Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Buttermilk – does it have butter in it?

What do you think of when you hear the word “buttermilk”? I know I think of buttermilk pancakes but that is certainly not the only use for buttermilk. What it is and how to use it is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Before the 1920s, buttermilk was different than it is today. Cooks left their unpasteurized cream to sit for a few days to thicken before churning into butter. During this time, naturally occurring bacteria caused it to ferment by converting milk sugars into lactic acid. This resulted in a liquid with a mildly sour taste and a slightly thickened texture. This is also where the name buttermilk comes from as it results from the process of churning butter.

Today, almost all milk/cream is pasteurized at high temperatures, killing the bacteria. Makers of buttermilk reintroduce lactic acid bacteria into this pasteurized milk. This is called “Cultured Buttermilk” and is what you will find in the store.

When you use buttermilk, it is often combined with baking soda. The lactic acid paired with the alkaline baking soda causes a chemical reaction that leads to the rise that you want in pancakes or buttermilk biscuits. It adds a tangy flavor as well as acting as a tenderizer in baked goods. You can also use it in cooking but it can curdle if heated too quickly. To incorporate into hot dishes, warm it separately in a saucepan over medium-low heat first.

Most recipes only call for a small amount of buttermilk and most stores only sell it in 1 quart or ½ gallon sizes. Less commonly, you might be able to find it in a pint size. It does last longer in the refrigerator than other dairy products as the lactic acid inhibits bacterial growth. According to the USDA, buttermilk can be kept in the refrigerator for about two weeks. It can also be frozen for up to three months. To do this, pour into an ice cube tray and once solid, move to a plastic bag. You can defrost it overnight in the refrigerator although it will separate. A quick whisking will bring it back together. You can also microwave it on medium power. Testers have found there is not much difference using frozen as compared to fresh buttermilk.

What if you don’t have any buttermilk on hand and do not want to buy it in the quantities offered? A look in cookbooks and websites will give you a number of alternatives. Here is a list.

  • Milk and vinegar
  • Milk and lemon juice
  • Milk and cream of tartar
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt
  • Powdered buttermilk

Many of these sources just repeat what they have been told or read without asking if they are good alternatives. Do they really work as well as real buttermilk? I have found a couple sources (Cooks’ Illustrated and TheKitchn.com) that have actually put these alternatives to the test. I will try to summarize the results.

Milk & acid

  • This is done by adding 1 tablespoon of either lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup whole milk, stirring together and then allowing it to sit for 10 minutes to thicken. A different acid that can also be used is cream of tartar. Add 1¾ teaspoon to 1 cup whole milk.
  • Although mixing vinegar, lemon juice or cream of tartar into whole milk will produce an acidified product, they do not compare to real buttermilk.
    • Lemon juice adds a distinct lemony taste that you may not want.
    • Pancakes do not brown as well and do not get as puffy as with real buttermilk.
    • Cream of tartar can lead to very rubbery pancakes. If you decide to try this, the cream of tartar should be added to the dry ingredients as it will clump when added to the milk.
  • Cooks’ Country found better results with recipes for biscuits and chocolate cakes. The biscuits made with either buttermilk powder (see below) or soured milk were lighter and fluffier as compared with liquid buttermilk. Many also preferred the flavor of those made with soured milk.  The upshot was that all were acceptable.

Sour cream or yogurt

  • Both of these products should be thinned with water. Most recommend using ¾ cup of the dairy product and ¼ cup of water. They should be whisked together but no resting time is necessary.
  • Some testers found that both sour cream and yogurt performed better than the acidulated milk but not as good as real buttermilk.
  • They also concluded that Greek yogurt the best choice. Whisk together ⅓ cup whole milk Greek yogurt with ¾ cup 1% milk. This was an excellent alternative in terms of results.
  • Cooks’ Country tested yogurt and buttermilk in biscuits, pancakes and sheet cake. They tried just yogurt, just buttermilk and also a mixture of half yogurt and half buttermilk. In sheet cakes & biscuits, all worked well. In pancakes, pure yogurt did not work as the batter was too thick making it hard to cook all the way through without getting the exteriors too dark. However, the 50/50 mixture worked well.

Buttermilk powder

  • This product is made from buttermilk that has been heated and dehydrated to produce a stable powder. The product made by Saco Pantry (not the only brand available) is made from actual cultured, churned sweet cream buttermilk. Because of this, some feel that there is more richness as compared to its liquid counterpart. The latter is made from skim milk that has been inoculated with bacteria.
  • Another great thing about this product is that is has a long shelf life. Once opened, it should be refrigerated. It is usable up to the expiration date, which is about 2 years after you buy it.
  • To use the buttermilk powder, follow the instructions on the canister, which has you mix the powder with the same amount of water as the buttermilk that is called for in the recipe. For baked goods, it is best to add the powder to the dry ingredients and then add the water when the recipe says to add the buttermilk.
  • It is said to add flavor, tenderness and richness as well as improved moisture retention and enhanced browning. King Arthur’s Test Kitchen Charlotte Rutledge uses it in her pie dough as she says it impedes gluten development and makes rolling it out easier and increases the crust’s delicate texture.
  • In testing, King Arthur flour tried it in buttermilk pie, buttermilk cake, biscuits and sugar cookies. They liked how it worked in all the recipes. They did find two differences as compared to using liquid buttermilk. Those baked goods made with the powder are slightly lighter in color and the flavor is more creamy-buttery rather than tangy. They state they you can use milk rather than water, which gives even better texture and flavor.
  • Cooks’ Illustrated also loved it for baking applications. However, they found problems in other recipes such as coleslaw and mashed potatoes. It led to watery, looser results. The recommend decreasing the water by 25% while using the normal amount of powder. When used for coating fried chicken, the coating did not stick. They found no way around this problem.
  • Finally, it was the favorite from the testing done on TheKitchn.com although the only recipe tested was a buttermilk pancake recipe. They found its flavor was the closest to true buttermilk and the pancakes were evenly golden with a light and fluffy interior.

In summary, if you usually have liquid buttermilk on hand, that’s great. If you don’t, though, you may want to grab a can of powdered buttermilk. It can do as well and sometimes even better than the liquid buttermilk in most applications. I know I always have a can in my refrigerator. What about you? What do you use?

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Canned Milk Products

I was making homemade ice cream this week and my recipe called for a can of evaporated milk. That caused me to wonder if the average person knows the difference between that product and the other canned milk product – sweetened condensed milk – and when to use them. Afterall, they are both in little cans that look similar but they are very different products. That is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Let’s start with the definition of milk. According to the FDA, “Milk is the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows … that shall have been pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized.” All of us know what milk is and where it comes from but have you ever defined it like that? That’s government-speak for you.

