I recently returned from Illinois. I left something like a foot of snow in my front yard and very, very cold, foggy weather that had gone on for weeks.
I wasn’t under any illusions as I boarded the plane that I was going to central Illinois in February for a suntan. Winter commonly brings heavy snows and very cold temperatures there, so I could have been trading a cold, wet Utah for a cold, wet Illinois. Not so.
Illinois was cold, but not as cold as Utah. The sun shone and snow was nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, that had been the situation for much of this winter and last. Summer had been remarkably dry as well. The drought was the key concern to Illinois and the rest of the Midwest.
The Midwest is the breadbasket of the United States and it has suffered drought for too long. The drought last year caused serious reductions in crop production. That, in turn, increased feed prices for animals that provide meat and raised the price of food products at the grocery store. It has an effect on prices across the board.
According to reports from the USDA, the drought could cause further food price inflation. Grocery prices could go up 3 to 4 percent overall this year.
Most of the price spikes come at the meat counter. You may have noticed that you are paying more for meat already — especially beef.
As the price of feed increased, producers were forced to decrease the size of their herds, meaning there is less meat available and prices go higher.
Americans are responding as you might predict. They are purchasing less costly cuts of beef, cutting back on the amount of meat they eat and eating more poultry and pork.
In fact, the USDA projects that meat consumption in the U.S. will be the lowest it has been since 1991.
Eating less meat isn’t all bad. Many of us eat too much meat in the first place at the expense of a lot of other healthy choices. Fortunately, humans are perfectly capable of eating a wide variety of foods and of getting protein from more than one source.
Besides pork, chicken and other animal muscle products, we get very high quality protein from eggs. It appears that the cholesterol problems from egg consumption were overstated. Good news for us.
We can also get protein from making judicious use of plant products. Wheat, rice, corn, beans and some other products have many of the amino acids humans require to build the proteins needed. Unfortunately, these foods don’t have all the required amino acids to make a complete protein and our bodies cannot synthesize all of the missing ones. However, if you drink milk with or add a milk product to these foods, the milk will provide the missing amino acids to make the complete proteins.
Make a casserole that combines a smaller amount of meat with some grains and maybe a bit of cheese and you get a pretty nourishing meal. In addition, different grains provide different amino acids. Combining them appropriately can also provide the nourishment we need. There are some good recipes for filling and nourishing low-meat or meatless main dishes.
3 tablespoons bacon bits (vegetable based) or 4 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 large cans pork and beans
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon mustard
1/4 cup catsup
Mix together all ingredients and place in a casserole dish. Bake at 325 degrees for two hours.
Fritoli Pie Casserole
3 cups Frito corn chips
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 (15 1/2 ounce) can vegetarian chili
1 (2 1/4 ounce) can chopped olives
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 cups grated cheese
Fry onions in a little oil until translucent. Mix with beans, olives, water, and 1 1/2 cups corn chips. Place in a lightly greased casserole dish. Put a layer of lightly crushed corn chips on the mixture and sprinkle grated cheese over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
Microwave directions: Cook onions in water about one minute on high in microwave. Follow remaining instructions to make casserole and heat in microwave on high for about 10 minutes or until heated through.
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach
4 eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup chopped mushrooms, fresh or canned
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions or green onions
1/4 teaspoon dry Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together all ingredients until well mixed. Spray a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray and add the spinach mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a knife pushed into the center comes out clean.
Angel Hair Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Basil
1 pound angel hair pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup sun or oven-dried tomatoes, cut into strips
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Cook pasta al dente. Drain and set aside. Sauté scallions, garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil until tender. Toss with pasta. Add basil leaves and tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper and parmesan cheese.
Party Rice and Noodles
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup regular long grain or 3/4 cup parboiled rice
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 heaping cup medium noodles
In a heavy pot, cook onions in 2 tablespoons butter at medium heat until tender, about five minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add rice, mushrooms, curry and pepper and cook five minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in broth, 1/4 cup butter and salt. Heat to boiling. Gently stir in uncooked noodles. Pour mixture into a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish. Cover and bake 35 to 40 minutes until rice and noodles are tender and all liquid is absorbed. Just before serving, fluff rice and noodle mixture with fork.