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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.


Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Brunch, on December 16th, 2014.


Oh my gracious, was this ever delicious. I think I’m going to make this for Christmas morning. My cousin Gary will be here with me, and he likes eggs. And bacon. And cheese. I’ll make two apiece for us, although probably one would be enough. They’re rich.

At the recent cooking class I went to, Diane Phillips made this as part of a brunch menu, and oh golly, the cheese, that fabulous Gruyere, gives this the best flavor. Diane used thick-sliced bacon, cooked it just enough that it was “cooked” but not crisp – otherwise it wouldn’t curl around in the muffin tin. Then she mixed up the egg part (eggs, cream, salt, pepper, Tabasco, green onions and the cheese) and that is poured into the middle of the muffin tin. She filled the muffin cups clear to the top and during the baking they rose up higher than the bacon. They looked beautiful in the 12-cup muffin pan. There were over 40 people in the cooking class, so I couldn’t very well get up and go up to the demo counter to take a picture, now could I? Wished I could though, as they were really something to behold.

Diane explained that she sometimes uses some white Cheddar. She’s also used sausage, although you can’t really get sausage to hug the rim of the muffin tin. She’s also used Gouda and chicken, and cheddar and smoked sausage also. Another variation: Havarti with dill and bay shrimp added to the mixture.

The quiches can be made ahead and partially baked, removed to cool, chilled, then baked at 350°F covered for just 3-4 minutes to finish the cooking, or long enough to heat them through completely. So, there’s lots of flexibility with this recipe. It’ s a keeper.

What’s GOOD: for me, it was the bacon with the Gruyere that shined through in the complex flavors here. It was wonderful. Rich. Special. And it was beautiful to look at, besides that.

What’s NOT: not a single thing – loved this. There’s nothing about it, however, that isn’t high in fat and calories. So it’s a treat, that’s for sure!

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Bacon Wrapped Mini Quiche Lorraine

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 12

12 pieces thick-sliced bacon
8 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 shakes of Tabasco sauce
2 whole green onions — white part and a little of the tender green
3 cups Gruyere cheese — finely shredded

1. Cook bacon until cooked, but not at all crisp. This can be done in a 400° F oven for 7-8 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
2. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, pepper and Tabasco. Stir in scallions, then using a flat whisk, add the shredded cheese. Cover and chill.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
4. Coat the inside of 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray, arranging the bacon against the wall of each cup.
5. Pour the quiche batter into the muffin tins, (they’ll be quite full) and bake them until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean and the quiche has puffed up above the rim of the muffin tin, about 15 minutes. NOTE: you can bake this about half way the day before, cover and chill (or freeze for up to 6 weeks), bring to room temp and reheat, covered with foil in a 350° oven for about 20 minutes. Can be served warm or an room temperature. SUBSTITUTIONS: you can use other cheeses and meat combinations: white Cheddar and ground sausage; Cheddar and smoked sausage or Havarti/dill cheese with bay shrimp.
Per Serving: 372 Calories; 33g Fat (79.8% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 236mg Cholesterol; 533mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, Miscellaneous, on November 30th, 2014.


five-spice fruit salad

It’s always nice, at a brunch, to have some kind of a fruit dish. You could certainly do plain, fresh fruit, but you can also make it special with this recipe that has some spice additions that are certainly a little off the usual list – five-spice and vanilla bean.

We had this lovely, fun brunch. We sat outside (a few weeks ago, here in California, we were still having full-on summer) so gathering on a Sunday, at nearly mid-day, we enjoyed the waning days of summer with a delicious mixture of brunch dishes. This being one of them. Peggy brought this one, a delicious marinated fruit mixture that contains some five-spice powder and a half of a vanilla bean. It’s marinated in a honey-based mixture, which also gave it a lovely sweetness. The recipe came from epicurious a couple of months ago. Peggy couldn’t find any figs, since they’re out of season, so she used peaches, the plums, and she added a few prunes to give it some alternate color. I think this dish could be very adaptable – use whatever fruit is in season, though not apples unless you cooked them a bit. Pears would probably work also.

The spiced honey syrup is made ahead, cooled, then poured over the fruit. It’s refrigerated for a few hours. It probably would be fine made the day before as well. I would think this could be made with less honey syrup – starting with 3/4 cup of honey is a lot. I might try making half the amount of honey and water (but use all the spices), marinate in a plastic bag, and turn the bag over several times in the refrigerator.

What’s GOOD: well, you know me, I like foods and recipes that have something different about them, and this definitely fits the bill here, with the five-spice (not overwhelming at all) and the vanilla bean. Of all the dishes we had at the brunch, this was the only one I went back to for seconds. Use fruit that have different colors to them if at all possible. The syrup could be used again – strain it, freeze it and use it weeks or months later.

What’s NOT: nothing at all – it was a really lovely fruit salad.

