Chard and Sausage Strata

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Christmas morning my mom and I woke up and cleaned the kitchen. I looked down at the dishes I was scrubbing and said, “Mom remember when I would wake up at 6 am Christmas morning and sprint to my presents? I want to feel that sugar plum fairy excitement.”

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Presents no longer seem to give me that feeling like they did when I was a kid, but Christmas brunch does. I pulled my grandmother Bunny’s coffee walnut chocolate chip muffins out of the oven, a sentimental smell permeating the room. My mom made a citrus salad. We bantered back and forth about how much honey to drizzle over the top. My brother and dad knocked on my door. My dad told my mom she really needs to start aging and then they bonded over their mutual plantar fasciitis. (I’m going to get a text from my dad after this post goes up saying yet again I’ve put him on “blast.”)

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We opened our stockings, and I pulled my strata out of the oven. We swooned over the soft, custard center with a crunchy top. The bread was crusty in all the right places with ribbons of chard throughout. Everyone loved it.

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Generally we make Grandpa Mackey’s famous breakfast casserole with white bread and cream of mushroom soup among other things. It’s one of those really bad Midwest treasures that is remarkably satisfying. This year my dad requested that we take it up a notch.

Makes 1 hefty casserole//Dahlia Bakery Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf of rustic bread, about 1 1/2 pounds
  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 12 ounces wild mushrooms like shiitake, chanterelle, button or oyster, sliced
  • 1 pound chard, stems removed
  • 2 teaspoons thinly sliced chives
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 12 ounces cheddar, grated
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Cut bread into 3/4 to 1-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups loosely packed bread.

Place sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a spatula. Cook until no pink remains, about 10 minutes.

Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside. To the same pan, add the onion and cook over medium heat until soft. Add the butter and olive oil to the skillet and toss in the mushrooms. Cook until tender and then transfer to a bowl.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the chard and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain the chard and plunge the chard into a bowl of ice water. Drain again. Squeeze out as much of the water as possible. Roughly chop and add to the bowl of mushrooms and onions. Add the sausage, bread, chives and thyme. Reserve 3/4 of a cup of the cheese and then stir in the remainder. Transfer the contents of the bowl to the greased dish.

Whisk the eggs, cream, salt and pepper. Pour over the rest of the ingredients. Use a spatula to press down on the bread and submerge it as much as possible. Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a couple hours or overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, remove the plastic wrap and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake until the top is golden and the center is firm. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and serve.

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Dunk Like Lebron

 

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I grew up watching the NBA with my dad. He always talked about his lifelong dream of being able to dunk. At a certain point, he decided everyone in the NBA was a “punk” and stopped following it as closely. Now, my boyfriend Tommy is my insight into basketball. I wouldn’t pay it any attention, but I’m constantly hearing about it from him, including his NBA draft picks. For the last couple years, Lebron has been the first pick among Tommy’s family. He describes Lebron as “multi faceted and explosive.” Ha.

Even if you aren’t watching the Cavaliers game tonight, you can still play at home. Dunk away dad.

These biscotti didn’t quite meet my texture standards, but the pop of lemon combined with the mildly tart cherries was lovely. The topping of turbinado was also a nice touch. The texture can be played with based on baking time and sitting out time.

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Because Tommy lives almost two hours away, I sent him a package filled with these biscotti and a love note. Or at least I thought so. When I hadn’t heard from him, I asked if he had received the package. I had accidentally sent them to 1217 instead of 1215, meaning the crack house next door to him got my fresh-baked treats. The neighbors probably enjoyed them, so I suppose it’s not a total loss. I had a few leftover, and I brought them along when my dad and I drove the two hours to meet Tommy for dinner. Those didn’t make it either…my dad ate them.

Makes about 40 biscotti//Adapted from Anne Burrell

Ingredients

  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, plus 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until it becomes light and fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed. Add in the vanilla.

Mix in the flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest, until just incorporated. Fold in the almonds and cherries.

Divide the dough in half and roll into logs, dusting with flour as needed. Roll the logs into almost the length of a sheet pan. Beat the egg white with one tablespoon of water. Brush the egg wash over the top of the two logs and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Place the logs side-by-side on a sheet pan, at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 30 minutes.

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Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Slice on a bias, about 3/4 inch thick. Lay the biscotti on their side, and return to the oven for 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

Multigrain Waffles

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Working in the restaurant industry has taught me a lot of things. I’ve acquired exceptional patience and communication skills. I’m no longer scared of picking up people’s dirty, used, slobbery napkins that they left crumpled on the table. Also, I know I would never marry a man who can’t order for himself.

I would, however, marry someone who can appreciate a good, hearty waffle–perhaps drizzled with real maple syrup or smothered in a blueberry compote.

