{Pantry Basics} What's the Deal with Butter

It's time for another pantry basics post! In past pantry basics posts we've covered Olive Oil and Coconut Oil, so I thought it was only fitting to also cover butter to round out the picture.

Image from wikifitness.com
Butter is a dairy product made by churning fresh milk or cream to separate the butterfat from the buttermilk. The colour will vary depending on the animal's diet, but in today's world it is often altered artificially during the manufacturing process. Look out for ingredients such as annatto or carotene as these are typical indicators of artificial colouring.

There is an age-old argument about whether butter or margarine is better for your health. We're not going to address that in this post - there are some great articles out there debating the health benefits or issues of both options. Just do a google search "Butter vs. Margarine" and check out some of the articles that come up. What I do know is that a) My hubby and I both agree that the taste of butter is significantly better and b) Butter tends to contain less processed ingredients and is more in line with our eating goals of eating less processed foods. Therefore in our house we always choose butter!

Types of Butter

Cultured Butter
Cultured butter is traditionally made from fermented cream. It is considered to be superior in taste and to have a fuller flavour. Using today's manufacturing methods, cultured butter is now made with fresh cream and during the manufacturing process, bacterial cultures and lactic acid are introduced to the mixture. This provides the same cultured taste in a far more efficient production process. Cultured butter is also known as European-Style butter as it is preferred in Europe.

Sweet Cream Butter
Sweet cream butter is made from pasteurized fresh cream. Sweet cream butter is the butter preferred in the United States and Canada and it tends to have a less full/ buttery flavour compared to that of cultured butter. It typically keeps in the fridge for several months at a time.

Raw Cream Butter
Raw cream butter is the same as sweet cream butter but it is made with unpasteurized milk. Since it is very difficult to find unpasteurized milk unless you get it straight from the farm, this raw cream butter is typically only homemade. The shelf life is very short - it only keeps for approximately 10 days.

Spreadable Butter
It is becoming increasingly popular for butter manufacturers to produce butter that is spreadable right from the fridge - no softening period required. This has been done in order to compete with margarine and it is typically done in one of three ways:
1) Chemical manipulation of the makeup of the butter fat molecules
2) Manipulation of the animal's feed
3) Incorporating vegetable oils into the butter product
As a result of the above methods, this product tends to be highly processed (somewhat like margarine) and defeat the purpose of selecting butter over margarine in the first place.

Clarified Butter (commonly referred to as Ghee)
Clarified butter is commonly used in Indian cooking. It is nearly pure butterfat as it has been clarified to remove most of the water and milk solids from the product. The clarification process takes place by heating the butter to melting point and then cooling it back down. Once it cools, it settles into three layers that separate by density - whey proteins on the top, butter fat in the middle and then the water and casein proteins settle at the bottom. The advantage to clarifying butter is that it can then be heated to higher temperatures without burning as all of the milk solids which typically burn if butter is overheated, have been removed from the butter during the clarification process.

Image from DrAxe.com
Butter & Baking

Most baking cookbooks will have a section on butter and baking. The most common topic for discussion is whether to use salted or unsalted butter. With salted butter, salt is added to the butter in the form of granules or brine during the manufacturing process. Salt preserves the butter and therefore gives it a longer shelf life than unsalted butter. But this also tends to indicate that unsalted butter is fresher than its salted counterpart.

Unsalted butter is most often recommended for baking as it is much easier to control the saltiness of recipes by adding all of the salt yourself. Since each brand of butter adds different quantities of salt depending on their individual manufacturing process, the saltiness of any brand of butter or even production batch of butter can vary widely which can therefore impact the amount of salt you would want to add to your baking. For example adding a standard 1/2 tsp of salt to a batch of cookie dough could result in very salty cookies if the butter is quite salty or in flavourless cookies if the butter is not very salty. Therefore, starting with unsalted butter gives the baker more control over the consistency of the end product.

Tips on Butter use and Storage

  • If butter has melted and then solidified, don't use it in your baking! Melting butter changes the properties of it and therefore when mixed with flour, it won't incorporate in the same way it would if it had never melted!
  • You can freeze butter for up to 4 months after purchasing it! Place it in a freezer bag to retain the flavour.
  • To soften butter quickly, cut the butter into 1 inch cubes, place in a single layer on a plate on the counter. Butter should soften within 15 minutes. For baking, don't ever soften butter in the microwave!
  • To preserve butter keep it tightly wrapped! Exposure to air and light increases the speed of butter going rancid. It also helps to avoid the butter absorbing other odours that may be present in your fridge. Wrapped butter will keep for several months in the fridge.
Image from BBC.co.uk
Finally, lets end with some fun facts about butter!

