Mediterranean Breakfast Bread Pudding

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Get ready for some beauty sleep!  Everyone needs the perfect overnight egg dish that lets you sleep in on a morning when you are entertaining and makes it look as if you have been up for hours slaving away in the kitchen. This one-dirty-dish, overnight bread pudding, is that dream recipe. The filling can be cooked ahead as much as 3 days and the bread pudding assembled the night before.  The ingredients can be tweaked to what you have on hand if the proportions are maintained. Come morning, the whole thing goes into the oven and  45 minutes later, while you enjoy a cup of coffee with your morning paper, you have a cheesy aromatic meal that will wake up every last sleepy head.

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MEDITERRANEAN BREAKFAST BREAD PUDDING   Serves 10

1 large onion, diced

16 oz Italian sausage, casings removed

1 red pepper, chopped

1/2 c sun dried tomatoes, not packed in oil, slivered

2 c baby kale or spinach

6 cups of white bread, torn into inch size pieces

2 1/2 c milk

8 large eggs

2 T Dijon mustard

1/2 t each sea salt and fresh ground pepper

1 1/2 c shredded cheese(gruyère or Italian blend)

1 c feta, crumbled

1 T rosemary leaves, finely chopped

3 T basil leaves, torn

Prehat oven to 350F.  Butter an 9 X 13 inch baking dish.

In a pan, brown the sausage meat, add the onion and peppers and sauté until the onion is soft.  Add the spinach or kale and sauté until wilted.  Remove from the heat.  Add the herbs and sun dried tomatoes.  Reserve.  This can be made up to 3 days in advance.

Whisk together the milk, eggs, Dijon, salt and pepper.  Place bread into prepared baking dish.  Add the vegetable and meat mixture and combine thoroughly with  the bread.  Add the grated cheese and mix through.  Top with feta.  Pour milk and egg mixture over the whole dish, making sure all the  bread is moistened.  Cover and chill for at least an hour or overnight.  Bring to room temperature for about a half hour before baking on the center rack for 45 minutes.

The browned sausage, vegetabkes, herbs and bread combined inthe baking dish.

The browned sausage, vegetables, herbs and bread combined in the baking dish.

Cheeses added.

Cheeses added.

Milk and eggs added.  Note hiow the bread is uniformely moistened.

Milk and eggs added. Note how the bread is uniformely moistened.

Aromatic, cheesy and loaded with sausage and veggies, what's not to love?

Aromatic, cheesy and loaded with sausage and veggies, what’s not to love?

Bring on the rave reviews.  You are the only one who will know how effortless this dish really was.plus with that extra sleep, you’ll be looking good too!

Great Bowls of Fire! Smoky White Bean Pumpkin Chili with Molasses Cornbread

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imageCrisp but sunny fall days continue to extend outdoor fall enjoyment and chili weather has set in!    On a recent Sunday with our maple tree ablaze in its autumn coat I made a big pot of chili and served it, buffet style, right from the pot, outside.  There is just something about crowd pleasing, one dish meals that say fall.  This soulful white chili offers an interesting combination of both cubed pumpkin (or squash) and puréed pumpkin.  It is chock full of tasty bits of smokey ground chicken sausage and nice chunks of pumpkin.  When shopping for a pumpkin to make this dish, I got distracted and seduced by a gorgeous red Kuri Squash, also known as Japanese squash or potimarron and had to take it home.  So instead of a pumpkin white bean chili, this chili got a new name!   I made it stove top but it could easily be made in a crock pot.  Adding a selection of toppings for each person to customize their chili and serving it with warm cornbread elevates this tasty chili into company worthy fare.  It can be made a day or two in advance and reheated.   A warming one-dish meal for festive, casual gatherings this fall.

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SMOKEY WHITE BEAN-RED KURI SQUASH CHILI  serves 8

2 onions, chopped

2 yellow, red or orange peppers, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

4 c of cubed pumpkin or squash such as red kri or butternut

16 oz chicken sausage, casings removed

15 oz can diced tomatoes

15 oz can crushed tomatoes

15 oz can puréed pumpkin

15 oz can chickpeas, drained

15 oz can cannellini beans, drained

1 T liquid smoke

2 T chili spices

1 t ground cumin

salt to taste

1/2 t cayenne pepper

2 T molasses

Toppings:  lime wedges, shredded cheese, sour cream or yogurt, sliced scallions, toasted pumpkin seeds, tortilla chips, sliced black olives, guacamole or sliced avocado, hot pepper flakes and  chopped cilantro are only a few of the possible toppings to offer.