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My friend Julie first made me these waffles. She is the queen of alternative flours and was the one who told me spelt flour is great because you can generally substitute it 1 for 1. So in this case, she uses a recipe from Sprouted Kitchen, but she switches the white-wheat flour for spelt. Spelt is an ancient grain with a larger scope of nutrients than its cousin wheat. It is high in protein and fiber among other things. These waffles are surprisingly light, while carrying a hearty nuttiness that leaves you full for hours. I made the whole batch and then froze the leftovers. Step aside Eggo.

Makes about 6 waffles (depending on your waffle iron)

Ingredients

  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup milk (I used coconut milk)
  • 2 Tbsp. orange juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp. melted coconut oil
  • 2 Tbsp. flaxmeal
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • Coconut oil spray (optional)

Heat your waffle iron. Whisk together the egg, milk, orange juice, melted coconut oil and vanilla.

Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ones and mix until just combined. Let the mixture sit for a couple minutes to allow the flax to absorb some of the liquid.

The recipe didn’t say to grease the iron, but mine is old and needed a nice spray of coconut oil spray between each waffle. Put a helpful amount of batter in the waffle iron. This really varies between irons. It took me two waffles to get it just right. You don’t want to over stuff the iron or else it will just spill out the sides. After a few minutes it will be golden brown. Move it to a cooling rack (this way it won’t steam and get soggy). Never stack waffles. Then dress it up and enjoy.

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Collard Green and Leek Tart

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A group of my friends and I began a Sunday brunch tradition this spring.  Ashley, the one who I call Martha after Martha Stewart, often plans out an elaborate table scape where everything has to match.  Julie generally brings fruit salad comprised from her weekly produce box.  The boys usually bring coffee or a random ingredient hoping they can throw it in some eggs.  I’m somewhere in between, switching off between making something simple or crafting something elaborate.

Ashley "Martha"
Ashley, “Martha Stewart”
David, who looks freakishly like Statue of David in Florence, Italy
David, who looks freakishly like Statue of David in Florence, Italy
Julie, lover of yoga and alternative flours
Julie, lover of yoga and alternative flours

For the last brunch, it was my turn to host and I decided to make a version of a tart I saw on Smitten Kitchen that was originally adapted from Bon Appetit.  As “Martha” would say, it wouldn’t be a Dakota Mackey recipe if I followed it exactly.  This rang true because I completely flipped it on its head to suit my budget and abundance of random veggies from my own produce box.

Instead of making it with chard and leeks, I used a bunch of collard greens and a single leek.  I didn’t feel like wasting a bunch of egg whites, so I just used the whole egg.  I wonder how this might have changed the texture because it turned out delicious.  The puff pastry inflated as promised, making for scrumptious layers of buttery crust.  The egg itself was light, infused with local, seasonal veggies.  The thyme, which I snagged from my window herb garden, added a punch of bright flavor.  Dandelion Organic would be proud.

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Slightly burnt crust, but otherwise humble, savory and exactly what I want to eat before 1 pm.

Here is the original recipe from Bon Appetite, October 1999 with my own notes. Makes 1 tart:

  • 1 frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 large leeks white and light green parts only (I used only 1 leek)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme (I used fresh)
  • 1/2 bunch swiss chard, stems removed, leaves chopped (I did the same with a whole bunch of collard greens)
  • 1 1/4 cups whipping cream (Deb from Smitten Kitchen used whole milk)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks (I just threw in the entire extra 2 eggs)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (I always add more pepper)
  • Pinch ground nutmeg

Roll out the puff pastry into a 12-inch square on a floured work surface, then transfer to a 9-inch diameter pie dish (Bon Appetite says use a glass one.)

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Trim the overhang to 1-inch, fold them under, crimp the edges and chill.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the leeks, thyme, salt and pepper.  Cook until the leeks are very tender, but not brown.  (It recommends covering them with a lid while cooking.)  This should take about 10 minutes.  Then add the chard and cook until it is wilted, about 2 more minutes.  Remove from heat and cool.

Position oven rack in bottom third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees (I thought this was a tad too high because my crust burnt before the filling was cooked, so maybe try 400 degrees).  Whisk cream and the next 5 ingredients in a bowl.  Mix in the cooled leek mixture.  Pour the filling into the crust.

Bake the tart for about 10 minutes, checking to make sure the crust doesnt burn.  Reduce the oven to 350 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes until the filling is puffed and set in the middle.  Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Maple Bacon Biscuits

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One of my favorite flavor combinations is maple and bacon. The sweet and salty, sultry and smokey is mouth-watering in almost any form. Because I have a place in my heart (and my arteries) for biscuits, I tried out Deb Perelmen’s, of Smitten Kitchen, maple bacon biscuits. Though they didn’t rise quite as much as I wanted, the flavor was really enjoyable. I broke one in half and smothered it with, of course, butter. It paired nicely with my otherwise average breakfast of scrambled eggs and fruit.

