French Toast Bake with Fresh Strawberries

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This is the perfect weekend brunch treat for friends and family. You can even prepare it the night before and store tightly covered in the fridge until you are ready to bake it. There is enough for 10-12 hungry guests!

Ingredients

1 loaf crusty french bread or brioche bread

8 eggs

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup  heavy cream or 1/2 and 1/2

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

struesel topping

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup candied pecans  (optional)

on the side

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled, sliced and macerated in 1/4 cup granulated sugar.

Grease (with nonstick cooking spray or butter) a 9 by 13 inch or similar size rectangular baking pan. Tear the bread into 1 inch chunks and evenly distribute in pan. Whisk together eggs, milk, cream, sugars and nutmeg and pour evenly over bread. If you are making the night before, cover tightly and store in refrigerator. Make struesel topping, and store in sealed plastic bag.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add butter using a pastry cutter or fork, combine butter with dry ingredients until blended thoroughly and mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Bake 30 minutes, then remove from oven and top evenly with streusel topping. Return to even and bake an additional 20-30 minutes until medium brown on top. Serve immediately with hot maple syrup and macerated fresh strawberries.

Strawberry Cottage Pudding Shortcake

Susan:

I posted this almost 1 year ago today – and it is the first day I am making it again this year after purchasing some absolutely gorgeous strawberries from a roadside stand today. Go out and buy some strawberries – you must try this recipe!

Originally posted on Berries and Cocoa:

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I was driving down Highway 65 today and I saw the first “fresh strawberries” sign of the spring by the road. I tried not to spin too much gravel as I quickly did a U turn and pulled off to the side of the road.  Let me tell you, if you have never had fresh-picked-that-morning strawberries from the farmer who grew them, then you are missing out on a foodie flavor treat that simply cannot be replicated. The strawberries that are grown commercially are much sturdier and firmer since they have to travel well and stay fresh for at least 10 days in the store. They are usually picked greener too. Its like the difference between a home grown tomato and the ones you get in the produce section of Safeway. This is a wonderful shortcake recipe that is a variation of  the original Cottage Pudding Cake that was featured…

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Southwest Avocado Cilantro Chop Chop Salad

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Happy Spring! I have been absent for a month and I know that is not a good thing for a blogger to do. I recently got promoted at work (yay!) but I am still doing my old job for a while too (insert descriptive and colorful adjective here) so I have been twice as busy at work.  I have still been thinking about food – trying new foods, new recipes and testing my favorites. This is an awesome spring salad recipe – crunchy, filling and packed with B vitamins and protein. It is so easy to make it will be your go to spring salad!

First – Chop Chop:

3 cups romaine lettuce, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large orange bell pepper, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 cup corn, thawed frozen or fresh
1 cup jicama, finely chopped
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 avocado, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups diced cooked chicken breast (optional)

Next – Dressing:

1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 avocado
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1 8 ounce container plain greek yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic (I also like Christopher Ranch chopped garlic, sold in jars in the produce section of the store)
1 1/2 teaspoons wine vinegar (either red or white)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Place all salad ingredients in large bowl. Place all dressing ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Toss salad with dressing. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve immediately on chilled salad plates.

Easy Broccoli Gratin

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This is the perfect side dish for when you don’t have a lot of time to prepare but you want a hot savory dinner. This can be made the night before, then cover and put it in the fridge. On the way home,  just grab a rotisserie chicken and pop this in the oven while you set the table. Dinner on the table on 30 minutes – how easy is that?

Ingredients

8 cups broccoli, roughly chopped

4 tablespoons butter

2 cups half and half

1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (I like these)

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Directions
Preheat oven to 375° F. Fill a large saucepan with 1/2  inch of water, then add about 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a boil. Place the broccoli in the saucepan and steam 3 to 5 minutes, until just tender.  Drain thoroughly and transfer to a large bowl.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the half and half and simmer until slightly thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of the cheese, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Toss with the broccoli.
Transfer the broccoli mixture to a shallow 3-quart baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining half cup of cheese and the panko bread crumbs. Bake until bubbling and golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Manicotti with Fresh Basil and Parsley

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Cravings…everyone has cravings, right?  I have had a craving for this dish since we moved to sunny California three years ago. California is a wonderful place to live – the ocean, the mountains, the weather, the wine….a foodies’ paradise too, with all of the fresh fruits and vegetables available year round. They have some stellar restaurants here. The one thing I haven’t found is a real authentic Italian restaurant. I’m not talking “new american” Italian cuisine – I’m looking for an old school, dimly lit place, the menu filled with old family recipes hand carried over on the boat by great grandma Maria.  The kind of place they would film “The Godfather Part 4″ in (hey you never know…..) I have been to several wonderful old school Italian restaurants in New York City and also in St. Louis in an area known as “The Hill” where there are a couple dozen amazing and authentic Italian restaurants.

