The Breakfast Brunch

It’s been a while since I’ve fixed a big breakfast or brunch for houseguests. But at the end of March, my granddaughter, Naomi, and her boyfriend, Brandon, are coming for a visit on their spring break, and they’re staying with us.

I plan on doing a bunch of cooking while they’re here, and one thing on my mind is a nice breakfast or brunch.

What got me thinking about that was this morning Dennis Horner of Grand Forks (many readers may remember that he was a coach at Midway High School near Inkster, N.D., for many years) gave me two cookbooks that were printed by the Herald in the 1980s and featured readers’ recipes. One is titled "Come for Brunch." In it are many dishes that look quite mouth-watering.

After perusing it a bit, I went online and searched one of many favorite sources for brunch recipes and came across the following one for a breakfast casserole. The nice thing about the Ham and Cheese Strata recipe is that it can be tweaked to include several different ingredients, including sauteed mushrooms, Gruyere cheese, bacon and roasted green chilies.

It looks like a winner, and I bet the kids would love it.

Ham and Cheese Strata
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or as needed for baking dish
1 pound (12 to 14 slices) Italian bread or baguette, cut into ½-inch slices, preferably day-old (can be lightly toasted if fresh)
1 cup diced Serrano or Virginia ham
1 cup grated sharp white Cheddar
1 cup grated Manchego or Fontina cheese
2 tablespoons minced chives or finely chopped green onion
4 roma tomatoes cut in ¼-inch slices
8 large eggs
4 cups milk or half-and-half
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard or 1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Butter bottom and sides of baking dish. Arrange half of bread slices in tight rows to cover bottom of dish. Sprinkle with half of ham, cheeses, and chives or green onion. Add another layer of bread and cover with remaining ham, cheese, chives or green onions. Arrange tomatoes in pattern over the top.
Whisk eggs with milk, mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl until well combined. Pour over bread mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Let strata sit on counter 20 to 25 minutes, then unwrap and bake for approximately 1 hour, until top is golden and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Note: You also makes this with sauteed mushrooms, Gruyere cheese, bacon and roasted green chilies and in warmer weather with asparagus and slightly aged Gouda cheese.
Yield: Serves 12.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 339 calories, 25 grams carbohydrates, 20 grams protein, 18 grams fat, 46 percent of calories from fat, 190 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram fiber, 1,090 milligrams sodium.

Mushroom Magic

Mushrooms are one of those foods that you either love or hate. And for the people who don’t like them, it’s usually a texture thing.

Fortunately, I’m not one of those mushroom haters. In fact, I often buy mushrooms when they are on sale just to go looking for new recipes.

Some people consider mushrooms a "superfood" because they have great flavor, you get a good bang for you buck, and they are very nutritious and versatile.

Mushrooms are a leading source of the antioxidant selenium and the only fruit or vegetable with vitamin D. They also have been proven to help strengthen your immune system. And for those of us who are constantly watching our waistlines, mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free and very low in sodium, making them perfect for weight management goals.

One way people might consider using mushrooms is as a meat substitute. That could be an effective method for reducing daily caloric intake while still feeling full and satiated after meals.

For those texture people who want to take advantage of mushrooms’ health benefits, consider a vegetable chopper. I have a pasta-topping recipe (Mama and Michael’s Meat Sauce) that calls for mushrooms and carrots, which is a favorite of our family. The first time we had it, I used a vegetable chopper (on both vegetables) because I knew my grandson wouldn’t go for big chunks of mushrooms.

Guess what? He loved it.

I hoping for the same results with the recipe for Mushroom Taco Mac, which came via e-mail from Mushroom Council and It takes only 5 minutes to prepare, is ready in 15 to minutes and costs only $1.60 per serving.

