Tomatoes Day 17: Cheese Straw Tomato Tartlets From Southern Living

In the next few days I will be posting some tomato recipes suitable for your Fourth of July gathering.

OK, I admit it. Making this recipe is just an excuse to have cheese straws in the summer. I think of them around the Christmas holidays, when my mother would make them.

My sister makes pretty and tasty ones often, but I’m too lazy to get out the cookie press. These Cheese Straw Tomato Tartlets from Southern Living only require a biscuit cutter. I simply used a measuring cup .

With the marinated cherry tomato centers, these make simple appetizers for your July 4 celebration, a wedding shower or any party.

You make the dough, roll it out, cut with a biscuit cutter (or measuring cup, glass or any round thing about 2 1/2 inches in diameter) and put in a miniature muffin man. When you press down the dough, it makes a nice rim or you can flute it with little effort.

Party appetizers

Once only found in home kitchens, the cheese straw now shows up in food and gift stores everywhere. Being from Mississippi, I especially love the story of the  Mississippi Cheese Straw Factory in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Begun by Mary Margaret Yerger (don’t you love a good southern double name?) in 1991 out of her home, this cheese straw maker is now  a big operation with both savory and sweet straws. You can learn more about the business here.

Note: My tartlets only take about 20 minutes so be careful with this recipe and watch them closely. 

Recipe: Cheese Straw Tomato Tartlets from Southern Living

Weight Watchers SmartPoints: 4-5 per tartlet depending on how big you make them. I got 30 tartlets out of this recipe.




Tomatoes Day 16: Fresh Tomato Salsa from Lulu the Baker

We eat a lot of salsa at our house.  You may find three different brands in our refrigerator at the same time –Albert’s from Kilgore, Texas, Julio’s from Del Rio, Texas, and perhaps another from the farmer’s market. In the pantry, there are standards like Pace, On The Border and Who Knows What Else.

But, I’m so glad this summer’s abundant tomato crop will allow me to make at least two batches of this recipe. One just doesn’t last long enough. I don’t think anything tastes any fresher than tomatoes and peppers grown just 10 yards away from my back door.

I made the first batch last weekend, and it is already gone. I started by making it mild. Then, I added a few more tomato chunks to one-third of the batch for a chunky version. I added more jalapeno (including the seeds) to the other third for a hot salsa. Some of the comments on Lulu’s blog questioned the amount of salt, but tomatoes need a lot. I would start light and then add. I used the exact amount she did and will probably cut it a tad when I make it again.

Happy Birthday today to my youngest daughter, Mary Grace, who is 25 today The first photo was when she was three or so, and I think we were at the old Mondello’s Produce in Bossier City. The other is from Saturday’s Shreveport Farmers Market, where she’s buying salsa from George.

Mary Grace and the watermelons (448 x 428) Mary Grace by George (1008 x 756)


Note: No canning involved for this refrigerator salsa. To maintain freshness, it should be eaten within a few days. No problem at our house!

Recipe: Fresh Tomato Salsa From Lulu The Baker

Weight Watchers SmartPoints: 0 (yeah! Save those points for the chips)

Tomatoes Day 14: Coushatta Road Trip for Tomatoes, Peaches & Such

I’m usually a regular at the Shreveport Farmers Market, but sometimes you can’t beat driving to a produce stand in the country, where you can actually see the peach trees that bore the fruit you are buying.

The other day, I drove to Coushatta, about 45 miles south of Shreveport, where I couldn’t stop at one. I went to four farmstands. Well, they all weren’t actually in the town of Coushatta but in the nearby places of Armistead and Ajax.

It had been awhile since I had been to Ed Lester Farms, and I had forgotten how beautiful the setting is – on the west bank of the Red River, shaded by a 300-year-old oak tree flanked by lush caladiums. Classical music played on speakers as people of all types – driving everything from Ford Focuses to Range Rovers — bagged tomatoes and squash. Ed Lester Farms  has been written up in Southern Living as one of the best produce stands in the South.

A sign on a trailer bed said “Very New Potatoes.” How new? We were there at 11 am, and much of the produce had been hauled in from the field at 8 am that day. (We didn’t do our part in cooking them that same night, but they still tasted fresh even a week later). You have to go when the produce is fresh as this market’s season only lasts from late May through July.