  1. According to Wikipedia, differing varieties of butter are found around the world. "Smen is a spiced Moroccan clarified butter, buried in the ground and aged for months or years. Yak butter is a specialty in Tibet; tsampa barley flour mixed with yak butter, is a staple food. Butter tea is consumed in the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and India. It consists of tea served with intensely flavoured - or rancid - yak butter and salt. In African and Asian developing nations, butter is traditionally made from sour milk rather than cream."
  2. Butter actually contains very little lactose as it is mostly just milk fat. This is why butter often doesn't bother people with mild lactose intolerance.
Also, if you want to try  your hand at making homemade butter here's a great tutorial. You don't need any special equipment - you can use your stand mixer! Why not give it a try! You'll be amazed how delicious freshly made butter is.

Thanks for stopping by! If there's any other ingredients you're curious about and would like to see featured in the Pantry Basics series, please let me know!


Bacon, Cheese & Caramelized Onion Quick Bread

Good Morning friends! Surprise, I'm back! My life has been crazy and I have been going through some huge life changes during the last 6 months or so and my blogging and baking/ cooking has been put on the back burner. I don't know how regularly I will be back here, so I'm not making any promises, but I've been missing all of you and missing spending some QT in my kitchen. I will post some more about all of the life changes and craziness soon, but I want the focus of this post to be this spectacularly delicious quick bread. It is totally worthy of a post devoted to its awesomeness.

The quick bread name is a little deceiving for this bread if you decide to make it all at once. Caramelizing onions properly takes time (read minimum 30 minutes). But the good news is that you can caramelize the onions and cook the bacon ahead of time. My method has you making the bacon in the oven while you caramelize the onions on the stove top, which will be the most efficient and least messy way to do the prep work!

Bacon, Cheese & Caramelized Onion Quick Bread
Recipe minimally adapted from Oprah Magazine

  • 3 tbsp. butter, plus more for greasing
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 6 slices lazy maple bacon
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup 1% milk
  • 1/3 cup EVOO
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups muenster cheese (or any other sharp, white cheese), shredded
  1. First things first - cook your bacon and caramelize the onions. You can do this up to 2-3 days ahead of making the actual bread. Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and lay the bacon in one layer, making sure the edges of the bacon don't overlap. Cook the bacon for 15-17 minutes or until crisp. Remove from tray to a paper towel lined plate and let cool. While the bacon is cooking - melt 3 tbsp. butter in a medium non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat. Add onions. Cook, stirring every few minutes and making sure they don't brown, until onions are soft and caramelized. This should take approximately 30 minutes. If onions are browning, your heat is too high. Remove onions from heat and let cool.
  2. When ready to prepare the bread, preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9x5 loaf pan or line with parchment paper. Don't skip this step or skimp on the grease!!! The cheese can stick to the pan as it cooks, so you need to grease well.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Make well in center of bowl.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine milk, EVOO and egg. Mix until combined.
  5. Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients. Gently fold mixture together until flour is incorporated. Chop the bacon into small pieces. Add bacon, cheese and onions to batter and mix together gently. Don't over mix or you will have tough bread. Place mixture in prepared loaf pan and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Let cool as long as you can bear it and then remove from loaf pan and slice. Delicious topped with butter or jam for that sweet-savory combo.

I'm pretty sure this is my favorite quick bread recipe thus far and I know its my hubby's favorite too. It doesn't last long in our house. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

The thing I love about this recipe is that you can mix it up - add some herbs and spices that you like, change up the type of cheese or change up the type of meat - you could do prosciutto (go easy on the salt if you decide to do that though), left over ham, etc. The possibilities are endless!

I'm so glad to be back! Hopefully you'll be hearing from me more often this summer as we get settled into our new life. :) Happy baking my friends!


Roasted Garlic and Yam Soup

Hey Friends! I realize its been a while since I updated my blog... Not even going to try to make excuses for whats going on or why I haven't been posting much. What I am going to do is bring you a delicious soup that will warm you through and through despite this cold weather we've all been having. A delicious roasted garlic and yam soup.

