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

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.

[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?

[Bits and pieces] Papa John’s, Downton Abbey and other food news from the web, 1.9.12

  • Downton Abbey, my new favorite series about World War I era Britain, premiered Sunday night. Here’s an old-school garden cake recipe for my fellow Anglophiles that is appropriate for celebrating the greatness that is this show. (The Kitchn)

 

  • Speaking of Brits, a pub in South Gosforth, Newcastle, is serving up dog-friendly beer and a roast with cat-flavored gravy. It will do your heart good to look at these pictures. My dog, Roscoe, gives that two paws up. (Daily Mail)

 

 

  • The Girl Scouts are at it again, dominating the cookie-peddling market with a new treat called Savannah Smiles. (Huffington Post)

 

  • A Papa John’s employee in New York identified a customer as “lady chinky eyes.” Not the best idea. (Courier-Journal)

In a Harry Potter depression? Cook up some wizard-worthy treats to get by

I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself once I see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 2, or HP7II, as I refer to it.

Four years ago, I mourned the end of the book series after I locked myself in my D.C. apartment and spent eight hours reading Deathly Hollows cover to cover.

Fortunately, I still had the movies to look forward to, the movies that always took the story that had become so familiar to me over the years and gave it an exciting live-action treatment.

But the theatrical tale of Potter and Posse ends after the movie premieres at midnight.

Besides seeing Deathly Hollows at least two times and rereading the series, what should a HP fan like me do to cope?

NPR suggests some grown-up books for the HP set. Or you could hack into some road signs to show your love of Ol’ Harry. But I will turn to the coping mechanism that comforts me when life throws me for a loop — cooking.

The Harry Potter books are full of references to culinary treats both imaginary and real. So in our time of mourning, dear fellow fans, here’s a look at some websites that provide recipes for some of the treats J.K. Rowling included in HP’s world.

  • Like the junk food that the kids eat at Hogwarts? Here are recipes for Acid Pops, Cockroach Clusters (minus the cockroaches), Licorice Wands and Chocolate Frogs. (The Pastry Affair)
  • I always thought Butterbeer had a little bit of adult beverage in it, even though it was sold to minors (those crazy liberal Europeans … I kid, I kid). Anyhow, this recipe for the popular wizarding drink is alcohol free and sounds pretty tasty. (The Pastry Affair)
  • MuggleNet, the best site for all things Potter, has a comprehensive list of HP recipes. Highlights include Golden Snitch Cake Pops and Fever Fudge. (MuggleNet)
  • If you want to get more in depth with the magic in your kitchen, consider buying a Harry Potter cookbook. (Amazon)

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.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with citrusy lime chicken thighs

Citrusy Tequila Chicken Thighs. Photo courtesy of Family Circle magazine.

I like any occasion to add tequila to a meal. 

Many Americans probably agree, hence the eager acceptance of Cinco de Mayo in this country.

I plucked this Fifth of May celebration-worthy recipe from the pages of Family Circle. This is a dish I didn’t alter at all — it was great as-is. Feel free to grill the chicken on the stove if you don’t have a grill.

Citrusy Tequila Chicken Thighs and Rice Salad

Recipe from Family Circle magazine 

Ingredients

  • 1/2  cup  orange juice
  • 1/4  cup  lime juice
  • 1/4  cup  tequila (here’s the zinger!)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  McCormick Smokehouse pepper
  • 6 large skinless bone-in chicken thighs
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons leftover marinade
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3  cups cooked rice
  • 1/2   each red and yellow sweet peppers
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon  chopped cilantro
Instructions
  1. Place orange juice, lime juice, tequila, canola oil, salt and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Add chicken and seal. Marinate in refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.
  2. Heat gas grill to medium-high or prep charcoal grill with medium-hot coals and set up one side for indirect grilling. Lightly coat grill rack with oil or nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Remove the chicken from the plastic bag and pour marinade into a small saucepan. Boil for 1 minute and reserve. Place chicken on direct heat and grill for 5 minutes per side. Remove to indirect heat and grill for 20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Baste every 5 minutes with the reserved marinade.
  4. To prepare the rice salad, in a large bowl, whisk olive oil, 3 tablespoons of the marinade and salt. Stir in rice, peppers, scallions and cilantro. Serve at room temperature with chicken.


