Monday, June 21, 2010

Back to cooking!

That's right, Art in the Vines is over (for now, but, stay tuned); the opening at For Art'sake was held this last weekend (It was wonderful and the show will be hanging for at least a month); and finally, I am officially moved into my new painting studio space in Paola. Whew! I have time to cook again! It is a good thing....I have had absolutely no butter in my refrigerator for at least 2 weeks, which I feel is surely against the law. I have not had time to read my favorite food blogs, much less try some of the recipes. So, I have decided, I'm going to spend more time in the kitchen, starting now.
Just went grocery shopping; there are 3 pounds of butter in the fridge! I feel so much better. Of course, I have two chocolate sheet cakes to bake this weekend, so one pound is spoken for. As for the remaining two, I am sure I can find some way to use them! Did you know it takes 21 pounds of fresh, wholesome cow’s milk to make each pound of butter?
According to Web Exhibits "Butter has symbolized the powerful, life giving and sacred, the good, the happy, the healthy and pure. It has sustained lives, cultures and civilizations for millennia. For over six millennia, humans have had an intimate culinary relationship with butter. Melting at just below body temperature, butter has a luscious mouth feel that imparts a rich, creamy taste to everything it touches. In the second half of the twentieth century, butter – one of the great flavors and most important ingredients in a cook’s repertoire – was reported to be the gateway to a host of health problems. We now know that butter’s negative reputation was undeserved, and instead that butter substitutes and man made trans fats are the true culprits that pose threats to our health.

Indeed, recent studies reveal just how important butter is to a healthy diet. It supplies our bodies with vitamins and minerals; boosts our immune system; helps hormone production; and supports our bones, organs, and most importantly, our brain. Good natural butter is satisfying and can even help with maintaining a healthy weight." 
Oh how I would love to believe that statement ....but I think it is slightly exaggerated!

Butter is a major part of my cooking and baking. If I am testing a recipe that calls for shortening, I think twice before I continue. If I absolutely must cook with shortening, I buy the smallest amount possible. I truly do not like the way it looks, smells or tastes. Butter, on the other hand, makes me happy.

I love making butter based sauces, my favorite being Beurre blanc, or white butter, the classic French white sauce that’s known for its richness and creaminess. Beginning with a wine and/or vinegar reduction, butter is whisked in until it has the consistency of heavy cream. As with all butter sauces, beurre blanc is fragile, and can easily break down when exposed to heat.

To make beurre blanc, combine 1 cup  dry white wine (Somerset Ridge Chardonnay, of course), 1-1/2 oz. white wine vinegar, and 2 finely diced shallots in a saucepan. Reduce over medium high heat to a volume of 2 tablespoons. Cut 2 cups cold butter into small pieces. Set the pan over low heat and add butter a few pieces at a time, whisking continuously. Add more butter as previous addition is almost melted. Continue until all the butter is added. This is absolutely perfect on fish, turning it from ho-hum to yum-yum!

As for baking with butter, gosh, where do I begin. Most people bake chocolate chip cookies. Most use the recipe on the back of the bag of chips. Everyone loves them! But have you ever noticed some cookies are mounds and some are flat and spread out? That is because the mounded cookies are made with shortening (I am sure all that plastic keeps them that shape!); the flat cookies are made with butter.  Mine flatten and spread, and melt in your mouth!

My favorite butter cookie is Shortbread. With such simple and few ingredients, butter is the shining star of this recipe. If you have never experienced true homemade shortbread, prepare for a religious experience!

Thank you, Martha!

Makes 12 wedges.

Nonstick cooking spray
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
2 tablespoons coarse sanding sugar

1.Spray a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

2.In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar. Stir in vanilla. With mixer on low speed, slowly add flour. Mix until well combined.

3.Evenly spread cookie dough into prepared tart pan. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

4.Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sprinkle shortbread with sanding sugar. Using a 2-inch round fluted cookie cutter, make a shallow cut in the center of the dough. Using the tines of a fork, score dough from the edge of the circle in the center towards the edge of the pan into 12 equal wedges.

5.Transfer tart pan to oven and bake until light brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the shortbread comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Immediately re-score circle and wedges with cookie cutter and the tines of a fork. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool 1 hour. Remove shortbread from tart pan and let cool completely. Cut into wedges with a serrated knife along the scored lines.
Last but not least, here is a great berry butter. Raspberries and Blackberries are available now, but you can always use Strawberries.
Berry Bread Spread, a fresh fruit butter
1/4 cup berries
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened unsalted butter
Place all ingredients in the bowl of the food processor. Process until well combined. Refrigerate the mixture in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to a month.
Wonderful on bread, scones, bagels, or my favorite....biscuits! 
If I have turned you on to butter again....Good! I am not saying throw a half a stick on your baked potato, but do allow yourself to enjoy a pat of pale yellow goodness everyday! And we must not forget Corn on the Cob....oh! and Popcorn! I almost forgot fresh vegetables, you have to have butter on asparagus and peas! Mashed Potatoes, and French Toast! Pancakes, what good is a pancake without butter?  Okay, see? You may need many pats of butter!

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