In a tall pot, brown the sausage and onions together, breaking up the sausage as it cooks, about 5 minutes.  Add the peppers and garlic and cook another 3 minutes.  Toss in the squash or pumpkin and cook another 3 minutes to brown.  Add all the spices and stir through.

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Add the tomatoes, canned pumpkin purée, molasses and beans and heat, with the lid on, for an hour, stirring occasionally.

Serve in deep bowls with a selection of toppings and warm molasses corn bread.

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MOLASSES CORN BREAD

1 c yellow corn meal

1 c flour

2 t baking powder

1 t ground cumin

1/2 t salt

2 large eggs, beaten

4 T butter, melted

1 c buttermilk

2 T molasses

Preheat oven to 425F.  Butter an 9 inch square pan.

Combine the dry ingredients.  In another bowl, beat the eggs, milk, molasses and buttermilk.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix only until combined.  Pour into pan and bake for 20 minutes. Cool slightly and cut into 9 pieces and serve alongside the chili. This cornbread will have a brownish-gold color but its  sweetness  nicely complements the smokey chili.

Wishing you cozy fall gatherings with friends and family as autumn offers up nature’s grand finale of color.

Memories of Home, 2012, painted for my brother

Memories of Home, 2013, painted for my brother

5 MINUTE FALL ARRANGEMENT in a GARDEN URN

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Bringing garden accents indoor is one of my signature decorating themes.  In fall I love using natural elements and the abundant squashes and pumpkins readily available for decorating inspiration.  I am all about not having to store a lot of “stuff”.    Taking a few pumpkins from the market(you can even cook them later!) and repurposing a garden urn into an indoor arrangement  is a quick, elegant way to decorate for fall.  This fall arrangement on my kitchen island was created in no time at all with a black metal garden urn, a sugar pumpkin, some ribbon and a fall wreath.  Choose a wreath of the same diameter as the top of your urn and which will have branches and tendrils that can cascade softly beyond the urn, similar to the wreath I chose with small leaves, rose hips and berries.  Fill the urn with newspaper or any other filler so the pumpkin can sit above the urn. Place the wreath in top of the urn, add the pumpkin then tie a seasonal ribbon at the base of the urn.  For added layering and seasonal accents,  you can place a branch of bittersweet around the urn’s pedestal and lean a smaller boo pumpkin against the urn.  A gorgeous, no maintenance fall arrangement ready in five minutes!

Here are the step by step instructions:

Materials:  a garden urn, a sugar pumpkin, filler, a wreath, ribbon, bittersweet vine

Materials: a garden urn, a sugar pumpkin, filler, a wreath, ribbon, bittersweet vine

Add filler to the urn so the pumpkin can sit at the very top.

Add filler to the urn so the pumpkin can sit at the very top.

Seat the wreath on top of the urn.

Seat the wreath on top of the urn.

Seat the pumpkin on the filler.

Seat the pumpkin on the filler.

Tie a pretty bow around the base of the urn and add a spray of bittersweet and a mini Boo pumpkin and your arrangemnt is done!

Tie a pretty bow around the base of the urn and add a spray of bittersweet and a mini Boo pumpkin and your arrangemnt is done!

Happy fall decorating!

Sweet Potato Hummus with Toasted Pistachios and Feta

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Go into any supermarket and the ever expanding selection of hummus will tell you hummus has become the snack of the moment.   Philadelphia just opened a “Hummusiya” restaurant called Dizengoff, named after the famous food street in Tel Aviv.  A restaurant serving nothing but hummus?  You bet!  Hummus is a no-guilt snack food gaining in popularity because it is nutritious,  packed with good fat, fiber, protein and tons of flavor.  This creamy sweet potato hummus offers a seasonal twist on the traditional hummus.  It is easy to make and such a pretty addition to the menu when presented  in a hollowed out squash.  Serve with warm pita points.

