Monte Cristo Spinach Sandwiches

Divide mustard, cheese, ham/turkey, and spinach evenly between each of two bread slices; cover each with a bread slice. Whisk together eggs and milk in a medium bowl.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium. Dip sandwiches in milk mixture; transfer to skillet, and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and serve with raspberry jam or cranberry conserve.

*NOTE: I’ve added spinach to the Real Simple recipe. Again, always trying to up my veggie intake in my meals…

Asparagus and Pea Spring Salad

FullSizeRenderIt doesn’t get any fresher than this springy salad featuring asparagus, peas, and spinach. I first tried the Asparagus Ribbon Salad (from Better Homes & Gardens April 2017 issue) for Easter, and our guests all thought it was dee-licious. I made it per instructions the first time, except for the requested arugula, as it’s expensive and I think it has a bitter bite. So I subbed in Bibb lettuce (aka: butter lettuce) and added some spinach—just because I like to add spinach to dishes whenever possible! Good call on the Bibb lettuce, as it was the perfect compliment to the tender asparagus. It was a nice side salad with ham and cheesy scalloped potatoes potatoes (need to post that one), and a refreshing way to serve the green spears, rather than just microwaving and squirting with lemon.

FullSizeRender-2But I thought the long ribbons of asparagus were kind of awkward to eat, and were a total pain in the keister (yet worth it for Easter…) to prepare. Chopping them into 1-2 inch pieces is easier to do, and easier to eat. I also found the vinegar in the BH&G asparagus-pea pesto recipe to be too sharp—asparagus is such a subtle veggie, and I thought lemon might be a better choice for an acid in the pesto. Then because I CANNOT turn my foodie brain off, I thought I’d boil up some eggs and chop some leftover Easter ham on top to make it a whole meal deal. Loved it!!! It was so tantalizing, my co-worker Ben even asked me for the recipe when I brought a salad to work. Or rather, he said, “Hey Kaaren (his wife), you should get that recipe from Cheryl…”

Here you go, Ben (ahem, I mean Kaaren…).

Serves 6-8

For Side Salad
2 bunches asparagus
3 cups frozen peas, divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
½-1 lemon, juiced (¼-½ cup)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ of an English cucumber, sliced into quartered
2 heads Bibb lettuce, cored and chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

For Main Meal Salad
2 cups chopped ham
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 cup grated white sharp cheddar cheese

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add ice. Set aside to us in blanching asparagus. Trim or snap touch ends off asparagus, then chop into 1 or 2-inch pieces. Fill a medium saucepan with water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a full rolling boil. Add fresh asparagus, and cook 2-3 minutes, or until bright green. Using slotted spoon, gradually transfer all the asparagus to the bowl of ice water. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then drain. Rinse the frozen peas under cold water then drain in separate strainer. Dab both asparagus and peas with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Toss asparagus, peas, and cucumber together in a bowl. Set aside.

To make asparagus-pea pesto, combine 1 cup of blanched asparagus, 2 cups of peas, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in food processor and pulse to form paste. Add Parmesan and pulse to combine. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Toss pesto with asparagus, peas, and cucumber until all ingredients are combined.

To assemble salad, spread Bibb lettuce and spinach on large platter, or 6-8 individual salad plates. Top with asparagus mixture for side salad. If making a main meal salad, sprinkle with chopped ham, chopped egg, and grated cheese.

Sausage Mushroom Egg Bake

unnamedGood egg bake” is often an oxymoron, but this recipe with sausage, mushrooms and roasted red peppers isn’t the usual tasteless mush served at potlucks across the Heartland. I found this recipe called “Patsy’s Egg Casserole” on the Midwest Living website when I was looking for brunch recipes to serve at my son Mitchell’s high school graduation open house a few years ago (a tradition unique to Minnesota, I hear). My mother, sister Susan, and a couple friends all made a pan or two of this and the bacon/asparagus variation, and every single dish was delicious! It’s truly a fool-proof recipethere were no differences in outcome between cooks. You could even say this is Judy easy! (For my sister Judy who doesn’t love cooking like I do…)

My trick to keep it from slipping into soggy, is to use french bread loaves instead of a sliced loaf of white bread. French bread is stiffer, and the fact that it has more crust helps too. The other reason I love this recipe, is that there’s no butter in it. Not that I have anything against butter—it’s often a staple ingredient in my recipes!—but I’ve had so many egg bakes that were positively swimming in melted butter, and that’s just diary overkill. 

