9 Spectacular Soups for Spring

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Photo courtesy of Sonja and Alex Overhiser of A Couple Cooks  (recipe featured below)

Too often soups are relegated to the thick, bone-sticking stews of winter, but we challenge you to think outside the bowl. Spring soups have a lighter, daintier body and incorporate the best of what’s newly in bloom – think fresh peas, asparagus, leeks, green garlic, fava beans, and more. Olive oil is the perfect vehicle for the silky and smooth pureed soups common to the season, and a smart way to saute soup vegetables to coax out the most flavor. With shorter cooking times, the result is often a quick, tremendously flavorful, seasonal broth. Spring into soup with some of these ideas to fill your kettle.

Peas? Yes, please!

The switch from heavy split pea soup (made from dried legumes) to a vivid green fresh pea soup speaks volumes about the change in season. Traditionally this pureed soup relies on cream to give it body and flavor – this pea soup with morel mushroom cream is elegant and decadent. But if dairy isn’t your thing, try one creamed with potatoes and topped with fresh chives.

Don’t pass on asparagus

Asparagus has a unique flavor, a statuesque appearance, and it makes for an unforgettable soup. We suggest pairing asparagus with the flavors that make it shine best: lemon and Parmesan. In German cuisine, this indulgent white asparagus soup is a seasonal delicacy. As the temperatures begin to rise, consider a chilled asparagus soup, fortified with spinach for extra color, as a sweet segue into summer.

Still hungry? Leeks, artichokes, and watercress

Potato leek soup is a classic French dish; we recommend Julia Child’s recipe. In truth, the only artichoke soup recipe you’ll ever need is from Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero, CA; it has put them on the culinary map. When you find it, fresh, peppery watercress is outstanding in this soup made with pickled cucumbers.

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Do It Yourself Olive Oil Cooking Spray in 3 Easy Steps

With this super simple DIY Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray, you can save money and ensure your cooking spray is made with quality products. Simply combine 1 part water and two parts extra virgin olive oil in a clean spray bottle, give it a little shake and it’s ready to spray!

It’s just that easy to turn your favorite extra virgin olive oil into your new favorite cooking spray. Many cooking sprays have added ingredients and propellants. With only two ingredients, this DIY cooking spray is not only easy to make but works great. Give it a try and see for yourself!

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Saturated Fats vs. Unsaturated Fats: What’s the Difference and Can You Still Eat Pizza?

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Photo courtesy of California Pizza Kitchen

March is National Nutrition Month so what better time to take stock of the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, and most importantly, how they impact your health?

Let’s start with the basics. According to a report by the Harvard School of Public Health, the myth about the benefits of a fat free diet is exactly that. Furthermore, rather than a blanket elimination of  all fats, you should focus on the type of fat consumed on a daily basis—along with total calorie consumption.

So, how to tell the good from the bad? Well, bad fats, also known as saturated fats, may cause the risk factors for certain diseases such as diabetes to go up. Good fats, or monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are proven to have healthful, positive impacts on the body. That’s great, you may be thinking, but what’s the difference between the two? And must I give up pizza? The good news is, if the pizza is heavy on a plant-based foods and olive oil, then no, you don’t have to abandon you (or your kids’) favorite meal!

Saturated fats are most often found in animal-based foods like meat and dairy products. Whole milk, cream, butter, ice cream, beef, chicken with the skin, these foods all contain large amounts of saturated fat. Baked goods and fried foods can also contain saturated fats, depending on their ingredients. According to the American Diabetes Association, if you have diabetes, it’s essential to cut down on saturated fat consumption as it can lead to elevated cholesterol levels. Remember, saturated fats become solid at room temperature.

While most of the connections between saturated fat consumption and increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease have been debunked, the true key to good health comes with replacing saturated fats with good fats, especially polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are anti-inflammatory, improve cholesterol levels, and stabilize heart rhythms. Foods high in monounsaturated fats include: avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, and olive oil. Foods high in polyunsaturated fats include: sunflower, corn, and soybean oil, walnuts, flax seeds, and fish. Unsaturated fats stay liquid at room temperature.

