For the past 40 or so years, butter has been portrayed as a nutritional villain whose saturated fat content contributes to heart disease, high cholesterol and other cardiovascular ailments.

But wait—there’s an opposing school of thought that says butter is actually good for you! It is a rich source of vitamins A,D, E and K, as well as many minerals. It contains healthy fatty acids, and the saturated fats in butter actually have anti-cancer properties. Some health experts maintain that the nutrients in butter protect against tooth decay, calcification of the joints and weakening arteries.

As a further pro-butter argument, nutritionists point out that even when consumption of butter decreased over the years, incidences of heart disease have, in fact, increased. These advocates believe the real culprit might be margarine, which was promoted as a healthy substitute for butter. They say the hydrogenation process used to produce margarine presents more of a health threat than the saturated fats in butter.

You can do your own research, but the main reason to choose butter for cooking and baking is that it tastes so much better than any substitutes. Most self-respecting chefs wouldn’t dream of using anything but! Since June is National Dairy Month, we invite you to try these specialties who owe their marvelous flavor to real butter.

DUTCH BABY
Once you serve this popover-like pancake to your family, they will demand that you fix it every weekend!

½ cup flour
½ cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Pinch of nutmeg
¼ cup butter
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the first 4 ingredients; leave batter a little lumpy. Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet with an ovenproof handle. When the butter is hot, pour in the batter, and place the skillet in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, or until batter is puffy. Sprinkle with the sugar, and return to the oven for 2 minutes. Remove from the oven, and sprinkle with lemon juice. To serve, cut in wedges. Serves 2 to 3.

LEMON MUFFINS
These are so rich that you don’t need to spread them with additional butter (although you will probably want to!).

2 cups flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ cup melted unsalted butter
2 eggs
½ cup fresh lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon

In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter with the eggs. Add the lemon juice and zest. Add this mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Pour into 12 greased or paper-lined 3-inch muffin tins. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot with additional butter or jam. Makes 1 dozen.

CHICKEN KIEV
A classic dish of Russian origin that will enhance your reputation as a well-traveled cook.

¾ cup butter, softened
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Pinch of rosemary
1 teaspoon tarragon
½ teaspoon garlic powder
6 whole boneless chicken breasts
1 cup flour
3 eggs, well beaten
1 to 1 ½ cups unseasoned bread crumbs
Canola oil for frying

Several hours before serving, prepare the herbed butter by combining the butter with the next 6 ingredients in a small bowl. Place the mixture on a sheet of waxed paper, and shape into a 6-inch square. Wrap and freeze until firm. About 2 hours before serving, cut each chicken breast in half horizontally, and flatten the pieces by placing them between two sheets of waxed paper and pounding with a rolling pin. Remove the butter from the freezer, and cut into 12 pieces. Place 1 piece in the middle of each chicken breast half. Bring the sides over the butter, fold the ends over and secure with toothpicks, making sure no butter shows. Roll the filled breasts in flour, then dip in the beaten eggs, and roll in the bread crumbs/ When all the pieces are coated, cover them and refrigerate them for about in hour. In a large, heavy skillet heat about 1 ½ cups of oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook (in batches if necessary) until golden-brown on all sides. Do not pierce chicken pieces as you turn them. Drain on paper towels before serving. Serves 6 to 8. (Any leftover pieces can be wrapped in foil and frozen.)

VIENNESE CRESCENTS
These lovely cookies owe their delicate flavor to real vanilla, walnuts and copious amounts of butter. Paired with fresh fruit or sorbet, they make an ideal summer dessert.

¼ vanilla bean
1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 cup walnuts, finely ground
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 ½ cups sifted flour

The day before baking, chop the vanilla bean. Pulverize it in a blender or mini-food processor with about 1 tablespoon of the confectioner’s sugar. Mix with the remaining confectioner’s sugar; cover and let stand overnight. The next day, in a medium bowl, combine the walnuts with the butter, granulated sugar and flour, blending with a wooden spoon to form a smooth dough. Working with about 1 ½ teaspoons at a time, shape dough into small crescents and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks for 1 minute. While cookies are still warm, roll them in the vanilla sugar. Store in a tightly covered container. Makes 5 to 6 dozen.

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