Mel’s Cheesy Bacon Croissant Breakfast Casserole

I mixed this up on Christmas Eve, and baked and served it for Christmas Brunch this morning. It was incredibly delicious – another great recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. Mel uses shallots or red onions, and doesn’t add hot sauce, but other than that, this is really her recipe. We all flipped over it and I love that you can make the night before!

Ingredients:

1 pound (454 g) croissants, halved lengthwise (about 5-7 small/medium croissants, or 4 giant Costco ones)
8 to 10 slices bacon, chopped into 1″ slices (I use thick-sliced. See my bacon chopping trick.)
½ cup diced onion
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese (freshly-grated is best)
9 large eggs
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2-3 dashes hot sauce

INSTRUCTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice the croissants in 1″pieces and lay in a 9×12″ baking dish. Bake 10-12 minutes, tossing halfway. You want them to be a little toasted.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon to a plate, and remove all but a tablespoon of the bacon grease from the skillet. Add onion and sauté 3-5 minutes.

Mix eggs, milk, cream, salt, pepper and hot sauce in a bowl.

Sprinkle bacon and onions over the croissants. Then sprinkle cheese over and finally pour the egg mixture over. You don’t need to toss it or anything.

Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Remove cover and bake for 45-50 minutes.

Let stand 15 minutes and serve. Wow.

Fresh Cranberry Butter Cake

Fresh, luscious Cranberries by Rasa Kasparaviciene on Unsplash.

Fresh Cranberry Cake, from Barefeet in the Kitchen, is easy and so delicious! The most important thing is to thoroughly beat the eggs and sugar until they are super light and fluffy. It forms a nice crust on top by itself and keeps very nicely for a few days. Had a piece with my dear friend Louisa yesterday and it’s perfect with afternoon tea!

Ingredients

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 orange
2 cups all-purpose flour
12 oz fresh or frozen cranberries (about 2 1/2 cups)
powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With a mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar until slightly thickened and light in color, about 5-7 minutes. The mixture should almost double in size. The eggs work as your leavening agent in this recipe, so do not skip this step. This mixture should form a ribbon when you lift the beaters out of the bowl.

Add the butter, vanilla and orange zest; mix two more minutes. Gently stir in the flour until just combined. Add the cranberries and stir to mix throughout, and spread in a buttered 9×13 pan. The dough is quite thick, so you’ll need ot smooth it with a spatula.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until very lightly browned and a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let cool completely before cutting, and dust with powdered sugar.

Amazing!

The Most Important Herbs & Spices for a New Cook

My daughter Maya says that most of her friends have no idea what herbs and spices to get when they get their first kitchen. She’s been bugging me forever to help with a list of starter herbs and spices for a new cook, since the spice aisle can be pretty overwhelming.

So here is my list of must have herbs and spices – the ones I reach for most frequently. I’ve also created a second list to add as you can and a list of shelf stable pantry essentials.

7 Absolute Essentials

Kosher Salt
Whole Black Pepper (in a grinder is great)
Red Pepper Flakes
Powdered Garlic
Dried Thyme
Cumin Powder
Dried Basil

These will let you cook Italian, Cajun, Tex-Mex or good old American flavors.

2nd Level to Add

Cinnamon
Whole Nutmeg with a grater
Ground Cloves
Dried Parsley
Rosemary
Chili Powder
Bay Leaves
Paprika (I love Smoked paprika)
Oregano

Adding these spices as you can will open up lots of other possibilities.

Other Pantry Essentials

For Cooking:
Olive Oil (not virgin – just regular, lighter)
Diced, Canned Tomatoes
Rotel Tomatoes
Canned beans (Black beans are my favorite)
Coconut Milk, canned or in a tetrapak
Apple Cider Vinegar
Rice (I like Basmati Rice for general cooking)
Pasta
Chicken Stock in cubes or shelf stable tetra-pack blocks
Fish Sauce (Sounds weird – but it adds so much to Italian food and Thai Foods.)
Dijon Mustard

For Baking or Desserts
Sugar
All-Purpose Flour
Baking Powder
Baking Soda
Cocoa Powder
Corn Starch
Vanilla

DIY Dried Herbs:

Don’t forget that you can always dry fresh herbs. So if you get a nice handful of fresh parsley, use what you need for your recipe, and set the rest on a plate on the counter to dry out for a few days. Once they’re are dry, just crush the leaves and store them in a bottle. You can pitch the stems. Same thing with Thyme and Rosemary – or really any fresh herb.

Salmon with Creamy Spinach and Tomatoes

Another delicious salmon recipe – and this one has plenty of veggies, with a delicious, creamy sauce – so it’s just the kind of recipe we love.

I made it last night, and we finished the whole thing – leaving not so much as a drop. It’s even possible that someone went after the skillet with a rubber spatula. So truly, not a drop was left, and yes it was me! Yum!

