If I had ever tried to jump on the low-carb or Atkins diet bandwagon when they were popular, I surely would have failed miserably. In fact, I think that I actually did try it, and then after about 6 hours I realized that the diet restrictions just weren't worth the sacrifice. I will never be the girl who refuses the bread basket or pushes it to the other end of the table. Really good bread is one of my favorite indulgences, especially when it is spread with some delicious creamy butter. Even just a thin layer of high-quality butter can take a fresh and warm artisan roll over the top.
One trend that I have seen occurring in some of the nicer restaurants that I have eaten at recently is the presentation of compound butters on the table along with the bread basket. A compound butter is a butter that has been flavored by blending softened butter together with flavored ingredients. These can be savory or sweet, and restaurants will often select the ingredients to specifically complement the breads that they are serving, such as serving a sun-dried tomato butter alongside a rosemary bread.
The use of compound butters is not restricted to bread alone. They are ideal for entertaining and are a simple way to add a little "Martha" to dishes like pasta, grilled fish or steaks, by adding a subtle flavorful touch. Cut a thin slice from the chilled butter and dab it onto the dish just prior to serving to add the "wow" factor. Sweet compound butters can be spread on french toast, biscuits, muffins, waffles, and other baked goods. They do a good job of adding sweetness without adding too much of the sweet substance. You won't need to pile on a large amount of jam or honey when it's already mixed in with the butter. They really help to take dishes to the next level and make them better with very little added effort. Here are some tips for preparing the compound butters:
- The butters will stay fresh in the refrigerator for about three weeks. Keep them either wrapped or tightly covered.
- There are many different variations of ingredients that can be used as mix-ins for the butter. Try some of the following: chopped sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil, maple syrup and cinnamon, lemon zest and thyme, fresh rosemary and garlic, herbes de Provence, finely chopped prosciutto and sage, or finely chopped black olives.
- You can also use this technique to flavor soft cheeses, such as goat cheeses or cream cheese. For presentation, roll the outside of the cheese in the mix-in ingredients (i.e. roll the goat cheese in finely chopped herbs to give it an herb crust.)
Makes three ½ cup portions
3 sticks butter, softened
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons honey
Place one stick of the softened butter in a bowl and, using a rubber spatula or a spoon, stir in the chopped chives and minced garlic until well combined. Transfer the butter onto a sheet of waxed paper. Fold one of the edges over the butter and roll into a log, lengthwise. Twist the ends of the waxed paper in opposite directions to seal. Clean the bowl.
Repeat the procedure two times, once using the tablespoon of grated orange zest and once using the ground cinnamon and honey. Chill the logs of butter for at least one hour before cutting.