The different types of milk and other dairy products vary by their milkfat content. Here are the percentages of each kind from the highest to the lowest fat content. This will help you make decisions about substitutions for the canned milk if necessary.

  • Heavy cream – not less than 36% milkfat
  • Light whipping cream – between 30% and 36% milkfat
  • Light cream – not less than 18% milkfat
  • Half and half – a mixture of milk and cream to create a product that is between 10.5% and 18% milkfat
  • Whole milk – not less than 3.25% milkfat
  • Reduced fat – about 2% milkfat
  • Low fat – about 1% milkfat
  • Skim/fat-free – essentially no fat

Evaporated Milk

To make this product, fresh milk is simmered until the liquid is reduced by about 60%. This results in a product that is concentrated and creamy. The cooking process breaks down the milk proteins (caseins), which means it is less likely to curdle in your recipes.

According to the FDA, it must contain not less than 6.5% milkfat. It is homogenized and contains vitamin D. The addition of vitamin A is optional. It is processed by heat to prevent spoilage.

It will be sweeter than regular milk as the natural sugar in milk, lactose, has been concentrated during the evaporation process.

This type of milk is often used to give a creamy texture to dishes such as sauces, macaroni/cheese, mashed potatoes, puddings, fudge, etc.

It can stand in as a substitute for regular milk in recipes by adding an equal amount of water. However, it will cause a deeper color with a slightly sweet, caramelized flavor. So, it may not be something you want to use for your bechamel sauce.

If you do not have a can in your pantry, you can use a fresh dairy product. Use the milkfat content info above to pick a suitable choice. You may also use a mixture such as for one cup of evaporated milk, mix ¼ cup cream with ¾ cup whole milk.

Another alternative is to make your own. All you have to do is to simmer milk until the volume is reduced by about 60%. It can be stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to 10 days.

Condensed Milk

This is also known as “sweetened condensed milk” and therein lies the difference between this product and evaporated milk. Sugar to the tune of 40-45% is added to the milk. As it is boiled down, it becomes very thick and caramelized.

Due to the sugar, this product is mostly used in desserts such as puddings and sweet custards. It is also a key ingredient to Thai iced tea. In baked goods, it provides tenderness, moisture and flavor as well as adding color to pastry crusts.

According to the FDA, it must contain not less than 8% milkfat. It is pasteurized and homogenized and contains vitamin D. The addition of vitamin A is optional. The sweetener must be added in sufficient quantity to prevent spoilage.

Because of the sugar, it cannot substitute for evaporated or regular milk. Once again, though, you can make your own. There are different recipes but here are two.

  1. Mix ¾ cup sugar, ½ cup water and 1⅛ cup dry powdered milk and simmer until thickened, stirring frequently.
  2. Heat ⅓ cup + 2 Tbsp evaporated milk or regular milk with 1 cup sugar and 3 Tbsp margarine/butter until sugar dissolves.

Because both of these products are shelf-stable and have different purposes in the kitchen, it is a good idea to have some available rather than substituting. Once opened, just keep the left-overs in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Do you have some in your pantry right now? I hope so!

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Mayo — for more than sandwiches!

In last week’s Cooking Tip, we learned just what mayonnaise is, how it is made as well as some taste testing results of commercial products. Mayonnaise can be used for so much more than just spreading on sandwiches and that is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

The first thing is that you can do to enliven your mayonnaise is by adding your own flavors. In my local supermarket, the following varieties can be found. Do you have any fun flavors in your store? Let me know.

  • Chipotle
  • Chipotle Lime
  • Miso
  • Black Truffle
  • Hint of Lime
  • Garlic
  • Sriracha
  • Wasabi
  • Harissa

Mayonnaise also forms the base for many sauces such as aioli, remoulade and others.

Aioli

This is one of the most famous mayo-based sauces. It originated in Provence and was made by pounding garlic with a mortar and pestle and emulsifying with oil. There were no eggs or acid added. Today, though, it is a mayonnaise flavored with garlic. As opposed to mayonnaise, which normally takes a neutral oil, aioli classically uses a fruity extra virgin olive oil.

Aioli is often used as a sauce or dip with seafood in Mediterranean cuisines. It is also used as a burger spread, on pasta, as a topping for crab cakes or a dip for grilled veggies.

Spanish-style aioli is called allioli and is often served with patata bravas (fried potatoes) or seafood.

Just as with mayonnaise, other flavors made be added to create versions such as sriracha, cilantro jalapeno, roasted red pepper, citrus, sundried tomato, avocado, caper peppercorn, honey basil, orange chive, sesame ginger or smoked paprika.

Remoulade

Remoulade is a mayonnaise-based sauce also with French origins. Although it originated in France, regional variations arose as it spread across the world.

There are four basic types of remoulade.

  1. French – this is the classic. The base of mayonnaise is enlivened by mixing in herbs (parsley, chives, chervil, tarragon), capers, diced cornichons, vinegar or lemon juice. It may also contain anchovies and/or horseradish.
  2. Louisiana – this type is spicier because it incorporates Creole and Cajun flavors such as stone-ground or Creole mustard along with paprika, green onions, celery and parsley. Some also add lemon juice, hot sauce/cayenne and hard boiled eggs.
  3. Danish – An interesting variety that contains minced cauliflower, cabbage and cucumber pickles. It often contains turmeric, which is what gives it a yellow hue. Other possible ingredients are sour cream, red onion and carrots.
  4. Comeback sauce – This sauce originates from central Mississippi. It is similar to Louisiana-style remoulade with a base of mayonnaise but typically uses a milder ketchup-like chili sauce rather than hot sauce.

Remoulade is used as a condiment or dipping sauce. It is usually paired with seafood, cold meats and fried foods such as fried pickles, fried green tomatoes, fried fish, crab cakes, a po’boy sandwich or French fries.

Tartar Sauce

Although tartar sauce is often described as a type of remoulade that uses mustard rather than anchovy, it actually has fewer ingredients. The main ingredients are mayonnaise, capers and sweet pickles.

Rouille

This is a French sauce that traditionally does not contain any mayonnaise. I am including it here, though, as modern versions do use mayonnaise. It is ubiquitous in Provence as an accompaniment to the famous fish soup, bouillabaisse. The name means “rust” in French, because of the reddish color of the sauce.

There are two methods to create a rouille.

