Sunday, October 4, 2009

Squeamish with preparing some foods

I admit it, I am squeamish about preparing some foods and I use short cuts (chicken breasts, for instance). Not that having been exposed to livestock in my Italian family helped any. I remember as a 7-year-old going up to my grandmother, sitting by a huge stainless steel basin, to see what she was doing. I peered over the bin and was appalled to see the vat of blood with skinned bodies of rabbits. I ran away. (Hence the saying never name your pet rabbits – they will soon be dinner!) Or the time I came home from school to find a large woolly sheep in the garage in our somewhat urban neighborhood! All the kids nearby had a blast playing with it. The next day we looked for our playmate again, and alas, he was gone. He had become my uncle’s dinner.

Well, my squeamishness extends to fish as well. I usually buy easy, ready-to-go filets. I finally got up the nerve to buy a whole fish when I realized you can ask the vendor to clean it for you. I chose a gilt-head bream, typical of the Mediterranean Sea and the eastern coastal regions of the North Atlantic Ocean, which I had tried many times in restaurants (known as dorada in Spain and orata in Italy). I had an idea of what I wanted to do with it, but I asked the vendor how to prepare it. She gave me the tip of waiting until the eye was a hardish, white ball to know when it’s about ready.

It turned out to be a spectacular dinner for not a lot of effort. The fish was fresh and flaky white. Even my four-year-old asked for more. That's when I definitely know a recipe is a keeper.

Get the recipe

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Organic & Kids

To help parents and educators address organic issues with kids, the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) organization (our organic certifiers) has produced an Organic Activity and Coloring book. Topics include healthy soil, conservation and biodiversity, organic food and a helpful glossary.

Download a free copy

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Community and Fresh Food

As awareness grows about how to eat healthy, more and more resources emerge that help consumers choose foods wisely. Olinda Ridge is pleased to be a partner in these community-building efforts that promote quality food and eating right. Take a look at our list of resources, which include folks around the country involved in spreading awareness of high quality olive oil, organic food, eco-conscious lifestyles, learning to eat well, sources of sustainably grown food and more.

See resources

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Make your own pesto

Here's another great summer recipe: Carol Firenze, author of The Passionate Olive, shares her version of basil pesto sauce, the most famous of all culinary masterpieces from Liguria in the Italian Riviera region - including tips from her 90-year-old Genovese mother...

Get Basil Pesto Recipe


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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Make your own paella

We're enjoying summer, which brings a time of relaxed cooking, eating outdoors and experimenting with new recipes. I've been playing around with paella, a rice dish typical of Valencia, Spain. In Spain, it's common to find families gathered around a large paella dish on Sunday afternoons in the summer. You don't have to go to Spain to have your own paella. Try out my Chicken and Vegetable Paella, and then experiment with your own ingredients. Add a large, fresh salad as a side dish and you have a great summery meal perfect for your outdoor patio setting.

Get the Chicken and Vegetable Paella recipe

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

California Governor Signs Landmark Bill Updating Definitions for Olive Oil

On September 30, the last day that he had to approve or reject bills, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 634, legislation by Senator Patricia Wiggins (D – Santa Rosa) to update California’s definitions of olive oil grades to conform to international standards.

SB 634 also defines “flavored olive oil” to reflect market practices and would require that olive oil be labeled consistent with the updated food grade definitions.

According to Wiggins, “olive oil is a rapidly growing industry in California, with volume projected to increase by 1000 percent in the next five years. California also produces 99.9% of the olive oil grown in the U.S.

“But state law does not define olive oil grades, and as a result the grades commonly seen on olive oil bottles – such as extra virgin – don’t need to meet any standards,” Wiggins said. “I thank Governor Schwarzenegger for his support of SB 634, which establishes new definitions that meet international standards, and requires that bottles of olive oil be labeled accordingly. This will help consumers make informed choices based on consistent standards for quality.”

Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center, described SB 634 as “a landmark bill that will be good for consumers and California producers. ‘Extra virgin’ on the label finally will assure extra virgin in the bottle.”

Almost all of the state’s olive oil producers voluntarily conform to standards adopted by the International Olive Council (IOC) in the production of “extra virgin” olive oil. The IOC, based in Madrid, is an intergovernmental organization of 40 nations formed in 1956.

