Olive Oil Tips & Tricks

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Olive oil is one of the world’s most ancient foods and it’s one of the most common cooking ingredients. In fact, along with salt and pepper, olive oil is one of the best pantry staples, because it’s an essential element to so, so many recipes. You can use it to roast veggies, grill chicken, make a super simple salad dressing, drizzle over crostini. In addition to being a baller ingredient that elevates any and all food, olive oil is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which are an essential component to any well-rounded diet.

Choosing an olive oil from a shelf of bottles at wildly varied price points can be tricky. Olive oil is so versatile because there are many flavors, notes, and colors. In that respect, it’s like wine. And like wine, it can be intimidating.

We hear words like extra and virgin thrown around a lot, but most people couldn’t tell you what that actually means. And with tons of fraudulent bottles clogging the market, it can be hard to tell which olive oils are actually worth your time and your money. Let’s face it, olive oil is NOT cheap.

1. Only buy oil labeled extra-virgin. This is not a guarantee that the oil will be the best, but at least it will probably not be among the worst. Bottles labeled just plain “Olive Oil” and “Light Olive Oil” are refined oils and, like vegetable oil, while they’re not bad in any way, they are not very interesting.

2. Read the label. Even if it’s written in Italian, French or Spanish, you can probably figure out enough to recognize harvest and “use by” dates. The finest producers always put the harvest date proudly on their olive oil. The use-by date can be a little deceptive since it is usually 18 months from bottling, rather than from harvest.

Check for the region the oil was produced in. If you see more than one country, region, or even city listed, put the bottle back on the store shelf. You don’t want the olives blended from all different countries. Because when it comes to the olives used in olive oil, the things that grow together go together.

You want to look for the olive cultivar. This is just a fancy way of saying which type of olives were used to make the oil. The more specific information the producers display on the bottle, the more likely that extra-virgin claim is legit.

Remember to always check the harvest date, and opt for the freshest you can find.

3. Avoid anything in a clear glass bottle, no matter how pretty and enticing the label. Light is the great enemy of olive oil and the oil inside will likely have lost most of its flavor and aroma. Look for extra-virgin olive oil in dark glass bottles or, better yet, opaque tins. Olive Oil does not like light, so keep yours out of the sun.  Your kitchen counter is not a good place to keep it.

4. Know that the term “first cold pressing,” although widely used, is redundant. By legal definition, the extra-virgin oil must come from the first (usually the only) pressing, which must be accomplished with no added heat (at ambient temperatures no higher than around 80ºF.

5. Extra-virgin olive oil does not improve with age. Fresher is better, and right out of the mill, olive oil is a fabulous experience. Fresh oil may have unexpectedly assertive flavors of bitterness and pungency that sometimes override the fruitiness. These challenging flavors are treasured by connoisseurs because they indicate high quality, and by nutritionists, because they’re evidence of lots of healthful polyphenols.

6. Light is the enemy and so is heat. Keep your precious bottles in a cool, dark environment. I have a couple of tin containers within reach of my stove, each of which holds 1 ½ cups of oil, enough for a couple of days in my kitchen. They get refilled from the bulk of my oil, which I keep in a cupboard in an unheated pantry.

7. Use your oil! And don’t be afraid to cook with extra-virgin. It is perfectly stable up to about 420ºF. The Joy of Cooking says 360ºF is the optimum temperature for deep-frying, I use extra-virgin comfortably for almost all of my cooking. And because it doesn’t get better with age, I use last year’s oil for cooking, and this year’s fresh oil for garnishing.

8. Use it liberally! Learn to love a hot baked potato, cracked open and topped with lots of the freshest finest oil you can buy, a sprinkle of fleur de sel and freshly ground Telicherry pepper. Or try my favorite Catalan breakfast—grilled rustic bread with a ripe tomato crushed into the top, then salt and pepper and a glug of extra-virgin over it all.

9. Buy from trusted retailers who know how to maintain quality. I find the best quality olive oil from online sources. Here are a few good ones: olio2go.com,
dipaloselects.commarkethallfoods.comcortibrothers.com,
zingermans.com, and www.gustiamo.com

10. Like with other juices, fresher is always better when it comes to olive oil.

Olive oil is adversely affected by several factors including time passed since its pressing, heat, light, and air. Luckily the shelf life is a little bit longer than that of the kale, apple, and parsley blend you love olive oil is at its best in its first two years. An older bottle probably won’t hurt you, but it slowly loses its beautiful flavors and health benefits with every passing day.

