I love it when something I’m not supposed to be eating turns out to be good for me after all, and it has happened, over the years, several times.
Eggs, for example. Back in the late ’80s, when I first began writing about food in this column, eggs had a very bad reputation. The culprit, of course, was cholesterol, especially in the yolks. Without going into a long-winded overhaul of the processes involved, we were told not so long ago that, “recent studies have shown” that eating eggs is just fine and we’re even encouraged, now, to eat eggs to get some protein into our breakfasts, and furthermore, the cholesterol is nowhere as bad as previously thought. “Hurray!,” I thought to myself, because I had never given them up; I love eggs.
Same thing happened with coffee; “caffeine is bad, bad, bad” they told us years ago, and we should cut back to no more than one or two cups at most, or better yet, switch to tea. Sorry, I thought, but without my morning jump-start of caffeine, I’m useless until about noon. So I ignored the warnings, sticking with my three to four cups of strong black, and sure enough I didn’t have to wait long until we were told by the same people who said “no, no” that, after “further studies,” coffee is a good thing, especially if we don’t load it with cream and sugar. But for Heaven’s sake, keep it away from growing children; pay attention to the caffeine in those assorted drinks the kids love.
Then, much to my delight, it happened again with chocolate. Imagine my relief and happiness when I no longer had to hide my ever-present stash of dark chocolate bars. After all, I’d been an addict since my teen years and it was a large load of guilt I felt every time I downed an entire bar of dark, rich chocolate when that urge hit. Now I just remind myself that all these years I have, after all, been eating something healthy, something good for me.
And now, at last, one of my favorite “unhealthy no, no” foods is currently starring on the cover of Time Magazine, a huge sensuous curl of golden butter pictured beneath the large caption, “Eat Butter.” Hallelujah!
Truth is, I never stopped eating butter even when we were told it was dangerous and not to touch the stuff. I tried, but there was no way I could deal with margarine, nor with any of the myriad other butter substitutes crowding the dairy shelf. Yes, I did cut down on the amount of butter I slathered on my toast, pancakes, waffles, sandwiches, crackers, etc., but there are just too many things I love to bake, cook, and eat that are not the same when prepared with a butter substitute.
But, once again “recent studies have shown”… Yes, scientists have reversed their position on butter, admitting they were wrong banning fat from our diet. I don’t need to go into the trans-fat, saturated fat, no-fat, lo-fat arguments; we’ve read and heard them all endlessly. The article in Time is too long for me to give you the reprisal summary in this column, but you can log on to Time magazine and read it for yourself. I’ll just say that it involves thousands of people and many, many studies, and that those who spend their lives delving into such things have determined that the results of many of those studies turned out to be just plain erroneous, even as we were turning ourselves into one of the fattest countries in the world on our “get rid of the fat” regime.
At this point, they’ve about covered all of my guilty vices, [yes, it’s even all right for me to have a drink and/or a glass of wine before or with my dinner], at least until the next series of studies on any of these subjects is carried out. But, I’ve now decided I’m through paying serious attention to any group of people who try to scare me into going without something I love only to be told “oops, we were wrong.”
I’m going cold turkey, giving up reading any more articles that begin “Recent studies have shown… “ because I believe it will be better for my health.
I’ve said many times in this column that what we can believe is that it’s not only calories-in versus calories-out that matters most, but also what’s in those calories you decide to take in. And now we’ve been assured it’s just fine, in fact good for you to take in some fat calories. One of the finest things about butter, real butter, is the virtually infinite number of things you can do with it, and the incredible array of other foods butter enhances, mixes well with and even transforms. Sauces for example; nothing better than a silky, rich, buttery, velvety butter sauce to go with seafood, poultry, vegetables, pasta, steak… well, you get the idea. Let’s begin with an easy to make butter sauce that is outstanding with steamed clams, or over roast chicken, or with halibut/salmon/sole, almost any seafood; also delicious with or over potatoes.
4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter
4 large garlic cloves, halved (I sometimes use more, depending on what I’m pairing this with)
¼ cup finely chopped fresh sage leaves (it’s definitely better to use fresh sage)
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a saucepan melt the butter with the garlic, sage, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, it’s ready to serve on the side with cracked crab, steamed clams, lobster claw, scallops, grilled chicken, etc. etc. Keep any unused sauce refrigerated and gently reheat when ready to use.
One of my top favorite of all cheeses is Gorgonzola, a cheese with strong personality and many uses. It pairs exceptionally well with butter, and is robust enough to go well with meats such as buffalo and beef. A pat of this on top of a just-off-the-grill steak is wonderful; I also put this on my hamburger patty when I decide to satisfy my occasional hamburger hunger.
¼ lb. Gorgonzola cheese, softened
½ stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ t. celery seed and/or finely chopped fresh dill (optional)
Discard Gorgonzola rind, if any. In a small bowl, stir together the cheese and butter until smooth, adding celery seed and/or dill, if using. On a sheet of plastic wrap, form the Gorgonzola butter into a log about 4 inches long. Chill the log, wrapped, until firm (at least 1 hr.) or keep refrigerated for up to a week. When ready to use, unwrap and cut the butter into thin “pats”, probably about 15 to 20. Use on a freshly grilled hamburger or put a pat on top of grilled steak; it’s also delicious on a baked potato or served with freshly grilled or steamed corn.
What better use for butter than good old-fashioned, melt-in-your mouth butter cookies. These have an added bit of maple flavor, and if you have kids around let them choose cutter shapes and do the cutting of the dough. These will keep in an airtight container for about a week, if they last that long.
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
½ cup pure Grade B maple syrup (if you don’t have it, use regular maple syrup but add 3-4 drops maple extract)
1 large egg yolk
3 cups flour (all purpose)
1 t. salt
In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in maple syrup and egg yolk until mixture is well combined. Sift together flour and salt, then sift mixture over the butter mixture and fold in thoroughly. Chill the dough, wrapped in plastic wrap until firm (about 2 hrs., and up until 4 days).
Divide dough in half, keeping one half chilled. Lightly flour the other half and on a lightly floured surface, gently pound the dough with a rolling pin just to soften. Roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick and with floured cookie cutters, cut dough into cookies; gather, wrap and chill scraps. Arrange the cookies on buttered baking sheets as they are cut and make more cookies the same way with remaining dough and all scraps pressed together. You can also make decoration marks in the cookies with the back of a knife, if desired, but carefully because they are thin.
Bake the cookies in batches in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven until edges are golden, about 12 min., and transfer to racks to cool. Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies, depending upon size of cutters. You could also frost these with a swipe of buttercream frosting after they are cooled, if desired.