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!