SPINACH-CHEESE STRATA: Perfect Any Time Of Day!

spinach cheese strata textOne thing I love about egg dishes is they can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – kind of a one-size-fits-all meal of the food world. (Even though one size does NOT fit all in the clothing world!)

This SPINACH-CHEESE STRATA is very fast to prepare…even faster if you take a couple of shortcuts: 1) buy frozen spinach and, 2) buy bread (rather than making it). I’m a little paranoid about the cleanliness of frozen spinach, since I know how dirty fresh can be, so I buy fresh. Also, I like to bake my own bread and often have extra in the freezer. But that’s just me.

Bonus: it’s a make ahead dish – always a plus for me. That way, I can prepare it in the morning (or even the night before), leaving explicit instructions with my husband. Explicit!

SPINACH-CHEESE STRATA – makes about 6 servings

  • about 11  1/2″ slices of day old French bread (or less if it’s a fat loaf)
  • 2 T butter + more for spreading on bread
  • 2 bunches fresh spinach (or 12 oz frozen cut spinach)
  • 1/4 cup shallots, minced
  • 1/2 tsp + 1/8 tsp black pepper, divided
  • 1 tsp + 1/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1½ cups (3½ oz) Gruyère cheese, shredded
  • 6 eggs
  • 1¾ cup half & half

The bread should be stale. If you plan ahead you can leave slices on a wire rack overnight. If you didn’t have time to do that, simply bake in the oven at 225º Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes, flipping halfway through. (Don’t toast them – it’s not the same thing!)

Butter one side of all the stale bread slices.strata14If you’re using fresh spinach, thoroughly wash, dry, and coarsely chop. If you’re using frozen, thaw.

Melt the 2 T butter in a Dutch oven (if using frozen spinach, then use a skillet). Add shallots and sauté 3 minutes to soften. strata13Add in spinach, 1/2 tsp black pepper, and 1 tsp salt. strata15Cook over medium heat, stirring until spinach is wilted – about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.strata16In the now empty pan, pour in the white wine. Cook over medium/high to reduce it to 1/4 cup. This happens fairly quickly so keep an eye on it. Remove from heat.

Butter an 8″ x 8″ pan (I use Pyrex). Cover bottom with buttered bread (butter side up).strata9 Spread on half of the spinach. strata10Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheese. strata11Add another layer of bread, the remaining spinach, and 1/2 cup cheese.strata6 In a bowl or large measuring cup for easy pouring, whisk the eggs, half & half, reduced wine, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp black pepper. Pour on top of spinach/bread/cheese. strata7Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto food. Weigh it down with whatever will fit. (I use another 8″ x 8″ pan weighted with bowls). strata17Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

To bake, remove plastic wrap. Sprinkle on remaining 1/2 cup cheese. strata2Bake at 325º F for 50-55 minutes, until starting to brown (I bake for 50 minutes). Remove from oven and let set about 15 minutes before serving.strata3

 

 

 

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SKILLET PORTOBELLO-BROCCOLI-PASTA DINNER – Easy Clean-up!!!

skillet porto-broc-pasta textI love skillet dinners – everything is cooked in the one pan. They’re generally fast and easy, and this one is particularly tasty!

As so often happens in my kitchen, this recipe began as an America’s Test Kitchen recipe. I changed so many things (including making it vegetarian), that it became virtually unrecognizable. I’m claiming it as my own! (Feel free to tweak to make it your own.)

PORTOBELLO-BROCCOLI-PASTA – serves about 5

  • 2 T vegetable oil, divided
  • 3 Portobello mushrooms
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1 onion (about 1½ cups), chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz uncooked pasta (small elbow or mini penne, which I prefer)
  • 1½ cups vegetable stock (to make my recipe, click VEGETABLE STOCK)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2½ cups raw broccoli, bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, rinsed & chopped
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup (1½ oz) Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated

NOTE:  I prefer mini penne pasta because the tubular shape allows the sauce to be trapped, and the mini version makes it easy to eat with a spoon. However, mini penne (Barilla makes it) isn’t always carried in markets.