Makes 6 biscuits with a 2-inch cutter

  • 3 slices bacon (reserve 2 tablespoons of bacon grease)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), chilled, chopped into small chunks
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

Fry the bacon until it is crispy (you don’t want fat chunks in your biscuits necessarily). Remove the bacon from the pan and drain it on a few stacked paper towels. Pour the bacon fat into a glass measuring cup to see how much you have and save 2 tablespoons. If you have less than needed, just substitute it with more butter. Place your measuring cup in the freezer, and freeze until fat is solid.

Chop the bacon into small bits, and put it in a small dish. Pour the maple syrup over the bacon and stir; then set the mixture aside.

Remove the solidified bacon fat from the freezer. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, rub the chilled bacon fat and 4 tablespoons of butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the bacon-maple mixture and the buttermilk. Stir this together with a rubber spatula until it is combined. Knead this a couple times (do not over knead) to form into a concise dough.  Pat out into a 1-inch thick slab on a floured surface, and cut it into biscuits with a 2-inch cutter.  Arrange the biscuits on the baking sheet, and bake them for 12-14 minutes, until they are golden. Serve them warm.

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Eggs Benedict

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Hunks and hollandaise: Two things I need more of. Sorry dad. Now that I had home made English muffins it only made sense that I make eggs benedict as well; however, this meant I would have to face my biggest kitchen challenge–aside from baking of course–poaching eggs. In the past, I have wasted dozens of eggs trying to swirl the water, get to the perfect simmer and slide the egg in using a variety of recommended methods. Fail. FAIL. FAIL. A couple of times I read that using vinegar would solve the issue of the egg white dissolving into the hot water, losing the form of the egg. For some reason I never tried it…until now. Those sources weren’t lying; it really works.  With little stress, my eggs held together nicely, and I mastered the art of making my favorite preparation of egg.

4 servings/Tyler Florence

Hollandaise (makes about 1 cup):

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted (1 stick)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more)
  • Pinch of salt

    My make-shift hollandaise
    My make-shift double boiler

Tyler said to “vigorously whisk the egg yolks and lemon juice together in a stainless steel bowl until it has thickened and doubled in volume.”  I don’t have a stainless steel bowl, so I used a glass one and it was fine.

Place the stainless steel bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water (or use a double boiler); the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl.  Continue to whisk rapidly.  Be careful to keep it on low heat, otherwise the eggs could scramble.

Slowly drizzle the melted butter and continue to whisk until the mixture has thickened.  I found that mine was having a hard time thickening (probably due to my strange makeshift double boiler and glass bowl), but the mixture continued to thicken as it sat out during the rest of the process of making the eggs benedict.  Remove from heat and stir in the cayenne and salt.  Let it sit in a warm place while you poach your eggs.  If the hollandaise gets too thick from sitting, stir in a tablespoon or so of hot water to thin it out.

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Ingredients

  • 8 slices of canadian bacon or ham
  • 4 English muffins, split
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 8 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Hollandaise sauce, above
  • Freshly chopped parsley, for garnish

Brown the bacon or ham in a medium skillet and toast the english muffins.  You can toast them cut side up on a baking sheet in the oven under the broiler to do them all at once.

Fill a 10-inch nonstick skillet  3/4 full of water.  Add the white vinegar.  Bring it to a slow boil.  Gently break one of the eggs into the water, careful not to break the yolk.  Do the same with the other 7 eggs.  Reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook for approximately 3 1/2 minutes until the egg whites have set, but the yolks are still soft.  Remove the eggs, one by one, with a slotted spoon, allowing the water to drain.

To assemble:  But both sides of one english muffin on a plate, topped with a slice of canadian bacon or ham on each side.  Then gently place a poached egg on each side, drizzle with hollandaise and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley.  You can also add more cayenne at this point if you want a little kick.

English Muffins

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Last week, I pulled out The Dahlia Bakery cookbook and opened to their english muffin entry.  I invited my favorite foodie friend over to make them with me and then finish with eggs benedict.  As I dove into the intensive process, I realized it wouldn’t be an easy feat.  After kneading and resting, kneading and resting, my friend–the next Martha Stewart–gave up on me and went home.  I reached a point in the recipe that allowed for the dough to go in the fridge overnight, making it a two-day process.

The next morning, I recovered the bowl of raised dough from the fridge and let it come back to room temperature.  Continuing on with the recipe, I shaped 12 equally portioned pieces of dough into plump, round balls.  I put them on a cornmeal covered baking sheet and covered them with a kitchen towel.  Impatient by nature, I peeked under the blue checkered cloth every ten minutes watching them expand.

After pulling them from the oven and letting them cool, I was pleasantly surprised that upon slicing them in half they had the same look of a typical english muffin–with all the nooks and crannies for butter to hide.