Mushroom Taco Mac
4½ cups water
1½ cups dried whole grain elbow pasta, enriched (substitute penne or other types of pasta if preferred)
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced or quartered
4 teaspoons taco seasoning mix, low sodium (if available)
½ cup prepared salsa
1 cup reduced-fat Cheddar cheese, shredded
Add water to pot and bring to a boil. Add pasta, cook uncovered for 10 to 13 minutes, or until pasta has reached desired firmness.
While pasta is cooking, heat a saute pan on medium, add oil and swirl to coat the bottom of pan. Add mushrooms and 2 teaspoons taco seasoning mix, saute 5 minutes.
When pasta is done, drain water and return to pot. Heat on low while stirring in salsa, mushrooms and remaining 2 teaspoons taco seasoning mix for 2 minutes or less.
Divide into four portions, top each with ¼ cup of shredded cheese.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 440 calories, 11 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 20 milligrams cholesterol, 550 milligrams sodium, 11 grams dietary fiber, 20 grams protein.

Mama’s and Michael’s Meat Sauce
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 28-ounce cans ready-cut tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pound lean ground beef
1 teaspoon thyme
10 fresh mushrooms, diced
In a saucepan, heat oil and lightly brown onion, carrot and garlic.
Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, pepper and sugar. Simmer gently for about 30 minutes.
While sauce is simmering, brown ground beef in skillet over medium-high heat, drain off fat.
Add meat and thyme to tomato mixture. Cover and simmer ½ hour, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes.
Yield: About 2 quarts.

Versatile Gnocchi

If you love pasta and potatoes, you’ll love gnocchi.

Gnocchi is a small, round pasta that’s made with potatoes, flour, salt and eggs. You can make your own or you can rely one of several store-bought varities. I really like gnocchi topped with a nice marinara sauce and served with a nice salad and a chunk of crusty bread.

I’ve come across several gnocchi recipes that have intrigued me. One is served with with bacon and tomatoes and has the flavorings of a BLT. Another is called Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi. I’m quite interested in this one because my garden spinach in coming on strong. The third is gnocchi with a gorgonzola cream sauce. Sounds yummy. The last is Gnocchi with Wild Mushrooms and Basil Cream, which will be a nice home for my tasty herb.

Gnocchi with Bacon and Tomatoes
4 slices thick bacon, chopped
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 13-ounce package refrigerated or shelf-stable potato gnocch
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or shredded lettuce
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Heat a medium skillet over medium heat; add bacon and onion. Cook, stirring often, until onion starts to brown, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan of water to a boil; add gnocchi, cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking water.
Add some of the cooking water to the skillet; cook, stirring, to make a sauce. Add parsley, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Heat, about 1 minute. Add gnocchi; toss to coat. Serve with Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Yield: Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 366 calories, 45 percent of calories from fat, 19 grams fat (10 grams saturated) 48 milligrams cholesterol, 40 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 743 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber.

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi
4 6-ounce packages baby spinach leaves
2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (about 16 ounces)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan (about 3 ounces), divided
½ cup (about) all-purpose flour
2 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Generous pinch of ground nutmeg
¼ cup butter, melted (or other sauce of choice)
Cook spinach in large pot of boiling salted water just until wilted, stirring occasionally, about 1 minute. Drain. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Chop spinach. Mix spinach, ricotta, ½ cup Parmesan, flour, egg yolks, salt, pepper and nutmeg in large bowl until slightly sticky dough forms.
Dust large rimmed baking sheet with flour. Using floured hands, roll ¼ cup dough between hands and work surface to 5-inch-long rope. Cut rope into 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece between palms to form oval. Transfer gnocchi to prepared baking sheet. Repeat rolling, cutting and shaping with remaining dough.
Working in batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water until gnocchi rise to surface and are cooked through and tender, about 5 minutes (check at 4 minutes). Using large strainer or slotted spoon, remove gnocchi from water; drain. Place in overproof serving dish.
Pour butter over gnocchi; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup Parmesan.
Yield: Serves 8 as an appetizer.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 220 calories, 11 g protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams fat, 100 milligrams cholesterol, 330 milligrams sodium, 3 grams fiber, 64 percent of calories from fat.

