Olive Oil FAQ

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OLIVE OIL FAQ

Is oil made from green or black olives?
All green olives eventually go black. The olives in Spain are mostly green in mid November but by January almost all of them have turned black.

Is olive oil made from the stones or the flesh of the olives?
The oil in olives is concentrated in the flesh not in the stones. After milling, the stones are mostly intact. Stones do not make any distinctive contribution to the flavour of the oil and in some extraction techniques the stones are removed.

What is the difference between virgin and extra virgin olive oil?
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality and most expensive. Extra virgin olive oil must be extracted using only mechanical means without the addition of any solvents and with a temperature of less than 30C.

Extra virgin olive oil must have less than 0.8% free fatty acid because better oils have a low acidity. Each time an olive producer takes a load of olives to the mill, a random sample is taken and this is analysed in a laboratory. The acidity influences the amount that is paid for the olives.

Extra virgin olive oil must have a peroxide value of less than 20. The peroxide level is an indication of how much oxidation has happened, all oils oxidise but excessive oxidation results in rancid flavours.

In order for an oil to qualify as “extra virgin” the oil must also pass an official chemical test in a laboratory and has to be evaluated by a trained tasting panel recognized by the International Olive Council.

What is the basic process of olive oil extraction?
First the olives are ground up into a paste. This was traditionally done with 3 massive heavy conical stones which were dragged around in a circle by a donkey. One of the cooperatives where we take the olives uses a more old-fashioned technique (click here for more info).  Nowadays,  the olives are ground up using electric motors. Traditionally the olive oil paste was then spread out on circular mats which were stacked in a press and pressure applied to squeeze the oil out of the paste. Pressing the olive paste would now be considered an old-fashioned technique and nowadays most oil is extracted in centrifuge-based systems.

Can I use olive oil for frying?
Olive oil is versatile and can be used for roasting, sautéeing, shallow frying, dressing and drizzling. Since it has a high smoking point (210ºC) which is higher than the ideal recommended frying temperature of 180ºC for most foods, it can also be used for deep-fat frying and many chefs recommend it.

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Chickpea courgette mash

Chickpea courgette mash

chickpea and courgette mash

Chickpea and courgette mash

This recipe for chickpea courgette mash is made with the same ingredients as those used in hummus: chickpeas, garlic, tahini and lemon juice as well as the courgettes. Inspiration for it came from the courgette hummus recipe.

The important thing about growing and harvesting courgettes is to pick them when they are small before they get too big. My favourite way of preparing courgettes is to thickly slice the courgettes and then slowly fry them in a splash of olive oil before dressing with salt, black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and a knob of butter.

Courgettes or zucchini are low in calories and contain folate, potassium and Vitamin A. They are extremely flexible and can be prepared and eaten in many different ways (raw, boiled, fried, roast or barbecued). Interestingly enough, there is no difference between a courgette and the larger marrow, it’s simply that courgettes are harvested earlier while marrows are left to grow larger. That said, however, some species taste better as courgettes while others taste better as marrows.

In the summer when courgette production is in full swing, it’s good to find new ways of cooking courgettes. For more recipes for courgettes, check out this recipe book on Amazon: What Will I Do with All Those Courgettes?

INGREDIENTS:
courgettes, cut into 1cm cubes
400g cooked chickpeas
1 tablespoon tahini
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon cumin
olive oil
salt and pepper

METHOD:
To make the chickpea courgette mash, heat some olive oil in a frying pan and add the cubed courgette. Fry gently until they have lost all their liquid and are almost starting to brown.

Add the chickpeas, garlic and cumin and stir well for a minute or so. Stir in the tahini and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Heat through.

Remove half of the mixture to a bowl and blend with a stick blender. Pour back into the frying pan.

The idea is to evaporate some, most or all of the liquid depending on how dry you want it. I like to make it fairly dry so that it browns as you continue frying it.

Peeling hard-boiled eggs

Peeling hard-boiled eggs using ice

peeling hard-boiled eggs using ice

Peeling hard-boiled eggs in ice

 

An eggshell is permeable to air and water. A newly laid egg is covered by a natural coating called the bloom. This prevents loss of moisture from the egg and bacteria getting in. In my opinion, it is better to take advantage of this and not wash the eggs. The eggs are protected naturally and so do not need to be kept in the fridge. You can then wash the eggs just before you use them.

