A World Without Ag Wednesdays: Tomatoes

With 4th of July approaching, I thought it appropriate to highlight a piece of ag that one of our founding fathers helped promote–tomatoes.

I absolutely love tomatoes. Sadly, our garden tomatoes are not doing well, and I have yet to have a tomato sandwich with homegrown produce. Sad days, I know; however, I can find comfort in the fact that tomatoes are a popular food and no longer thought to be poisonous. How in the world such a wonderful food could be feared is beyond me, but thanks to a few individuals, especially Thomas Jefferson, tomatoes are now celebrated and devoured.

During Colonial times, folks related tomato plants with the poisonous nightshade plant, and only grew tomatoes for ornamental purposes. Not everyone was so paranoid about the plant, though. In South and Central America, where tomatoes originated, people had no qualms eating them. In France, tomatoes were called pomme d’amore, or “apple of love,” suggesting that they were also loved, but some experts say that this name was mistaken for the Spanish words “apple of the Moors.” It is thought that the first tomato came from Peru. Interestingly, all parts of the tomato plant are poisonous except for the fruit.

It took the efforts of Thomas Jefferson and his family to make the tomato go from feared to celebrated…well supposedly the Jefferson family is responsible for the tomatoes popularity. It is up for debate, but is generally accepted. Jefferson grew tomatoes in his garden where his daughters and granddaughters used them in all sorts of recipes like gumbo and pickling. When a prominent family like the Jeffersons use tomatoes (and don’t die of poison), you can well imagine that its popularity quickly rose.


Identity Crisis

To set the record straight, tomatoes are fruits, but if you ask the Supreme Court of 1893, they were to be considered a vegetable. You see, there was a tariff on vegetables, but not on fruits. A tomato importer sued a tax collector on the basis that tomatoes were fruits and did not need to be taxed. Ultimately, the Supreme Court got involved and ruled that botanically speaking, tomatoes were fruits, but in layman terms they were vegetables. In addition tomatoes were eaten at dinner with other vegetables, unlike fruit that was typically eaten for dessert. So now, tomatoes have an identity crisis.

American Pride and Production

The United States is one of the leading producers of tomatoes, only coming behind China. They contribute $2 billion in annual farm cash receipts according to the USDA. Tomatoes are grown for either fresh-market or processed. Those that are used for processed are machine picked while fresh-market tomatoes are hand picked. There are also several thousand varieties of tomatoes, and some are better for processing, while others are better for fresh-market. Fresh-market tomatoes are grown in all 50 states, and California grows the most tomatoes overall. It is definitely a far cry from the feared fruit of Colonial days.

Tomato Basil Sandwich…Summertime Favorite

tomatoWhile I love tomatoes in everything and are one of my favorite snacks, one of my favorite ways to use them in the summer is to make a tomato basil sandwich. It is the simplest thing to go out to the garden (when it will actually grow tomatoes), grab a tomato and make a sandwich. All it takes is two slices of bread, spread with mayonnaise, salt and pepper, sliced tomato, and a few basil leaves. Bam! Quick, yummy, and definitely not poisonous! Thanks Jefferson!



History of Tomatoes


National Cherry Pie Day: Graduate School Style

Every time I think of cherry pie, I think of the song Cherry Pie by Eden’s Edge, probably because I listened to it quite a lot when I first discovered it. That is beside the point, though. Today is National Cherry Pie Day! Such a classic deserves a nationally recognized day, am I right?

cherry pie day

Since it is National Cherry Pie Day, I fully recommend that you eat a slice of cherry pie. It only seems right. Unless you are someone who just happens to have cherry pies lying around your counter, you might want to make one, but if you are like me, time often kills best of intentions or dreams. As a graduate student, I feel like everything is down to the wire in terms of getting stuff done. That means, doing things that are simple, is often best–including pie baking. Now, going out and buying a frozen cherry pie, is probably the simplest version, but I wanted to be a little more personal in my pie baking. Partly because it was for a belated Valentine’s gift for the boyfriend, and partly, because I feel like National Cherry Pie Day deserved a little handmade attention. So, my dear reader, here is how to make a cherry pie the graduate school way (and with a little Valentine’s/love influence):


  • 1 can (21 oz) of cherry pie filling
  • 1 can (15oz) of pitted cherries in heavy syrup (you can also use fresh or frozen pitted cherries)
  • 1 deep dish frozen pie crust
  • Pre-made pie crusts
  • Sugar for sprinkling on top

cherry filling


pie crust


Drain the can of pitted cherries in heavy syrup (I just used a slotted spoon to fish them out).


