400 for about 15-20 minutes. It makes a great side dish to just about everything.

Southern tomatoes are the best in the world and I honestly love them but about this time every summer, I start to feel a bit overwhelmed by them. We can’t eat the raw ones fast enough so I start roasting them up, too! I roast them with onions and fresh herbs and sometimes I add garlic or squash. Once roasted, you can throw them in a jar and in the fridge. I still haven’t started canning and I so admire all my friends who do. I promise I will soon. I used to fear it but now I think I’m just lazy.

We use roasted tomatoes all the time- in risotto, salads, egg dishes, on sandwiches… the possibilities are endless. To make the easiest pasta sauce in the world I just puree the roasted tomatoes and top with cheese. It makes a killer pizza sauce or lasagna, too!

Summer Squash Risotto, Corn Crust Pizza, Veggie Lasagna- all made with roasted tomatoes!

And, my third favorite summer veggie… cucumbers! My favorites are the Kirby pickling cukes. Since I was a child, we have always just had a bowl of them sliced with a little salt on the dinner table to accompany most summer meals.

Grant and I will sometimes throw a splash of vinegar and some sliced onions in and then every once in awhile we get even fancier and make refrigerator pickles in which we slice the cukes and onions and place in a jar. We boil some vinegar and water and throw in some dill, peppercorns, and garlic and then pour over the cukes. These last in the refrigerator for a few weeks. They make the perfect pre-dinner snack.

These lemon cucumbers cut in wedges made pretty pickles!

A favorite side to enjoy with all these summer veggies is always a pan of cornbread! We always have leftovers so often times we will toast a piece with cheese on it for breakfast. The other day, we came up with this Cornbread Strata which was delicious!

Simply cube up the leftover cornbread. Saute some summer veggies in an iron skillet. Pour a bowl of about 7 eggs mixed with some grated cheese on top. Add the cubed cornbread and bake in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes or until eggs are firm and top is slightly golden.

The temperatures have cooled down here in Nashville for a few days so I plan to enjoy my brand new bottle tree from the comfort of our hammock while I dream of all the yummy food to make with the first of the fall harvest to soon arrive!

Mid-Summer in Nashville

I absolutely love all the fresh summer vegetables and one of my favorite meals is cooked vegetables, sliced tomatoes & cucumbers on the side, and a big piece of homemade cornbread. This is my favorite southern meal and always reminds me of my grandmother. Sometimes, though, it gets hard to keep up with what’s coming out of the garden and every meal starts to look similar to the last meal.

Plate by S.C. artist Laura Jones. Tomato grown in my back yard with starts from Eaton Creek Organics in Joelton, TN.

We have tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I usually get inspired to cook some Italian dishes to spice things up- basil gets made into a million varieties of pesto and tomatoes into many different sauce varieties. This week I was craving something totally different. I started to think about the lowcountry of South Carolina (in part due to one of my very dearest friends, Angela Halfacre’s new book, A Delicate Balance, which I received in the mail this week) and the African, Gullah in particular, influence in lowcountry cooking. I had a very loose idea of what I wanted to make and at the last minute decided to add some Garam Masala, too, which sort of took it all in a different direction. Somehow, though, it worked. Here is what I came up with…

Culturally Diverse Chicken
serves 3
1 Tbsp Olive or Grapeseed Oil
1 Vidalia Onion, sliced in half rings
1 Green Bell Pepper, sliced
1 Tbsp Butter
2 Cloves Garlic, chopped
2 Chicken Breasts, cut each into 3 long pieces
about 1 Tbsp Garam Masala
¼ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tbsp water
½ cup Flame Raisins
½ cup Peanuts, roasted and salted
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes
2 Tbsp Fresh Parsley, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. In an iron skillet, cook onions in oil. Once they begin to soften, add peppers and garlic. Cook for a couple minutes and then move vegetables to the side of the pan. Add the butter. Add the chicken. Cook for a few minutes on each side to brown. Sprinkle the chicken with the Garam Masala. Add the vinegar and water. Pile raisins, peanuts, and tomatoes on top, sprinkle with parsley, and then place the skillet in the oven for about 20 minutes or until chicken is done and tomatoes have begun to burst. Serve with roasted okra!

Last week we were saddened by the passing of Ms. Kitty Wells, the undisputed Queen of Country Music! What an incredible woman she was.

Country Music Hall of Fame’s Kitty Wells exhibit. June 2009. Left to right: Johnny Wright’s Nudie suit, a great black & white photo of Kitty, & Kitty’s guitar.

Sadly, I never got the opportunity to see her in person but I cherished knowing that for the last six years, we lived about a mile from her house. Sometimes I would plan my route just so I could drive by and see the big tour bus that belonged to her and husband Johnny Wright that sat beside their house. Eddie Stubbs had an amazing tribute to her on his radio show last week which has been archived. You can listen to that here. And here is a great article our friend Barry Mazur wrote about Kitty Wells for the Wall Street Journal a few years back.

BR549 July 28, 2012

On a happy, live musical note, last night BR549 reunited for a show with Old Crow Medicine Show at the Woods Amphitheater at Fontanel, the former home of Barbara Mandrell. They were amazing, of course. I’m a big fan of Chuck Mead period but to get to see this reunion was really special. They had a great, high-energy set and then joined OCMS after their set for three songs together. I was thrilled they chose a song made popular by Barbara Mandrell (and written by fellow East Nashvillian Kye Fleming & Dennis Morgan), which ironically seems applicable to all of us still, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.”