Ed Lester’s family has been working the rich soil since 1850. The produce stand has been around since 1960.

Anderson Farms is also a big operation and a pretty place as well. They also sell at the Shreveport Farmers Market. You can buy bedding plants and ferns there too. I loved watching young butterflies flutter around in the zinnia patch in front of Anderson’s.

En route between Ed Lester Farms and Andersons, we found M & R Produce at the crossroads of US Hwy 84, US Hwy 371 and Louisiana 1. And we checked it out too. We continued down some country roads (directions and map below) to Anderson’s. After stopping there, we kept going a little farther across I-49 and into Natchitoches Parish, where we discovered Mim’s Snack Shop and Produce.

Mim was out front and pointed to a plum tree a few yards to the west that produced some of the fruit he was selling. There were homegrown tomatoes and other things, even a bargain table. The watermelons were from Florida then, but it was early in the season, and he assured me they would be local in a few weeks. There’s a hot lunch six days a week and barbecue Wednesday-Saturday.

We really enjoyed spending the better part of the day in Coushatta, and I recommend it to you. If you are expecting quaint small town, you need to lower your expectations. Coushatta is like a Mississippi Delta town with poverty and empty storefronts downtown. Sunbeam used to have a plant there that made household irons, but that closed 20 years ago. Haynesville shale natural gas drilling has helped, but, that too, is currently in a slump.

But Coushatta still has agriculture, and It’s worth going there for the farmstands alone. But, there are a few more lures. Here are a couple:

Hamburgers. We stopped at Bailey’s Sandwich Shop downtown. (I guess they have other sandwiches. I did not look at the menu as I did not want to spend all of my Weight Watchers points.) My husband raved about the hamburger and wondered why he had waited 30 years to return there. Yes, it has been around at least that long. Bailey’s dining area is modest – one picnic table under the rusting roof and another one in the sun. We were lucky to secure the shady one as most patrons are locals who get theirs to go. There’s another place not far from Baileys called Shellie’s Sandwich Shop. I ate there a year ago when I wasn’t dieting, and the hamburger was great.

Nichols: Coushatta is one of five locations of Nichols Department Store, a family-owned retailer that has been operating since 1914 and, for that, I think they deserve a round of applause. The other places are in towns that few outside of Louisiana have heard of:  Many (corporate headquarters), Leesville, DeQuincy, DeRidder and Winnfield. The merchandise mix is a lot of Bass Pro shop with a little of Hobby Lobby home décor, small town hardware store and a tad Five & Dime. Firearms and a bridal registry. Yeti coolers and off-brand lemon cookies. There is no Wal-Mart in Coushatta, so it is great to see such a well-stocked locally-owned store. My husband bought some ammunition, and I bought a Louisiana-shaped cutting board.

Driving around, there’s a few more stores that grabbed my attention – a locally-owned supermarket, another store called Maxway, and a place downtown called Jolie’s Vintage, which I really wanted to explore but they are not open on Mondays when we were there.

From Shreveport, take I-49. Exit 162 and head northeast toward Coushatta on Hwy 371. You’ll find (1) Ed Lester Farms on the right before reaching town. Turn left from Ed Lester parking lot and head west until you reach the crossroads of Hwy 371, Hwy 84 and LA 1. You’ll find (2) M&R Produce there. Head south on LA 1 for 4.6 miles, then turn right on Catfish Bend Road. Take that for 3.6 miles to Highway 174. Head west on 174 for about two miles and you’ll see (3) Anderson’s Produce on the right. Continue on Hwy 174 past I-49 and (4) Mim’s is on the right.

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Tomatoes Day 13: Morning at the Farmers Market

As you are reading this, I am probably at a farmer’s market. I’m usually at the Shreveport Farmers Market every Saturday. I recently visited the Bossier Farmers Market, and I’ll be back there. I’m trying to figure out how to get to markets in Greenwood, Benton, Minden, Ruston and every town between Shreveport, Louisiana and Jackson, Mississippi before summer ends.

I’m torn between the best times of the morning to go. The Shreveport Farmers Market actually rings a bell at 7 a.m. to kick things off, and I used to like to be there then before my favorites sold out.  But, over time, I have found that I can sleep in a little, water the tomatoes and even watch Pioneer Woman  on the Food Network before going. I can usually still get what I need and have a chance to talk to some of the vendors as the crowd starts thinning.