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SWEET POTATO HUMMUS with TOASTED PISTACHIOS and FETA

1 lb sweet potatoes

1 t cumin seeds

juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons

1 t salt

1/4 t cayenne

1/2 t black pepper

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 T tahini

1 T olive oil

3 t brown sugar

zest of an orange

2 T crumbled feta for topping

2 T toasted pistachios for topping

paprika for presentation

squash or sweet pepper to use as a bowl

1 T olive oil for drizzling

1-  Bake the sweet potatoes whole at 350F for about an hour.  Cool, peel and place in a food processor equipped with a blade.

2-  Toast the cumin seeds over low heat until their fragrance is released, about 2 minutes.  Crush them with a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle.

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3-  Place all ingredients, except the toppings in the food processor and purée until smooth.

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4-  Refrigerate overnight to get the flavors to meld.  Serve in a hollowed out squash or sweet pepper.   Top with toasted pistachios, feta and a drizzle of oilive oil.  To toast the pistachios I sautéed them in the same pan I had used for the cumin seeds, over low heat,  until they were golden, without any added oil.   Scatter some extra pistachios and feta on your platter and sprinkle the top of your dip and the platter with extra paprika for color.   Serve with warm pita points or crackers.

Setting up the presentation:  the dip is scooped into a squash, the lid is leaned on the side for a pretty detail.  A bittersweet vine snuggles next to the squash for a layering of seasonal detail.  Paprika is sprinkled around the edges of the platter along with some of the feta and pistachio topping.

Setting up the presentation: the dip is scooped into a squash, the lid is leaned on the side for a pretty accent. A bittersweet vine snuggles next to the squash for an extra layer of seasonal detail. Paprika is sprinkled around the edges of the platter along with some of the feta and pistachios.

The final platter with warmed pita points and crackers added.

The final platter with warmed pita points and crackers added.

A seasonal appetizer sure to get your fall get togethers going!

A seasonal appetizer sure to get the party going!

Today I’ m sharing this recipe with the talented chefs at Fiesta Friday #38 histed by the creative Angie at The Novice Gardener and my fellow Canadians, Juliana at Foodie on Board and Hilda at Along the Grapevine.  Check out their interesting recioes!

Fall Leaves Découpage Hurricane DIY Project

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When I saw the Mason Jar fall leaf hurricane project circulating on social media and featured on Country Living Magazine online, I got very excited and wanted to make them right away.

imageI wisked Prince Charming off on a fall walk on a wooded trail to collect beautiful leaves for the project.  This was after all a candlelight mission!  Once home I got to work on the project, figuring it would be a quick, fun activity.  Wrong!   I have done many découpage projects in the past and am very at ease with the medium.  I experimented with both real leaves and silk ones.

Can you tell which one is made with fresh leaves and which one is silk?

Can you tell which one is made with fresh leaves and which one is silk?

The real leaves have to be worked with while they are fresh, before they start curling up.  In both cases, the leaves had some natural curvature to them so they did not completely lie flat.  This made them hard to glue down on the curved surface of the glass hurricanes I used.  I would think they would be even more challenging to work with on the smaller surface of a Mason jar! After reading the reader comments,  I realized I was not alone in experiencing problems with this project.  I believe the only way to be successful is to use flat and transparent paper leaves from a craft store or leaves that have been pressed flat and dried for a couple of weeks.  My final result shows the natural leaves are not transparent enough to really let the light shine through them.

Natural leaves on the left, silk on the right

Natural leaves on the left, silk on the right

The silk leaves are better but when you look at the hurricanes close up, there are gaps where the leaves are curved in both cases.  From a distance, the effect is still pretty at night.  In the daytime, less so.  I thought I would still report my findings if you too had been seduced by the nostalgia of preserving the beauty of your fall leaf collection in those adorable Mason jar leaf votives.  Maybe it’s just me….next year I am going to take Prince Charming for a stroll through the isles of my local craft store, looking for flat transparent paper leaves!

