Sunday, March 31, 2013

Olive Oil Appreciation 101

Every year, in spring, is "girls weekend."  This year's destination, Ojai, CA.  A destination I've been trying to get hubby to for years, my girlfriends chose this spot with great enthusiasm.  Let's go!

**If you're so inspired, John's Nutty Pesto Recipe Below**

Now in our 6th year, we've treated ourselves to many wonderful locales across So Cal including spas in Laguna and Palm Springs, wine tasting in Temecula and celebrating Royal Tea in Beverly Hills.  This year, we explored our inner foodie-selves and took on olive oil tasting.

We started our quest at the Ojai Olive Oil Company.  Unfortunately, we arrived too late to join the formal ranch tour.  What can I say, The Arcade in town distracted us.

The ever so gracious owners invited us to stroll the grounds and of course sample their oils and vinegars in their humble tasting room.

We sampled with bits of bread and ood and awed at the magnificent variety.  Probably my fave was the Cinnamon Pear infused Balsamic.

Taking advantage of the invitation, we indeed strolled the grove.

The official greeter pulled out all the stops with wags, belly rubs and kisses. No doubt, we were to make ourselves at home.

The olive trees were in their spring mode sending out young shoots for fruiting the following year.  The trees that didn't have young shoots had already done so the previous year, hence the trees are classified as Alternate Bearing.  Needless to say our timing didn't reveal fruit or blossoms.  Harvest season falls in October till the trees are all shaken of their production.

So what is a girl to do to show off the trees; some of which were planted in the late 1800's?  Perhaps our theater upbringing allowed us to ham it up.

Sufficiently entertained, our palates were primed but not necessarily educated.  We drove down to our next stop ... Regalo Olive Oil, Omaggio Farm.

If I could choose where my last days would be, it would be here.  The setting transported us to fantasies of living in the Italian countryside.

It is here, where we learned olive oil is produced within 24 hours or less of harvest.  They are washed, ground to a paste, warmed to release the oil and centrifuged to extract the impurities. 

Learning to savor olive oil is best done straight (drinking a sample).  But if you can't fathom doing that, than a bit of bread to soak the flavors is the next best option.

Timely for this post, the NY Times reported this last week that in addition to the health merits of olive oil having a wealth of antioxidants and monounsaturated fat for protecting the heart, it may also increase the feeling of feeling full by just smelling it.  Could this be another key to limiting obesity?

So many variables can impact the taste including growing region, olive type, soil, blend and how it was produced.  We COULD tell the difference from the farm we just visited just a couple of miles away.  Both supremely good, just different.

Yes, we purchased.  What did I do with my acquisitions?  I implored John to make his "famous" nutty pesto.

Hi!  John here and I will now share my famous nutty pesto recipe with you.  First, send me $1,000.  

While I wait for your check, here is the recipe -- I trust you!

As Sylvia has pointed out, starting with high quality "extra virgin" olive oil is a must.  Place a large hand full of pistachios and pine nuts in a food processor.  I have made this without garlic and it's fine but I prefer 2 large or several small cloves of garlic.  Blend these three items for 10 to 20 seconds just until it's granular like the photo below.  Take the lid off the processor and give this first step a whiff.  Someday I am going to make a pasta "sauce" with just these ingredients.

Next, add basil leaves (I remove the stems) -- the equivalent of one of those large plastic containers you find at the grocery.  Sylvia and I grow our own all summer...

Blend the basil leaf, nutty mixture until the leaves are just minced.  Add quality grated Parmesan -- an entire wedge saving back a little for topping the pasta when it's served. Do a few turns of a pepper mill if desired.

Start the processor again and start to slowly pour olive oil into the spinning blades.  The mixture will first "bunch up" and then start to smooth out, becoming more liquid.  Take the top off again and taste.  You may need a dash of salt or a teaspoon of lemon juice -- or both.  Crazy, I know...

Re-blend briefly to mix -- be careful not to over mix.  During the summer, when we have basil abundance, I freeze Mason jars of this stuff.  Keeps us in pesto until Christmas.  Makes a great cracker spread -- stunningly good on grilled salmon...
and of course, pasta!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Supper's Happy Ending - Pomme Tarte

Another Sunday and I'm wondering just what we are going to make which gives us a lovely dinner and leftovers during the week.  Leave it to me to have criteria attached to making that mere simple decision.  Criteria includes ingredients being in season and "localesque," healthy and something we wouldn't normally tackle during our busy work week.

This particular week, my first weekend at home in weeks where I wasn't pulled in a million different directions revealed I was out of practice of imagining a satisfying home cooked meal.  My busy work week sucked all the imagination right out of me.  The world was my oyster and I just couldn't make a decision....except for what I wanted for dessert.  Behold my inspiration which appeared right under my nose...

Braeburn Apples
"Oyster" being the key phrase, I plotted to have John make his scrumptious Oyster stew which would leave us the room to enjoy my version of a Pomme Tarte.

I think Joy's article on her "Evening in Paris" dinner also inspired my decision on what I would bring for dessert had we lived in the same city.  Voila!  Pomme Tarte.  Time to bring out my Julia Child book for a starting point.

Pre-heat the oven

Julia's pastry recipe is lush but I thought I would go with a lighter version.  I dusted off my Jacques Pepin's Today's Gourmet Light and Healthy Cooking for the 90's cookbook.  His version achieves a very similar outcome. 

Dough Ingredients

3/4 Cup all purpose flour (3 oz)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons, ice-cold water

Place the flour, butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces and sugar into the bowl of a food processor.  Process for 5 seconds.

Then add the ice-cold water and process for 5 more seconds.

It may not look like dough yet, but I promise you it is. 

Take the mixture and form into a ball with your hands lightly and place on a piece of plastic wrap.  Place an additional piece of plastic wrap and roll out to the size of your baking dish.

Transfer the flattened dough to a cookie sheet and refrigerate.  This will give it a nice chill while you work on the apple filling.

Apple Filling Ingredients

3 small cooking apples or 2 large ones
Half Lemon
1 tablespoon sugar
Sprinkle of Cinnamon
Sprinkle of Nutmeg
1/3 cup of Raspberry jam

Thinly slice apples.  Squeeze lemon juice on the apples to maintain their delicate color from turning brown.  Lightly cook sliced apples to soften with a tablespoon of sugar and sprinkle of your favorite apple seasonings (i.e. cinnamon and nutmeg).   This is where I'm getting better at winging recipes.

Take rolled dough out of the fridge and place in tarte pan or you could go galette style and put on a cookie sheet and fold the dough over the filling.

Going rogue again from the Julia's original recipe,  I chose a more colorful addition to the already yellow dish and went with Raspberry jam instead of the traditional apricot jam.

My not nearly Julia-like placement of the apple slices: 

Fold dough over (galette style) or flute to the edges.  Bake for 45 minutes in the pre-heated 400 degree oven.

Remove from oven and cool a bit to savour to your heart's content.

Did we have enough for leftovers during the week?  You bet we did since there is only two of us.  Did we enjoy for a weeknight dinner?  I am my grandmother's granddaughter after all.  It has fruit and protein in it...why not?

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