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by Michael Vyskocil, photography by: Tara Hope Cofiell

This is the season of abundance.

From the Carroll County Farmers’ Market to the dozens of locally owned farms that work the corners of the county, summer is the season for enjoying the freshest fruits from Carroll’s orchards and fields.

And the experience becomes directly sensual when you have the opportunity to pick a peck, a bushel or a basket full of fruit from some of the dozens of you-pick places in the county (visit carrollag.org for locations).

The following recipes capture the essence of summer in dishes where the fruits themselves shine. Start off the day with blueberry-stuffed French toast. Prepare a casual lunch of balsamic melon with prosciutto. Grill chicken breasts with peach glaze, and cool off any sultry summer evening with a slice of chocolate-strawberry cheesecake.

Blueberry-Stuffed French Toast

Nonstick cooking spray
14 cups challah, brioche or other egg-based bread, crusts removed and cut into cubes, or 12 slices plain Texas toast, crusts removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into cubes
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
10 large eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup pure maple syrup, plus more for serving
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling

  1. Lightly coat a 3-quart rectangular baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Place bread cubes in prepared pan. Top bread cubes with cream cheese and scatter blueberries evenly over the bread cubes. (You can prepare this French toast in advance up to this point; cover and chill in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.)
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, heavy cream and ? cup maple syrup. Slowly pour the beaten egg mixture over the blueberries and bread cubes, making sure the bread cubes are evenly moistened.
  3. Place baking dish in oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. If the top starts to overbrown during baking, cover top of pan with aluminum foil. Remove dish from oven and transfer to a wire rack for 10 minutes. Cut French toast into squares. Serve with maple syrup and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar. Makes 12 servings.

Balsamic Melon with Prosciutto

Dark, reddish-brown balsamic vinegar has a rich, sweet-and-sour taste that complements the flavors of fresh summer melons.

2 cups chilled, seeded and cubed watermelon
2 cups chilled, seeded and cubed cantaloupe
Coarse salt, to taste
8 slices thinly sliced prosciutto
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 sprigs fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

  1. Divide chilled watermelon and cantaloupe among 4 serving bowls. Season fruit to taste with salt.
  2. Lay 2 slices of prosciutto over the top of the fruit cubes. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar lightly over the melon and prosciutto. Garnish the top of each serving bowl with a sprig of parsley and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Peach Glaze

Summer entertaining in Maryland could not be more delicious. A tangy peach topping glaze perks up grilled chicken.

1 cup homemade or commercially prepared peach preserves or jam
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 1/2teaspoons coarse salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, split into halves
4 ripe yellow or white peaches, cut in half and pitted

  1. Heat an outdoor grill to medium hot. In a large bowl, combine the peach preserves or jam, olive oil, lemon juice, dry mustard, Old Bay Seasoning, salt and pepper. Reserve about two-thirds of the glaze for the chicken and one-third for the peach halves.
  2. Season the chicken breast halves with salt and pepper. Place them on the heated grill surface. Cook the chicken for approximately 10-12 minutes on each side before brushing the side facing up with some of the peach glaze. Continue cooking the chicken for another 10-12 minutes, turning it every 3-5 minutes, and brushing each side facing up with the glaze each time. If the chicken begins to become too dark, move it to a cooler part of the grill to continue cooking. Cook until the meat is cooked through.
  3. Place the peach halves on the grill, cut-side down, and grill for about 2 minutes. Turn, and using a clean basting brush, apply the glaze to the peach halves. Grill 2-3 minutes more, until the peaches become soft and the insides are juicy but still somewhat firm. Transfer the cooked chicken and peaches to a serving platter and serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

Chocolate-Strawberry Cheesecake

Strawberries add a fresh burst of flavor to this two-layer cheesecake treat.

For the Crust:
1 3/4 cups finely crushed graham crackers
1/3 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling:
3 cups hulled, fresh strawberries, sliced vertically into thin slices
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
3 eight-ounce packages cream cheese,at room temperature
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (about six ounces) semisweet chocolate pieces, melted and cooled

  1. Prepare the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine crushed graham crackers and confectioners’ sugar. Stir in melted butter until graham cracker crumbs are evenly moistened. Press graham cracker mixture on the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake until crust is firm to the touch and has slightly darkened, about 10 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack, and let crust cool completely.
  2. Prepare the filling: In a small mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of the sliced strawberries with the granulated sugar. Set aside.
  3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine cream cheese and condensed milk until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition. Add vanilla and beat just until combined. Pour half of batter into a large mixing bowl. Stir melted, cooled chocolate into half of the batter. Pour chocolate batter into the bottom of the crust-lined pan. Stir strawberry-sugar mixture into the remaining batter. Spoon strawberry batter over the chocolate batter.
  4. Wrap the exterior of the springform pan tightly in two layers of aluminum foil; set in a large roasting pan. Fill roasting pan with boiling water until water reaches halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Carefully place roasting pan in oven and bake until the cheesecake is set, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from water and let cool for 20 minutes in a draft-free place. Run a paring knife around edge of pan; let cool completely. Cover; chill overnight before serving. Serve with remaining 1 cup strawberry slices. Makes 16 servings.

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