Monday, May 04, 2009

Trans Fats and Butter. YAY BUTTER!

Trans fats come from vegetable oil which has been hydrogenated, converting unsaturated fatty acids to saturated ones. In processed foods, trans fats replaced solid fats (like butter and vegetable oil) because they are cheaper and preserve foods better. Trans fats however, have unwanted side effects when consumed. They lower the "good" cholesterol and increase the "bad". This switch causes insulin resistance elevating the risk of Type 2 diabetes and contributes to coronary heart disease. In 1999 Harvard researchers estimated that 100,000 deaths annually could be prevented by reducing the consumption of trans-fats. So where are these harmful food additives? All over everywhere! The top offenders are boxed mixes such as cake and brownie mixes, Bisquick, cornbread mix; spreads like shortening, margarine, and butter substitutes; and powdered soup mixes.

The FDA required trans fats to be put onto food labels in January 2006, but a food can be labeled zero trans fats if it contains less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving. So be careful, because this labeling can be deceiving. By eliminating problem products our family has eliminated many of the harmful trans fats from our diet.

When we first started converting our food, we used margarine and Jiffy cornbread mix. They were cheap, good, and worked well. I am now finding out, however, that cheaper isn't always better. So we are now switching over to making our own butter and rendering buttermilk.

Finding diary products cheap enough to be able to justify the switch caused a bit of a problem. However, if you combine the price of buttermilk and the price of a pound of butter, you probably will break about even. In our household buttermilk is a complete frivolity, so breaking even here just wouldn't do. It took some sleuthing, but by using Cash & Carry (a restaurant supply company which allows the public) we were able to purchase whipping cream from a local, farmer owned dairy for less than it would cost to purchase a pound of butter. Not only that, but we can render the buttermilk as well which saved us even more! Score!

Homemade butter is about the simplest thing possible to make. Everyone thinks of a farm lady from the early 1900's with her churn struggling away, but all I used was my mixer. I will say, though, without a mixer, you are gonna need one hell of a bicep! Butter is basically whipping cream which has been over whipped. Due to only being able to purchase ultra-pasturized whipping cream, the process took about 30 minutes total. Here is the run down:

Pour the whipping cream into a bowl and begin to whip it. I used the whisk attachment, and medium speed. After about 15 minutes I had whipped cream.

Depending on your mixer, you may want to let it rest in between the transitions. I stopped and scrapped down the sides before mixing again for10 minutes till the whipped cream started to turn yellow and tasted like butter.

At this point I draped a towel over the top and turned the mixer onto turbo crazy high. After another 10 minutes on uber-high the butter began to break away creating a yellow, clumpy, dripping mixture.

I scrapped down the sides again and began mixing on high once more. At this point it is almost butter so you really need to watch it. In three minutes, the sloshing of the buttermilk could be heard and there was butter!Now, it is hard to accurately quantify how excited I was at this. Alright, I admit it.

I'm a nerd.

Being a nerd, I was also excited to have discovered the awesomest kitchen tool. When I am making butter, I call it my butter squisher (it has other names when I am doing other things with it). In reality I think it is supposed to be used with spaghetti some how, but around here it is a butter squisher, canning strainer, chicken stock divider, and lots of other great stuff.

By making butter, you are essentially separating the fats (the butter) from the liquid (the buttermilk) within the cream from the cow/goat/sheep/other dairy animal. So when it becomes butter, you have the clumpy yellow butter in the bowl sitting in the buttermilk. You need to squish as much buttermilk as you can out of the butter. Enter the butter squisher!

Press the butter to the side of the mixing bowl, clumping it all together into a mass and squeezing out the buttermilk as much as possible.

Once the butter is together in a mass, lift it out of the bowl, wrap the butter in a couple layers of paper towel and physically squeeze it as much as you can with your hands to remove any other excess buttermilk. This not only presses the butter into a ball, but gets a lot of the left over moisture out.
Pour the buttermilk out of the mixing bowl into a jar, bowl, or some other receptacle for later use. (It is amazing in mashed potatoes, pancakes, waffles, biscuits, gravy, muffins, just about anything other than drink. Remember, it is also pasteurized as long as the original whipping cream was pasteurized so no worries there.) You should get about a pint. Every quart of cream is different so it goes up and down a bit, but average of a pint.

Now place the butter ball back into the mixer, and switch attachments to the bread hook. Add a small amount of cold water (about 8 ounces) and beat the butter around again to chop it all up. Essentially you are rinsing all of the last of the buttermilk out.

After a minute of so (when the water looks as though it isn't getting any murkier) smush the butter together into a ball with your hands, wrap it in a couple of layers of paper towel, and squeeze all the water out. You now have butter! One quart of whipping cream yields about a pint of buttermilk and a pint of butter (about a pound). Both last as long as the store varieties when kept in the refrigerator.
The creating of our own dairy products is a new beginning in our household and a definite sign that we aren't turning back from our voluntary simplicity. In fact, as we venture further, the transition back seems even crazier than moving forward.

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