Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Let's Do Lunch

So, lately I've been in the mood to entertain. Not to a huge group, but rather a very small group, perhaps at the table outside on the patio. A beautiful, crisp Fall day calls for it. I'm in the mood. And, I've come up with a plan. My five and a half year old son started Kindergarten two weeks ago. So far, so good. He loves it! But, he is longing for his pre-K friends of days gone by. They, too, have embarked on their journeys through the education system. I have decided to plan a "reunion" for him and his pre-K friends, so they can "discuss" their kindergarten experiences thus far, two weeks into it. It is going to be a "How is Your Kindergarten Going?" party. (mom's included). For lunch, kids will dine on pizza from a local pizzeria. But I am thinking of the moms. I love preparing meals for my girlfriends. The party is on Sunday, and I am looking to do something "brunch-ish". Just one course, with a pretty, tasty Fall salad. I will have some greens with a little blue cheese, cranberries and pear, topped with a vinegarette made with walnut oil. I've made it before and it is delicious. Deb, what do you think would be a good dish to serve my girlfriends? Something straightforward yet impressive, that will be nice plated with this side salad? Perhaps, we might open a bottle or two of Prosecco, if the ladies are up to it!

Ooooohh, that salad sounds delicious! What a nice idea for a party. An early fall brunch makes me think of Strata, which is basically a savory bread pudding meets quiche. And like quiche you can add any number of ingredients to make it your own. The classic combination of spinach and mushrooms is great this time of year.

I first encountered Strata a few years ago when a client asked me to make one for a weekend brunch she was hosting. It was the perfect dish for me to prepare a day in advance and then have the hostess bake off on the day of the party. A satisfying dish, it can be really easy to prepare. Or complicated, depending on how ambitious you are feeling. I like to add lots of flavor to this casserole so I add a few extra steps sautéing different ingredients to build flavor and complexity. I try to simplify a bit by using the same pan for all the sauteing, removing one cooked ingredient and adding the next with out washing the pan in between. 

The easy part comes the next day when all you have to do is throw the cassarole into the oven. A fruit salad goes great with this dish. A simple green salad would also work really well. Combining fruit and greens as you are doing with the cranberries, pears and greens in your salad is perfect! Are you going to share the recipe?

Spinach Mushroom Strata
3 Tbs butter (plus 1 Tbs to butter baking dish)
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 large onions finely chopped
10 oz. Baby Bella Mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic finely minced
2 lbs fresh spinach, washed and stems trimmed and finely chopped or 2 (10-oz) package frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry and finely chopped
8 cups cubed (1 inch) Sourdough, Hallah or whole grain bread (1/2 lb)
6 oz grated Gruyère (2 cups)
2 1/2 cups milk
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
In a large sauté pan melt 1 Tbs butter and 1tbs olive oil. When the fats are warm and bubbly, add the chopped onion and cook for 10 minutes until onion is translucent and golden, as the onion cooks add salt and pepper to taste. Remove onions from pan and set aside.

Melt another 1 Tbs butter and 1tbs olive oil in the same pan (no need to wipe it out). When the fats are warm and bubbly, add the sliced mushrooms. As the mushrooms cook add salt and pepper to taste. Let mushrooms cook in pan with out tossing around, for 3 minutes until they start to brown and caramelize. Turn gently and cook on the other side for another 5 minutes. Remove mushrooms from pan and add them to the onions.

Melt another 1 Tbs butter and 1tbs olive oil into the same (dirty!) pan. When the fats are warm and bubbly, add the chopped garlic. Cook garlic till it is golden, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach, and s & p to taste and cook till spinach is wilted and soft, about 5 more minutes. Remove from pan and add spinach to the onions and mushrooms. Mix well to combine.

In a large bowl whisk the eggs, milk and nutmeg together.
In a shallow buttered baking dish spread one third of the bread, then one third of the spinach mixture, then one third of the grated cheese. Repeat two more times ending with cheese. Carefully pour the egg mixture on top of the bread in an even layer and let egg custard soak into the bread. Tightly wrap baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

prereheat oven to 350°F. Take strata out of the fridge and allow to come to room temp. Unwrap and bake in oven for 50-60 minutes till golden and puffy.

1 comment:

  1. What a great sounding menu! That is my kind of food. "Cheese Strata" was actually the first thing I ever made. I was about 8 or 9 and found the recipe in my "Betty Crocker's Junior Cookbook". I love the sound of this grownup version. Yum!


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