This soup is a bit time consuming due to the many layers of flavours that go into it! You can make the veggie stock a day or two before and you can roast the veggies ahead of time too if you want to speed up the process. If you really don't have time and need to skip one of the steps - just buy the veggie stock. Don't skip roasting the veg - it adds such a delish layer of flavours that you can't miss out on to enjoy the true delightfulness of this soup.

First things first - make the veggie stock. You can find a delish recipe here - though it will make more than you need for this recipe, just freeze the rest and use it up as you see fit. Next you can get started on the recipe below. 

Roasted Garlic and Yam Soup
Minimally adapted from Rebar

  • 6 cups veggie stock (recipe linked above)
  • 3 large yams
  • 2 heads of garlic
  • 4 roma tomatoes
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh sage
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ancho chile powder
  • pinch of allspice
  • 2 tsp chipotle puree (puree one can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and measure out 2 tsp)
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • juice of one lime
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Using a fork, pork a few holes in each yam. Cut the top 1/4 off the garlic to expose each of the pieces of garlic inside, drizzle each head with olive oil then wrap in foil. Place yams and garlic on a baking tray and roast in preheated oven for approximately 45 minutes. Yams may need a bit longer, but garlic should come out after 45 minutes. Yams are done when they are very tender. Cool slightly, then remove yams and garlic from their skin.
  2. Halve and seed the peppers. Place peppers and whole tomatoes on a well-oiled baking tray and roast until skins are browned and puffed (about 15 minutes). Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for approximately 10 minutes. Peel away the skins and set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large soup pot, add onions and saute until translucent. Add garlic, spices and herbs and cook until garlic is fragrant (about 1 minute). Stir in the peeled, roasted veggies, the stock and the chipotle puree. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  4. Puree the soup until smooth. Whisk in maple syrup and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot and topped with crushed tortilla chips and a bit of cheese. Also delicious with a dallop of sour cream or greek yogurt.

Happy Cooking my Friends! What have you been cooking and baking lately?


From Scratch: Delicious Vegetable Stock

Some things just taste better when they're made from scratch. Stock is definitely one of those things! Whether its a hearty chicken or beef stock, a delicate seafood stock or a delicious veggie stock, it always tastes better when its home made. The reason is that you control how much salt goes in it (the storebought versions are usually full of sodium) and you get to control the layering of flavours and tailor them to suit your tastes. The other beautiful thing about stock is that you can make it using up scraps you would have otherwise thrown out! This stock recipe can be changed up based on what you have on hand! The only things to avoid tossing in are:
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Beets
  • Peppers
  • Asparagus
These will either colour your stock with an odd colour or they will give it an overwhelming flavour that won't be suitable for a multi-purpose use that a stock usually is.

Apologies for the iPhone photos... The last few things I've made I haven't had a chance to photograph them with my good camera, but they turned out so delicious I still wanted to share them with you.
Here's how to make this delicious stock:
Vegetable Stock
Recipe minimally adapted from Rebar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 leeks, greens only
  • 1 garlic bulb
  • 4 carrots
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 apple
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp coarse salt
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme & sage
  • 16 cups cold water
  1. Peel and roughly chop the onions, leeks, carrots and celery. Separate the garlic bulb and smash the cloves with the flat of your knife. Quarter the apple.
  2. Heat oil in a large stock pot and add onions, leeks, carrots, celery, salt and bay leaves. Saute for five minutes, stirring often.
  3. Add all of the remaining ingredients, including the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Strain and cool if not using immediately. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Don't you love how easy that is? You can have fresh, flavorful and delicious stock in under an hour! Better tasting and way healthier for you than store bought. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Happy Cooking my Friends!


Weekend Wine - 49 North 2012 White

Happy Friday my lovelies! I thought we could kick off the weekend right with a delish and refreshing wine suggestion from Forty Nine North! At $10 per bottle, you can't beat the price point!

The grapes for this wine were harvested in October 2012 and includes a blend of grapes from vineyards in Osoyoos, Oliver, Kelowna, and Naramata in British Columbia. The tasting notes on the Artisan Wine Shop website include the following:

This is a fresh, mouthwatering white blend showing peach, pear and subtle floral notes. The crisp palate is filled with green apple, grapefruit, spice and citrus flavoured acidity. It is a wonderful accompaniment to seafood, white meat dishes or served as an aperitif. 

