Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I've posted before about soups, so it's nothing new to you all that I'm posting another soup recipe.  Chowder, to be specific.  What's the difference between a soup and a chowder? Heck if I know.  Usually if it has fish in it, I call it chowder, otherwise it's soup.  If it's thicker, I call it stew and if it's spicy with meat and beans, I call it chili (although some purists would hang me for adding beans...).  :-)

Most of the time I shop at Wegman's, which is such a fantastic store! I feel sorry for people who don't have one near them.  I really do. Anyway, they have big bags of individually frozen tilapia fillets that I buy because fish is the one thing that my boys will consistently eat.  The only problem is that we always end up with an odd number of fillets left over (like 2 or 3), and it's hard to make a meal for 4 out of that little fish. When that happens, I either go to fish tacos or chowder (chowdah! 'Cause it's just fun to say). 

So tonight I went with chowder.  It's simple enough. I know I say that a lot, but soup really is so forgiving.  I'm going to post the recipe below, but know that all the amounts are approximate (I rarely measure when I make soup and just add things until it looks tasty and tastes the same), and I encourage you to adjust it to your tastes...and what you've got in your fridge.  You can even use different types of fish or seafood. I've made this basic chowder with salmon (even smoked salmon), shrimp, mussels and tilapia.  Personally, I like it best with a lighter fish like tilapia, but it tastes good no matter what you add, really.

In the background of the above picture, you may notice a nearly-empty bottle of something.  It happens to be the very last bits of some homemade hot sauce (not made by me, alas, but my friend, neighbor and fellow food enthusiast, Matt Smith).  Please, let us bow our heads for a moment of silence in recognition of the demise of that oh-so-tasty hot sauce.  I mention this because I love a little hot sauce on my chowdah.  You can see how the sauce lends such a beautiful color to it, not to mention cutting a little of the richness.  I suppose, if you don't have a friend who can make you some homemade stuff, you can get by (as I will now have to do) with tabasco or sriracha, both really good substitutes. 


Marna's Fish Chowdah


about 5 small, red potatoes, cut in half (or quarters if large-ish)
1/2 cup water
1 slice bacon, chopped in small pieces (or I just cut a couple of hunks off the end of bacon that I keep in the freezer)
1 medium onion, diced
2 large stalks celery, diced
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 8 oz bottle clam juice
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
2-3 tilapia fillets (about a pound total), thawed, if previously frozen
1 3 oz tin of smoked mussels, drained of oil and rinsed (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup milk
hot sauce (optional)

1. Steam potatoes with 1/2 cup water for 5-6 minutes, using whatever method makes you comfortable. I have a steamer I can use in the microwave, so I usually use that method.  Steaming the potatoes before adding them to the chowder just decreases the cooking time for the soup.

2. While the potatoes steam, heat a 3 qt. saucepan on medium high, then add the bacon and cook until crispy.  Remove from pan, but leave the rendered (melted) fat in the pan.  Add the diced onion and celery to the bacon fat and cook until the onion is softened, about 3 minutes.  Stir occasionally to keep the onions from burning.

3. In a small cup, mix the cornstarch with 2 Tbsp of the clam juice, until the mixture is completely smooth.  Add the remaining clam juice to the saucepan with the onions and celery. Stir to combine, then add the cornstarch mixture and stir again.  Add the steamed potatoes and the corn, then add enough water to just cover all the veggies.  Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium low and let the vegetables simmer for 7-10 minutes (until the potatoes are completely cooked through).  The liquid should be bubbly and looking a little thick (that's the cornstarch working its magic).

4. Cut tilapia fillets into bite-sized chunks, then add to the saucepan, then dump in the mussels, if using. Let the whole thing cook until the fish chunks are completely cooked through, about 2-3 minutes (it really doesn't take long).  Taste broth and check for saltiness. Because of the clam juice and bacon, I wait to add any salt until this point.  It often doesn't need much more, if any.  

5. Turn off the heat, add back in the bacon, plus the cream and milk.  Stir to combine.  Taste again and add salt and pepper if it needs it.

Serves about 6

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Best Salad Dressing Ever!