McDonald’s has made oatmeal a hot topic. Here’s how to make your own.

Photo courtesy of nate steiner via Flickr.

It took two minutes and three ingredients for my fiancé to change the way I look at breakfast.

It was a cool February morning. We were hungry and chilly and needed some food that would stick to our bones.

Rob removed a carton of Aldi-brand oatmeal from my cabinet. Then he showed me how real grown ups eat a proper breakfast.

Oatmeal has had its place on my kitchen shelves in every apartment in which I’ve lived. But oatmeal was just an item I needed on hand to whip up a batch of oatmeal-raisin cookies when the mood struck me. Occasionally I would by bags of the pre-flavored oatmeal that’s quick and easy to prepare when you’re in a hurry. But I never looked at those rolled oats in the cardboard carton as food with which I could satisfy my urges to get creative in the kitchen.

Rob got to pouring and measuring and stirring. Less than five minutes later, I was eating a bowl of hot oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon and brown sugar. This humble bowl of oatmeal was the beginning of my adoration of this bastion of fiber.

Oatmeal has become my go-to breakfast. It’s a blank canvas that waits for your personal touches. It’s easy, quick and cheap. It keeps you full until lunch. In a word, oatmeal is wonderful.

Recently, McDonald’s and a couple of oat-loving food writers have brought oatmeal to the front of internet food conversation.

Food columnist Mark Bittman just wrote a widely read article for the New York Times condemning McDonald’s oatmeal, which he said has been altered so much by the fast-food giant that the dish has more sugar than a Snickers candy bar. Bittman’s piece prompted a response from Tom Chiarella at Esquire Magazine based on his own experiences at the restaurant that defends the chain’s oatmeal.

While you decide if McDonald’s has bastardized oatmeal or brought a healthier option to the masses, why not make your own? It takes only two steps:

  1. Follow the directions on the carton of oatmeal. If you use milk instead of water (which is what I do), watch your oatmeal closely and stir often because it can easily bubble over the pot or bowl.
  2. Add your favorite ingredients.

Here’s a breakdown of some possible additions to oatmeal. Choose something from each category and make your own combinations.

  • Something sweet: Sugar, brown sugar, sugar substitute, honey, syrup
  • Something crunchy: Nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc.)
  • Something fruity: Dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins, Craisins, etc.), mashed banana, chopped apple, applesauce
  • Something flavorful: Cinnamon, nutmeg

Do you have your own oatmeal combination? Share the knowledge in the comments.

Time for some last-minute Super Bowl recipes

Photo courtesy of boo_licious via Flickr.

I’m not a big sports fan, but I can appreciate an event like the Super Bowl. Any event that brings people together and involves food can’t be all bad.

The big event is just a couple of days away. Here’s a few quick dishes that you can whip up if you still haven’t figured out what you’re going to feed the crowd.

Fruit dip –  Blend a package of softened strawberry cream cheese and a jar of marshmallow cream. Serve with your favorite fruits. (All Recipes)

Nachos – Heat a jar of picante sauce, a can of nacho cheese soup and some chopped jalapeno peppers on the stove. Stir often. Serve with chips.

Sliders – Mix a package of ground beef with two cap fulls of Mrs. Dash seasoning (or the store-brand equivalent, which is cheaper and tastes the same). Form into small patties. Grill in a medium pan. Top with slices of pepperjack cheese, and serve on King’s Hawaiian Rolls.

Potato wedges – Bake a bag of frozen potato wedges according to package instructions. Right after you take them out of the oven, sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika. Serve with ketchup spiked with Frank’s Hot Sauce.

Pizza – Top pita bread with pasta sauce, spinach and mozzarella cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

S’mores – Top a graham cracker with a piece of chocolate and marshmallow. Put another graham cracker on top. Repeat with as many times as you like. Heat in microwave for 10 seconds. (Food Network)