There are more than 120 vendors from three states at the SFM– selling not only fresh produce but fried pies, pralines, gourmet coffee, pimiento cheese, cut flowers, wine, pork, lamb and more. And, let’s be honest. Sometimes, I leave with nary a vegetable. But, most of the time I’m loaded down with them – even tomatoes when I don’t have any ripe ones of my own.

I love this handy guide on the Shreveport Farmers Market website that shows you exactly where the vendors are and links to more information about each one.

Here are links to websites for Farmers Markets near Shreveport, Louisiana.

Shreveport Farmers Market: Saturdays 7 am-noon through Aug. 27; Tuesdays 3-6 pm through July

Mall St. Vincent Summer Market: Fridays 5-8 pm

Provenance Farmers Market: Thursdays 4-8 pm through June 30

Benton Farmers Market: Sundays 1-4 pm through July 10

Bossier Farmers Market: Saturdays 8 am-2 pm through Nov. 19

Greenwood Farmers Market: Saturdays 8 am-noon

Ruston Farmers Market: Saturdays 8 am-Noon

Minden Farmers Market: 8 am-1 pm First Saturday of the Month

No recipes today just some photographs from earlier this month . Click on any photo to see it larger and launch the carousel gallery.


Tomatoes Day 12: Roasted Cauliflower With Goat Cheese and Tomatoes

I don’t usually get my recipes from the New York Times, but this is something that caught my eye.

It could be that I had ingredients in my refrigerator that needed to be used — goat cheese that we brought back from vacation and cauliflower. Plus, our tomatoes were getting ripe.

I had never paired cauliflower and tomatoes in the same dish, but this came out nice. I joined the cauliflower kick when low-carb became all the rage several years ago and cooked it like mashed potatoes. The next thing I knew I was using cauliflower to make pizza crust.

This goat cheese was the creamy and mild chevre, somewhat like cream cheese. There is a great goat cheese vendor at the Shreveport Farmers Market too– Haute Goat Creamery out of Longview, Texas, with varieties such as Jammin’ Tomato and Fig & Black Pepper.

I didn’t have any coriander seed and didn’t feel like going to the grocery store, so I made a quick stop to Spice & All on Shreveport-Barksdale Highway in Shreveport. The lady there directed me to a huge 7-ounce bag. I was pleasantly surprised when it only rang up $2.89. Ground coriander is widely available and reasonably priced at the grocery store. It should do just fine. Next time, though, I will skip the cinnamon. Even though it was only 1/8 teaspoon, I didn’t think it belonged in the dish.

coriander seed
coriander seed

The recipe calls for canned tomatoes,  but why not use fresh tomatoes in season?

Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

Weight Watchers SmartPoints: 4 using six servings.

Tomatoes Day 11: Two Tomato Pies From Paula Deen

She’s from Savannah, but you know someone like her in Tallulah, Louisiana or Meridian, Mississippi or Birmingham, Alabama.

The drawl may be a tad exaggerated for TV, but there’s a Paula Deen  in every Deep South town–a woman who cooks like her and talks like her.

“SIGH-wah creeeem”

I will go around my house saying that as I mimic her voice.  (And you can substitute light sour cream for some of the mayonnaise in this recipe to make it healthier). There’s actually two versions of this pie–Paula’s original and a lighter one created by son Bobby Deen.

Tomato pie has become part of my June tomato trinity along with BLTs and taco salads. I had a slice at the Shreveport Farmers Market a few years back, and it was served just like it was a pizza slice on a classic white picnic plate. It was warm with the cooked tomato juices running to the ridges.

It’s hot, but it’s worth heating  up the oven to bake this tomato pie. Don’t let the summer go by without making one.

Note: Don’t skip the step of salting the tomatoes and letting them sit awhile. The pie will hold up better. I’ve also seen other versions that add crumbled bacon to the cheese-mayonnaise paste.

Recipe: Paula Deen’s Tomato Pie

Recipe: Bobby Deen’s Lighter Tomato Pie

Weight Watchers SmartPoints: 20 if you follow Paula’s recipe. My recipe builder crashed when I started totaling this. (Just kidding!) Make Bobby’s substituting light sour cream or Greek yogurt for part of the mayonnaise and cut into eight pieces. You can get it down to 6.

