Thursday, May 05, 2011

New Feature: Department of Home Economics

Meet my grandmother, Mary Agnes, circa 1950.

My grandmother was Mary Agnes -- or, more properly, Maria Inez in Portuguese. She usually went by Agnes, as the family already had a Mary in the brood by the time my grandmother came along (they were very Catholic). Doctors, clergy, and the like tended to call her Mary. I honestly don't know if she preferred it or it was due to a level of formality. In any case, I am calling her by both names here because I like double names, and also, because I am the last of a long line of women named Maria, Mary, and Marie.

It is from Mary Agnes -- and my mother, Marie -- that I learned most of what I know about home economics. And since times are tough and we are all looking for ways to live better with less, I've decided to share what I know. I'm hoping that my mom will chime in with a guest blog or two, as well as a certain friend of mine who shall remain nameless at this point, but who can make furniture she picks up in the street on trash day look like a million bucks. I plan to pass along tips, recipes, ideas, book recommendations, and that kind of thing.

I'm using the picture of Mary Agnes as my icon, because what I am thinking of is, for the most part, old-fashioned common sense and know-how. Also, I love a pretty apron. For those of you who are not interested in this feature, when you see my grandmother on your blogroll, you know to move on to something you find more interesting.

For those of you who are still with me, let's begin.

Herbal Olive Oil

I know I can't be the only one this happens to: you buy a certain herb for a certain dish and you use about a tenth of it and then spend the next week looking for ways to use it up until it sadly wilts and dies in your refrigerator. Here's an easy-peasy option to use up what's left. The amounts are purposely vague because it's a "use it up" recipe.


Olive oil: this is where you bring out the good-but-not-great stuff. I like extra virgin oil, but the expensive stuff is meant to be enjoyed as is. By all means, use what you have. This is not about using up, not buying new. And if you prefer the taste of some of the lighter olive oils, go with that.

Leftover herbs: either a single type, or a blend that you enjoy together, such as basil and thyme. Experiment and see what you like best. About a half cup of stems and leaves per two cups of oil works well. Eyeball it. No need to chop, just check them over and remove anything wilted, and then throw the herbs in, stems and all. You can even use just stems if that's all you've got left.

Clean jars or decanters with tops: Bonus points if you're reusing something that would normally go in your recycle bin.


1. Place the oil and herbs in a saucepan, and bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Watch it like a hawk, because it can suddenly go from barely simmering to a full-on boil, and, well, unless you plan to throw the oil over a wall at some attacking Huns, you don't need that. Also, the oil tends to get cloudy if you let it boil. (Cloudiness will not affect taste, but it won't look as pretty or last as well. )

2. Once you see some slight bubbling (usually around the herbs), take the pan off the heat. Slap a lid on it and let it steep for one hour. This is an excellent time to catch up on your blog reading.

3. Strain the oil into jars and cap. I usually strain it into a large pyrex measuring cup first, then pour it into the jars.


You want to use the herbal oil up within about two weeks. Refrigerating it stretches that a little, but has the disadvantage of solidifying the oil, so it needs to warm a bit before you use it. I've discovered that it freezes well, with no loss of flavor.


Use this oil as you would any olive oil in cooking, salad dressings, etc. It's great for dipping bread into (I like to pour a little into a dish, then add some salt and pepper, but that's up to you). I always make more than I can use because I have yet to meet anyone who didn't appreciate getting some as a gift.

*** I had an added recipe for garlic-infused oil here, but my mom brought it to my attention that there is a botulism risk associated with it. I've made it several times before and I'm still here and healthy as a horse, but I don't want to take a chance that anyone might get sick because of botulism in the garlic you use.

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