When a new job gives you biscuits, make a breakfast casserole

Just one of many loads of biscuits CNET Appliances bakes to test ovens.
Just one of many loads of biscuits CNET Appliances bakes to test ovens.

A dream job seemed like a fantasy. For the past few years, I’ve assumed that a job was something I had to tolerate for eight hours a day so I would have enough money to pursue the activities about which I was really passionate. I was lucky enough to land somewhere that wasn’t too bad. My co-workers were fun. The work was new. I gave up the idea of earning a paycheck from doing what I love and loving what I do (a first-world mantra that glosses over things like taxes, rent and savings accounts) and settled into a content cubicle life.

Then my dream job showed up, slapped me in the face and reminded me that you can do what you love and get paid for it.

Last week, I began working at the technology and review website CNET as a senior associate editor. I test and review ovens for a living. Seriously. I can’t make this up. A food writer landed in a job that requires boiling water, broiling burgers and baking biscuits in order to recommend which ranges are a good fit in consumers’ homes.

Y’all, I’m living the dream. Let’s pause for a praise break.

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So anyway, back to these biscuits.

We take appliance testing seriously at CNET, so seriously that we go through cans and cans of refrigerated biscuits to test how evenly ovens will bake them. I hate seeing food go to waste, especially when it can be repurposed into something even better than the original. So I grabbed a bag full of biscuits and made a strata, which is French for “breakfast casserole made out of leftovers.”

Biscuit strata.
Biscuit strata. Don’t mind the “cajun” edges.

This recipe is versatile enough to work with all sorts of leftover bread. For example, I adapted this recipe from one in the Kentucky Fresh Cookbook that calls for cornbread. Using stale bread for strata is approximately 100 times better than just throwing it away or tossing pieces into the grass for birds (spoiler alert: my dog Roscoe is eating your bread scraps). You can also through in whatever meat, vegetables and cheese you have on hand. This is a great clean-out-the-fridge dish.

Cut the biscuits into cubes for the recipe.
Cut the biscuits into cubes for the recipe.

I hope you enjoy the first fruits of my new job. I’m still learning how everything works, so it might be a little bit before my first review is up. In the meantime, find yourself some biscuits and enjoy.


Biscuit Strata

Adapted from the Kentucky Fresh Cookbook by Maggie Green

Ingredients

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

1/2 pound bulk sausage (pork or turkey)

3 cups milk

6 large eggs

1 teaspoon dry mustard

8 cups biscuit cubes (any thick, stale bread will also do)

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. Spray a 13x9x2-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook for five minute until the onions are softened.
  2. Stir in the sausage until it is cooked through, and drain off any excess fat.
  3. While the onions and sausage cook, whisk together the milk, eggs and dry mustard in a medium bowl.
  4. Assemble the strata: Put half the cornbread cubes into the baking dish. Cover the cubes with the sausage mixture and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Pour half of the milk mixture as evenly as you can over everything in the dish. Cover with the rest of the bread cubes, the remaining milk mixture and the last cup of cheese.
  5. Cover and refrigerate the dish for 2 hour or overnight.
  6. When you’re ready to bake the strata, preheat the oven to 350. Bake the strata for about 50 minutes or until the cubes on top are golden brown.
  7. Let the strata stand for 10 minutes before you serve it.
  8. DEMOLISH THE STRATA

Sweet potatoes: an appreciation and recipe

A few sweet potatoes waiting for their aluminum foil coat.
A few sweet potatoes waiting for their aluminum foil coat.

A dish of sweet potatoes was special-occasion food in my family.

Sweet potatoes made regular annual appearances at Thanksgiving. My mother was a working, single mom, so Thanksgiving was an endeavor best tackled in stages. Mommy would buy a big bag of sweet potatoes a week before the holiday to get ahead of the crazy Kroger crowd. A few days later, she or my Uncle Bobby scrubbed the spuds, piled them precariously into the biggest pot we had, covered them with water, and let them boil for hours on the electric stovetop. The pot of potatoes bubbled away beneath the TV and the phone ringing and my family’s normal volume that was always set to “Yell.” As the house settled into the evening, as the phone rang less often and conversations grew a bit softer, Mommy or Uncle Bobby drained the sweet potatoes, peeled off the skin with a butter knife, sliced them length wise, and arranged them like shingles in a baking dish. That night, or the next day depending on how full her schedule was in those scant days before Thanksgiving, Mommy cloaked the naked potato slices in a layer of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and nestled pats of butter between some lucky slices. The dish baked until it bubbled and the brown sugar formed a crust on the once exposed sweet potato slices. The smell alone was justification for 365 days of waiting.