ADDITIONAL NOTE:  I like to use Portobello mushrooms so I can cut them in 1″ pieces. But if you can’t find them, use 14½ ounces of crimini mushrooms. Cut them into large pieces – and you can use the stems.

Wash Portobellos and discard stems (they’re too tough to eat, unlike the crimini). skillet 1Cut into 1″ pieces.skillet 2In a 12″ skillet, heat 1 T oil over medium/high flame. Add in mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes. skillet 4Remove mushrooms and extruded liquid to bowl and set aside. skillet 3Heat remaining 1 T oil in now-empty skillet over medium heat. Add in onions and salt. Sauté 4-5 minutes, until cooked but not browned.skillet 5 Add in garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Turn off heat. Add oregano, red pepper flakes, uncooked pasta, vegetable stock, and the water.skillet 6 Turn heat to high and let cook, uncovered, about 12 minutes (stirring now and then) – until most of liquid has cooked out. skillet 9Add in the broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, and Kalamata olives. skillet 10Cover and cook over medium/high for 2 minutes to steam broccoli (it will turn bright green). Don’t overcook.skillet 11Decrease flame to low and add in cream and Pecorino. Stir to blend and let cook uncovered about 1 minute to heat through. Turn off heat and taste for seasoning (I like to add 1/2 tsp salt.) Cover, and let set 5 minutes before serving.

BLACK BEAN BURGERS: Firm And Flavorful!

black bean burgers text

The biggest complaint about Black Bean Burgers seems to be that they tend to be mushy. You load up your bun with toppings, take a bite, and immediately the “burger” squirts out the sides.

So I went on yet another quest, this time to firm up the Black Bean Burger. The key was to remove some of the moisture from the beans by quickly heating them in the oven. 4 minutes at 350º F was just right. Any longer and they over-dried. Then I coarsely chopped half of them to expose the creamy insides to act as a binder, and left the other half whole for the heft. I added cornmeal to absorb excess moisture. Finally, the egg acted as a heavy-duty binder.

Note:  The mixture for BLACK BEAN BURGERS freezes very well. If you like this recipe (try it first), next time double or triple it, then freeze in portion sizes for future use. Thaw, and fry as directed.

BLACK BEAN BURGERS – makes 2 patties

  • 1  15-oz can black beans
  • 1/4 cup fine grind cornmeal (if you can’t find fine grind, use medium)black bean burgers2
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 2 T fresh minced cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/4 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black ground pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil, divided

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Drain and rinse beans. Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake 4 minutes in preheated 350º F oven to remove some of the moisture. Moisture = mushy burgers. (Don’t overbake or the beans will be too dried out.) Immediately pour half (it doesn’t have to be exact) the beans into a mixing bowl and the other half onto a cutting board. Don’t leave them on the cookie sheet or they’ll continue to dry from the heated sheet.  Coarsely chop the beans on the cutting board. black bean burgers7Put the chopped beans in the bowl and add in remaining ingredients. Stir to blend. black bean burgers4Cover and refrigerate at least an hour, preferably several hours.

When it’s time to cook, heat 1 tsp oil on medium/high in a nonstick skillet. Divide mixture into 2  1/2″ thick patties, pressing in on edges so they’re not raggedy. They’re kind of fragile so I find it’s best to place the formed patties on a plate, then nudge them onto the skillet. Cook about 4 minutes, until bottom is well browned. (Don’t lift up to check for browning until 4 minutes or they’ll crumble.)black bean burgers9Flip burgers and add remaining 1 tsp oil to skillet. (I flip them onto another spatula then nudge them onto the skillet.) Cook about another 4 minutes, until well browned. Once both sides are well browned, the crust holds them together.

 

 

CHOCOLATE BUNDT CAKE – No Frosting Needed!

chocolate bundt cake textIs it possible to have too much chocolate cake? I ask this because in the last 2 weeks I’ve baked 4 chocolate bundt cakes.

