Vegetarian Feta Strata

After a way too long absence, I am finally back and I want to share this awesome breakfast recipe.  I was once at a friend’s pot-luck brunch and someone brought a delicious egg-dish that was filled with bread and tons of veggies. After eating an embarrassingly large amount of this stuff, I asked my hostess what it was and she said that it was called a strata.  I had never heard of a strata before but I knew it was something I was going to have to learn more about.  As I learned, strata is simply a layered casserole and the most common type of strata is a breakfast version made commonly with eggs, bread and cheese.  I started looking at recipes for breakfast stratas and found a simple and basic one in one of my favorite cookbooks, Perfect Recipes for Having People Over by Pam Anderson.

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According to Ms. Anderson, using some simple white or wheat sandwich bread is best because it melds with the eggs better than any other type of bread.  I found that using the soft sandwich bread makes for a nice and chewy custard-like interior while allowing for a crunchy crust.  I am loving the versatility of a strata too because, for example, you can mix it up and make this recipe non-vegetarian by using whatever meat you like or you could use an assortment of your favorite veggies, spices and cheeses.  Another bonus about stratas, you can prepare them up to 24 hours in advance of when you want to serve them.  Next brunch I go to, I know what I am bringing!  Hope you enjoy this strata as much as I do. :)

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Vegetarian Feta Strata (adapted from the recipe for Easy Savory Strata)

10-by-7 inch baking dish*
1 cup of milk or milk substitute
2-3 oz. feta cheese
7 large eggs
7 slices of fluffy sandwich bread (white or wheat)
vegetables of choice, chopped (I used red bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground sage
2 tbsp sour cream
fresh parsley, chopped
2 veggie burgers (or veggie crumbles)
fresh ground pepper

1.  Cook the veggie burgers or veggie crumbles according to your preferred method (I cooked my veggie burgers in a pan sprayed lightly with oil).  If using veggie burgers, once cooked, cut them up into little pieces.

2.  Whisk together the eggs, milk (or milk substitute), sour cream, salt, pepper, garlic powder, sage and handful of chopped fresh parsley.

3.  Spray your baking pan with a bit of cooking spray (or grease it with a little butter).  Place half of your sandwich bread at the bottom of the pan (make sure to fill in any gaps with pieces of bread so that you have a full layer).

4. Layer half of your vegetables and veggie burgers/veggie crumbles on top of the bread.  Then sprinkle half of the feta cheese on top.  Pour 1 cup of the egg mixture over this layer.

5.  Then make another layer of bread and top it with the remaining ingredients, as in Step 4, but this time, pour all of the remaining egg mixture on top (try and pour as evenly as possible so that the egg mixture covers the whole top layer).

6.  Cover the baking dish with a layer of plastic wrap and put in refrigerator for 15 minutes (or up to 24 hours).  Make sure to lightly weight the strata (since my pan is pretty small, I found four cans worked well).  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

7.  Bake strata for approximately 50 minutes (you should end up with a nice golden crust and the egg mixture should be set).  If you want an even crispier crust, turn on your oven’s broiler and broil the strata for several more minutes (approximately 5 minutes).  If you do broil the top, pay careful attention so that you do not burn the dish.  After removing the strata from the oven, let it rest for a few minutes.  Then dish and serve.

*I used a 10-by-7 baking dish but if you use a larger one, make sure to make the appropriate recipe adjustments.

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Enjoy!!

Ricotta and Fruit Galette

This galette came about because of ricotta cheese.  While I have always loved it when used in pasta dishes, I had no idea just how versatile it can actually be.  So when I saw this recipe, I was totally inspired (I did change the recipe quite a bit though, like making a galette instead of a tart, using a different dough, using different fruit and adjusting the sweetness levels).   It ended up to be the perfect “not-too-sweet” dessert.  My favorite part was the nice bit of creaminess that came from the ricotta.  

For the galette dough, I used my preferred recipe which is the one I used in my Plum-Raspberry Galette recipe.  After rolling out the dough, I added the ricotta mixture, topped it with the fruit and then baked it until golden brown.  The recipe is so versatile and can be made with whatever fruits are in-season/on-hand.  I happened to have nectarines and blueberries on-hand and since those two fruits go well together, that is what I went with.  The only things that would have made a slice of this galette even better…a scoop of vanilla ice cream and an espresso.  :)  Definitely looking forward to making this again.

