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Make your own olive oil bottles

We all know olive oil has the “healthy fats” that you’re supposed to eat to decrease your “bad cholesterol” (do you like my super technical medical terms?  Yeah, that’s why I went to law school).  But do you ever walk into your supermarket’s vinegar and oil aisle only to have a mini anxiety attack over the plethora of choices (and price ranges!) of olive oil?  No? Oh, me neither…that must be some other foodie family blogger.  Moving on…

When I was at the store yesterday, I estimated there were 20 different olive oils on the shelf, priced from $3.86 all the way to $34.00.  In addition to the price difference, there are also different virginity levels or “grades of the oil: Premium Extra Virgin, Extra Virgin, Virgin, Standard, Super Slutty (just kidding). Some bottles say the olives are hand picked and others brag that the oil is cold pressed or filtered.  To add an extra layer of confusion, you can also choose the country of origin for your olive oil: Spain, Greece, Italy, California, France–and sometimes they blend oil from different countries together to make an olive oil meritage.

I love dipping bread in olive oil while I drink a glass of wine…but if you’re like me you can easily do without the bread and olive oil and just double up on the wine if you have to put too much thought into it.  So here’s what you really need to know about Olive Oil Varietals, a few tasting notes and some great ways to use olive oil after you’ve had your first glass of wine.

Olive Oil: The Quick and Dirty
•    Look for olive oil in a tinted or metal bottle—OO is like a vampire—sunlight kills it
•    Look for “born on” date—olive oil starts to lose its taste after 1 year—Extra Virgin Olive Oil keeps longest
•    If you’re not using it for high heat cooking, make sure it says “unrefined”
•    Store your olive oil in a dark cool place to keep its flavor intact

For dipping, dressing & drizzling: Use Extra Virgin because the acidity level is the lowest and its aroma and flavor can be most fully appreciated.  Premium or Estate Extra Virgin, though more expensive, will make a favor difference in your cooking.
•    One of the best meals I ever had in my entire life was at Don Alfonso on the Amalifo Coast.  I bought two bottles of Olive Oil while I was there and savored every dip and drizzle.
•    On my honeymoon, we did an Olive Oil tasting at Round Pond in Napa Valley, CA.  The Meyer Lemon Olive Oil is perfect for salads.
•    Last Summer at the Farmer’s Market in San Francisco, this guy recommended we try his unfiltered olive oil.  He said it’s like “your favorite song, turned up.”  He was right.  It’s peppery, olive(y) and so flavorful.  Drizzle atop pasta or fish off the grill.

For quick sautéing or when mixing with other ingredients: Use Virgin because the taste will be somewhat diluted by the cooking and mixing with other ingredients.  I don’t have a favorite virgin oil.  I usually look for the best price.
For high heat cooking: Use olive oil or grapeseed oil.  Although Olive Oil’s smoke point is relatively high (400 degrees F) he flavor of the olive oil will disintegrate at higher heat so you might as well use a cheaper oil for high heat cooking.

How to Infuse Olive Oil

Infused olive oil is a great way to add a little extra kick of flavor to your standard olive oil and it makes a GREAT gift.  I still recommend using Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but you can save a little bit of money by adding your own depth of flavor with herbs and spices.  There really isn’t a precise science to infusing olive oil.  I’ve included a few of my favorite combinations, but you can really experiment and use whatever you like!*

Tools and Ingredients
Glass or nonreactive metal container
Funnel
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Herbs (i.e. Rosemary, Thyme, Basil,
Spices (i.e. Peppercorn, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes)
Citrus Fruits (i.e. meyer lemon, orange or kumquat)

•    Find an awesome bottle.  Remember: Olive oil is like a vampire and sunlight kills is so try to find a bottle with a dark tint.  Ideally, you also want it to be air tight.
•    After preparing your herbs, spices or citrus fruits by washing, grinding or zesting, place them in the awesome bottle.
•    Pour olive oil into the bottle through the funnel. (Note that most recipes below call for heating the olive oil.  This makes the flavor infuse more quickly but is not necessary)
•    Allow ingredients to “awesomate” (technical term) for about two weeks (feel free to taste intermittently).
•    Make a cool label (or just handwrite the ingredients like me).
•    Enjoy.

