I was in a high end grocery store the other day and I found myself in the olive oil aisle. I always go there even if I’m not in the need for oil, just to peruse. There was a woman there looking at all the bottles. She was taking a long time, studying all the oils, and not deciding on one. I looked over towards her and she asked if I could help her find a virgin olive oil. Well, you know I can’t keep my mouth shut. Why? I asked her. She had just seen an episode of America’s Test Kitchen and they recommend that people use a virgin oil to fry and not an extra virgin. I asked her why and she replied that the cooking show said that it’s cheaper and better for frying. Then she mumbled something about smoking point. I’m pretty tired of hearing people worry about the smoking point of olive oil. Really? I told her that the smoking point is higher than is usually thought, especially if it is a good oil and I asked what she was going to fry. Oh! She was making marinara sauce and it was to sauté the onions and garlic. Oh! I asked her what oil she had at home. I don’t want to tell you the label but it is a “grocery brand” of a popular market. I asked if it was the Italian, California, or Greek label. She didn’t know. Any of those would be fine to start her spaghetti sauce, I explained. I didn’t take the time to tell her that what she had at home, was probably virgin already. I, also, didn’t tell her that the extra virgin label did not guarantee the quality of the oil. That many bottles of oil have extra virgin on the label but are in fact only virgin. I, also, didn’t ask her how old it was because I was afraid to tell her that it might be rancid and possibly not fit for human consumption! I did recommend some of the bottles on the shelf for nice finishing oils. She left without buying anything but happy knowing that she could use her oil for her sauce.
As she left, an older gentleman was there looking at the oils. Boy, was I tempted to ask him if he needed help. Instead, I just turned around and left. I can’t help everybody.
I have a difficult time in supermarkets. I wish I could wear an olive green cape and stand in the olive oil aisle and talk to everyone who wanders by. Maybe I should just stay away from that aisle all together. It’s difficult because I want to explain it all and there is not enough time or I will sound like a pedant. So, I just give a tidbit of information and people take that and run with it but it’s not the whole picture.
Can I please say one thing about the smoking point of olive oil? Italians, Greeks and Spaniards having been using this oil for everything from sauces, salads and frying for thousands of years and they have been doing just fine. In fact, if you have ever been to Europe, you know how wonderful their cuisine is. So, please relax on the smoking point. Most oils, Canola, Olive, Corn, etc. have about the same smoking point – in the 400º or so. Butter’s smoking point is 350º. Why doesn’t anybody worry about the smoking point of Canola Oil or Vegetable Oil? Why just Olive Oil? Refined oils of any kind, will have a higher smoking point. Refined oils are processed with heat and chemicals. As a home cook, when I see my oil smoking, I lower the heat and add whatever I’m cooking immediately to the pan. I am watchful so that this doesn’t occur too often. Many inexpensive oils are virgin no matter what their label says. So, if you are watching your wallet and plan on frying a lot, then go for those oils. Otherwise, don’t worry about using an extra virgin oil for frying, sautéing and whatever else you are cooking. That’s all I want to say about the matter.
I had the opportunity to judge at the California State Fair Olive Oil Competition, this year, also. It was great fun! I sat at a table with a fellow sensory panelist which I have know for years and a new acquaintance that felt like an old friend when we were through. This is a one day event. We start at 9:00 and end about 5:00 or so. We tasted 35 oils. So, I feel it is a little more laid back than the L. A. competition in so far as the amount of oils we taste in the allotted time ensues a more relaxed atmosphere. There isn’t much time for mingling but we do have the opportunity to chat with our table judges as we wait for our next flight of oils.
I have been asked to join the Napa Valley competition which is coming up in May. I haven’t heard from the Yolo County head judge. So, I might not be in that one.
This week’s recipe is a Chocolate Cake baked in Mason jars. It’s lovely idea for a picnic. A few weeks back, my son and his girlfriend were driving down to Los Angeles on the day that happened to be her birthday. So, I thought it would be fun to pack them a basket with some goodies for the road and cake for the birthday girl. The Chocolate Cake is made with olive oil and is quite flavorful. The frosting is the best I’ve ever made to date. I just spooned the frosting into a ziplock bag and cut the corner. I tried to use a piping tip but it didn’t allow me to point the frosting into the edges once inside the jar. It’s so fun and portable. I found it at sarahcucinabella.com under Deep, Dark Chocolate Cake in a Jar. Let me know if you give it a try.
1 cup Unbleached Flour
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Dutch-processed Cocoa Powder
3/4 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 large Egg
1/2 cup Milk
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1/2 cup Boiling Water
2 cups Confectioner’s Sugar, sifted
3 oz. Dark or Semi-Sweet Chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 Tbls. Cream
3/4 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Add Egg, Milk, Olive Oil and Vanilla to the bowl. Whisk for two minutes. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth doing it by hand.
Pour the Boiling Water into bowl and whisk gently to combine until it is of a smooth consistency.
Divide the batter evenly among canning jars. Batter will only fill about 1/3 of jar. Slide baking sheet into oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool before frosting. Cake can be covered and stored for 3 or 4 days.
While cake is cooling, prepare Frosting.
Add all of ingredients to a mixer bowl and with the paddled attachment. Beat until thoroughly combined and fluffy, about 1 minute. Spoon into a ziplock bag. Snip one end and pipe into the jars.
Screw on the covers and you are ready to go!
This is a pretty quick recipe. I’ve been listening to Louie Armstrong a lot. His music is so upbeat and I’m hooked.
Until next time, eat well, drink well and live well.