Olive oil harvests in the northern hemisphere (usually in countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy) take place in October and November. This means if you’re looking for the freshest bottle, you’ll want the harvest date listed on the label to be from the previous year. Anything earlier than that indicates an old bottle unlike wine, olive oil doesn’t get better with age

11. But know that if you go for just regular “virgin,” you’ll still get all the health benefits.

While the lower quality virgin olive oil may not taste as good as its extra-virgin counterparts,  there isn’t any nutritional difference between the two. Pure olive oils, on the other hand, have been chemically processed which means you may want to avoid them altogether. When you see a bottle labeled pure, light, or olive oil, this can be an indicator that it is a refined, lesser quality product.

12. Different olives produce oils that taste different.

Olive oil adds depth and dimension to virtually any dish. And experts make careers tasting and assessing the subtleties of olive oil. Hundreds of olive varieties are cultivated around the world, and dozens are valued for producing delicious oil.

Knowing which olives were used can also help you determine what the oil will taste like. If you see an oil made with a taggiasca olive, it’s going to be light and delicate and sweet. But if you see an oil made with a nocellara olive,  it will be leafy, herbaceous, and robust.”

Different varieties absolutely have different flavor profiles and personalities, but the end result of the oil is determined by much more including geography, the method of harvesting and pressing, as well as blending and storage. Again, think wine, there are plenty of luscious Pinot Noirs and plenty of bad Pinot Noirs.

To really use this knowledge to your advantage, you’ll need to have a bit of olive intel in your back pocket. A quick Google search of the different types should give you enough flavor info to make a decision. Or try a new type each time you buy a bottle and see what you like best. There hundreds of different olive varieties out there and olive oils vary greatly from region to region, so there are a lot of flavors to be had. If you’re at a store that allows you to taste olive oil, take advantage! The more you taste, the more you’ll discover what styles make you happy.

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13. You can’t tell how an olive oil will taste by looking at it.

Just as you wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you don’t want to judge an olive oil by its color. A greener olive oil isn’t necessarily a better or fresher olive oil, though this is commonly thought to be the case. Color is determined by factors like the type of olives used and when the oil was extracted. The only way to truly judge the quality of an oil is to crack it open and give it a taste.

14. You don’t want to cheap out on olive oil, but it shouldn’t break the bank either.

As you’re scanning the oil aisle, there’s definitely the potential for sticker shock, but there’s a wide range of prices and you don’t have to drop a ton of dough for a decent bottle. As for how much you should be spending in general, Try not to drop below $15 per liter, which is about 34 ounces. You’ll often find bottles that size at the supermarket and it’s a good amount to have on hand if you cook regularly. (If you don’t cook that often, it’s easy to find smaller bottles, too.)

15. Use cheaper bottles for cooking and pricier oils for drizzling.

If you do decide to splurge on a pricier bottle one between $20 and $40 you may want to reserve it for drizzling and finishing dishes. When you cook olive oil, you cook the nuances out of it. So if you really want to savor the flavor of an oil soaked into a piece of bread or poured over a bowl of hummus, keep one nice bottle on hand for that, and use another (cheaper) bottle for all your cooking needs.

Many chefs tend to cook with cheaper (but still totally respectable) EVOO, like California Olive Ranch, and save the truly mind-blowing stuff, like Castillo de Canna for drizzling and finishing.

16. And finally, you absolutely should use olive oil for way more than just salads.

Olive oil is an incredible ingredient and the cornerstone of the famous Mediterranean diet. Exquisite olive oil elevates everything it touches: salads, grilled veggies, meat and seafood, soups, stews, pasta, and risotto really do go from good to awesome when anointed with yummy EVOO. It’s the perfect bridge between tradition and innovation. It can be utilized in a plethora of culinary applications with astounding results.

From cooking with to finishing to everything in between, olive oil can elevate many dishes.

Olive Oil Tips & Tricks

Tricolor Beet-and-Carrot Salad

 

Here is my version of the salad.  It is interesting if you actually put it together with the way they suggest, you don’t see the carrots, which are very pretty.

Tricolor Beet-and-Carrot Salad

Pan-Seared Tuna with Avocado, Soy, Ginger, and Lime

Going to make this tonight for dinner. I will post my photo later, for a comparison.