Mix them with the can of cherry pie filling and dump it all into the deep dish pie crust.


Roll out your pre-made pie crust on a floured counter. Take a heart shaped cookie cutter (honestly, you could use any shape you want) and cut a bunch of hearts from the crust.



Place them on top of the filling, fanning them out, until it is all covered.


Take a pastry brush, and brush milk on top of the crust gently. Be sure to cover your edges with tin foil and pop in the oven at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Mid-way through baking, I removed the tin foil and sprinkled sugar on top of the pie. Once the pie is done, cool on a rack, and enjoy with ice cream.



A World Without Ag Wednesdays: Chicken Enchiladas

I promised a bit ago to give you the recipe for Chicken Enchiladas that I made with my guacamole. I know the anticipation has been killing you, so without further ado, here it is:

While the original recipe called for steak, I substituted chicken, and because I’m all about easy peezy, I used grilled frozen chicken that I heated up in a frying pan. We also use this chicken for fajita nights. This is about a enchilada night, though. Back to the recipe.



  • Sauce:
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of heavy cream
  • ⅓ cup of sour cream
  • ½ cup shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
  • salt, white pepper
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp minced cilantro
  • Enchiladas:
  • 7-8 flour tortillas
  • 4 oz Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
  • More cheese for topping (Optional)
  • Cilantro for topping (Optional)
  • Jalapeno for topping (Optional)
  1. Sauce:
  2. In a small sauce pot, heat up oil over medium heat and saute minced jalapeno and garlic until fragrant. Add heavy cream and sour cream and whisk until all smooth. Bring to a low boil and add cheese, salt, white pepper, chili powder and cumin. Stir well and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in cilantro and take off heat.
  3. Preheat oven to 350.
  4. Spread some sauce over the bottom of a baking dish (9×13 casserole dish or any large enough to hold 7-8 enchiladas).
  5. Spread some shredded cheese on one side of tortilla and spread some chicken mixture over cheese. Roll tortilla and place it in the baking dish, seam down. Repeat with remaining tortillas, cheese and chicken.
  6. Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas and top off with some shredded cheese.
  7. Bake for 17-19 minutes.
  8. Top off with some more cilantro and jalapenos if you wish.

So there is the yumminess, now let’s talk about the chickens. I mean, there would be no chicken enchiladas without chicken, and that is super sad. Here are a few fun facts for you about broiler chickens (chickens raised for meat):

  • The United States is the largest producer of broiler chickens in the world
  • In 2011, approximately 9 billion broiler chickens, weighing 50 billion pounds, liveweight, will be produced. Almost 37 billion pounds of chicken product will be marketed, measured on a ready-to-cook basis
  • Americans consume more chicken than any other country in the world.

072414 192




Broiler Chicken Industry Key Facts 2016

Steak Enchiladas with Jalapeño Cilantro Cream Sauce


A World Without Ag Wednesdays: Avocados–“Are They a Vegetable or What?”

I have recently learned to truly appreciate the yummy avocado vegetable/fruit/green thing. What is it anyway? Avocados are actually a fruit, and more specifically a berry. Blew my mind too. According to Huffington Post article, a fruit is defined as having a tough outer layer, soft middle layer that encompasses the seed. Sounds like a avocado to me. There is a lot more to avocados then you would think.

