Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Easter Breakfast...of Sun Dried Tomato, Basil, and Goat Cheese Breakfast Casserole

Sunday mornings are often a time of hurried breakfast-ing and dressing and rushing to church.  Over the past couple of months, we have set our alarm a bit earlier so that we can enjoy the morning, lingering a little longer over a cappuccino (complements of my husband) or a cup of tea.  Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we linger just a little too long and end up in the same hurried mess.  

Easter is one of the most beautiful celebrations of the church, and we wouldn't want to enter that frazzled and distracted.  But on Easter morning, we are trying on new clothes, opening up Easter baskets and gifts, and trying to enjoy that same breakfast before heading to the church.  It has high potential for failure.  

This breakfast casserole is here to help with those hurried Sunday mornings.  It can be prepared the night before and baked while you enjoy your coffee, try on your new clothes, check your e-mail, and linger for a few minutes before church or wherever you might be heading.  While you can use a cup of oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, the home-made oven-dried tomatoes really do make this casserole outstanding.

Sun Dried Tomato, Basil, and Goat Cheese Breakfast Casserole

Adapted from Whipped

1 quart grape (or cherry) tomatoes, halved
Olive Oil (to taste)
Pinch of sugar, salt and pepper
8 cups day-old French bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
2/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/2 cup basil, julienned 
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon pepper
9 eggs
3 cups milk

The day before:
Preheat the oven to 225.  Arrange the halved tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with the sugar, salt and pepper.  Bake the tomatoes for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.  Chop the dried tomatoes.

Butter a 9 x 13 inch casserole.  Scatter the bread evenly in the dish.  Sprinkle evenly with chopped tomatoes, goat cheese, basil, salt and pepper.  

In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs.  Pour evenly over the bread mixture.  Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning:
Remove the casserole from the refrigerator and uncover.  Preheat the oven to 350.  Bake the casserole for about 40 minutes, or until the middle is cooked (test with a knife) and the casserole is browned and puffed all over.  Cut into squares.  

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Break and Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday

It is amazing how fast our Spring Break has passed.  It is already Friday, and the next couple of weeks promise to bring lots of work, final papers, and exams, and then not too long after that, graduation.

I told my husband just last night that, although I am thankful for the week-long break, true rest will not come until Summer is here (and it is, indeed, just around the corner).  Spring Break is nice, but there still remains so much to be done, most of which is written down on a neglected to-do list for this week.  

Instead of focusing on that homework and other household chores, I trekked across New York City with friends on Monday, spent the day shopping on Wednesday, had a Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Night with some of my favorite girl friends on Thursday, and have spent much time resting.  

Not only is it a wonderful week to rest (and ignore that to-do list and coming deadlines), but it is also Holy Week and a great time to prepare for Easter.  I love the traditions that are reminders of what this week means.  Today is Good Friday, and traditionally, Hot Cross Buns are made and eaten on Good Friday as a reminder of Christ's death on the cross.  While I did not grow up eating these delicious buns, they have become a Good Friday tradition for us over the past few years, and I have adapted this sweet roll recipe to our liking.  They are sweet and tender and full of fruit, while not being overly dessert-like.  While these rolls are traditional for Good Friday, they can also be enjoyed for Easter breakfast or brunch.  

Hot Cross Buns

Adapted from Allrecipes

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water (110-120 degrees)
1 tablespoon honey
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 egg
3/4 cup dried fruit (raisins, cherries, currants, cranberries) or candied citrus peel, chopped
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cream
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon almond extract

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, water and honey.  Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes, until bubbly.  

Add 2 cups of flour, salt, sugar, spices, milk, butter and 1 egg to the bowl.  Using a dough hook, mix for 1 minute on medium speed, until well combined.  Add the remaining flour and mix for 8 minutes on medium.  Add the fruit and mix until well dispersed.  

Transfer the dough to a well-greased bowl; turn to coat the top.  Cover and let rise for 1 hour, until doubled in size.  Punch down the dough and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.  Divide the dough into 12 portions.  Shape into rolls and place in a buttered 9 x 13 inch pan.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  

Before baking, remove the rolls from the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Using a sharp knife, cut crosses into the buns.  Brush with the egg and cream mixture.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the buns are golden.  

