Spinach, Mushroom and Artichoke Strata

plated2BsharpHere’s a revamp of one of my favorite comfort foods to enjoy, particularly in cold weather: The Strata.

A Strata is much like a bread pudding…in fact the ingredients are almost the same. In my mind the main difference lies in layering versus mixing the whole together, along with the proportions of egg to milk or cream. The strata is “egg-y,” and the bread pudding has more of a “custard-y” quality. Because of these slight variations, the two are actually a bit different in both texture and taste.

The strata allows you to use thinner pieces of bread and fewer pieces as well, which are then layered with other ingredients. You add just enough moisture from the eggs and milk to hold it together, then top it with cheese. The result is sort of a baked sandwich with a fluffy texture. A bread pudding heavily relies on thick cut or torn chunks of bread soaked in a lot of custard to give the finished product a true pudding texture. Traditionally, bread puddings can be sweet or savory, but strata are most always savory.

And much like the frittata you saw in my last post, you can customize your strata to suit your taste or to accommodate what you have on hand by changing the type of bread, filling and cheese. In the end, the lines between strata and bread puddings can be blurry for sure, but the results are always delicious! And often quite caloric…which brings me back to the “revamp” part of this post.


Given that I am trying to continue the idea of “leaning up” some recipes without sacrificing flavor and texture, I came up with a modified strata, one that’s jam-packed with veggies. But it’s not just lots of veggies that provide the revamp. I’ve also used a flavorful multi-grain and seeded sliced prairie bread as the base, lower fat milk instead of cream, added some sweet spice, a hint of sherry and just a little bit of strongly flavored cheese to round out the taste and mouthfeel. I can tell you that the result is wonderful!

As I said, this leaner version is much more healthful than my usual savory bread puddings. With the adjustments I’ve made, I’d say this strata has 1/2 of the calories and fat, but all of the homey comfort food quality that I have always loved. It’s a meal unto itself and can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You could also enjoy it with a fruit salad, if you like. This reheats well in the microwave, too, so even if there’s just one or two of you around to eat it, leftovers can be kept in the fridge and used as needed. I haven’t tried freezing it because we eat it up quickly, but I think it would freeze well.


Spinach, Mushroom and Artichoke Strata
Serves 6

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
a pinch of salt and pepper
1 teaspoon of dry sherry
1 teaspoon of minced fresh thyme leaves
8 slices of prairie bread (I use Whole Foods, but a good quality multi-grain and seeded bread will do)
5 oz. of fresh baby spinach, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped frozen and thawed cooked artichoke hearts
4 large eggs
2 cups 1% milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. of gruyere cheese, shredded
Olive oil cooking spray for the pan

1. Spray a 7 inch by 11 inch glass pyrex casserole with olive oil and set aside.

2. In a non-stick skillet over medium heat, warm the 1 tsp olive oil and then add the chopped onion. Sauté until the onion is tender, translucent and just beginning to caramelize, then add in the mushrooms and cook until they are tender and most of their moisture has evaporated. Sprinkle the mixture with a tiny bit of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, the fresh thyme and the sherry. Stir to combine. Remove from the heat and set aside. Line a baking sheet with foil. Lay the slices of bread on the sheet and preheat your broiler. Lightly toast the bread on both sides, remove from the oven and set aside. Turn off the broiler and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

3. Assembly: Dip each piece of toasted bread into the custard mixture to fully coat it, then arrange each slice of the coated bread in the casserole slightly overlapping like a deck of cards. Pour the remaining custard mixture evenly over the bread. Tuck the cooked onion and mushroom mixture, chopped spinach and chopped artichoke hearts in evenly in between the slices. Sprinkle the gruyere cheese over the top and lift the slices with a spatula to allow some of the cheese to slip in between. Press down on the strata to even it out and to allow the bread to soak up the custard.

4. Place the dish with the strata onto a foil-lined cookie sheet to catch any drips. Put it into the oven and bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees F., or until golden brown and just set. After 45 minutes if it still need more time, cover lightly with aluminum foil to prevent over browning and continue to cook for 10 more minutes or until done. The strata is done when it is golden brown on top, slightly puffed and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean, without egg. Remove from the oven. Cut into 6 pieces and serve. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 3 days.

This can be made the night before, covered and placed into the fridge. Allow it to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before baking. Remove covering and proceed as above.

We enjoyed this strata on a blustery and snowy night…a rare thing in our parts. But you don’t have to wait for some snow to warm up to this recipe!



Broccoli, Mushroom, Onion and Cheddar Frittata

Just out of the ovenWith the new year comes the resolutions, and one of them is always to try and “lean up” a bit after normal eating goes by the wayside in the total decadence of the holidays.

I am one who always has, and always will, fight the good fight with my waistline. We hike every weekend that the weather will allow this time of year, and that’s not only a fun way to get exercise and destress after the work week, but also a healthy and happy penance to other weekend pursuits! Still, one cannot lose weight by exercise alone…and there’s the rub.

