Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Tradition: Deviled Eggs

Along with other required favorites, my family always requests deviled eggs for our Christmas dinner. I found this recipe nearly 40 years ago, and I have never been persuaded to use any other version.

Deviled Eggs

6 hard-boiled eggs, halved
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Halve eggs lengthwise; remove yolks and mash (or process in food processor) with mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper. Fill or pipe into egg white. Chill.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Oklahoma's Big Score

Congratulations to Oklahoma Sooners quarterback, Sam Bradford, for winning college football's prestigious Heisman trophy!

Just another reason to be proud to be an Okie.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Oh What A Beautiful Mornin'

It's not just a song from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, it's a true statement. The above photo was taken this morning. The unusual streak above the horizon caught my eye. It is called an "anticrepuscular ray"!

Here is the sunrise from yesterday.

This sunrise was in February.

To step out my back door in the mornings, coffee cup in hand, and gaze at nature's palette--well it's just another reason to be grateful to live in Oklahoma.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pecan Pie - State Pie of Oklahoma

November, fresh Oklahoma pecans, and the approaching holidays make me crave pecan pie. Living in a state that not only holds the record for the world's largest pecan pie but also includes pecan pie in its official state meal impresses upon me a sense of responsibility to bake and eat as many versions as possible.

As a child who disliked nuts in my food, when I was served pecan pie I carefully pried off the top layer of nuts and ate only the rich custard filling and crust. Now I can't imagine leaving off that sweet layer of crunchy goodness.

I purchased pecans through the Oklahoma Food Coop from Sandy Creek Farms. Small, sweet, and crisp, these Oklahoma native pecans have a high oil content, and baking with them brings out their buttery richness. I toasted them in the oven for a few minutes to further enhance their flavor.

The folks at Sandy Creek included this recipe with their pecans:

Sandy Creek Farms Pecan Pie
1 cup waffle or corn syrup
1/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat syrup and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Beat eggs slightly; gradually pour in hot syrup as you continue beating. Add butter and pecans. Add one teaspoon vanilla if corn syrup is used. Pour into an unbaked 9-inch pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Butternut Squash Braid

October food finds at the Oklahoma Food Cooperative are anything but dull during the fall season, with pear-shaped butternuts and glorious orange sugar pumpkins finally on the scene, as well as late-season bright yellow squash and mottled dark green zucchini providing one last sweet gasp of summer.

Here are squash and Mystic pumpkins, fresh from the fields of Peach Crest Farm in Norman, who also provided part of this month's colorful egg bounty. Additional eggs are from the free range acreages of Rowdy Stickhorse Wild Acres, Noble Heritage Acres, and a new producer, Happy Eggs.

Other sustainably harvested foods that I could not resist: golden local honey from the 140 hives of Honey Hill Farm north of Guthrie; reddish-hued grape jelly from the Richardsons at Persimmon Hill Farm in Stillwater. This is an unusual jelly from the Frontenac grape, which is normally designated only for wine.

Sandy Creek Pecans offered small, sweet native pecan halves from their sustainable pecan tree orchard in the southern Oklahoma town of Milburn. They included a personal note and recipe for pecan pie. Natives' high oil content makes a superior pie.

My first reaction after arriving home with food coop treasures is "what was I thinking?", then "why didn't I clean out my refrigerator?", and then "what should I do with all of it?" These beautiful butternuts were a natural choice to use first--after all, the name alone promotes salivation--BUTTERnut.

For the first butternut recipe of the season, I chose a bread recipe from, Squash Braid. With a cup of cooked, mashed butternut and one of the organic, sunny-yellow yolked eggs, the resulting loaf is buttery yellow and rich, slightly sweet, with a tender texture like that of Hawaiian bread. It was easy to make and even easier to eat.

Here is my KitchenAid version with a few modifications:

Butternut Squash Braid
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water (110 to 115 degrees F)
1 cup cooked and pureed butternut squash
1/3 cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees F)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 3-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon water

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Melt butter in warm milk and add to yeast mixture, then add squash, egg, brown sugar and salt. Using paddle attachment, mix until well blended, then add a cup of flour and mix until smooth. Switch to dough hook and keep adding flour until soft dough is formed. Let dough hook do most of the kneading for you, then turn onto floured surface and knead until smooth and supple, about 3 or 4 minutes. You may need to add a little flour to keep it from sticking. (If you don't have a KitchenAid, simply mix the ingredients in a large bowl, add flour until a soft dough is formed, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes.)

Place in greased bowl, cover with waxed paper, and let rise in a cozy place until doubled. Punch dough down and divide into 3 parts. On lightly floured surface or Roulpat, shape each portion into an 18 inch strand by rolling the dough back & forth beneath your hands. Take the ropes and attach them by pinching the tops together and tucking them under. Braid until you run out of dough and finish by pinching together bottom ends and tucking them underneath the braid. Let rise until nearly doubled.