  1. The traditional method uses olive oil, chili peppers and garlic. Breadcrumbs are added for texture and thickening. A wide range of spices may be added including, but not limited to, saffron, orange peel and basil.

  2. The modern method uses mayonnaise instead of olive oil along with chili peppers or red pimentos and maybe garlic. Because mayonnaise is already thick, breadcrumbs are not always used. As with the traditional rouille, a wide range of spices may be added.  

It is the ideal sauce to accompany a dish of fish, shellfish or fish-based soups.

Salad Dressings

There are also many salad dressings based on mayonnaise. These include:

  • Thousand Island
  • Russian dressing
  • Ranch dressing
  • Lemon poppy seed dressing
  • Coleslaw dressing
  • Blue cheese dressing
  • Buttermilk ranch dressing

How do you use mayonnaise? Do you have a special sauce that you make with mayonnaise? Let me know.

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Mayonnaise — just what is it?

We all know what mayonnaise is and I would suspect most of us have a jar in our refrigerator. However, do you really know what it is, what it is made of and all the ways you can use it? That is the subject of this and the next Cooking Tip.

Mayonnaise is a thick condiment made from oil, eggs, an acid and perhaps seasonings. It is called an emulsification because oil and the water found in the eggs do not naturally mix together. You must break up the oil into tiny droplets and combine it in a way that they are suspended in the water.

What products can be called mayonnaise is regulated by the FDA. It must contain at least 65% oil by weight, vinegar and egg or egg yolks. Spices/seasonings may be added except for turmeric, saffron or anything that would give a color simulating that imparted by egg yolk.

As noted above, basic mayonnaise has three ingredients: oil, eggs (or just yolks), and an acid (usually vinegar or lemon juice). Seasonings such as salt and pepper are usually added. You can then personalize it with all sorts of flavorings such as chipotle, herbs, citrus and many others.

The basic procedure is as follows:

  1. Put eggs and/or egg yolks along with the acid and seasonings in a bowl or the container of a blender or food processor and combine. Some recipes will also add mustard not only as a flavoring agent but also because it assists in emulsification.
  2. Slowly add oil while blending – by a hand whisk, blender or food processor – until thick and creamy.
  3. Adjust seasonings to taste. Some recipes recommend adding the lemon juice at this point rather than at the beginning.
  4. If the mayonnaise breaks, there are a few recommended methods of bringing it back together.
    1. Add a bit of water and whisk until emulsified.
    2. Strain the mixture and use the liquid as the oil. Then, start over with a fresh egg/yolk. Some chefs do not think straining is necessary.
    3. Combine a teaspoon of mustard with a tablespoon of the broken mayonnaise (or one egg yolk plus a little lemon juice), beat until creamy, and then add the rest of the broken mayonnaise, one teaspoon at a time. If mayonnaise becomes oily on the surface, whisk in a tablespoon of water.
  5. Ratio – You will see variations from different sources but a basic ratio is 1 egg/yolk to 1 cup oil.
  6. Type of oil – It is best to use a neutral, refined oil such as canola, grapeseed, sunflower, safflower, a light olive oil or a blended oil (mix of olive and veg oils). EVOO has too strong of a flavor.

J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats highly recommends using a hand/immersion blender as an “almost” fail-proof method. To use one, add all the ingredients, including the oil, directly into the blending cup. At this point, the oil will float on top but when you insert the head of the blender, the blades will be at the level of the other ingredients. As you start to blend, a vortex is created, which pulls the oil down into the moving blades. So, instead of you trickling in the oil, that vortex does it for you and you easily end up with creamy, perfectly emulsified mayonnaise. Here is a link to watch this method in action.

He does add, though, that the jar must be the right size – only slightly larger than the head of the immersion blender as the egg/acid mixture must be in contact with the blades of the blender before you switch it on. Also, the head of the blender must be placed firmly against the bottom of the jar until it starts to come together and then you will move it slowly up and down to ensure thorough mixing.

There are those that feel whisking by hand gives you a much superior result in terms of taste claiming it is brighter, less bitter with more pronounced lemon notes. It does, though, give a thinner, more sauce-like texture rather than the thicker, more spreadable texture that we associate with mayonnaise.

One concern that many people have about homemade mayonnaise is that the eggs are not cooked and thus bring a risk of salmonella. Although the risk is small (but not zero) for most of us, it is of more concern for certain populations – children, the elderly, the chronically ill, pregnant women and the immune-compromised.

If you are someone who is not in one of these groups but yet are squeamish about the thought of raw eggs, you could try to find pasteurized eggs. Pasteurization is a process that kills potential pathogens. The main company (perhaps the only company) that sells these is Davidson’s. One of the stores I frequent used to carry them but I have not seen them anywhere near me recently. Can you find them? Let me know.

People who have tested these in-shell pasteurized eggs have found them fine for some applications, such as mayonnaise, but were not happy with them in other applications.

One other option is to try to pasteurize them yourselves. The FDA does not recommend this as it is very difficult to just achieve pasteurization without cooking the eggs and with home methods, it is not 100% effective. There are a number of recommended methods such as sous vide and stove top. If you are just using egg yolks, you could try a microwave method recommended by Cooks Illustrated. According to them, “Heating the yolks to 160 degrees (this takes just a minute or two in the microwave) kills common pathogens, and abundant lemon juice keeps the mayo food-safe for up to one month.”

Although most culinary experts will tell you that there is no commercial version of mayonnaise that beats the taste and texture of home-made, they also realize that it is not practical to always have the latter on hand. It does take a bit of skill to make and has a shelf-life of only a few days. To help you pick out the best store-bought version, there have been some taste tests done. I will just mention four from oldest to newest.

Fine Cooking magazine rated mayos in 2006 and crowned Kraft Real Mayonnaise as their favorite. After Kraft, they liked:

Cooks Illustrated did a testing in 2012 and they found that the best tasting brands had the fewest ingredients and the simplest flavors. Their winner was Blue Plate Real Mayonnaise. Their runners-up were

Epicurious tasted 16 brands in 2018. Their winner was Blue Plate Real Mayonnaise with Hellman’s in 2nd place. The remainder of the brands were listed in alphabetical order but not in any sort of ranking.

Serious Eats’ taste test was in 2019 and they also found that Kraft Real Mayonnaise to be excellent. It tied in the tasting with Duke’s Real Mayonnaise. Others ranked in order from best to worst were:

Whether you make your own mayonnaise (I hope you will try it at least once) or buy a good commercial one, there is more to do with it other than spreading it on a sandwich. Stay tuned as we will delve into that subject into the next Cooking Tip!

