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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mama Masha's Kitchen - Let's talk about eggs, baby!

Eggs have been getting a bad rep on and off for years, being blamed for high cholesterol and heart disease. If you are fond of the “incredible edible egg” but are terrified as to what it may do to your health, I do have good news for you.

Research that walks step-by-step through the process of chemical breakdown of foods we eat, states that cholesterol in eggs cannot possibly end up as serum cholesterol blamed for all the evils of the world. It is simply not possible – our bodies cannot metabolize it like that. Serum cholesterol is a by-product of complex saturated fats. Where can saturated fats come from? …Why, from the foods that are frequently served with eggs, of course! Ham, bacon, buttered toast… Sounds familiar?

That said, anything eaten in excessive amounts is bad for you. So, if you eat half a dozen eggs on a daily basis and nothing else, you will probably get sick. Thus, our principle of healthy balance and moderation ought to be applied to eggs as well.

Now that we got the nutrition part out of the way, let us talk about why eggs make Mama Masha’s heart go pitt-a-pat. First of all, eggs are just very cool. They may seem fragile (especially when your shopping bag falls apart right in front of your door or when your dog manages to knock an egg carton off a counter), but if you hold an egg horizontally between your palms and press, you’ll find it very sturdy indeed, because of its shape. The structures that have arches built into them for additional support use the same stress distribution principle as the one that allows an egg to withstand pressure.

Egg shape is one of the most efficient in existence, aerodynamically speaking. Look at the sci-fi book illustrations and movies – the flying vehicles that are expected to replace cars one day are often egg-shaped.

There is an ancient Mesopotamian philosophy, in which the Universe starts off as an egg that expands and splits into two, forming heaven and earth with life in between. Unfortunately, we cannot verify that, otherwise that would put the whole “chicken or egg” question to bed for good.

Second, there are so many things you can do with eggs both inside and outside of the kitchen! For example, did you know that egg yolks can stimulate hair health and growth? That’s right: the humble egg is one of grandma’s hair beauty secrets along with beer and vinegar.

And finally, eggs are not just for breakfast anymore! Don’t get me wrong – I love them for breakfast and will include a couple of breakfast options. But that doesn’t stop me from adding them to other meals of the day. Eggs are your friends when it comes to whipping something quick for someone special and making it look and taste good, when you don’t have much in the fridge. So, let’s get cooking!

Yummy scrambles

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• Eggs – 2 per person

• Medium-sharp cheese – like Colby jack or medium cheddar

• Chopped prosciutto or ham

• Canned mushrooms

• Good toasting bread – like sourdough

• Butter – figure out how much you need to lubricate a large pan and add depending on how many eggs you are cooking

• Spice combo – Mrs. Dash, Tony Chachere’s Spice N’ Herbs or Scottish Gourmet’s whiskey salt

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Prep:

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• Drain the mushrooms.

• Break the eggs into a bowl and mix the yolks and whites with a whisk or with a fork. If you want your seasonings to be evenly distributed toss in your spices at this point and mix them in.

• Shred some cheese.

• Heat up the pan (I prefer a cast iron pan – I’m very anti-non-stick) and melt the butter.

• Start sautéing the mushrooms and meat and pop the bread into the toaster. To tie in the flavors, smear a little bit of butter and sprinkle some of the same spices you added to the eggs onto the bread.

• Pour the eggs into the pan and start “scrambling” – mixing them with the mushrooms and meat with a spatula or a wooden spoon, never letting a large portion of the eggs to settle. Those who have scrambled eggs before may think me too didactic here, but you would be amazed, how many people out there don’t know how to properly scramble an egg. Be thankful I am not telling you to peel the eggs before cooking.

• As you continue cooking, the eggs will form clumps – and that’s what you are looking for. Toss in your shredded cheese and mix it in with the eggs and the rest of the stuff.

• Once the eggs are all reasonably uniformly clumped and not runny, turn off the heat and serve with toast. If you want to pep up your breakfast some more, serve up some yummy yogurt or cottage cheese in a pretty dish with some colorful berries on top.

Easy omelet

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• Eggs – 2 per person

• Whatever leftover veggies and lunch meat you have that is close to going bad: tomatoes, onions or shallots, bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, ham, sausage, prosciutto, bologna, etc.

• Butter or olive oil

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Prep:

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• Chop up the veggies and meats.

• Break the eggs into a bowl and mix whites and yolks, as we did for the yummy scrambles.

• Heat the pan and melt the butter. As soon as the butter starts bubbling up, toss in veggies and meats, starting with the ones that take longer to cook or have to cook to a certain temperature. As you keep adding them, continue mixing them to keep things from sticking.