As many of you know, I’m a from-scratch baker. So I’ve been on a quest to adapt the Chocolate Bundt Cake my mother made from my youth. This was a recipe floating around back then, calling for, among other ingredients, boxed chocolate cake mix and boxed chocolate pudding mix.

The original cake was known for its moistness. And therein lay the problem. I found America’s Test Kitchen recipe, which required butter for the fat. While it tasted good, the crumb was very fine and dry. Since my mom’s recipe used oil, I thought I’d try half the butter and half the oil from each recipe. I, also, used dark brown sugar thinking the molasses would add extra moisture. Better, but still not there.

Since I was moving in the right direction, I omitted the butter altogether and used all oil, increasing it a little since I wasn’t using the boxed products. Much better.

My final tweak was to switch Dutch processed cocoa for the natural cocoa. Dutch processed cocoa tends to produce moister bakes plus an extra chocolatey flavor. By jove, I think I’ve got it!

So, in answer to my opening question: NOOOOO! It’s not possible to have too much chocolate bundt cake. To be honest, the hard part is restricting myself to one slice per day. (Thank goodness I have a coffin-sized deep freezer which is now full of frozen portions of chocolate bundt cake!)

Note: If you don’t have an electric mixer, you can mix by hand. Don’t use a food processor, though – it’s too powerful.

Additional Note:  You experienced bakers out there may be surprised to notice that I’m using baking soda with Dutch processed cocoa. Normally, one would use baking powder as the leavener with Dutch processed. But since this recipe has sour cream and dark brown sugar (both acidic), the baking soda will be activated.

CHOCOLATE BUNDT CAKE

  • 6 oz 60% bittersweet chocolate (use bar chocolate, not chips) (I use Ghirardelli)
  • 3/4 cup + 1 T Dutch processed cocoa powder, divided
  • 1 tsp instant coffee crystals
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 11 oz (2 cups, packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 5 eggs
  • 8 oz (1 cup) sour cream
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Nestle’s)
  • 1 T butter

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Chop bittersweet chocolate into 1/2″-ish or less sized pieces. If you’re using a thin bar such as Ghirardelli, then you can break it by hand. Place pieces in a medium sized bowl. Sift the 3/4 cup cocoa into the bowl. (Cocoa tends to clump. Sifting will make for a smoother chocolate mixture.) bundt1Add in the coffee crystals and pour in the boiling water. Cover with a plate and let sit for 5 minutes to begin the melting process. After 5 minutes, stir. It probably won’t be completely melted yet. Cover with plate and let sit another couple of minutes. Stir again and let sit uncovered to cool.bundt4Into another bowl stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. (In the picture I’ve not stirred yet.)bundt2Crack all 5 eggs into a tall glass. You’ll be adding the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Rather than cracking them one by one (and maybe getting bits of shell into the batter) as you beat the batter, you can just pour them from the glass – they’ll pour out one at a time quite easily. Set aside.bundt3Into the large bowl of your electric stand mixer put the brown sugar and oil. bundt6Turn on low to start (so the sugar doesn’t fly out), increasing to medium speed. Beat for 1 minute on medium. bundt7Add in vanilla and 1 egg. Beat for 20 seconds. Continue adding eggs one at a time, beating 20 seconds after each.bundt9Dump in about 1/3 of the flour mixture (you can just estimate) and beat on low to blend.bundt12Add in 1/2 of chocolate mixture and beat on low to blend.bundt13Add in half of remaining flour mixture and beat on low. Add in remaining chocolate mixture and beat on low. Finally, add in remaining flour mixture, beating until there’s still a little flour showing. Add in chocolate chips and beat on low, blending until all of flour is incorporated.bundt22Into a small bowl put the extra 1 T cocoa. Melt butter and pour into cocoa, stirring to make a paste. bundt8Using a pastry brush, coat the entire interior of bundt pan (even if it’s nonstick!). Use all of it – your cake will slide right out when done.bundt11Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. TIP:  Cover hole in bundt pan to prevent batter accidentally spilling into hole. The lid from a spice bottle works perfectly. So does a Dixie cup. REMEMBER TO REMOVE IT BEFORE PLACING PAN IN OVEN!!! (If you look carefully, you can see an indentation in my lid caused by me forgetting to remove it. I remembered after about 10 minutes in the oven. It melted a little, but is still usable for this purpose. And, more importantly, the cake was fine. bundt23Bake at 350º F for 45 – 55 minutes, gently rotating after 30 minutes. (Mine is done at 45 minutes, but your oven may not be as hot as mine.) Check for doneness with a toothpick. bundt18Because of the chocolate chips, there may be a little chocolate on the toothpick. Try another area to be sure it’s not raw batter (crumbs are okay). Let set 20 minutes in pan.

