The Costco Report: A recurring, if episodic, column devoted to ferreting out the more promising offerings, as well as to warding off the worst of the hazards.
This Week’s Pick: Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (about $21 for two 2-liter bottles)
Alas, our fair county’s Autumn weather – more than a few scattered showers and increasingly chilly evenings – hasn’t been conducive to margaritas, so I’m still sitting on a healthy stockpile of the agave nectar I secured during my previous tactical assault on the Big C. On the other hand, as despondent as I may be over the faltering flow of tequila into my limeade, I do love the change of seasons and the cooking that comes with it, so that’s what I tried to keep in mind as I struggled to maneuver my Titanic shopping cart across an arctic sea of dubious pre-fab meals and food-sample ice floes. Autumn cooking, at least in my kitchen, means several things – lots of slow braises, smoke detector-hot pizza stones, and richly sauced pastas – but above all it means soups. And soups, at least in my kitchen, always get a garnish.
One of the very easiest ways to add a splash of color and spice to everything from salad to soup is with a flavored oil. Flavored oils – typically a handful of something colorful and tasty and a pinch of salt, blended with oil and then strained – are trivially easy to make, store well, and make your plates look cool. Granted, you run some risk that either Bobby Flay cites you for copyright infringement or the 80s ask for their plates back, but as a rule, flavored oils are a pretty good crutch for the home cook. And they’re almost impossible to screw up.
The possibilities really are limitless, but I generally try to use flavors that go with a wide variety of dishes, that have good color, and that I’ve already got to hand, including staple herbs, such as parsley, basil, and chives, and almost any brightly colored and sharply flavored chili peppers. Simply start with a quarter cup or so of good quality olive oil; add a handful of whichever flavoring ingredient you’re keen on; and blend or run through a food processor until smooth. I will usually, but by no means always, pass the oil through a fine-mesh strainer in order to remove the big particulates.
In terms of the base oil itself, and the subject of this Report, the olive oil in question – labeled “Organic Extra Virgin” under the “Kirkland Signature” house brand – is seriously good stuff. It’s not just cheaper (by a wide margin) than the similar product at Safeway, TJ’s, or – heaven forbid – Whole Paycheck, it’s considerably better: Bright, grassy, slightly peppery, with a nice, round mouth feel, pretty much everything you’d want in an every-day olive oil. If you really want to think about the oil you buy, check out the good review here, as well as the UC Davis study, in which the vast majority of imported olive oils fail to pass accepted quality standards (oils produced in California fared considerably better – chalk one more up for local food sourcing).