Eggs: an essential ingredient for every cook to have on hand

Eggs are a cook's delight because they can be transformed into so many different dishes, from light, savory souffles to dense, buttery pound cakes. They are also an essential ingredient in many basic culinary creations, such as custards, sauces, and mayonnaise.

It is important, therefore, to know a few facts in order to purchase the best and freshest eggs.

When shopping, look for the grade, size, and the USDA mark on the carton. This means the eggs have been federally inspected and meet standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or by the state departments of agriculture.

Fresh eggs should have a thick white that stands high and a firm, high yolk.

The best way to store eggs is in the carton with the large end of the egg up instead of inside the refrigerator door.

When cooking, a basic rule to remember is to use a medium to low temperature and time them carefully.

They are delicate, and when cooked at too high a temperature, or cooked for too long, the white of the egg shrinks and becomes tough and rubbery.

Here are several recipes that use eggs in brunch and luncheon dishes, and desserts that will please every one in your family. Spinach Souffle 1 (12-ounce) bag fresh spinach 1 tablespoon chopped parsley 1/4 cup sliced mushrooms 2 tablespoons melted butter 2 beaten eggs 1 cup milk 1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese 1/4 teaspoon paprika 1/2 teaspoon salt

Finely chop spinach. Add parsley and mushrooms. Cook in melted butter 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add eggs to milk. Pour over spinach. Add cheese and seasonings.

Turn into 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6. Broccoli-Rice Quiche 1/2 cup onions, chopped 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen broccoli, chopped 3 cups hot, cooked rice 1 1/2 cups sharp Cheddar cheese, grated 6 eggs 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup milk 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 (4-ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained

Cook onions with broccoli according to broccoli package directions. Drain well. Set aside. Combine rice, 3/4 cup cheese, 2 eggs, slightly beaten, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Press firmly and evenly over bottom and sides of a greased 12 -inch pizza pan or two 9-inch pie pans.

Beat remaining eggs slightly. Stir in milk, pepper, mushrooms and remaining salt. Add to broccoli and mix well. Spoon into crust. Bake at 375 degrees F. 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 10 minutes longer. Cool a few minutes before cutting into wedges. Serves 6. EggCroquettes 1 can (10 3/4 ounces) condensed cream of celery soup 8 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped 1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley Dash pepper 2 tablespoons shortening 1/3 to 1/2 cup milk

Mix 2 tablespoons soup, eggs, bread crumbs, onion, parsley, and pepper together thoroughly. Shape firmly into 8 egg croquettes or patties. If mixture is difficult to handle, chill before shaping. Roll each croquette in additional bread crumbs. In skillet, brown croquettes in shortening. Meanwhile, in saucepan , combine remaining soup and milk. Heat, stir occasionally. Serve with croquettes. Serves 6 to 8. One Step Pound Cake 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 2 cups sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon soda 1/4 teaspoon almond or lemon extract 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 cup butter or margarine, softened 1 cup dairy sour cream 3 eggs

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan. Combine all ingredients in a large mixer bowl. Blend at low speed. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes until top of cake springs back when touched lightly in center. Cook cake upright in pan 15 minutes; remove from pan and cool completely before glazing. Glaze:1 cup powdered sugar1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine powdered sugar and enough lemon juice to make drizzling consistency. Drizzle over cooled cake. Chocolate Cloud Souffle 4 ounces cream cheese 1/2 cup light cream 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips 4 egg yolks Few grains salt 1/2 cup flaked coconut 1 teaspoon vanilla 4 egg whites 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted 1/2 cup whipping cream

Blend cream cheese and light cream with rotary beater or electric mixer in top of double boiler. Add chocolate chips. Heat over hot water; stir until chocolate chips melt.

Beat egg yolks and salt together. Stir part of chocolate mixture into egg yolks; then stir egg yolks into rest of chocolate mixture. Cook over hot water, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Stir in coconut and vanilla.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Add sugar gradually, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in chocolate mixture. Pour into an ungreased 1-quart casserole. Set in a pan of hot water. Bake 1 hour, or until a knife inserted into souffle comes out clean.

Whip cream and use as topping; serve immediately. Serves 6.

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