Nectarine, Blueberry and Ricotta Galette (inspired by The Best Peach Tart You Will Ever Have)

Galette dough (click here for the recipe)
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 1/2 TBSP brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
Fruit of choice (I used 2 nectarines and 1 cup of blueberries)
1 egg (for an egg white wash)

1. Make the galette dough and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour.

2. In a bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 TBSP of brown sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon and a pinch of salt. In a separate bowl, combine the fruit and the remaining 1 TBSP of brown sugar and let it sit for at least 15 minutes.

3.  Roll out the dough until it is about 1/8 of an inch thick (you could always go thicker if you prefer a thicker crust).  Don’t worry if the edges are “rough” looking.  Place the dough on a sheet of parchment paper on top of a baking sheet (I actually roll my dough out on top of the parchment paper so that I can easily transfer it to the baking sheet). Add a generous layer of ricotta mixture to the center of the dough and spread it around making sure to stay about an inch or so away from the edge.  Layer the fruit on top.

4.  Slowly fold the edges of the dough up over the fruit making sure that there are no holes in the dough.

5. Crack the egg, separating the yolk from the whites.  Brush the top of the dough with the egg whites.

6.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the galette for 40-45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Enjoy!

*On a total side note:  I apologize for my sparse appearance these last few weeks.  Work obligations have kept me so busy, especially as I try and prepare for my week of vacation next week!  Definitely looking forward to some beach time with my family as well as doing some serious blog reading and catching-up. :)

The Best Iced Coffee

When I was at university, I worked at this cool little neighborhood coffee shop.  I loved working there and learned so much about coffee from the owner (he roasted, in-house, all the beans we sold and used!).  My favorite thing to drink there, other than a nice piping-hot cup of freshly-brewed Jamaican Blue Mountain, was an iced coffee.  Never having been much of an iced coffee drinker before working there, I was blown away at how adding ice to their coffee base did not make it taste like coffee-flavored water, which is how I remembered iced coffee always tasting.  And the reason why their iced coffee was so much better…because of a method called “cold-brew.”  Often times, most coffee shops just pour hot, brewed coffee over ice and what you end up with, as the ice begins to melt immediately, is a very watered-down cup of iced joe.  But that is not the case when you cold-brew the coffee.

As far as the cold-brew method, the process essentially requires steeping coarsely ground coffee beans in cold water for 18-24 hours.  While I use a system called the Toddy (given to me as a graduation gift by my boss at the coffee shop), I was curious to see if it could be done without one.  And apparently, it can be.  In fact, it looks as if it is is not only possible but quite easy and cost-effective.  For a sampling of other ways to cold-brew, look here and here and here.

My Toddy.

Iced Coffee (using a Toddy)

12 oz dark roast coffee beans, ground coarsely
7 cups of cold water

1.  Grind your beans to a coarse ground.


2. Making sure the stopper is in the bottom of the white tub portion of the Toddy and the filter is securely placed inside, pour in one cup of cold water.  Then add half of the coffee grounds.  Slowly pour in three more cups of water. Then add the rest of the coffee grounds.  Wait about 5 minutes and then slowly pour in the last 3 cups of water.  Finally, using a spoon, gently press down on any dry grounds to ensure all grounds have been moistened.

3.  Place some plastic wrap over the white tub and put in the refrigerator for about 18-24 hours.

4.  When you are ready to extract the coffee base, simply set the white tub over the glass pitcher that comes with the Toddy and carefully pull out the stopper.  The coffee will begin to drain slowly.  It will take anywhere from 30-60 minutes to fully drain.  (One full batch of coffee base, for me, can last about two weeks if I only make one iced coffee a day).

What you are left with is just pure awesomeness. Strong, full-bodied and ready for whatever you want to add in.

For an iced coffee, generally, the ratio of coffee base to your liquid of choice is 1/3 coffee to 2/3 liquid of choice (usually water or milk). But of course, you can always tweak the portions to make it stronger or weaker based on what you like.  I use the above ratio and prefer using almond milk and a dash of cinnamon.  Enjoy!

*If you use the Toddy or one of the other methods, I would love to hear how it turns out!

“Everybody should believe in something. I believe I’ll have another coffee.”  ~Author unknown. 

National Geographic – Traveler Photo Contest 2012

Bagan Bliss by Peter DeMarco

National Geographic Traveler just finished up their Photo Contest 2012 competition and goodness were there some gorgeous images entered.  While we must wait a couple more weeks for the winners to be announced, I thoroughly enjoyed looking through all of the Editor’s Picks to find my favorites (which pretty much all came from either the ‘travel portraits’ or ‘spontaneous moments’ categories). So much inspiration!  And I love that for many of the photos, you can read the photographer’s comments about the photo, which always helps to provide a nice bit of background.

