Serendipity: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
In that nebulous space — definitely not business class and not entirely economy, but rather the curious area where one pays $150 to have six inches more leg room (that’s $25 per inch with the same revolting food on offer as in regular economy) — on my flight from Paris to Chicago last weekend, I had a serendipitous encounter with Dr. Sandra Schuenemann.
Sandy was in academia, now she’s in olive oil. (She’s another remarkable woman who has reinvented herself, but that’s another story for another time.)
As I recall, our conversation began when I asked her what she had done while in Paris and if she enjoyed her visit. She said she had a marvelous time and that the high point of her trip was the cooking lessons she took at Le Foodist.
Since we were on the subject of fabulous food, I recounted my mushroom preparation lesson at Baumanière, enhanced by video on my phone and then she showed me her cooking school pictures on her phone. . .well you get the idea. When I told her about my Provence side trip to the olive orchards and the pressing of the olives into oil, that’s when our back-and-forth got really interesting in one of those marvellous small world coincidences. Sandy is an olive oil expert and is absolutely obsessed with the variety, versatility and health benefits of the golden liquid.
She owns Oh, Olive! The Olive Oil Store, which sells more than olive oil, but you’ll see her story and the two store locations when you click on the link. Not surprisingly, she teaches cooking classes and invites guest chefs to demonstrate their culinary techniques.
“I am currently getting out our schedule for our cooking classes,” she told me. “We have some local chefs that will do some, as well as my partner and me. We are teaching our clients that there is so much more to olive oil than just its use on salads. We focus on the many health benefits of consuming fresh olive oil, as well as its amazing powers to ward off diseases like Alzheimers, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
“We price our classes so that most people can afford to come for the learning experience, and leave with the knowledge of how to select a good olive oil, as well as to know how to use olive oil in cooking. I have written a cookbook that uses olive oil in every recipe,” she said.
In our latest email exchange she included one of her favorite recipes, which I thought you might like to try.
Cranberry-Orange Olive Oil Cake
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice (about 4-5 large navel oranges)
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
5 large eggs
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon Blood Orange Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup confectioners sugar
Position a rack in the middle of the oven, remove any racks above, and crank up the heat to 350°F (175°C). Coat a 12-cup bundt or tube pan with 1 tablespoon blood orange extra virgin olive oil and set aside. Finely grate the zest of 2 oranges, then squeeze 4 of them. You should have 1 1/2 cups and 1 reserved tablespoon of orange juice of juice; if not, squeeze the 5th orange. Set aside.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand held mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs on medium-high speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Slowly pour in the granulated sugar and continue beating until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes.
On low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and blood orange extra virgin olive oil, starting and ending with the flour, and beat until just a few wisps of flour remain. Pour in the orange juice, zest and dried cranberries and whirl for a few seconds to bring the batter together. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 1 1/4 hours.
If the top is browning too much as the cake bakes, cover lightly with foil. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes and then turn the cake out on to a rack over a sheet pan. Mix together 1 tablespoon reserved orange juice with confectioners sugar to form a glaze. Pour slowly and evenly over the warm cake. Serve at room temperature.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 75 minutes
Makes: 10 serving(s)
Et voilà, a deliciously delightful encounter in a most unexpected location.