Tag Archives: Davis Estates

How to pick olive oil – read the labels!

olive oil fran berger

Want a great olive oil? Here are 6 tips for reading labels and looking for signs.

I went to dinner at one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Beverly Hills with a group of friends. My history buff friend was there. I told you that he’s never without some interesting anecdote or interesting factoid. He calls it an occupational hazard of being a university professor.

Well, this time we were commenting on the olive oil that the chef used; a stand-out flavor that made my Braciole di Manzo (beef rolls with prosciutto and tomato sauce) scream out amo l’italiano! (I love Italian!) In a break in the conversation, our history buff told us that the reason we use olive branches as a sign of peace is that it takes several years to grow an olive tree mature enough to produce olives. During war, ancient armies went straight to the olive tree groves and burned them down.

It takes years to produce a good crop and decades to form a legacy of taste. That’s why good chefs do not fiddle with cheap olive oil. It just doesn’t happen.

I love olive oil. It’s great to cook with – sautés, sauces, salads, even just for dipping great bread – not just for Italian food, but for almost any dish you can imagine where you want to add that wonderful and timeless flavor. And like many of my friends who are chefs, I am a little picky when it comes to selecting my bottle of olive oil.

There are big differences in brands, and it’s actually easy to tell which ones are better – if you know what to look for! And just like wine, you just need to know how to read the label:

  1. ‘Extra Virgin’ is the highest quality given to olive oil – it means it’s unrefined, free of chemicals and other ‘defects’ like rancidity and never treated with heat. There’s still quality variations within ‘extra virgin’ but it’s the best way for an overall guarantee of purity.
  2. My recommendation, if true flavor is what you want, then stay away from any bottles of olive oil that say “light.” Oil is always 100% fat – it can NEVER be “light.” What the label really means is that the oil has been distilled and treated in such a way that strips away the true odor and color of olive oil. If all you need for your recipe is a common cooking oil, then buy an inexpensive neutral oil like peanut or grapeseed.
  3. If the bottle is inexpensive and still labeled ‘Product of Italy’ then there’s a pretty good chance that the olives weren’t grown or pressed in Italy. The label may mean that’s where the product was placed in the bottle – which is a whole other thing, right? They can still claim it’s a ‘product of Italy’ if it was only bottled there.  So, the oil could come from just about anywhere. Look carefully on the back of the label for “IT” (Italy) or “GR” (Greece) or “SP” (Spain) as the source of the olives.  If you can, buy one that comes from one farm or collective but at the very least from one country.
  4. Not all great olive oil comes from Italy. Some of it comes from California. One hint: if the oil comes from somewhere that also produces good wine, then there’s a good possibility they have great olive oil too!
  5. Let’s end an old fable right now: just because the olive oil is darker and greener doesn’t mean it’s a higher quality oil. Some very high quality olive oil is light yellow. So, color doesn’t really matter. Like wine, good olive oil has a great aroma and taste. It all depends on what you like personally.
  6. One thing that is not a fable: good olive oil never come in a clear plastic or clear glass bottle. Ever. The ‘good stuff’ usually comes in an opaque or dark glass, or metal. The reason is that good olive oil goes bad fairly quickly. Exposure to light and heat speeds up that process.

One last point, good olive oil doesn’t HAVE to be used with Italian food. Find a flavor you like for the dish you want to prepare – could be continental, Americano, or even Asian – and love it!

 

Healthier drinks for the holidays?

healthy choices for drinks

Two KEYS for healthier choices from your holiday libations.

I’ve been a home entertainer all my adult life. My friends have always thought of me as an expert at entertaining guests and throwing good parties – just ask any of them about my annual New Year’s Eve parties (when they reached over 100 guests I moved them to a restaurant!). It’s why I loved owning my restaurants for 20-plus years. Entertaining is in my DNA.

That’s why many people turn to me with their questions about how to set their home for a really elegant party. They want to know my “secrets,” like what to serve at a party: food, snacks, and drink. And pretty frequently, I get asked about “healthier” choices for alcoholic drinks at a party (whether you’re hosting or not). I have two keys that I think about, whether I’m a guest at a party or hosting my own.

The first KEY is to look at what and how you drink. It’s all about picking the kinds of drink you want and planning around your health goals, which naturally brings us to calories and carbohydrates.

Straight liquor is ‘healthiest’ if served “neat” (alone and meant to be sipped) or “on the rocks” over a little ice.  Clearer types of alcohol can be a bit easier on your body but oddly, the calorie count is very similar no matter if you drink vodka, tequila or bourbon.  Lucky for me they’re all about the same, for instance, one serving (typically about 1.5 ounces – a shot) contains about 97 calories and NO carbohydrates.

Depending on my mood and what I’m serving, I may reach for Chopin Vodka (I like potato) or Ciroc Vodka (made from grapes!). If it’s “taco night” with my girlfriends, I may look to Don Julio 1942 Tequila or Herradura Tequila (I like their Reposado; very smooth). But if I’m in the mood for a whiskey, it’ll be Maker’s Mark.  All no carbs and under 100 calories!   That’s the easy way.

The whole point is to drink as close to neat or on the rocks as possible, and sip and enjoy.  If you add mixers – even just ginger ale or juice – you’re adding not just a bunch of calories but also carbs and, depending on what you mix with it, it could be a significant addition.