Makes 12 english muffins/Dahlia Bakery

For the dough

  • 1 medium Yukon Gold or other waxy potato (5 to 6 ounces/140 to 170 grams)
  • First portion of water: 1 1/3 cups (11 ounces/310 grams) water, at 68 degrees (cool tap water)
  • 3 cups (14 3/4 ounces/418 grams) whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • Second portion of water: 1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces/70 grams) water, at 68 degrees
  • Olive or vegetable oil for oiling your hands and the bowl

For dusting the pans

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work counter
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal

Cut the potato into 1-inch chunks, leaving the skin on.  Put the potato into a small saucepan and cover with cold water.  Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook the potato until the potato is tender, 8 to 10 minutes after the water is simmering.  Drain the potato, transfer to bowl, and, using a potato masher or a fork, mash the potato with the skins on.  Measure the potato.  You should have a packed 1/2 cup (4 ounces/120 grams) of mashed potato.  Discard any excess potato and place the 1/2 cup of mashed potato in the refrigerator to cool.  When the potato is completely cool, start your dough.

Pour the first portion of water (1 1/3) cups of water (the water must be at or close to 68 degrees F) into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Add both flours, the cooled potato, the honey, salt, and yeast.  Mix on low-speed for 10 minutes.  You should have a soft dough that is sticky, stretchy, and wraps around the paddle.  Turn off the mixer and allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes.

After the dough has rested, turn the mixer to medium speed and mix the dough for another 1 to 2 minutes.  At this point, the dough should be wound around the paddle and will be stronger, tighter, and stretchier.  With the machine running, start adding the second portion (1/3 cup) of water (again, the water must be at or close to 68 degrees F) about 2 tablespoons at a time.  Wait until an addition of water is absorbed before adding more water.  (“It is very important to add the water gradually, in about 3 additions.”)  When all the water has been added, allow the dough to mix for another 2 minutes, until a smooth and shiny dough forms.  (You can use a thermometer to take the temperature of the dough.  The dough must be between 75 and 80 degrees.)

If the temperature of your water was 68, then the temperature of the dough should be in this range.  But if the dough is cooler than 75 degrees, you can place the dough in a warm place for a little while and then check again.  If the dough is more than 80 degrees, you can place the dough in a cooler spot for a bit.

Oil a large bowl.  Place the dough in the bowl; roll and flip it over into a ball, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Place the bowl in a slightly warm place and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.  (Slightly warm means room temperature.  If your kitchen is 68 to 70 degrees or so, just letting the dough sit out is fine.)  After the 30 minute rest, uncover the bowl so you can “turn” the dough.  Rub some oil on your hands because the dough is sticky.  Use your hands to reach over to the far side of the bowl and pull the dough straight up, stretching it upward.  Then drop the dough and fold it over itself.  Give the bowl a quarter turn, and stretching and turning the dough, until you have gone in a complete circle.

Turn the dough over, cover it again with plastic wrap, and return it to the slightly warm place to rest for another 30 minutes.  Again, turn the dough with oiled hands as done before.  Then cover the bowl, return it to the slightly warm place, and allow the dough to rest for an hour.  The dough should be sticky and bubbly.

At this point you can either finish the english muffins or you can cover the bowl of dough with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for up to a day.

When you are ready to shape and bake the english muffins, combine the 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons cornmeal in a small bowl.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and dust them with the flour-cornmeal mixture.  Set the pans aside.

Generously flour a work surface (because the dough is sticky), then dump the dough out onto it (removing it from the refrigerator if the dough has been refrigerated).  Using a floured metal bench scraper or a floured knife, cut the dough into 12 equal pieces.  To shape each english muffin, place a portion of dough on the floured work surface and pull the dough up and over itself (folding the dough in half), flipping the portion of dough over so the floured side is facing up.  Then roll it into a ball using the  palm of your hand.  Ideally the sticky underside of the dough will allow friction against your work surface to roll it into a ball.

Place 6 english muffins on each prepared baking sheet, spacing them evenly.  Cover the rolls of dough with clean kitchen towels and put them in a slightly warm place until they have doubled in size, which will take 1 hour to 1.75 hours if the dough has not been refrigerated.  It could take up to 2.5 hours if it has.

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When the english muffins have doubled, the dough will feel less sticky.  Also, when you press gently on the dough, it will feel light and airy, not dense, and you may see some bubbles.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Put the pans in the oven and bake the muffins for 8 minutes.  Remove the pans from the oven and flip each muffin over to the other side.  Use your hand to give each muffin a firm pat to flatten it slightly–careful of hot steam!  Rotate the pans and return them to the oven, switching them between the racks.  Bake the muffins until they are golden and baked through with a few browned patches, about 8 minutes more.

Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, then slice each english muffin in half and toast.  For longer storage, place muffins in plastic freezer bags and thaw before slicing and toasting.

Phew!  You made it.