Infused olive oil can be kept for up to a year, but tastes best when used in the first six months.
*Beware of using garlic to infuse your olive oil.  When homemade garlic-infused oil is left unrefrigerated or kept for too long, the chance of botulism growing is very real. There have been a number of documented cases of people getting sick from their homemade garlic oils.
*I should also tell you to refrigerate infused oils.  Refrigerated is the safest way to store infused oil.  I store my oils at room temp, but then again, I’m a pretty bold risk taker.

Meyer Lemon Olive Oil
Ingredients
1 cup olive oil
Peel from 2 Meyer lemons
Preparation
•    Warm the olive oil and the peel over very low heat for 20 minutes.
•    Allow to cool for half an hour.
•    Strain and pour into an antique stoppered bottle, or any bottle you may have.

Chili Infused Olive Oil
Ingredients
2 cups olive oil
4 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper flakes
Preparation
1.  Combine the oil and crushed red pepper flakes in a heavy small saucepan. Cook over low heat until a thermometer inserted into the oil registers 180 degrees F, about 5 minutes.
2.  Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Transfer the oil and pepper flakes to a 4-ounce bottle.

Basil Infused Olive Oil

Ingredients
4 cups of packed basil leaves
2 cups of virgin olive oil (the flavors of extra-virgin olive oil will compete too much)
Preparation
1.  Combine basil and olive oil in a blender.
2.  Puree the mixture until smooth.
3.  In a saucepan, simmer the olive oil and basil puree over medium heat for 45 seconds.
4.  Pour the heated mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl to remove the basil.
5.  Let the mixture sit for a few hours.
6.  Pour the oil into an airtight jar. (don’t include the dark liquid at the bottom of the bowl, which is water mixed with finely ground basil)

Rosemary Infused Olive Oil
Ingredients
1/2 cup olive oil
3 fresh rosemary sprigs
Preparation
1.  In small saucepan, combine oil & rosemary. Cook over low heat until a thermometer reaches 180 F, about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool to room temp.
2.  Transfer the sprigs to a bottle, then add the oil. Seal and refrigerate up to 1 month

Now, if you’re really interested, here is an in depth lesson on Olive Oils:

Read more

Simple pork stir fry for a fun friend dinner

I always want to add dinner with friends every week to my hectic schedule but worry it takes too much preparation—so regretfully I don’t do it as often I as would like.  However, a quick and spur of the moment dinner with friends worked out well this week!  I offered veggies from my garden and pork from the farmers market—and they offered to cook.  The simple but delicious result—a beautiful tomato, basil and  mozzarella salad (tomatoes from my garden) with Steve’s special balsamic and stone ground mustard dressing—rice prepared simply in my rice cooker and pork, peppers, onions and mushrooms from the wok!  Dinner with friends at home—can be simple, delicious, and stress-free—and laughing with friends is the best nourishment.   (I did help with the dishes).

Simple Pork Stir Fry
Making a good stir fry is an easy and essential way to make a quick meal—with most anything you happen to have in the frig.  Substitute celery for peppers, add tomatoes—substitute firm tofu for  pork—it is a process to mix some healthy vegetables together with some great spice—use your creativity.

1 lb. pork tenderloin (a lean cut of pork) sliced in strips
1 red pepper and 1 green pepper—sliced in strips
1 yellow onion- sliced in strips
1 lb. sliced mushrooms (I love mushrooms-if you don’t—you can decrease or not use).
3 cloves of garlic—finely diced
1 lime
1 red chili (spicier the better for me!)
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tbs low sodium soy salt (Yamasa is my favorite)
2 tbs. sweet chili sauce
3 cups jasmine rice

Put thinly sliced pork in a bowl—add juice and zest from the lime, add finely diced garlic, chili and garlic to the bowl.  If you have time, let it stand for 15 minutes in the fridge so the ingredients can get friendly.  Meanwhile, back to slicing—peppers, yellow onion, mushrooms.