It won’t come as a shock to you that I love to eat and won’t be giving up that pleasure any time soon. But there are ways to eat what you want and not gain, or even better, actually lose some weight.

Enter the frittata. What’s not to love about a frittata? You can make one in a snap and you can use up leftovers in your fridge to do it. Frittatas can be made out of most anything as long as it goes with eggs. Frittata is my go-to dish for those nights where I don’t have a lot of time in the kitchen and I want something good, filling and comforting to eat.

My approach to frittata has changed over the years and if you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ve several versions posted. I began on one end of the spectrum with lots of egg and cheese, with only a few other ingredients added in. Then after reading some of Mark Bittman’s approaches to getting more vegetable and less animal into one’s diet, I switched to the other extreme, which was almost all vegetable and very little egg. Tasty and messy, but not quite as satisfying and “frittata-like” as where I’m landing now. Since eggs have been vindicated and are back in the “good for you” department, this frittata is filled with eggs. And vegetables. And just enough cheese to taste and enjoy. I think it’s perfect. I hope you will, too.

First I roast the broccoli and the mushrooms with no oil, just adding a bit of salt and pepper for seasoning. This results in concentrating the flavor of the vegetables and bringing out a nuttiness in the broccoli which only roasting can do. Then, I use a tablespoon of olive oil in my cast iron skillet to lightly caramelize the onion before adding the roasted broccoli and mushrooms to the party. Eggs are whisked in a bowl with salt, pepper and a goodly dash of freshly grated nutmeg. The nutmeg is really key here because it does two really wonderful things to the frittata. It brings out the natural sweetness of the eggs and the parmesan cheese, and boosts the flavor of the veggies. Lastly, I whisk in equal amounts of full fat shredded extra sharp cheddar and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheeses into the eggs, but only just enough for the taste…1/2 cup combined for the whole dish. Pour the egg mixture over the veggies, pop the skillet into the oven for about 12 minutes and you’ve got a healthy, filling dinner entree with very little fat, but lots of protein and veggies. It’s pure gold. Or at least it looks like that in these night time shots!

Another thing to love about frittata? Leftovers, if you have any, keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days. Love.

Happy New Year to you all and I hope yours has started off well. Here’s to your good health…and resolutions!


Below is a little taste of an all too short hiking trip we took for our anniversary in November after Thanksgiving. This is the truly spectacular Falls Creek Falls State Park in the Cumberland Plateau area of Tennessee. A gorgeous, 35,000 acre park with trails, a lake, boating, zipline, fishing, cabins and an inn with a small restaurant, horseback riding and more. Since this was off season and winter, it was rainy and only the trails and accommodations were open, along with the restaurant, but it was still so beautiful and I can imagine it would be any time of year. We will go back for sure!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Broccoli, Mushroom, Onion and Cheddar Frittata
Serves 6

Two heads of broccoli crowns, washed and cut into small florets (about 4-5 cups)
8 oz. button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 Tablespoon of good quality olive oil
10 large eggs
1/4 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese (I use Cabot)
1/4 very finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 generous teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
more salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, then make an aluminum foil tray with sides to go into half of the sheet. Place the broccoli florets on the covered sheet and the mushrooms inside the tray. Season the broccoli and the mushrooms with the 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper, dividing evenly. Place the sheet with tray into the oven and roast for approximately 15 minutes, stirring each side once halfway through, until the mushrooms are tender and the broccoli is cooked through and just starting to brown a little bit. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a medium-sized bowl and whisk to combine. Whisk in the nutmeg, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Add the two cheeses and whisk to combine.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a 10 inch cast iron skillet. Add the onions and cook for about 4-5 minutes, until they are translucent and just starting to caramelize a little bit. Add the roasted broccoli and the mushrooms and toss together, warming for about 2 more minutes. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the veggies, lifting the veggies gently to allow the egg to run underneath. Place the skillet into the 400 degree oven and cook for about 12 minutes, until the top is just barely set in the middle and firm on the edges. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for about 4 minutes. Cut into six wedges and serve.

Chicken, Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup…just what the doctor ordered!

bowlofsoup2I’m baaaaack!!! I hope all of you had really lovely holidays and that 2015 has been a great year for you so far!

I apologize for the radio silence for so long, as even with taking some time off for the holidays, I certainly didn’t intend to stop posting for so long. It appears I became a bit run down by the time Christmas was around the corner and I managed to contract one bug after another. I’m now finishing up my third cold/flu/stomach thingy in as many weeks. I know it’s been going around, but for someone who rarely gets sick, I think I’ve had more than my fair share! Definitely not what I had in mind in ringing in a new year. My heartfelt thanks to you all for hanging in here with me in spite of my lack of posting. I assure you that I’m more than ready to get back to my regular programming.

Winter is now upon us and it’s been very cold here indeed. And with the chilly weather my thoughts naturally turn towards soup. A nice, hearty soup is just the perfect meal to brighten up these short, dark days and warm you up. And a chicken soup has the added benefit of all those famous medicinal qualities. Continue reading

Pizza Bolognese


Seriously, I could eat this pizza every day and be a very happy camper! It is the ultimate comfort food.