Just made this recipe for a birthday brunch for my daughter-in-law Jessica, and we all remembered how much we liked it, so I thought it was about time to post this breakfast, brunch, or brinner winner. My husband loves it so much, that the first words out of his mouth this morning were, “Is there anymore of that egg bake left?” Good morning to you too, sweetheart.

Serves 6-8

1 pound uncooked Italian sausage or ground pork
2 cups (8 ounces) fresh cremini or button mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
1 (8 ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
8 cups cubed French bread
2-3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 eggs
3 cups milk
1½ teaspoons dry mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Lightly coat a 9″x13″ baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside. In a large skillet, cook sausage and mushrooms on high until sausage is no longer pink. Drain off fat and extra moisture. Stir red peppers into mix and set aside. Place half of the bread cubes in prepared baking dish. Top with half of the sausage mixture, and half of the cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, sausage mixture, and cheese.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs with whisk attachment. Slowly pour in milk and whisk again. Sprinkle dry mustard, salt, and cayenne over eggs and milk, and beat one last time to combine. Carefully pour egg mixture over the layered bread mixture in dish. Gently press down the bread using the back of a large serving spoon to get it to absorb some of the egg and milk. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 24. (NOTE: The beauty of this recipe is that you can make it ahead! I love to make this the night before serving. Quick and easy party the next day…)

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes, or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

BACON AND ASPARAGUS EGG BAKE VARIATION

Prepare as above, except replace sausage with 8 strips of crisp-cooked bacon. Cool bacon, and crumble or chop. Replace mushrooms with one bundle of fresh asparagus. Cut asparagus into bit-sized pieces (snapping off tough ends), and drop into salted boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain asparagus, then toss in bowl with bacon and chopped roasted red peppers. Use 2-3 cups shredded Swiss cheese instead of cheddar cheese.

Sausage, Apple, and Acorn Squash Casserole with Egg

IMG_1507Are you a serial cereal eater? Is it hard to imagine starting your day without your oatmeal or O’s? I didn’t think I could have energy for the day without my morning oatmeal, and that was the scary part of going Whole30 for me. But then I was paging through the Whole30 book and found this gem under “Fancypants Meals,” intended for part of a holiday dinner. It had a list of ingredients I love: portabella mushrooms, apple, acorn squash, and pepitas (pumpkin seeds), so I made it for supper one night to go with our grilled meat and roasted veggies. The next morning, I pulled out the leftovers for breakfast, heated a small plate of it in the microwave, and topped it with an over-easy egg. It’s become my new favorite breakfast! How did I exist on gruel all these years, like some middle-class, middle-aged Oliver Twist?

Serves 4-6

For sausage:
1 tablespoon ghee (or other Whole30 approved cooking fat)
½ of 1 yellow or white onion, minced
1 pound ground pork
½ teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder

For casserole:
1 tablespoon ghee (or other Whole30 approved cooking fat)
1 acorn squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 (10-ounce) container of baby bella (crimini) mushrooms, sliced
1 apple, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon ground rosemary
¼ cup pepitas or chopped pecans
Salt and coarse ground black pepper

For breakfast:
1-2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375°. Heat large frying pan on medium-high heat, and add ghee. Add ground pork and seasonings from sage to garlic powder, and stir and cook until pork is no longer pink. Add another tablespoon of ghee, and squash, mushrooms, and apple. Cook until fork-tender, about 5 minutes. Add the seasonings* and pepitas or nuts and transfer to a 9″x12″ glass baking or 2-quart casserole dish. Roast for 10-15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve as side dish for dinner, or cool, then transfer to a airtight container and refrigerate.

