10 September 2010


I was raised in a house where butter was hauled out on special occasions to replace the margarine we normally used. It was such a special occasion that there was a whole ritual around hollering "you mean, butter butter? Fancy!" as one of us kids set the table.

I'm not slagging margarine. It's often cheaper than butter. And nowadays it can even taste good — either more like butter, or like olive oil. What a choice. Frankly, butter requires a certain planning ahead, as anyone who has ever tried spontaneous cookie making (ever tried to blend your sugar and cold butter to fluffiness? Good luck!) or spreading cold butter on soft bread can attest. Margarine, of course, can be slathered on soft bread right out of the fridge. 

We don't currently use margarine in our humble abode. Since the majority of the butter we consume is in baked goods, we just haven't bothered to stock both spreads. Our butter dish is a tiny little thing, holding enough to butter about four slices of bread. Frankly, that's all we need, as we're less likely to use it than we are to see it turn rancid from sitting on the counter for weeks on end. If I'm only going to use something sparingly, I'd like the option that tastes best. That's butter!

According to the Mayo Clinic, margarine is actually better for heart health. But even they have to admit that despite advances in margarine, nothing really touches the taste of butter. 

If you've ever wondered why that dish in a restaurant tastes so much better than the one you made at home, it's likely the butter. To "monter au beurre" is an expression meaning quite literally to "mount butter". Whisking butter into a sauce or soup just before it's served gives it a final decadent deliciousness. And let's face it, restaurants are concerned with your taste buds more than your waistline, so they use more butter (and other fats) in their creations that you're likely to ever do at home.

Alas, even delicious, forbidden butter can get a little boring. So here are a few ways to spice up, herb up, and otherwise enhance your butters, including ways to put them to use. Just remember...moderation is always the key! 

In all cases, add the ingredients to 1/4 cup of butter that has been allowed to soften for an hour. Mix well, and then let sit for another hour or two to allow the flavours to mingle. Put in an appropriate serving dish, and voilĂ . 


CHILI BUTTER: 1 generous teaspoon chili powder + pinch of salt
Perfect on corn on the cob, cornbread, and fresh biscuits.

SMOKEY BUTTER: 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika + pinch smoked sea salt
Great for corn on the cob, or try a bit in the mushrooms and onions sauteed to go on top of a grilled steak. 

LAVENDER BUTTER: 1 generous teaspoon lavender + scant pinch sea salt
Ideal added to mashed potatoes, or on the table with the bread basket.

HERBED BUTTER: 1/2 teaspoon dried basil + 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or thyme + black pepper
Amazing for garlic bread (add 1 crushed clove garlic) or mashed potatoes, or the breadbasket. Drop a small bit into a pot of homemade soup just before you serve it for a truly delectable dish.

GARLIC BREAD BUTTER: 2 or 3 cloves crushed garlic + 1/2 teaspoon basil + 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
Duh, it's for garlic bread! Also great added to paninis or even that mushroom and onion mixture for steaks.

ROSEMARY BUTTER: 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary + pinch sea salt + black pepper
Great on the table, or over roasted veggies. Or rub into the skin of an almost-finished roast chicken to crisp it up.

CINNAMON BUTTER: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon + scant pinch nutmeg
Try it on toast with honey, or throw on your pancakes and french toast before the syrup gets involved.

LEMON BUTTER: generous pinch of grated lemon zest + scant pinch of white sugar
A fresh, sweet treat for fresh muffins, biscuits, or pancakes.

A few tips to make cooking with butter go, well, like buttah: 

Butter burns easily. When cooking butter in medium to high temperatures, you can use oil to raise its smoke point. Just take out a bit of the butter and add either olive oil (for delicate dishes such as garlic shrimp) or canola oil.

If a recipe calls for softened butter, don't melt the butter. Instead, get it out of the fridge, measure off what you need for the recipe, and cut it into small pieces or thin slices.  Set in a relatively warm (but not hot) location to soften for about an hour. Patience, grasshopper.

Keeping butter for a long time — maybe because you picked some up on sale, or you're heading out for a month on vacation? Wrap the butter in plastic wrap, and throw it in a ziploc bag in your freezer. It'll keep for quite a while longer than it would in the fridge.

So go on, try some butter.  Your taste buds will love you. And you might just prove to yourself (if necessary) that butter isn't your enemy. It's just a friend that you have to see in limited doses, or you might find yourself having too much fun together...and one Sunday morning, wake up sitting in a casino in Vegas trying to remember how you got there.

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