Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Butter, Butter, Butter

I love butter. Okay, no surprise there. I did not grow up eating butter. Margarine was cheaper and butter was ‘bad’ for you. Somewhere along the way, I was introduced to butter and I have not turned back. I fell in love!

Butter has some unique properties that margarine just does not have. First of all butter is mostly short chain fatty acids. When you place butter on your tongue, it melts very quickly and leaves no aftertaste. This makes butter good for things like buttercream frosting.

American butter is about 80% milk fat, no more than 16% water and 4% milk solids. The solids cause butter to burn, therefore, butter is not be used for frying. This problem can be solved by making clarified butter. Simply melt the butter and allow the solids to sink to the bottom and the water to evaporate. In Indian cuisine this is referred to as ghee.

Butter can be purchased with and without salt. Most bakers prefer butter without salt. One can purchase whipped butter which has air incorporated into it. On a volume to volume basis, whipped butter contains fewer calories. Although once uncommon in the United States, European butters are becoming more common. European butter has a higher butterfat content than American butter.

One of my fondest memories of butter is from the movie, Julia and Julie. Julia Child and her husband are having dinner at a restaurant. They bring Julia sole meunière. And Julia exclaims, “Oh, butter”. I thought, all that fish and she smells butter. Oh, the power of butter!

Meunière is French for miller’s wife. It describes a style of cooking in which the food, especially fish is lightly coated with flour and sautéed in butter. This dish is finished off with fresh lemon juice and parsley. Sole is used for this recipe because the fillets are thin and therefore cook quickly. This means you can cook the fish without the butter burning. If you want to make sole meunière, try this recipe.

Sole Meunière

Serves 4.


Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 sole fillets, about 3 to 4 ounces each
½ cup all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon butter

¼ cup butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 Tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
Juice of ½ lemon


1. Season fish with salt and pepper. Coat fish in flour; shake off the excess.

2. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until oil is hot. Add butter. When foam subsides, add fish and cook until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook second side. Divide fish between 2 plates. Keep warm.

3. Sauce: Place skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter; cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add parsley and lemon juice. Spoon over fish and serve with lemon wedges.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Wish List - Upscale Mac ‘n Cheese

I grew up with homemade mac and cheese. I liked it. But growing up with it, you don’t think of it as special until . . . you don’t have it anymore. It seems now that I have that middle-aged bulge; all those comfort foods of my youth are back.

Mac and cheese is not only back. It’s back with a vengeance, in gourmet magazines, trendy restaurants. There are even restaurants dedicated solely to mac and cheese. Who knew!

While looking for recipes for this posting, I found every kind of macaroni and cheese recipe possible. With so many pasta shapes and so many cheeses, the recipes are endless. But that is just fine. After all it is a recipe and your opinion of how something should be made. It is not set in stone.

Here are a few things that I have discovered about mac and cheese.

1. Eggs – My mother and most Southerners add eggs. I don’t exactly know why. As my sister says, we just do, that’s why.

2. Velveeta – It is not necessary to use Velveeta. Although within my little circle of foodies, it is considered a functional food. And is good at preventing the fat from separating from the rest of the mixture.

3. Amount of cheese – It is all over the board. One recipe had twice as much cheese as pasta. I decided on less cheese.

4. White sauce – I skipped it. Instead I used cream cheese and egg. I put the sauce into a food processor, combined it with the macaroni and baked it.

5. Upscale – It’s a matter of opinion. If it’s upscale to you, then it’s upscale.

This is my list. You may have your own. Please feel free to tell me if you have other items on your macaroni and cheese list. In the meantime, try and give our version of upscale mac and cheese a try.

Upscale Mac and Cheese

Serves 6.

2 slices pancetta, about 3 ounces, diced
8 ounces (2 cups) cavatappi pasta, cooked and drained
1 large egg
2 cups whole milk
4 ounces cream cheese
2 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
2 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
4 ounces white Cheddar cheese, extra sharp, shredded
Generous ⅛ teaspoon each of red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper
Generous ¼ teaspoon paprika
2 Tablespoons butter
⅔ cup panko crumbs
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt. Add pasta and turn heat off. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a shallow 1½ quart baking dish. Set aside.

3. Place pancetta in a pan, over medium-high heat, cook until crispy.

4. In a blender or food processor combine egg, milk and cream cheese. Process for a few seconds. Scrape down sides of container, if necessary. Add the remaining cheese and blend. Add red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and paprika. Blend for a few seconds.

