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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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?

Roast Pork…a beautiful thing on a cold wnter’s night. And it is COLD tonight (near 0F)!

Bobby went up against Miami Beach’s Roberto Guerra, the King of the Caja China. King of what?? A cooking system brought to Cuba by the Chinese – the “China Box” is a series of insulated cooking boxes used to cook traditionally long cooking items quickly. Roberto typically does his recipe with a full pig, but for the Food Network show he thought he was taping, he chose a pork shoulder for his recipe. He begins with a sour orange, bay leaf and garlic marinade. He then stuffs the pork with prunes, ham, bacon and guava shells. He glazes his pork with a brown sugar and Malta mix, creating a sticky sweet glaze that is gorgeous on the meat.

Bobby marinated his pork shoulder in garlic, oil, and fresh oregano. As he cooks his meat – first at 425F for 30 mins, then lowering the temp to 350F, he bastes his pork with a mixture of orange juice, lime juice, zests of both fruits, oregano and fresh garlic. He finishes his pork with a mojo dipping sauce, made with serrano, garlic, orange, lime and cilantro.

For our version at home, Roberto’s sour orange juice was replaced with a mix of orange and lime juice. The guava shells for Roberto’s recipe were not available, so guava jelly stood in. Fresh oregano was not available for Bobby’s recipe, but a good quality dried Turkish oregano stood in. Both marinades were sparse – Bobby’s more of a rub, Roberto’s barely there. In the end the flavor stood up, especially on Bobby’s pork.

Both cooked beautifully, Roberto’s glazing nicely, but needed to be watched so that the malta and brown sugar did not burn on the bottom of the pan. Bobby’s orange glaze was a little juicy in the pan, but beautifully browned while cooking. Once cooked and the meat had a chance to rest, it was time to taste.

First Roberto’s – beautiful color, sticky glazed outside, and a very strong flavor of ham/bacon. The glaze was not overpoweringly sweet, nor did the guava or prunes add a high level of sweetness. The bitter orange added a nice balance to the sweet side for a flavorful, well cooked piece of pork. Smoky, rich, a perfect winter dish. On the negative – I could not really taste the pork itself, as the other flavors were more dominant.

Bobby’s pork was tender, with a nice flavor from the oregano rub. The mojo sauce was clean, fresh tasting and very garlicky, but delicious! To me this was more the Miami flavor I would think of and made me think of warmer weather. A mojito, some rice and frijoles – a perfect summer meal. Roberto’s was more winter flavor to me, with a nice barley or potato side dish, and a dark and stormy to drink. Or maybe a Guinness…not very South Beach….

The official judges were Maria Vasquez, who runs http://www.cubanfoodmarket.com and Chef Pepin, who is an established restauranteur and considers himself an expert on pork. The judges felt both dishes were fantastic, but in the end chose Roberto’s sweeter version as the winner. We agree – both were delicious, but this household ended the evening in split in judgment.

To learn more about the caja China go to http://www.lacajachina.com/.

Since starting my business in 2008, I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned that I need a good butcher, because I don’t always know the best cut of meat. I have learned how to appreciate electric ranges. I have learned how to prepare meals I would not choose for myself. I have learned how to appreciate a mother’s challenge for feeding picky eaters, busy families and different eating styles. I have learned how to make food pretty, not just tasty. I have learned that sensitive fire alarms will go off at the most inopportune moments. I have learned to be neater in the kitchen, shop early for the best selection and to call ahead for special items. GPS is a chef’s best friend. Always carry bandaids. And above all else, I have learned to laugh at myself, even when my confidence fails me, or the day doesn’t go as planned. Because in the end, I have learned that my cooking has always been appreciated, and a clean kitchen is the best gift I can leave a client…but homemade cookies never hurt either. Thank you to my current clients and I look for the chance to cook for new clients soon.