Infused Oils and Vinegars: Jelly Bellies of the Kitchen?

I was ten in 1976. That was the year Jelly Belly introduced Very Cherry, Lemon, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Root Beer, Licorice and Grape. Blueberry soon followed so President Reagan could serve red, white and blue jelly bellies in the White House. I was always fascinated by their sparkly, perfectly shaped, multi colored beauty and the fact that (when fat free was all the rage) you could actually convince yourself you were making a virtuous choice by eating them.

But, what made me fall head over heels in love with this confection was the Jelly Belly Recipes. The fact that combining flavors could create a taste experience in your mouth that made you feel part creative genius, part mad scientist, part chef and part Willy Wonka was a childhood revelation. Their combinations ranged from the obvious: two bubblegums + two cinnamon = cinnamon gum, to the most creative: one french vanilla + two coconut +buttered popcorn + two toasted marshmallow = tres leches cake!!! OK people, you know the good old folks at Jelly Belly Candy Co hire a bunch of professional stoners to come up with these flavor combos. Why didn’t I work there after grad school instead of Wall Street?

Where am I going with this? I’m actually going to talk about infused oils and vinegars and what a fantastic tool they can be in your kitchen. What are infused oils? An infused oil or vinegar is one that has the addition of herbs, spices, fruits, peppers or fragrant leaves. They are the Jelly Bellies of your kitchen because by having a few different flavors on your kitchen counter you can be your own creator of amazing flavor combinations. You thought I wouldn’t bring it together didn’t you?

Let’s say you’re making my Roasted Mahi Mahi recipe or my Can’t Let Go of Summer  Corn Salad. While both of those recipes are delicious using a high quality extra virgin olive oil, adding a little basil, scallion, and/or lemon infused olive oil just elevates the flavor to a higher level.

Roasting potatoes? Coat them in a mix of EVOO and Chipotle infused oil.
Making a caprese salad? Add some basil olive oil and a dash of lemon vinegar. It will enhance the flavor of the basil; it will just taste more ‘basil-y’
Bored with chicken? Marinate it in garlic infused oil and fig, pomegranate or pineapple vinegar.
If you’re making guacamole or hummus? Add a dash of chipotle olive oil
Sautéing some broccoli? Use scallion olive oil.
Strawberry season? Serve them with a drizzle of chocolate balsamic vinegar.
Bored with your salad? Use a combination of persian lime olive oil and white balsamic.
The possibilities are endless.

There are so many companies that make infused oils and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface partly because I just don’t have that much room in my pantry or on my counter. Here are some of my favorites:

The Filling Station: They are located in the Chelsea Market (my idea of Disneyworld) in NYC. Their honey ginger white balsamic vinegar paired with their toasted sesame oil works beautifully for marinating pork, poultry or tofu. Their selection is vast so take your time and taste as many as you want.
McEvoy Ranch: I have happily received their oils as a gift on numerous occasions. They do not have flavored oils, but their traditional blend is excellent and stands out on its own in a salad, marinade or any raw dish.
Olive Fusion: they are located in Breckenridge and between this store and Pappardelle (see below) I went a little nuts. What a great selection!
Pappardelle: They have a booth at the Vail farmer’s market (which is our summer Sunday tradition) and their oils are fabulous. I’m in love with their California meyer lemon oil. Also, their selection of unusual and creative pastas (green jalapeno fettuccine, basil tangerine pasta, chocolate linguini and so many more) is inspirational and their selection of gluten free pastas is incredible.
Stonehouse Olive Oil: I first bought some at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Their meyer lemon olive oil is first rate. All lemon, no bitterness at all.

Almost all of these oil companies offer recipes on their websites and I have found some gems that are now part of our dinner rotation and will generate quite a few future bog posts.

Buy two vinegars and two oils, play around, have fun and see just how quickly your every day food goes from bland to bold.

And yes, you taste buds will soar. As they should every time.




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