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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Breakfast in the Strata-sphere?

The first time I saw a recipe for a breakfast strata I did not know what it was.  I read the recipe and it sounded awful.  Then I attended a brunch where this dish was served.  To my eye, unused to dishes of the casserole variety, it did not look much better than it sounded.  Alas, this was the kind of event where not tasting the dish would have been a big mistake.  Not to worry, I knew my manners and I also knew I could survive anything - even a deplorable breakfast dish.  I only needed to eat a bite or two and it would all be over.  I was so wrong.

The first bite let me know that I had been missing something.  My mom did not cook this way and for good reason - my dad did not like it.  But every so often we learn something new.  And when it is a delightful and delicious new recipe, I say let the knowledge begin!!!

Since then I have tasted many versions of this dish, one which included bacon, ham AND sausage!  Sort of a meat-lover's-pizza answer to the age old question "what's for breakfast".

I have been "pantry shopping" lately.  This means that my fridge, freezer and pantry are filled to overflowing with food that has to be eaten before it has to be thrown away.  The next item in the freezer (read the one I can reach and remove without causing an avalanche) is a package of breakfast sausage links.  This one is a no-brainer.  Who doesn't love breakfast for supper? 

I will cook all the sausage.  The first night's supper will be sausage and pancakes.  The rest of the sausage will be made into a strata to be cooked for supper (or breakfast even!) the next day.  Bonus Points!  Not only do I gain another inch of freezer space, Bill will be in sausage heaven (he's the meat lover mentioned previously) AND he loves this particular dish.  Here's how I make it.

Breakfast strata is essentially a dish that uses stale bread and any leftover meats or vegetables that taste good when baked with cheese.  Think quiche.  Think savory bread pudding.  I generally use a proportion of eggs to milk to cheese when cooking dishes like this.  That way I don't need to consult a recipe and I can use up whatever quantity of leftovers I have on hand.

A good proportion is about 1 egg per 1/4 cup of milk, 1 slice bread, 1/4 cup meats and 2 oz. shredded cheese.  Amounts will depend on how much of any ingredient you have to work with and how many you have to serve.  I usually make smaller portions to serve the two of us.  Easy and quick.

I like to cut the bread into roughly 1 inch cubes and spread them on a baking sheet in the oven for a few hours, either with the pilot light on or turned to a very low 150 degrees f.  Beat eggs and milk together in a  bowl (use half and half or a mixture of milk and cream if that is what you have).  Beat in seasonings like pepper, nutmeg, cayenne pepper for a little heat and maybe some dried thyme.  Go easy on the salt, especially if using salty meats.

Layer the dried bread in a buttered casserole of an appropriate size, again based on how much you are making, and scatter the meats cut into pieces over the bread.  Sprinkle with shredded cheese and pour the custard over.  If you wish you can saute onion and mushroom and/or scatter over some leftover vegetables.  Cooked broccoli or asparagus would be especially good - or make a vegetarian version with some cooked spinach, red and yellow peppers, and any other vegetables you like.  I would not complain if there was corn in there too. 

Allow the strata to stand overnight (for breakfast) or several hours (if it's for supper) then bake in a preheated 350 oven for about 35 minutes, covered with foil.  Remove the foil and bake 15 minutes longer to brown the top.  Don't forget to scatter a little extra shredded cheese over the top before you put it in the oven.  This insures a brown and crusty top.

The lovely thing about this dish (and quiche, and bread pudding) is that it puffs up dramatically in the oven and rises above the rim of the baking dish, not unlike a souffle.  Unfortunately it deflates quickly but this in no way diminishes its deliciousness.  All that's left now is to dig in!

If serving this for breakfast you will likely have a basket of muffins, a bowl of fruit and some butter and jam to go with it.  Mimosas would NOT be out of place.  For supper you might like to serve a green salad, some marinated vegetables, steamed broccoli or green beans along side.

Quotable quotes; in the category If Breakfast Is Good For Supper Then What 's Up With This?  A Guy With A Name Like That Ought To Know Better!

"Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper."  Francis Bacon.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Something Fishy Going On!

If you are like me you don't really like fish.  I know, we are supposed to eat it for the Omega 3 fatty acids etc. etc. etc.  But years of fish on Friday kinda did it for me.  Dad loved fish.  Anyone who knows what Finnin Haddie is, raise your hand.  As far as I know it's smoked cod.  Anyone who LIKES Finnin Haddie, raise your hand.  Nobody?  Not surprised.

Sometimes mom would order fried cod dinners (read fish & chips) from a local take out place.  I loved it.  Dad would get the shrimp dinner.  Who cared, I loved that fried cod.  Anybody who does NOT like fried fish raise your hand.