Whisk together the egg and water and brush over braid before baking. Bake in a 375-400 degree oven (depending on your oven's performance) until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Carefully remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. Savor.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Buying Into the Good Stuff

I recently joined the Oklahoma Food Coop. Some of my cooking friends have long sung the praises of buying locally grown, organic food. Months ago my daughter sent me the link to the coop website and enthusiastically encouraged me to join. I wiped off my Cheetos-stained fingers and typed my response to her: "It costs too much--it's not worth it."

I don't remember exactly why I decided to revisit the link; but once I did I was drawn to the list of producers and their descriptions of their products. Who can resist "no bugs allowed", "free-ranging", "certified organic", "all-natural", "wild-picked", "hand-crafted", "heirloom", and the all-important "grown or made in Oklahoma". I joined on the spot.

Larry Ressler of Ressler Farms, new to the coop this month, nicely sums up what makes buying from the coop such a beneficial experience:
I strive to practice truly sustainable agriculture. My use of the land does not consume or destroy its inherent value, but attempts to improve it while producing clean and wholesome food raised in a humane manner.
After I purchased eggs from Ressler Farms, Mr. Ressler emailed me to make sure his eggs were well received. When I contacted him with my praise for his eggs, he responded: "For me, it's not about the money. It's about doing my part to produce local, clean, humane and wholesome food." His cage-free and hormone-free Barred Rocks, White Rocks, Black Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Blue Laced Red Wyandottes and Buttercups (I love fancy-pants chicken names) graze on pasture and provide these beauties.

Just look at this list from which to choose food, home, and garden products; and shopping is easily done online, wearing my fuzzy slippers and PJ's.

At the new Edmond location where I picked up my purchases, Chelsey, the Edmond coordinator, was a calm voice in the midst of friendly chaos--dozens of large ice chests full of orders, mesh bags full of produce, pails of wheat berries, and boxes of various products. From the operations center, to the drivers, to the distribution areas, it is a volunteer undertaking, so everyone pitches in to help sort and to assist others in finding their products. It was fun standing elbow-to-elbow trying to find my eggs from the dozens in the ice chests and my apples from the bags on the floor.

Check out the bounty I chose this month:

Jewel-like Seedless Red Raspberry Jelly from Granny's Oven Fresh in Chandler
Peach Salsa (it's addictive) from Peach Crest Farms in Stratford

Wild Grape Jelly, Garlic Tomato Basil Soup from Earth Elements Farm in Lexington

Eggs, including beautiful blue ones and "apples that are great but have a split", (they are crispy, tart, and delicious) from Peach Crest Farms

6-pack of certified organic lettuce from Crestview Farms in Arcadia

Eggs from Ressler Farms in Arcadia

Cowboy Cheese, preservative-free from hormone-free cows, from Christian Cheese in Kingfisher; Creamline Yogurt and sweet. creamy Butter from Wagon Creek Creamery in Helena

Was my order a bit more than I would pay at the grocery store? Yes, and worth every penny.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Oklahoma's "Landcane"

Waking up to heavy rain in Oklahoma this morning was an eerie reminder of the anniversary of one of the state's strangest weather events. On August 19, 2007, the looping remnants of Tropical Storm Erin unexpectedly regained their purpose over Oklahoma and created a weather anomaly that fascinated both meteorologists and wannabe-meteorologists (like me).

Ironically, over the ocean Erin had been weak and disorganized, striking the Texas coast as a "mere" tropical depression. Nearing Oklahoma City, Erin produced an eye-like structure, falling pressure, and tropical storm force winds. Wait, was that a hurricane?

Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground, who described the reintensification as "a tropical storm like-vortex", posted this fascinating long animation of the weather phenomenom and dubbed it a "landphoon". The National Hurricane Center's report finally designated the Oklahoma event as a low. I prefer Dr. Masters' more inventive nomenclature, in particular his classification of another odd storm as a "Thingamabobbercane".

Oklahoma's weather is, well, volatile at times; but a foot of rain and sustained high winds brought unfortunate fatalities, injuries, and property damage to a state not accustomed to hurricane preparations. Folks evacuating to Oklahoma to escape future hurricanes on the Gulf coast might want to set their sights farther north.

Thanks to Dr. Jeff Masters for the use of information from his Wunder Blog on Wunderground.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Agave Nectar Dinner Rolls

Agave nectar and yeast are a match made in heaven. While the health benefits of agave nectar are highly touted with encouraging words like "organic", "low glycemic", and "pure", the words that sold me were "sweeter than sugar". I wanted to test it in baking as a substitute for honey in a bread recipe. Since I didn't find a local source, I purchased a jar on eBay from Flying Bee Ranch, which is also an excellent source for delicious honeys.

A spoonful of agave nectar reveals a taste somewhat like honey but lighter, with a spicy overtone, and more sweetness than honey. It isn't as sticky or thick as honey, but is more like maple syrup in its consistency.

For my test, I chose a quick dinner roll recipe. The agave nectar mixes quickly with the other liquid ingredients, and if my first try is any indication, it boosts the power of the yeast. The first rising was an incredible 20 minutes to double, and by the time I shaped the last roll, the first one was already rising in bulbous rounds above the pan.