I really enjoyed this wine - it was refreshing, crisp and relatively dry. Let me know what you think of it or if you've tried it before!



Szechuan Pork and Veggies

Happy Monday Friends! I wasn't planning to share this recipe with you  this time around because it was my first time trying it out. Buttt.... people got really excited when I instgrammed a couple of pictures... so I decided I would share it with you. But you've got to bear with me - my pictures are just what I snapped with my iPhone and instagrammed. I will update this post with better photos when I make this recipe again (which I will be doing soon because it was so darn good I've been dreaming about it!).                                

I adapted this recipe slightly from the Guy Can't Cook by Cinda Chavich. If you follow my blog regularly, you'll know that I LOVE the Guy Can't Cook and the Girl Can't Cook cookbooks. They're life savers with tips to easily and practically tackle tougher dishes to impress friends and family with your culinary prowess (even if you seriously lack in that area). Give them a go - you won't be disappointed! From consistent recipes, explanations for new ingredients, along with tips and tricks for newbies!

Szechuan Pork and Veggies
Recipe adapted from the Guy Can't Cook

  • 1/3 cup canola oil, divided
  • 2 small zucchini's
  • 1 lb boneless pork loin chops, cut into thin strips
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Asian Chili paste (or more depending on how spicy you like it)
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar (I used seasoned rice wine vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp tamari
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp hot curry powder
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped into thin strips
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

  1. In a wok, heat 1-2 tbsp of the oil over medium high heat. Cook chopped zucchini in batches until lightly browned, but not overcooked. Remove zucchini to a bowl and set aside for later. Season pork strips with salt and pepper. Add 1-2 more tbsp of the oil to the wok and add the pork. Cook it in batches until it is nicely browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside for later.
  2. Add a little more oil to the wok and then add the onion. Cook, stirring until starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Combine the chili paste, tomato paste, broth, vinegar, tamari, fish sauce, brown sugar and curry powder and stir together. Add to the wok and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.
  3. Return the pork to the pan, stir in the bell pepper and return to a boil. Cover the wok and simmer over medium heat for 30-45 minutes (sauce will thicken and develop a really rich taste). Add the zucchini and chopped cilantro. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve over rice.



Pantry Basics: Whats the Deal with Eggs?

Photo Credit: Laura Hawkins
I'm late posting this week's pantry basics post! Better late than never I guess! Today we're going to talk about eggs! First we'll talk a little bit about the impact of eggs on your health, how to purchase eggs and finally how to cook them. For those of you who are allergic to them or sensitive to them, I've also got a little bit of info on egg substitutions.

Eggs and your Health

Eggs have a bad rap due to the amount of cholesterol contained in them. According to an article in the Globe and Mail, eggs have approximately 183 mg of cholesterol. The recommended daily intake of cholesterol for a healthy person is 300mg and the recommended daily intake for someone with heart disease or other issues is only 200mg. In a number of studies conducted, when healthy people ate one egg per day, there was no clear link to cardiovascular disease. But those one a day people's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes did increase and people with Type 2 diabetes have a 69% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Its a vicious cycle isn't is? Seems like you just can't win when it comes to your health these days.

Does this mean you should cut eggs out of your diet? No way! People with cardiovascular disease or cholesterol issues already should definitely limit their intake of egg yolks, but egg whites are cholesterol free and fair game for those folks. For healthy people, eggs still offer a number of great health benefits including loads of vitamins, protein and nine essential amino acids. Eggs in moderation and combined with a healthy overall diet can provide a number of great health benefits for the body! So enjoy your eggs on the weekend and don't sweat it! Maybe go easy on the hollandaise sauce though. ;)

What you Need to Know Before you Purchase Eggs

Purchasing eggs is a pretty big bone of contention these days. There is information everywhere about how bad the chickens are treated and how awful the food they consume is. I won't go into details here because it is very graphic and disturbing, but if this is something you would like to learn more about, you can hop over to www.certifiedhumane.com to learn more. With this in mind, I will tell you a little more about the labelling on egg cartons and how to know which are best for you from a health perspective and also from a humane perspective to the chickens. These two items are often linked very closely to one another - healthfully cared for chickens = healthier and better for us eggs. Seems like a no-brainer doesn't it?

