Butter Taste-Off

October 13, 2010

A world without butter is, to me, a very sad place. In the list of foods I can’t live without, it ranks very high. I like it sweet and cold, and I have a very hard time understanding how anyone could possibly want it warm and salted.

My basic butter choices are Plugra and Land o’ Lakes. (Although I’ve been unhappy with Land o’ Lakes since they stopped wrapping their butter in foil; sweet butter is fragile, and foil provides the best barrier to the off-flavors it so easily absorbs.) But the store had sold out of both, so I decided to buy three other brands, from three countries, and have a butter taste-off.

Celles sur Belle, a French butter from Charentes-Poitou was the most expensive of the lot. Creamy and delicious, it was the most neutral. However, given its price, I wouldn’t buy it again.

Jana Valley from the Czech Republic was the least expensive of the butters, a little more than half the price of the French butter, and definitely one I would buy again. Of the three butters, it had the purest cream flavor.

Kate’s Homemade Butter from Maine was the big surprise to me. It was the median-priced butter, with a clean, sweet flavor. This is the one I want on my morning bread.

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Ian’s Great Meatloaf

October 12, 2010

This is my favorite meatloaf. It’s a recipe that Ian Knauer invented for Gourmet a couple of years ago, brilliantly deciding to lace the bacon through the loaf itself, instead of laying it on top. He balances the smokiness of the bacon with the sweetness of prunes, then punches the flavor up with Worcestershire sauce and a touch of vinegar. I’ve increased the onion in the recipe a bit, and upped the proportion of pork to beef, but otherwise the recipe is pretty much the way he originally wrote it. This recipe will feed 6 to 8 people, but you really want to have some leftover. I love it reheated for breakfast, topped with a fried egg.

Bacon-Prune Meatloaf

Soak 1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs in 1/3 cup whole milk in a bowl large enough to eventually hold all ingredients.

Chop 2 onions. Smash 3 cloves of garlic.Chop a rib of celery and a carrot. Saute them all in 2 tablespoons of butter until tender and wilted. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar, 1 ground allspice clove, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Add to bread-crumb mixture.

Grind 1/4 pound of bacon and 1/2 cup pitted prunes in a food processor, then add to onion mixture along with 1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck, 3/4 pounds ground pork, 2 eggs and 1/3 cup chopped parsley Mix it together, gently, with your hands.

Pack mixture into an oval loaf in a 13- by 9-inch shallow baking dish or pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour and a quarter. Let stand 10 minutes
(or longer) before serving.

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The Changing Taste of America

October 12, 2010

Went to visit Nick at college today, and we stopped into the campus grocery store. I was fascinated by what this tiny little place had on offer.

Right by the door, in the most prominent place was a case filled with sushi and hummus. The sushi was no surprise: it was the garden variety sort that you now find in every supermarket. The hummus, however, came in a dozen different flavors. Have I somehow missed the hummus revolution?

The produce section was equally interesting. To Nick’s disgust there was no organic produce, but I was amazed to see, among the prosaic lettuces, onions and eggplants, a surprisingly diverse display of herbs and aromatics. Ginger!

One entire wall of the store was devoted to various kinds of soft drinks; no surprise there. And the vast cast of ice cream was complete expected. But I was stunned by the wide variety of grains: quinoa, cous cous, barley, bulghur….even sticky rice.

Looking back at the campus grocery store when I was in school, I mostly remember that I yearned for garlic, which was considered too exotic. Walking through the aisles in my memory, I am wandering past shelves holding what were once considered staples: mayonnaise, Wonder Bread, macaroni and cheese. Clearly the taste of America has changed. It gives me hope

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Things I Love 3

October 10, 2010

Zabar’s in the early morning, when you’re almost the only customer in the store. Everyone’s setting up, waiting for the day to begin, and there’s a hopeful quality that disappears in the exhausted rush of the day.

The cheese people will wave and smile at you. And the fish guys, who become taciturn later on (except in the presence of children for whom, in my experience, they always have a smile), will actually talk to you as they unwrap the slabs of salmon and wipe the display windows down.

Walking home, the feeling lasts. People on the street nod at one another like conspirators with a wonderful secret. For this moment, the city belongs to us.

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Things I Love 2

October 9, 2010

White sweet potatoes, with their fluffy flesh, have a nutty flavor that is unlike that of any other potato. Think chestnuts. Cooked until near melting, they turn into a flavor catalyst. Add a bit of butter and a splash of maple syrup, and they make a great impromptu “cake” for dessert. Spoon in a bit of miso, and they’re an equally easy accompaniment to chicken or beef.

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