With the weather starting to warm up, I wanted to share my favorite salad dressing. I found it in one of my favorite new cookbooks, Savoring The Seasons of the Northern Heartland, which has tons of great recipes, some traditional and some offered up by some of the best restaurants and chefs in the northern Midwest.

I first made the dressing as part of the recipe for a chicken salad with apples and pecans, but I was blown away by the sweet-savory combination of the Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette.  I love it so much, I would eat it with a spoon.  It's really that good.  The cookbook also suggests using the vinaigrette as a basting sauce for chicken, pork, or steak. I haven't used it for basting, but I'll bet that would taste super, too.

The salad that I put together had fresh greens (of course), deli ham, dried cranberries, diced apples, walnuts and some cut up dried apricots.

My sister-in-law once said that the best salads are ones that others make, maybe because of the prep time involved with all the slicing and dicing.  I do think, though, that simpler is better in terms of number of ingredients.  I don't usually add more than 4-5 to the greens, although there are other schools of thought, exemplified by my step-dad, who puts any leftover bits and bites that happen to be in the fridge.  I call it the "Anything tastes fine with enough ranch dressing" method of salad composition.  He seems to like it, so who am I to judge?  ;-)

Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette

from Savoring The Seasons of the Northern Heartland
makes 2 cups

1/3 cup cider vinegar
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 shallots, peeled and diced
1 tsp freshly ground paper
1 Tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon coarse mustard
2/3 cup maple syrup (I highly recommend using pure maple syrup)
1 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil and it turned out just as tasty)

Put the first 7 ingredients (everything except the oil) into a blender. Blend on high, then pour in the oil in a slow stream (with the blender still running) and process until thick.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Easy As A Cream Puff

I know the phrase is "Easy as pie," but after making pâte à choux dough for the first time, I have to say it was pretty easy.  Easier than pie, frankly, because I'm not the best crust maker around.  I think it has to do with my impatience with getting the cold butter to the right size when combining with the flour, but I digress.

I'm actually kicking myself for not ever making it before this!  My inspiration to tackle pâte à choux was actually an earlier post of mine about breaking the rules and taking risks . I had never made this particular pastry, although I remember my mom making cream puffs on occasion when I was little.  I was having a Tupperware party and thought I would make gougère as an appetizer and cream puffs for dessert. That was my excuse to go down this particular culinary road, but again, being appallingly stupid bold by making something for company that I had never made before.  Here's a tip: always have some back up cheese and crackers to pull out if your Plan A appetizers don't work out.  Be bold, but don't be dumb.

Here is a picture of the finished gougère, along with the other appetizer, which was amazingly easy and tasty.  Just slice a cucumber in thin rounds (If you want, you can use mini cookie cutters to make them look extra fancy.  I used Pampered Chef's creative cutters set). Then slice radishes thinly (I used a mondoline), put one slice on top of each cucumber slice.  Then make the cheese topping.  For about 2 dozen cucumber slices, I used 2 ounces of goat cheese and 1 ounce of cream cheese mixed together, then added lemon zest (about 1/2 tsp) and fresh mint, cut up fine (about 2 big leaves).  Mix all of that together, then spoon little bits (about 1/4 of a teaspoon) on top of each cucumber/radish stack.  Easy peasy.

Okay, back to the puffs.  I was a little skeptical about the process, since the dough is a gooey, paste-y consistency, and I didn't think it would ever puff up crispy, airy and light. But I was wrong.  Clearly, I really need to finish the book, "What Einstein Told His Cook," which is all about food science, and I'm sure it will explain the science behind the magic of pate a choux.  :-) The dough was also really forgiving, because I made it earlier in the day, piped it out on parchment-lined cookie sheets, then put them in the freezer until I was ready to bake. I just added time on the the listed baking time, but they still turned out puffy and yummy.

I turned to Martha Stewart for help on a basic dough.  Here's a link to the recipe I used, but I used half of the recipe for the gougeres (adding 3/4 cup grated gruyere) and the other half for the cream puffs, which ended up more like mini-eclairs. I really should get a proper tip for my pastry bag.  I don't have a big, plain round tip, so I just put the coupling on without a decorator tip and made do with that.  It worked fine, but was a little challenging to control the dough coming out.