Some of the images I chose for their composition and/or color while others I chose for the pure emotion you feel when you look at them.  And then there were some that just had it all.  Definitely looking forward to seeing who the winners are.  *Click here and here to see many more entries.

A Date in Fairytale Town by Erol Can Ün
Marbet by Cedric Houin

Love Triangle by Dhwani Thapar

Grandmother by Sarah Baker

99 is just a number by Aditya Mendiratta

The Running Boy by Pietro Sferrino

Shaft of Light by G Huin

Woman, San Cristobal de Las Casas by Raul Amaru Linares

The Last Kalinga Tatoo Artist by Michal Duchek

Milking a Yak by John Quintero

Portrait of a man in a citron green turban by Xuesong Liao

Little Cleaner by Miki Kudo

A Peruvian Woman and Her Llama by Laura Grier

Working on Tofu by Helminadia Caryati

Lighter Than Life by Geralyn Shukwit

Sharing the Big Apple by Iago Barbeiro

Marrakech Traveler by John Barnhardt

Elisabeth’s Gaze by Frank Trimbos

One Fine Day and a Festival

A few weeks ago, on a gorgeous and sunny D.C. afternoon, I headed to Meridian Park for the first ever “Natural Health Festival.”  While there to support my boyfriend’s band (they were part of the live music line-up), I could not help but notice my animated yet laid-back surroundings.  I am guessing that a lovely afternoon was had by all.

The weather and atmosphere led to the perfect spot for catching up with friends.

As well as providing a great spot for reading,

or for doing yoga,

and reiki,

and even some tight-rope walking.

It was also great for some seated meditation,

and hula-hooping,

and, of course, for playing music,

and for watching music being played.

Yes, I think a good time was had by all.  :)

“Oatmeal-in-a-Jar” For a Week

One of my favorite things for breakfast has been and will continue to be oatmeal (or basically anything made with oats, like this). Last year, I started, on occasion, making something called overnight oats based on a recipe I found at Oh She Glows (a very cool vegan food blog). While I absolutely love overnight oats and love thinking up new additions, I am not so good at remembering to make them the night before.  And being that I am not much of a breakfast person in the first place, it is particularly hard to remember to do.

When I have actually made the oatmeal the night before, I have loved being able to just grab the jar out of the fridge on my way out.  And the cool thing, while I prefer eating the overnight oats at room temperature, warming them in the microwave would totally allow for a “hot” breakfast.

When I recently saw this post on The Kitchn, for the life of me, I could not figure out why I had not thought about doing the oatmeal/jar/week-thing earlier!  I tried it out last week and it worked so well that I decided to do it again for this week.  So, this past Sunday night, I once again made five mornings worth of overnight oats.  My favorite thing about the oatmeal…it actually gets thicker and sweeter each day that it sits in the fridge (I always put fruit in mine so the natural ripening of the fruit helps to “sweeten” it).

The very basic recipe for the oatmeal consists of the oats and the liquid. I use old fashioned oats but you can use steel-cut oats too (the ratio of liquid to oats is different so be alert).  I then always add chia seeds, not only because they are superbly good for you, but they also help to “thicken” the oatmeal too.  Additionally, I add protein powder, because it helps me to feel full longer, and I also add whatever fruit(s) and spices I have on hand (for additional health and flavor).  Last week, I used bananas, strawberries and cardamom.  This week, I used bananas, mangos and cinnamon.  Between oatmeal breakfast bars and oats-in-a-jar, breakfast is no longer a meal that I ignore.

Overnight Oats In-a-Jar (per 1 serving/jar)  (adapted from Oh She Glows)

1/2 cup of old fashioned oats
1 cup of “milk” of choice (I have been using the Almond Breeze Almond/Coconut blend)
1 TBSP chia seeds
1 scoop of protein powder
fruit(s) of choice
spice of choice

1.  Start out with your multiple glass containers.  I love mason jars so that is what I used.  Five jars for five days.

2.  Fill each jar with one cup of your “milk” of choice.

3.  To each jar, add the proportionate amount of oats, chia seeds and protein powder.

4.  Then add in your fruits and spices (as much as you like).  **I divided three bananas and one mango up between five jars.

5.  Stir, cover and place in refrigerator. Grab one each morning and head out the door. :)

* And just to give you an idea of how thick the oatmeal gets, here is a shot courtesy of my iPhone:

Yum!!