Photo Cred: Huffington Post
Photo Cred: Huffington Post


Avocados came from Mexico and surrounding areas and were used by the Aztec people. Over the centuries, the avocado has been called many different names including Alligator Pear. Horticulturists did not like this name as it was misleading and negative. So the name avocado was settled upon. Avocados have obviously spread from Mexico to a wide range of places.

Where are all the avocados?


In the USA, California is the largest grower of avocados followed by Florida and Hawaii. In 2011 the value of the avocado industry was  $492.1 million, and the industry is growing.


Did you know?

  • There are over 1,000 varieties of avocados
  • Avocados can be different colors

    Photo Cred: University of California
    Photo Cred: University of California
  • Avocados grow on trees.
  • There is twice as much potassium in avocados than a banana.
  • Avocados will ripen more quickly in a paper bag with an apple or banana thanks to the gases circulating.
  • You can use avocados as a substitute for butter in baking recipes, and no it won’t make them green.
  • Avocados are packed with protein!
  • They aren’t just for eating. They make great beauty products.

How I used them

I used avocados for the first time at home this week, and it was delicious. I made guacamole to accompany chicken enchiladas I made (enchilada recipe to follow soon). I had to learn how to tell if they were ripe or not. I learned that you look under the button at the end of the fruit. Pop that button off, and if it is brown, it is too ripe. If it is a nice green, it is good. Also be sure that the fruit is not super firm. A little give is important.

So… here is the recipe I used. Not only was it healthy and yummy, but it was pretty too. I hope you enjoy!


  • 3-4 ripe avocados
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 large Plum  or Roma tomato, deseeded and diced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
You can also add onions to this or other type of peppers.

avocado green
I accidentally matched the avocado…
  1. Cut your avocados in half, and use a spoon to scoop out the seed. After this, spoon out the flesh and put in a medium bowl.avoo
  2. Add the lime juice to the avocado and use a fork to smash the avocado until creamy. Chunks are nice too.
  3. Finally, add the rest of your ingredients and stir. Serve immediately or store in the fridge.guac

PS How do you like to use avocados? Does the green bother you? I think they would make a great St. Patrick’s Day meal 🙂








Football, Testosterone, and Sinful Dip

Note: the chocolate syrup had nothing to do with what we were eating and everything to do with Gideon wanting chocolate milk 🙂

Sandwiched between all the boys in the house (so much testosterone), I, like many others, watched the Oregon vs. Ohio game last night. It was a great game, and quite honestly, I wouldn’t have minded either team winning; however, I decided at the start of the game, I should pick a side. I became a Buckeye fan for the night. This was a smart move on my part since they won. Hurrah!

Now, I must confess a few things–1) I love a good game of football, but I like the food better. There, I said it. 75% of why I’m in it is for the food. Well, maybe 65%. I do enjoy the company, hype, and the game too.  2) I am forever craving wings. When I was in a dorm at Campbell University, I discovered that the campus convenient store (conveniently located beside my dorm) carried frozen hot wings. I’d take them back and microwave them. During exams, it and sweet tea were my go to stress relief. Because of my craving for wings, I am constantly looking for excuses to get them (do I really need to have an excuse? I should evaluate that…). The football game became a perfect excuse. So, we cooked wings. 3) My last confession is I LOVE Pinterest. Forget Google, I typically go straight to Pinterest. My brother Gideon has learned that if Risa is cooking, it is probably something new from Pinterest. He is normally dubious. Anyways, I wanted dip for last night in addition to the wings. Naturally, I consulted Pinterest. I found a recipe for Sinful Dip. It looked heavenly (is that an oxymoron?). It was easy to make and tasted so good. So good in fact, that I didn’t get a picture until part of it was devoured. Oops!


You get the picture, though. I made a few changes to the original recipe like using bacon instead of ham (Yay for pork!). Personally, I think that was a no brainer. So, here is the sinful dip. I hope you enjoy!




Sinful Dip

  • 16oz sour cream
  • 8oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup of bacon bits
  • 1/4 tsp of hot sauce
  • 1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
  • salt
  • pepper

Mix the ingredients together and place in a small casserole dish. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes. Serve with crackers or chips.