If you prefer wine, a five ounce pour (a typical wine glass) will give you about 100-150 calories and about 5 grams of carbs. But maybe you’ve heard that red wine has some proven health benefits. It’s true. Various health studies have shown the healthy properties of antioxidants like flavonoids and resveratrol that are naturally found in reds (my favorites – the Cabernet Franc from Long Meadow Ranch or Zephyr from Davis Estates). Studies have shown that these antioxidants help lower the bad cholesterol and boost the good one.

However, if beer is your adult beverage of choice – you need to know that beer is NOT your friend. One bottle of your favorite IPA may have more than 130 calories and as many as 24 grams of carbs!  I guess you could go with a light beer, but you’re still consuming about 110 calories with a minimum of 5 grams of carbs. Plus, people tend to drink more than one bottle of light beer because they think “Oh, it’s only light so I can have another” so in the end you’ll consume way more calories and carbs than you planned.

The second KEY is pretty simple and it involves not only what you drink with your adult beverage of choice but also what else you put in your stomach during the evening.

Try to drink a glass of water between every alcoholic drink: one for one. It’s a good rule to keep. This can help you gauge how much you’ve had, if you’ve had “enough” and when you should stop!

This key also means never ever drink on an empty stomach. Drinking on an empty stomach will not only will enable you to get drunk faster and you’ll also drink more than you normally would as the night goes on.  Eat something before you go out or snack on something while you’re drinking, but not salty fried things – they will only make you want to drink more. Think about it – bar snacks are ALWAYS salty and fried – the bar will sell you more alcohol!  Stick to nuts, cheese, veggies, or even eat dinner before you go.

Having said all of that, moderation in all things is always the best way to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. And, personally, I think it’s more fun that way because then I can have “some” of everything I want.  So, enjoy those holiday parties – just be aware!

How to Prevent a Holiday Party Nightmare

Candle Holders from Pottery Barn

Five things you can do RIGHT NOW to prepare for any holiday gathering – for the rest of the year!

The whole group was coming to my party. I was so happy that I found myself literally grinning from ear to ear every time the doorbell rang. People were in such a great mood and everyone was engaged in conversation. The atmosphere in the room was lively, people were laughing, it couldn’t have been better. But then, to my horror, I realized that I wasn’t ready. Worse than that – nothing was ready!

I had no drinks to serve.

My dining room was a mess.

None of the food was ready.

I was in a complete panic. Then I suddenly realized something else that stopped me cold in my tracks. I was still in my swimsuit and I reeked of sun tan lotion! And, even worse than that, I had an inflatable swim ring around my waist? Whaaaaaat? Seriously? I don’t even sit out in the sun much less use suntan lotion or an inflatable swim ring!

That’s when I woke up and sat bolt upright in bed.  It was all a horribly bad dream. I laughed. Of course. If you’ve ever wondered what a nightmare looks like to a home entertainment expert, this would be it. I’d been so busy this summer. I’d been up north, back east and in between. With that kind of schedule, who has time to think about the holidays?

But now, I am. In fact, part of this blog was written right after that silly dream – well, let’s call it what it was – a nightmare, okay? Now, this is my warning to all my fellow home entertainers – the time to prepare is NOW.  The holidays are literally, right around the corner. As a friend of mine is fond of saying: The trick to preparation is getting prepared now.

There are FIVE simple things you can do – today – to get your home prepared for the holidays.

ONE: Start with easy-to-do accent changes: change out the couch throws for heavy knit ones and add a few accent pillows that say, “here come the holidays” like this pillow and this one from Crate and Barrel. You don’t have to start with the ‘jingle bells’ thing just yet, but nice warm colors will help set the mood just right.

TWO: Think about the “welcome beverage” you will be serving at your parties.  Bring everything into the seasonal spirit with sparkling wines; Gruet and Schramsberg are always favorites in my home! And don’t forget the pomegranate seeds. Then stock up on beautiful reds, like these bottles from Long Meadow Ranch or Davis Estates. Speaking of bottles, don’t forget to put your favorite vodka (Chopin anyone?) in the freezer.

THREE: Remember your candles. My summer setting is always ‘white and bright.’ It’s time now to change up to softer colors to match the couch throws and pillows. Keep those simple candles (for fall white or ivory) but change out the holders to pewter, silver or soft gold.  The softer color of metals create a softer light – like these from World Market or Pottery Barn.

FOUR: If you have a mantel or fireplace, change décor but keep it light and simple. If you have centerpieces or runners for your coffee table and dining table – it’s time for a change. Think “autumn leaves.” Like this basket setting from Pottery Barn.

FIVE: Maybe this is on the top of everyone’s mind, but the music list is always good to figure out long before the guests arrive. Time to put away Elvis and bring back Frank. Well, maybe it’s the opposite for some folks, but you get the idea.

Want to go the distance? I even change out some of my framed pictures – ones of my family and friends on easel backs and some on the walls. Store away the pictures of beach parties and put up the ones of camping trips in autumn and ski trips to the alps. You’d be surprised how this simple switch will change the “feel” in your home.

The point of this exercise – don’t wait until the week or days before the first holiday party. Start now and set the canvas. You can add the finishing touches later. Besides, you’ll have plenty of other things to worry about before your guests arrive. Everything you do now will look like you really took time to plan things out. Taking these steps now will also help you enjoy your party that much more and you won’t be waking up from a nightmare like I did!

Have fun!