• Add a bit more butter or oil, turn the heat down to medium and spread the veggies and meats evenly across the bottom of the pan.

• Pour in the eggs, if necessary, tip it this way and that to make sure they cover all of the veggies and meats evenly (use a mitten or a hot pot grabber as you handle the pan – don’t burn yourself). Cover the pan.

• You can leave it be for a few minutes, but do not leave things unattended for too long. This is when a transparent pan cover is priceless! Watch as the eggs solidify on the surface. Jiggle the pan a little bit to make sure there are no runny spots (didn’t I tell you not to grab it with your bare hand?!).

• As soon as the entire egg surface appears solid, turn off the pan and let things percolate a couple more minutes. While you wait, you may want to heat up your plate for 30-60 seconds in a microwave. Grab the biggest spatula you have, slide it gently under the omelet and do your best to get it out of the pan and onto the plate without breaking it in half. If that doesn’t work, separate the omelet into sections with the edge of the spatula and serve. Whole or in portions – it’s still yummy.

Potato salad – Russian style

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• Two large potatoes

• One large carrot

• Pickles

• Chopped ham or prosciutto

• Small sweet onion. Ok small vidalias don’t really exist, so just grab a quarter of a large one.

• Peas

• Two eggs

• Chopped ham or prosciutto

• Mayo

Note: the amount of ingredients really depends on what flavor you want to be prevalent, when all is said and done. This is a fun thing to make, because it is strongly recommended to do a lot of tasting in the process.

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Prep:

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• Hard-boil the eggs.

• Cook the potatoes.

• Start chopping the ingredients: potatoes, eggs, carrot, onion, pickles – into a sizable bowl, leaving yourself enough room to mix. You can always transfer it into a smaller bowl later.

• Add peas and meat. Mix everything thoroughly.

• Sprinkle in a little bit of pickle juice and mayo to taste, continue mixing thoroughly.

• Consider adding a seasoning – starting from something simple like freshly ground pepper and ending with one of the combo seasonings I mentioned earlier.

• Keep mixing and tasting. Once you have reached a consistency you like, put the salad into the fridge for at least 2-3 hours to chill.

Note: back at home in Ukraine, we often serve this salad for special occasions and decorate it with parsley and prettily arranged carrot slices or straws. Also, instead of using all of the second hard-boiled egg in the salad, you can separate the yolk from the white – much easier to do, when the egg is fully cooked. Chop the white into the salad and crumble the yolk on top to decorate – it looks like little mimosa flowers.

Easy-peasy egg fixes

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• Got some almost-stale bread you know you won’t be able to finish before it goes well and truly stale? Whisk an egg or two, slice up the bread, dip into the egg mix and toast on a pan with a little bit of butter or oil. Serve with some confectioner’s sugar, or if you don’t have any, grind some up using mortar and pestle. Perk up the plate with some fruit compote or fresh berries.

• Unexpected guests and just enough time to run out for a quick grocery store but zero time to cook? Hard-boil a couple of eggs. Slice into circles and arrange on a plate with circles of tomato and cucumber. Sprinkle a little bit of freshly-ground pepper on top, a touch of oil and balsamic vinegar for a quick and healthful snack that also looks cute.

• Make a point of saving up crumbs from good bread. If you have something nice and crusty that’s gone stale, toast it and crumble it to save up the bits. Breadcrumbs are awesome and versatile, and work great in tandem with eggs.

Most of us usually have a pack of chicken stashed away in the freezer. For picky kids and hungry impatient spouses, thaw the chicken and slice it into strips. Break an egg into a small bowl, whisk the yolk and white together, and set out some bread crumbs. Heat up olive oil in a heavy pan – be generous. Set aside a large plate with a paper towel on it. Dip each chicken strip into the egg mixture, then roll it in bread crumbs, and deposit into the pan. Make sure you cook both sides of each strip and that the breading is nice, set, and crisp. Once cooked, set the strips onto the plate with the paper towel. The towel serves two purposes: it will suck away the extra oil and keep the strips warm. Serve with mustard or barbecue sauce.

• Can’t figure out how to make basic chicken and rice interesting? Chop up some chicken. Start cooking brown rice. When it’s almost ready, heat up some oil in a heavy pan and toss in some shallots or onion to sauté, add a frozen veggie mix – especially if you have something with broccoli, carrots and mushrooms. Add the chicken. Keep mixing stuff up as it cooks. Add the rice into the pan with everything else and break in an egg or two. Keep mixing – the egg will scramble. Season with whiskey salt and pepper or, with sodium-free soy sauce for the oriental touch.

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