Cooking With Friendly Fats

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Be Not Afraid

butter sculpture

I’ve noticed this holiday season that many people make unsavory food compromises in the name of “good health.” Artificial butter, fake eggs, mistreated milks and cheeses that are reduced in natural fat, then stabilized in decidedly unnatural ways…the list goes on and on. Ironically, real food, eaten in moderation, is better for your body, better for the environment, better for the cow or chicken, and better for your pocketbook. Hmmm. Our marketing-fed fat phobia leads to some dark decisions.

Ever wonder why delicious European food is so hard to reproduce elsewhere? In part, it’s because European cooks are not afraid of natural fats. Europeans have far fewer strokes and less obesity than we North Americans do, yet  the European food pyramid recommends that whole milk cheeses, eggs, and real butter be eaten in moderation daily.

Whole Foods Are Healthful

Because the bulk of the European diet is plant based, full-fat foods are enjoyed with no loss of health. This is great news; instead of eating fake butter, we can revel in the real thing. Moderately, of course. Artificial butter flavored fats in cooking sprays and microwave popcorn contain diacetyl, a chemical that releases dangerous fumes when heated.  Friendly fats like organic butter (no “natural flavors” added) olive and canola oils are safer and taste better too.

To use just a bit of butter or cheese to greatest advantage, try adding it at the last minute, where it will meet the mouth’s taste receptors full on. When full flavor counts (as on warm bread, baked potato, or cinnamon toast), use pasture butter, an utterly delicious European-style butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows. It might change your world (or at least your kitchen habits).

Better Butters

For cleanest flavor, use unsalted butter. Salted butters are often made from the less-perfect milks, while unsalted butter has to be made with the best-tasting milk to avoid off-flavors that are disguised by salt. Unsalted butter is best for baking as well, so you can control the amount and type of salt used in each recipe.

To keep butter at its peak of flavor, freeze in the original package for up to three months. Remove a stick at a time, re-closing the box tightly (I use a rubber band) to keep the remainder from picking up freezer odors (which cause off-flavors as well).

Make Your Own Flavored Butters

When you want to give a simple meal a lift, serve herbed or savory butter blends with hot bread or vegetables. Blend unsalted butter with a freshly minced herb (thyme, basil, fennel, dill, lemon balm, etc.), adding a teaspoon of minced herb for each tablespoon of butter. Tasty blends include thyme and marjoram, oregano and basil, and lemon balm with dill.

You can also blend in freshly grated organic citrus peel for a subtle and delicious flavor boost. Lemon, lime, tangerine, grapefruit, and mandarin peels can be used singly or in combination to make a lovely butter spread. Also try blending lemon peel and rosemary, lime and dill, orange and a tad of red chile pepper, or freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon butter with a little sugar blended in.

Fast and Full Flavored Entrees

Butter, cream, and cheese are the hallmarks of European cooking. True, many traditional recipes are richer than our modern taste can fully appreciate. However, we can borrow and translate those amazing recipes into sumptuous and speedy dinners that taste marvelous yet are less heavy. Here are some examples to spark your own kitchen creativity.

Celebratory Cod

Crunchy with toasted nuts, this quickly cooked fish dish boasts a rich, savory cheese sauce that’s made in seconds.

Cod With Asiago and Walnuts

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 pound skinless cod fillets, cut in 4 pieces
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup organic heavy cream
1 cup Asiago cheese, coarsely grated

In a wide shallow pan over medium high heat, melt butter with oil, add walnuts and cook, stirring, until toasted (3-4 minutes). Remove nuts to a plate, add fish to pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover pan, reduce heat to low  and cook until opaque (internal temperature of 136 degrees F,. about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes, the remove fish to as serving plate. Return pan to medium heat, stir in cream and bring to a simmer (2-3 minutes). Stir in cheese and heat until melted (1-2 minutes). Pour over fish and serve, garnished with nuts.

Splendid Shrimp Salad

This appealing dinner salad combines plump shrimp with spicy shredded mustard greens, velvety avocados, and garlic-fried almonds.  Sublime indeed.

Sublime Shrimp Salad

4 cups mustard greens, finely shredded
4 cups spinach, stemmed
4 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 avocado, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1 pound peeled, deveined shrimp
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 cup garlic-fried Almonds (see below)

Gently toss greens together and divide between 4 dinner plates. Top with green onions and fanned avocado slices, set aside. In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil and butter until melted over medium high heat. Add shrimp an cook for 2 minutes. Flip each shrimp and cook until opaque (1-2 minutes). Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover pan, remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Arrange shrimp on plates, add vinegar to pan and heat for 1 minute on high, drizzle over salads and top with almonds. Serves four.

Garlic-fried Almonds

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter (real, please)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup almonds

In a frying pan, heat oil and butter over medium high heat until melted. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add nuts and cook, shaking pan often, until toasted (10-12 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool in pan. Refrigerate leftovers in a sealed glass jar for up to a week. Makes about 1 cup.

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