Everything's Better with Butter

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Nothing makes a sauce or even waffles taste better than creamy butter, right? But I sometimes get confused with what's best: salted or unsalted? What is the difference between the regular butter I buy and European? Are butter blends (part butter, part canola oil), margarine or butter substitutes better for us? Is there any way to make those types better tasting, if they are?

Well, I have some answers for you. The difference between salted and unsalted butter, of course, is that one has salt and one doesn't. I know I am stating the obvious but one thing I learned was that there are different levels of salt put in each batch of salted butter depending on the manufacturer. It's a 'preference' and not something that is regulated or has a firm, cooking rule attached to it. Because of that unknown, chefs usually recommend unsalted butter in their recipes as opposed to salted. This way you can control the amount of salt that goes into it. I usually have both on hand since I love salted butter on my toast, baked potato or anything else where the butter is one of the key components. I am known to pile it on when I eat waffles; that's why I do it only on Cheat Days! A good reason to use only unsalted all the time is if you have sodium issues that sometimes need to be addressed when you have high blood pressure.

Cultured butter is when cream is collected over several days allowing it to ferment before it is churned into butter. In the last forty years or so, artificial fermentation is usually used for cultured butter, although most of the butter we purchase at the grocery store is made from pasteurized, fresh cream and is known as 'sweet butter.' The United States and United Kingdom prefer this but Continental Europe prefers 'cultured butter', which is made from pasteurized, fermented cream. Butter made from fresh or cultured cream and is not pasteurized is call 'raw cream butter.' Commercial raw cream butter is unheard of in the United States and is rare in Europe as well. You would probably find it on farms but it only has a refrigerated shelf life of around 10 days where sweet cream butter's shelf life is several months or even longer if it's frozen. If you are interested in exploring butters from other countries, including goat milk butter and Indian ghee, there is a great article online from the Saveur magazine called '30 Great Butters'. Here's the link to it:

http://www.saveur.com/article_print.jsp?ID=1000031090

This list includes a few from our country as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.

There are many butter blends or butter substitutes on the market to choose from. I have a confession and need to tell you I am a butter snob. I only buy butter, nothing else. When my husband had his first heart attack 14 years ago, the going trend was to take ALL fats out of your diet including fatty fruits and vegetables and olive oil. They are little less zealous about it in regards to 'good fats' but one should still watch their fat intake. I tried to cook with butter substitutes back then but it was a disappointment.  The substitute seemed to separate in a way that wasn't very appetizing to me. There may be others out there that are better since it's been so long. The other day, my curiosity had me looking at the labels to see how they differ in calories, grams of fat and sodium from butter. There were three I looked at: 'bestlife buttery spread', 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!' and 'Smart Balance', which is a butter blend.  Based on per tablespoon, this is what I found out:

Product-Calories-Grams of Fat-Sodium
Unsalted butter-100-11g-0mg
Salted butter -100-11g-75mg
(this varies depending on the manufacturer)
best life- 60-7g-100mg
I Can' Believe...-100-11g-95mg
Smart Balance-100-11g-100mg

The claim 'best life,' 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter' and 'Smart Balance' make is they have a less percentage of saturated fats (anywhere from 28 to 50% less) and they do. 'best life' was the only one that had less grams of fat than butter. But did you notice the sodium content? With my husband's heart condition, he is, thankfully, doing well cholesterol-wise but does have high blood pressure issues so has been advised to lower his sodium intake. Based on these numbers (and it was pretty much the same with all the other butter substitutes I looked at), it is a better option for him to use unsalted butter. He's not one to put too much butter on his bread, waffles or pancakes (he does seem a little appalled when he observes my butter pile!). The small increase in calories and a few more grams of fat are not going to make such a difference. When I am cooking with butter, I use very little of it and usually combine it with olive oil when I am sauteeing. In the portion of food I am making, one tablespoon is dispersed over the whole recipe so one person's helping is not going to add too much fat or calories to it. I am not sure what issues you have with yourself or your family. I only wanted to supply you with a little information and you can make your own decision on what's best for you.

Storing butter in the refrigerator is important, especially during our Arizona summers. It keeps in the frig for weeks so you can always have some on hand. The only problem is I prefer my butter soft when spreading it on toast or sandwich bread. I can usually leave butter on my counter during the late Fall, Winter, and early Spring but by the time the temperatures rise into the 100's, it doesn't last very long before it turns rancid. My solution is a butter crock. You can find these at most kitchen stores. I have a le Creuset that works beautifully. The concept is the crock holds a stick or two of butter. You pack softened butter into the bell-shaped lid and pour cold water into the base. I put a little water in it, then add an ice cube to make the water cold. The lid is placed upside down back into the base. The water creates an airtight seal that preserves the freshness of the butter while keeping it at room temperature. You have to change the water every two to three days; otherwise it gets a bit moldy. Freezing butter is great if you find a good sale. I have been known to keep an eye out for those sales as early as August or September so I can build up a good supply for holiday baking. It keeps in the freezer for months.

