What are essential oils? 

When you smell the unique scent of a rose or smell the scent of cedar in the Central Texas countryside, you are smelling the powerful effect of essential oils. Essential oils are much more than just pleasant scents. They are powerful plant extracts that promote greater wellness.  

Essential oils come from steam distillation or the cold pressing of plant material, separating the essential oils from the water and plant materials. Essential oils can be used in the home as a non-toxic alternative to chemical cleaning products. They can also be used promote the body’s natural health and wellness in several different ways—physical health, beauty regimen, and emotional support. 

How do you use essential oils? 

There are three ways to use essential oils—aromatically, topically, and internally. When essential oils are used aromatically, this involves either direct inhalation by, for example, putting an oil on your hands and smelling it, or by using a diffuser to cold steam the oils into the air. The study of using essential oils aromatically is called aromatherapy and is the most common method of using essential oils. During inhalation, essential oils absorb into the body through the respiratory system. 

Essential oils can also be used topically by rubbing the oil, usually diluted in a carrier oil, on the skin. This way, the oil is absorbed into the skin which transfers the oil into the bloodstream. When oils are used topically on the bottoms of the feet, the feet’s large pores allow for rapid absorption into the body. 

Internal consumption of essential oils is less common, at least as far as most people know. Many processed foods use essential oils in their flavorings—think chewing gum, chocolates, candies, and many more.  The Federal Drug Administration has approved many essential oils for internal consumption, giving these oils the status of “generally regarded as safe.” 

Are there differences in the quality of oils? 

There are many differences in the quality of essential oils available on the market. Essential oils are expensive to produce because of the amount of plant material that is required to get a small quantity of pure oil. To make the end product cheaper, some companies dilute the pure and natural essential oil with lab-created synthetics or alcohol-type adulterants. For this reason, it is important to research the company from which you buy oils.  

Based on our research, we chose Young Living, the oldest essential oil company in America, as the company we trust to provide pure, unadulterated essential oils. Young Living’s founder Gary D. Young started the essential oil movement in America. The company guarantees the purity and quality of their oils both through in-house and third-party testing. 

What are the basics of cooking with essential oils? 

Essential oils can be up to 70% stronger than their fresh and dried herb counterparts since fresh and dried herbs only retain about 5-10% of the essential oils from the original plant. Essential oils are superior in flavor and potency over dried herbs and have a longer shelf life. Never fear, fresh and dried herbs still have a place in cooking because of the nutrients they offer and the differences in taste and texture from essential oils.  

Essential oils are a very concentrated portion of the original plant material, so they should be used in smaller quantities than the whole plant substance.  

It is also a good idea to dilute the essential oils into a carrier oil (like olive oil) or a syrup before adding it to a recipe. This ensures that the essential oil gets mixed into the whole dish.  

Lastly, essential oils are “volatile,” which means that they are fragile and dissipate in high heat. In order to maintain the maximum healthful properties of the essential oils, use them in cold-applications. When using essential oils in hot preparations, add them at the end of the preparation, if possible. Otherwise, you can expect to lose a bit of the properties in the cooking process. Even so, the essential oils will still provide enhanced flavors in the cooking and maintain some of the healthful properties. 

What’s the difference between essential oils and vegetable oils?  

Vegetable oils are fats, pressed from seeds and nuts or the bran of grains. They contain glycerol, which is the greasy residue and slippery surface characteristic of such fatty oils. Essential oils contain no fat and are mostly steam distilled from plant material.  

What’s the difference between essential oils and extracts? 

To make an extract, plant material is soaked in a liquid (such as alcohol) in order to isolate or extract a certain amount of flavor from the plant. Liquid extracts are used as flavoring in cooking, as perfumes, or in medicines. Examples include vanilla extract, where vanilla beans are soaked in alcohol, which is used in baking. 

The process of obtaining essential oils is much more complex, through steam distillation. The liquid that is distilled off is called a plant essence and the very small amount of volatile liquid left behind is the essential oil. It requires a large amount of plant material to obtain a small amount of essential oil, but the essential oil is much more potent than a liquid extract. 

What is the ratio for substituting essential oils for fresh or dried herbs? 

While there is no bright line rule for substituting essential oils for fresh or dried herbs, a good rule of thumb is one drop of essential oil is approximately one teaspoon of fresh or dried herbs. 

What essential oils are approved for internal consumption by the FDA? 

