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Weeknight Wednesday: Butter Versus Margarine Smackdown!

November 6, 2014

Did you ever have one of those days where you think, 'if only there were just two more hours to this day, I could accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish'? I personally have them A LOT! I'm not sure if that's a commentary on me, suggestive them I'm simply not organized enough despite having inherited the 'make a plan, make a list, if you're not 15 minutes early, you're late' gene from my father, or if it's more a commentary on the frantic pace life in general seems to be going at. Either which way, I found myself yesterday evening with no time to saunter through the grocery store and see what would inspire me for dinner last night. Once again, I found myself gazing into my refrigerator hoping that something, anything, would loudly proclaim, 'Pick me! Pick me!'. Alas, what lay before my besearching eyes were three boneless skinless chicken breasts, four beefeater tomatoes, a package of broccolini and some parmesan cheese.  After taking these four rather innocuous ingredients out and laying them on my counter, I stood there....staring at them....I could pan sear the chicken, saute the broccolini and roast the tomato with a little parm. There was no doubt it could be tasty, but in my head, picturing the combination on a plate, they just seemed disconnected. I needed some sort of sauce to join it all together and a starch....but what kind of sauce? What starch? 

 

I thought to myself, 'if only I had some red peppers I could make a roasted red pepper sauce'. But I didn't have any red peppers...and the day had been long enough - I was NOT venturing out the door again, no way, no how! My eyes then fell on the robust and rotund beefeater tomatoes. I could raast them....and they could be my sauce. But what about the starch? I wasn't in the mood for pasta or rice and with a quick glance over my shoulder at my pantry rack I spied some baby red and white potatoes.  Eureka! Pan Seared Chicken Breasts with a Roasted Tomato Sauce, Sauteed Broccolini and Oven Roasted Baby Potatoes seasoned with Herbs de Provence! The mere thought of the combination triggered my salivary glands! What was even better was that after I prepared my potatoes and tomatoes for the oven, I could have a good half hour or more to relax and do a little catching-up on social media before I had to do any actual cooking. 

 

Without haste, I pulled out two non-stick pie plates and placed the tomatoes on one, and the potatoes in the other. I set my oven on 375F to preheat, then drizzled extra virgin olive oil over both the potatoes and the tomatoes. I seasoned the tomatoes with a little freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, and to the potatoes I sprinkled on 1/4 tsp. of each dried oregano, rosemary, thyme and savory. I massaged the tomatoes with my hands to make sure they were thoroughly coated and tossed the potatoes. I placed both pie plates in the oven , set the timer for 45 minutes and set myself down at my computer. There were some Halloween pictures I hadn't yet seen, a birthday greeting or two to send, yet another article on Jian Ghomeshi that I avoided due to a recent infliction of Ghomeshi Saturation, and an entertaining piece by Lindy West in `The Guardian` entitled, `I Can`t Wait To Be A Fat Bride`.

 

My thoughts then returned to how I was going to make my Roasted Tomato Sauce. I was going to need something to thicken my sauce with. I could add copious amounts of cheese but I thought that would off-set the otherwise healthy balance of the boneless skinless chicken breasts, roasted tomatoes and potatoes, and the broccolini. Milk and cream would change how I was seeing the sauce in my head, as would flour or cornstarch. This past Saturday, I had used butter to thicken my Wild Mushroom and Pancetta Sauce, which worked exceedingly well, but as someone who prides herself on making healthy choices for her family, would using butter twice in one week be tipping the saturated fats scale just a little too much?

 

With that, I found myself embroiled in an internal 'Butter Versus Margarine Smackdown'! For day to day use, I opt for an olive oil margarine for the infusion of the 'good' omega 3 and omega 6 fats. But lately, there have been a number of articles published citing the pros and cons of both margarine and butter. I took out a block of Lactantia Unssalted Butter and a tub of Becel Margarine with Olive Oil and decided to compare the nutritional information on both. 

 

Per 2 teaspoon serving of each, butter to margarine, 70 calories:70 calories, 5g:1g saturates, 0.3mg:0mg trans fats, 0g:2g polyunsaturates, 0g:1.5g Omega 6, 0g:0.5g Omega 3, 0g:4.5g monosaturates, 0mg:70mg sodium, 20mg:0mg cholesterol. I honestly thought that the butter was going to be so far off the acceptable fat scale I'd feel guilty for even considering thickening my sauce with it but in reality, the nutritional differences are negligible, except where it came to the sodium content in which instance, butter wins hands down!

