Let’s talk about butter. Some people see it is an essential pantry item, a culinary workhorse that transforms whatever it touches and that is always on hand. To others, butter is a rare indulgence or something to be replaced with one of many commercial butter alternatives.
The belief that margarine is healthier than butter was disproven quite some time ago, and fat, it is now widely acknowledged, doesn’t make us fat.
There are many reasons to let yourself enjoy butter. First, it is packed with essential nutrients, some of which we find in few other foods. Second, the North Bay has the cleanest milk in America, a claim that has been verified by third-party certification. If you live here, you should be eating butter produced here.
Milk from grass-fed cows provides both the best tasting and most nutrient-rich butter. If you can spring for organic butter, that’s the best choice, but any local butter is better than butter that has traveled a distance.
Here in Sonoma County, Clover Stornetta butter has long been our local default choice, but we also have butter from Straus Family Creamery of Marin County, and Spring Hill and McClelland dairies, both located in Two Rock. We also have Haverton Hill Creamery, which is making the country’s first sheep’s milk butter. It’s best enjoyed simply, on bread fresh out of the oven.
Normandy, France, also is known for its delicious butter, and many of the region’s dishes are easy to duplicate in Sonoma County, including this traditional chicken dish, so warming and welcome on a cold night. Serve small new potatoes alongside and complete the meal with a simple green salad.
Normandy-style Chicken & Apples in Cream
Serves 4 to 6
4 tablespoons butter, plus more as needed
3 firm-ripe apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
4 chicken leg-thighs, bone in, skin on
2 cups hard cider
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
Melt the butter in a large heavy sauté pan over medium heat and when it is foamy, add the apples in a single layer. Sauté for 2 minutes, turn and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes more, until just tender and lightly browned. Season with a pinch of salt and a few turns of black pepper and transfer the apples to a bowl. Cover with a tea towel to keep warm.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper and sauté it, skin-side down, adding more butter if the pan seems dry. After 5 minutes, turn the chicken and cook 5 minutes more.
Pour the cider into the pan, reduce the heat so that the liquid just simmers, cover and cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the lid, increase the heat to high and cook until the cider is nearly completely evaporated. Add the cream, and when it just begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the sauce thickens, about 4 to 5 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Transfer the chicken and its sauce to a wide shallow serving bowl. Scatter the Italian parsley on top. Use a large spoon to add the apples at the outer rim of the bowl. Enjoy right away.
If you’re looking for indoor activities for kids during winter vacation, why not let them make butter? There’s something magical about the process of transforming cream into thick, yellow butter that kids love.
Begin by pouring a pint container of heavy cream into two glass pint jars, filling each one half full. Attach the rings and lids and let rest at room temperature for about 6 hours or overnight.
To make the butter, make sure the seal is tight and then hold the jar in one hand and shake it vigorously for anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes. At first, the cream will look as if it has been whipped. Before long, it will suddenly separate into a clump of butter and a thin liquid known as buttermilk.
Pour off the liquid, rinse the butter in a bit of cold water and pour it off, too. Press the butter into a small glass jar, enjoy right away and store what is left in the refrigerator.
If you prefer salted butter, add ¾ teaspoon kosher salt to both jars before shaking.