“Extra virgin” is the highest olive oil grade identified by the IOC. International standards require, among other things, that extra virgin olive oil be produced solely by mechanical means, without the heat or solvents used to make grain or seed oils such as corn and canola. The IOC standards ensure the quality of olive oil, but also make it a more expensive product than other oils.

Flavored oils, such as lemon olive oil or jalapeno olive oil, are increasingly popular with consumers, but existing law does not address these products.

Wiggins said the current state definition of “olive oil,” in existence since 1947, does not include “extra virgin olive oil,” which is the grade of nearly all California-produced olive oils. Nor does it include other common olive oil grades identified by the IOC or flavored oils that are increasingly popular with consumers.

Unlike wine, virgin olive oil does not need to be aged to create complexity. The faster the fruit is crushed, the fresher the product will be, due to the esterification reaction that occurs over time between free alcohols and free fatty acids. According to the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), the state’s olive oil producers are able to bring their fresh product to market sooner than international counterparts. Most imported oils arrive months, if not years, after they are pressed.

COOC Board President Alan Greene said that his organization is “delighted that the Governor has taken this positive step for California consumers and growers. We are grateful to Senator Wiggins for introducing SB 634 and working the bill through the legislative process. We also extend our thanks to the California Department of Food & Agriculture, and specifically, to CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura, for their support of this effort.”

Greene also echoed Dan Flynn’s characterization of SB 634 as “landmark legislation for California. And it shows how bipartisanship on the part of the Governor and Legislature can be positive and beneficial for both consumers and growers.”

The COOC, which represents over 80% of all the olive oil grown and produced in the U.S., is the only certified quality-control program in North America whose standards exceed those of the IOC.

The purpose of the COOC certification program is to provide producers and marketers with a standardized method of grading 100% California olive oil as extra virgin, to provide consumers with the assurance that the oil is actually extra virgin, and to provide producers and marketers that meet the certification standard with a means to distinguish their product in the marketplace.

In order for a producer to gain certification, they must submit their oil to the COOC panel of tasters for a sensory evaluation, as well as a chemical analysis, performed by a COOC certified laboratory. The panel of tasters has undertaken a training and certification program, and undergoes ongoing training. Their role is to ascertain an oil's defects, such as musty, rancid or greasy, as well as desirable attributes such as fruity, bitter or pungent.

According to Wiggins, SB 634 will “not only provide consumers with better information, it will also facilitate the increased export of California olive oils and help spur adoption of national standards.”

SB 634 was sponsored by the COOC, as well as the North American Olive Oil Association. Wiggins represents California’s large 2nd Senate District, which stretches from Humboldt County to Solano County and also includes portions or all of Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma Counties.

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Real Food

In our family, we grew up eating healthy, balanced meals, produced as freshly as possible. I remember at some point my father not even allowing any canned foods in the house. My parents had a huge garden at the weekend cottage where they produced a surplus of vegetables we would bring back home for the week and share with family and friends. I wasn’t even conscious of whether I was eating well or not until I went to college and my roommate commented on how well I put together my meals as she pulled a frozen dinner out of the freezer.

In my mid-twenties I became very food and diet conscious, almost to the point of obsession. For example, I would scrutinize the tiny ingredient list on labels, and if I saw high fructose corn syrup, back it went. This proved to be difficult because most products at the supermarket use it. Eventually, I learned not to stress too much about every detail. The important thing was to eat food as high quality and fresh as possible, to eat in moderation, and to enjoy it!

A good set of guidelines to eating real food is “Six Rules to Live By,” provided by Michael Pollan and available on the blog of nutrition expert Tina Ruggiero. Definitely worth a read or a reread. Here’s the list in brief, but visit the page to get the specifics.
  1. Don’t eat anything your great-great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  2. Avoid foods containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  3. Spend more, eat less.
  4. Pay no heed to nutritional science or the health claims on packages.
  5. Shop at the farmers’ market.
  6. How you eat is as important as what you eat.
Real food involves buzz words such as local, organic and sustainable agriculture. What do they mean exactly? Marissa Lippert, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant, succinctly explains these terms and shows us their benefits in her article “How to find real food: Tips for improving your plate.”

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