I was so excited to see the finished product that I forgot the suggestion to smooth out any pointy parts with a little water on your finger before putting in the oven, so my "eclairs" looked like little slugs, to be honest.  I didn't get a chance to take a picture of the finished eclairs, because people ate them up pretty quickly, but I just filled them with vanilla pudding and a chocolate glaze (you can find a gazillion recipes for both of these on line).  They turned out better than I had expected, and I will definitely be making more of them in the future!

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Mother's Day is not my favorite day, for reasons that are complicated and make me sound incredibly petty and whiny, so I won't detail them here.  Let's just say that I need to lower my expectations so that I don't get disappointed each year and make time for yoga over the weekend to help de-stress and stay calm.  BUT, I did have some time to myself to tackle a cupcake recipe I had pinned off of Pinterest.  Always looking for the silver lining, that's me.

So, when I saw this recipe on Pinterest, I knew I had to make it.  Chocolate cake, with caramel frosting and toffee?  Sign me up!  Besides that, the thing just looks so pretty!

None of the steps were really that complicated, but between the cake batter, the caramel icing and ganache dipping sauce, it was a little labor intensive. I think the finished product was well worth it though.  The cupcakes can be made the day ahead, as well as the buttercream (you can even freeze the buttercream, according to my Martha Stewart cupcake book, but I always worry about changes in consistency when you do that).  Then just put the cakes together the day of.  Here's my version:

Seriously, I tried cropping out the wadded up napkin in the back of the second picture, and it shows up fine in iPhoto, so, sorry about that.  I'm sure you only have eyes for the drool-worthy cupcake in the foreground and didn't even notice what was in the background until I pointed it out.  Ugh.

Below is a link to the original recipe, but I found some of the directions confusing, and definitely had trouble with the buttercream, so I'm rewriting parts of the recipe here, and, hopefully, making it a little easier to follow.

Personally, I thought the coffee flavor was a little strong, becoming a more dominant flavor, rather than a background note, so if I made this again, I would probably just leave out the extra coffee granules.  Also, the instructions weren't exactly clear on whether to put toffee bits in the cake itself or only use for the decoration. Because the batter is so thin, I opted for just using the toffee bits for decoration on the outside.

Also, as I mentioned before, I had a little trouble with the frosting. I don't think I beat the egg white/sugar mixture long enough before I started adding the butter, so it never got to the spreadable stage.  I got there by adding powdered sugar (a lot! like, 3 cups), so the caramel flavor got diluted by that point. It did get to a spreadable consistency, but was quite soft and really needed refrigeration to maintain its shape once I piped the frosting.  For the dipping sauce, I thought it was a little overly complicated and wondered if a simple, thinner ganache (chocolate melted in warm cream, then stirred together until smooth) mixture would have worked just as well.

Rather than actual chopped up Heath bar (or other kind of chocolate-covered toffee bars), I used the Heath bar chips, so they weren't covered in chocolate, but took the occasion to gild the lily and drizzle caramel sauce over the top.  Looks pretty tasty, if I do say so myself, and even with some of my mis-steps, the flavors were still really good, too.

Toffee Crunch Cupcakes by Bakers Royale (original recipe that I followed)

