GateHouse News Service's weekly Food for Thought, with tips on new uses for cottage cheese, healthier dairy substitutes and kielbasa.

Today, cottage cheese is anything but plain. With its light flavor and creamy texture, cottage cheese makes a delicious and healthy base for a host of dishes. Have a favorite high-fat dip? Swap out the mayo for low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese. You'll add calcium and protein without compromising flavor. In the mood for a creamy dressing? Blend cottage cheese, herbs and spices for a rich-tasting, low calorie dressing for salads from greens to pasta.

It's also a perfect addition to your morning pancake mix. Mild, creamy cottage cheese mixed with lightly sweetened batter forms delicious California Cottage Cheese Pancakes with the added bonus of a healthy dose of protein. While people tend to add fruit and other "sweet" additions to cottage cheese, don't overlook savory ingredients like chopped artichoke hearts, olives, nuts or even salsa.

Go Greek with fresh, flavorful ingredients like cucumbers, red peppers, herbs and olives. And, when you're craving the rich flavors of Italy, look no further than the Modern Italian Cottage Cheese Plate:

The Modern Cottage Cheese Plate: Italian

1 cup California low-fat cottage cheese
1 tablespoon finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 cups baby arugula
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
3/4 cup red and yellow grape tomatoes
1/2 cup mixed olives
6 whole grain baguette slices
3 teaspoons butter

Directions:

Spread butter lightly on baguette slices and toast. Stir together cottage cheese, tomatoes, basil, garlic and lemon zest in a small bowl. Place arugula onto two plates and top with cottage cheese. Sprinkle with pine nuts and surround with tomatoes, olives and baguette slices. Makes two servings.

-- Brandpoint

Tip of the Week

When recipes such as dips call for sour cream, substitute plain yogurt. Use fat-free evaporated milk instead of cream, and try ricotta cheese as a substitute for cream cheese.

-- ChooseMyPlate.gov

Number to Know

3: Cups of dairy the USDA recommends adults, teens and older children should eat a day.

Easy Recipe

Quick Sausage and German Potato Salad Skillet

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes 4 servings

2 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil
1 medium red or yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
3/4 pound pre-cooked smoked chicken or turkey sausage links
1 can (15 ounces) German potato salad
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Chopped parsley, optional

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook and stir 1 minute. Add sausages; continue cooking 5 minutes until browned and heated through, turning occasionally. Remove sausages from skillet.

Add potato salad and black pepper to skillet. Stir to combine with onion mixture. Return sausages to skillet. Cook 2 to 3 minutes to heat through. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.

Note: Other smoked sausage such as Polish or kielbasa can be substituted.

-- Family Features/Seneca Foods

Food Quiz

What does it mean to cream ingredients?

A. To work mixture with hands until cohesive and pliable.

B. To add cream to a mixture until soft and smooth.

C. To incorporate air into ingredients by whipping.

D. To beat ingredients together until soft and smooth.

Answer at bottom of rail.

Word to the Wise

Kielbasa is a catchall name for an assortment of highly seasoned Polish and eastern European sausages. Traditionally made with pork, kielbasa (or "kielbasi") can also contain veal, beef and lamb.

-- Cookthink.com

The Dish On...

"Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking" by Fuchsia Dunlop

Fuchsia Dunlop trained as a chef in China’s leading Sichuan cooking school and possesses the rare ability to write recipes for authentic Chinese food that you can make at home. Following her two seminal volumes on Sichuan and Hunan cooking, "Every Grain of Rice" is inspired by the vibrant everyday cooking of southern China, in which vegetables play the starring role, with small portions of meat and fish.

-- Amazon.com

Food Quiz answer

D. To beat ingredients together until soft and smooth. Lots of cookie recipes call for creaming butter and sugar, which should result in a smooth, homogeneous mixture that shows neither separation nor evidence of any particles (such as sugar).

-- Delish.com

GateHouse News Service