You know that expression, “He’s a good egg”? Every time I have an egg that is poached, or baked, or over-easy, or in any form in which the egg is the true star of the show, I think of that expression. Not in the metaphorical sense, but quite literally. When an egg is the main focus of the dish, it’s essential that it is of the highest quality and flavor one can afford.
Therein lies the problem for a lot of us. Truly good eggs, the ones that come from healthy hens that are fed good things and allowed to roam freely, are quite expensive. I mean, really expensive. When I was working at the farmers’ markets earlier this year, there were many days when I sighed wistfully at the idea of the free-range, organic eggs staring at me from the stand across the way. And sigh wistfully for them was about the best I could do, because at $8/dozen (*gulp*), there was no way that could be considered a prudent food choice for Poor Girl.
The decision to leave such goodness behind is always a difficult one for me, as I try to make sure my eggs come from the most sustainable, humane places possible, despite my limited means. But as deliciously perfect as I know those $8 eggs will be, that’s just not a wise move. Fortunately, places like Trader Joe’s and brands like Eggland’s Best are trying to make that a little easier for shoppers. Cage-free, organic eggs for under $3/dozen is possible if you check out the TJ’s egg section. If you’re an EB fan, taking a trip to your local Target is definitely worth your time, as I recently saw their brown eggs for just $2.89/dozen. Not bad, not bad at all.
For a time, I never had to pay for my eggs because I was swimming in coupons from Eggland’s Best. Win a few recipe contests, get compensated in free dozens of eggs (works for me!). That beautiful era has long since passed, but they’re good, flavorful eggs, so I try to pick some up if I can afford them. I had the pleasure of doing so the other day while I was at Target and decided to celebrate the occasion with some baked eggs.
This was one I’d actually whipped up for my mom when she was still at my house recuperating from her surgery, and she loved it. It was around the time she was still not allowed to have any fresh vegetables, which to both of us, is a fate worse than death (I mean, really… a meal without veggies? Quelle horreur!). I was trying to figure out ways to keep those veggies coming without completely messing up her recovery, and without having to stick with the un-fun canned kind.
This worked out perfectly, as the mushrooms & broccoli cooked up nice and tender while the egg baked; the melty cheese brought everything together. Mom even mentioned that something delicious had happened to the broccoli, making it taste like it had been cooked with chicken or some other savory thing. Every time I’ve had them since, I’ve noticed the same thing. The only thing I can think of that would result in such a phenomenon, is the addition of the mushrooms; maybe their umami goodness does something to the broccoli when cooking.
As usual, baked eggs are a great brunch alternative to the standard omelettes and frittatas that are often served. Depending on what you add to them, they also can be a much healthier alternative. This one strays a bit from the “healthy” category with the cheese, but the amount is so small, I think it’s okay to indulge in a tablespoon or two. Adding tiny broccoli florets and chopped mushrooms allows for yet another way to get rid of any veggie scraps you might have in your fridge (so if you have them, there’s no need to rush out and buy more just to make this).
But back to the good egg thing… does this mean you can’t make this unless you have “good eggs” on hand? Of course not. That’s just silly and elitist. It’s wonderful that people have become much more conscious of the origins of their food for personal health and sustainability education. However, it’s also important to be realistic about what you can and can’t afford. If you’re totally broke, still looking for a job, chronically ill, barely getting food stamps, and buying the standard $1.79 eggs is all you can afford, and those eggs will keep you fed so you have enough nourishment, then…. that’s a good thing. You have not committed some cardinal food sin. You’re surviving and making the most of what you have.
Yes, it is important to know where your food comes from, what’s in it, and how it’s raised; but when times are genuinely tough and you’re truly struggling, it’s far more important to get in some basic nutrition, controversial as it may be to some. If you can afford to splurge a bit on the good stuff, then by all means do it! But please don’t ever feel that you’re a “bad” person for not being able to get the “good” stuff. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. Money, or the lack thereof, severely limits choices, so you have to do the best you can with what you have. Once things get better (or once government subsidies stop going to Big Business and actually help the farmers that feed us, but I digress), then you can start adding in those ingredients that cost more, but are more sustainable or organic. Lord knows that’s exactly my plan once I’m no longer in the aforementioned situation.
For now, do what you can with what you have. It’s okay. You’re still a good egg, I promise. : )
Baked Eggs with Broccoli, Mushrooms & Cheese (makes 2 servings; average cost per serving: $1.45)
Depending on the size of your ramekins, you can use up to 2 eggs per person for this recipe, which pretty much makes each serving a full breakfast. If you have super small ramekins, be sure to cut the broccoli florets as small as possible so they don’t take up all the space. PS – For easy clean-up, don’t forget to give each dish a quick dash of cooking spray before adding in the goodies.
1/2 c broccoli florets
1/2 c chopped fresh mushrooms
1/4 c shredded cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly grease each ramekin with butter or cooking spray, then add equal amounts of broccoli and mushrooms to each one. Sprinkle with about a teaspoon of cheese over the veggies.
2. Make a small indentation or “well” in the filling and gently crack the egg(s) on top. Sprinkle the tops with more cheese, then place each ramekin into a shallow baking pan. Bake for about 15-18 minutes, depending on how “done” you like your eggs. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a couple minutes before handling. Serve with a side of fruit or some tasty muffins, and enjoy!