Friday, February 14, 2014

The Danger Zone

I’ve been scouring the internets to find the perfect picture of Kenny Loggins for this post ‘cause I have been living in the Danger Zone for weeks. Why? Butter baby. On the table. Not the fridge.

That’s right! And I’m not sorry! 

Brian gave me a gorgeous tangerine-colored Fiestaware butter dish for Christmas, and I just couldn’t bear hiding it in the fridge. I considered leaving it empty on the table, purely for decorative purposes, but a butterless butter dish struck me as unseemly. I could just picture an unwitting dinner guest happily lifting the lid, expecting to find pleasantly soft butter, and ta-da! Empty. Fooled you, sucker. 

I’ll be having none of that, thanks. I have memories of butter always just being out on the counter at the houses of older people when I was a kid, and no one ever seemed to die from butter-borne diseases. 

So I did a little searching online and found many, many enlightening things. Basically all chefs agree that storing covered butter at room temperature is totally OK. (The stiffs at the USDA say it should be stored in the freezer. Puh-leaze)

Here’s the thing: The butter I buy is made from pasteurized milk and it’s salted, making it pretty inhospitable to germs. When butter goes bad it’s because of rancidity (which can happen with any high-fat foods, including cooking oils). Rancidity is evident when butter smells and tastes icky, and this happens after about 10 days on the counter. But we are butter people in this house, and tear through sticks with wild abandon. The idea that one would last 10 days is just cray. 

So I’ve been leaving the butter out, and the result is easy spread-ability for bread and butter and easy whipping for baked goods. Come summer, I will store my butter in the fridge, for sure. Soft butter is one thing. Melted, mushy butter is quite another. But in the winter, when I’m freezing my arse off inside my house, I’m thinking the butter is OK in its pretty little dish on the table. (For friends of mine who are reading this and silently swearing that they'll never use the danger-zone butter at my house again, fear not: I also keep some in the fridge for the table-butter averse.)

So. I’m riding the highway to the danger zone. And it’s paved in room-temperature butter.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Anyone care for some ranch bacon?

My husband, Brian, is something of a ranch dressing connoisseur. He loves it, and like any aficionado, has very strong feelings about it. For instance, he feels that restaurant ranch dressing is far superior to the disgusting, bottled variety. Also, light or low-fat ranch dressing is never OK. And I will be forever grateful to him for teaching me the sublime pleasure of dipping cheesy fries in ranch dressing, especially at Denny’s after midnight.

So when Brian encountered “ranch” bacon at the renowned cheese and specialty foods shop, Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA, he naturally had thought he’d arrived at his mother ship.

“Hey, it says ranch bacon!” I heard him say. “Want to get some ranch bacon?”

“Yeah, sure,” I replied, but I have to admit, I was only half-listening. Chloe was practically assaulting the the poor Formaggio Kitchen employee as he gave us cheddar to sample; as soon as the pieces of cheese fell away from the block, Chloe grabbed them out of the guy’s hand and shoved them in her mouth like a rabid raccoon. I stared at her for a second in disbelieving shock before telling her to calm down and back away from the cheese monger.

We spent almost an hour picking things out, and finally bought a variety cheeses, meats, and wines. And all the way home, Brian kept talking about “ranch bacon.” Until finally I looked at him and said, “Why do you keep putting the emphasis on the ‘ranch?’”

“Because the label said ranch bacon.”

“The label said Niman Ranch Bacon…that’s the ranch where the bacon is from. It’s not ranch-flavored bacon.”

“How do you know?”

“Because there's no such thing. How would they even make ranch-flavored bacon?”

“How do they make maple-flavored bacon?”

OK, he had me there. I just shrugged, and said we’d see in the morning.

I’ll save you the suspense: The bacon wasn’t ranch flavored. Disappointment ensued. It was still really, really delish, though! Niman Ranch is known for its natural, high-quality meats, and this bacon had an amazingly rich and nuanced flavor. But still. It didn’t taste like ranch dressing. What the fuck?

What we got at Formaggio Kitchen:

Robiola Roccaverano DOP, a gym-sock smelling, bloomy-rind goat’s milk cheese from Piedmont, Italy. I was the only one who ate that one. A-mazing.

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, the cheese that Chloe attacked the cheese monger for. We loved it alone or stacked on top of an apple slice and drizzled with honey. From Vermont.

Bayrischer Blauschimmelkase, a sweet and mild blue cheese from Germany that Chloe and I loved. The sign in the store said something like “if blue cheese could be an ice cream, this would be it,” and surprisingly, that description was pretty accurate.

Also, a wild boar salami; a salami medley; orecchiette pasta; and a bottle each of red and white wines.

And of course, the “ranch” bacon.