The Mediterranean diet, which is rich in unsaturated fat, has been shown to reduce heart disease risks by 30 percent. But Americans, at least, still have a ways to go towards reduced saturated fat consumption. At this point, a reasonable goal is 8 to 10 percent of calories from good fats.

Increase your consumption of unsaturated fats, without giving up flavor, bymaking plant-based salad dressings, whipping up dips for bread and crackers from extra virgin olive oil and consuming more fish and nuts.

At the end of the day, make an effort to choose unsaturated fats over saturated fats whenever possible. Your heart—and the rest of your body—will thank you!

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5 Naturally Green Recipes for Your St. Patrick’s Day Menu

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Spring is just around the corner, which means plenty of green vegetables and herbs starting to come into season. This year, infuse your favorite St. Patrick’s Day dishes with fresh greens in lieu of any artificially green recipes. Here’s a few of our favorites:

Olive Oil Roasted Potatoes with Herbs

Roasted potatoes covered in fresh green herbs.

Green Harissa

The perfect sauce for adding a dollop of green (and spice!) to any dish.

Grilled Swiss Chard Reuben

While not entirely green, this twist on the classic Reuben sandwich incorporates rich green swiss chard.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint Pesto and Wilted Pea Shoots

Lamb chops drizzled with a bright green mint pesto and topped with more green.

Brussel Leaf and Baby Spinach Sauté

Instead of traditional cabbage, opt for these Brussels sprouts paired with spinach and sprinkled with almonds.

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California Pizza Kitchen’s Chef Brian Sullivan Deems California Olive Ranch “Simply the Best!”

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Chef Brian Sullivan is a pioneer. Since joining the California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) team in 1998, he has helped bring his philosophy of quality, seasonal ingredients and unique preparation to the restaurant chain. Brian is committed to embracing traditional culinary techniques with an effort to always looking to expand and be creative, and he has been able to create unique dishes for CPK that you simply can’t find anywhere else: bold in flavor, global in essence and unique to CPK.  He focuses on “craveable” flavors, and it works. After starting with the first location in Topanga, California, Brian has helped the company grow to their now 278 locations around the world, with 2000 locations slated to open internationally in the future.

Sourcing quality ingredients is key to the philosophy that Chef Brian brings to CPK. Brian works with his team of procurement specialists, and they work to find the best ingredients available. Chef Brian is using California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oils extensively on his menu. He uses California Olive Ranch because, as he put it, “it’s simply because it’s the best olive oil out there. I’m not just saying that, I believe it. It’s the best olive oil I have tasted and we use the Arbequina extra virgin olive oil for finishing and tableside bread service. It’s velvety, fruity, and delicious.” As such, California Olive Ranch has become an integral part of their menus worldwide.

CPK is currently embarking on a Next Chapter menu, going back to their roots and rediscovering all that made CPK unique, including the idea that California is more than a place; it is a state of mind. CPK is remodeling the menus and spaces of close to 60 CPK locations throughout the U.S. to convey the heart of California. These Next Chapter locations will to create an atmosphere that welcomes guests to sit back and relax, and enjoy a new heightened menu, including one of Brian’s favorites: “Shaved mushroom + spinach flatbread with Cremini mushrooms, sautéed spinach, and California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oil with Romano and Parmesan”(displayed above). In addition to communal fire tables and lounge areas, the new pizza counters at these locations will give patrons a front row seat to watch and see their pizza is being made, including a drizzle of California Olive Ranch as a special finish.

We are proud to be a part of this Next Chapter for California Pizza Kitchen.

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Our Latest Harvest EVOOs

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January is one of our favorite months at California Olive Ranch.  We finally get to taste the newly harvested extra virgin olive oil. After we harvest our olives in October and November the olive oil “racks” (lets the sediment sink to the bottom of our tanks so the oil is clear and generally gives the oil a longer life) for a couple of months.  Once we near the end of racking process, our team tastes the oils to determine what blend of our extra virgin olive oils goes into each of our offerings you find on store shelves.