Using a rounded knife, loosen cake from outside edge of pan. bundt19Place a rack on top and flip. bundt20Remove bundt pan – the cake will have dropped to rack.bundt21 Let cool at least 4 hours.

Liberally sift on powdered sugar. (You can drizzle on a ganache if you like, but with the chocolate chips inside, I think it’s overkill.)

 

 

 

 

TOMATO TART – A Super Shortcut Recipe!

tom tart textSome things are just meant to be.

Normally, I make nearly everything from scratch – yogurt, cakes, cookies, soups, breads. But one thing I’ve never tried is puff pastry. It’s a lot of work and the frozen Pepperidge Farms sheets are so tasty, I doubt I ever will.

I recently watched an episode of America’s Test Kitchen featuring a TOMATO TART using puff pastry sheets instead of the usual pie dough, which can become soggy from the moisture in the tomatoes. Since I had one sheet left in the freezer from ages ago, I decided to try it – halving the recipe.

It was super easy, it was beautiful, it was absolutely delicious. KISMET!

Note: This is the full recipe. If you want a smaller amount (even though TOMATO TART makes for fabulous leftovers), just cut everything in half, skipping the patching together of the 2 sheets since you’ll only need 1.

TOMATO TART

  • 4 Roma tomatoes
  • 1/8 tsp + 1/2 tsp salt, divided
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry (I used Pepperidge Farms)tom tart10
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 oz (1 cup) Parmesan Cheese, shredded
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 8 oz low moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 T fresh basil

Note:  Make sure you use low moisture mozzarella to prevent a soggy crust.mozzarellaSet out package of pastry sheets for an hour or so to thaw. (Overnight in the fridge is best.)

Preheat oven to 425º Fahrenheit.

Slice tomatoes into 1/4″ circles, discarding stem and bottom ends. Lay slices on 3 layers of paper towels and sprinkle with a total of 1/2 tsp salt. (I lay the paper towels on an old terry towel for extra absorbency.) Let set for 30 minutes. This will draw out excess liquid that would make the crust soggy. After 30 minutes, blot tops firmly with another paper towel.tom tart9When pastry sheets are soft enough to unfold, remove them from package. Cut a piece of parchment paper (NOT waxed paper!) to fit a rimmed cookie sheet. Lay just the parchment (not on the cookie sheet yet) on the counter. Very gently unfold one of the pastry sheets and place it on one side of the parchment. (If the pastry tears, repair by pinching dough together with wet fingers.)

Paint a 1″ strip of beaten egg along the side next to the empty part of the parchment.tom tart1Overlap the other square on top. Press dough together firmly with fingers.tom tart2Using a pizza cutter or knife, trim edges so they’re straight. (You may not need to do this step.)

Cut 2  1″ strips down long side and leave in place. Cut 2  1″ strips along short side.tom tart3Paint entire rectangle with egg wash, but not the strips.tom tart4Place long strips on top of long edges and paint them with egg wash. There will be an excess of dough, which will be cut off.tom tart5Place the short strips along short side edges and paint them with egg wash. Cut off and discard overhanging dough strips. To help the border to rise straight upward (as opposed to up and out like mine did), press dough along inside edge of border.