I’ve since adopted sweet potatoes as a staple in my own kitchen. This inclusion has made any meal with a sweet potato a special occasion, be it a quick lunch in my cubicle or dinner with my husband.

Sweet potatoes are a superfood, a hyped-up way of saying that these root vegetables are good for you. However, this is one superfood that actually tastes damn delicious without much work (I’m looking at you, Kale). It also helps that sweet potatoes are one of the more affordable super-duper foods, especially if you buy a bag of them.

I don’t always have time for the sweet-potato bake my mom and uncle would tag team. Instead, I’ve adopted a pretty simple method from The Kitchn of baking a bunch of sweet potatoes so they’re ready to eat during the work week. It doesn’t get much easier than these few steps.

That's me, desperately taking a picture with one hand and praying that I don't drop my phone in the water.
That’s me, desperately taking a picture with one hand and praying that I don’t drop my phone in the water.
  1. Buy yourself a bag of potatoes and wash off as many as you’d like to prepare. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Poke approximately a million holes in aforementioned potatoes. This is my favorite part.
  3. Rub your wounded potatoes with olive oil. A drizzle will do.
  4. Wrap potatoes in aluminum foil. Make sure the edges are sealed, but you don’t need to press the foil down tightly around the spuds. Give them some room to breathe.
  5. Place potatoes directly on your oven rake.
  6. Let potatoes bake for at least 45 minutes or until they are tender if you gently squeeze them (through an oven mitt, of course). I’ve been known to leave a batch in the oven for an hour and some change.

After the sweet potatoes have cooled down enough for you to handle, unwrap them from the foil. My ideal sweet potato is very soft and fleshy. I’d like to think it’s because of all those holes and the olive oil massage. I like to tear the insides away from the skin with my fork and go to town without any spices or sweeteners. A well-baked sweet potatoes is rich without the butter and sweet without the sugar, a dessert-for-dinner treat from Mother Nature.

I’ve taken to the Twitter to proclaim my love for the sweet potato, and I’ve gotten some good feedback about toppings that can elevate this favorite food of mine. Goat cheese? Balsamic vinegar? I’ll give them all a try. I’ll find an occasion.

Need some last-minute Super Bowl snack ideas?

Full disclosure: I only follow sports enough to carry on small talk after a big event like the Super Bowl. I am, however, a fan of any occasion that calls for appetizers.

If you plan on going to or hosting a Super Bowl party, check out one of my boards on Pinterest called Dips, Bites and Other Delights. I’ve pinned some apps that have really caught my eye, like this Kentucky Hot Brown Bake from the blog, Eat at Home.

And it’s not too late to round up some ingredients for this beer and cheddar dip from the blog, The Kitchn.

For more recipes, hop on over to my Pinterest page, and share the recipes you’re making for the big game.

Tardy to the ramen noodle party

Image
Chicken ramen with bok choy.

Brace yourself for a surprising confession.

I ate ramen noodles for the first time two weeks ago.

It seems criminal that it took me nearly three decades to eat this budget-friendly dish. The only time I was close to ramen as a child was when my mom only fixed ramen for my dad, who slurped up the noodles with baked chicken legs. It seemed like a “grown-up food,” so I stuck with my spaghetti. Then I went to college, where the halls of my all-girls dorm were thick with the smell of spice, salt and chicken, the hallmarks of a bowl of ramen. The smell was so pervasive that it dissuaded me from ever bringing those noodles into my life, budget be damned.

As with most of my food awakenings, Rob is the one who opened my eyes to the possibilities behind the red and yellow square packages. He grew up eating ramen noodles because “they were cheap, they were good and they were easy to make.” A couple of weeks ago, he came in with a Kroger bag full of ramen packages. I’m pretty sure his eyes twinkled.

It was time to give these noodles a whirl. He expertly boiled water and dropped the brick of wavy noodles into the pot. After pouring away most of the water, he sprinkled a chicken flavor packet into the now-flaccid noodles while simultaneously tossing them with a fork to ensure even flavor distribution. It was like watching Iron Chef. And the secret ingredient is … RAMEN.

I steamed some leftover bok choy to accompany the ramen (you know, to make it healthy) and helped myself to a bowl. My mind was blown. The ramen was so salty and spicy that I’m pretty sure I met my sodium intake for the day. The bok choy added some crunch to this tender noodle dish. My mind raced with all the vegetable additions I could make in the future.

Days after my awakening, a six-pack of chicken-flavored ramen sits patiently in the cabinet. But I won’t let almost 30 years pass before I eat ramen again.