The Federal Drug Administration approves of certain essential oils as generally recognized as safe for internal consumption. The Code of Federal Regulations provides the list of food substances generally recognized as safe for human consumption. [Citation: 21 CFR 182.20.] Young Living has worked with the FDA to develop and package certain essential oils for internal consumption – called their Vitality Line.  

These include: Basil Vitality, Lemongrass Vitality, Oregano Vitality, Rosemary Vitality, Thyme Vitality, Lavender Vitality, Peppermint Vitality, Spearmint Vitality, Laurus Nobilis Vitality, Mountain Savory Vitality, Marjoram Vitality, Sage Vitality, German Chamomile Vitality, Tarragon Vitality, Black Pepper Vitality, Cinnamon Bark Vitality, Clove Vitality, Ginger Vitality, Carrot Seed Vitality, Celery Seed Vitality, Dill Vitality, Cardamom Vitality, Coriander Vitality, Nutmeg Vitality, Fennel Vitality, Bergamot Vitality, Grapefruit Vitality, Jade Lemon Vitality, Lemon Vitality, Lime Vitality, Orange Vitality, and Tangerine Vitality. 

Growing up, this was always one of my favs! It is a great twist on the regular puffed rice treats — sweeter and full of flavor.

1 small package butterscotch chips

½ cup peanut butter

3 cups puffed rice cereal

Melt butterscotch chips and peanut butter on low heat.Add puffed rice cereal and stir well. Pack in 8×8 inch buttered pan. Cool and cut in squares.

I got inspired to create this drink when we owned a coffee shop in Boulder Colorado. That year a certain large coffeehouse ran out of pumpkin spice syrup. My manager David, who was one of my former culinary students, said to me, “Dude we so got this!” We set out for the local grocery store and picked up a case of canned pumpkin and several jars of pumpkin pie spice. Little by little we kept adding and writing down everything and finally ended up with a 5-gallon bucket of a pumpkin pie latte base. Even when that coffee company got their pumpkin pie spice syrup back we still sold 5-7 gallons worth of pumpkin pie lattes and pumpkin chais almost every day during pumpkin season. I’ve continued to improve the recipe since then, including adding the essential oils.

Pumpkin Latte Base

1 cup milk or milk substitute

¼ cup canned pumpkin pie mix

3 packets Splenda or any non-sugar sweetener of your choice

½ teaspoon vanilla

10 drops Pumpkin Spice Essential Oil Blend (see below)

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher using an immersion blender. Put in a jar with tight lid and refrigerate for about an hour before using. Shake well before each use. This will last about 10 days in the refrigerator if using a milk substitute.

To serve: Mix ¼ cup pumpkin latte base and ¼ cup milk or milk substitute and heat slightly in microwave. Add 2 shots of espresso.

For coffee, mix one cup coffee (I would make it strong) with one cup of pumpkin latte base. You can also make this with cold brew for a cold pumpkin spice latte.

Pumpkin Spice Essential Oil Blend

Note: When using essential oils for internal consumption, use only essential oils approved for such use. Many essential oils that you buy, especially ones on the lesser expensive side, will specifically tell you “not for internal consumption”. Don’t use these for internal consumption! Believe the label! There may be additives or adulterants (yes, even if the label says 100% essential oil) that wouldn’t be good to use internally. There are only a few brands out there that are FDA approved for using in cooking and they will say as much.

4 drops Cinnamon essential oil

2 drops Ginger essential oil

1 drop Clove essential oil

4 drops Cardamom essential oil

4 drops Nutmeg essential oil

3 ml MCT liquid unflavored oil.

Combine all ingredients and put in clean essential oil bottle with dropper cap on.

This is my mother’s recipe, and she still makes it today the exact same way she taught me decades ago. I love the simplicity of this recipe. For homemade pie dough, it can’t be beat. As easy as this recipe is, why use a store-bought pie crust? Now you can make your own!

1 cup cold unsalted butter

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3-5 tablespoons ice water

Cut the butter into half-inch cubes and place in the freezer. Using a food processor, put the flour and salt into the processor. Add the frozen butter on top of the flour and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a clean, floured surface. Knead for 10-15 seconds until it comes together in a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. (You can leave it in the refrigerator at this point for up to 3 days.)

When you are ready to use, roll out the pie dough on a floured surface until it is about 1/8th of an inch or slightly less thick. Cut a circle just over the size of your pie pan. Carefully transfer the pie crust from your surface into the pie pan. Pat the dough into the pan. Crimp the edges using the forefinger and thumb of the left hand and the thump of the right hand to make the triangle shaped crimps.