Information discussed below is from my cookbook Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair.

Conventional eggs are the typical supermarket eggs with no special labelling. These eggs are produced in large factories where two chickens are stuffed into a wire cage of approximately 2 feet square. These chickens don't get outside and their feed is allowed to contain antibiotics, meat, meat biproducts and bioengineered corn. This method of production is banned in some areas of Europe, but still fair game in North America. Given the condition the chickens are stored in and the feed they eat, you can imagine that their eggs are the least nutritious and contain many toxins.

Cage Free, Free Run, Free Roaming and Free Range sounds nicer doesn't it? But this can be deceiving. These labelling terms mean there aren't any cages in the chicken barn or that they have access to the outdoors. These terms don't mean the chickens actually go outside, nor does it mean that their diet is any different than conventionally raised chickens.

Sometimes you'll see Omega-3 on the label. This means that the chickens feed is supplemented with 10-20 % flax seed which increases the nutrient content of each egg. This doesn't mean that the eggs are free from the above hormones and toxins because the rest of their food and conditions aren't any different than the two categories discussed above.

Organic eggs are a little different from the above noted egg types. To be labelled organic, the farmer must guarantee that flocks have access to an organic outside area year round and are fed at least 80% organic non-GMO feed. No meat, meat by-products, antibiotics or hormones are allowed in the feed and each bird must have a minimum of 2 square feed of floor space. They aren't caged - this just means that if you have a 40 square food barn, you can't have more than 20 chickens. These eggs are expensive - in most grocery stores they are approximately $7 per dozen compared to $3 for conventional eggs. But the price tag is worth it! It is an investment in your health and you can avoid being exposed to hormones and toxins that can be harmful to your body. I recommend buying organic eggs unless the next category is readily available to you.

Pastured eggs means that chickens are kept in a moveable enclosure with nests that are moved once or twice daily to a new piece of grass. This results in the chickens obtaining at least 20% of their diet from foraging and eating insects (which is their natural diet). This method of production provides the highest quality eggs you can buy! You can find them at local farmers' markets (ask the vendor) or by making friends with your neighbor who has chickens!

How to Cook Eggs

Some basic egg cooking methods and tips can be found below:

Bring eggs to room temperature. Put eggs in a pot and cover with cold water. Turn heat on high until it is just about to boil, then turn down to a simmer (just barely bubbling). Start your timer now! For soft cooked eggs - 2-3 minutes, medium cooked eggs - 4 minutes and for hard-cooked eggs, simmer 10-15 minutes.

Whisk eggs with salt, pepper and 1-2 tbso of cream or milk. Melt a pat of butter in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add eggs and stir, scraping up cooked bits from the bottom of the pan. Stop stirring whil eggs are still a bit runny on top. Cover pan, remove from heat and leg eggs cook in pan for five minutes. You can toss in some minced chives and grated cheese at this time and let it melt into a delicious, flavourful dish at this time!

Place a pat of butter in a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Cook until whites of eggs are firm, but yolks remain soft (tip: shake the pan to see how soft egg is in the center).As they finish cooking, put lid on for one minute.

Bring eggs t room temperature. Heat two inches of water in a large non-stick skillet and add 1 tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to rolling boil. Tip eggs into boiling water and immediately cover the pan and turn off the heat. Poach for 3 minutes for soft yolks, 4 for firmer yolks. Lift eggs out with slotted spoon, drain well and serve. (These eggs make delicious eggs benedict if you're up for a treat).

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Egg Substitutes
Some of you may have egg allergies or sensitivities. If a recipe calls for two eggs, you can substitute the following (though keep in mind - eggs bind ingredients together so the texture will change if you make these substitutions.

Increase liquid and fat in recipe by 1/4 cup each (so if you have milk and butter in your recipe, add an extra 1/4 cup of each to the recipe).

Substitute 1/2 cup of your favorite fruit or vegetable puree (dates, bananas, applesauce, sweet potatoes are good ones).

Grind  2 tbsp. flaxseed, add 6 tbsp. boiling water then let mixture set for 15 minutes. Whisk with a fork.

I hope you found this post informative and useful! If you have any questions or if you have anything to add, feel free to use the comments section of this post!! Thanks for stopping by!