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Ingredients

2 big handfuls fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1/2 jalapeno, sliced

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 garlic clove, grated

2 limes, juiced

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Pinch sugar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 (6-ounce) block sushi-quality tuna

1 ripe avocado, halved, peeled, pitted, and sliced

Directions

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the cilantro, jalapeno, ginger, garlic, lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir the ingredients together until well incorporated.
  2. Place a skillet over medium-high heat and coat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season the tuna generously with salt and pepper. Lay the tuna in the hot oil and sear for 1 minute on each side to form a slight crust. Pour 1/2 of the cilantro mixture into the pan to coat the fish. Serve the seared tuna with the sliced avocado and the remaining cilantro sauce drizzled over the whole plate.
Pan-Seared Tuna with Avocado, Soy, Ginger, and Lime

Balsamic Beet Salad with Marcona Almonds

Made this Ina Garten recipe for dinner the other night and it was delicious. I actually used the bright yellow beets but forgot to take a photo of it. 

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Ingredients

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil and place them on a sheet pan. Roast them for 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on their size, until a small sharp knife inserted in the middle indicates that they are tender. Unwrap each beet and set aside for 10 minutes, until cool enough to handle. Peel the beets with a small, sharp knife over a piece of parchment paper to prevent staining your cutting board.

Meanwhile, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and set aside. While the beets are still warm, cut each one in half and then each half into 4 to 6 wedges and place them in a large mixing bowl. As you’re cutting the beets, toss them with half of the vinaigrette (warm beets absorb more vinaigrette), 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Taste for seasonings.

Place the arugula in a separate bowl and toss it with enough vinaigrette to moisten. Put the arugula on a serving platter and then arrange the beets, almonds, and goat cheese on top. Drizzle with additional vinaigrette, if desired, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve warm or at room temperature.

I did the beets the day before and they were perfect.  It is an easy make-ahead dish for dinner.  Usually, I have beets in my garden, but they were not happy this year, so bought mine at a local Farmer’s Market.

 

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Balsamic Beet Salad with Marcona Almonds

10 Bite-Size Spring Appetizers

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Spring is in full swing, and if you haven’t yet jumped into the depths of all of the great seasonal produce, we’re thrilled to let you know some great ways to enjoy it all. These bite-sized spring appetizers are perfect for that backyard party you’ve been waiting to have all winter. Check out the roundup of our ten favorites that have truly given us Spring Fever.

1.) Radish and Arugula Crostini with Brie

One word: radishes.  It simply wouldn’t be spring without a heaping helping of radishes on our plates and of course, in our appetizers. These crostini bites pair radishes, brie, and arugula leaves on toast for a crunchy and bright flavor experience.

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2.)  Savory Carrot Ribbon Tart

You know it’s spring when suddenly carrots are everywhere. Easter is this Sunday (can you believe it?) and a tart like this makes for a perfect pick-me-up before dinner is served. Serve up a hearty and clean appetizer like this that fits in all of the festive carrot flavors of the season on one pan. Using rainbow carrots is a great tip that incorporates all different kinds of colors into this festive spring tart.

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3.) Buttery Deviled Eggs

What kind of meal would it be without deviled eggs around Easter? Keep in mind that deviled eggs (or any recipe requiring hard-cooked eggs) are great.

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4.) “Spring Roll” Pot Stickers

Turns out you can get the fabulous flavors of takeout from your very own kitchen with these awesome pot stickers. The extra crispy-ness of this classic takeout item is enough in itself, but when you factor in all of the homemade goodness packed inside, they become out-of-this-world good.

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5.) Spinach-and-Green-Pea Empanadas

While these empanadas are a little heartier than the average appetizer and can definitely be served as an entree if desired, their fun hand-sized nature makes them a great grab-and-go food for backyard parties or get-togethers. Not only are they a delicious golden-brown, but they’re chock full of great spring veggies.

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6.) Blackberry-Brie Pizzettas

It’s true, blackberries reach their prime in the summer months, but if you’re lucky enough to be able to snag some blackberries from your local market right now, they go wonderfully with brie on these golden-brown personal sized pizzas. Not only do these colorful appetizer pizzas bring out even more of that Spring Fever, but they’ll get you all excited for the vast array of yummy produce still to come in the summer months.

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7.) Grits-and-Gumbo Tarts

All of the iconic flavors of this southern stew come together in perfect bite-sized portions with these tarts. Shrimp, okra, and polenta rounds pair perfectly in one bite and would make a great accompaniment to this warm spring weather.

These bright and colorful crostini appetizers are reminiscent of spring with their bright green colors and fresh flavor. Appetizers like this are a great way to combine multiple seasonal flavors in one bite. Fava beans get the spotlight here, but the goat cheese balances out the overall flavor.