Recipes for My Brother-In-Law

My Sister broke her foot last week. If you know my Sis, it is hard to imagine her sitting still allowing people to help her as she is usually on the go and in her spare time, can often be found helping women deliver babies on the side of the road, rescuing battered women from gas stations, or saving neglected pups from an unforeseen doom at any given moment. My brother-in-law is a good cook but I thought he could use some more suggestions for quick and easy dinner recipes especially now. So, this post is for him. Meanwhile, we’ll try to help out a few more people in need while she is relegated to the sofa and hobbling around on one foot so the world won’t get too out of balance.

My favorite recipe of last week was a Summer Seafood Cioppino. We went to Margot for our 8th Wedding Anniversary dinner a couple weeks ago and I had a similar dish there and I guess this dish was inspired mostly by that meal. It seemed a good way to use more of the tomatoes from our garden, as well. I bought three different pieces of fish- talapia, cod, and grouper. I chopped up all the veggies and the fish and then let Grant throw it all together and cook it to perfection! Grant is a super great cook. He started cooking as a kid, with his Mom, as a way to get out of cleaning (haha!), and then in college he cooked at a sorority house for his part time job. He’s much faster and more skilled than I but we make a good team as I love coming up with the ideas and shopping for the food and preparing the ingredients. Anyway, back to the Cioppino…

We used chopped vidalia onion, sliced green pepper from the garden, a variety of chopped tomatoes from the garden, 3-4 cloves of garlic thinly sliced, thinly sliced yellow squash, and chopped flat leaf parsley. Also good to have on hand- crusty bread, some aged gouda (Reypanaer 2 year old is my current favorite!) and some dry white wine.

Grant sauteed up the onion in a little olive oil and then added the garlic, squash, and pepper. He then dredged the fish pieces in a little flour mixed with sea salt, garlic powder, chili powder, black pepper, smoky paprika, a little saffron, and thyme and placed it in the same pan. He sauteed that up and then added the tomatoes, some dry white wine, some chicken stock (fish stock would have been ideal), and then simmered. He added in the fresh parsley at the end.

We served it with some steamed asparagus!

It was so delicious, fresh and summery with the use of fresh tomatoes and much lighter  than the winter NW Cioppino version we are accustomed to. Also, the addition of squash gave it a Southern vibe. Leftovers made for a perfect lunch the next day. We just mixed the leftover asparagus right in!

I have to write about pesto again, too- not because it is something I truly love or can’t get enough of, but simply a good way to use up all of my fresh herbs from the garden. (Special note to said Brother-In-Law: you don’t have to use any of those foods y’all can’t eat to make pesto. You can keep it really simple and just use herbs, garlic, sea salt, black pepper and olive oil blended together. You can also add some good Parmesan Reggiano if desired. Maybe you already do that?) So, I’ve been trying my darnedest to come up with more uses for pesto so as to not waste all of that which I made so as to not waste all those beautiful herbs! Here are a few ways we have come up with (I have already posted some of these ideas but wanted to form a more concise thought on this and have them all together):

Pesto makes a wonderful salad dressing base to which you can add a little balsamic or lemon, sugar, and a tab bit more olive oil to:

Use it on toast for an appetizer or lunch, on sandwiches, or on homemade pizzas.

Use it on top of grilled chicken, pork, or fish.

Blend it in to pasta or rice.

Slather pesto over roasted or grilled veggies!

Or blend it into eggs…

Which brings me to breakfast. We were reminded this weekend that breakfast makes a great dinner, too! Here’s our newest pancake recipe- Blueberry Corn Cakes! This recipe is based on the recipe Grant uses for his buttermilk pancakes which he got from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s cookbook, The Gift of Southern Cooking, which Bray gave us years back. This is one of our favorite go-to cookbooks. We have found so many yummy recipes here. I often get the ideas here and then try to make them a little healthier.

Blueberry Corn Cakes

1/2 cup fine corn meal
1/2 all purpose flour (White Lily)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking soda (Bob’s Red Mill)
1 egg
3 tbsp melted butter (organic, unsalted)
1 1/4  cup buttermilk (up to 1 1/2 cup, you can adjust for consistency)
fresh blueberries

Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl, give it a quick whisk. Combine the buttermilk and egg in another bowl with a whisk. Slowly whisk in the melted butter into the buttermilk and egg bowl. Mix the wet and dry ingredient together just briefly, until well blended. Do not over mix. Heat large skillet or griddle over medium heat and grease very lightly with a little butter. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of batter for each pancake and then drop 10-12 blueberries in each one. Cook until bubbles appear on top. Flip the pancakes and cook for 30 seconds longer.
Serve hot with butter and maple syrup!

We used stone ground corn meal we bought at the same little mill in Virginia where we found those yummy grits!

We’ve still been able to get local, organic blueberries and they have become a staple for us! My favorite way to eat them (besides just popping them in my mouth!) is to mix them with some plain Greek style yogurt.

And, one final easy dinner recipe for my Brother-In-Law that Grant came up with… Bratwurst Sandwiches. These are man sandwiches but ladies like them, too!

The main fancy ingredient was the special roasted tomato jam he made to put on them which was so amazing, you really can make any kind of sandwich and put this magical ingredient on top and be completely satisfied!

He sauteed up some red onions with the brats…

Here’s the recipe…

Big Smokey’s Fancy Bratwurst Sandwiches

Roasted Tomato Jam:
8 small golden roma tomatoes from the garden, roasted with a little olive oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp organic cane sugar
Sea salt
Black pepper
Garlic powder

Red onion, sauteed in a little olive oil
Bratwursts
Sauerkraut
Provolone cheese
Sandwich buns

And the final sandwich looked like this:

Happy cooking!