An area I have delved into is making different shapes with the butter. It is an extra fun thing to do when you are entertaining and serving bread or rolls. You can use any candy mold you have on hand or you can simply roll out softened butter and use cookie cutters. When using a mold, bring butter to room temperature than spoon butter into the desired number of molds. Be sure to pack it in real well so there aren't any air pockets, causing it finished product to have holes. Place in freezer, making sure the mold is not tilted (the butter can 'move' and cause it to be lumpy) and leave it in for about 10 or so minutes. Take the mold out, turn it upside down and tap lightly until the butter comes out. If necessary, you can use a sharp knife around the edges to help it along. I use a paring knife and with a little poke, the mold pops right out. Place frozen butter in airtight container and store it in the coldest part of your refrigerator. I've put the frozen butter in a freezer zip bag and put it back in the freezer. Nice to have for last minute, too.

To use cookie cutters, butter should be soft but not real, real soft. If it is too soft, you may want to spread the softened butter on a piece of wax paper or parchment paper, place it in the refrigerator for about 10+ minutes. Once it's a little hard, take it out and place a second piece of wax paper or parchment paper over the top of it and, using a rolling pin or drinking glass, roll it until it's the desired thickness. After using the cookie cutter, I use a spatula to scoop it up with then I place it on a plate or, if I'm making a lot, a baking sheet. Place in refrigerator or freezer, using the same directions with molds. This is a great project for kids to do for the holidays, birthdays or just every day fun.

I love flavored butters. I usually have at least one flavored butter in my freezer. You can make savory or sweet butter for almost any occasion. The savory butter comes in handy when we are grilling and want a little flavor for the protein without having to go to the trouble of making a sauce. My personal favorite is a bearnaise butter made with fresh tarragon, shallots, lemon juice and salt and pepper. So simple but so good! Especially on steak, chops or salmon. And vegetables! And, well, you get the idea. Then there's the always popular honey butter. Yummy on hot biscuits or cornbread. I have several other recipes I hope you can try some time. You can freeze the butter as logs wrapped in plastic wrap or stored in one large plastic container to be defrosted all at once. Sometimes freezing the butter in several smaller containers or as individual portions is more efficient; you only defrost what you need. To freeze slices, you must first create a log or cylinder. Place the softened flavored butter in the center of a large piece of parchment or wax paper and fold the paper over the butter. While holding the paper closed, gently roll and shape the butter to form a log. If the butter is too soft, chill it for 10 minutes and try again. Once you have a log, roll the paper around the butter and chill it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or until firm. Open the paper and use a knife or unflavored dental floss to slice the butter into individual rounds. Wrap one or two slices in plastic wrap. Place the wrapped butters in a freezer bag and label with the herb used and the date. Freeze and use within five months. You can put the whole log in the freezer. When you want to use it, let it soften a bit on the counter and when it reaches the desired softness, slice. When we grill, as soon as the meat is taken off the coals and put on a plate to 'rest', I put a pad of the flavored butter on each piece of meat and let it melt. So good. For those of you who use the butter substitutes, you can use it to make these recipes.  They taste pretty good. Although, being the butter snob I am, there's nothin' bettah than buttah!

Basic Savory Flavored Butter Recipe
This recipe will get you started. Try any of your favorite herbs individually or in combination to make up the 6 teaspoons of chopped herbs.

9 TBS butter, unsalted, room temperature
6 tsp tarragon, fresh, chopped finely (can use ¾ tsp dried)
6 tsp shallots, minced (can use minced garlic or scallions)
1 ½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt

On a small plate with a fork, blend all ingredients together well and transfer to sheet of wax or parchment paper. Fold the paper over the butter. While holding the paper closed, gently roll and shape the butter to form a log. If the butter is too soft, chill it for 10 minutes and try again. Once you have a log, roll the paper around the butter and chill it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or until firm or you can place the log in the freezer for future use.

Cayenne and Lime Butter
This is a great recipe for grilled corn or any other vegetable for that matter. You can adjust the cayenne to taste.

6 TBS butter, unsalted, room temperature
1-2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 TBS lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 tsp salt

Melt butter with cayenne. Add lime juice and salt. Use immediately on corn or other vegetable. If you want to make this ahead, follow the Basic Savory Butter Recipe instructions to make a log. You can substitute the cayenne with chili pepper or any dried herb. With only four ingredients, it can be made up pretty quickly.

Raspberry Butter
1 stick butter, unsalted, room temperature
½ cup raspberry preserves
1/8 tsp salt

Combine butter, raspberry preserves and salt in bowl of and electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Blend until well incorporated. You can do this by hand; it just takes a little longer as you want it well blended. I have used other preserves such as apricot, strawberry and peach. All of them were very yummy.

Orange Butter
zest of one large navel orange, finely chopped
¼ cup sugar
½ cup butter, unsalted, room temperature
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 ½ TBS orange liqueur

In food processor, process orange zest and sugar. Add butter and mix together until creamy and fluffy. Dribble in orange juice and liqueur a bit at a time, still processing, until it is all absorbed. Pack into ramekin and smooth off top. Serve with warm breakfast rolls or biscuits. If you want to do this ahead, follow the Basic Savory Butter Recipe instructions to make a log.