Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Olive’s Oil

"Olive oil is one of the first foods that Italian babies eat, and one of the last foods offered to the dying." - Nina Planck, Real Food: What to Eat and Why

Last week Chef Brett posted about enjoying good crusty bread dipped in balsamic vinegar and olive oil so we decided we'd segue into olive oil this week. Olive oil is one of the "good" fats—high in oleic acid (a monounsaturated fat), a good source of palmitic acid (a healthy saturated fat), vitamin E, and polyphenols. Monounsaturated fats and palmitic acid help lower LDL, or "bad" cholesterol while vitamin E and polyphenols help prevent cancer and heart disease. Olive oil inhibits platelets from sticking together, reduces inflammation, and lowers blood pressure.

Olive oil is great used cold in vinaigrettes or for dipping bread, but is also a good choice for cooking at moderate temperatures. The monounsaturated fatty acids are relatively heat stable (more so than polyunsaturated fats—vegetable oils—which are more susceptible to oxidation); a blend of olive oil and butter is even better because of the saturated fats in the butter.

Olive oil requires very little processing, unlike other vegetable oils. It typically comes in 3 grades: plain, virgin, and extra virgin. Virgin and extra virgin are best—particularly if made cold-pressed which preserves the vitamin E and antioxidant polyphenols. Extra virgin olive oil is made from the first pressing of the olives and retains the most nutritional and antioxidant value. Plain olive oil is usually very refined and rancid—extra virgin olive oil is usually added to make it palatable. Olive oil is very susceptible to oxidation and should be stored in a cool, dark place.

As I type this, I am enjoying a sourdough baguette dipped in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar—I'd highly recommend you do the same!

Monday, March 15, 2010

When I started to love balsamic vinegar

When I was attending Western Culinary Institute, here in Portland, Oregon, I went on the ultimate field trip. It was a culinary tour of Tuscany with two days in Paris. It was an extra expense but it was worth it. We travelled all over Tuscany in a giant bus visiting vineyards and wineries, olive groves, cheese and ham producers in the region of Parma, restaurants serving "traditional Tuscan meals", and a balsamic vinegar producer in Modena. I have always been a lover of Italian things, I took Italian in college, I love pasta, and Chianti is my favorite wine. Until I visited the balsamic vinegar producer in Modena I did not have a taste or appreciation for good balsamic vinegar. We saw how it was aged in casks like wine or whisky, every few years moved to smaller and smaller casks as the water evaporates and the flavor intensifies. Typically traditional balsamic vinegar is aged in oak for a minimum of 12 years. At this particular producer they had some vinegar aging in cherry casks and they let us sample it, by serving it over ice cream. The thought of vinegar on ice cream probably does not appeal to many people but you had to be there, in the Italian country side, wearing Italian leather shoes, and eating ice cream topped with cherry aged balsamic vinegar (for $40 a bottle). And although I did not purchase any balsamic vinegar on that trip (I had just purchased the Italian leather shoes) I have kept it in my mind that someday I will again find some that equals that experience.

This week's recipe: Bread dipped in oil and balsamic vinegar. What you will need is some good bread, some good olive oil, and some good balsamic vinegar. Pour ½ a cup of the oil on a plate then add a tablespoon or two of the vinegar, and then dip your bread and enjoy!

  • Chef Brett

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why the Kale Not?

When Chef Brett called me the other week about how she tried kale and learned that she loves it, I started telling her about my favorite ways to prepare kale. This is a really common event for us and a big part of why we decided to start this blog—we wanted to share our conversations with other people who are into food and hopefully get some more people involved in the sharing! I can't really remember when I learned that I love kale—I think it happened about 6 years ago. I prefer it steamed, but do love to add it to soups and sauté it as well. I'm going to post my favorite recipe involving kale in a minute but first I'm going to put my doctor hat on and tell you why kale is so good for you.

Kale is in the brassica family, like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, and so it contains sulfur compounds. These sulfur compounds fight cancer, aid the liver in detoxification, boost immune function, and fight free radicals. In fact, spinach and kale are the two veggies with the highest ORAC value, a measure of antioxidant strength. Kale is also really high in Vitamin C , beta carotene, calcium, Vitamin K, and fiber. Kale has seven times the beta carotene and ten times the lutein (a carotenoid that protects the eyes) found in broccoli. Leafy greens don't have as much calcium as dairy foods, but they can help you get enough—a half cup of kale has 47 mg of calcium. Vitamin K plays important roles in blood clotting, blood vessel health, and bone strength. One cup of kale provides over 10% of your daily intake of fiber (about 2 grams). So, kale is really quite the superfood!

May favorite way to eat kale lately is steamed and then drizzled with balsamic butter sauce (recipe adapted from Bon Appétit). Rinse your kale really well (it often has quite a bit of grit trapped in those curly leaves) and then remove the tough stems and coarsely chop. Steam for about 5 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Serve with balsamic butter sauce.

Balsamic butter sauce

½ c. good quality balsamic vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
½ stick butter, room temperature, cut into ½ inch cubes

Combine vinegar and garlic in a small heavy sauce pan over medium high heat. Boil until reduced by half. Whisk in butter, one small cube at a time until evenly incorporated.

The complete meal I usually make is pan seared mahi mahi, garlic mashed potatoes, and steamed kale. I put the sauce on everything and it is really amazing! I hope you enjoy it!