My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Celebrating Butter

"If you're afraid of butter, as many people are these days,
just use cream."

Julia Child

What would French cooking be without butter?
(Answer: California cuisine.)

A more magical ingredient would be hard to find. It finishes sauces, transforming them from the mundane into velvety unctuousness. It turns the lowly biscuit into an irresistible way to begin the day. A bowl of plain pasta is basically a bowl of paste; add fresh butter and it becomes celebrated.

Yes, butter can be fattening. Yes, it contains the dreaded, wicked cholesterol. But take a look at the modest portion of a French entree, compare that with the super-sized meals we enjoy in the U.S., and the perspective changes entirely.

Health foodists are all about eating simple, natural foods. (Some, I suspect, probably dine on raw parsnips in secret, preferably with dirt clinging to the root hairs.) But what could be more natural than butter? Take a look at the package.

Ingredients: Cream

Compare that to what's in your average tub of Smart Balance Light Soy-Spread Chemical Monstrosity (Now with 90% less fat!) and you'll get the picture.

Not all butter is created equal. Far from it.

During the summer and autumn, I can buy this incredibly fresh butter at a local farmer's market. It's produced on an Amish farm in nearby Indiana and you can tell that this stuff is the "real deal".

For one thing, it's yellow -- evidence that a happy Amish moo-cow had dined on actual grass. Imagine that!

Also, it tastes like . . . well . . . cream! Heavy, rich, fatty cream. I'm not exaggerating when I say that store-bought, commercial butter tastes like vegetable oil in comparison. There really is a noticeable difference.

This is probably due to the fact that the Amish butter comes from a small farm rather than a large commercial producer where there is enough cream to use straight away. On the smaller scale, the cream is collected until there's enough to produce this butter, thus giving it a chance to become a bit cultured in the process -- and that equals flavor.

This butter comes in two-pound rolls and at four bucks a pound, it's also quite a bargain.

I cut each roll into three disks, wrap them in plastic and freeze them. It really is comforting to know I have an ample supply of these stashed away; a quality ingredient with which to make Julia's recipes that much more appealing.

So, shop around and find a butter that makes you think of a happy Amish cow when you taste it. You'll be glad you did.

Yes, butter is fatty and luxurious. Thank heavens for that.

And, as Julia was known to say:

"Everything in moderation . . . including moderation."

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