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Five-Spice Fall Fruit Salad

Source: adapted slightly from epicurious
Serving Size: 8

3/4 cup honey
1/2 vanilla bean — split and scraped
1 piece ginger — (1 inch) thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 plums — black-skinned, if possible, pitted and sliced
5 red plums — pitted and sliced
4 whole peaches — or fresh figs, if available

Notes: the original recipes called for 2 types of plums plus figs. If those fruits aren’t in season, substitute other – even cherries or prunes. If using apples, you may need to partially cook them; same perhaps with pears. Plums, figs and peaches are all soft fruits, so they lend themselves well to just marinating in the syrup. Try to vary the color in the fruit just because it looks nicer.
1. Place 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan. Add the honey, vanilla bean pod with seeds, ginger, and five-spice powder. Bring to a boil and stir until honey dissolves. Set aside to cool completely, and stir in lemon juice. Discard ginger and vanilla bean pod.
2. In a large bowl, pour cooled syrup over the sliced plums. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
3. An hour before serving, slice peaches (or figs) and gently fold into plum mixture. To serve, use a slotted spoon to ladle fruit into a serving bowl.
4. DO AHEAD: Syrup can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. [My suggestion: save the syrup, strain it, and freeze to be used again.]
Per Serving: 166 Calories; 1g Fat (2.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, on November 22nd, 2014.


bacon, tomato & cheddar breakfast bake with eggs

You’ll remember that our little gourmet group had a recent brunch. This was the main dish – a delicious casserole with toasted bread croutons, tomatoes, bacon, oodles of grated Cheddar & Jack and other goodies, baked awhile, then during the last 15+ minutes you make little indentations in the casserole and plop in raw eggs and bake until the yolks are just smooth and runny. Of course, if you don’t like runny egg yolks, you can bake it longer.

My friend Cherrie made this dish. She said it was a little bit more work than she’d anticipated, but she did almost all of it the day before. Buy good bread, first of all. I think Cherrie used ciabatta. Chop it up in cubes and toast it – but only baked it some, because the dish gets baked once you put it all together. It makes a really beautiful presentation – we all oohed and aahed when she delivered it to the buffet area, hot out of the oven.

What this is, is a savory bread pudding. There’s chicken broth in it to soften the bread, and there’s onion and chives too. It was altogether wonderful. I’d definitely make it myself. The recipe came from Food & Wine, from Grace Parisi (I like her recipes – she’s a frequent contributor to the magazine) from November, 2010. The only thing Cherrie and I decided to change (we talked about it the day before when she was working on this dish) was the type of tomatoes – the recipe called for canned tomatoes that you dice up – well, you can buy already diced tomatoes – I think that type is wonderful! So I changed that in the recipe.

What’s GOOD: it feeds a crowd, that’s for sure. You might be able to stretch this to feed 12 – obviously add 2 more eggs. It’s pretty, and it’s really delicious. If we hadn’t had other dishes to choose from (I made the Pineapple Upside Down French Toast) I’d have had seconds. It doesn’t take long to put it together if you have all the ingredients ready to go – cook things partially and refrigerate (not the bread, of course) and put it all together just before it goes in the oven.

What’s NOT: nary a thing. Just know it does take some time to prepare – from reading the recipe you might not think so.

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Bacon, Tomato and Cheddar Breakfast Bake with Eggs

Recipe By: Food & Wine, 11/2010
Serving Size: 10

1 pound white bread — cut into 1-inch cubes (16 cups)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound bacon — sliced applewood-smoked, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion — halved and thinly sliced
28 ounces canned tomatoes — diced type, drained, patted dry
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 pound extra-sharp cheddar — shredded (about 2 cups)
1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese — shredded (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons chives — snipped
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
10 large eggs
Hot sauce — for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. In a large bowl, toss the bread with the olive oil and spread on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, tossing once or twice, until the bread is golden and lightly crisp.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain; reserve 2 tablespoons of the fat in the skillet.
3. Add the onion to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and crushed red pepper and cook until any liquid is evaporated, about 3 minutes.
4. Return the toasted bread cubes to the bowl. Add the contents of the skillet, along with the bacon, shredded cheeses, chives and broth. Stir until the bread is evenly moistened. Season with salt. Spread the mixture in the baking dish and cover with lightly oiled foil.
5. Bake the bread mixture in the center of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is crispy, about 15 minutes longer. Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven and, using a ladle, press 8 indentations into the bread mixture. Crack an egg into each indentation. Return the dish to the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Serve the breakfast bake right away with hot sauce. Sprinkle some more chives on top if you have some.
Per Serving: 705 Calories; 49g Fat (62.7% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 295mg Cholesterol; 1426mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, on November 3rd, 2014.


An age-old recipe of mine – the easiest French toast you’ll ever make, almost. You just have to have some of that King’s Hawaiian bread on hand, and a can of pineapple. Along with milk, eggs, butter and brown sugar. I sprinkled the top with cinnamon.