Should you want to tackle the project yourself, here are my step by step instructions:

Supplies needed:  clean glass vessel, leaves, Mod Podge, spong paint brush, newspaper, pruners to clip leaves free of stems

Supplies needed: clean glass vessel, leaves, Mod Podge, sponge paint brush, newspaper, pruners to clip leaves free of stems, water to moisten leaves and help make them more pliable

Paint a layer of glue on the glass

Paint a layer of glue on the glass

Moisten your leaves with a bit of water to make them pliable, then dip in glue, ahere on the glass in a natural "wind blown" pattern;  apply more glue on the outside of the leaf with the sponge brush.

Cut the stems off the leaves. Moisten your leaves with a bit of water to make them pliable, then dip in glue, adhere on the glass in a natural “wind blown” pattern; apply more glue on the outside of the leaf with the sponge brush. Use your moistened fingers to try and flatten the leaves as much as possible.  This is a messy job!   Let dry.

Note how the silk leaves are laying a bit more flat

Note how the silk leaves are laying a bit more flat

I let the project dry for 24 hrs and tried applying a second coat of glue to get the curled up edges to lay flat.  No luck.

I let the project dry for 24 hrs and tried applying a second coat of glue to get the curled up edges to lay flat. No luck.  A seond coat Was not any more helpful.  If the leaves were laying flat, a second coat would have been good to secure all the edges.  A coating of adhesive is recommended to preserve the project long term.  In this case I did not bother.

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After 24 hrs of drying, place your candle in the hurricane, light and enjoy.

I hope my adventures in crafting have been helpful to you.  I still really love this project and will try my hand at it again next year.  Right now I’m heading out the door for another fall walk to admire the foliage and work off my frustrations with this craft!

Fall Pomegranate Avocado Salad with Maple Pistachios

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“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”  Jim Bishop

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When I was growing up in Canada’s great white north, every fall my mom would buy me one glorious exotic pomegranate.  I would sit at the kitchen counter with a dish towel to wipe up the inevitable spray and drips that went hand in hand with the consuming of this fruit, and savored every.single.delicious.bite.  I loved it and every fall, I remember this annual treat very fondly when the fruit makes its appearance in the markets.  I am not sure why I only got a single pomegranate but I suspect it must have been very expensive to import them to Northern Ontario and my family was of very modest means.

A few years ago as I travelled through Turkey, imagine my state of wonder to discover pomegrante trees growing everywhere!   Whenever we could, my sister Michelle and I would buy freshly pressed pomegranate juice.  Everywhere in the streets of Turkey’s markets were huge towers of glorious pomegranates with their crimson shells beckoning us as much as the tourist savvy young men hustling to make a lira!  The jewel-like seeds were crushed into an darkly alluring juice, a nectar from heaven.  I felt my life expectancy rise everytime I drank one of these amazing juices.

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Now I add pomegranate seeds in many dishes.  Earlier this week I threw together this salad which Prince Charming loved.   I remade it today so I could measure the ingredients and share the “recipe” with you.  I hope you enjoy the layers of flavor and texture of this salad which is as colorful as the glorious fall foliage.

POMEGRANATE AVOCADO SALAD with MAPLE PISTACHIOS

1 large avocado or 2 small, peeled, pitted and sliced

4 clementine oranges or 4 mini mandarins, peeled and segmented

1/4 c thinly sliced red onion

seeds of 1/2 of a pomegranate, about 1/3 cup

2 heaping tablespoons of mint, chiffonade cut

1/4 c unsalted pistachios

4 T Orange Muscat Champagne vinegar(Trader Joe)

2 T olive oil

1 T maple syrup

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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In a small saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and sauté the pistachios for about 1 minute until they are golden and you bring out their nutty fragrance.  Toss with the maple syrup, season with a pinch of sea salt and several turns of the pepper mill.  Reserve.

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ASSEMBLY:

On a rimmed platter, spread out the sliced avocado.  Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the orange champagne vinegar.  On top of this,  in this order, spread the sliced onion, then the orange segments, the pomegranate seeds and sprinkle with the chopped mint leaves. Spread the seasoned pistachios across the whole dish, as a final layer.  Taste and add the final tablespoon of oil and/or vinegar, if needed.  I prefer this salad with the kick of citrus and add very little oil as the natural oil of the nuts and their coating seems sufficient.  When eating it you’ll get the contrast of the nutty-sweet pistachios with the tangy orange and avocado by not tossing the whole salad in a vinaigrette.