There are two membranes inside the shell: the outer shell membrane which adheres to the eggshell and the inner shell membrane surrounding the egg white and yolk. As time goes by, air enters the egg through the pores and fills the gap between the two membranes and the egg cell expands. It is this gap between the two membranes which affects how easy it is to peel a hard-boiled egg.

I’ve read that in order to peel very fresh eggs, it helps to immerse them in cold water and ice cubes so I thought I would give it a try to see if it helps. For the purpose of the “eggsperiment” I used 15 eggs of varying sizes and laid between 0 and 3 days ago (0 being a couple of hours previously).

The eggs were cooked in boiling water for 10 minutes. Cold water was then run over them and they were they plunged into the iced cold water. I left them for 45 minutes.

I found that eggs laid the same or the previous day were very difficult to peel. Eggs that were two days old were OK. Eggs which were three days old or more were good. I also found that putting the eggs in ice made no difference whatsoever and is not worth doing.

 

Smoked salmon pasta

Smoked salmon pasta

smoked salmon past

Smoked salmon pasta

This pasta dish is made with smoked salmon, spinach and cream cheese. A couple of spoonfuls of the pasta cooking liquid are added to the dish at the end to moisten it slightly. The dish is then served with freshly ground black pepper and grated parmesan cheese.

INGREDIENTS:
100g pasta per person
1/2 or 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
50g spinach per person, finely shredded
50g cream cheese per person
 zest and juice of 1/2 – 2 lemons
1/4 – 1 packet smoked salmon
handful of basil, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil

METHOD:
Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water.

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a large wok. Gently soften the garlic for a few minutes before adding the spinach to wilt. Add the cream cheese and mix well to combine, before adding the lemon zest and juice. Season with black pepper.

Drain the pasta, keeping back some of the cooking liquid.

Add the smoked salmon to the sauce along with the pasta and basil. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of cooking liquid to slacken the pasta slightly.

Serve with grated parmesan cheese.    

Vegetarian meal plan

Vegetarian meal plan

vegetarian meal plan

Vegetarian meal plan

The aim of this vegetarian meal plan is to provide some ideas for tasty vegetarian meals.  We are not normally vegetarian but have recently have been eating more vegetables. As the season progresses and we grow more and more of our own vegetables, it makes sense for vegetables to play a larger role in our meals. The criteria for a recipe to be included in the vegetarian meal plan was that it was tasty and worth cooking again.

The inspiration for this vegetarian meal plan was Hannah – a Canadian girl who came in April. The original challenge was to write a post with a 14-day vegetarian meal plan. The food varied according to what was in season and what was available. As time went by, the meal plan grew and now totals 31 meal ideas. As I discover new recipes they will be added.

vegetarian meal planThe recipe and video for how to make the garlic mayonnaise can be found here.

vegetarian meal planDAY 1: tortilla de patatas, steamed broccoli with soy sauce and sesame oil, guacamole, green salad, garlic mayonnaise.

vegetarian meal planDAY 2: spicy chickpea stew, fried eggs, red cabbage coleslaw, green salad, garlic mayonnaise.

vegetarian meal planDAY 3: vegetable cauliflower and broccoli curry, brown basmati rice, pimientos padrón, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 4: fried eggs, rosti potatoes, steamed broccoli, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 5: pizzas, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 6: moussaka, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 7: falafel, devilled eggs, kale salad, green salad, garlic mayonnaise.

 

vegetarian meal plan

DAY 8: green lentil and kale stew, coleslaw, fried eggs, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 9: huevos rancheros (pinto beans and friend eggs), steamed broccoli, green salad, garlic mayonnaise.

vegetarian meal planDAY 10: spaghetti puttanesca, salad.

DAY 11: curried rice salad, fried eggs, coleslaw, green salad.

vegetarian meal plan

DAY 12: vegetarian tagine with couscous, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 13: mushroom risotto, green salad, red cabbage coleslaw.

vegetarian meal planDAY 14: leek, mushroom and goat’s cheese quiche, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 15: spinach and ricotta pasties, small jacket potatoes, salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 16: Mexican meal: kidney bean stew, tortilla wraps, sour yoghurt, tomato salsa, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 17: curry meal 1: dal, sag aloo, curried aubergines, brown basmati rice.

vegetarian meal planDAY 18: pumpkin risotto, steamed broccoli, green salad.