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Frittatas — No Recipe Needed

A question I get frequently is how to cook without always using a recipe. Although I am testing recipes quite frequently, I do like to be able to throw something on the dinner table without needing to look for and consult a recipe. This spring, I will be teaching a two-part series on doing just this – Cooking without a Recipe. If you would like to book a similar class for yourself, just email me. One of the dishes that you can do this with is a Frittata. How to do this is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Ingredients

There is only one absolute in making a frittata – eggs. However, most recipes will also add dairy. For the best flavor, the dairy should be full fat.

The most quoted ratio is 6 large eggs to ¼ cup diary and 1-2 cups of add-ins. If you are using cheese, aim for ½ to 1 cup for the same 6-egg frittata. Some sources alter this ratio by recommending only 1½ Tablespoons of dairy for 6 eggs.

Making it your own involves picking the other ingredients you might want to include. It often means whatever you have in your refrigerator or pantry as a frittata is a great way to use up these items. Here are some suggestions but it is not all-inclusive.

  • Meat – bacon, ham, sausage, smoked salmon, chorizo
  • Produce – onions (sautéed or caramelized), shallots, zucchini, yellow squash, spinach, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, broccoli, bell pepper, garlic, corn
  • Herbs – parsley, tarragon, chives
  • Seasoning – salt, pepper, basil, parsley, thyme, paprika, ground mustard, hot sauce, pesto
  • Dairy – milk, half/half, cream, sour cream, unflavored yogurt
  • Cheese – cheddar, gruyère, fontina, mozzarella, gouda, goat’s cheese, feta

Cooking

  • Frittatas can be done totally on the stovetop or started on the stovetop and finished in the oven. If using the oven, make sure your skillet is oven-safe. A well-seasoned cast iron is great for frittatas. If you have an oven-safe non-stick pan, that is another good choice. You do not want your frittata sticking to the pan. For a 12-egg frittata, grab a 10-inch pan. For 6 eggs, try an 8-inch pan.
  • You should pre-cook your add-ins before adding your eggs. An exception is if you are using fresh herbs or tender greens. Be sure to season them unless they are already salty as with bacon. Whereas most veggies can be cooked in the pan, potatoes are helped by par-boiling before adding them to the pan.
  • Combine your dairy, eggs and seasonings. Stir in cheese, if using. Pour over the veggies and gently stir a few times.
  • Cook stovetop for a few minutes, just until the sides are barely set, before placing in a preheated (350°F) oven. Another method is to cook on the stovetop until the bottom is almost done and then finish for a few minutes under the broiler.
  • A no-oven method recommends cooking stove-top until the edges are beginning to set. Then, working over a sink, place a flat plate or lid on top of the skillet. Placing one hand on the plate, invert the skillet onto the plate. Slide frittata back into the skillet and continue cooking until the second side firms up.
  • If cooking in the oven, remove when just set. This could be anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the size. You do not want to overcook it. Instead, you want the texture to be custardy and just set. The crust should not be browned as that means your interior is most likely over-cooked. If you really want a brown top, sprinkle some cheese on during the last few minutes of cooking.

Frittatas are great for any meal and can be served either warm or at room temperature. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and reheated for a quick lunch.

Do you have a favorite frittata? Have you ever tried to make one without resorting to a recipe? If you follow the above guidelines, I am sure you will put smiles on the people around the table.

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

The World of Hard Cheeses

This is the second of a three-part series of Cooking Tips about cooking with cheese. In this one, I want to look at how cheese is categorized and then we will discuss some of the more popular hard or semi-hard cheeses. In Part III, I will concentrate on softer cheeses.

The categorization of cheese can vary somewhat. For simplicity sake, I will use the following listing.

Hard

Semi-hard (or semi-firm)

Semi-soft

Soft-ripened

Fresh

Blue

Hard cheeses have been aged to remove moisture, which also allows the salt in the cheese to crystallize, resulting in a sharp flavor and a slightly granular texture.

Examples

  • Mature Cheddar
  • Dry Jack
  • Dry Gouda
  • Asiago
  • Manchego
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano

Semi-Hard (semi-firm) cheeses have more moisture than hard cheeses and a slightly smoother texture. The aged ones have a bolder, more complex flavor.

Examples

  • Younger Cheddar
  • Swiss
  • Gouda
  • Gruyère

Cheddar – this must be one of the most popular cheeses in the US. I know it is one of my favorites. It was originally made in England by a process called “cheddaring”, in which curds are cut into slabs, stacked and pressed.

  • Color – Cheddars may be white or yellow, the latter created by dying it with annatto seeds.
  • Flavor – the flavors of Cheddars can vary from mild to sharp and are known for their tangy, nutty flavor.
  • Texture – it is dry and crumbly in texture
  • Aging – there is no minimum but best is at least one year
  • Uses
    • The mild cheddar has a higher moisture content and melts better than sharp cheddar. As cheddar ages, the texture becomes more firm and drier. It can tend to curdle when melted. To counteract this, one recommendation is to shred it and toss it with cornstarch or combine with a better melting cheese.
    • Sandwiches, burgers
    • Grated over casseroles
    • Cheese sauces for mac/cheese, savory pies, quiches

Monterey Jack – this is a cheese that was born in California and is at times called Cali Jack cheese. Pepper Jack is the same cheese spiced up. It is a superior melting cheese with a mild flavor.

  • Color – pale yellow
  • Flavor – mild and buttery with slight tang
  • Texture — smooth
  • Aging – about 1-2 months
  • Uses
    • Jack is a great melting cheese
    • Casseroles and mac/cheese
    • Sandwiches
    • Cheese dips
    • Sprinkled over chili

Parmesan – I wrote a prior Cooking Tip on this cheese will that will give you more detail and describe the differences between Parmesan-Reggiano and Parmesan.

  • Color – cream
  • Flavor – a strong, nutty taste that is more pronounced as it ages
  • Texture – a hard granular cheese
  • Aging – Parmesan-Reggiano should be aged at least 12 months and up to 36 months. Domestic parmesans have a varying length of aging.
  • Uses
    • Grated over pasta, casseroles, salads
    • Eaten as a snack
    • Cheese sauces
    • Add to panko and eggs to make a coating for chicken

Gruyère – Produced in France and Switzerland and made from cow’s milk.

  • Color – yellow
  • Flavor – sweet but slightly salty & nutty. Flavor does vary with age.
  • Texture – a hard cheese
  • Aging – the best is aged for about a year
  • Uses
    • Great for melting
    • French onion soup
    • Cheese sauce
    • Fondue
    • Table cheese
    • Grated in salads and pasta

Swiss cheese – now made elsewhere, the traditional is Emmentaler Swiss cheese. The holes are formed when bacteria release carbon dioxide as the cheese ages.