Carefully, scoot the parchment onto a rimmed cookie sheet.

Sprinkle Parmesan evenly on tart, excluding the border strips – these will rise and act as a dam to prevent leakage.tom tart7Using a fork, liberally dock holes through cheese and pastry, excluding the border. You want the border to rise, but not the center.tom tart8 Bake at 425º F for 12 minutes. Remove from oven. If the center has puffed up, deflate by poking it with a sharp knife in a few places and gently pressing dough down with a fork.

In a small bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, 1/8 tsp salt, and pepper. Set aside.tom tart12Sprinkle mozzarella evenly in cooked pastry, excluding the border.tom tart13Layer on the tomato slices. Using a pastry brush, dab tomatoes with all of garlic/olive oil mixture.tom tart14To prevent the borders from over-browning, cover with strips of foil. Bake at 425º F for 13-15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with basil. Let set a few minutes before slicing.tom tart18

 

 

GREEK SALAD – A Salad To Wake Up Your Mouth!

greek salad textSometimes, nothing tastes better than a nice salad.

GREEK SALAD can be a meal unto itself, particularly on a hot summer day when you don’t want anything heavy (or don’t feel like cooking!). It, also, makes a perfect accompaniment to a heavy meal to cut through the richness.

Easy to prepare, it’s pretty enough for company!

GREEK SALAD – makes about 7 cups

  • 1½ T red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced
  • 1/3 cup red onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1 large tomato, shake out pulp & seeds, chopped
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 1½ T capers
  • 2 T mint, coarsely chopped
  • 2 T parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 3 T feta cheese, crumbled
  • optional – croutons

In a bowl (I like to use the serving bowl to save dirtying an extra bowl) whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. Add in the cucumber and red onions. Let marinate at least 30 minutes.greek salad1Into serving bowl (which could be the bowl from above), place the romaine, tomato, olives, capers, mint, parsley, feta, and marinade with cucumbers/onions. Toss together. Pass around croutons, if desired.

BLEU CHEESE MASHED POTATOES: Jazzing Up A Standard Recipe!

bleu cheese mashed potatoes textGood old mashed potatoes. Straight forward. Easy to prepare. And, most of all, filling. This last one is important if you have picky eater children (I speak from experience).

But, how about if we fancied-up those potatoes to make them company worthy? What would happen if we added bleu cheese, a little thyme, and topped with port infused sautéed onions? A brilliant side dish, that’s what!

BLEU CHEESE MASHED POTATOES – makes about 3 cups

  • 1½ lbs russet potatoes
  • 3/4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 3/4 tsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp brown sugar, packed (it’s not much, but aids caramelization)
  • 1/2 lb yellow onions
  • 2½ T ruby port (or any sweet red wine such as Masala)
  • 3 T butter, melted
  • 6 T half & half
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/3 tsp dried)
  • 2 oz bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

Place whole potatoes (with skin intact) in a saucepan and cover with 1″ water. mashed pot1Bring to simmer and cook until easily pierced with fork – about 35 minutes.

While potatoes are cooking, prepare the onions. Cut onions into 1/4″ slices. In a nonstick skillet, heat oil and butter over high heat. Add in 1/8 tsp salt, brown sugar, and onions.onions saute1 Sauté 5 minutes – until they start to lose volume and become a little browned. Decrease heat to medium and continue cooking until well browned (about 20 minutes or so).onion saute2 Add in the port and letter simmer for 5 minutes to evaporate the liquid. mashed pot2Set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, warm half & half and thyme just to the simmer point. Cover and set aside.

When potatoes are cooked, remove from water and peel. (They’re very hot so you might want to use a fork to hold them in place, while peeling with a knife.) For best mashing results, use a ricer or food mill.mashed pot3 Gently fold in melted butter. Add in half & half, bleu cheese, remaining salt, and pepper. Very gently blend together. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

To serve, top with onions.