We grow three olive varieties, Arbequina, Arbosana and Koroneiki.  Each of these varietals have different flavor profiles.  The timing of when they are harvested and where they are grown also impacts the flavor of the olive oils they create.  There are literally millions of variations that you can come up with to create these oils.

In each olive oil, we strive for balanced flavor profile that represents the blend.  For our everyday extra virgin olive oil we strive for an olive oil that is versatile – tasty enough for dipping, but mild enough so that it does not overwhelm your food.  This year it contains a majority of later harvest Arbequina and a hint of Arbosana.  Later harvest Arbequina is a mild and fruity olive oil.  Arbosana lends a wonderfully nutty and floral aroma to the oil.  We hope that when you open the bottle the first thing you notice is the wonderful fragrance.

We go through the same process for every blend.  For Rich & Robust, for example, we combine earlier harvest Arbequina which is fruitier and has a stronger flavor intensity with Koroneiki, our most pungent oil, to create a peppery, rich, strongly flavored oil.  For Arbequina we use a blend of early and mid-harvest Arbequina for a nice fruity oil with a little more pungency than EDF.  Our Arbosana is a very special oil; this year it is a complex oil with lots of nuttiness and floral overtones. And so on for each of our products. If we had to choose favorites this year for finishing oils, we’d pick Miller’s Blend or Arbosana.

We hope you will get and out and try one or more of our 2014 harvest extra virgin olive oils.  They should hit shelves relatively soon.

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Wine and Extra Virgin Olive Oil – What Do They Have In Common?

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We know many of you are wine lovers (so are we) and that you have a good understanding of wine. So we thought a little compare and contrast between wine and extra virgin olive oil would be a great tool for better understanding extra virgin olive oil.

1) WINE AND EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL ARE BOTH FRUIT JUICES.
TRUE:  Just as wine starts out as freshly pressed grape juice, extra virgin olive oil comes from freshly pressing olives – essentially a fresh fruit juice.  Pinot noir grapes make a different wine than cabernet grapes; likewise the flavor profile of extra virgin olive oils are partially determined by the variety of olive – arbequina and arbosana, for example, have different flavor notes.

2) LIKE A FINE WINE, YOU SHOULD AGE YOUR EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL.
FALSE: Olive oil should not be aged.  Olives are harvested and pressed once a year from September-December. Extra virgin olive oil from the most recent years’ harvest is more likely to retain its polyphenol properties (antioxidants), which studies have shown to contribute health benefits.

3) HEAT, LIGHT AND AIR ARE ENEMIES OF BOTH WINE AND EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL.
TRUE: Exposure to the elements above for an extended period of time destroys the properties of both olive oil and wine.  This is why both olive oil and wine are often sold in dark glass and suggested to store in a cool dark place.

These are just a few ways wine and extra virgin olive oil are similar, yet it’s important to note that there are some key differences.

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A Valentine’s Day Treat – Chocolate Arbequina Truffles

When it comes to Valentine’s Day, many of us immediately associate it with big heart-shaped boxes of assorted chocolates. Rich, decadent assortment of milk and dark chocolates filled with caramel, nougat, fruit, nuts; you name it! But, have you ever tried an olive oil chocolate?

Fruity, floral, bitter and spicy are flavors often attributed to high-quality extra virgin olive oil as well as chocolate. So, naturally they work really well together. In fact, when you use a naturally fruity olive oil such as Arbequina, the olive oil enhances the fruitiness of the dark chocolate.

If you want to really wow your Valentine this year, try your hand at making homemade truffles. With 5 simple ingredients, truffles come together quickly and easily. You can find the full recipe for Alice Medrich’s Chocolate Arbequina Truffles, featured in the video below, on our website.