DAY 19: vegetarian chilli sin carne, brown rice, green salad.

DAY 20: pasta with tuna and tomato sauce, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 21: spinach and ricotta omelette, tomato salad, cucumber and mint raita, salad.

fried polenta cakesDAY 22: fried polenta cakes, braised chard, fried eggs, tomato salad, salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 23: rosti potatoes, sautéed broad beans, fried eggs, salad.

vegetarian meal plan

DAY 24: curry meal 2: chana masala, vegetable samosas, onion bhajis, creamy egg curry, rice.vegetarian meal planDAY 25: leek and cheese quiche, jacket potatoes, sautéed broad beans witth spring onions, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 26: scrambled eggs with garlic sprouts and oyster mushrooms, fried jacket potatoes, tomato salad, green salad.

DAY 27: fennel and lemon risotto, tomato salad, salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 28: vegetable stir-fry, egg-fried rice, salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 29: stuffed cabbage leaves, fennel chickpea salad, tomato salad, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 30: cheese and mushroom omelette, cucumber tomato rice salad, green salad.

vegetarian meal planDAY 31: pumpkin canneloni, green salad

Cucumber tomato rice salad

Cucumber tomato rice salad

cucumber tomato rice salad

Cucumber tomato rice salad

This fresh summer salad is made with brown rice, tomatoes, cucumber and mint and is dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. It can also be made with cous cous.

INGREDIENTS:
brown rice, cooked
1 cucumber, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
juice of one lemon
a handful mint, finely chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil

METHOD:
Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl. Pour over the lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

 

Fennel chickpea salad

Fennel chickpea salad

fennel chickpea salad

Fennel chickpea salad

In the summer when the fennel comes into season, it’s good to have a couple of recipes for different ways of preparing it. This recipe for fennel chickpea salad uses raw fennel which is dressed with lemon and olive oil. The secret is shred the fennel very finely so that it is softened, almost cooked, by the lemon juice.

Fennel has a distinctive slightly sweet taste reminiscent of aniseed. It has a number of  health benefits and is an excellent source of Vitamin C, fibre, folate and potassium.

Fennel is low in calories and has a high amount of fibre, very little fat and no cholesterol.

To prepare the fennel bulb, strip off the outer, tougher leaves. You can use the whole bulb including the delicate fronds which can be chopped and added to a salad or used to makevegetable stock.

There are a number of ways of cooking fennel and you can eat it raw, boiled or roast. To boil the fennel, cut the bulb into quarters or wedges and cook in boiling, salted water for 15-20 minutes. If you prefer, you can roast it in the oven and it will take about 40-50 minutes depending on the size of the pieces.

As well as in salads, fennel can be used in soups, as a vegetable in its own right or in dishes such as fennel risotto.

INGREDIENTS:
fennel bulbs
juice of one lemon
400g cooked chickpeas
salt and pepper
olive oil

METHOD:
Quarter or halve the fennel bulbs, depending on how large they are and shred very finely, either by hand of using a food processor. Transfer to a bowl.

Add the chickpeas and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Just before serving, dress with some olive oil and mix well.

Stuffed cabbage leaves

Stuffed cabbage leaves

stuffed cabbage leaves

Stuffed cabbage leaves

These stuffed cabbage leaves can be cooked either on the hob or in an oven. They are very similar to the Turkish dolmas. Dolma in Turkish means stuffed. Vine leaves are commonly used and rolled into cigar-shaped parcels stuffed with a spicy, rice-based mixture but you can also use cabbage leaves, or even hollow out vegetable like courgettes, tomatoes or aubergines.

I’d been picking the outer cabbage leaves and was going to give them to the chickens when I remembered the recipe I used to make for dolmas with the vine leaves at our old house. The recipe I used is based on the one in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book VEG.

stuffed cabbage leaves

Stuffed cabbage leaves

INGREDIENTS:
2 or 3 green cabbage leaves per person (depending on the size)

RICE STUFFING:
120g brown rice, cooked
1 large onion, finely chopped;
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large egg
a handful of dried fruit (e.g. cherries, sultanas, etc.)
a handful of walnuts, chopped
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
grated zest of one lemon
salt and pepper
olive oil

TOMATO SAUCE:
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g tin tomatoes
360g fried tomato
oregano
salt and pepper
olive oil

METHOD:
If you are going to bake these, then heat the oven to 180ºC.