Years ago, 2007 to be exact, I wrote this up on my blog – during a time when I’d actually broken a bone in my foot and had to use crutches and/or a wheelchair. I wrote up some posts during that 12-week period but didn’t have pictures. I just wrote up the story and provided the recipe. I located some photo on the web that kinda-sorta looked like it. So, I’m giving you an updated post about it and oodles of pictures. I expect most readers don’t go back into the ancient writing here on this blog anyway. I never fixed this for Dave, my DH, because he was a diabetic, and this was just loaded with sugar. Is loaded with sugar. But oh-so-good.

kings_hawaiian_bread_wrapperDo grocery stores across America have King’s Hawaiian bread? I have no idea. It’s a very sweet, but super-tender eggy yeast bread, sweetened some with pineapple juice, so it is believed. There are any number of copycat recipes on the web if you’re interested – see this one if you want to try to make the bread from scratch. Otherwise, buy an eggy bread or Challah, and add more sugar to the recipe below. I used the mini sub rolls. hawaiian_sweet_breadPicture of the actual roll is at left. My grocery store only had hot dog buns and these.  Some markets have their sliders, or their regular loaf bread, or nice dinner rolls. King’s Hawaiian makes any number of different types of bread shapes. Glancing at the package I assumed (correctly) that one package of these sub rolls, placed cut side up would be just right for a 9×13 pan full of this french toast. And it fit perfectly, with just a tiny bit to spare.

pineapple_mixtureThe brown sugar, butter and pineapple gets heated up on the stovetop, just until the sugar melts. Then it goes into the Pyrex dish (no need to butter it). That’s the photo at right. Then you mix up the egg-milk mixture and dip the bread into that mixture and place them just so in the dish on top of all that pineapple. My recipe called for baking it immediately, and that’s what I’ve always done. But this time, I was taking it to a Sunday brunch, and would not have time to french_toast_ready_to_bakemake it that morning, so I mixed it all up and left it in the refrigerator overnight. I still had some of the milk mixture left over, so once I got to our hostess’ house, that got poured in on top and after sitting out for about 45 minutes I baked it.

Ideally, when serving it, you’ll use a spatula and scrape up a lot of the pineapple and you can serve it upside down – or right side up. No matter, other than the plain top isn’t all that exciting. Hence I sprinkled the top with a tiny bit of cinnamon. Not in the recipe . . . but I did it anyway. If  you have a crew of hungry kids, this won’t serve but about 4-5 people, but as part of a brunch, with other foods, this will serve 6-8 for sure.

What’s GOOD: how easy it is to make. Overnight chill? Fine. No time to chill? Fine too. Feeds a crowd of people providing you have other food available (fruit, smoothies, bacon, sausage). Doesn’t even need anything on top of it – no syrup or sauce or anything. You could serve it with maple syrup, but I almost think that would be sugar overkill! Kids adore this, I guarantee it.

What’s NOT: only that nothing in this is good for you – maybe just the milk and canned pineapple. It’s sweet, lubricated with butter and egg. But gosh, it’s ever so good!

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Pineapple Upside-Down French Toast

Recipe By: Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, back in the 1990s, I think.
Serving Size: 8

1/4 cup unsalted butter — (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup brown sugar — firmly packed
3/4 cup crushed pineapple — pack & drain well (I use 2 of the short cans)
2 whole eggs
1 1/2 cups milk — combo of low fat and full fat is fine; just don’t use nonfat
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 slices King’s Hawaiian bread — or egg bread or Challah (I used 6 mini-sub rolls)
2 pinches cinnamon — to sprinkle on top

Notes: If making this with Challah or egg bread, add some sugar to the milk-egg-mixture. You can use fake brown sugar, some egg substitute and low fat milk if desired. Obviously it won’t be quite so tasty, or decadent, either!
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a saucepan melt butter over moderate heat and stir in sugar and pineapple, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
2. In a shallow bowl whisk together eggs, milk and salt.
3. In a baking dish, 9 x 13 inches, spread pineapple mixture evenly over bottom. Dip bread slices into milk mixture in batches and arrange in one layer on top of pineapple mixture. (I place the rolls white side up.) If you have extra spaces in the pan, just mush the bread a little to squeeze in some more slices. It’s also fairly easy to mix up a little more egg/milk mixture to make the dish feed more people if you have more bread than you thought. Sprinkle the top with just a couple pinches of cinnamon.
4. Bake French Toast in middle of oven for 20-35 minutes (depending on the thickness of the bread), or until bread is golden brown. Cool in pan for one minute and serve. The French Toast will have risen up high (puffy) and it’s really nice to serve this before it deflates, which it will do as soon as it cools down. You can serve this with maple syrup or with sweetened fresh fruit, but the pineapple is the flavor you want to shine through. It really doesn’t need any embellishments.
Per Serving: 264 Calories; 12g Fat (39.8% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 97mg Cholesterol; 237mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, on August 24th, 2014.


Mostly I’m wishing fall was in the air. But it’s not, and won’t be for a long time in this land of sunshine. So the only thing I can do is start to bake a very typical fall bread. I made this traditional muffin recipe into mini-muffins (max two bites per) and this recipe makes 24 of the cute little things. And yes, they’re delicious.

My Scrabble group was due at my house last week and the hostess usually bakes something. Sometimes we’re overly busy and we might buy something, but usually there’s some kind of bread or muffin served when we Scrabble. I bought a Granny Smith apple, cut the recipe (that made 12 regular sized muffins) in half (I gave away all but one or two of of the 24 the recipe made), added some chopped raisins and walnuts and they came together in a jiffy.