Sometimes mom would buy us little mini pizzas from the A&P.  The cheese version came six to a pack.  Pepperoni was the same price but you onlyl got five.  Five or six little 4 inch pizzas - who could say no?  Being Friday we usually had the cheese pizzas (yay) but other times we got the pepperoni (double yay).  But I started out to discuss fish, not pizza. 

If we did not get the pizzas or the cod dinner mom might make us meatless chop suey (from the can) or something else.  On those days dad got trout and green beans cooked in butter with almonds.  I am not quite sure if this was actually "Trout Amandine" but that's what it seemed like.  Here's how she did it.

If your grocery store has live trout swimming around you might like to try those.  Otherwise buy the whole trout that have been cleaned for you.  Heat some butter in a skillet large enough to hold the trout.  Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper and roll them in a little flour, shaking off the excess.  Place the fish in the skillet and cook them about 5 - 6 minutes per side until they are golden and done.  Remove them to a warm plate and hold them in the oven on low heat.

Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to a boil and blanch the green beans just until tender crisp.  You may wish to finish them in the same pan as the fish, or in their own pan.  Melt a little more butter and roll the beans around until they are coated and cooked through.  Remove and add a handful of slivered almonds, stirring until they are toasted.  Serve the trout with a side of beans and garnish the plate with the toasted almonds and a few wedges of lemon.

If you are not keen on eating a whole fish then look for frozen fillets.  They are easy to fix and the tilapia is quite mild tasting.  The ones I buy are often on sale for a dollar for each 4 oz. package, vacuum sealed and pre-frozen.  A package of tilapia makes a generous serving per person.

Season the fillets, still frozen, while you heat a little olive oil in a non-stick skillet.  Dust the fish lightly with flour, patting off the excess.  Place the fish in the skillet and cook about 5 - 6 minutes.  Turn carefully using two spatulas and cook the other side.  Add a nice pat of butter to the pan and allow it to melt, swirling the pan gently so the butter slides under the fish.  Place the skillet in a warm oven while you finish your side dishes. 

Try the green beans above or try a handful of asparagus or broccoli with a little olive oil and/or butter, salt and pepper and a pinch of hot pepper flakes.  Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are done and maybe have a little sear on them (almonds optional).  Tasty!

Pilaf would go nicely with this.  Melt some butter in a sauce pan and saute some diced onion, then add about 3/4 cup rice and 1/2 cup thin egg noodles or broken vermicelli.  Stir until toasted.  Add about 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups chicken broth (or water with a bullion cube) and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook about 15 minutes until the rice is tender and liquid absorbed.  Remove from heat, lay a kitchen towel over the top of the pot and replace the lid over the towel.  Allow to steam about 5 minutes to finish.  (Or open a box of Rice-A-Roni and follow package directions).

Do the rice first and by the time the fish and asparagus are done the rice will be done, too.  I enjoyed the tilapia fixed this way and would also try this with the frozen flounder or sole fillets.  Squeeze a lemon wedge over the fish and serve.  Be sure to get all the melted butter out of the pan and onto your fish!

Happy Valentine's day and good health to you.

Quotable Quotes; in the category I've Heard Of Odd Couples But This Is Ridiculous!

"A fish may love a bird, but where would they live?"
Drew Barrymore

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Not Much To Say

In the past few weeks I have started numerous new posts only to abandon them.  I don't  know what's wrong but it seems for once I have little to say.  So here are just a few items, not necessarily of interest.

One day a few weeks ago I was driving through my alley on the way to work.  An animal was crouched in the middle several feet ahead of me.  It did not run away so I slowed down.  I saw it was a hawk and boy did he seem annoyed at my being there.  He had killed a pigeon.  After looking around he grabbed it and flew off, no doubt to eat his breakfast in peace.  As cartoonist Gary Larsen observed, birds of prey know they're cool.

It snowed a few weeks ago.  As we came around the curve near the Forest Preserve by our house we noticed some cars parked at the side of the road (where there are usually no cars) and footprints leading into the woods.  Many deer were standing just a few feet from the road.  We often see deer at this location but usually only a few.  This time I think we counted 17.  It looked like a convention and the key note speaker was about to arrive.  We figured someone was taking their dog for a walk or perhaps sledding down the hill and the deer had gathered here to be away from them.  I know that's what I would do!

We have been keeping a bird feeder loaded with Niger thistle seed for the little finches for the past year or so.  Now whenever it gets low they let us know with calls and chirps.  And when it's full they feast on it like cats on a can of tuna.  What they spill on the ground is eaten by juncos and doves.  Everybody's happy.

Bill has reported seeing foxes and coyotes in the area where we usually see deer.  It amazes me that we live in a heavily populated metropolis and yet nature puts on her glorious show practically in our back yard!  If all the neighbors did not have barking dogs we might get a back yard preview as well.

Quotable Quotes; in the category But Then What Would We Put In Our Martinis?

"A lot of people like snow.  I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water."  Carl Reiner