I am launching this blog with 30 Days of Tomatoes. Later, we’ll have more bicycling, road trips and other farmstand produce.

Tomatoes Day 10: Panzanella Salad From The Pioneer Woman

Pioneer Woman, is hands down my favorite blogger. I used to think my morning couldn’t start until I read the newspaper. Now, I can’t get started until I read Pioneer Woman. I’ve  quit buying cookbooks, but I buy hers. I enter her contests in hopes I’ll win a LeCreuset Dutch oven or some snazzy cowboy boots.

I was counting the other day and figured I have made close to 60 of her recipes, including this one for panzanella. What’s not to like about salad with Italian bread mixed in and then more bread on top?

Pioneer Woman is opening a retail store and restaurant in the small town near her Oklahoma farm later this summer. She’s been renovating an old mercantile building, and my husband and I checked it out on a road trip almost two years ago. You can read about it here. We can’t wait until she announces the opening date as we plan a return trip.

When I first made this several years ago and took it to a gathering, someone called me for the recipe. My self-esteem soared. I was not known to be a cook at the time, and no one ever asked me to share a recipe.

Pioneer Woman used some heirloom tomatoes for her panzanella, but I don’t have any ready, so I used the Beefmaster and Big Boy varieties that are coming.  I did plant a couple of heirlooms—Purple Cherokee and Homestead.

Purple Cherokee, believed to be passed down from the Cherokee Indians, frequently wins taste test awards, although I lost my plant to wilt. Homestead, which originated in 1954 at the University of Florida, appears to be faring better in my garden. According to the Bonnie Plant website, Homestead does well in the heat so it should love Louisiana in July and August. Homestead produces an average of 50 pounds per plant at Bonnie’s test garden, says the website. Wow. If that happens here, I have a goldmine in my backyard.

Recipe: Panzanella From The Pioneer Woman

Note: Look for expiring bread in the bakery/deli section. When I’m not at the Farmer’s Market, I can usually be found rummaging through the bargain bread or markdown meats at Kroger.

Weight Watchers SmartPoints: 7 per serving if you follow The Pioneer Woman’s recipe, but you can have a tasty salad with far less bread and bring it down to 4 or 5.

Tomatoes Day 9: Mini Taco Salads From Hungry Girl

Let’s don’t deceive ourselves. When we just “get the salad” and it’s a taco salad, we are usually ordering one of the most caloric items on the menu. Had the Quesadilla Explosion Salad from Chili’s? It’s 1,440 calories with 96 grams of fat.

But, there can be a lot of caloric wiggle room in the taco salad as I learned when making it last week with fresh tomatoes from our garden. One version was put together with full-strength cheese, high-fat ground beef, regular sour cream. In lieu of frying the shell, I made some fry bread from a mix I bought in Arizona. Close your eyes Weight Watchers. Making fry bread included getting out the can of Crisco. (No shortening had been in my pantry for 20 years until I bought a can to make a pie crust at Easter).

Then, I made these tasty mini taco salad cups from a recipe I saw in one of Hungry Girl’s daily emails. Hungry Girl is one of my favorite brands. Creator Lisa Lillien makes healthy eating fun with her TV Bewitched-looking graphics and her clever writing on recipe makeovers and supermarket product finds. These were a cinch to make and taste as good as they look. Plus, one mini salad has only 73 calories and 2 Weight Watchers SmartPoints. The meat mixture is stretched by adding lowfat  refried beans. The shell is a crispy baked wonton wrapper.

They are like a taco salad version of the hamburger sliders, which I am so found of. These mini cups scream festive party, and I’m all in. So, since it is Taco Tuesday, I’ll say that is reason enough to celebrate with these cute little cups.

Note: One time I was out of taco seasoning and too lazy to make my own. I ran down to Family Dollar for a packet. I got their house brand, and my husband said those were the best seasoned tacos I have ever made. I can’t really tell a difference, but he insists we buy Family Dollar brand every time now!