Starting with a recipe from King Arthur Flour, I decided to not use whole wheat flour (I wanted a tender muffin), so I adapted their recipe a bit. The raisins and walnuts were my addition to the recipe, but the basic baking chemistry was all kudos to the King Arthur baking folks at Baking Banter. I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, but I did have Greek yogurt (which was an acceptable substitution in the original recipe). I think their recipe was hand mixed. I used my Kitchen Aid instead. Just don’t over-mix, that’s all. The pan you see in the picture is one of King Arthur’s – they’re bright aluminum looking, but they have some kind of Teflon surface because these muffins slipped out like greased lightning with no pre-greasing. Note that only about a rounded tablespoon of batter went into each muffin cup.mini_muffins_ready_to_bake_2

There’s a close-up of the batter. You can see the corrugated style of the pan. Makes for very easy cleanup, I’ll tell you for sure. If you don’t own any of these, I’d highly recommend you add a few to your Christmas wish list.

A little bit of brown sugar is sprinkled on top just before baking. I don’t know that I’d bother with that the next time – some of the brown sugar spilled out onto the muffin pan surface once the muffins began to rise in the baking process. But no big deal – none of it stuck to the pan.

What’s GOOD: the best part is the tenderness (from the yogurt/acidic dairy). This recipes requires just one apple – a good thing. I liked the raisins in it and the walnuts (neither were in the original recipe – I just added them for texture). This was quick to mix up and bake. Delicious when they were still warm and still really good at room temp. When I served them I heated them up just briefly in a low oven.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. These are really tasty. And easy.

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Super Tender Apple Nut Mini-Muffins

Recipe By: Adapted from King Arthur Flour, 2013
Serving Size: 24 mini-muffins

1/4 cup unsalted butter — 4 tablespoons, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/8 cup brown sugar — divided use
1/2 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk — or 1/2 cup plain (not Greek-style) yogurt; or 3/8 cup Greek-style yogurt + 2 T milk (to equal 1/2 cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup Granny Smith apple — cored, and chopped; about 1 large apple

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour a mini muffin pan, or line with papers and grease the insides of the papers.
2. Mix together the butter, granulated sugar, and a little more than half of the brown sugar, beating until fluffy.
3. Add the egg and mix well, stopping once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
4. Gently mix in the buttermilk or yogurt.
5. Stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
6. Fold in the chopped apples, walnuts and raisins.
7. Using about a rounded tablespoon of batter each, divide among the prepared mini-muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining brown sugar on top.
8. Bake the muffins for 12-15 minutes (mine took 14), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
9. Remove the muffins from the oven, cool them for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn them out onto a rack to finish cooling completely.
Per Serving: 59 Calories; 2g Fat (32.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 56mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, easy, on February 12th, 2014.


Oh my goodness, is this ever fantastic. The problems with this are: (1) finding good, tender and rich brioche bread; and (2) keeping your fingers out of the finished pastry. They are just so delicious. The base is a thick slice of brioche bread (the one above is about 1/2 inch thick, maybe just slightly thicker), spread with a ground almond and butter mixture (an almond cream, it’s called), spread with a little bit of apricot jam, some almonds sprinkled on top and baked briefly, then generously sprinkled with powdered sugar.

The other morning we were at one of my book group meetings, at our friend Peggy’s establishment, (Peggy & Gary own it along with their son) Mead’s Green Door Café in old-town Orange. Every other month we meet at their little café and enjoy a latte or cappucino and some lovely treat Peggy has baked while we discuss our current book selection. Peggy and her husband used to own a restaurant in Orange, but sold it a few years ago and bought a derelict building and spent over a year renovating it to the Café it is now. Cute as a bug, Old-world style, country-ish, eclectic, offbeat, catering a lot to the young Chapman University crowd nearby. They serve vegetarian and vegan food only, with usually at least one GF item too. They specialize in breakfast and lunch. Peggy does 90% of the baking. Peggy’s #1 seller (of her pastries) is her sweet potato scone, which is delish also, I can attest!

This little number, which blew me away, is so easy to make. Disclaimer here – I didn’t make the one you see above – Peggy did. But it’s so very easy, I was fairly certain you wouldn’t mind me showing you hers. If I made this now, I’d be gobbling it down. The recipe came from Sunset Magazine (earlier last year). First you must start with good brioche. Maybe one of our local bakeries (like Panera or Corner Bakery) will have it – I’ll have to look. You slice it thick (the recipe said 1-inch; I think Peggy sliced hers closer to 1/2 inch. Anyway, thick brioche. Then you spread the top with a little apricot jam, then a mixture of butter, granulated sugar, salt, egg, and half-and-half that’s been whizzed  up in the food processor. Then the top is sprinkled with almonds and sugar. Baked for 20 minutes or so, sprinkled with powdered sugar. Done. Very easy. Very special.

What’s GOOD: certainly the taste is first and foremost! These things are just delish. Worth making. You can make the almond cream ahead and it will keep for several days. The almond cream makes more than what you’ll use to make 8 – so perhaps cut down on the quantity first time.

What’s NOT: really nothing.

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Almond and Jam Pastries

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, March, 2013
Serving Size: 8

ALMOND CREAM: (you’ll have more than is needed)
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup granulated sugar — divided
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
2 tablespoons half and half — or milk
8 slices brioche — or challah bread, 1/2 in. thick or thicker
1/2 cup apricot jam — or other flavor
2 cups sliced almonds — about 2 T per toast
Powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Whirl 1 cup almonds with 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer mixture to a bowl.
2. Blend butter and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add salt, egg, and half-and-half and pulse just to blend. Add reserved ground almonds and blend until mixture is smooth.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread about 1 tbsp. jam, then 2 tbsp. almond cream, on each slice of bread (you’ll have almond cream left over). Sprinkle each with about 2 tbsp. sliced almonds.
4. Bake until almond cream is golden brown and almonds are toasted, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
5. Make ahead: Chill extra almond cream airtight up to 2 weeks and use for making more pastries.
Per Serving (not accurate because you make more almond cream than you’ll use): 831 Calories; 55g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 71g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 141mg Cholesterol; 371mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, on February 2nd, 2014.