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9.) Cucumber-Tomato Skewers with Dill Sauce

It doesn’t get much easier than these super simple veggie skewers. If you’re planning on serving a heavy meal, these light and fresh appetizers are the perfect pairings to round out the flavor palate, and the creamy dill sauce is a great accompaniment.

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10.) Fresh Spring Rolls with Pork, Mango, and Mesclun

This great appetizer comes with an essential peanut sauce, which lends a sweet and spicy flavor to these bright and fresh spring rolls. These rolls are held together with clear rice-paper wrappers, which allow for tons of great flavor to be packed into one edible snack.

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10 Bite-Size Spring Appetizers

GENIUS SOUS-VIDE COOKING HACKS

These tips will turn you into a sous-vide superstar
Genius Ways to Use Your Sous-Vide Circulator

The Instant Pot might be the most powerful kitchen gadget since the microwave, but for home cooks everywhere, there’s one thing that talented little pressure cooker just can’t replace: the almighty sous-vide machine.

There’s a special place in our heart for a tool that can effortlessly cook steak too a perfect medium rare then turn around and make the smoothest crème brûlée. In fact, an immersion circulator is probably one of the most versatile pieces of kitchen equipment on the market.

New to the world of sous vide? Or perhaps you’re looking for a little help mastering your latest holiday score? Follow these six innovative hacks, and you’ll be a sous-vide superstar in no time.

① Poach Eggs with PrecisionNobody ever said whipping up eggs Benedict was easy, but add an immersion circulator to the mix and achieving perfect, yolk-y gooeyness is painless. Just dump your eggs directly from the carton into an awaiting water bath, no vacuum bag needed. Their shells will protect them from cracking, and the consistent, well-circulated heat will keep them from overcooking. In less than an hour, they’ll be done and ready to top your English muffins, creamy risotto or spaghetti carbonara.

② Temper Chocolate like Jacques Torres

If there was ever a more hair-pulling task, it’d be the tricky art of tempering melted chocolate. But, frustrating as it may be, there’s just no better way to give your homemade candies the snappy, illustrious and markedly professional shine. Though this method usually involves carefully raising and lowering temperatures at specific intervals,

③ Infuse Spirits, Oils and Extracts in an Instant

We’re all for DIY-ing infused spirits and extracts, but waiting weeks for them to age? Not so much. Thankfully, using your sous vide to warm tasty concoctions at a low, steady heat shortens this painful waiting period to just under a few hours, and the method is gentle enough to infuse all those same complex flavors the lengthy aging process produces. You can also employ this hack when making rich homemade tinctures like red pepper and fresh herb extracts.

④ Create Smooth, Foolproof Custards

Making silky pots de crème or sleek lemon curd presents quite the conundrum: You need to heat your eggs for maximum thickness, but raise the temperature a few degrees too high, and you’ll wind up with scrambled yolks. With a sous-vide machine, however, you can kiss curdled custard goodbye. Just seal the ingredients, drop them into the water bath for an hour, then transfer them to a blender for a quick spin. The next thing you know, you’re looking at a custard more akin to a creamy ice cream base than a stringy breakfast dish.

⑤ Pickle Vegetables on the Double

Pickle fiends, it’s time to celebrate: Brining your beloved veggies has never been easier. Rather than waiting weeks for your cukes to ferment, a sous-vide machine’s steady temperatures can cut the process down to a mere few hours. And if you prefer quick chilled pickles, a half hour in a vacuum-sealed bag with just a fraction of the brine is all you need.

⑥ Get Icy-Cold Drinks in Minutes

Say sayonara to that college-era, ice-filled bathtub. If you happen to have a Nomiku-brand machine, its minimum temperature can activate the motor without turning on the heating element. Fill a bucket with your favorite Super Bowl beverages, and the machine will churn icy water to chill them right in time for kickoff.

GENIUS SOUS-VIDE COOKING HACKS

Use Those Cilantro Stems

Cilantro is one of my favorite herbs to use in cooking, but one thing we don’t think about are cilantro stems. Crunchy yet tender and not at all stringy or woody, cilantro stems taste just like the leaves with a little extra zip. If you eat the stems you more than doubling the number of edible parts of the herb, getting way more bang for your buck, and cutting back on waste.

Whereas parsley stems are bitter and you really want to avoid using them, cilantro stems taste wonderful.  Use them, do waste them.  Use parsley stems in your stock, so you don’t waste them either.