When you have a really busy day or work day and you find yourself facing starting dinner at 7:30 p.m., what do you do? Well, you can go out for dinner—and sometimes that’s the best way to decompress from your day. Or you can make what you’d planned to make and eat at about 9:30 or 10 p.m. But, if you have some pre-made pizza dough or crust in your fridge or freezer, a delicious pizza can be only a few short minutes away. I love making pizza, either planned in advance or as a quick go-to because, much like a frittata, it is a great way to use and enjoy leftover meats and veggies in your fridge.

The pizza I’m going to show you today, however, happens to be one that is far from using leftovers, because this little pizza features the most amazing bolognese sauce I’ve ever tasted. And why wouldn’t it be? After all it’s a family recipe from one of my favorite bloggers, Chicago John of the Bartolini Kitchens, and I really encourage you to click on his Sugo alla Bolognese to see how to make it for yourself. John’s instructions are easy and thorough, so I will just show you the three stages of my sauce below, the beginning meat and veg, the middle simmer and the decadent and rich finished sauce. It’s a relaxing process, one during which I felt almost like I had John and Zia in the kitchen with me looking over my shoulder, and the result is SO worth the time. Making this sugo has completely changed my ideas about how a truly great pasta sauce really deserves a homemade pasta to go with it. So now I’m looking forward to trying John’s method for different homemade pastas and breaking in my new pasta machine…stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back to how this sauce and the pizza came together. I made this fabulous bolognese for the first time last weekend and we enjoyed it so much that it was hard not to just eat it straight out of the pot when it was done! After we feasted on this sugo with purchased pasta, I froze some for later (hopefully to go with my own homemade pasta) and I also put about a cup or two of it in the fridge to have ready for a quick lunch or dinner when I needed it. Then I started thinking about all the dishes I’d ever tasted that involved Bolognese sauce, and how inferior they were to the real deal. Most recently, I’d had a pizza “Bolognese” from a local pizzeria, which was nothing of the sort since it didn’t actually have a meat sauce on it. That’s when it hit me. I could stretch out my cup of sauce by trying it on a pizza. (John, I hope this doesn’t make you cringe.) And it was truly transformative! Even using a pre-made crust on a busy night, it tasted better than you could possibly imagine…unless you’ve made this bolognese sauce yourself.

So here’s my version of a Pizza Bolognese, and I hope you will try it by making some of John’s Bolognese. It really ticks all the little comfort food boxes for me. From now on, whenever I make Sugo alla Bolognese, there will be a portion assigned to a pizza, too!

Pizza Bolognese
Makes 6 slices

1 – 12-inch ready to use pizza crust
1/4 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup of Chicago John’s Sugo alla Bolognese, warmed, (or in a pinch, you can use a high quality purchased bolognese meat sauce, or a marinara with your own cooked and crumbled Italian sausage added to it, which will be good, but not Pizza Bolognese!)
6 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and small diced
1/3 to 1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
4 oz. white button mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
4 oz. buffalo mozzarella cut into small pieces, about 3/4 – 1 inch in size
A fresh grating of fresh parmigiano reggiano (optional)

Garnish: A sprinkling of fresh arugula leaves (optional)

Preheat your oven to 475 degrees F with your pizza stone in the center of the oven, or if you’re using a cookie sheet or pizza pan, place your rack in the center of the oven.

Place your prepared crust on a pizza peel sprinkled with a little cornmeal, or directly on the cookie sheet or pizza pan, if using that. Sprinkle the olive oil onto the crust and rub it around the edges with your hands and over the surface, distributing as evenly as possible. Next, spread your Sugo alla Bolognese sauce evenly over the pizza. I like to spoon mine out in quadrants, then spread it. Sprinkle the sun-dried tomatoes evenly over the sauce, then the red onion slices, then the mushrooms. Top the pizza with the mozzarella, spacing it evenly across the surface. Grate some parmigiano reggiano over the top of the pizza, if you like, it is terrific with and without.

Place the pizza onto the hot stone (I usually sprinkle a little more cornmeal on the hot stone before I place the pizza on it to bake), or place your cookie sheet or a pizza pan with the pizza into the oven. Bake the pizza for 10-12 minutes, until the cheese has browned but not burned and the crust is a golden brown, too. Remove the pizza from the oven (with the peel if you’re using one), and slide it onto a cutting surface. Cut into 6 slices and serve.

Note: If you like a little salad on your pizza, you can sprinkle the top with a few leaves of peppery fresh arugula…again it’s nice with, or without!

If you like, you can add a sprinkle of fresh arugula leaves to the finished pizza for a little peppery bite!

And on another note: Tomorrow we actually start work on replacing the chimney…two weeks after I said it would begin. All should go fast now, relatively speaking, which means about 4-5 weeks of work and contractors coming and going. Fortunately we have our kitty kids to help us put this in perspective!

When your feeling stressed and like your world is upside down, it's good to have Thumbelina help you put things into perspective!

When you’re feeling stressed and like your world is upside down, it’s good to have Thumbelina help you put things into perspective!