Pretty much, I’ve had a love affair with sourdough my whole life. But for the last 20 years or so I didn’t have a sourdough starter going. I first bought one back in the 1960s, and I baked bread regularly and often made pancakes and waffles, and had a great recipe for a dinner roll too. But then I got out of the habit and finally I’d let the starter go too long between feedings and the batter had expired, so to speak. I kept it in one of those cute little crockery spring lock containers and it just sat in the back of the refrigerator. But with it and other living organisms, eventually it ran out of fuel or food and if you don’t keep it going by feeding it flour and water every so often and allowing it to bloom, brighten, develop its yeasty presences, it will die of old age. This was years ago, of course, but when I’d opened the crock and sniffed the contents I knew it was a goner.

Then a couple of weeks ago you’ll remember I wrote up a post about my DH’s father Charles’ buttermilk pancakes. That got me to thinking, longingly, about my favorite sourdough and its wonderful tasty benefits. I enjoyed Dave’s dad’s buttermilk pancakes, but not nearly as much as I love the flavor and even the spongy texture of sourdough. So, when I saw a package of sourdough starter I jumped at it and bought one. As I’m writing this, the starter is still in its infancy of development. At its first mixing, once it sits for 4 hours, you mix more bread flour and water into it for 7 straight days and you need to keep it at about 90°F day and night, feeding it once a day. Then, and only then, will the sour part of it have progressed so it’s taste-able. Each evening I scoop out a cup of the bubbly fermenting batter and throw it out, and add in another mixture of flour and warm water. I stir it all around until they are no lumps and cover again with plastic wrap and let it get a nice warm glow for another 24 hours. Finding a place in my kitchen with a consistent 90° temperature was a little difficult – the warming drawer doesn’t go that low. The oven obviously doesn’t. I finally settled on putting it on top of my toaster oven, just 3-4 inches below the fluorescent under-cupboard lights in my little butler’s pantry. We’ve just had to leave those lights on day and night for the last several days. That drives my DH crazy – he’s a stickler about turning off lights – and I do forget now and then to turn off a light somewhere in the house. We both do.

Once I’ve finished the 7-day feeding schedule I’ll be able to store a few cups of starter in the refrigerator and hopefully it will keep for a week without getting into trouble. I suppose I could set up an alarm on my iPhone to remind me once a week to feed the starter, couldn’t I? Like maybe every Saturday morning, perhaps.

sourdough_starterYou can buy a sourdough starter package mix as I did. You can also make your own – there’s a good tutorial over at King Arthur Flour, if you’re interested: sourdough starter. At the cookware store I purchased the package you see at right. Buying the package makes it quite simple. As I recall, it was about $5.00. The sourdough starter I bought years ago was from Alaska and I certainly had many conjured thoughts over the years about the old “sourdoughs,” they called them, the solitary gold miners with their trusty pack horses, and the stories about how they would mix up the batter the night before and store it inside their sleeping bags next to their bodies, or on the horse, next to the horse’s hide, where it would keep warm. Because warmth is key here. This new starter I bought claims to be a San Francisco style. Now I don’t exactly know what that means – but San Franciscans do believe their sourdoughs are better than anybody else’s. The bread certainly is – there’s just nothing quite like the real thing – that musty, fusty sour smell from freshly baked sourdough bread that is ubiquitous on restaurant tables in SFO. We can buy sourdough bread here in Southern California, as you can in most places here in the U.S., but it ISN’T like the loaves from there.

Because I was anxious to try some sourdough pancakes, instead of throwing out the 1-cup of batter the other day (day 3 of its 7-day growing period), I used that one cup to make a small batch of sourdough pancakes. Perhaps they weren’t quite as powerfully sour as they’ll be after I continue getting the dough more sour as the days go by, but they were awfully darned good.

This batter I’m brewing is all made with bread flour – because the starter package is aimed at baking bread, not making anything else. So, I mixed in a little bit of all-purpose flour (because the batter was just slightly too thin, if you can believe that) and the other ingredients before pouring little dollops into a hot nonstick pan. I didn’t even grease the pan. It didn’t need it because I’d added just a little jot of canola oil to the batter. You don’t even need to butter the pancakes, either. Thin little sourdough pancakes somehow don’t need butter – but syrup yes. But they’re even good plain because they’re very moist.

What’s GOOD: Well, I loved it – loved that spongy chew to every bite. As pancakes go,I love thin ones, so these ticked all my sourdough hot buttons. And it was even sour, which I liked and I’ll like it even better once the dough is finished it’s 7 days of fermenting.
What’s NOT: if you don’t want to hassle with a sourdough starter, the feeding, mixing and nurturing you have to do with it, you may not like it. But the flavor of those finished goods. Oh, yes! Worth it, I hope.

