I made butter recently. One of the things that I have been enjoying this COVID era is hosting my pod members/friends to dinner in my apartment. Before the COVID era, whenever I was going to spend time with friends, it was usually done outside the house. A quick stop at the ice-cream place in the summer. Or a jaunt at the local thrift shop, Savers, to browse was generally my go-to friend hang out. With a raging pandemic, going out hasn’t felt as safe as staying in. So when I invited my friend B to dinner, we both knew that meant a trip to my apartment. The menu was pretty simple because I knew I was going to spend the day studying. I wanted to make sure that it was a stress-free day for me and her.
One of the first things I have learned about hosting in my cozy apartment is to plan ahead. Generally, I like cooking on the fly. When eating by myself, I never know what I am going to have for dinner. When I am having friends over though, I always know what I am going to cook ahead of time. As a busy student, I don’t always have the luxury of free time to create elaborate recipes. Sometimes, I can make a grand meal. Other times, I have to settle for things that I can basically set up to cook passively. For dinner with B, I looked at my schedule and I realized I had no time for intensive cooking. I had to study, clean my house and make dinner. So I settled on making a deconstructed chicken soup, fresh bread, homemade maple butter and an olive oil chocolate cake.
Making Butter at Home
I know, for someone who claims not to have a lot of time, it sounds complicated. But sounding complicated is very different from being difficult to execute. The thing about being at this stage of my cooking life is that I have a knowledge of recipes and how much effort they require from me. For example, the fresh bread sounds fancy until you realize I literally only interact with that dough for about 20 minutes over the two-day period. At every other time of making this bread, it is proofing, resting or baking. All I have to do is set up the dough at each stage, set an alarm and continue on with my agenda for the day. Since I did not want to complicate my life, I chose to follow the original no knead bread recipe from Mark Bittman.
The other thing about planning out the dinner is that I can create a timeline for executing recipes based on everything I have happening in the day. For tonight, I knew that B was arriving to dinner at 6PM. I also knew that I wanted to study until at 3PM. The hours for actively prepping to host would be 3 hours. In those hours, I also wanted to clean my studio enough not feel embarrassed when my guest arrived. I wanted to take a shower. I also expected to cook my dinner and be ready to serve latest by 6.15pm.
So working backward, I realized the most important bit to time was the bread.
The no-knead bread instructions call for letting it have the first proof of at least 12 hours. So I made sure I had my dough ready to proof by 12 midnight the previous night as I got ready for bed. This meant I would get a 15-hour proof by 3 PM today. I also make the dry mix for my olive oil chocolate cake.
The next day, I took the chicken bones for my chicken soup out of the freezer in the morning. At 1PM, during a quick break, I went ahead and put the bones in the pot to boil with some vegetables over low heat for about an hour. I was basically making chicken broth as the base of my soup. The thing I like about making this broth is that it requires my attention for about 15 minutes and then it is just goes on by itself.
During this break, I also took out the whole chicken for my soup, spatchcocked it, and seasoned with salt. Then I left it out of the fridge to come to room temperature and dry up a bit. Remember I said I was making a deconstructed chicken soup. Since I knew I wanted to have chicken on hand to eat over the week, I figured I could roast the whole chicken, carve it, and serve it with the soup liquid.
At 3PM, when I was finally done with studying, I started by placing the bread dough on a flat surface to rest for 15 minutes before shaping.
During the 15 minutes wait, I am doing prep to make my chicken soup. The first step in the process was cleaning all celery and leek I was including in the soup before chopping. I also made sure to strain the chicken soup that had cooled down. Shaping the bread and placing it on a towel for a second proof takes about 5 minutes. At 3.30PM, I started preheating the oven to roast the chicken.
While the oven preheats, I start cleaning my studio apartment. I mostly have to take out trash and pick up pens from the floor. Since I am using a timer to keep track of work-flow, I am constantly aware of what I need to be doing next. It might sound stressful but the truth is that being aware of time allows for efficiency. Instead of trying to do a deep clean and falling behind, I am aware that I have a short time and do the most impactful bits of cleaning quickly.
The chicken finally goes into the oven at 4.00PM at 425F to roast for 60 minutes until temperature in the breast registers 157F. At 4.30PM, I sauteed the leeks and celery then I added in the tomato-pepper mix for the soup before adding the chicken broth and simmering on low. At 5.00PM when the chicken comes out of the oven, I reset the temperature of the oven to 450F to bake the bread. I also go ahead and add the now roasted chicken backbone in the simmering chicken soup. I also make my butter at this point.
Making butter takes literally about 20 minutes from start to finish.
The first part of making butter is splitting the fat from the liquid. I am lucky that I have a standing mixer so I literally just added the heavy cream to the mixing bowl. Then turned on the machine to the whisk moving. In about 10 minutes, the fat split, and I stopped the mixer.
I collected the fat from the mixing bowl into another bowl filled with ice water. The ice water bath allows the fat to seize a bit more and squeeze out the whey. Once I was done washing the butter, I added it back to the now-empty mixer bowl. Then, I added maple syrup and a pinch of salt. A quick whisk to incorporate the maple and salt in the butter and I was done. All I had to do was pack it in a jar.
At this point, it is about 5.30 PM, I place the bread dough in the heated heavy bottom pot and set it to back. Also, I hop in the shower for a quick freshen up with my phone beside me. I knew I was cutting close to my friend’s arrival. I had my phone because I wanted to be sure not to miss a call. It took me about 20 minutes to shower and get dressed.
At about 5.55 pm, my phone buzzes, and B is here.
Just as she enters the apartment, I open the oven to remove the cover on the bread. I put on the barley to cook for the chicken soup in a separate pot. While I am catching up with B, I mix my dry mix for my olive oil cake with olive oil, eggs, and vanilla. I pour it into my baking tin. At 6.15 pm, I pull out the bread from the oven. I also bring out the butter so that we can have warm fresh bread before the soup. Then I reduce the oven temperature to 350F for the cake.
At 6.30 pm, the cake goes into the oven. I start carving the chicken so that B and I can start eating. On the whole, even with my careful timing, we sit down to eat around 6.40 PM. It was so bad since, during the last hour of dinner prep, I have time to chat with B and catch up on life. The most important bit for me in planning out this dinner was making sure I actually enjoyed having a friend around. Life is too fragile, these days especially, to be fraught with worry and stress because a meal is running late. I am starting to realize that the most important part of hosting friends in my own apartment is being happy, finding space to laugh, and bonding.
The olive oil chocolate cake is in the oven for an hour. B and I enjoy our meal together while it bakes. Life is good.
Home Made Butter
- 1 Pint Heavy Cream
- Pour heavy cream into a bowl and whisk vigorously until the fat split from the buttermilk. Collect fat into a ball and then immerse in ice cold water to rinse.
- The new chunk of butter can be seasoned with sea salt. I love making compound butter with it as well.