together in my kitchen: cooking with olive oil

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The idea behind the CookUp Club is simple, it’s an opportunity for passionate cooks to come together and cook together. Several years back I became friends with a dear group of diverse women. We quickly discovered in conversation we were all passionate about food and cooking, so I invited them into my kitchen to spend an evening preparing and sharing a meal together. Cooking with friends proved to be nourishing for the soul, and it was a great way to rejuvenate. That evening launched what would be many more evenings together. We went on to meet on a nearly monthly basis, our rendezvous resembled something similar to the Food Network’s television show Chopped where chefs pull random ingredients out of a basket and then cook up a dish. Here too each member of our soiree would bring a bag of ingredients, or even a vegetable box from a farm, and we’d whip up dishes on a whim. Sometime we even had a menu in mind. Craving camaraderie in the kitchen, a new year brings new faces and an electric group (of both men and women) to cook with.

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Our first CookUp launched with much enthusiasm. The theme ingredient for the evening – olive oil – to be highlighted in sweet and savory dishes. The kitchen didn’t disappoint delivering simple to complex plates that were tantalizing. It was organized chaos for about an hour as we chopped, puréed, grilled, sautéed, boiled, broiled and baked. All of the ingredients and dishes came together beautifully, and eventually we set the table and sat down for a bite. Join us, you’re invited to taste what was on our table.

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The Menu: Theme Olive Oil
Olive Oil Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia Bread
Roasted Tomato and Balsamic Soup
Anchovy Tapenade and Garlic Bruschetta
Tossed Greens and Herbs with a French Vinaigrette
Grilled Eggplant served with Fresh Herbs and Labneh Yogurt
Penne Pasta with Broccoli Pesto
Olive Oil Cake

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The Recipes

Roasted Tomato and Balsamic Soup
12 quartered tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
8-9 small garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup of balsamic vinegar
5-6 fresh basil leaves
4 cups chicken stock or water
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
olive oil

Roast the tomatoes, lightly coated with olive oil and the balsamic vinegar, in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. In a pan on the stovetop, sautée the onion in olive oil until caramelized along with the minced garlic. Place the onions, garlic, and roasted tomatoes (including the juices from the tomatoes) in a blender, along with the fresh basil and purée until smooth. Pour the mixture into a pot, along with the chicken stock, and heat on medium-heat on the stove. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Anchovy Tapenade
25 pitted kalamata olives
2-3 anchovies (rinsed in water for reduced saltiness)
juice from half a lemon
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 fresh basil leaves
4-5 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves removed

In a food processor, blend the olives, anchovies, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and herbs. Taste, and adjust with additional lemon and olive oil.

Garlic Bruschetta
Slice fresh baguette and brush each slice with olive oil. Spread a 1/4 teaspoon of minced or finely chopped garlic on each piece. Lay flat in a pan and place in a 350 degree oven to toast for roughly 4-5 minutes (or until lightly brown) before serving. Optional, add a bruschetta to each bowl of soup with a spoonful of the anchovy tapenade before serving.

The balsamic vinegar was an interesting and unique addition to an otherwise traditional roasted tomato soup. It added a bit of bright tang to the bowl. The anchovy tapenade mixed in added a wonderful bite of saltiness to the soup. The bruschetta on top was wonderful and added a little bit of a crisp bite before soaking inside.

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For the salad, mixed greens along with sliced shallots and fresh herbs were tossed with a simple but flavorful vinaigrette, a French salad dressing. Easy to prepare, our francophone cooking instructor shared that in French homes (in years past) a fresh vinaigrette would be made each night for dinner.

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Vinaigrette
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon vinegar (balsamic, plum, or use lemon juice)
3 tablespoons olive oil (other oil can be used as well)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the first two ingredients and mix well in a bowl. Stirring continuously, slowly pour in the olive oil until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Add to a salad, toss and voila!

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Grilled eggplants topped with thick labneh yogurt was a welcome addition to the menu. The eggplants can be roasted in a 400 degree oven until slightly browned if it’s off season for grilling. They also can be prepared on a stovetop grill as an option. The refreshing, tangy and extra creamy labneh yogurt is popular throughout the Middle East and can be found in specialty markets. It’s even thicker than Greek yogurt, and is often used as a side accompaniment for savory dishes.

Grilled Eggplant Topped with Labneh Yogurt
2 medium eggplants
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup labneh yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

Heat the grill to medium-high. Slice the eggplants into rounds and brush both sides of the eggplant with olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Grill until tender. Place each grilled slice on a plate, add a hint of fresh lemon juice to each. Top each with a dollop of the labneh yogurt and garnish with parsley.

