Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why I Threw Away 3 Liters of Olive Oil

The other day I made a stew that I make all the time and thought it tasted off. I made my roommate try it to see if it was okay, he loved it, so I chalked it off to the peppery arugula I ate alongside it. The next day I made a marinade for flank steak and stuck my finger on it and was absolutely disgusted. I threw it away. It was the grossest thing I have ever made. However, I could not figure out why because I like all of the ingredients I put in it and did not know what would give it a metallic soapy taste. I brought my problem to the Food 52 hotline and got my answer--rancid olive oil. Sure enough, the 3 liters of olive oil I bought from an imported food store was disgusting. I have always sworn by the olive oils from this store which are imported from Greece. I felt like it was better than anything you can buy on the grocery store shelves.

Wrong! After a little research, I learned that olive oil imported from Europe is often adulterated with other oils and even if it says it is from Italy or Greece, Italy or Greece may have just been a stop on the way to the United States. It is expensive to make Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the European producers cannot keep up with the demand in the United States at a price-point that people will pay. The U.S. government does not think olive oil fraud is serious enough to crack down on, so therefore a lot of olive oil gets into the United States that is definitely not extra virgin olive oil, and possibly not even olive oil at all. You can read a short article about the problem here and a longer one here. Sadly, there are a lot of small producer's make really great olive oil in Greece and Italy, but when you are just buying a bottle off the grocery store shelf, it is really hard to tell if it is the good stuff or not. In my research I found that Colavita is a very reputable brand. I have also heard that a lot of cooks love the Kirkland (Costco) brand olive oil and I do not doubt that it is good, as the Kirkland brand is usually high quality.

The stuff I bought--definitely not the good stuff. It could have been a problem in the way that it was stored or the producers just might have gotten a bad batch, but knowing about this problem makes me really nervous to go buy 3 liters of olive oil that is imported from Europe.

So what is a cook to do? The good news is that California is producing some really great olive oils and they have a council that certifies certain brands as meeting its standards. I went to a local cooking store and tried several California olive oils and chose one specifically for dressings, marinades and dipping where a good flavor is important. I went with Lucero Mission extra virgin olive oil. Then I went to Trader Joe's and got a bottle of their less expensive California olive oil for those times where you need a lot of it or I am just using it to saute something. The funny thing is the bottles are incredibly similar and I wonder if Lucero is Trader Joe's supplier? You never know, but I do know that I feel good about purchasing California olive oils. Not only am I supporting businesses in the United States, but I am guessing I am supporting some pretty small farms too. Win-win!

Sunday, September 23, 2012


This is what happens when you grow four kale plants in your garden and you do nothing. This plants got no attention almost all summer and I would say this is hardly 1/4 of this summer's yield. Such an easy plant. All of this got blanched and frozen for healthy additions to soup, eggs, and braised dishes all winter long. I still have more to harvest too!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nana's Sweet & Sour Stew

Hey! Long time, no see. I have been kind of bad about blogging for awhile now. Life is busy. My schedule is a lot different than it was when I was blogging regularly. I also have made a lot of interesting changes in the way I eat, but I will save that post for another day.

I have posted this recipe before as a crock pot recipe. I decided to do the "other" version of the recipe which is on the stovetop. I also made a change that I am really excited about (nerd alert!). This recipe is apparently from my great-great grandma, lovingly known as "Nana." My Great-Grandma Blanche made it for my Grandma June, my Grandma June made it for my Dad, and while I am sure my Dad is capable of making it, my mother made it for me growing up. This recipe is true comfort food. It will always remind me of home and my family. As for my change--we usually eat this over mashed potatoes. Instead, I put the mashed potatoes (actually mashed squash, potatoes and turnips) on top, like you would for Shepherd's Pie. Yum!

1.5 pounds of stew meat
1/4 cup of flour (I used rice flour) mixed with salt & pepper
2 Tbs. of olive oil
4 carrots, sliced
1 onion, cut into chunks
1 cup of water
1/2 cup ketchup (I recommend Annie's Organic or Simply Heinz)
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
mashed potatoes, mashed root vegetables or mashed cauliflower

1) Dredge the stew meat in the flour.  In a Dutch oven, heat up your oil. Once hot, add the flour coated meat and brown. 

2) While the meat is browning, mix up the base of the stew. In a medium sized bowl whisk together the water, ketchup, vinegar and brown sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

3) Add the carrots and onion to the browned meat. Stir in the sauce and coat. Turn the heat to medium-low and let the mixture simmer  for 35-40 minutes or until the sauce is thickened and the carrots are fully cooked. Stir occasionally. Serve over or under your favorite mashed vegetable.

Optional: You can add just about any vegetable that is sitting in your fridge, dying to be used. This time I used celery and mushrooms because I had them on hand.