Southwest Strata

I got into making stratas a few years ago, when I found myself in need of a relatively easy and quick dish to make for brinner, and happened to have a lot of bread sitting around that I didn’t want to go to waste.

A strata is basically a casserole thingy where stale bread and veggies are baked and set in an eggy-milk mixture. The possibilities of how you choose to compose it are pretty endless so far as the mix-ins are concerned. I’ve made two before that I’ve shared on here, with really great results. (Here, and here.) Today, I’m sharing a third.

While the meat- base itself is like others in having sausage, this time, I decided to make a strata with a southwestern flavor profile; put another way, the mix-ins and spices matched with things I typically like to put in my tacos and burritos. I used sauteed red peppers, onions, green chiles, spinach and corn as my veggies. I also seasoned the egg base with a good deal of cumin and smoked paprika.

One thing I will say when it comes to the egg-milk base: it’s always better to have too much than too little. If there’s not enough egg-milk custard poured over the strata and allowed to set, then it’s not going to bind and hold together while it bakes.

Another thing to be mindful of is the size of the baking dish you use. You want to make sure it’s high enough to be able to accommodate/fit both the ingredients and the egg custard, so I would strongly recommend using one that’s between 2.5-3 inches high, and also placing the bakign dish itself on top of a sheet pan while it bakes–just in case there’s seepage.

Keep in mind that because stratas are so customizable/adaptable, you can be very preferential with how you choose to fill this thing. For instance, I didn’t use mushrooms, beans or salsa , but those are all mix-in options that would work very well in this. You can also feel free to use whichever cheese you prefer on top.

If you’re in need of a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast/brunch dish that feeds a crowd (especially on/for holidays, for instance) look no further. This strata is the way to go. For such a small and relatively simply list of ingredients, it makes a TON of food that’s very filling and quite delicious if I say so myself.

**************************************

Southwest Strata

Recipe by Jess@CookingisMySport

Ingredients

  • 10-12 cups lightly packed garlic or herb flavored bread, slightly stale and cubed (I used leftover rolls from this recipe, but really any sturdy herb-y bread will work)
  • 3 lbs. ground pork sausage (or turkey sausage, if you prefer)
  • 3 red bell peppers, chopped into cubes or strips, your preference
  • 2 large yellow sweet onions, chopped into cubes or strips, your preference
  • 20 oz frozen spinach, cooked according to package and squeezed completely dry
  • 8 oz. canned diced green chiles
  • 15 oz. canned yellow corn
  • 16 large eggs
  • 3 cups milk
  • Onion powder, garlic powder, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumim
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican Blend cheese

Directions

Spray a 13 x 9 baking dish (I recommend one that’s roughly 3 inches high) with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat a few tablespoons of canola or vegetable oil to medium heat.

Brown the sausage, then drain off excess grease. Set the sausage aside in a large-medium size bowl.

Add some more oil the skillet, and saute first the bell peppers, then the onions until they are softened and translucent. Combine the peppers and onions with the canned corn and green chiles in a medium sized bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and seasonings until well combined and yolks are broken.

Layer a third of the cubed bread in the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of the sausage. Add a layer of the vegetables. Add a layer of the spinach. Repeat until you’ve layered all the bread, vegetables and sausage in the dish.

Pour the egg-milk mixture over the strata, using a rubber spatula to ensure that it gets into the corners and absorbs all of the ingredients. This may take some patience to allow the liquid to seep into the bread. (It’s also okay if you don’t use all of it in this step. Save the excess for later.)

Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours and up to 24 hours. (If chilling for later, be sure to let the strata sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before baking.) 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you have excess milk-egg mixture leftover, pour the remainder over the strata, using a rubber spatula to help absorb it into the ingredients. Place the baking dish on top of a foil lined sheet pan and cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake the strata until puffed, golden brown around the edges, and set in the center, about 60-70 minutes. (Insert a knife in the center; if it comes out clean and without eggy residue, it’s ready.)

Remove the strata from the oven, remove the foil, and preheat broiler.

Sprinkle the top with the 1 cup or as much cheese as desired. Return to the oven and broil until the cheese is browned and bubbling.

Allow to sit for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #448.

Chai Spice Scones

Apologies for these extended hiatuses I keep taking in between posts, you all. Lately, I have been stretched in a lot of different directions, life is moving at a breakneck pace and sometimes I struggle to fit in the blog with the other things on the To Do List. Lately, even fitting in the time to cook is more of a production to choreograph and fit into the schedule than it’s ever been before for me.

I’ve had to be very strategic in not just timing when I cook, but what I cook, factoring in how much time whatever dish I make keeps me in the kitchen before getting back to the work that actually pays me. Lately, I’ve been choosing to cook/eat things that don’t take up much time, like brinner.