5. Drain pasta and place into a large bowl. Add cheese mixture and stir to combine. Add pancetta and stir into pasta. Pour into baking dish. Bake about 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Melt butter in a small skillet. Add panko crumbs. Cook until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool slightly and add parmesan cheese. Spread mixture over top of casserole and continue to cook for an additional 10 minutes. If top is not golden, slip under broiler for a minute. Remove from oven, let stand about 5 minutes, and serve.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cooking at the Library

I love the library. But this week (April 10 -16) I have an especially good reason to love the library. This is National (Public) Library Week. Libraries around the country are celebrating in various ways. We thought what better way to showcase our library ( than with a posting on cookbooks at the local library.
It’s actually fun to read through the library’s cookbook collection. I also like using the library to “test drive” a cookbook. If I don’t like a book, I don’t have to purchase it. I talked with our local librarian in charge of purchasing cookbooks. While people are purchasing electronic versions of other books, we still want a hard copy of cookbooks. The library has actually reduced the purchasing of cooking DVDs in favor of hard copies of cookbooks. During the recent economic downturn, the sales of cookbooks actually increased. People are also checking out more cookbooks from the library. When people cut back on dining out, they started to cook at home.

Our library purchases about ten to twelve cookbooks per month. If there is a book that you would like, the library welcomes your suggestions (

When visiting my library, I picked up a copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I decided to make one of the pasta dishes. I chose to make a spinach sauce with ricotta and ham. I chose this one because most Americans seem to think only of pasta with tomato sauce. Italian food is much more than pasta and tomato sauce.

Spinach Sauce with Ricotta and Ham

Serves 4 to 6.

2 packages (10 ounce) frozen chopped spinach
¼ cup butter
2 ounces ham, chopped
Whole nutmeg
½ cup ricotta cheese
½ cup parmesan cheese, preferably freshly grated
1 pound pasta, preferably penne or rigatoni

1. Preheat a large skillet. Add 1 tablespoon butter. Add spinach to skillet once the butter has melted. Cook until spinach is dry. Remove spinach and set aside.

2. Add ham to skillet. Cook until ham starts to brown. Add spinach back to skillet. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg, no more than ⅛ of a teaspoon.

3. Cook pasta as directed on the package. Toss pasta with spinach and ham. Add ricotta, remaining butter and Parmesan. Serve immediately, with additional cheese, if desired.

What We Thought of the Recipe: We liked it. We also felt that garlic and/or onions would have been nice additions to the recipe.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blue Cheese – Back to My Assignment

During the fall semester I gave an assignment to my students to go “hunting” for cheeses. I wanted them to find cheeses they normally would not consume and go to stores they normally would not visit. Well, I decided that I would do the assignment, too. Oh! What was I thinking! I am still working on completing my assignment. Thank God, I am not getting a grade.

I decided to use a Danish Blue Cheese. Blue vein cheeses are made with a mold, Penicillin roqueforti. Blue cheeses generally have a sharp flavor and are somewhat salty. Legend has it that blue cheese was developed by accident. In the early days, cheese was aged in caves which were great moisture and temperature controlled environments and favored the growth of mold. French blue cheese is known as Roquefort and is made from sheep’s milk. Gorgonzola is Italian and Stilton is English. In America, it is called blue cheese.

I have been trying to decide what to make with this cheese. My original thought was to make a blue cheese and walnut focaccia. That idea did not pan out. Couldn’t decide what to do if I didn’t like it. (If by chance you are in Lincoln Nebraska, Le Quartier Baking Company ( makes an excellent Blue Cheese and Walnut bread. I highly recommend it.) I thought about mac n cheese, but decided that was a no. My student suggested that I put blue cheese on steak or make steak tacos. Great idea, but that didn’t make the cut either.

I decided to make my own recipe. If everyone else can do it, so can I. I decided to use my favorite things that I like to have with blue cheese, namely pears and walnuts. I decided to make a quesadilla. If I didn’t like it, I would not be stuck with a ton of it. Here is the basic recipe, flour tortillas, blue cheese, Monterey jack (to cut the saltiness and mellow the flavor), pears, cooked in honey, and toasted walnuts, for crunch.

Blue Cheese Quesadilla
1 bosc pear
¼ cup honey
2 small flour tortillas
2 Tablespoons blue cheese
2 Tablespoons Monterey Jack
1 Tablespoon toasted walnuts
Oil, for frying


1. Heat honey in a large skillet. When hot, add pears and cook until pears are translucent.

2. Preheat a skillet. Brush one side of each tortilla with oil. Top with both cheeses. Add pears and walnuts. Cover with second tortilla. Flip and brown the second tortilla. Slice and serve as desired.

For a light lunch, this would be a nice accompaniment to a salad. And if you wish to make your quesadilla differently, go ahead! There is no quesadilla police out there to stop you.