Oil has been in the news a lot lately with the unrest in Libya, the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and always in the middle east. But what about in the kitchen? There are many oils out there to use, but which is best?

If you are using high heat, such as deep frying, sauteeing or pan frying, you want to use an oil that has a high smoking point. What does that mean? According to Wikipedia – The smoke point generally refers to the temperature at which a cooking fat or oil begins to break down to glycerol and free fatty acids, and produce bluish smoke. Good oils to use for frying have a smoking point above 400F. This includes peanut oil, coconut oil, corn oil and canola oil (rapeseed oil).

For sauteeing, you can also use olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, and rice bran oil to name a few.

When making a dressing, or using oil to drizzle over a finished dish or dip bread in, you want to use a high quality oil that complements your food. EVOO (Extra virgin olive oil) comes from a variety of olives and in different qualities. I find Greek olives mild, Spanish olives peppery and Californian olives to be fruity. Use a lighter olive oil for more delicate flavors, like white fish or fruit containing salads. There are four USDA grades of olive oil based on acidity, absence of defects, odor and flavor (Wikipedia):

* U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil for oil with excellent flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of 0.8g per 100g
* U.S. Virgin Olive Oil for oil reasonably good flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of not more than 2g per 100g
* U.S. Virgin Olive Oil Not Fit For Human Consumption Without Further Processing is a virgin oil of poor flavor and odor
* U.S. Olive Oil is an oil mix of both virgin and refined oils
* U.S. Refined Olive Oil is an oil made from refined oils with some restrictions on the processing

Almond oil and sherry vinegar make a delicious, healthy and simple dressing. Pumpkin oil has a nuttiness to it and a slew of health benefits, walnut oil and hazelnut oil add a depth of flavor to a dish. Truffle oil adds earthiness to risottos, and sesame oil adds an Asian nutty flair to veggies. Experiment, taste and enjoy different oils in your next dressing, which is nothing more than an 4 parts oil, and 1 part acid (citrus, vinegars) with optional added flavor (herbs, spices, garlic and zests).

A good resource to try is La Tourangelle oils (Amazon.com, igourmet.com) oils, but there are many brands out there. Sometimes Marshall’s or TJ Maxx has some great finds in their food aisle. I know what you are thinking……but I am serious about some hidden treasures I have found here. Check out Sid Wainer & Son for a variety of oils to try….or better yet visit them or your local gourmet market to taste some of these unique and varied flavors. Most oils offer health benefits such as fatty acids and the omegas, so don’t be afraid of a little “good fat” in your diet.

Oils can also be great for the hair and skin, and often used in cosmetics we buy every day. So forget the oil crisis. Or at least the one in your kitchen……Bon Appetit!

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Bobby Flay was up against NYC’s Queen of Falafel, Einat Admony, owner of Taim Falafel and Smoothie bar in trendy Greenwich Village. Einat has won New York Magazine’s “Best Falafel” award and had once worked for Mr. Flay at his Bolo restaurant in NYC. Bobby did his research and found it was best to soak the chick peas overnight – don’t cook them. Grind the beans with the spices, form and fry. Sounded easy. Bobby and his test staff found that grinding the beans in a meat grinder resulted in a fluffier texture than a food processor. I followed this lead and broke out my attachment for meat grinding. He added serrano chiles, mint, garlic, cumin, cilantro, and coriander to his mix. He cheated with a little baking podwer to help “fluff them up. Bobby used the double fry (once at 325F then again at 350) method he uses for his french fries, to make them extra crunchy. He then added a few dipping sauces including a yogurt and piquillo pepper dip with smoked paprika.
Einat gladly accepted her former boss’s challenge, and made her falafel with mint, cumin, coriander, onion, garlic and parsley. She used an instrument to shape her falafel, claiming they are lighter that way. She also only fried her falafel one time at 350F.
At home, I followed the soaking overnight, meat grinding, ice cream scoop method of shaping my falafel. Bobby’s I fried twice, as noted, Einat’s once. Both mixtures were moist, easy to form, and fried beautifully brown. But on to the tasting.

Bobby’s falafel were dense, with a nice taste of mint and slight heat from the serranos. Crisp outside and tender inside, they were delicious with the smoky yogurt piquillo sauce. Einat’s were also very tender, with a nice clean flavor from the parsley, having a more traditional flavor in general. Both were tasted by themselves, then in a pita pocket with cucumber and tomato. Both were delicious, but in different ways. The judges in NYC rated each falafel on texture, presentation and authenticity. John Starks of NY Knicks fame, and Darryl Schembeck, Executive Chef of the United Nations in NY, were torn. The final vote was split, but Bobby knew it was his side dishes that won, not his falafel…so he gave the title to Einat. Here at our home, we would have to give texture and authenticity to Einat as well, though I really did like the minty heat of Bobby’s. Either way – I am having falafel for lunch. To see these recipes and try them for yourself, got to http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/falafel-recipe/index.html. Are you ready for a throwdown?

Soup’s on!

April 13, 2011

Winter Is a time for hot soup, crusty bread and blankets to help keep us warm. The blanket is easy….pick your favorite one. Baguette or boule…the bread is pretty easy too. The soup, that gets a little trickier. There are vegetable soups, bean soups, bisques, chowders and stews. Which to make? What’s the difference?
We will start with consistency……consomme to stew, soups increase in thickness and heartiness based on ingredients. Thickening can come from a roux (flour and fat) a bean, legume or potato in the soup itself or by pureeing the soup. Here are the basics of soup, from thinnest to thickest:

1. Consommé is basically flavored broth, often served as a starter course in fancy restaurants. Beef is the most common flavor.
2. Broth based soups – think chicken noodle, egg drop, and onion soup. These are soups that have a thin broth, vegetables and small pieces of meet added for texture, but lots of juice.
3. Bisque and chowdas РBisque is a thick, creamy soup made from pur̩ed seafood (lobster) or vegetables and Chowders are typically cream or milk based, and often contain potatoes (clam, corn).
4. Pureed soups -think butternut squash, carrot, tomato or other root vegetable soups. Ingredients are cooked in broth, then pureed to smooth consistency and thicker texture.
5. Beans/legumes – think black bean, split pea and lentil soups. These soups are thickened by the ingredients breaking down and softening in the cooking process. Healthier than the cream soups, but very filling and great “for dinner” soups.
6. Stew is a very hearty version of a soup with broth that has been cooked down, in an effort to braise and tenderize the meat used in the stew itself. Stew can be eaten with a fork, but best with a spoon.
7. Unique or other – Cheese soups can be thick or thin. Fruit soups are great in the summer and can be served as dessert. Gazpacho is almost salsa, but would fall in the “cold stew” catagory…..but not really. Thick, chunky and some juice.

Whatever your preference, soup is a great addition to any meal or as a meal itself and is seasonal, easy, and delicious. What is your favorite?