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It's peak time to enjoy tomatoes

Every spring I diligently visit the local garden center and purchase tomato plants. I am not an avid gardener, but I enjoy looking at all the varieties and dreaming of the beautiful fruit I might harvest. So I dutifully planted my three plants, mulched them and carefully placed cages around them, and waited.

Last week, my efforts were rewarded when I picked my first tomato of the season. Now if I am honest, I will tell you it was not the most beautiful one I have ever seen. Actually, it was rather small and a bit lopsided, but to me it was stunning. It was fresh off the vine and still warm from the sun. I spent a few minutes anticipating what I might do with it. It would certainly spruce up my salad or make a great BLT. Ultimately I decided it needed no enhancement at all. I took it into the kitchen, gave it a quick wash and slowly devoured it. Perfecto!

This is peak time to enjoy locally grown tomatoes, either from your own garden or obtained from the local farmers markets. And that leads to a question I am frequently asked.

What is the best way to seed a fresh tomato? Why do recipes often call for removing seeds from a tomato?

Now that we are into tomato season, I hope you are enjoying some fresh-picked, locally grown ones. Often we don't need to bother seeding a tomato, particularly when we serve it sliced, in a salad, etc. Usually tomatoes are seeded when the juice and seeds will dilute the flavor of other ingredients or change the texture, such as in a fresh salsa.

And even then, the variety of tomatoes you are using should be taken into consideration. For instance, a Roma tomato generally has few seeds, so it is not an issue. Other varieties may be packed with seeds and juice which may need to be removed.

The most efficient way to seed a tomato is to cut the tomato crosswise around the "equator" and simply place each half in the palm of your hand and give it a good squeeze over the sink. It's quick, efficient, and now you have a seeded tomato.

I love using fresh herbs but don't always have them handy. In your opinion, are there any fresh herbs for which dried herbs are not a good substitute?

Fresh herbs are always wonderful and make our food taste really good. But there are times when they are not available, and dried herbs are a good substitute. Dried herbs are dehydrated and have a concentrated flavor. A general rule of thumb is to use only one-third the amount of dried herbs as fresh. For example, instead of one tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs you would use 1 teaspoon dried herbs.

The only dried herbs that I avoid are dried parsley and dried cilantro; they have little flavor, and fresh parsley and cilantro are always available in supermarkets.

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