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Pomegranates are an ancient fruit, native to Iran and considered the fruit of heaven.  I hope you enjoy them in this crunchy fall salad!

An oil inspired by the trip to Turkey, created for my sister

An oil inspired by the trip to Turkey, created for my sister

Butternut Squash and Kale Lasagna

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imageWith the leaves turning and a nip in the air, I was craving a one-dish meal that would bring fall to the table.  I am not a lasagna baker but I enjoy other people’s family recipes.  After reading several recipes for seasonal butternut squash lasagna,  I was motivated to try my hand at one.   My version is loosely based on the recipe by Pippa Middleton, she of the famous sister and derrière, from her cookbook, Celebrate.  Although a vegetarian dish, it is hearty and robust enough in flavor to satisfy most guests’ appetite.  You could substitute other types of squash or pumpkin but butternut is my favorite squash. The combination of squash, kale, caramelized onion, sage and Italian cheeses enveloped in creamy layers of béchamel sauce result in rustic flavors, perfect for fall entertaining.  The lasagna can be made a couple of days in advance or even frozen, before baking, for up to 3 months, making it a no brainer for stress free entertaining.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND KALE LASAGNA

1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 and 1/2 pound butternut squash

olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

24 fresh sage leaves;  Reserve half and chop the rest finely

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 pound of frozen chopped kale

5 sheets of fresh lasagna noodles

8 ounces of grated Quattro Fromaggio Italian cheese medley

Béchamel:  4 T unsalted butter, 4 T flour, 16oz light cream, 1/2 t gound nutmeg, 3/4 c grated Parmesan cheese plus 2/3 c more for sprinkling between layers

Preheat oven to 400F

1-  Cut the squash in half and reserve the seeds.  Coat the cut surfaces with a little oil, salt and pepper and place on an oiled and lined baking sheet, face side down.  Roast for 15 minutes on the bottom rack. Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle.  Peel the squash and slice in crescents about a quarter inch thick.  Return to baking sheet, add the onions, garlic, and half of the chopped sage leaves.  Bake another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so the onion does not burn and caramelizes evenly. Reserve.image

2-   In a sauté pan, sauté the kale in a bit of olive oil until the moisture is absorbed then season with salt and pepper to taste.  Reserve.

3-  For the béchamel, in a saucepan, melt butter, add flour and stir to make a roux.  Gradually add the cream, whisking continuously until a smooth consistency is achieved and sauce is thickened.  Add the nutmeg and 3/4 cup of parmesan and whisk to blend.  Reserve.

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4-  In a pot of boiling water, blanch each sheet of lasagna, remove and dry off.

ASSEMBLY:

You will have 3 layers of pasta.  In a lasagna pan, place 1 sheet of lasagna and about half of another to fill the width of your dish.  Top with a layer, about half, of the squash mixture.  On top of the squash, layer one third of the béchamel sauce, then half of the kale.  Sprinkle 1/3 cup of parmesan.  Repeat.  Finish by laying another layer of lasagna noodles and topping this layer with the rest of the béchamel and all of the shredded cheese blend.

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Reduce oven temperature to 375F and bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes until bubbly and golden.  If baking from a frozen state, defrost before baking.

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Toppings:

In a pan, heat some  olive oil and flash-fry the whole sage leaves, for about 1 minute. Drain on a paper towel and reserve.  Squash seeds are really tasty roasted and a nice topping for this dish. To roast the seeds, clean off membranes and toss in a little olive oil.  Bake on a foil lined sheet at 400F for 3-5 minutes, stirring once, until they are golden.  Drain on a paper towel and season with sea salt.

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When ready to serve, garnish with the fried sage and toasted squash seeds and a green salad.   Lasagna will serve 8.

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I’m taking this dish to the Fiesta Friday Party which I am excited to see is hosted by fellow Canadians, Hilda at Along the Grapevine who is in a beautiful part of the country and Juliana at Foodie on Board who are both great inspirations!