Brinner (or breakfast food, eaten for dinner) is one of my favorite options because of how I can meal prep for it beforehand. What’ll usually happen is that I make a big batch of biscuits or scones, then wrap them up to keep in the fridge, along with a batch of bacon and/or sausage I make at the same time. That way, when it comes time for me to eat throughout the, all I really have to make the day-of is some eggs to go along with it to round out the meal.

That’s pretty much how these babies came about. Besides that, it had been a while since I made some scones and I wanted to get back into that bag in a way I hadn’t tried before. If you’ve seen my method for making scones (and biscuits) up until this point, you’ll see there isn’t a whole lot of deviation for these, just a change in flavors.

These are simple to put together, and the flavors really are the star that make them a step above the average scone. Using heavy cream and letting the dough rest overnight is my tip for making them extra tender and ‘cakey’ on the inside. And as I can personally vouch for, they keep very well wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge for days on end. Whenever you’re ready to eat one, simply slice half and toast for a few minutes; they’ll get a delicious crust on the outside, but stay soft and tender on the inside. Smear with butter and jam.

You’re welcome.

Chai Spice Scones

Recipe Adapted from Tea Time Magazine

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 8 tablespoons salted butter, frozen
  • 2 cups cold heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, spices and salt.

Use the large holes on a box grater to grate the butter directly into the dry ingredients.

Make a well in the center.  Pour in the heavy cream. Use a large fork and a large rubber spatula to stir the mixture together. If it seems a little dry you may add additional heavy cream until it forms a shaggy dough.

Sprinkle a pastry mat, wooden cutting board or wax paper with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and pat a few times with your hands until it loosely holds together. (Don’t knead it too much or the warmth in your palms will melt the butter and cause the scones to be tough.)

Pat and roll the dough into a rectangle. Take the two opposite ends and fold them together like a business letter into thirds. Flip it upside down & roll it into another rectangle, sprinkling the surface with flour if it gets too sticky. Repeat the folding process two to three more times before patting it into one final rectangle.

Wrap the rectangle in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and unwrap the scone dough out onto it. Use a bench scraper or very sharp knife to trim the edges of the rectangle. Cut the remaining dough into squares, about 2″ each.

Remove the cut scones to a baking sheet you’ve lined with parchment paper, rather close to each other (it will help them rise higher). Sprinkle the tops with the cinnamon sugar. Place the pan of scones in the freezer for 30 minutes, uncovered.

Bake until scones are golden brown, 20-25 minutes.

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #423.

Sausage-Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole

When I get into conversation with people about my love of food and cooking, sometimes I’ll get questions about how I learned. Sometimes I get asked for advice as to how to help someone else, who isn’t a huge cooking fan, still become a better one.

I’ll tell y’all like I was told by the cooks I learned from: start with something simple. Something so simple, you would have to go out of your way to mess up.

Once you pull that dish off, practice it a few more times until you get comfortable with it. Maybe even so comfortable you don’t need the recipe itself anymore–you just throw the stuff together and it still turns out, because it’s just that easy. Once you reach that level of comfort, that’s when you can start experimenting and flex a few more of your cooking muscles.

Trust me, they’re under there.  You just gotta work em out a little bit more to see them.

Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, everyone needs to have a set of what I like to call ‘Go-To’s’ for the kitchen. Go-Tos are recipes that can be thrown together with minimal ingredients, minimal effort, and a minimal recipe and still turn out a perfectly satisfying meal.

Breakfast Casserole was one of the first simple recipes that I began practicing when I was first learning how to cook. It’s simple, it’s minimal, it’s nearly impossible to mess up. Because the recipe itself is versatile, there’s plenty of room for experimentation and variation in the ingredients. To this day, it’s one of my Go To recipes that I always find myself coming back to when I know I’ve got to cook something for dinner, but don’t feel like putting up much of an effort. Cause that happens, even to me.

A breakfast casserole is basically where you throw all of your favorite omelette fillings together, pour beaten eggs and milk over them, then bake it in the oven until it’s firmed up. All of us love different things in our omelettes, so that’s where the versatility of this recipe comes in. This exact recipe is what I like, but don’t feel as though it’s carved in stone; swap out the individual ingredients to fill it with whatever you prefer to eat in yours.

The most important thing to ensure that breakfast casserole turns out is to make sure you’re using enough eggs and milk to cover all of the solid ingredients in the pan. Too little liquid and the ratio of the bake gets thrown off and it won’t hold together when you cut into it.

That’s really all there is to it, y’all. This one goes into the “You Can’t Screw This Up Category” for sure, so I would recommend trying it out for yourself. It’ll brighten your day–or weekend.

