Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cottage Cheese Fun: Stuffed Shells, Dill Rolls, & Chile Egg Puff

How do you end up with six pints of cottage cheese in your fridge? Believe me, it isn’t easy. Here’s the story: I like cottage cheese as a snack, and think of it mainly as a savory food. I like it topped with chopped chives/scallions, a spoonful of salsa, a dash of any one of the numerous spice blends I keep on hand, or a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper. But I don’t care for the cottage cheese and fruit combination – that simply does nothing for me.

A few weeks ago I thought that a nice scoop of cottage cheese sprinkled with a spice blend and served with unsalted pretzels would be a perfect mid-afternoon snack for both me and my husband. So I wrote “cottage cheese” on the kitchen whiteboard where I keep my grocery list. I knew what those simple words meant: Go to Safeway; pick up a pint container of Lucerne No Salt Added 1% Milk Fat Cottage Cheese; pick up another pint container of regular salted cottage cheese; go home and combine the contents of both cartons and repack them.

I find the unsalted cottage cheese unpalatable by itself; it's OK for cooking but not for snacking. But regular cottage cheese is too salty. The solution, for me, is to blend equal parts of both kinds, creating a lower sodium yet tasty product.

But life interfered with my great plans. I wasn’t feeling well for a few days, and my husband did the grocery shopping. He copied the list and went out. Poor guy! He didn’t know all the intricacies involved in buying cottage cheese, so he came home with a quart of the regular stuff. Once I explained the situation, he went out again, this time to Safeway, and came back with four pints of the Lucerne unsalted product. So we ended up with 6 pints of cottage all at once! We combined the salted quart with two of the unsalted pints. And then it was time to start using up all that cottage cheese.

I got some inspiration from the dear folks at the Recipe Exchange forum and decided to make stuffed pasta shells. A few days later, I was feeling well enough to go out grocery shopping for a bit. I picked up some jumbo pasta shells, some fresh baby spinach (in a bag), and a jar of Classico Roasted Garlic pasta sauce. It has the lowest sodium content of all the many prepared pasta sauces sold at my local grocery stores, just 220 mg. sodium per ½ cup.

I really didn’t follow a recipe. I browned some ground pork I had in the freezer and combined it with the Classico sauce; I added an 8 oz. can of unsalted tomato sauce to lower the sodium content even more. I combined one pint of the unsalted cottage cheese with 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic, about 3 tbsp. of chopped basil (frozen during the summer), about ½ the spinach (chopped), one beaten egg, about 3 tbsp. of shredded Parmesan cheese, and a couple of tablespoons of finely ground homemade bread crumbs. I stuffed about 18 shells that had been cooked in unsalted water, lined them up in a Pyrex casserole, and poured the sauce over them. I sprinkled some sliced fresh mushrooms on top, covered them with foil and baked everything at about 375 degrees until the filling was set and hot.

My husband loved the shells, and we ate them all up over the course of two days. A couple of days later, I made them again but with Trader Giotto’s (Trader Joe’s) Organic Marinara Sauce (no salt added & low fat). This second version was meatless. Again, a hit. Two pints of cottage cheese gone.

Recipe Exchange members also suggested making cottage cheese & dill bread or rolls. Since I’m still getting used to my new bread machine, I decided to use a recipe designed specifically for one, Beth Hensperger’s “Cottage Cheese Dill Bread” from The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook. However, instead of making a loaf, I made sandwich rolls. And I used dill seed rather than dill weed. One forum member shared a recipe that included a tablespoon of horseradish; that addition sounded intriguing to me, so I used it. The end result was wonderful. The rolls are soft and tasty. Perfect for sandwiches. And almost another full carton of cottage cheese used up.