  • Color – pale yellow
  • Flavor –mild, sweet and nutty
  • Texture – medium hard
  • Aging – from 3 to over 6 months
  • Uses
    • Sandwiches
    • Savory pies, frittatas, souffles, omelets
    • Cheese sauces
    • Fondue

Emmentaler – an Alpine-style or Mountain cheese that originated from the milk of cows that were led up into the Alps to graze over multiple seasons. Native to Switzerland.

  • Color – pale yellow
  • Flavor – mild, slightly sweet, slightly nutty
  • Texture – semi-hard with large holes
  • Aging – at least 4 months and up to 14 months
  • Uses
    • A good melting cheese
    • Chicken cordon bleu
    • Traditional for fondue
    • Grilled cheese
    • Casseroles

Gouda – this is a cow’s milk cheese originating from the Netherlands and is one of the most popular cheeses worldwide. Today, the name is applied to any cheese produced in the traditional Dutch manner.

  • Color – yellow
  • Flavor – sweet & nutty
  • Texture – a semi-hard to hard cheese
  • Aging – at least 4 weeks but better if at least a year
  • Uses
    • Young gouda can be melted
    • Aged gouda is better grated over salads or casseroles

Provolone – an Italian cheese of two forms – Dolce and Piccante

  • Color – white to pale yellow
  • Flavor – varies with age. Dolce is milder and sweeter. Piccante is sharper. Some versions are smoked.
  • Texture – a semi-hard cheese
  • Aging – Dolce is 2-3 months. Piccante is more than 4 months.
  • Uses
    • Casseroles
    • Pizza
    • Sandwiches
    • Baked pasta dishes

Edam – A Dutch cheese

  • Color – traditionally sold in spheres with pale yellow interior and coat of red wax
  • Flavor – very mild but slightly salty and nutty. Flavor sharpens as it ages.
  • Texture – a semi-hard cheese
  • Aging – 3 – 12 months
  • Uses
    • Chicken dishes
    • Potato dishes
    • Souffles
    • Salads
    • Soups
    • Sauces

Manchego – A Spanish sheep’s milk cheese

  • Color – ivory to straw yellow
  • Flavor – younger ones have a buttery, rich flavor and aged ones are deeply salty with crystals
  • Texture – a firm, compact cheese
  • Aging – 60 days to 2 years
  • Uses
    • Eat as is, especially paired with quince paste

Asiago – an Italian cheese with two forms – fresh and mature

  • Color – ranges from off-white to yellowish depending on age
  • Flavor – nutty with the fresh form being milder in flavor
  • Texture – fresh is smoother and mature is somewhat crumbly
  • Uses
    • Grating on dishes
    • Melting
    • Slicing

American Cheese – Made from blending cheese with emulsifiers and stabilizers. It must be labeled as “process cheese product” because it is only partly cheese. Try to buy one where the first ingredient is “cultured pasteurized milk” to ensure the best quality.

  • Color – yellow
  • Favor – reminds you of your childhood
  • Texture — smooth
  • Creamy, smooth cheese made from blending natural cheeses.
  • Forms: individually wrapped slices or blocks
  • Uses
    • Good for melting
    • Grilled cheese

That is quite a few cheeses but it only scratches the surface on hard and semi-hard cheeses. I encourage to go to a cheese-monger or your supermarket specialty cheese department and have fun! Stay tuned for another Tip on softer cheeses.

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Cooking with Cheese

There are an unbelievable number of cheeses today and they are becoming more and more available in our supermarkets. Cheeses are not just for eating out of hand or putting on sandwiches. In this Cooking Tip, I want to discuss how to use cheeses to their best advantage in your culinary creations. This will not be an exhausting list, but will hopefully cover some of the most commonly called for cheeses in recipes. In this first of three Cooking Tips, I want to discuss general storage and cooking tips.

When purchasing cheese, makes sure the packaging is tightly wrapped & sealed and that the cheese does not look dry or discolored. For fresh cheeses, check the date on the wrapper and you want it to be as fresh as possible. Once opened, follow certain guidelines.

First, all cheeses should be refrigerated if you are not consuming it immediately. Store in the veggie drawer at about 35°- 45°F.

Most cheese makers will tell you to remove the cheese from the original plastic wrapping. Similarly, they recommend against wrapping the cheese in plastic wrap. Harold McGee writes in his culinary reference book, On Food and Cooking, that there are three reasons to avoid tight plastic wrap.

  1. Tight wrapping traps moisture and restricts oxygen flow and will promote the growth of bacteria and mold that are not naturally found in the cheese.
  2. Tight wrapping prevents the dissipation of ammonia. Some cheeses have bacteria that naturally emit ammonia and it needs to be released to prevent the development of unpleasant flavors.
  3. Trace volatile compounds and plastic chemicals migrate from the plastic into the cheese.

According to Castello Cheese, it also alters the protective rind that preserves the cheese, eventually removing flavor/texture.

Therefore, the cheese should be loosely wrapped in a more porous material such as wax or parchment paper. After wrapping, you may then either place it in an open plastic bag or wrap in plastic to discourage moisture loss. For extremely pungent cheeses, you may want to place them in an airtight container to prevent their aroma/flavor from permeating other foods. Firm cheeses also do well wrapped in foil.

There is a cheese paper made especially for cheese. The main brand is Formaticum and it comes in both bags and rolls. It is becoming easier to obtain although a bit expensive. Even my local supermarket carries it in their specialty cheese department. I recently received a gift of food storage wrappers made from cotton and beeswax and there are a number of brands available. There are even instructions for making your own. I have not seen a cheese maker mention these but I have been using them and so far, they have done a nice job of maintaining my cheese freshness.

Another recommendation is to replace the wrapping after every use so you don’t introduce bacteria from your hands or other foods.

Some cheeses should be stored in their original packaging. For instance, fresh cheeses such as mozzarella and soft ripened cheeses such as Brie and Camembert. They don’t breathe the same way as harder cheeses do and won’t absorb unpleasant flavors. If they come packaged in a liquid, store them in that same liquid.

What if mold develops? According to the Mayo Clinic and the USDA, if it is a soft or fresh cheese such as cream cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta, fresh goat cheese or if it has been shredded, crumbled or sliced, it should be thrown away. With a hard or semi-hard cheese such as Cheddar, Parmesan and Swiss, they say the mold does not penetrate the entire piece of cheese. So, you can just cut off the moldy part with about an inch border and continue to use it.