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Sourdough Pancakes

Recipe By: An old favorite of mine, from the 1960’s
Serving Size: 4 (as part of a breakfast – double quantity if this is all you’re eating)

1 1/2 cups sourdough batter
1 large egg
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil — or melted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons evaporated milk — or regular milk – approximate (depends on the consistency of the sourdough batter)

1. To the sourdough batter add the egg, sugar, oil, salt and milk (if needed).
2. Stir vigorously until all ingredients are smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add a bit more milk. If it’s too thin, add a tablespoon or two of all-purpose flour.
3. Heat a nonstick pan or griddle to medium-high. Pour small slightly larger than dollar-sized pancakes into pan and wait until a few bubbles appear in the center and flip to other side. Cook another 30-40 seconds or just until the pancake has browned slightly. Serve immediately while they’re hot. It’s not necessary to serve butter, but do have maple syrup to pour over the top.
Note: This is not a full-breakfast portion, but 4 servings as part of a breakfast. To serve main course portions, double the quantities. You can make larger pancakes – the small size is just my preference. The consistency of sourdough batter varies – some are thinner than others, so you may need to vary the amount of flour or milk you add. It’s better to have to thin the batter than to have to thicken it as the flour won’t have had time to feed in the yeasty sourdough environment. Sourdough thins as it sits (during the overnight process) so you may not need any additional milk. The pancakes take less time than usual to cook because they are SO thin. Watch carefully and definitely do not do something else – stay by the griddle and watch them!
Per Serving: 72 Calories; 5g Fat (65.7% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 426mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, on January 27th, 2014.


Are these unusual? Probably not. But I made them for a reason. The recipe came from my DH’s father, Charles. His loving Dad, who was a traditional patriarch of the family, and only helped in the kitchen under duress. Or, unless he was preparing cocktails. Or, related to this recipe, he did sometimes invite friends over for cocktails and a pancake dinner.

Here’s how this went: our oldest grandson was visiting and my DH was telling a story. My DH does that a lot – he’s also the king of the phrase – “never let a few facts get in the way of a good story” – that latter sometimes to my embarrassment because once he gets it in his head about some nuance of a story – he’ll tell it that way over and over even though the facts are wrong and even though I’ve told him time and time again that he’s got it wrong. Oh well, I love him anyway!

Dave was telling a story about how one late November when he was away at college (this would have been about 1960 – he went to Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania – where his mother was an alumnus), he decided to skip his Wednesday classes and leave after his Tuesday ones (2 days before Thanksgiving) and drive the 5 hours home to Ocean City, New Jersey. He surprised his parents when he arrived at about 6:00 pm, to find they were having a party. A party where everyone was very dressed up (like suits and fancy dresses), but they were serving cocktails and then they were about to have a sit-down dinner of pancakes and sausage! His dad cooked all the sausage and bacon in the kitchen and kept it warm in the oven. They always made their own patties of sausage because for many years the family owned a gourmet market in Dave’s home town, and his dad, among other things, could butcher meat. He was also a bank director some years later. But he knew how to make a good batch of sausage (and no, we don’t have his Dad’s recipe for that) and the chunk of sausage was always shaped into a big 2-pound lump, then squared off like a brick and sold, as in a “brick” of sausage. His Dad also had some kind of a big electric griddle to plug in in the dining room, next to his chair at the end of the china and crystal-set table. He held court, so to speak, from that chair, turning now and then to flip or pour more batter on the griddle. He had a reputation for throwing these pancake dinners – well, he also did pancake breakfasts too, with tons of bacon, sometimes kidneys were served (this back in the day when no one thought a thing about eating quantities of organ meat), always home made sausage patties and gargantuan stacks of his “famous” buttermilk pancakes.

daves_dad_charlesAt right is a photo of Charles, probably when he was in his late 40’s. Cigarette in hand. I could have cropped out the cigarette, but that’s the kind of photography thing that was done back then. Sorry it’s not a better photo – I took it at an angle in order to get rid of reflections since it has a glass cover. He was a very  handsome man.

Anyway, Charles also had a reputation for making a mean cocktail. That particular evening, Dave asked what he could do to help? His father said you can take over making the cocktails. Dave’s first “order” was for 2 rye highballs (rye whiskey and water, in this case) and he served them to one of the couples. Dave went back into the kitchen to start making some other drink. In a minute his dad came into the kitchen with the 2 glasses in hand, motioned to Dave, went to the kitchen sink and poured the two drinks down the drain. He said, “son, you need to learn how to make a cocktail – here in our house we make them long and we make them strong.” For sure, Dave never forgot!

So, there’s the background story! In telling this tale to our nearly 20-year old grandson, Logan wasn’t interested in the making of the drinks, but he asked Dave if we ever make the pancakes. Dave glanced at me with a quizzical look since Dave doesn’t do anything except man the outdoor grill and wash dishes. I said yes, but not for years – I’d look for the recipe, though. In amongst the few recipes Dave had when I met him was one very yellowed 3×5 card that’s titled: “Your Dad’s Buttermilk Pancakes.” About 10 years ago we went to Gloucester, Massachusetts, after Dave’s Aunt Louise died (Dave’s maternal aunt), and in amongst her things were a few recipe cards, including one in Dave’s mother’s handwriting, “Charles’ Buttermilk Pancakes.” So the recipe had legs and a reputation.