This recipe is an authentic manicotti made with crespelle (italian crepes), not those ridged tubular noodles called manicotti shells in the store. It takes some time but it is actually very simple to prepare – and the results are so worth it! The crespelle are made just like french dessert crepes – the technique takes a little practice – but after a few tries you will have your crepes all ready to stuff with the ricotta mixture.

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The photo is a little blurry because I’m moving the pan around…you have to get the crepes very thin and just lightly browned. I always make the sauce first, then the crepes, then the filling.  Bake 20 minutes in the oven and you have one amazing dinner.

Ingredients:

Marinara Sauce

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped fine

2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic (cloves or the jar kind found in the produce section)

1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 teaspoons fresh italian parsley, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, cut chiffonade style, divided

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup red wine

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

salt to taste

Crespelle Batter

3 large eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 cup all purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

Ricotta filling

1 8 ounce container part skim ricotta cheese

8 ounces shredded mozarella, divided

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh italian parsley

Directions

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic and sautee until just lightly browned. Add the crushed tomatoes, and simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring often.  (you will be making the crepes and filling while this is cooking)  Add the wine, salt, pepper and herbs and simmer 10 more minutes. Reserve 1 tablespoon basil for garnish.

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients for ricotta filling, reserving 1/2 of the mozzarella.  Store in refrigerator until you finish the crepes.

Make the crepes by whisking together the eggs, milk and slightly cooled melted butter in a chilled mixing bowl. Gradually whisk in the flour and salt until the mixture is smooth. Lightly coat an 8 inch nonstick skillet with olive oil and place the pan over medium heat. With a 1/4 cup measuring cup or small ladle, pour the batter in the middle of the pan. Turn the pan at an angle and shake from side to side to coat the entire bottom of the pan with batter. Cook only about 30 seconds, or until lightly browned on bottom. Turn crepe over with a large spatula and cook 20 – 30  seconds more. Stack the crepes on a plate lined with waxed paper between each layer.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch pan with with 2 cups of the marinara sauce. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the ricotta about an inch from the end of each crepe. Roll evenly into a tube, keeping the filling even as you roll. Place seam side down in the sauce filled pan. Repeat with the remaining crepes. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over top of the manicotti, then sprinkle remaining mozarella over top. Cover loosely with foil and bake approximately 20 minutes, until the sides of the pan are bubbling. Let sit 10 minutes to firm up the filling. Top each serving with reserved fresh basil.

Amazingly Easy Potato Soup

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It has been a great Sunday – a lazy, stay in my pajamas, I dont want to do anything but sit on the sofa on my computer day. Then my daughter comes upstairs and says  “I want soup…. potato soup”.  At that moment, it sounded like the perfect thing to have for dinner.  This soup is so simple and easy to make –  savory and full of flavor – it will be your new go-to soup.  You will be amazed how good it is for so little work!

Ingredients

4 large potatoes

1 cup diced celery

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1 cup chopped onion

2 cups half and half or milk

3 – 4  cups chicken or vegetable broth

sea salt and pepper to taste

optional – chopped green onion tops and shredded cheddar, if desired for garnish

Peel and cube potatoes. Place in medium saucepan with celery, carrots and onion.

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Add enough broth to not quite cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender. Using a potato masher, coarsely crush the potatoes, but don’t mash them – you want some chunks left. Add enough half and half to thin soup to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. (about a teaspoon or two of salt – maybe more.) Makes 4 generous servings.

Nutrition info per serving: 345 calories, 2.6 grams of fat, 10 grams protein, 9.2 grams fiber

Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

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It is almost three weeks since the New Years’ “no more sugar” resolutions and that’s about long enough to go without some tasty bakery treats. The after the holidays pantry is always an assortment of odd holday and Christmas dinner leftover ingredients that I don’t want to save for a year and re use. I know canned goods are suposed to last for years but I am just not a fan of making dinner out of a three year old jumbo can of sweet potatoes. I checked out the far reaches of the pantry today and here were three of my favorite ingredients: Trader Joe’s  canned pumpkin, Ghirardelli mini chocolate chips, and Trader Joe’s candied walnuts, After checking out a couple of recipies online, I adapted one to fit what I had.

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The result is an amazing cookie – puffy, soft and cake-like. Amazing pumpkin flavor and the candied walnuts give it an interesting crunchy sweet texture. You can always skip the walnuts if you are not nuts about nuts…

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ cups granulated sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup vegetable oil

1 egg

1 can solid-pack pumpkin

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

1 1/2 cups semi sweet mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup candied walnuts

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine sugars, vegetable oil, pumpkin and vanilla. Mix on medium for about 1 minute. Add egg, mixing until just combined.

In a medium size mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until combined. Remove bowl from stand and fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts by hand.

Scoop by 1/8 cup onto prepared cookie sheets and place in oven to bake for 10-12 minutes or until the tops are firm and light brown in color. Remove from oven and allow to cool on sheets for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container or refrigerate.