Don’t waste a failed bread recipe. Transform it in these 4 ways.

It’s easy to save a little money if you are willing to look at something with new eyes.

Take, for instance, when you’re trying to bake bread or a pastry.

I’m more of a cook than a baker, so a lot of my attempts at baking have ended with a something stale and hard. But I feel like I’m dumping greenbacks into the garbage can if I throw away my bricks of bread. Instead, I transform it into something new.

Here are four ways you can save bad bread:

Bread pudding with a bourbon-spiked glaze.
  1. Bread pudding. My mom made my dad a Sock-It-To-Me Cake, but she forgot the sour cream, a key ingredient. She was about to throw the whole cake away and make another. I rescued the cake and used it as the base of a bread pudding. Though I came up with a bread pudding based on several recipes, it was very similar to this Kentucky recipe.
  2. Stuffing. I don’t want to talk about the time I tried to make biscuits. It was a disaster. But I got some good stuffing from it, so everyone was a winner.
  3. Croutons. If you have some stale bread, or a really bad hunk of a loaf that just didn’t quite turn into the bread you wanted it to be, slice it into squares, toss with some olive oil and Italian seasoning, and bake for about 10 minutes or until crunchy. Thank me later.
  4. French toast. When I was a kid, I remember watching an episode of The Babysitters’ Club in which a kid spilled some milk on the counter. A teenage boy trying out to be in the club cracked an egg on top of the milk, dipped some slices of bread in the mess, and fried it on a griddle. That kid was on to something. This is perfect for that half loaf of bread you didn’t get to fast enough.

 

What do you do with bad bread?

When life gives you hard biscuits, make some hearty stuffing

During the weekend, I had some flour, butter and a lot of time on my hands.

This meant that I had to try the fluffy biscuit recipe from one of my Pinterest boards.

Two hours later, I was left with a double sink full of dough-covered dishes and some dense biscuits.

An accurate depiction of the consistency of my biscuits. Photo courtesy Straaf via Flickr.

I hated to waste food, especially a dozen biscuits that took used three cups of flour and a stick of butter. I considered giving them to Roscoe, but he said he was watching his cholesterol.

Then, I remembered what someone once told me about bad cornbread — a terrible batch can be the base for a great stuffing dish.

I applied that cornbread reasoning to my biscuits. I found a recipe in the Kentucky Fresh Cookbook for a basic stuffing (or dressing, whatever you grew up calling it) and substituted the biscuits for the stale bread. The biscuits, which could have doubled as paper weights, transformed into this:

Stuffing or dressing? I just call it "good."

Don’t give up on a bad dish because it didn’t turn out the way you wanted. Just improvise — and be willing to make a mess.

[Recipes] Cauliflower and other foods I’d never eat without Green BEAN Delivery

Photo courtesy of Horia Varlan via Flickr.

It’s been a couple of months since I started receiving a Green BEAN produce bin every other week.

The organic fruits and vegetables we receive at our home have been a hit. The Mister and I have been eating a lot healthier because there’s always an orange or lettuce ready for us to eat.

My favorite part of our produce bin, however, is discovering new foods.

Here are some foods that I had never eaten before our Green BEAN delivery began. A special thanks goes to Pinterest, Twitter, my mom, The Kitchn and The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook for giving me ideas on how to cook these foreign foods.

  • Cauliflower

This vegetable never looked appetizing to me. Maybe because it looked eerily similar to a brain. Or maybe it was how hard the florets were. Either way, I managed to avoid cauliflower until it stared up at me from my green produce bin.

A co-worker passed along some links to encourage me to explore cauliflower. I decided to roast the head of cauliflower with some fingerling potatoes that also came that week. I used a recipe for roasted root vegetables from The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook. I tossed the vegetables and an onion with a mixture of olive oil, thyme, salt, pepper and garlic, dumped everything on a rimmed baking sheet, and roasted at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Roasting the cauliflower softened the florets and gave the edges a little crispiness, or, as we say in my house, it put some stank on it. The fragrant thyme brought married the potatoes and cauliflower nicely. This side dish has entered the regular rotation of Ashlee Eats HQ.

  • Kale Greens

I grew up eating mixed greens from a can. I had never seen greens in their pure form, when they look just like, well, greens. My Twitter buddies advised that kale greens hold up well in soups, so I threw half of my week’s bunch into a navy bean soup recipe from The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook. The greens bulked up the soup and transformed it from a side dish to a main course. Kale was indeed slower to wilt and wither in the hot soup than other leafy greens, and it froze well, too.