Back to last week – that next morning I whipped up a batch since I had buttermilk on hand, thank goodness. These pancakes are a cinch to make – and no, there isn’t anything unusual in them at all – flour, soda, salt, sugar, eggs and buttermilk. We had the left overs for breakfast this morning, quickly zapped in the microwave.

My preference is for thinner pancakes, so I actually added just a tetch more buttermilk to the batter. I truly don’t like thick pancakes, and the batter as written was too stiff for my liking. I’ve also changed 2 other things in the recipe below – scant the soda (I could taste it in the finished pancakes) and the salt. Otherwise, the recipe is just like it was in Charles’ time. (I never met his Dad, as he died when Dave was about 30, 10 years before I met him in 1981.) Dave may have never made a rye highball since (current versions use ginger ale rather than water according to the brief search I did on the internet), but he sure learned how to make them that night and he loves to tell stories about his Dad’s pancake dinners.

It must have been popular back then to have breakfast food for dinner. Was it holdover from the food shortages of WW II, when meat was scarce? Occasionally, my parents used to have waffle parties on Sunday nights. This would have been in the early to mid-1950s. And my mom would make a moderate mound of sausage or bacon, and she would set up the waffle iron on a sideboard in our dining room and my mom would man the waffle station (my recollection is she used the Bisquick version). The big treat was mid-way in the meal my mother would bring out a big bowl of freshly whipped cream and defrosted (sweetened) strawberries mixed through it, and that last waffle with that topping became dessert along with fresh, hot coffee. I hunted all over internet images trying to find a photo of the kind of rectangular cardboard box with a metal top and bottom that used to be the only way you could buy strawberries (other than fresh) in a frozen form. Couldn’t find a one. Oh well.

What’s GOOD: well, mostly it’s the memories. We enjoyed the pancakes – they were the penultimate in tenderness (remember my adage: buttermilk = tender). They browned beautifully and they were thin, to my liking. If you want plain and simple pancakes, these fit the bill. Complex? No. Nuanced with extras? No. Gourmet? No. Just plain, ordinary pancakes.
What’s NOT: nary a thing.

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Charles’ Buttermilk Pancakes

Recipe By: Slightly adapted from my DH Dave’s Dad’s recipe
Serving Size: 8

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda — scant
1 teaspoon salt — scant
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 quart buttermilk — (it may need a few T. more)
Oil for greasing the pan for each batch you cook

1. In a large bowl (use a Pyrex pouring style measuring cup/bowl if you have one) combine all the ingredients.
2. Use an electric mixer to mix until the batter is smooth.
3. Preheat oven to 250° and heat all the plates, including one for serving.
4. Heat a nonstick frying pan to medium-high. Pour about 2 teaspoons of canola oil into the pan and spread around with a spatula. Pour batter into smaller, rather than larger rounds. When you can see bubbles toward the middle of the batter (about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes), turn and allow to cook the other side for about 1 – 1 1/2 minutes. Remove pancake to the heated plate in the oven. Continue cooking pancakes until you’ve used all the batter.
5. Serve with your choice of toppings: butter, maple syrup, whipped cream and strawberries, or other fruit syrups.
Per Serving: 241 Calories; 3g Fat (10.6% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 57mg Cholesterol; 885mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, Healthy, on December 13th, 2013.


You might think you don’t need a recipe for a fruit salad, right? But if you’d like to serve a fruit salad that’s just a bit different, you could try this one. You just have to plan ahead a few hours or overnight (to make the flavorful syrup) to serve this with a brunch. It’s well worth making.

Ginger seems to be on my radar lately. And if I were to just add a vanilla bean to the stem ginger in syrup that I made last week, I’d have had half of this recipe already done! In this case you make a simple syrup with fresh ginger, a vanilla bean and a bunch of lemon peel. That does need to be made ahead as it provides a ton of flavor to the fruit once you mix it all together.

Once that mixture has cooled and the solid stuff (ginger, vanilla bean and lemon peels) strained out, you’re left with this delicious ginger/vanilla essence syrup. You could just slurp it with a spoon. Trust me on that one! (If you have leftovers of the syrup, it would be lovely added to a cup of hot tea.) But we’re making a fruit salad, so all you do is add in all the fruit. You could change what YOU like to have in the way of fruit – at the class Phillis Carey used Navel oranges, mangoes, bananas, kiwis, grapes and pomegranate seeds. It was a beautiful and very tasty combination. You could add apples, pears or pineapple too. Your choice.

What’s GOOD: the flavoring in the syrup is what makes this. The ginger gives the syrup just a teeny tiny bit of heat and the vanilla adds a depth to it – perhaps not distinguishable, but it makes for one very tasty bowl of fruit. The pomegranate seeds add a lovely color to the presentation too.

What’s NOT: really nothing except that you do have to plan ahead one day or at least half a day to make this.