Ingredients

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 4-oz piece of salmon fillet, skin removed
2 Tbsp butter
1 chopped onion
1 Tbsp flour
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, or other tomatoes, cut into roughly 1″ chunks
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup half & half
1 tsp lemon zest
4-5 cups baby spinach

Heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat. Cook salmon for 7-8 minutes, gently flipping half way through. Remove salmon from skillet, and keep on a plate.

Add butter, and sauté onion for several minutes until softened. Stir in the flour and spices and stir for another minute or two. Add tomatoes, and cook 3-4 minutes or until softened a bit. Add wine and Dijon mustard. turn heat to low, and cook five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Slowly stir in the half & half and lemon zest, and continue cooking another minute until it starts to thicken. Add spinach and stir until spinach is mostly wilted.

Return salmon fillets to the skillet, and cook two minutes or so until the salmon is heated through. So good!

Classic Pork (or Vegan) Stew from Southern Boys Dishes

With the arrival of Fall weather, I’m starting to think of stews again. I made this stew a while back and it was delicious! One of those recipes that you save in your inbox so you remember to make it again – rich, hearty and super flavorful.

Looking at the recipe recently, I realized it could be made vegan super easily – by substituting Seitan for Pork. Or you could honestly leave the meat out altogether and just enjoy it as a hearty veggie stew!

Ingredients

2 ½ pound boneless pork roast, cut into 1″ cubes
Or, for a vegan version, use 2 lbs. Seitan cut into cubes
1/4 cup flour
2 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp black pepper
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 small leeks, white and green part thinly sliced
1 cup chopped shallots
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup white wine
5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4″ pieces
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1″ cubes
2 cups chicken or veggie stock
1 14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
10 oz button mushrooms, halved
Chopped parsley for garnish

Instructions

  1. In medium bowl, toss pork or Seitan cubes in flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp black pepper.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat. Place one half on the pork or Seitan in an even layer in the dutch oven. Do not overcrowd. Brown for two to three minutes. Turn each piece and brown for two to three minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining pork or Seitan, transferring to plate when browned.
  3. Add leeks, shallots, and garlic to dutch oven and saute for two to three minutes until the leeks are wilted. Add wine and stir to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom of the pot to remove browned bits.
  4. Add carrots, potatoes, chicken or veggie stock, tomatoes, vinegar, bay leaves, basil, oregano, thyme, two tsp salt, and one tsp pepper to Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, mixing well. Reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes.
  5. Add pork to the stew, cover, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.
    (If using Seitan, see note below.)
  6. Add mushrooms and continue simmering for 10 to 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately garnished with chopped parsley.

Note: I believe Seitan can be added in the last 5 minutes of cooking, since it’s basically just being rewarmed. The gravy and delicious flavors will be coat the Seitan so it should be fine. (I’ve never cooked Seitan for a long time in liquid, like in a slow cooker though I’ve seen some recipes for it, so you could definitely try it.)

Atlantic Beach Pie from Bill Smith

I found Bill’s recipe for this lemony-limey cream pie with a crunchy cracker crust in Southern Living Magazine and decided to try it for our 4th of July supper.

What a wonderful pie! The crust is crunchy and slightly sweet and the perfect complement to a creamy filling and whipped cream topping.

I did make one change: Bill uses 4 egg yolks instead of the 2 eggs, but I have good luck using whole eggs, and hate having a million leftover egg whites, so I just added 2 whole eggs to the leftover egg yolk.

The lemon and lime zests look really pretty on the pie and add another little pop of flavor.

Ingredients

Crust:
1 ½ cups finely crushed saltine crackers (from 1 sleeve, about 37 crackers)
6 Tbsp butter, melted
3 Tbsp sugar
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

Filling:
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs and 1 egg yolk (Or 4 egg yolks per the original recipe)
¼ cup fresh lime juice (from 2 large limes)
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)

Topping:
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
Zest of lemon and lime, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir together crushed crackers, melted butter, sugar, and egg white in a medium bowl until combined. Transfer mixture to a 9-inch glass pie plate; firmly press on bottom and sides. Freeze 10 minutes.

Bake in preheated oven until crust is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; cool slightly, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together condensed milk, eggs and egg yolk until smooth. Whisk in lime juice and lemon juice until combined. Pour lime mixture into warm crust.

Bake at 350°F until center is just set, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; cool 1 hour. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.

Beat cream and powdered sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. Spread whipped cream topping over chilled pie, and garnish with lemon and lime zests.

Roasted Cauliflower with Gremolata Breadcrumbs

Feeling absolutely starved this afternoon and I remembered I had a big bag of Cauliflower Florets in the fridge. I’ve been wanting to roast Cauliflower and found a truly wonderful recipe on Food52.com.