Hand pies: To make hand pies with sweet fillings, add 1 teaspoon of sugar to the dough. Also, after the initial kneading process, I will roll the dough out, then fold it over in layers and roll out again for three or four times to add texture and stiffness to the dough when held.

Grilling the romaine lettuce gives a unique depth of flavor that takes an ordinary salad to a new level. Simply adding olive oil and balsamic and letting the salad sit while you finish making dinner makes an easy dish seem so complex.

6 hearts of romaine, cut in half lengthways, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon kosher or flake salt, 1 tablespoon pepper. Char for 10 seconds. Chop roughly. 

Pork belly: Smoke in applewood for 20 minutes, then braise in apple juice for 2 hours. Cut in chunks and pan fry for about 10 minutes until browned and crispy. Put pork belly croutons in bottom of bowl.

Balsalmic dressing: Add 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Lay charred lettuce over and let it sit until ready to serve. 

Invert salad bowl onto plate so that the pork belly and dressing end up on top.

Sprinkle with cheese mixture: 1/4 cup grated rosemary Asiago cheese,  1/4 cup grated fontina cheese, and  1/4 cup grated pecorino romano. Drizzle with additional 2 tablespoons balsamic and 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil.

This is a take on the classic Italian pizza with fresh basil, whole milk buffalo mozzarella (yes, from a water buffalo) baked in a woodfire oven and topped with fresh torn basil leaves. Even if you don’t have a woodfire pizza oven, the Baking Steel allows you to cook at temperatures similar to a blazing hot woodfire oven inside in a traditional oven that sears the dough. The secret to great pizza is the speed at which the dough cooks and a Baking Steel mimics the super high temperature of the stone of a woodfired pizza oven minus the smoky house.

1 baseball sized tomato, sliced

3 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

Pinch Italian herb seasoning

Prepared pizza crust

¼ cup red sauce

8 ¼-inch slices full-fat buffalo mozzarella

8 fresh basil leaves

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons shredded provolone

Additional fresh basil leaves

First make the candied tomatoes. I used Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes. This recipe works with any heirloom tomato that is meat and less watery. Slice into half inch slices. Place the slices on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil over the tomatoes, followed by pinch of salt and pepper. Sprinkle a pinch Italian herb spice over each tomato. Bake for 1 ½ hours at 300 degrees.

On your pizza peel, sprinkle wheat flour or cornmeal under the prepared crust. Spread the pizza crust on the peel. For this recipe I used a prepared pizza crust. Layer ¼ cup red sauce on the crust, stopping about 1 inch from the edge. Place 8 ¼-inch slices of buffalo mozzarella on the pizza. Layer with 8 fresh basil leaves on each mozzarella slice. Drizzle 2 teaspoons olive oil over the pizza and sprinkle fresh ground black pepper. Sprinkle additional layer of shredded provolone over the top of the pizza. Then, layer the sliced candied tomatoes on top last. Bake in 800 degree woodfire pizza oven, turning at appropriate times near the fire to cook evenly — about 3 minutes. When removed from oven, drizzle remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil over the outer crust. Add additional fresh basil leaves, then cut and serve.

I love to make this recipe on Sunday mornings to enjoy a relaxed breakfast over coffee but also use up some of the meat or veggies leftover from the week.

Prepared pie crust

14 eggs

5 ounces milk

Pinch salt

Pinch pepper

½ cup cooked veggies

1 ¾ cup shredded cheese

I used a prepared pie crust – it’s just easier. Stick it well with a fork and bake at 400 degrees for about 7 minutes until it is just flaky. I don’t like to brown it because it will overcook when you bake the quiche. Check the crust while it is baking to make sure it doesn’t bubble up. If it starts to bubble up, stick with a fork and pat it down then finish baking.

For the quiche base, use 14 eggs + 5 ounces of heavy cream. You can substitute 5 ounces of milk for the cream, but if you do, you need to add 2 more egg yolks. Add pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Mix in blender for a few seconds until well whipped.

Sprinkle ¾ cup of the cheese on bottom of baked pie crust. Spoon veggies over the cheese evenly. Pour the quiche base into crust, making sure not to overflow. Top with remaining cheese. Reduce heat of oven down to 350 degrees. Bake quiche for 45 minutes. Check for doneness after about 30 minutes due to the differences in ovens. You know it’s done when it is lightly brown in color and firm to the touch. Rest for 5 minutes and serve.