To prepare the cabbage leaves, pare off the thick stem of the cabbage leaves using vegetable peeler or a knife. Bring some water to the boil in a wide frying pan with a lid. Blanch the cabbage leaves in the water for 3-4 minutes each one, making sure that the stems are thoroughly immersed. Transfer to a colander as they are cooked.

tomato sauce stuffed cabbage leaves

Tomato sauce for the stuffed cabbage leaves

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan or oven-proof dish if you are going to cook them in the oven. Add the onion and fry gently until soft. Add the garlic and fry for another minute before adding the tomato, oregano and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then cover with a lid and leave to simmer until you need it.

stuffed cabbafe leaves

Filling for stuffed cabbage leaves

To make the filling, heat some olive oil in another frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft. Add the garlic and fry for another minute. Put the rice in a bowl and add the onion/garlic and all the other filling ingredients and mix well.

stuffed cabbage leaves

Stuffed cabbage leaves

Lay out the cabbage leaves on a flat surface and put a dollop of the rice mixture on each one. Fold over the sides and roll up, starting with the stem end. Place the parcels in the tomato sauce and cook for about 30 minutes.

stuffed cabbage leaves

Stuffed cabbage leaves

Breaking broody hens

Breaking broody hens

breaking broody hens

Breaking broody hens

For the first time ever, one of the hens has gone broody. She is one of the two remaining hens that I incubated from eggs so she is now just over two years old. She was spending all the time in one of the laying boxes and as the number of eggs laid by the other hens had gone right down, I thought it best to get her out. I checked on Internet and various solutions are offered for breaking broody hens and these include hosing her with cold water or putting a bag of frozen peas in the nest box. Before using the cage, I first tried taking her out of the laying box and putting her outside a couple of days running but she would always go back .

Basically, hens go broody when they think they have a clutch of eggs to incubate and hatch. A broody hen will flatten herself out to cover the eggs and fluff out her feathers. She might also peck at you if you go near her or screech or she can even break eggs that other hens have lain.

Some breeds of chickens are more prone to going broody than others and if you want to hatch your own eggs then this is a distinct advantage. However, as I have the hens for eggs, I want to discourage this if at all possible.

The best way to break a broody hen is to place her in a wire cage. Broodiness is associated with a higher body temperature so it is important that the cage is raised off the floor so that cooler air can circulate around her. A dog crate or rabbit hutch is a good idea. You should supply her with food and water. Three days in the cage should be enough to break the broody cycle.

Broccoli pasta with garlic and chilli

Broccoli pasta with garlic and chilli

broccoli pasta

Broccoli pasta with garlic and chilli

This recipe for broccoli pasta with garlic and chilli is quick and easy and takes literally minutes to make. All you have to do is cook the pasta with the broccoli. You then mix the pasta and broccoli with some softened garlic and chilli powder.

When the broccoli season starts, it’s good to have a few recipes up your sleeves. One of my favourite ways of preparing broccoli is to heat some oil in a frying pan. You then add the broccoli florets and toss well, before adding a splash of water. Cover and turn down the heat and cook for 5-10 minutes so that the broccoli still has a bite to it before dressing with some soy sauce and sesame oil. It’s a simple dish but works well as an accompaniment to most meals. Another recipe is vegetable curry made with broccoli and cauliflower. However, today I was looking for something different and as we had had a spicy meal yesterday, I wanted something tasty but not hot. The idea for the recipe came from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book VEG.

The dish can be made with any type of short pasta (penne, fusilli, etc.) and also with any other green vegetables that you have available (cabbage, kale, etc.).

In the summer when courgettes are in season and in abundance, I’ll make this dish again adding a splash of lemon and using either grated or finely chopped courgettes. This dish was delicious served with some grated hard home-made goat’s cheese.

INGREDIENTS:
pasta
1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
olive oil
salt and pepper

METHOD:
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta for 5 minutes before adding the broccoli. Drain in a colander, reserving some of the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in the pan and add the garlic and chilli powder. Gently fry for a minute or so until soft.

Transfer the pasta and broccoli back to the pan and coat will in the oil, garlic and chilli mixture. Add a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid to loosen the past.