For more inspiration on how to combine the flavors of chocolate and olive oil, visit our Olive Oil + Chocolate Pinterest board.

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Heart Health & Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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February is Heart Month so we wanted to shine light on some of the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil as it relates to cardiovascular health. Did you know that heart disease remains the number one cause of death in America? And do you what plays the most critical role in the heart disease epidemic? Our diets. That’s right, the biggest factor in heart health is the food we consume every single day; we’re not talking about those fad diets we partake in from time to time.

When it comes to improving cardiovascular health, many of us have good intentions of getting healthier. “More than half of Americans have tried a diet in the past year to potentially improve the overall health of their heart”, according to a new survey conducted by Cleveland Clinic. Scientists have conducted extensive research that proves the Mediterranean diet is the single diet to improve cardiovascular risk factors.

So why aren’t we all eating according to the Mediterranean diet guidelines? Sadly, the answer is simple, unhealthy diet choices are abundant. Americans are inundated with confusing messages about what is healthy versus unhealthy and convenience foods are more affordable and accessible than ever before. “We told people for years that fat is bad, and it stuck,” Dr. Nissen says. “At some point, everyone gets confused.” The survey conducted at Cleveland Clinic aimed to explore “what Americans know” about eating healthy, in particular, for your heart and waistline. An impressive 28% of respondents still viewed a low-fat diet as the best option for improving heart health. Yet the Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish, poultry, and most importantly, extra virgin olive oil, was seen by only 17% of the respondents as the best option for heart health. It appears the decade’s worth of messaging to consumers regarding the “downside of fat” is actually prohibiting the “healthy fats” messaging from resonating with most.

The PREDIMED study found that for people at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil reduced the occurrence of major cardiovascular events by 30%. During the study, the group was asked to cook with 1 liter of olive oil per week. That’s a lot of fat! When it comes to fat, it’s deciphering healthy fats from the unhealthy ones that’s key. Extra virgin olive oil, a staple in the Mediterranean diet is high in monounsaturated fat, a healthy fat. Monounsaturated fats have shown to reduce cholesterol levels in your blood, a key in lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke. So, spread the good word with your loved ones this February and share some extra virgin olive oil!

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5 Savory Breakfasts to Switch up Your Morning Routine

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Photograph from The Year in Food by Kimberley Hasselbrink

Do you often skip breakfast, pegging it as the least important meal of the day? Or, find yourself gravitation to the same old thing, day in and day out? Time to switch up your routine! Breakfast has many benefits from fueling your mind and body for the day, regulating your blood sugar so that you can concentrate, jump starting your metabolism to keep your weight in check and it’s a delicious way to start your day. We’ve rounded up five savory breakfast options for you that are healthy, filling and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Herbed Sweet Potato & Quinoa Muffins from The Year in Food – A hearty grab and go option for breakfast. Packed with protein filled quinoa and almonds, fresh herbs and nourishing sweet potatoes, these little muffins will keep you satisfied all morning.

Greens and Grains Egg Scramble from A Sweet Spoonful – This dish features vibrant greens (kale, swiss chard or spinach), paired with rich whole grains (faro, barley, or wheat berries) and eggs, topped with chives and green onions.

Coconut Quinoa Bowl from 101 Cookbooks – An excellent use of leftover quinoa! Toasted almonds and coconut paired with crushed garlic, kale, and lemon juice bring a unique combination to this dish. Top off the bowl with avocado and spoonful of salted yogurt.

Shakshuka from Green Kitchen Stories – Some of you have may be familiar with Shakshuka, but if you aren’t, it entails eggs being slowly cooked in a cumin flavored tomato sauce. This version includes dark leafy greens and fresh basil.

Arugula and Cremini Quiche with Gluten Free Almond Meal Crust from Cookie and Kate – Perfect for hosting a weekend brunch or a make ahead breakfast you can grab and go all week. A rich goat cheese and mushroom quiche prepared in a unique almond and herb crust that is sure the delight.

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