Recipe: Mini Taco Salads From Hungry Girl


Tomatoes Day 8: Greek Frittata From Kalyn’s Kitchen

Ever since we have been growing our own tomatoes and peppers, I have been making more omelettes. My brother-in-law raises chickens and guineas in Bienville Parish so I usually have a fresh supply of eggs.

Guinea eggs are a bit smaller with a harder shell
Guinea eggs are a bit smaller with a harder shell

Since I’m bad at flipping omelettes, I thought I would try this frittata from Kalyn’s Kitchen.  Most food bloggers are between 25 and 45, but Kalyn is a baby boomer like me. She’s also lost 42 pounds, and I have been on my own weight loss journey, which you can read about here.

I used Roma tomatoes for this recipe. This was the first year we planted Romas and they are heavy producers just like our cherry tomato plants. Although Romas aren’t as juicy as the larger tomato varieties, the lower moisture means a dish that is less watery.

Kalyn used a spice mix called Spike, which I have not seen in our stores in Shreveport, Louisiana. I found Cavender’s Greek Seasoning in our pantry. (Cavendars is a family-owned business based in the Arkansas Ozarks, and the founder’s name was Spike Cavendar! I don’t know if he is any relation to the other Spike).

I cooked this in a 12-inch pan but wished I had used the 10-inch so the frittata would stand up more. I also added onions, because we add onions to just about anything at our house.

Greek Frittata
Greek Frittata

You may even want to serve this as breakfast for supper with seasonal fruit and perhaps some freshly dug new potatoes from your closest farmstand.

Recipe: Greek Frittata with Zucchini and Tomatoes From Kalyn’s Kitchen

Note: There are several types of oregano–Greek, Italian, Mexican, etc. with different flavors. If you have dried oregano from the store, it is most likely Greek. Many cooks, including Ina Garten, prefer the subtle flavor of dried oregano over the fresh.

Weight Watchers SmartPoints: 5 per serving. (Using six servings per recipe and without the sour cream or Greek yogurt. You can easily get eight servings.  There are many modifications you can do to adjust the SP up or down–use less of the feta and more of the mozzarella or substitute egg whites for some of whole eggs.


Tomatoes Day 7: A Father Who Brings Home the Bacon

Its arrival is almost as certain as the Thanksgiving turkey. For my husband, it’s like Christmas.

Sometime in mid-June, a big box arrives on my doorstep. It’s the annual bacon order with several varieties of thick-sliced bacon from Burgers’ Smokehouse in California, Missouri (yes, that’s the name of the town). He carefully times the order to arrive during prime tomato harvesting season.

There’s city bacon and country bacon, applewood smoked, maple flavored, peppered bacon, Canadian bacon, jowl and even something called Attic-Aged Country Ham Bacon.

After 31 years of marriage, I still have a hard time realizing how much men eat. Growing up, it was just my mother, my sister and me. A pound of bacon went a long way. Our family’s dairy farm bordered Bryan Foods in West Point, Mississippi so we always had one of their yellow packaged bacon in our refrigerator.

But I married a man with two brothers, all six-feet- tall men with hefty appetites. They learned to cook from their father, whose idea of frying up a little bacon for breakfast meant putting about three pounds in the pan.

As I’ve become more health conscious, I began buying turkey bacon. I still do occasionally, but I have come to terms with the real stuff. Two crispy slices only have about 80 calories and 3 SmartPoints if you follow Weight Watchers. That’s a lot of flavor for the calorie cost in BLTs and on top of baked potatoes.

Of course, bacon is high in saturated fat and sodium. If you are trying to keep it healthy you want to stop at a slice or two. You can try a leaner center cut or low-sodium variety. But, I think the real diet busters in BLTs are the white bread we typically use and the mayonnaise that we slather on.

Even when we aren’t eating BLTS, bacon seems to be on the menu everywhere. There’s brussel sprouts sauteed with bacon and balsamic vinegar, bacon wrapped around dates, and bacon combined with maple & chocolate to ice a cupcake.

But there is still no better way to eat bacon than on a BLT. Today is Father’s Day, and we’ll celebrate with BLTs with our homegrown tomatoes. My husband loves Jesus, his family, friends and good food–in that order. Happy Father’s Day to my husband David, who has been bringing home the bacon for 31 years at our house.

Father's Day bacon
David with our two daughters, Claire and Mary Grace (2003)