Toffee Crunch Cupcakes

(revised based on my experience making the original recipe)
Makes 12 cupcakes | Preparation: Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tin with cupcake liners.
Chocolate Cupcake portion adapted from Alice Medrich for Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker
  • 1 cup (4.5 ounces) all purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7.3 ounces) sugar
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) SCHARFFEN BERGER Unsweetened Natural Cocoa Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and warm
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee (optional)
  • 1/2 cup hot coffee
Caramel Frosting:
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, diced and softened to room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup caramel sauce (I used Smucker's brand, but I would recommend a higher-quality or home-made version to get a deeper caramel flavor)
Chocolate Dipping Sauce:
  • 2/3 cups dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
  • 5-8 tablespoons water, warm
  • 1/2 cup chocolate covered toffee bits (for decoration)
1. Measure flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and mix thoroughly to combine (I use a whisk to break up any small clumps). Add the butter, eggs, and vanilla to the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed for one minute. Scrape down sides of bowl.
2. Dissolve coffee granules into the hot coffee, then add to the batter. Beat at medium speed for 20-30 seconds until the batter is smooth. The batter will be quite thin - you should be able to pour it.  Divide it evenly among the lined cups. Bake 18-22 minutes just until a toothpick inserted into a few of the cupcakes comes out clean. Set the pan on a rack to cool. Frost the cupcakes when they are completely cool. Store and serve at room temperature.
TIP: For light, tender cupcakes, spoon flour and cocoa lightly into measuring cups (instead of dipping the cups into the flour or cocoa) and then sweep the measure cups level with the back of a knife or other straight edge without tapping or shaking them.
Caramel Frosting:
1. Combine egg whites and sugar in a bowl placed over simmering water. Bring mixture to 150 degrees F while whisking constantly (it took about 10 minutes for me, but if you have a candy thermometer, I suggest you hook that to the side of your bowl so you know for sure). The point of heating the egg whites and the sugar together is to get the sugar completely dissolved, so it should feel smooth and not at all gritty when you rub some of the mixture between your fingers.
2. Transfer mixture to stand mixer bowl, fitted with a whisk attachment, and beat mixture, starting on low, then gradually increasing speed up to medium-high until mixture cools and doubles in volume.  It should be completely cool and will form stiff peaks if you pull the beater out.
3. Add butter in one piece at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition. The mixture may appear clumpy and almost curdled looking-this is normal. Keep mixing and it will become even and smooth again. Add salt and vanilla and mix to combine. Add caramel sauce and mix to combine.
Chocolate Dipping Sauce:
1. Place chocolate and heavy cream in a bowl over simmering water. Let chocolate and cream sit for 2-3 minutes to melt without stirring. Then slowly stir mixture to combine. Add powdered sugar and mix to combine. Add water one tablespoon at a time, mixing after each addition until pouring consistency is reached. Set aside and let sauce cool to warm.
(Alternatively, you could use a ganache glaze: bring 2/3 cup heavy cream mixed with 1 tablespoon light corn syrup to a simmer, then pour over 6 ounces chopped semi-sweet chocolate, let sit for a minute or two until chocolate starts to melt, then stir until smooth)
To assemble cupcake:
1. To frost the cupcakes: Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip and start piping from the outside working in to the center to create one even layer. 
2. Freeze cupcakes for 20 minutes (this will keep the frosting from melting when you dip it in the chocolate). Remove cupcakes from freezer and dip in warm chocolate sauce, holding over the sauce to let some of the excess drip off (if you want a thicker chocolate glaze, dip in twice) and then rim with chocolate covered toffee bits. 
3. Return cupcakes to freezer for five minutes for chocolate to set. Remove from freezer and finish piping frosting on top.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Comfort Food

Some of my friends have asked why I haven't posted many baked goods, and, admittedly, that is what I love to make.  My waistline, however, doesn't appreciate all the yumminess.  I have a problem with self control and eating delicious food.  Yet, I'm writing a food blog.  Go figure.

I promise I will do more of the baking stuff, and have actually done quite a bit of baking this past week (scones, cinnamon rolls, pie). Just not anything original.  So, I really will get more baking posts on here, but in the mean time, I wanted to post a recipe that is one of my favorites.  I grew up on goulash (and soon I'll make my grandma's recipe for hamburger goulash), and it's one of my favorite comfort foods.  What, exactly, is goulash?  Honestly, I'm not sure what the technical definition is, but when I was growing up, it meant something warm and comforting, with meat, onions, mushrooms, sometimes tomatoes, lots of paprika in a wonderful broth that was perfect for sopping up with bread or scooping with noodles or soaking in to buttery mashed potatoes. This recipe is for a sort of chicken goulash/chicken paprika hybrid and it's something I made up, with a nod to my eastern European heritage. I just estimated the spices, so feel free to play with that, depending on your taste preferences.

While you can probably make this without the smoked paprika, I wouldn't recommend it. Smoked paprika gives a nice smokiness and depth to the dish without adding heat.  Also, you can do this without the white wine, just use more chicken broth.