For breakfast, ladle a generous cup of casserole onto microwave-safe plate. Heat on high for 1 minute. While casserole is heating, fry up 1-2 eggs in a teaspoon of ghee, sunny side up, or over easy. Place egg on top of sausage casserole and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

NOTE: The Whole30 recipe used poultry seasoning, which I did not have on hand, so I used sage, rosemary, and thyme. (I didn’t add parsley, as I wasn’t in the mood for a Simon & Garfunkel song. Wait for it…wait for it…got it?) The book also suggested using ground turkey or chicken as well as the pork, but I felt the pork paired best with the mushrooms in this dish. They also made their sausage into patties, and then broke them up into bits for this dish. I’ve changed that process to cook the pork, and then continue on with the rest of the recipe in the same pan.

Marynona’s Potato Salad

IMG_0903People who say they aren’t a fan of potato salad have only had bland deli fare. My mother-in-law was the master at making tasty potato salad, chock full of crunchy celery and onions, and lots of hard-boiled eggs. (I may have overdone it a bit on the eggs the last time I made this, as my nephew Brock said, “So Aunt Cheryl, is this egg salad with potatoes in it, or potato salad with eggs in it?”) Marynona’s secret to making great potato salad, was not only plenty of mustard and seasonings, but to add your mayo and seasonings to the bite-sized potato chunks while they are still warm, so the potatoes absorb the flavors. She also insisted that you must use real Hellmann’s mayonnaise, and not Kraft Miracle Whip, or another brand of mayo. I do agree with her—Hellmann’s really does make a difference. It also helps to make this at least 3 hours before serving time to give it time to chill, and for the flavors to blend.

Serves 6-8

6 eggs
8-10 red potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces (do not peel)
1-2 teaspoons salt
1 to 1 1/4 cups Hellmann’s real mayonnaise
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons dill weed
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon course ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped, or 1/2 large red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, optional

Place eggs in medium sauce pan and cover with cold water; cover. Bring water to boil. Turn element off and let eggs sit in hot water for 10 minutes. Dump out water and run cold water over eggs. Remove shells from eggs; set aside.

Place potatoes in large sauce pan or small Dutch oven, and cover with cold water. Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender to fork. Once cooked, drain the potatoes in a colander. Let cool until potatoes are no longer steaming, but are still warm.

Meanwhile, combine mayonnaise, mustards, dill, salt, and pepper in large bowl. Stir. Add vinegar and stir again. Fold in celery, onions, and chives (if desired). Dice hard boiled eggs and add to mixture; stir again. Add warm potatoes and gently stir until potatoes are all coated with mayo mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate. After chilling 1 hour, stir salad and refrigerate for another 2 hours. If not serving at this time, move to airtight plastic container and store in frig for up to 1 week.

Springtime Table

“Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the birdies is…”

SpringTableBirdsIf you’re looking for a touch of springtime on your table, here’s an idea for a little inspiration. If I hadn’t already eaten all the Cadbury Milk Chocolate bird eggs (I got addicted to this Easter), I’d recreate the look to get a close-up shot of some of the fun details. But alas, those delicious little morsels are long gone. The sweet mini-nests and life-like birds came from a craft store, probably Michael’s or maybe even Frank’s (remember Frank’s?)—I’ve had them a long time, but love the touch of whimsy they add to a table setting.

Three yards of buffalo check upholstery fabric in taupe from JoAnn’s make up the tablecloth (purchased during 50% off sale, of course). Neutral napkins in sand from Pier One are super versatile for any theme, but work well with the soft palette here. Candy bracelets from Walmart (in store as well as online) make inexpensive napkin rings. Pint-sized Ball ® jars are used for drinking glasses, with gray stripe straws for sipping. Burlap is hot in home decor, so you can find that pretty much anywhere. I got a couple yards from JoAnn’s, and cut a strip off for a runner, then pulled some strands off each edge to finish it up—no sewing needed!

So now that I’ve got you thinking spring, let me share the rest of the poem started above. My Dad used to recite this to me and my sisters when we were little girls:

“Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the birdies is. They fly so high, so high, so high, and they drop white-wash in my eye. But I don’t worry, I don’t cry. I’m just glad that cows don’t fly.”