Like millions of other fans of baking all over the world, there is one spice that we cannot do without. And that is vanilla. I have learnt a lot about this awesome spice while I’ve spent time at Littlepod HQ in deepest Devon in South West England. My friend Janet Sawyer is the founder of Littlepod, the vanilla company based in Devon and she’s written a cookbook which explains the importance of vanilla and why we should be using real vanilla in our dishes. Nothing compares to the heady and captivating aroma of real vanilla, not even essence or imitation vanilla which is made up of chemicals. Personally, I can taste the difference in my cooking and baking if I use artificial vanilla or essence instead of the real stuff.
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Butter is the most important ingredient in a restaurant cook’s repertoire.
It melts at just below one’s body temperature and imparts a creamy, luxurious and indulgent taste to everything it is combined with.
Butter can be frozen for up to six months.
Try to avoid storing butter near foods which have strong odours such as spicy curries, garlic or onions. Butter should not be left unwrapped in the convenient butter tray inside the refrigerator door. It should be kept in its original wrapper (the paper or foil around the bar) and box, and stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator—which is the meat and vegetable drawers at the bottom. However, if you prefer to keep the bar in the butter tray, wrap it tightly in the paper or foil it came in.
Avoid stocking up on butter or bulk buying butter. It’s best to purchase it more frequently as ‘old’ butter will eventually turn and taste rancid.
Salt acts as a preservative so salted butter can be refrigerated for up to a month. Unsalted butter should be used within two weeks. The fresher the butter is, the better it will taste.
Flavoured Butter recipes
As it absorbs flavours from other foods very well, it is the perfect ingredient for spreading different tastes which is why compound butters are popular.
Starting with butter that’s at room temperature. You can soften butter by placing it in a microwave for 10-20 seconds. It’s easy to mix in spices, cheeses, herbs, and stocks. Simply put the butter in a bowl with the flavourings, and mix together with a wooden spoon. The result, called “worked butter,” can be used to spread on bread, as a topping on a dish, or to place over meats and vegetables. Best of all, once you make a compound butter, you can store it in your freezer for up to three months. When you need it, it’s easy to slice off a disc or scoop up a dollop as a garnish or accompaniment.
After mixing, form the compound butter into a log shape on a piece of waxed or butter paper. You can use the paper to roll the compound butter into a cylinder and then place it in a freezer bag. Then, when you’re ready to use the butter, cut rounds from the frozen log and place them onto hot foods.
To retain their colour and flavour, finely chop fresh herbs like basil, tarragon, marjoram and parsley just before mixing them with butter. Once mixed, let the butter rest for an hour or more to allow the butter to be infused with the herbs’ flavours.
Grilled and peeled green peppers (capsicums) or chopped chillies are a good match for butters.
Finely chopped capers, anchovies, and shallots also marry well with butter.
When using spices like cardamom, coriander, cumin, turmeric and nutmeg, cook them in a bit of butter for about a minute to release their flavours before creating your compound butter.
Work or whip 2 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley, 1/2 cup butter, and 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Work or whip 1 tablespoon of whole-grain mustard into 1/2 cup butter.
Cheddar Butter Spread
Combine half cup butter, 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Combine all ingredients.
Garlic and Chilli butter
Beat the 1/2 cup softened butter with 1 or 2 cloves garlic thats crushed and minced, and 2 very finely chopped green chillies.
To make butter shapes
You can also buy plastic chocolate or candy moulds. They come in different shapes and sizes. The size of the shape depends on what you prefer, but usually one that is approximately 1-1 1/2 inch in diameter will work. The cost is very small and you can reuse these moulds over again.
After washing and drying the moulds, spread some very softened butter into each cavity. You will have to press down with a spatula to ensure that there are not any large gaps in the mould. When all the cavities have been filled, remove excess butter with the straight edge of the spatula. Save any the excess butter for refilling additional moulds.
Place the butter filled moulds on flat level surface in the freezer section for 15 minutes. The butter should be firm to the touch. Remove the trays and invert onto another tray. You may have to twist the tray gently (like an ice cube tray) to completely remove all the pieces.
Quickly remove the pats by sliding the tip of a knife under each pat. Store the shaped butter on a wax or butter paper lined tray in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use. The shapes can also be placed in ice water if using within the hour.