Combine the powdered sugar, milk, and extract in a small bowl.  Transfer to a small bag and snip the corner of the bag.  Pipe a cross on each bun with the icing.  

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Flying Time...and Molasses Wheat Pizza Crust

Where did the past three weeks go?  I cannot believe that we are already well into April.  Where have we been while those weeks flew by?  Like time, we have been flying from day to day and place to place.  Our weekdays have been full of class, paper-writing, presentations, a new babysitting job, and a school culture night (we represented the South again this year; this time with all desserts and a pitcher of sweet tea!).  Our weekends have been full of studying (of course), but also baby showers, art shows, flower arranging, church anniversaries, dinners with friends, dates-nights, and the occasional crash-and-do-nothing weekend.  Our weather has been full of sporadic changes; with snow, rain, and 70 degree days all within the span of a few short days.  And our kitchen has been full of good food, but we have rarely slowed down enough to photograph any of it!  For that I am sorry, because we have truly enjoyed some treats.  

Desserts from Culture Night (Pecan Pie, Praline Cake, Coconut Cream Pie, and Cream Cheese Pound Cake)
The Amazing Flower-Arranging Team (Flowers in celebration of our Church's 4th Anniversary Celebration)
The Pretty Mom-to-Be

That's an overview of our past few weeks.  But there's something else I have been keeping from you; something we have enjoyed for a few months, actually.  This semester, we have started a tradition of Sunday night pizza.  That means we've made over half a dozen pizzas, and not one of them has made it on the blog!  In fact, not one has been photographed, and it's not that we have not enjoyed them.  

The process of pizza making has become almost a science in our kitchen.  Every other week I have made a batch of my favorite pizza dough (which has been slightly updated).  Once it rises, the dough is split, and half is wrapped up and frozen for the next week.  I lay a piece of parchment over my pizza peel and sprinkle it with cornmeal, then press the prepared dough out with floured hands.  I "dress" the pizza with our desired toppings and then use the peel to transfer the pizza (and parchment) to a hot pizza stone in the oven.  After 10-12 minutes in the hot oven, we'll be having yet another conversation about how good this pizza is, and  we'll discuss how this one might be our favorite, or tied with the Thai Chicken Pizza...or the Gorgonzola Mushroom Pizza...or the Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Pizza...and we go on and on.  Again, I am sorry that I have not shared these with you.  

This week's option was a Breakfast Pizza, complete with ricotta, snipped basil, spinach, slightly runny eggs and a drizzle of truffle oil.  And while this pizza combination is completely delicious, I don't want to neglect the crust itself.  It has evolved ever-so-slightly over the past year or two, and I think this is where it will stay.  I prefer to use half of the dough to make a thin 12-inch crust, but you could certainly make it smaller for a thicker crust.  

Molasses Wheat Pizza Crust

2 tablespoons molasses
1 cup warm water (110-120 degrees)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried herbs (optional, I usually use a combination of basil and oregano, but I can imagine an Italian blend or Herbes de Provence would be wonderful)
1 tablespoon olive oil (plus a little more)
cornmeal (for sprinkling the pan)

Stir together the molasses, water, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes, until bubbly.  

Add the flours, salt, herbs and olive oil, and mix with a dough hook for 6-8 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  

Grease a medium bowl with olive oil.  Transfer the dough to the bowl and turn to coat the top with oil.  Cover with a clean dish towel and set in a slightly warm place for 30 minutes.  

While the dough rises, place a pizza stone in the cold oven.  Preheat the oven (and stone) to 425 degrees.  

Divide the risen dough into two portions.*  Place a piece of parchment over a pizza peel, and sprinkle with cornmeal.  Press one portion of dough into a 12 inch circle with well-floured hands.  Arrange toppings over pizza crust.  Transfer the parchment and crust to the hot oven, and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the crust is cooked through and the toppings are beginning to brown.  Remove the stone and pizza from the oven, cut and enjoy.**  

*If you plan on freezing the second portion of dough, wrap it well in Saran wrap and freeze.  To prepare, transfer dough to the refrigerator for eight hours to thaw, then let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before shaping into the crust.  
**If you plan on preparing two pizzas, you should leave the stone in the oven.  Prepare the second pizza while the first is baking, remove the first pizza from the stone with the pizza peel, and transfer the second pizza to the stone, leaving the stone in the oven the entire time.  

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