With the other half of the bunch, I made this quick and easy salad. As I said on Pinterest, this was an easy way to eat some veggies without pulling out a pot.

  • Squash

I never understood how something that starts like this:

Photo courtesy adactio via Flickr.

Can end up like this:

Photo courtesy of Vidya Crawley via Flickr.

I learned that it’s actually pretty easy to do this transformation. I peeled the butternut squash I had received and cut it in half lengthwise. I scooped out the seeds, then rubbed both halves in olive oil. I sprinkled the squash with some sea salt and roasted it in the oven at about 400 degrees until it was tender. The squash was savory and hearty. The pile of orange cubes also brightened up my plate at every meal.

I’m eager to discover more new fruits and vegetables. Have any suggestions on what to try next?

Use a wooden skewer to remove the pits from cherries

Nature's candy? Indeed, my friends.

This is a great time of year to get a pint of delicious cherries. Too bad you have to eat around those lousy pits.

Some folks use a cherry pitter, but you know how I hate those tools that only do one job. I usually pop cherries into my mouth, chew around the middle, then spit out the pit.

This summer, I wanted to enjoy my cherries minus the mess and spit.

I found this blog post from the writers at The Kitchn, who recommend using a chopstick to de-pit a cherry. I don’t have any chopsticks laying around, but I found something similar in my kitchen — wooden skewers.

I have a huge bag of wooden skewers left over from a barbecue kabob recipe from a few years back. The blunt end of a skewer is perfect for removing the pesky pits and enjoying a heap of cherries. Here’s how I MacGyver my skewer/pitter:

  1. Remove the stem of the cherry.
  2. Take the blunt end of the skewer and push it through the cherry. Use the spot where you took out the stem as a guide.
That’s it. Pretty easy. Have a couple of small bowls handy — one for pits and one for cherries. It can get a bit messy, so put down some paper towels. I like my cherries plain or thrown in some yogurt or sangria. What’s your favorite way to enjoy pit-free cherries?

I found the perfect banana bread recipe, and it includes Nutella

I muddled two banana bread loaves before I hit perfection.

I blame the recipes, both ripped from the women’s lifestyle magazines to which my mother and I subscribe (don’t judge me, they’re awesome). Both loaves were dense and dry, more suitable for home insulation than human consumption. I even tried to salvage one loaf by cutting it into pieces and re-baking them as banana nut bread croutons. It was bad. Real bad.

But Twitter handed me a gift one day in the form of Nutella Swirl Banana Bread.

A link to the following recipe appeared in my timeline, and it sounded like perfection. Bananas? My favorite fruit. Nutella? My favorite chocolate-y spread. The option to make banana bread muffins instead of a loaf? Count me in.

The muffins were fantastic. I prefer the muffins to a loaf because of a shorter baking time and the portability of a muffin. The Nutella adds a new flavor to a traditional recipe along with keeping the muffins moist. I recommend eating them slightly warm so the Nutella is still a little gooey.

Nutella swirl banana bread - in muffin form. HECK YES.

Nutella Swirl Banana Bread Muffins

Recipe courtesy of Babble.com 

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • One cup all-purpose flour
  • One cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
  • 1/2 cup Nutella (or to taste)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spray 12 muffin tins with non-stick spray or fill with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until well combined – the mixture will have the consistency of wet sand.
  3. Add the banana, eggs, yogurt and vanilla and beat until well blended. Don’t worry about getting all the lumps of banana out.
  4. Add the flour, baking soda and salt and gently stir with a spatula just until combined. If you are adding nuts or other optional ingredients, throw them in before the batter is completely blended.
  5. Fill each muffin tin about a third full with the batter. Top with a spoonful of Nutella, and cover with a heaping spoonful of batter.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the tops are golden and springy to the touch.
  7. Enjoy with a glass of milk. Trust me, these muffins and milk belong together.

For love of the Kentucky Derby: New takes on classic Derby dishes

This Saturday, Louisville will be the hot spot for horse racing with the running of the Kentucky Derby.

I love this time of the year. The city puts on its pretty face for the world. We host some (B-, C- and D-list) celebrities. And everyone just seems so excited to be a Louisvillian. That is, until you’re stuck in traffic because of road closings necessary for the Pegasus Parade.

In honor of the best two (or is it three?) minutes in sports, here are a few classic Kentucky recipes and some new takes on the originals. Enjoy, and happy Derby.

Everything is better in tiny portions.

Holy heck, they’ve made a cocktail into a cupcake. This restores my faith in humanity.

This is probably a lot lighter on the belly than a sandwich covered in Mornay sauce.

Kentucky’s homegrown soft drink gets an adult upgrade.