In my opinion, the ribeye is one of the most flavorful cuts for a steak. The marbling keeps the meat moist and the fat adds a tremendous amount of flavor. Because of the structure of the meat, I like the doneness to be between medium rare and medium to breakdown the fibers and maximize the tenderness.

Bone-in ribeyes

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

Pinch of garlic powder

Sprinkle ribeyes with salt, pepper, and garlic on each side and pat into the meat. Get grill hot and use a towel or mop to oil the grates. Put the ribeyes on the grill and sear for 3 minutes. Turn half a turn on the same side and put on a different part of the grill to get fresh heat for 90 seconds. Flip the steak and put back where it started for 90 seconds, then turn it half a turn on fresh part of grill for 90 seconds. Remove from fire and insert elevated stand to put distance between the steaks and heat. Place the steaks back on the elevated grill and close lid. Cook for another 5 minutes. Remove steaks from grill and let rest for 5 minutes.

This recipe was one of the first things I tried when I got my first Italian wood-fired pizza oven. It is so simple, yet fresh and vibrant. The salt forms an oven-like dome around the fish to cook it gently and evenly in the citrus and oil. The salt traps the moisture inside for a cooking environment that is partially roasted and partially steamed. The effect is fragrant, moist, and perfect. This method is common in Sicily where they cook with a lot of Italian lemons, olive oil, and sea salt. You can also cook a whole fish this way, instead of using filets. If you do this, of course, beware of the bones when you eat it.

2 Fresh gulf snapper fillets
Juice of 1 Meyer lemons
2 sprigs fresh lemon thyme
1 sprig fresh Rosemary
1 tablespoon Olive oil
2 teaspoons smoked salt
3 Egg whites
1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
3 pounds coarse salt
2 Meyer lemons sliced
Zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper

First, prepare the fish. Score the skin-side of the fish. Flip the fish over to put the skin-side down. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fish. Make a past of the thyme, rosemary and olive oil. (You can also add the zest of the ½ of the squeezed lemon to the paste.) Spread oil paste on the fish. Wrap fish in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours. To prepare the salt crust, whisk the egg whites and herbs de Provence together until firm stiff peaks form (like a meringue). Add the coarse salt and mix to the consistency of wet sand. (I usually do this by hand.) The egg whites will make the salt crust hard like concrete.

Take the fish out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Sprinkle the fish with the smoked salt.

Spread salt mixture in bottom of cast iron pan. Lay in fish on top of salt. Lay sliced lemons on top of fish. Parchment paper or banana leaves on top of lemons. If you don’t have a barrier between the fish and the salt, the salt will turn the fish gray. Then mound up remainder of salt and make a dome to seal in the fish.

Bake in wood fired oven 700 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or an indoor oven at 500 degrees for 15-18 minutes, until salt dome is brown and hard and sounds hollow. (I use the back of a kitchen spoon to tap on it for the hollow effect.)

Remove the top salt crust carefully and discard. (Don’t put it down the drain.) remove the fish to a platter and top with grated lemon zest and cracked black pepper.

This is such a fresh and delicious dish. Get the highest quality ahi tuna you can find. With the dried lavender buds, the fresher the better. Yuzu is a tart Japanese fruit. When yuzu is combined with the port wine, ginger and balsamic, the result is divine.

1 ½ pound center cut fresh ahi tuna cut into a 2-inch wide uniform log that is about 4-5 inches in length (use the trim for poke)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 ½ teaspoons dried lavender buds

2 teaspoons black sesame seeds

Port Yuzu Reduction (see recipe)

Black Lava Salt

Using mortar and pestle, grind lavender buds and sesame seeds together. Lightly coat tuna in olive oil, then sprinkle salt and pepper over whole loin. Roll tuna in lavender and sesame mix to crust. Lightly oil a nonstick pan. Sear crusted tuna over high heat, no more than 10 seconds per side. Turn to lightly sear all sides. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes to cool before slicing. Slice in quarter to half inch slices.

Serve with Port Yuzu reduction. Sprinkle plate with black lava salt before serving.

Port Yuzu Reduction

2 750 ml bottles port wine

1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

1 cup Yuzu sauce

1 cup balsamic vinegar

Add port wine to sauce pot. Bring to low simmer. Add fresh ginger. Reduce by half. Add Yuzu, return to stove, and reduce by half again. Add balsamic vinegar and reduce by half again. This reduction goes slowly and takes quite a while for the best result.