A very interesting and illuminating book that I recently read is called What To Eat, written by the much-admired nutritionist Marion Nestle.
To my intense disappointment, I have chosen to live in times (and especially, in a country) where there are food wars being waged all the time! It takes a great deal of effort to shut out the blaring (and often misleading) food advertisements, heated discussions over every nutrient present in food, and the realization that the vast majority of food is produced in factories and not on farms. Reading Marion Nestle's book made me calm down a little. In a sea of food-related hysteria, she is the voice of reason, making her conclusions in an evidence-based manner, guided by unbiased research. What Nestle does is: she walks the reader through the entire supermarket- the dairy aisles, meat section, produce, breads, every aisle that one is likely to visit on the weekly trip to the store- and delves into the issues surrounding each product, coming up with her well-researched conclusion on each issue. If you want to be an informed consumer in the US, this book is a must-read. Her style is engaging and accessible, gently humorous, and lucid, even when she is discussing fairly technical issues. I was surprised at how much I learned.
Today, we are on the subject of eggs for breakfast. Have you ever been faced with a wall of egg cartons where no two look the same? Have you ever screamed in frustration at having to do a sophisticated cost-benefit analysis just to buy a dozen eggs? To give an example of Nestle's work, here are some conclusions that I could make after reading the chapter on eggs:
1. COLOR: The color of egg shells- white and brown- is simply different for different breeds of hens. It has no bearing on the nutritional value whatsoever.
2. SIZE: Extra-large eggs have more nutrients (but also more calories) than large eggs. Large eggs are a more reasonable portion size. The majority of recipes that use eggs call for large eggs, and not extra-large, so for those two reasons, I will be buying large eggs.
3. CHOLESTEROL: All the cholesterol in the eggs is in the egg yolks. Because the yolk is very high in cholesterol, it makes sense for adults to not eat more than one whole egg a day. Even one egg a day is too much if you are consuming cholesterol in fairly large amounts from other sources like meat and dairy. In my home, I make egg dishes twice a week, using 3-4 eggs each time, so V and I each consume about 3-4 eggs a week each. Good enough.
4. SALMONELLA: Egg producers know the safety features that need to be incorporated in order to control the probability of salmonella contamination, but they don't really want to take the trouble or spend the money to do so. They would rather slap on a label that warns us to cook eggs thoroughly, and leave the responsibility to the consumers.
5. DESIGNER EGGS: Eggs that claim to have high amounts of Vitamin E, Omega-3 fatty acids etc. The higher amounts are achieved through the feed- for instance, hens are fed with flaxseeds to get their eggs to contain higher amounts of Omega-3s. For this feature, the price of the eggs is hiked up by 2-3 fold. You may as well eat regular eggs, and eat flaxseeds (or other sources) for the Omega-3s.
6. HUMANE TREATMENT OF HENS: Cartons of eggs often come with various statements saying how the hens were fed and raised. According to Nestle's thorough research, this is what the labels mean:
a) USDA Certified Organic: This is the most reliable seal. It means that hens are only fed organic, vegetarian feed, plus they are raised in sufficient space without over-crowding.
b) Certified Humane: It is a reliable certification for how hens are raised and handled, but they are a little less restrictive about the kind of feed that the hens are given.
c) United Egg Producers Certified: One should be very skeptical about this certification. For all intents and purposes, it is a misleading marketing gimmick.
OK, I'm getting hungry. Let's make some breakfast! Today's recipe comes from a bona fide breakfast cook-book: The Sunlight Cafe by Mollie Katzen.
The book was given to me as a gift by V's brother, and I do love having it on my bookshelf. I can't say I make too many recipes from the book, but it is a great resource for ideas and inspiration. And the name Sunlight Cafe does conjure up images of a leisurely brunch in a sunny cafe with fresh flowers on the table and the sizzle of a waffle iron in the background. I like Mollie Katzen's whimsical illustrations and the playful names she often gives to her recipes: this one, the giant cauliflower-cheese puff, sounds like it came straight out of a Roald Dahl story. The dish is simple enough to make: a filling of cauliflower florets is doused with an eggy-cheesy batter and baked until golden and puffy.
Giant Cauliflower Puff
(serves 3-4, adapted from Mollie Katzen's The Sunlight Cafe)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking dish with baking spray, then coat with a thin film of melted butter (by placing a small pat of butter in the dish, placing it in the pre-heating oven for a couple of minutes to melt it, then tilting the pan to spread the melted butter evenly).
2. Make the filling: Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet, then saute 1 medium chopped onion, 2 cloves garlic, minced. Add 3 cups cauliflower florets (about half a medium head of cauliflower) and saute for 5-8 minutes until the cauliflower is just starting to brown and become tender (it does not need to cook completely as it will be baked again). Turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt because the cheese in the batter will be quite salty. Stir in 3-4 tbsp minced parsley. Add the filling into the prepared baking dish
3. Make the batter: In a large bowl, combine 3 large eggs, 1/2 cup milk (I used low-fat), 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cheese (I used a combination of shredded Monterey Jack and Brie torn into small pieces). Use a hand blender or regular blender to mix everything into a smooth batter. Pour the batter over the cauliflower in the baking dish. Set the dish on a baking sheet to catch any spills while baking, like so:
4. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Test with a skewer or knife to make sure that the puff is cooked all through.
5. Cut into wedges or squares and serve!
The verdict: We enjoyed the giant cauliflower puff immensely! It tastes like a delicious souffle without the fuss. Anyone who likes eggs and savory foods for breakfast will enjoy this. It is wonderful to start the day with a healthy serving of vegetables. Two notes:
1. The recipe is highly flexible: you can use any other vegetables (broccoli, mushrooms, asparagus is suggested by Katzen) or any combination of vegetables. You can use any cheese (or combination of cheeses) that you like, and any herbs.
2. This is a great brunch dish for a crowd. Make the filling ahead of time. Preparing the batter takes only minutes, and it can bake in the oven unattended.
3. Next time, I would choose a shallow baking dish. Using the Pyrex bowl that I did, the puff took too long to bake and as you can see, the edges started to brown too much before the middle was fully cooked. Using a shallow dish would help the puff to cook more evenly.
Some other recipes from The Sunlight Cafe that I found on other blogs/ websites, for those who have a sweet tooth...
Chocolate Ricotta Muffins (from our very own Mika!),
and a trio of recipes: Smoothie, Fruit Salad and Pumpkin Muffins
Like eggs for breakfast? Here are my three favorite recipes:
Egg Onion Float
Indian Railways Omelet Sandwich
Pateta Par Eeda