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Winter Fresh Fruit Salad with Vanilla Syrup

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, Nov. 2013
Serving Size: 10 (or more)

1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
1 piece ginger — about 1 inch long, peeled and thinly sliced
1 vanilla bean — split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
1 lemon — peel only (reserve lemon for other use)
1 whole navel orange — peel only (use fruit for the salad)
3 large navel oranges — or blood oranges
2 whole mangoes — peeled and diced
5 whole kiwi fruit — peeled and diced
1 cup red grapes — seedless
1 cup pomegranate — seeds only (from 1 large one)
2 whole bananas — ripe but firm, peeled and diced

1. Combine the sugar, water, the ginger and vanilla seeds and pod in a saucepan. Use a vegetable peeler to remove wide strips of zest from the lemon and 1 orange, add to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer 5 minutes. Refrigerate until cold.
2. Meanwhile, peel the remaining oranges with a paring knife, cutting along the natural curve of the fruit. Hold an orange over a large bowl and cut along both sides of each membrane to free the segments, letting them fall into the bowl. Also segment the orange used in the syrup that’s already peeled. Squeeze each empty membrane to release the juices. Repeat with the remaining oranges. Add the mangoes, kiwis  and pomegranate seeds and gently toss. Pour the syrup over the fruit and chill overnight.
3. Before serving, remove the citrus zest, ginger and vanilla pod. Add the fresh banana at this point. Pour into a large serving bowl or spoon the fruit and syrup into individual bowls.
4. POMEGRANATES: To remove pomegranate seeds, cut the fruit into quarters, then break apart in a bowl of water. Skim off the pith that floats to the top and drain the seeds.
Per Serving: 158 Calories; 1g Fat (2.9% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 6mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, Pork, on December 11th, 2013.


In 1987 this recipe (called Tahoe Brunch back then) was published in our neighborhood weekly newspaper. I clipped it out and prepared it numerous times over the years – often when we did a brunch on our sailboat because it can be prepared the day before, then baked the day-of. (We have a smallish oven on the boat, and I did have one pan that would fit in it.) A month or so ago I went to a Phillis Carey cooking class, and she prepared it too, with just a couple of modifications. It was then I realized that I’ve never posted this recipe here on my blog. That mistake is now fixed!

It seems that I don’t entertain for brunch anymore. I think it’s because every Sunday morning we’re busy attending morning services at our Presbyterian church, and to try to put on a brunch after that, when we don’t even get home from church until about 11 is just not feasible. Do people have Sunday brunches on Saturdays? I suppose I could – I just haven’t ever thought of it.

So this delicious recipe has been updated just a little bit – I reduced the amount of Italian sausage, tried to quantify the amount of bread called for, have given options for the cheddar or Provolone, and options for either parsley or basil. And gave you options for adding the mushrooms (I used to) or fresh tomatoes (Phillis’ recipe). I’m a bit staggered by the calorie count on this recipe – I may have never noticed it before.

What’s great about it is the fact that it’s made the day before, and over the years I’ve made this numerous times for Thanksgiving morning, Christmas morning, or New Years Day morning. It’s the Italian sausage in it that I like so much. Spicy sausage just gives this a wonderful flavor. Mix that with the cheese, and it’s kind of like pizza in a breakfast dish, I suppose.

It’s very easy to put together once you cook the Italian sausage and onions. Phillis’ recipe had you cube up the bread. My old recipe calls for buttering bread in slices. Either way works.

What’s GOOD: It’s the Italian sausage in it that I like the best, but then I’m a fan of the stuff. The recipe just has lots of flavors abounding in it from the mushrooms, cheese, tomatoes and the seasonings. Love that it can be made 24 hours before. Do bake in a glass or ceramic dish, not metal. You’ll hear lots of mmmm’s and sighs when you serve this.
What’s NOT: nothing really except that it’s rich and high in calories! But it’s a special occasion kind of dish.

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Tahoe Brunch (Bread Pudding Breakfast Casserole)

Recipe By: A 1987 Tustin News article
Serving Size: 10

4-6 cups french bread — crusts removed
2 tablespoons butter — softened
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces fresh mushrooms — sliced (optional)
2 cups yellow onions — thinly sliced
salt and pepper — to taste
1 pound Italian sausage — sweet (mild)
3 cups cheddar cheese — grated (or Provolone)
6 whole eggs — extra large
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh parsley — chopped (or basil)
1 cup fresh tomatoes — chopped (remove some seeds if possible)
3/4 cup cheddar cheese — grated for topping (or Provolone)

Notes: don’t use a really soft bread in this or it will just turn to mush.
1. Butter the bread with the softened butter, cut into cubes and set aside. In a 10-12 inch skillet, melt the 1/2 cup butter and brown the mushrooms and onions over medium heat for 5-8 minutes or until onions are golden. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside. Crumble the Italian sausage and cook until the meat is no longer pink.
2. In a greased 11 x 7-inch ceramic or Pyrex casserole, add all the bread cubes, top with the onion and mushrooms, sausage and cheese.
3. In a medium-sized bowl mix the eggs, milk, both mustards, nutmeg, with salt & pepper to taste (about 1 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper). Pour over the sausage and cheese mixture, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
4. At least 30 minutes before baking, remove casserole from refrigerator. Bake uncovered in a preheated 350° oven for 45 minutes, then sprinkle top of casserole with fresh tomatoes and some additional cheese. Bake 15 more minutes until mixture is bubbly. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 885 Calories; 45g Fat (45.9% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 82g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 233mg Cholesterol; 1579mg Sodium.

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