 

On the pro side, butter is all natural while margarine has no trans fats or cholesterol. For the cons, butter contains trans fats which can potentially clog arteries and margarine is highly processed and refined on an industrail scale. According to recent studies, the once widely accepted wisdom that saturated fats are bad for you is looking increasingly shady. So fast is the shift in scientific thinking that there is a growing belief that natural saturates fats - those found in dairy and meats as opposed to those in margarine - may actually turn out to be good for you!

 

A lot of what we've been told about butter and believed as gospel seems to be turning out to be just plain wrong. Butter may actually be healthy as it's high in vitamins, beneficial saturated fats , (that have been identified as key components of cell membranes, essential for the production of certain hormones and having an important role to play in the transportation and absorption of certain vitamins and minerals), the sort of cholesterol that is vital for brain and nervous system development and various natural compounds with anti-fungal, anti-oxidant and even anti-cancer properties. 

 

So the good news is, eating butter (in moderation of course), isn't the drastic health faux pas it was once thought to be and it actually may have health benefits!! My internal struggle with butter versus margarine had been resolved and with a quick glance at the clock I realized my 35 minutes of freetime had evaporated and it was time to get cooking!

 

I placed two chicken breasts at a time into a large zippper lock freezer baggie and pounded them with my rolling pin until they were approximately 1/4" in thickness. I cut the breasts in half, because pounded out, they were just too large for an individual portion, and seasoned both sides with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. I heated a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat and added a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. When the oil was hot, I added the chicken breasts and pan seared them for approximately 3-4 minutes until they were golden brown. I then turned the chicken breasts over and seared them for another 2-3 minutes until golden brown. 

 

While my chicken was searing, I heated another nonstick skillet over medium high heat and added a drizzle of extra virgin olive, a handful of chopped pancetta and one clove of garlic, smashed. When the garlic was light brown and fragrant, I removed it from the pan and discarded it, and then added my broccolini, seasoned with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. I gave the broccolini a little toss and then lowered the heat under my skillet to medium low to allow the brocclini to gently saute without browning.  

 

 

The oven timer then went off indicating that my tomatoes were done so I removed them from the oven and placed them to one side to cool. I noticed that the potatoes were a lovely golden color but not quite fork tender yet. I turned off my oven and left my potatoes in there to continue roasting in the residual heat. 

 

 

Back to my skillet with the chicken, when the reverse side of the chicken was golden brown, I transferred the chicken to a plate and set it aside. I then added 1/2 cup of low sodum chicken broth to the skillet and brought it to a gentle boil over medium heat, using a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the flavourful brown bits from the chicken. I then added 1 tablespoon of grainy mustard and 1 teaspoon of dried oregano to the broth, stirring to incorporate. My tomatoes were then cooled enough to handle, so I gently slid the peels off and removed the stems and placed them in the skillet with the broth mixture. I used a potato masher to mash the pieces of tomato and gave the sauce a good stir to incorporate the tomato. I then added 3 tablespoons of 'guilt-free' butter to the sauce and swirled it around. When the butter was melted and the sauce thickened, I added the chicken breasts back to the skillet to heat through and let the flavours blend. Within a few minutes, the meal was ready to plate.

 

 

After plating individual portions of chicken topped with sauce, sauteed brocccolini and roasted baby potatoes, I garnished the works with some freshly grated parmagiano reggiano. In under an hour from counter to plate, with 3/4 of that time being inactive roasting time, this meal  was not only quick but easy to make. Each person's plate was jam packed with healthy goodness from the chicken, potatoes with their skins on, broccolini and approximately one full tomato per person and the aroma from all those delicious ingredients was simply intoxicating!  As I do with every new meal I make, I asked both my husband and daughter to rate it out of 10 and this meal got 10's all the way around. My chicken breasts cost $5.43, the tomatoes were $2.49 for 4, broccolini $3.99 and the rest of the ingredients I had on hand. I estimate the total  cost of this meal to be under $17.00, or $4.23 per portion. Even the cheapest fast food joint can't compete with that!

 

Sauteed Brccolini with Pancetta, Roasted Herbs de Provence Baby Potatoes, and Pan Seared Chicken Breasts in Roasted Tomato Sauce.....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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