Cottage Cheese Dill Bread
Adapted from Beth Hensperger's, The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook
(Printable Recipe)

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped (I used ½ of a medium sized sweet onion)

1-1/3 cups NSA cottage cheese
1/3 cup fat-free milk
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
(I added 1 tbsp. prepared horseradish)
3-1/3 cups bread flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. gluten
1-1/2 tbsp. dried dill weed (I used 1 tbsp. dill seed)
1-3/4 tsp. salt (I only used 3/4 tsp. salt)
2-1/4 tsp. SAF yeast or 1-3/4 tsp. bread machine yeast (I only used 1 tsp. bread machine yeast)

1. Heat the oil in a small skillet, and sauté the shallot until translucent. Set aside to cool to warm.

2. Place the ingredients in the pan according to the order in the manufacturer’s instructions, adding the shallot with the liquid ingredients (I added the horseradish with the liquids). Set crust on dark and program for Basic cycle; press Start. The dough ball will look very dry at first and take a few minutes to come together. Resist the urge to add more liquid.

3. When the baking cycle ends, immediately remove the bread from the pan and place it on a rack. Let cool to room temperature before slicing. (2-Pound Loaf)

Notes: I used the dough cycle and let the dough knead & rise in the bread machine. I divided it into 12 equal sized dough balls. I placed the dough balls on a jelly roll sheet lined with parchment paper and pressed to flatten each roll. I covered the rolls loosely with plastic wrap and let them rest for about 30 minutes.

I baked the rolls at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes on the middle oven rack, and then placed the pan directly on my oven stone for about another 7 minutes. I wanted to make sure the bottoms were cooked. After taking the baked rolls out of the oven, I immediately transferred them to cooling racks.

Finally, another forum member shared a recipe for a Chile-Cheese Egg Puff. It used green chilies and cottage cheese. My husband loves green chilies and I still needed to use up some cottage cheese, so I gave it a try. I made some changes, though. First I cut the recipe in half and used a lot less hard cheese than the recipe called for in order to cut sodium content. I used an extra sharp cheddar rather than the milder Jack cheese called for in the recipe. I find that when lowering salt content, it’s important to use products with some zing & flavor impact. I also used less butter. The end result was a wonderful omelet-like casserole. In fact, I’ve made it twice. It’s the type of dish that could be adapted to all kinds of additional vegetables or flavorings. And it used up more cottage cheese. Here’s the halved recipe:

Chile-Cheese Egg Puff
Becky from GardenWeb's Recipe Exchange
(Printable Recipe)

5 eggs
¼ cup flour
½ tsp. baking powder (I used Featherweight sodium free baking powder)
1 cup NSA cottage cheese
4-6 oz. shredded cheese
2 tbsp. melted unsalted butter
1 small (4 oz) can chopped green chilies (rinsed, drained, and pressed dry in paper towels)

Beat eggs until light and lemon-colored. Add flour, baking powder, cheese, and butter, blending smoothly. Stir in chilies. Pour into well-buttered 8 x 8 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until top is brown and center appears firm. (I ended up baking the casserole for about 40-45 minutes.) Serve hot.

And yet… In spite of all the above, one final (and lonely) partially used pint of cottage cheese still remains.


OhioMom said...

OMG ... I am now so hungry, I want that stuffed pasta and the bread and the egg puff! That bread looks fantastic, glad to see you are enjoying your new machine :)

Elenka said...

I am loving your blog. I need to start eating low or no salt and I will be checking with you often. Thank you so much.

giz said...

How creative of you getting rid of all that cottage cheese. I'm so jealous that you have no salt cottage cheese. The lowest I can find here has 375 mg and it tastes watered down :(.

Sarah T. said...

Is it gone now? Maybe you should start writing units on the board too.

shambo said...

Very funny, Sarah. Actually, since I've been sick again these last two weeks, dad's done all the grocery shopping. So I've made very detailed lists for him BEFORE he heads out to the store. I finally finished off the cottage cheese by making another bread recipe from Beth Hensperger's book.

Anonymous said...

I can't stand regular cottage cheese. I find it just plain nasty because it's soooo salty, especially since I always use cottage cheese for something sweet, i.e. mixing in fruit and nuts. To me, the Lucerne no-salt-added variety is perfect for this.


shambo said...

I'm with you -- the Lucerne unsalted cottage cheese is so versatile and useful. You don't have to worry about over-salting any dish it's used in. Thanks for your comments.