**********************************

Sausage Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole

Recipe Adapted from Southern Living

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground pork sausage (or turkey)
  • 1 lb spicy ground pork sausage (or turkey)
  • 1 medium onion, diced finely
  • 2 bell peppers, finely diced
  • 1 30 oz package of Frozen shredded hashbrowns (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • Salt and pepper, onion powder
  • 1 cup of shredded cheese  of your choice (I think Cheddar or Swiss would work fine for this)
  • 12 large eggs
  • 2 cups milk

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 11 x 13 baking dish.

Brown the sausage in a large greased skillet, until no longer pink. Drain and set aside in a bowl, but save about 1/3 cup of the sausage grease.

Pour a few tablespoons of the reserved sausage grease back into the skillet, then saute the onions and peppers in it until they are softened and have a bit of color to them. When they’re done, remove them to the bowl with the sausage crumbled and stir together. Set aside.

Prepare the hashbrowns according to the package instructions, using the remaining reserved sausage grease to cook the hashbrowns in, seasoning them generously with salt and pepper. When the hashbrowns are finished, stir them together with the sausage and veggies.

In a large bowl combine the eggs, milk, using a large whisk to stir until the yolks are all broken up. Season the mixture generously with salt, pepper and onion powder.

Spread the meat and veggie mixture into the bottom of the baking dish. Pour the egg mixture over the top, using a spatula to make sure the filling is coated and mixed in thoroughly with the eggs.

Place the baking dish on a sheet pan, then bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until puffed/firmed up and the center is clean when pierced with a butter knife. In the last 15 or so minutes of cooking, sprinkle the cheese on top and move the baking dish up one row in the oven to help it brown more on top.

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #287, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Rita @ Parsi Cuisine.

 

Vanilla French Toast

When it comes to the great breakfast carb debate, there are usually three major camps of people:

Team Pancakes, Team Waffles, and Team French Toast.

I’ve said already a few times that pancakes are my one true love, so if I had to pick a team, I would be on Team Pancakes. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have love for the other ones though. I like ’em all. I’m planning on getting a waffle iron pretty soon, so I should be able to start sharing waffles recipes on the blog then. But there really is no excuse for my not having any French Toast on the blog yet. So, I’m fixing that today.

Good French Toast starts with a great loaf of bread. You want to make sure it’s got a good outer crust, a dense inner crumb and can be sliced very thick. If your bread slices are too thin, then it’ll absorb too much liquid and the finished product will be flat like pancakes. No good. A few months ago I shared a recipe for what I’m pretty positive is the easiest loaf of bread that I’ve ever made. It was called English Muffin Toasting Bread and it produced a sturdy loaf with a coarse, close-textured crumb. I said back then that it would make excellent toast and it did…I also said that it would make perfect French Toast.

Turns out, I was right about that too.

The cream in the egg mix makes the toast cook up rich and fluffy on the inside. Before you even ask if the nutmeg is *really* necessary, I’m going to just stop you  right there and say a firm ‘yes’. It gives just enough spice to compliment the sweet of the vanilla and you DO need it.

Now I just said that good French Toast starts with a good loaf of bread and I’m going to say it again: good French Toast starts with a good loaf of bread. If you don’t feel like baking the English Muffin Toasting bread, I do know that Trader Joe’s sells a challah loaf that will also work well. As will store-bought Texas Toast. Keep in mind that because this is a very simple recipe with simple flavors, they’ll taste at their best when they’re given the best foundation–in this case, bread. So go with the good stuff.

Sharing this at this week’s Fiesta Friday #232, co-hosted this week by Laurena @ Life Diet Health and Jenny @ Apply To Face Blog.

***************************************************

Vanilla French Toast

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour Baking Companion

Print

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) heavy cream (or half and half)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons rum (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 6 slices thick sliced bread (like Challah, Texas Toast, or English Muffin Toasting Bread)
  • Powdered sugar and maple syrup, for serving

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 285°. Place a rack on top of a sheet pan that you’ve lined with foil or parchment paper. Arrange the sliced bread on the rack, then place in the oven for 12-15 minutes. (This is just to dry out the top/bottom of the bread enough so that it isn’t overly soaked by the cream-egg mix).

Once the bread is done drying out, lower the oven temp to 250°.

In a shallow dish (large enough to fit about 2 slices) whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, nutmeg, rum and vanilla until smooth but not foamy.

Place the butter and oil in a heavy skillet and set it over medium heat. Don’t let it get too hot; if it starts to smoke, it means that it’s too hot and your toast will cook too quickly.

Place 2 pieces of the bread in the soaking dish, turn them over, and turn them over once more. It should take about 15 seconds, total; you want the bread to absorb the liquid, but not be too soaked/saturated.

Place the bread in the preheated skillet and fry it for 3 minutes before turning. It should be golden brown before you turn it—if it isn’t, you can SLIGHTLY raise the heat. Fry on the second side for about 2 minutes. Transfer it to the rack rimmed baking sheet and keep it in the oven while you finish frying the rest of the bread.

Once it’s all done, dust it with powdered sugar and serve with syrup.