Start rice (package directions) in a pan or a rice cooker! Set TIMER!!
Pull out your wok, put the heat high, add the sesame oil—and let it heat up for a minute or two
Add pork (and all those friend that have been chilling with the pork)
Stir a bit until pork starts to brown—add onions and peppers.
When the peppers are losing a bit of crispness and the onions are becoming clearer—add in the mushroom….stirring all the while! Add soy sauce and chili sauce—keep tossing!

Have your friend plate up the rice and serve your stir-fry on the side or on the rice as you prefer.

Condiments—a bottle of Lee Kum Lee Sriracha Chili Sauce!  Enjoy!

 

To flapjack or not to flapjack, that is the question.

Pancakes always create a bit of anxiety for me because I never know quite how to classify them—are they a main course or a side? Do I treat them like a quiche, for example, and order pancakes as my entire meal or do I instead treat them like toast and order them in addition to my eggs and bacon? Typically the former leaves me feeling a little carb heavy and the latter makes me feel like a fatty. Usually my internal debate goes something like this:

Fatty Foodie: “OMG pancakes sound so good. They are probably just the run of the mill flapjack, but what if they are extra fluffy or extra thin or something I’ve never even seen before. I should probably try them.”
Fit Foodie: “Pancakes are essentially sugar and carbs topped with fat and more sugar. Do not order them. Get the egg white omelet with veggies.”
Fatty Foodie: “You owe it to your foodie family readers to investigate what could possibly be and likely IS the best pancake in the entire universe. Look, it’s called a griddlecake. That means it’s something really special. And it has at least one egg in it so that’s protein. It’s essentially health food.”
Fit Foodie: “She has a point with the egg. You can go to the gym later. Do it, but get a side of fruit.”
Fatty Foodie: “Good idea. Get a side of fruit and a few eggs. Pancakes are really just bread. You need protein. You can only eat half of the pancakes if you get too full. Oh look, this place already has a menu item consisting of eggs, bacon and 2 pancakes. That means pancakes are supposed to be ordered alongside other food. Get that meal. It’s totally normal and socially acceptable.”

Clearly, the Fatty Foodie side of my brain paid attention in law school while the Fit Foodie side was checking out hot guys. Shit. Saturday morning I was in Oklahoma City for a conference and I ordered the “griddle cakes” (with a side of fruit) from room service at the Colcord hotel. These pancakes were fluffy, flavorful, HUGE and amazingly delicious. I ate half of them (and none of the fruit) and felt like I couldn’t breathe for the rest of the day because I was so full.

When my husband suggested I make pancakes for breakfast the next morning my inner fit foodie cringed. I decided I would make pancakes, sans the side (or main course) of eggs but I would try to make them a little healthier. I added ground flax seed, bananas and blueberries to the pancake recipe I usually use and voila-I had a fiber, fruit and protein(ish) rich meal in one simple flapjack. If I had oats, I would have added them too and maybe even chia seeds or granola.

My Sunday pancake wasn’t as big or fluffy as my Saturday morning rooms service griddlecake, but it was pretty darn good. And I felt better after I ate it too. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it.

Healthy(ish) Pancakes

Makes about 16 4-inch pancakes

1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups skim milk
2 cups AP flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons ground flax seed
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen, preferably wild)
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil for pan

  • Whisk lemon juice and milk together in a large measuring cup; set aside to thicken while you prepare the other ingredients. If you have buttermilk, you can use it instead of the milk and lemon juice combo…but if you don’t want to run to the store for buttermilk on a Sunday morning, use lemon juice and skim…it still tastes great!
  • Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and flax seed in a medium bowl to combine.

