Friday, October 17, 2008

Better with Butter

Ah, butter, the forbidden saturated fat, how do I love thee? There's no arguing that a little butter makes everything a just a little bit better. Whether used as a cooking medium or to make the perfect pastry or simply enhance your morning toast, this beautiful, ancient and ubiquitous fat has been used across the globe since as early as 8000 B.C. The chemistry is simple: agitate cream, either by whipping or churning, until fat globules are broken up, causing them to bond with other fats and congeal into a solid, beautiful mass. The result is a pure and simple cooking ingredient.

Entire books can be written, (and I'm sure that there are a few), about the uses of butter in everyday cooking. The purpose of this post is merely to celebrate butter and perhaps open your eyes to the more artisinal varieties available in the market today. No longer do you have to settle for Land-O-Lakes with added colors and flavors. Many supermarkets offer domestic and international brands, all of which have distinctly and delightfully different flavors. Recently, I brought home a nice crusty French baguette and instead of serving it with cheese, I laid out an Italian butter, (Delitia Ill Burro), made from the same cows' milk that goes into the famed parmigiano-regiano cheese. It was a nice change of pace and we recognized the same nutty flavor found in the region's cheese. I encourage you to eat your way through butters from around the world, they really are quite different.


One of the most simple, yet sexy things you can do with butter is make a compound butter by adding herbs, spices or other flavorings to softened butter, then formed and chilled. These are amazing to keep on hand to top roasts, fish or sauteed vegetables. I slide a few slices under chicken skin before roasting. Compound butter can be used on an infinite number of foods, anywhere you would use butter. A classic combination is parsley, shallot, lemon zest or juice, salt and pepper. But the variety of ingredients is limitless. Try brown sugar and cinnamon for roasted butternut squash or yams, or on top french toast. Lavender, fennel seed and orange zest for chicken. And on and on...
Here's the technique for creating your own:

Blend together either by hand or food processor:
1 stick of butter, room temp
minced herbs, garlic, shallot, salt etc...
Take butter mixture and place on plastic wrap or parchment paper and form a log. Twist each end to seal.
Place in fridge and cool until it becomes hardened. Slice off as needed. Store in fridge, (or freezer), for a long time.


I like to get crazy sometimes and deconstruct my compound butter, it makes for a beautiful and impressive display for serving butter with bread at dinner. You can also set it on top of fish when it comes out of the oven. Place a pat on top while fish is still piping hot. But mostly, it's just pretty to look at. Get creative and people will be impressed by your effort.

Once again, amazing photos by Yvette, my hero!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Little Compton, RI

The next destination on our trip was Little Compton, Rhode Island to visit my mom and dad. I've been going to LC since I was ten as it was our escape from the brutal Florida summers. After renting the same house for years, mom and dad finally built a beautiful house and now spend about 5 months out of the year there. I love to visit and this year was the first time I had seen RI in the Fall since I usually visit during the Summer. Man, what a treat! Green and lush, due to heavy rains this summer and crisp, cool air. We were in heaven. It's likely that we will return again the same time next year...

One happy day, we walked to the Wishing Stone Farm, a co-operative organic farm, just up the road from my parents' house. (Check out their blog.) My mom has a membership which allows her weekly visits to take home a variety of organic produce. I can't imagine better way to grocery shop - it took me back to a place in time where farming and community went hand in hand. We ate freshly caught stripped sea bass (thanks to my hubby's 35 pounder!!) and Wishing Stone Farm veggies that night. I don't know how you can possibly beat that!

Mad River Valley, VT

Waitsfield, Vermont.

We spent last week visiting friends and family in the North East - partly in the Mad River Valley of Vermont and then off to Little Compton, Rhode Island. Let me tell you, fall is in full swing in New England! The leaves were peaking in Vermont and I can honestly say, I've never seen anything quite so spectacular; something we just don't get to see here in Southern California. In the small, quaint town of Waitsfield, we strolled through the chilly air to the Saturday farmer's market and joyfully ate our way through dozens of booths. The plan was to check out the scene, then go to breakfast, but we ended up eating freshly baked bread and drinking apple cider. After running into friends, we all walked around for a few hours, taking photos (with our cell phone) of the Fall harvest: pumpkins, gourds, brussel sprouts, cabbage, garlic, and tomatillos! Such a great day.