Thursday, August 6, 2009

Butter: Why Bother?

(with a note about cherries)

Y’all, this post is about butter, but the picture is not as big a bait and switch as you think. There’s a note at the bottom about cherry jam. Stay with me.

So it’s hardly an original idea to write about making butter. I read in the New York Times about a year ago that hotsy totsy Manhattan chefs were doing it. The Minneapolis Star Tribune plastered it all over the Taste section just weeks ago. If you Google “how to make butter,” you will come up with more than 39 million hits.

Why, Amy Boland, why would you bother to blog about butter?

Because it’s just so fun! It is so easy and so fun and you can’t screw it up. You don’t have to buy anything. Or you can use it as an excuse to buy everything. You could do it with your kids on a rainy day and then make cookies with it. Or you could do it by yourself on a barbecue day and show it off to your friends, who will not know it is easy and fun and will be all impressed.

If you want to do it with few purchases, then you only need heavy whipping cream and a lidded jar that you fish out of the recycling. (Get cream with no other ingredients, i.e. carrageenan.) If you want to use buttermaking as an excuse to buy a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook, well then you just go on.
I went halvsies. I spent $7 on a bench knife that I secretly wanted to buy anyway. And I used Organic Valley cream and a bowl and my hand mixer.

Just beat or shake cream until it passes through the whipped stage, through the “Rrr! I overwhipped it” stage, and all the way until “What the hell? There’s milk in here!” Pour off the liquid (It’s buttermilk! Drink it! It’s not nasty like the kind in the store!). Rinse the solid in cold water until it runs clear. Shake it dry, or better yet knead it with a spoon against the side of a bowl, or with your new bench knife on the countertop, or on the brand new marble countertops that you had to have installed so that you could make butter. (See what I mean about excuses?) Use a clean kitchen towel to pat off the water as you go.

Mix in salt, or don’t. Mix in flavors, or don’t. Because it’s… easy and fun! You can’t screw it up!

On a total non sequitur, cherry jam! Oh boy! My family recipe for strawberry jam also works on raspberries and, as I just discovered, cherries too.

I used the sour cherries pictured above. I got them from Maple Leaf Orchard. If you get to the downtown St. Paul farmers market early enough on Saturday, August 8, you might be able to score a quart or two. Afton Apple sometimes has an extra flat you could pick up. Or maybe you, or a neighbor, have a North Star cherry tree growing in your yard. Or you could use sweet cherries, too, I guess.

I pitted a generous quart, chopped them very roughly (each cherry into 2-3 pieces), and omitted the lemon juice. I measured 3 cups of very juicy cherries. I boiled them hard for several minutes until they had reduced a bit, then carried on as usual—I had to cook the jam for six minutes before it would gel. The recipe yielded just over a pint. Holy intense cherry flavor!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Open Letter to a Star Prairie Trout

Dear Splashy:

Do you mind if I call you Splashy? It’s a little familiar, I know. But I would like to think of you as someone, and I never knew your name—assuming trout have names.

You don’t know anything about me. Well, you don’t know anything at all—not in the state you’re in. But I know a few things about you. I know that a mere five days ago you were swimming in fresh, cold spring water with thousands of other trout. I know that you were sleek and lovely, well-fed and healthy, and almost certainly happy.

Such is life for a fish. I understand; I have kept your kind as pets for more than ten years. Give you the proper water chemistry and temperature, the proper food, the proper companions, and the proper underwater landscape, and you thrive. That’s what Star Prairie Trout Farm did for you in the time it took you to grow to marketable size.

I can’t say I didn’t feel a little ambivalent bringing you home all filleted and labeled “Smoked 7/30.” Oh, Splashy, I would just as gladly have watched you swim around. To have admired your torpedo body, your untouchable quickness, your translucent and shimmering color—ah! A fish is one of the most beautiful and efficient creatures on earth. In other circumstances, our relationship could have been much different. A little sad, that.

The real tragedy, though, Splashy, is that you will never know how delicious you are. You will never understand how fantastic you taste baked into a tart with a flaky crust and served with some braised greens, roasted potatoes, a salad, and a nice glass of fume blanc. Your firm, smoky richness is why I can just get over it and eat you. You’re absolutely scrumptious, and you’re one of the many reasons I will never become a vegetarian. It’s good to be on top of the food chain.

So, my small friend, perhaps we will meet again in another life. But I hope not. If we do, I hope your memory is short and you don’t hold a grudge.

Smoked Trout Tart


1 ¼ cups flour
½ cup butter or shortening
½ t salt
3-5 T ice water

Mix flour and salt, cut in fat, and sprinkle with water. Stir a few times until it clumps together. Form into a ball and chill for as long as you can—at least an hour but better overnight.

Roll out the pastry and line a tart pan with a removable rim. If you don’t have that, you can use a pie pan. Make sure to patch up any holes in the crust! Chill again for ½ hour.

Now, the tart:

2 smoked fillets of trout, i.e. one fish – Star Prairie is perfect.
4 eggs
1 cup milk or cream
¼ t freshly ground black pepper
A dash of freshly ground nutmeg
Salt to taste

Take the skin off the trout and tear or chop the meat into ½-inch chunks. Scatter across the bottom of the pastry-lined tart pan. Whisk together the eggs, milk, and seasonings. Pour them over the trout. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the center of the tart is just firm. The tart should still be a little quivery. Remove from the oven and let stand 5-10 minutes. Serve to acclaim.