Potato Gnocchi
The original recipe served these gnocchi on top of a ragu of beef. You can serve them simply as an appetizer course or as part of a ragu as an entree.
4 small russet potatoes (about 1½ pounds), peeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large egg
2 tablespoons whipping cream
1¼ teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1½ cups (about) all purpose flour
TO SERVE (optional):
½ cup (1 stick) butter
Sauce of choice
Steam potatoes over boiling water until tender, about 12 minutes. Working in batches, press warm potatoes through ricer into large bowl (or place warm potatoes in large bowl and mash finely with potato masher). Cool until lukewarm, about 10 minutes. Add egg, cream, salt and nutmeg and blend well. Add 1½ cups flour and mix until soft and slightly sticky dough forms, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if too moist.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Divide into 6 equal portions. Gently roll 1 dough portion between hands and work surface to ¾-inch-thick rope about 20 inches long. Cut into ¾-inch-long pieces.
Roll each piece over wires of slender whisk or dinner fork to make grooves in gnocchi. Arrange gnocchi in single layer on floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining 5 dough portions.
Cook 1/3 of gnocchi in large pot of boiling generously salted water until gnocchi rise to top and are cooked through and tender, about 5 minutes (check at 4 minutes). Using large strainer or slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to large baking pan; arrange gnocchi in single layer. Cook remaining gnocchi in 2 batches. (Gnocchi can be prepared ahead. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days.)
To serve, heat ½ cup melted butter in a very large skillet and cook gnocchi, tossing often, until heated through, about 8 minutes. Serve with parmesan cheese if desired, or over your favorite sauce or beef ragu.
Yield: Serves 6 as an appetizer.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 230 calories, 7 grams protein, 44 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fat, 40 milligrams cholesterol, 510 milligrams sodium, 3 grams fiber, 13 percent of alories from fat.

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
2 cups heavy cream
2 ounces sweet Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons fruity Italian white wine
1 teaspoon Cognac or other brandy (optional)
Salt and ground white pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
In a frying pan over high heat, bring the cream to a boil. Boil until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the cheese and reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the wine and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the brandy, if using. Season to taste with salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
Drain the gnocchi and immediately add them to the sauce. Toss well to coat. Spoon onto warmed individual plates and serve immediately.
Yield: Enough sauce for 8 appetizer portions.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 230 calories, 3 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 24 grams fat, 90 milligrams cholesterol, 25 milligrams sodium, no fiber, 96 percent of calories from fat.

Gnocchi with Wild Mushrooms and Basil Cream
1 pound, 9-ounce package frozen gnocchi
6 ounces oyster mushrooms
6 ounces baby bella mushrooms, dark gills scraped off
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
½ pound frozen pearl onions (substitute 1 medium sliced sweet onion)
1/3 cup white wine
½ cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half (can use fat-free) mixed with 1 teaspoon cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen peas
½ cup chiffonade of basil
1/3 cup shredded Italian blend cheese or Parmesan cheese
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the gnocchi according to package directions, about 3 minutes. They are done when they float to the top. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water, and transfer to a serving platter. Keep warm.
Lightly rinse mushrooms and slice into ¼-inch-thick pieces. Set aside.
Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute 1 minute; do not brown.
Add pearl onions and continue to saute until they start to become tender and turn golden in color. Add the mushrooms. Cook until they release their juices and are tender, about 8 minutes.
Remove all the ingredients from the skillet and toss with the gnocchi.
To make the basil cream: Keep the skillet over medium heat and add the white wine. Deglaze by scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. Stir in the chicken broth and cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the half-and-half/cornstarch mixture over medium heat. Don’t have the heat too high or it will curdle. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the peas; cook 1 minute. Stir in the basil and cheese and heat through until the cheese melts. Pour the sauce over the gnocchi mixture and serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 6.|
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 347 calories (54 percent from fat), 21 grams fat (8 grams saturated), 22 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 558 milligrams sodium, 93 milligrams cholesterol, 361 milligrams calcium, 3 grams fiber.





Stuffed Mushrooms

What makes picnics and other outdoor get-togethers that feature food successful aren’t necessarily the main coarse. Often, the appetizers, salads and desserts star.

Something you might consider for your next party are stuffed mushrooms. The other night, we had a small potluck at work that featured food made with bacon. I know, bacon isn’t the healthiest food, but it sure tastes good. And it’s my opinion that all foods fit, in moderation.