Chicken Paprika Goulash

3 boneless chicken breasts (about 1.5-2 lbs), cut into 1/2 in strips
2 Tbsp oil
salt and pepper
2 large or 3 medium onions, peeled
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp sweet paprika
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 cup white wine
2/3 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp corn starch
1/4 lemon
Wide Egg Noodles, cooked (or mashed potatoes)
Sour Cream (optional)

Heat oil in large saute pan over medium-high heat. Season chicken strips with salt and pepper, then brown chicken strips in oil (should take about 5 minutes). Remove browned chicken strips and set aside. Turn heat down to medium, and in the same pan, add the onions and cook until starting to soften.  Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms start to release their water (about 2-3 minutes).  Sprinkle both paprikas over the onion/mushroom mixture and cook until the paprika is a deep red color, about 1 minute.

Add 1/2 c. white wine to pan and scrape up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add chicken back to pan, along with any accumulated juices on the plate/bowl, plus 2/3 cup chicken broth (you can just eyeball it -- the liquid should not quite cover everything in the pan).  Cover and simmer approximately 8 minutes to cook chicken through.  Take 2 Tbsp of the cooking liquid out of the pan and put it in a small cup, let cool slightly -- it should only take a minute or so. Add 1 Tbsp cornstarch to the reserved cooking liquid, stir until smooth, then add back into pan with chicken and veggies. Cook for a minute or two to thicken. Remove from heat, squeeze the lemon over the chicken.  Serve over cooked wide egg noodles or mashed potatoes. I like to add a dollop of sour cream on my goulash, but the rest of my family doesn't.  I love the added creaminess, but do whatever you like.

Serves 4

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Never Buy Granola Again

For someone who likes a lot of variety in my meal choices, I am amazingly routine in my breakfast of choice. My usual breakfast is granola and fruit over yogurt.  Truly, I eat it nearly every morning (or else I'm making oatmeal).  Sometimes I like a muffin or scone or cinnamon roll, but those are on very rare occasions.  Clearly, I like to get my carbs in early.  :-)

The thing about store-bought granola is that it's either too sweet, too greasy or too dry.  Not to mention expensive. It took me a lot of fiddling to make a granola I really like, but finally came up with one that has great texture, crunch, and sweetness all balanced together. But the great thing about granola, is that you can tweak it to reflect your own preferences.  Don't like nuts? Leave 'em out.  Don't have raisins? Put in whatever dried fruit you've got (or leave it out all together).  Play with spice/flavor combinations.  Try different oils.  The sky's the limit on the number of variations you can do.  It's really about proportions, so when you get the proportions that you like, then you can mess around with the different ingredients, as long as your dry vs. liquid vs. fruit proportions stay relatively the same.  Here's my one bit of advice: don't do dates.  I love dates, but just not in granola. It's an odd texture and just sticky sweet without adding much flavor to the mix.  Just my opinion.  Remember, it's just ingredients, so if you don't like a combo, toss it, or give it away as gifts (to friends or enemies, depending on how it turned out). Ha! (All my friends who have ever received food gifts -- and there are a lot of them -- are now hating me....).

This time I experimented with using coconut oil, but I'm not sure how I like it. When the granola was baking, it smelled like suntan lotion in the kitchen, and even now, it has a faint suntan lotion-y essence, but not as bad as before. On the other hand, the oil definitely enhances the coconut flavor.  It's all a matter of taste.

Be that as it may, here's the recipe for my granola:

Marna's Granola Recipe:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

Mix together in a large bowl:

5 cups old fashioned or quick-cooking oats (not instant!)
½ cup bran or flax seed
1 cup nuts
1 cup coconut
¼ cup brown sugar


Heat in a saucepan or microwave:

½ cup canola oil
1/3 cup maple syrup or honey
1 Tbsp chopped crystallized ginger (optional)

Stir the warmed liquids to combine and add ½ tsp of vanilla and ½ tsp salt

Add the warmed liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until oats and nuts are coated.

Spread mixture onto two cookie sheets and baked, stirring every 15 minutes, for about 40-45 minutes (keep an eye on it, as the coconut can start turning too brown quickly).  You might even want to switch the sheets from top to bottom, front to back, about halfway through.

Once the granola has browned and is sort of dry, take out the oven and let cool.  Return to large bowl and add 1-2 cups dried fruit (raisins, cranberries,  diced apricots, golden raisins – whatever you have on hand, really).  Stir to combine.