Non-fat yogurt and 1% milk (both from Oklahoma dairies), along with only 2 tablespoons of oil, reduce the fat grams in this recipe, and the end product has a light texture that yields nicely to a generous full-fat application of butter. The agave nectar lends a mild sweetness that contrasts nicely with the slight tang of yogurt.

Agave Nectar Dinner Rolls
1 cup warm milk
1/2 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon yeast
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
4-1/2 to 5 cups flour

Mix milk and yogurt and warm in a saucepan to lukewarm. Place in bowl of electric mixer and add yeast, agave nectar, salt, and oil. With paddle attachment, mix until smooth, then start adding flour, a cup at a time, mixing until dough starts to pull away from sides of bowl. Scrape dough from paddle attachment, attach dough hook, and add remaining flour until dough is cohesive. Knead on floured surface until smooth and pliable. Place in greased bowl and let rise until double. Make into favorite roll shapes and place in greased baking pan. Let rolls rise above the pan. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes approximately 12 rolls.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Washington Oklahoma Cherry Jam

What do the state of Washington and a kitchen in Oklahoma have in common?

No, I'm not talking about the latest NBA "thunder" about Seattle and Oklahoma City. I'm talking about Rainier and Bing cherries that I purchased at a recent farmer's market. I wanted to try my hand (for the first time) at jam, and being inexperienced about using pectin, I searched for a recipe without it. I found and tried this "no-recipe" by David Lebovitz. I like his simple and informal approach to making jam. I followed his instructions, ignoring only his caution not to burn my mouth by sampling.

I am pleased with the resulting jam, although it is more like a thick syrup after refrigeration. Still, it is delicious (especially with Homesick Texan's Biscuits and worth another try with a different fruit--perhaps some Oklahoma peaches...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sungold: How Sweet It Is

Sungold tomatoes are my favorite cherry tomato. Mere words cannot describe their true sensory delight; once you try them, you will cry tears of joy.

Even the plant itself is richly fragrant--I don't like to wash my hands after I've picked Sungolds, because I love the scent left by brushing against the leaves. The taste of the bite-sized orange globe is at once sweet, fruity, tangy--some have described it as though it is a fine dessert wine: "sweet, rich, and complex" or "tropical and winey".

But it is better than wine, with no hangover.

It has one of the highest brix levels for a small tomato. Brix is the measurement of the carbohydrate level of plant juices; or in terms simple enough for me to understand--how sweet it is. However, the high brix level is balanced by a slight acid tang, and tomato paradise is achieved.

In spite of the fact that it is a hybrid, and I prefer growing heirloom tomatoes, Sungold has remained my favorite cherry tomato. It is a very dependable plant and will produce masses of bright orange 1" fruits from spring through fall.

I purchased a sungold plant this year from Farmers Grain Company in Edmond, a delightfully rustic store that has been in business since 1922. But for my 2009 garden, I will plant my own Sungold seeds in indoor pots and plant the seedlings in March. Updates to follow!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Farmer's Market - Better Than A Casino

Last week at the Edmond Farmers Market, I allotted myself $40 to spend. Just like at a casino, my cash was gone in about 20 minutes. But I felt like a winner because I gambled on Oklahoma produce.

The Israeli melon from Dibble is very popular. The taste and texture is like that of a cantaloupe, but the sugar content is much higher.

I purchased heirloom tomatoes, yellow Romas, and squash from Dibble and Spiro peaches and nectarines, as well as Sweet bicolor corn from Bixby (my hometown!)

And from my favorite vendors--Country to Town Produce in Guthrie--sweet, juicy Rainier and Bing cherries from Washington State.

**Note: So sorry that the photos originally in this post are no longer available!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Oklahoma Fresh Peach Pie

Nothing says Oklahoma in the summer quite like a fresh peach pie. With fresh peaches from a farmer's market and an old Betty Crocker cookbook, nirvana is achieved.

The town of Edmond has a Farmer's Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and farmers from all around the state bring freshly picked fruits, vegetables, and berries. In spite of my late morning appearance, vendors still had ample supplies of irresistibly succulent produce for me to gaze upon. I had to draw the line at carrying a watermelon around, but far too many fragrant, rosy peaches and red, sun-warmed tomatoes - all from Guthrie, a town just north of Edmond - found their way into my bag.

The tomatoes became star ingredients for sandwiches and salads. The peaches that didn't get eaten out of hand over the sink were pie-worthy.

Oklahoma Fresh Peach Pie
Modified from the original Betty Crocker recipe

Pastry for a 9-inch 2-crust pie, unbaked
5 cups sliced fresh peaches
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup sugar (to start, but adjust for the sweetness of your peaches)
1/4 cup flour
cinnamon to taste (I used 3/4 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter, diced

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix peaches, lemon juice, and vanilla. Whisk together flour, sugar, and cinnamon; stir into peach mixture. Pour into pastry-lined pie pan and dot with butter. Cover with top pie crust (cut slits in it) or lattice crust; seal and flute edges.

Bake 15 minutes at 425, then reduce to 375 and continue to bake another 30-35 minutes or until filling is thickly bubbling through slits or lattice in crust. Edges of pie crust may need to be covered with an aluminum foil strip to prevent excessive browning.