What about freezing cheese? It can be done at times but, it is not recommended. Hard cheeses freeze the best. Cut into small pieces (less than ½# and less than 1-inch thick) & wrap tightly in plastic wrap. To thaw, leave in refrigerator for several hours and use shortly afterwards.

Some cheeses freeze better than others, in particular Cheddar, Havarti and Gouda. Soft cheeses should not be frozen. Examples include Brie, blue cheeses and cream cheese. Those high in moisture such as mozzarella can be frozen but they do suffer texturally and are best served in a cooked manner after thawing.

Let’s switch to some advice to help you with using that cheese in your cooking.

  • For grating and shredding, keep your cheese cold as it will be much easier without turning to mush.
  • Removing rinds that are edible is optional; it depends on your taste. Be forewarned, some can be quite intense.
  • In general, you want to use a low cooking temperature for a short amount of time.
  • If you are melting shredded or crumbled cheese into a hot dish, toss it in just before serving.
  • For casserole-type dishes, consider adding a bit of milk or cream so the cheese doesn’t dry out during the longer cooking times. Bake no higher than 375°F so it doesn’t break the cheese sauce.
  • If adding cheese to a béchamel sauce to make a mornay sauce, keep your roux on the lighter side so it doesn’t compete with the cheese. Remove the sauce from heat before adding so it doesn’t break.
  • If just want to use the cheese as a topping, putting it briefly under the broiler is all you need.
  • You can also add cheese chunks to cold dishes such as pasta or a veggie dish, especially fresh cheeses such as Chèvre or Queso Fresco.
  • If you wish to add a little lemon juice to your cheese sauce, do not add so much that it will curdle. Alternatively, you might want to consider adding just the zest, which will give you that nice, bright flavor without fear of curdling.

Some final words on melting and non-melting cheeses. At about 90°F, the milk fat in the cheese melts, which makes the cheese more supple and often brings little beads of melted fat to the surface. At higher temperatures, enough of the protein bonds are broken such that the protein matrix collapses allowing the cheese to flow as a thick liquid.

  • For soft cheeses, this occurs around 130°F.
  • For harder cheeses such as Cheddar and Swiss, it is about 150 F.
  • For very hard and low moisture cheeses such as Parmesan and Pecorino, it doesn’t happen until about 180°F.

Some cheeses are not meant to melt and if you try, they will just get drier and stiffer. These include:

  • Indian paneer
  • Latin queso blanco
  • Italian ricotta
  • Most fresh goat cheeses

You may have noticed that some cheeses get stringy when melted. There is a chemical explanation for this that causes stringiness in cheeses that are moderate in acid, moisture, salt & age. The worst offenders are Mozzarella, Emmental and Cheddar. To counteract this if you wish to use one of these cheeses, try the following.

  • Grate the cheese very finely so it can disperse evenly.
  • Heat the dish as little as possible after the cheese has been added.
  • Don’t let the dish cool too much before serving.
  • Minimize stirring.
  • Include starch ingredients such as flour, cornstarch, arrowroot.
  • If the flavor of your dish permits, add an acid such as lemon juice or wine.

I hope this gets you started in understanding the basics of cooking with cheese. In the next two Tips, we will look at some of the cheeses more in-depth.

Until then, Happy Cooking!

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Homemade Ice Cream is so Special!

The weather has really warmed up here – with highs nearing 90°F. That is perfect weather for Ice Cream. Sure, there are a myriad of choices at the stores but why not make your own? Advice to help you make great homemade ice cream is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

The basic ingredients for ice cream are simple.

  • Cream
  • Milk
  • Sugar
  • Eggs (usually)
  • Flavorings (vanilla, chocolate, fruit, etc.)
  • Ice cream pro Andrew Hingston says his secret to great ice cream is skim milk powder. He claims the protein in the milk powder helps stabilize the ice cream emulsion without adding extra fat. It absorbs most of the extra water in the mixture. Your ice cream remains creamy in your freezer rather than icy and lasts for a few weeks rather than a few days.

There are many different styles of ice cream but we will just discuss a few. There are so many other styles such as gelato, semifreddo, sorbet, sherbet, etc. Due to space limitations, I will not include those in this Tip.

The Custard Style

This is also called “European” or “French” style ice cream and is the classic cooked ice cream. It is made just like any custard with dairy and eggs. The dairy is heated, it is tempered into the eggs/sugar and the mixture is cooked until it is thickened. If using a thermometer, heat it until it is between 165° and 180°F. Carefully watching the temperature, keep it in this range for about 10-15 minutes.

The Philadelphia-Style

This is also known as “New York” or “American” style ice cream and is made without eggs. It is made with just cream, sugar, and flavorings. Many recipes just have you mix the ingredients and proceed to churning. Others recommend heating the ingredients. Heating helps the sugar more fully dissolve, it helps with infusing flavor (if desired) as well as causing protein denaturing, leading to a better quality ice cream. This style of ice cream is delicate and smooth and allows the flavor of the cream to shine. It does, though, have less richness due to the absence of the eggs.

The Egg-Free Style

This base was made popular by Jeni Britton Bauer’s Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. Like the name implies, this base skips the eggs (similar to Philadelphia-style), but relies on cornstarch as a thickener, along with a small amount of cream cheese for richness and smooth body.

The No-Churn Style

Unlike the other three bases, this one doesn’t require any cooking, nor does it require an ice cream maker. Sweetened condensed milk acts as the base. Then, cream is whipped and folded in to give you that light, airy texture.

There is a version that uses eggs rather than the canned milk that is recommended by Serious Eats. It does require a bit of cooking in that the eggs must be heated to make them safe to eat. It relies on whipping of this base as well as the cream but no churning.

The technique for making great ice cream is almost more important than the ingredients. At its most basic, ice cream is composed of ice crystals, concentrated sweetened cream and air cells that are trapped in the ice cream when it is churned. The ice crystals form when the water in the mixture freezes. The size of the crystals determines the texture of the ice cream. The smaller the crystals, the creamier the ice cream. Much of what you should be doing when making the ice cream is to minimize the development and size of ice crystals.

There are three necessary steps and two optional but recommended steps.