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A light, healthy and delicious pesto made of broccoli, we found this pasta to be incredibly satisfying.

Broccoli Pesto
1 head of broccoli crowns
2-3 garlic cloves, lightly toasted in an oven for several minutes
1 cup walnuts (or pine nuts)
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Steam the broccoli crowns just until tender and allow to cool. Pulse the garlic in a food processor. Add the nuts, broccoli, salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese (optional) and lemon juice. Blend, and add a tablespoon of water if the mixture appears too thick when mixing. Transfer the ingredients to a bowl and slowly whisk in the olive oil. Use a ladle or two of pasta water to thin out the pesto before adding the pasta. Additional toasted walnuts can be added to the pasta before serving for added crunch. Serve hot with shaved Parmesan on top. Goat cheese and sausage also make tasty additions to the dish.

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It was difficult to resist eating the entire focaccia bread before dinner. Topped with sea salt and rosemary, soft and scrumptious, the taste of olive oil was welcome in the bread. Here’s a focaccia recipe to try: Focaccia Bread with Rosemary. Despite being so full, we all practically devoured dessert. The smell of the baking cake in the oven whet our appetite which was another reason we couldn’t resist a bite. Undoubtedly, this Olive Oil Cake is a pleasingly sweet way to end a meal.

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The evening’s theme ingredient shined in every dish. Though we all took care to use high quality extra virgin olive oils, Sigonas Fresh Press Olive Oil made a lasting impression and we were happy to be acquainted. “Lush, buttery with a slightly delayed, mild peppery sensation on the back end… with a glimpse of dry grass with aromas of ripe olive” is how Sigonas describes their fresh pressed oil. A good resource, be sure to read tips on how to purchase and store olive oil.

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Wine was on the menu as well, and we toasted the evening with Nivole Moscato d’ Asti. This incredibly light and delightful moscato is effervescent and bursting with fruit on the nose. Served chilled, I enjoy this as a mouthwatering aperitif before dinner, or as a delicious dessert at the end of a meal, the taste will fill your palate with sweet ripe stone fruits and honeysuckle blossoms. Between the food and sips of wine, our taste buds celebrated. And with new friends in the kitchen, there was a lot to celebrate.

We hope the menu and recipes find their way into your kitchen. Bon appétit, buon appetito and b’tayavon!

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15 Responses to together in my kitchen: cooking with olive oil

  1. Tricia March 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    This looks so wonderful! I was sorry to miss it – can’t wait for the next installment! :-)

  2. yumivore March 14, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    A delicious evening, looking forward to more cooking together!

  3. Beth (OMG! Yummy) March 14, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Great post Orly and looks like it was a great nite – can’t wait for round 2!

    • yumivore March 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

      Not easy to capture all of those recipes! But I’m now craving all of that all over again. Glad I got it captured and can look back. Now looking forward to a “boozy” evening!

  4. Heidi Roberts March 15, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    Looks like a fantastic evening – where are you based? Room for one more?

  5. Deb March 15, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    Wish I lived closer and could beg an invitation! A great time with friends is the best time to enjoy a feast!

    • yumivore March 15, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

      No need to beg Deb, I’d be so happy if you were closer! I truly would love to sit down and enjoy a bite together. I hope everyone who participated had as much fun as I did, it was lovely to cook with friends.

  6. Lori March 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    I’m so glad you’ll be sharing the recipes from the cooking group. Everything looks delicious!

    • yumivore March 15, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

      Wish we were closer so you could join!

  7. Carol Sacks March 18, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    Great idea and what a terrific post! So many marvelous recipes!

    • yumivore March 18, 2013 at 11:20 am #

      Thanks Carol! Cooking together is a lot of fun, wish you were in my neck of the woods to join.

  8. Hannah April 10, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    Hi Orly, I’m enjoying catching up on reading tonight and I love this cooking party you hosted!! How I wish I was close enough to join in. What a terrific theme with olive oil, too. All of the recipes sound scrumptious and it looks like a fabulous time was had by all. I look forward to seeing more of your cooking gatherings!

    • yumivore April 10, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

      Hannah, I SO wish you were here! It would be awesome to have you join our CookUps, and just have you here in general. The cook-together evenings are so fun and I hope the group keeps it going for a while. I have notes from our March evening, details coming soon!

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