 

  • Whisk the egg, mashed bananas and melted butter into the milk until combined (make sure the butter is cooled enough that it won’t start to cook the egg or make the milk rancid). Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients in the bowl. Pour in the milk mixture and mix very gently until just combined. A few lumps should remain—do not overmix!
  • Heat a 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. * Add 1 teaspoon of oil and brush to coat the bottom of the skillet evenly. Pour ¼ cup batter onto three spots on the skillet. Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of blueberries over each pancake just after pouring batter into the pan (some people add them to the mix at the beginning, but adding them later keeps the berries intact and bleed free).
  • Cook the pancakes until large bubbles begin to appear—about 1 ½ or 2 minutes. Flip the pancakes using a wide and thin spatula and cook 1 ½ to 2 minutes longer. Add more vegetable oil only if necessary.
  • Serve Immediately**

*Is the pan hot enough? Make a test pancake about the size of a half dollar (use 1 Tablespoon of batter.) If, after 1 minute, the pancake is blond in color, the pan is not hot enough. If it’s golden brown, the pan is the right temperature. If you try to speed up this process by heating the pan at a higher temp, your pancake will be dark and unevenly cooked and you will be full of shame. Don’t do it.
**If you want to serve all the pancakes at the same time, put them on a greased rack set on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven. Do not cover. They will hold for about 20 minutes before they get soggy so cook quickly!

How to travel with infants

The trickiest part about infant travel is the unpredictable nature of both babies and flights.  If you try to time your flight around your baby’s nap time or bedtime, the flight will inevitably be delayed or your baby will have an off day.  We all dread that deep breath on the plane that means your tiny baby is about to emit a chorus of wails and screams much louder than you ever thought humanly possible for such tiny vocal chords that will make your fellow passengers hate you.  It might even make you hate yourself a little, but you know what?  It shouldn’t.

Even though it may seem like your baby is crying for an hour, he’s probably not.   And if he really is crying for hours, you probably have much more important things to worry about (your own sanity) than other people mean mugging you from across the aisle.  Some mommy bloggers recommend that you bring small bags of candy and ear plugs to place on the seats of passengers sitting around you with a note explaining that your baby is on a plane for the first time and asking them to have patience with him.  I bet these mommy bloggers spend hours on Pinterest (the website invented by Satan to show women like me how much we SUCK at being a good/creative/crafty/patient/organized mom).  If you have the time and the room in your carry-on to craft goody bags for complete strangers, go for it.  If you’re feeling like you’ll be lucky to get on the plane with your teeth brushed and two of the same shoes on like me, read on.

Here are the best things you can do to make flying with your baby a breeze:

  • Wear your baby: We prefer the baby bjorn infant carrier.  In fact, we used it until Foodie Baby was practically kicking our knees because his legs were so long.  It is really important to have your hands free and your baby contained at the same time while your traveling and people will probably judge you if you try to stuff your baby into a piece of rolling luggage.
  • Dress yourself and your baby in comfortable clothes.  Do NOT wear white.  Do NOT wear heels.  Do NOT wear a fabric that will absorb stains.  My husband has started trying to dress in dry fit from head to toe, not because it wicks sweat but because it repels stains.  The baby vomit and spilled milk just rolls off you.  I usually wear black leggings and dress in layers on top, including a wide scarf.  The scarf can double as a blanket or a nursing cover in times of need.  I try to wear slip on shoes so that I don’t have to mess with tying and untying them at airport security.  For

    babies, I prefer one piece, footed outfits.  There aren’t any shoes to lose and they have easy access for diaper changing.  Bring at least one extra change of clothes for your kiddo.

  • Nurse or bottle feed at take off and landing: the sucking will help ease the pressure on your baby’s ears.  You can bring breast milk and formula through airport security.  Read about airport security and kids here.  It might have the bonus side effect of putting him or her to sleep which is the best possible way to pass the time when flying with a baby.
  • Bring extra diapers…and wipes (duh).  I like to bring disposable changing pads as well because airport bathrooms are germ cesspools.
  • If your baby is eating solid foods, bring “squish foods”.  These little packets of organic fruits and veggies are great for travel.  You don’t even need a spoon!  Just squish them into the baby’s

    mouth.  Foodie Baby loves Ella’s Kitchen and Plum Organic.  I actually wish they made these for adults.  They are healthy, portable and the they taste pretty good (for baby food)!

Hope this helps as you travel.  Good luck!