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Cilantro stems are easy prep-wise. The stems can be attached to roots when purchased, so they tend to come in contact with a bit more dirt and may need to be washed more thoroughly. You should always wash your herbs before using them, so this is not really adding anything. I throw mine in a small colander and run them under the faucet then dry them well.

Here are just a few ideas for using cilantro stems:

Puree them into a sauce: Blend cilantro stems and leaves with a few tablespoons of tahini, a spoonful of miso paste, lemon or lime juice, and lots of black pepper for an addicting sauce you’ll want to spoon on everything from fried eggs to kale salad.

Use them in a salad: Tear off a handful of cilantro leaves, then finely chop stems and toss with your salad greens. This will work with any lettuce, but I think pairs especially well with peppery arugula.

Blend into smoothies and juice: Cilantro is bright and citrusy, so it works well in fruit smoothies and juices without adding sweetness. Try it in a pineapple coconut smoothie or in ginger-carrot juice.

Use Those Cilantro Stems

Spanish Spice-Crusted Pork Tenderloin Bites (Pinchos Morunos)

 

Tonight for a quick dinner I mixed together the spices in the morning and pulled a pork tenderloin from the freezer.  I buy them on sale, so it is a very inexpensive dinner.  Trying to keep the carbs down a little, I served it over cauliflower rice which I made from a head of cauliflower I had in the refrigerator.  I cooked it in a little ghee to give it a slight butter flavor.

The combination of spice and sauce made the entire meal delicious.  It was fast and very easy to make.  I grow my own herbs, so always have a fresh supply.

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We usually prefer the flavor we get from grinding whole spices ourselves, but in this recipe, we found preground worked. Cutting the pork tenderloin into 1- to 1½-inch cubes produced more surface area, allowing the spice rub to quickly penetrate and season the meat. (Any smaller and the meat cooked too quickly)

INGREDIENTS
  • 1½ TEASPOONS GROUND CORIANDER
  • 1½ TEASPOONS GROUND CUMIN
  • 1½ TEASPOONS SMOKED PAPRIKA
  • ¾ TEASPOON EACH KOSHER SALT AND COARSELY GROUND BLACK PEPPER
  • 1 POUND PORK TENDERLOIN, TRIMMED AND CUT INTO 1- TO 1½-INCH PIECES
  • 1 TABLESPOON LEMON JUICE, PLUS LEMON WEDGES FOR SERVING
  • 1 TABLESPOON HONEY
  • 1 LARGE GARLIC CLOVE, FINELY GRATED
  • 2 TABLESPOONS EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
  • 1 TABLESPOON CHOPPED FRESH OREGANO

In a large skillet over high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until just smoking. Add the meat in a single layer and cook without moving until deeply browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, flip the pork and cook, turning occasionally, until cooked through and browned all over, another 2 to 3 minutes.


Off the heat, pour the lemon juice-garlic mixture over the meat and toss to evenly coat, then transfer to a serving platter.


Sprinkle the oregano over the pork and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Serve with lemon wedges.

Spanish Spice-Crusted Pork Tenderloin Bites (Pinchos Morunos)

Instant Chicken ~ Instant Pot

IMG_1790.jpgIt is a very snowy day here and I started thinking about what I could cook for dinner.  I always have back-up supplies in my garage freezer, so I went out to browse and see what might be good a snowy night.  I realized I had way too much chicken so grabbed a package, thinking I should have thawed this out way earlier.

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Hummm.  Instant Pot might do the trick.  I had homemade tortillas left over from the other day and a few interesting ingredients that could make chicken tacos.  Here is a photo of my friendly Instant Pot.

Doing a little online research I found an article about thawing and cooking chicken in an Instant Pot in about ten minutes.  So today I am the “Ten Minute Cook”.  Boy that has a lot of appeal!

The exact time you might use for your Instant Pot would depend on the size and weight of the chicken breasts. Just be sure when you open the pot the chicken is at least a safe 165 degrees. I figure a little higher is better than a little lower.

If you are in a hurry add a little water or chicken broth.  Today I had beef broth and no matter what people say, if it sits about it, you can’t really taste that much difference.  If you are a purest, well that is your problem.

I cut off the ends of some garlic and threw in some taco seasoning and little salt and pepper.

IMG_7158I set the Instant Pot for ten minutes on manual.  When time is up, let it release naturally if not in a hurry.  A quick release if fine for this too.  Not bad for ten minutes or so work.

There you have it, a yummy and quick dinner for working people.  Add a little sauce or throw it in a taco with other taco stuff and have a wonderful dinner.

Instant Chicken ~ Instant Pot