Preparing the base

  • The base is made up of at a minimum milk, cream and sugar. Sometimes there are also egg yolks, condensed milk, milk powders and/or other sweeteners.
  • A higher fat concentration results in more richness to a point. Too much fat will mean it will taste fatty, coat your mouth and not freeze well.
  • Milk is mostly water and thus can make your ice cream icier and harder. Milk is necessary to get the right balance of fat/dairy but don’t use too much.
  • Sugar improves the flavor and softens the ice cream. Too much and it won’t freeze at all and will taste too sweet.
  • Eggs – although it is possible to make ice cream without eggs, the eggs do play an important role. They make the ice cream denser, smoother and more custardy as well as decreasing the iciness. Eggs also improve the stability of the ice cream so it doesn’t melt as quickly. They also prolong the shelf life.

Prechilling

  • Once the base is finished, it should be refrigerated until it drops to 40°F. This means that the churning/freezing will be faster resulting in less ice crystals.

Aging (optional but recommended)

  • This will improve the body, texture and flavor. It helps trap air bubbles and results in a softer ice cream.
  • Allow it to rest in the refrigerator before churning for 4-12 hours with 6 hours being optimal.

Freezing

  • You want to freeze your chilled (and aged) base quickly while it is being churned to reduce the size of ice crystals. There is only so much you can do to control this with home ice cream freezers. That is why keeping everything as cold as possible is so important. As you churn, ice crystals form very quickly on the edge of the churning mixture. The agitation from the machine helps to distribute this. The fat coats the ice crystals. You want to keep churning and moving the mixture around so the air is worked in before putting the mixture in the freezer. As the air is incorporated, the mixture increases in volume – called overflow. This helps you to know when your ice cream is ready – it should have increased significantly in volume and should be the consistency of soft serve ice cream.

Hardening (optional)

  • After the churning is finished, it may be hard to resist not eating it right then but it is best to scoop it into a resealable container and freeze it for a few hours.

Fruit Swirls

Adding a fruit swirl to your ice cream is not as simple as just folding in fresh fruit. Because fruit is so full of water, if you add it plain to your ice cream, it will freeze solid. To prevent this, use either fruit jams or make a fresh fruit puree.

Making a fresh fruit puree by adding sugar and cooking the mixture is easy. The sugar lowers the freezing point and cooking reduces the water content. After prepping the fruit, put the fruit along with sugar and a splash of an acidic ingredient (such as lemon juice) in a pot and place over heat. A good ratio to start with is 8 ozs fruit, 1 oz lemon juice and 6 ozs sugar. Depending on how thick you want it, cook until about 4-5 ounces of water evaporates (a food scale will help you here) or until it reaches 220°-224°F. You may strain the syrup after cooking if desired.

To get a ripple effect, you want to layer. This also works for adding caramel or fudge. Start with a chilled long, wide container such as a loaf pan. Place a layer of ice cream on the bottom. Dollop your desired filling on top of that layer. Add another layer of ice cream and filling. Gently and quickly swirl the topping in and place in freezer as soon as you can.

Chunky add-ins

If you like ice cream that has chunks of nuts, chocolate, etc. in it, you may do this with your homemade ice cream. Go for between 2 & 4 ozs for one recipe. Chop them into the desired size and then put them in a sieve to shake out the dust that results from chopping. That will just taste gritty in your ice cream. Because ice cream is so temperature-sensitive, chill those add-ins in the freezer while the ice cream churns.

Chocolate

For a chocolate ice cream, use a combination of cocoa powder with very good quality chocolate. Cocoa powder helps to absorb the excess water although it doesn’t pack the flavor punch that good chocolate does. So, using both will give you the best result.

What if you want chocolate chips? You may certainly use purchased chocolate chips. However, they contain a stabilizer to help them maintain their shape. This means you will just end up with a waxy, frozen chip that doesn’t melt well in your mouth. You could chop up good quality chocolate and add it but as chocolate cools, it turns brittle and somewhat chalky.

A nice option is to shave small pieces of chocolate with a vegetable peeler. This will give you lighter flakes that will melt in your mouth.

You could also make what the Italians call straciatella, which means “shreds”. To obtain this, add a tiny bit of a neutral-flavored oil to your chocolate while it is melting – no more than one teaspoon for every two ounces of chocolate. In the last minute or two of churning, drizzle in this warm chocolate. This creates little threads and shards of chocolate that are delightful.

Homemade ice cream is such a wonderful treat during the summer. Do you have a favorite style or a favorite flavor? My husband loves Rocky Road and so, that is next on my To Do list!

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Yogurt — Not just for Snacking

You might think yogurt is just for snacking but in this Cooking Tip, I want to show you how to use it in baking and/or cooking. My husband used to make his own yogurt and I loved it as I always had some nice & thick unflavored yogurt on hand to use whenever I wanted it. Sadly, he has moved on to other things and his yogurt maker now sits lonely on the shelf.

Yogurt is produced by inoculating milk with a bacterial strain that starts fermentation. This thickens the milk and gives it a sour flavor. The milk can be anywhere between skim and whole. Yogurt has become so popular that plain, unflavored yogurt is just a small minority of the yogurt offered in the store. Flavored yogurts are the mainstay in the dairy aisle. You will also find Greek and non-Greek yogurt as well as non-dairy options.

When it comes to using it as an ingredient, stick to plain, unflavored yogurt. Unless your recipe calls for something different, opt for full-fat yogurt. If you can’t find it, try 2%. If possible, stay away from non-fat as you won’t get the same creaminess. This is especially true if you are trying to substitute yogurt for a different dairy product. For example, if you are making a sauce that calls for heavy cream and you try to replace it with a low- or non-fat yogurt, it might result in a mess of a sauce. The fat content is necessary to coat the proteins in the cream. If you have less fat, there is less coating of the proteins and when heated, the proteins will join together and coagulate – not a pretty sight!

Similarly, if you are trying to thicken your sauce by the reduction method, low fat products are not recommended. Once again, there is not enough fat to coat the proteins and prevent coagulation. One work-around that is recommended is to add a bit of starch to replace some of the fat. For example, adding a bit of cornstarch to your low-fat dairy and the rest of the ingredients for your sauce. Or, just use a higher fat yogurt.

How can you use yogurt in your cooking? Here are a few ideas.

  • Sauces – adding a touch of yogurt to your pan sauce can add richness.
  • Toppings – top your bowl of chili or soup with a dollop. Do this just before serving.
  • Marinades – the enzymes in yogurt help break down proteins, which tenderizes meat and fish.
  • Mayonnaise – use yogurt instead of mayo in your chicken salad or creamy dressings.
  • Buttermilk – yogurt can be used in place of buttermilk. For every cup of buttermilk, mix 2/3 cup of yogurt with 1/3 cup of milk.
  • Sour cream – yogurt, especially Greek, can be substituted for sour cream. Cooks Illustrated cautions that with high heat preparations, the yogurt might break due to the lower fat content as compared to sour cream.