Cauliflower in all it’s glory by Jennifer Schmidt on Unsplash

Ingredients:

2 large heads cauliflower. broken into florets or 1 large bag cauliflower florets
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp Kosher salt, divided
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Zest of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 Tbsp roughly chopped fresh parsley

Set oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl mix ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ tsp salt and ¼ tsp black pepper. Add cauliflower and stir well to coat. Pour into a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until cauliflower is starting to get nice brown bits.

Meanwhile in a frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil and add panko and ¼ tsp salt. Gently sauté for several minutes until breadcrumbs begin to brown. Reduce heat and add lemon and garlic. Gently sauté a couple more minutes and remove from heat.

Put cauliflower in a serving dish and top with the breadcrumb mixture. Sprinkle parsley over and serve. So good!

Oven-roasted Asparagus

Beautiful image from Oklahoma Academy Country Store on Unsplash

I planted Asparagus in a back corner of my garden several years ago and always kind of forgot about it, until it was a giant mass of ferns. Yesterday, I checked and there were 7-8 beautiful little stems coming up! So I harvested them and we had them for supper last night, using a recipe from Allrecipes.com. Really fresh asparagus is such a treat!

Ingredients

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1½ Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 bunch thin asparagus spears, trimmed into bite-sized pieces.

Preheat oven to 425. Mix everything in a bowl, and add asparagus. Pour out onto a baking sheet and bake 12-15 minutes (longer if the stems are thicker). Remove from oven, and splash with just a bit more lemon juice.

Mustafa’s Daal (Lentils)

After visiting Kumy’s Mom at the beginning of last year, we were reminded how incredibly delicious Pakistani food is!  We were also lucky enough to learn how to make Daal from Mummy’s cook, Mustafa, who is an amazing cook.

It’s a fairly easy recipe, and uses a “bagaar” to add flavor.  It was one of the first things we made when we got back.  I’m happy to say it was just about as good as Mustafa’s and a welcome reminder of our visit back “home”.

Ingredients:

1 cup Masoor Daal (small, round, split red lentils)
1/2 cup Moong Daal (small, oval split yellow lentils)

4 cups water
2 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper (add more if you dare – it was originally 1 1/4 tsp – but that was too hot!)
1/4 tsp turmeric
3/4 cup diced onions
3/4 cup diced tomato  (Can also substitute 1 can of Rotel Tomatoes for the tomato and jalapeno.)
1/2 jalapeno, diced, optional
1/4 cup cilantro, rough-chopped, optional

Bagaar:
2 Tbsp oil
1 1/2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/4 tsp whole cumin
3 dry red chilis/peppers (small, round ones, but you can use two long red ones instead.)

Wash both daals well, swirling and rinsing until the water is mostly clear. Add to a large pot. Then add water, garlic, salt, cayenne, turmeric, onions and tomatoes. Cook 30-40 minutes.

Whisk well and add water to get a thick gravy consistency, as needed. You can also use an immersion blender to puree the daal, but be careful not to over do it. Add Jalapeno and Cilantro, and cook 10 minutes more.

In a small frying pan, heat the oil and add the rough-chopped garlic, cook for a minute and then add the dry red chilis/peppers and cumin seeds. Cook 30 seconds more and pour oil mixture right into the daal. Stir to combine and serve with basmati rice or Naan. Can also add a squeeze of lemon when serving if you wish.

Pan Seared Salmon with Lemon Garlic Cream Sauce

My dear friend Tammy came over yesterday and we made dinner together. Fresh asparagus from the garden, roasted butternut squash salad, and this amazing salmon dish, cooked in a cast iron skillet. We ate in the backyard as the sun slowly set and it was truly magical.

Tammy actually made the salmon dish and it was just incredible! Kumy said, “this is it – we don’t need to try any other salmon recipes” and I have to say I agree! We got the recipe from Katerina on Diethood.com, with a few modifications.

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 (6 oz. each) skin-on salmon fillets
salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

For the Lemon Garlic Cream Sauce

1 Tbsp butter
1 cup half & half
1/2 Tbsp all purpose flour (or 3/4 tsp cornstarch for a gluten-free version)
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese
2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 big cloves garlic, roughly minced
1 tsp dried dill
3/4 tsp dried thyme
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat a cast iron skillet on medium high heat and add the olive oil. Season the salmon on both sides with salt and pepper and add the salmon fillets, skin side down. Let cook for 6 minutes without moving or lifting the fish.

Gently flip the fish over and let it cook 2 more minutes, then remove to a plate.

While fish is cooking, whisk together the half & half, flour, cheese, lemon juice, garlic, dill and thyme in a small bowl. Add ½ tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp black pepper to start. (You can always add more salt and pepper at the end.)

Remove any skin that has stuck to the skillet, and reduce the temperature to medium. Add the butter, let it melt and then pour in the sauce. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, whisking constantly for a minute or so until the sauce starts to thicken. Add the fish carefully into the sauce, skin side down, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Leave the tops of the salmon uncovered so it looks pretty.

So good!