Makes about 10 cups of granola

This is really just for proportion – around ¾ cup (7 oz, so be exact) liquid to 7-8 cups dry.  You can play around with this a lot – more or less nuts or fruit, coconut or not. You get the picture. For this batch, I added some honey crunch wheat germ, subbed coconut oil for canola, and used golden raisins, regular raisins, and dried cherries to the mix.  I happened to forget the vanilla this time and ended up adding the salt after I had put the raw granola on the baking trays.  Still turned out pretty delicious (won't be giving it away, unless my mother-in-law asks for some, which she usually does).  Like I said, granola is pretty forgiving.

Have fun experimenting with this one! Be sure to report back any of your favorite flavor combinations!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Refrigerator Roulette

Have you ever watched the TV show Chopped on the Food Network? In case you haven't, it's a show where 4 chefs compete against each other to make a tasty meal for 3 judges (one chef gets eliminated after each course).  The catch is that they have to use specific ingredients provided to them in a mystery basket.  Sometimes the ingredients aren't not so bad, but there's usually one crazy ingredient like chicken feet (appetizer round, and FYI, don't forget to clip the nails off) or blue cornmeal (dessert round). There was one episode where they had to use specifically use leftovers (I think leftover rice turned up at some point).  I could totally relate to that one!

Frankly, I don't see the huge challenge, 'cause I do something like that all the time.  After a few days of cooking, I always have a few odds and ends hanging out in the fridge.  And so it was that I found myself checking out the refrigerator for stuff that needed to be used up.  What did I find?  A cup of cream, some old bread (actually, that was in the freezer), ham and some smoked cheddar that I bought on a whim the week before.  Certainly not as crazy as chicken feet, but still.  What to make?  A strata, of course.

Strata is basically a savory bread pudding, with stale bread soaking up a custardy egg and milk mixture.  You can add whatever flavors you like. I adapted a recipe that I found on sticky gooey creamy chewy, a really fun blog, if you're interested in the original.  But the main thing is, a strata is pretty simple to make, and is a great way to use up extra ingredients that you might have lying around. I often buy a baguette or a ciabatta loaf and end up only using half, so, unless I have a plan for the rest of the loaf, I'll slice it and put it in the freezer.  That way, it's ready to go if I get an itch to make a strata, bread pudding, french toast, or just need some breadcrumbs.

A strata is pretty forgiving, as well. If you want a richer, eggy-er flavor, add another egg or two.  Don't have smoked cheddar? Regular cheddar is fine. Or swiss, or provolone (although I'm not sure you'd want to leave out cheese all together, but that's just me. I needs my cheese.)  Don't have spinach? Leave it out.  Like broccoli better? Switch it up.  My youngest son doesn't like cooked spinach, so I left it out of a couple of the layers.

Ham and Spinach Strata with Smoked Cheddar

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • about 12 slices of ham
  • 1 box frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
  • 7 eggs
  • 1 cup milk (I used a mixture of cream and 2% milk)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
  • 12 slices (3/4 inch thick) crusty, day-old/stale bread (baguette, ciabatta, batard)
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded smoked cheddar cheese
  1. Lightly butter a 3-quart ceramic baking dish with at least 2-inch high sides.
  2. Sauté onion in butter over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Starting with the bread, layer one slice of bread, then a slice of ham, then a little of the spinach, repeating layers until you've used up all the bread, ham, and spinach.
  4. Scatter the sautéed onions on top of the layers.
  5. Whisk together the eggs, milk/cream, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Pour over the strata and let it chill in the fridge, covered, for several hours or overnight. (confession: I got a late start and only let it soak for a couple of hours. It turned out fine)
  6. When ready to bake, let strata sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 F. (here's another tip: if you forget to take the strata out of the fridge to get to room temperature, you can also just put it straight in the oven while it's pre-heating. I swear it won't blow up or anything)
  7. Bake, uncovered, on the center rack of the oven until puffed and golden brown, about 40-45 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Serves 6.

What creative stuff do you like to come up with to use up leftovers from the fridge?  Feel free to share your ideas!