Thursday, March 10, 2011

How to Eat Groceries - Eggs, Dairy and Cheese

I find it very interesting that several of the warnings we've received over the last few years have been reversed.  Think eggs are high in cholestrol?  Turns out the cholestrol in eggs is good cholestrol.  Eggs also are high in Lutein, a substance that is good for the eyes and helps prevent macular degeneration.  

For years now, we've steadily decreased our dairy intake.  For one thing, the high fat content is cited and we were  urged to drink lower fat versions which frnakly lacks in flavor.  Now scads of Americans suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, due to our phobic avoidance of exposure to UV rays from the sun and high fat dairy products...Turns out the fat in whole milk is what helps us absorb the Vitamin D.  Not only is Vitamin D essential to our bodies, it insures the absorption of Calcium which protects our bone health.

May I just voice the opinion here that there might be a need for some fat in our diets?  That foods such as eggs, butter, cheese and dairy are not the foods to avoid but the very foods we should incorporate into our diet and leave off other less healthy fats?  Soapbox pushed aside and now let us settle once more to the  kichen table,  planning of meals and menus which use these good healthy foods we buy at the market.

First let us look at eggs.  If ever there were a natural convenience food then it is the egg.  Omelets, boiled, scrambled, poached...Eggs are quickly prepared and lend themselves to various cuisines.  Italy has a luscious pizza that features argula and eggs baked in the oven.  France perfected the Omelet.  The English love their boiled eggs.  Hispanics have  Huevos Rancheros and Migas.  All quick meals with loads of flavor.  Eggs are hardly a breakfast food though we tend to think of them more often for that first meal of the day.  One of my favorites is shirred eggs, which are baked with a bit of cream over the top to keep them from drying out.

Eggs are certainly a basic ingredient for any kitchen.  They give lift and airiness to cakes and breads, are a necessary binder for homemade pasta and dumplings.  I made egg noodles yesterday for the first time and I assure you it was easy as could be.  Well worth the the waiting time for them to dry, which was the most difficult part of the process!  Let me assure you that for all the talk of how difficult a souffle can be, they are easily mastered and also worth the effort.  There's nothing like a lovely cheese souffle with a salad and steamed asparagus for a spring supper.  Egg based casseroles are very tasty.  I have a recipe for a deviled egg casserole that is very good and is a great way to use up leftover deviled eggs.
With eggs in the house you can make delicious custards and puddings for your family to enjoy.  Years ago, eggs were one of the foods most often served to those with 'delicate' appetites and  invalids.  Custard was a well know component of the invalid's diet and it was a homemaker's duty to provide those special dishes.  Custard is still considered a treat by many...Creme Brule and Flan are just fancy custards.  And if you've never made homemade pudding, you really should try it.  Boxed instant pudding is NOTHING like a creamy homemade pudding!

It is recommended still that we get at least 2-4 servings daily of milk and I'm willing to bet that most of us are woefully low in that area.  What is a serving?  1 cup of milk or yogurt,  or 1 1/2 ounces of cheese.  I've recently begun making my own yogurt here at home.  I have to share that the whole milk product, without sugars, preservatives, cornstarch, or fillers is a whole different thing than the store bought fruit flavored stuff I'd been buying.  Homemade yogurt is not as tangy as store bought and is so much smoother.  It isn't hard to make once you get the temperatures where they need to be at the three stages (simmering milk, adding yogurt starter and incubation).  Milk may be used as an ingredient in recipes and will count as a serving there too, but admittedly it is a little more difficult to determine if a serving has been eaten unless you're serving custard, pudding or ice cream when milk is eaten.  Bread puddings are a nice way to use eggs and milk and they may be made savory (with sausage, cheese and vegetables, or herbs and are referred to as stratas) or sweet (called pudding).

There are such a variety of cheeses available.  Cheddar is the most common and the least expensive.  Swiss, mozzarella, Monterey Jack are well priced and flavorful, good for eating as a snack or adding to dishes.  I also like cottage cheese and cream cheese and you'll generally find all of these in my refrigerator most of the time.  Cheese is a good substitute for meat and has a high protein value.  I seldom have processed cheese in the house because I dislike the texture of it.  However, I do want to note here that in my vintage homemaking magazines I've discovered that processed cheese product used to contain two ingredients: cheese and milk.  I'm not keen on the commercially prepared product we have today.

How do I use these cheeses?  Homemade macaroni and cheese is one prime example, cheese pizza, chili rellenos, quesadillas, are all ideas.  Many times cheese may be used as an enhancement to a an entree.  Here is where caution is required if you'll keep your budget intact.  Just because the recipe calls for one cup doesn't mean that two cups will be better.  If you feel you are not getting enough flavor, try a cheese with a sharper taste.  I prefer to use a romano blend of parmesan because of the extra tang in the romano.

Blue cheese, Gorgonzola and Feta cheeses are generally good strong flavored cheeses to have on hand and are especially good in salads or homemade salad dressings.  One budget trick I use in making homemade cheese dressings is to use half strong flavored cheese and half cottage cheese.  The cottage cheese bulks up the dressing and the strong cheese adds the taste.

Cheese sauces are nice over Brussels Sprouts and Broccoli, and Potatoes au Gratin is another nice side dish.  Grated cheeses added to bread doughs is a nice touch as well.  Think of those Cheddar Bay biscuits that are such a popular offering at Red Lobster restaurants.  

Butter...In my home there are no margarines or oleo.  Years ago I determined that a whole food was more suitable for consumption than a manufactured product and in light of the trans fat discoveries, I'm happy we made the switch.  I am no Paula Deen, lol.  You'll find few of the recipes in my home call for a whole stick of butter at one time, though I do have one or two that do.  For the most part, I find that butter adds a silky sheen and subtle taste to sauces for vegetables or meats.  When adding butter without a recipe consider that one to two tablespoons is more than enough to enhance the flavor of mashed potatoes or other vegetables.  A pat of butter (the typical serving for bread) is generally 1 tsp per person and that will usually be sufficient for two servings of bread. 

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