Here are a few tips for using yogurt in your recipes:

  • If adding to a hot mixture, temper it. Add a few tablespoons of the hot mixture into the yogurt first. This warms the yogurt and helps to prevent separation. Then you can stir that back into your hot mixture.
  • Stir/fold the yogurt in gently to help maintain a nice texture.
  • Add the yogurt in the final stages of cooking to maintain its thickness.
  • If your yogurt-based salad dressing or dip is not thick enough, a rest in the refrigerator for an hour should help.

If a recipe calls for Greek-style yogurt and all you have is regular yogurt, don’t despair. Put your regular yogurt into a fine-mesh strainer lined with a paper towel or coffee filter and place over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to drain as long as you can, preferably overnight. You will be left with delightfully thick yogurt but you will also be left with the liquid that is drained off – the whey. Don’t throw that away as you can use it in your baking.

According to King Arthur Flour, whey can be used in place of water in yeast bread recipes as the yeast likes the acidity of the whey. It can also be used as a substitute for buttermilk. Since whey is thinner, they recommend to reduce the amount by about 20% to 25%, compared to the buttermilk. If the amount of buttermilk is less than ½ cup, don’t bother with the reduction. Use the same amount of whey as buttermilk.

If you want to use yogurt in your recipes for baked goods, realize that Greek yogurt is going to have less moisture than regular yogurt. Therefore, to ensure your baked goods such as muffins do not come out dry, you need to add a bit of water. If your recipe calls for 1 cup liquid, use 2/3 cup Greek yogurt and 1/3 cup water.

For a more complete chart for how to substitute yogurt for different dairy ingredients, see this chart produced by 100DaysofRealFood.com in conjunction with Stonyfield yogurts.

Do you like to use yogurt in your cooking and baking? Let me know how you use it and any advice you have for others. The next time you walk by the yogurt aisle, not only grab some for snacking but grab some also for cooking/baking. Have fun!

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Butter — which kind to use

Butter1Butter is a wonderful and tasty ingredient although I know it gets a bad rap for health reasons. We use it in all types of baking as well as savory applications. In this Cooking Tip, I would like to discuss whether the type of butter you choose makes a difference to your end result.

One of the main choices you will have to make when purchasing butter is whether to get salted butter or unsalted (sometimes called sweet) butter. Most chefs and food resources will tell you that you should only use unsalted butter in your cooking and baking. These are the reasons:

  • You want to control how much salt goes into your item. Since all salted butters contain different amounts of salt, it is better to go with unsalted butter and then add your own salt as desired.
  • Salt is used as a preservative and extends shelf life. In theory, then, unsalted butter (which has a shorter shelf life) should be fresher.
  • Unsalted butter has a lower water content, something that you want in baked goods. Excess water can interfere with gluten development – a concern for some baked goods. When Cooks Illustrated did side-by-side comparisons of brownies and biscuits made with the same brand of butter – one salted and unsalted – they found that those made with salted butter were a little mushy.
  • Salt can mask butter’s delicate flavor. This is a detriment where butter is the star ingredient such as in buttercream frostings, butter cookies and certain sauces such as beurre blanc.

There are times that salted butter may be preferred. It is great for spreading on bread, adding to your veggies or just when you are not concerned about the amount of salt in your dish. There are also certain recipes that have been developed using salted butter.

Does the brand of butter matter? Perhaps. Cooks Illustrated did a tasting of seven different supermarket brands of unsalted butters. They tasted the butters plain, in pound cake and in sugar cookies. Although there were definite flavor differences, they would not hesitate to recommend any of them for your use. Their ultimate winner was Challenge unsalted butter. I tend to use Land O Lakes. I especially like their half-sticks as I only need to take out a small amount at a time and leave the rest protected in the freezer.

For salted butters, Cooks Illustrated preferred Lurpak, a butter from Denmark. TheKitchn.com preferred President whereas Epicurious preferred Cabot Natural Creamery butter. I like Kerrygold as well as Kroger’s Private Selection Salted French Butter. So, what do you like? Let me know.

Some butters are termed “cultured”. In the culturing process, the cream is fermented before churning leading to that more complex flavors. This may be great for spreading on your bread but probably not so good for baking.

Another difference you will see is European-style butters (aka premium butters). They are touted for having a higher fat content than regular butters although this difference is small. Many think European-style butters are better for baking but this is a personal preference. Because of their higher fat and lower water content, King Arthur Flour cautions that if “used in a recipe not calling for it specifically, European-style butter can create a greasy, sometimes drier result than grade AA butter.”

People often wonder if they can substitute salted butter for unsalted and vice versa. As always, I strongly recommend going with whatever type is called for in your recipe, especially if it is a baked good. The usual question is if you can use salted butter when unsalted is called for. The answer is a qualified “yes” but be aware that you may want to decrease the other salt in your recipe. Try decreasing the salt by ¼ teaspoon per stick of butter.

If, by chance, your recipe calls for salted butter and all you have is unsalted, you may need to add salt. It can be difficult to know how much to add as brands vary in their salt content. Challenge recommends adding ¼ teaspoon for every stick of Challenge unsalted butter. Other brands do not always tell you what they recommend for their brand but Challenge’s suggestion is a good place to start.

Butter is a perishable food item and, therefore, should be stored properly. Most butter manufacturers recommend storing butter in the refrigerator. The American Butter Institute has a slightly different take. They say you may leave your butter at room temperature but there are cautions. First, since salted butter is less likely to go bad, if you want to leave your butter out, this is the kind to go for. If you have unsalted butter, refrigerate.

The FDA states that “traditional butter and margarine have had a long history of safety without time/temperature control.” (Time/temp control is a recommendation that tells us that foods can be dangerous to eat if not kept at the correct temperature for the correct amount of time.) When they say “traditional” butter, it means butter with at least 80% milk fat. Much more caution must be taken with products with lower fat, higher water and lower salt levels. It also presumes that the product is pasteurized.

Butter will eventually spoil. State Food Safety states “For best quality, keep butter in a covered dish and use it within 10 days. You can also refrigerate or freeze butter to extend its shelf life.” Keep butter in its original wrapping when refrigerated. For longer storage, you can freeze it. An additional wrapping of foil will help to preserve its freshness.

I must admit that I love butter for all sorts of uses. An all-butter pie crust is delicious and flaky. Adding a small pat of butter to your pan sauce gives it a wonderful silky texture and fuller taste. Yes, we may need to watch how much we eat but I could never eliminate it totally. Could you?