One of the items we had, courtesy of Lynn Weber, were mushrooms stuffed with bacon, bread crumbs, cheese, onion, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. (Recipe follows.) They were wonderful, as were the other things we had.

There are many foods that you can put in mushroom caps, including all kinds of cheeses, meats, seafood and veggies. Depending on what you stuff your mushrooms with, they can range anywhere from healthy to decadent.

Here  are a couple of recipes for stuffed mushrooms that have caught my eye. One recipe features sweet Italian sausage, while the other contains ground turkey. Both of them would be a welcome addition to any get-together.

Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms
12 medium mushrooms (use a mix of crimini and button mushrooms)
½ pound favorite sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
½ teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 green onions, washed, ends removed, minced
1 large egg white
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove the stems from the mushrooms and finely chop the stems, reserve the caps.
Break up the sausage into a bowl.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a small, shallow baking pan.
In a small skillet heat the oil over moderate heat until hot, but not smoking. Add the mushroom stems, garlic and green onion, cooking until softened.
Increase the heat to high and add the sausage. Saute the sausage, stirring to break up lumps, until the sausage is no longer pink.
Remove the skillet from the heat and cool the mixture slightly. Stir in the egg white, bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange the mushroom caps, cut side up, in the baking pan and fill them with the sausage mixture, mounding it. Sprinkle the stuffed mushrooms with the remaining 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.
Bake in the middle of the oven until the tops are golden brown, about 12 minutes.
Yield: 12 mushrooms.
Approximate nutritional analysis per mushroom: 49 calories (55 percent from fat), 3 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 2 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 120 milligrams sodium, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 19 milligrams calcium, no fiber.

Oriental Stuffed Mushrooms
24 large mushrooms
½ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
¼ cup dry sherry
½ pound ground turkey
¾ cup oats, uncooked, quick or old-fashioned
½ cup sliced green onions
¼ cup finely chopped red or green bell pepper, or both
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Shredded Parmesan (optional)
Remove and reserve stems from mushrooms. Place mushroom caps in large bowl.
In small bowl, combine soy sauce and sherry. Pour over mushroom caps. Cover and marinate at least 1 hour, stirring once after 30 minutes.
Finely chop reserved mushroom stems. Place in large bowl with turkey, oats, green onions, bell pepper, egg white, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Drain mushroom caps, reserving marinade. Fill caps with turkey mixture, packing well and mounding slightly. Place on broiler pan. Brush tops with reserved marinade.
Broil 7 to 8 inches from heat for 13 to 15 minutes or until turkey is cooked through. Just before pulling from broiler, you can add shredded Parmesan. Allow to melt. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 130.5 calories, 9.6 grams protein, 14.2 grams carbohydrates, 3.4 gram fat (0.8 grams saturated), 22.4 milligrams cholesterol, 3.7 grams dietary fiber, 369.7 milligrams sodium.

Bacon-Stuffed Mushrooms
24 ounces of button-type mushrooms, stems removed
1 medium-sized onion
10 pieces of bacon or bacon bits (can substitute turkey bacon)
3 pieces of bread, cubed as small as possible
Garlic salt
1 to 2 cups shredded Chedder cheese
Saute onion in butter. You can add a few minced mushroom stems as well to onion.
Cook bacon on both sides just to get it warm, about 5 minutes.
Finely cut bacon and add to onion as well as teaspoon salt, teaspoon pepper and tablespoon garlic salt. Season to your liking.
Add cubed bread. At this point, you may need to add more butter so it is not so balled up.
Add cheese. Mixture should be consistent as a cheese ball.
Spoon cheese mix into mushroom caps.
After mushrooms are placed in a pan, sprinkle a little garlic salt over them. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Mushroom Magic

Now that the weather appears to have turned the corner here in the Northland, I can start to think about getting my grill out of the garage.

I know there are brave souls out there who grill all winter long, but I’m not one of them. My idea of grilling during the winter is using the Foreman, in my nice warm kitchen.

One of my favorite things to grill on the Foreman is portabella mushrooms. I was turned on to this method of fixing mushrooms by Gail and Bill Schmisek of Grand Forks, who liked to marinate their portabellas in balsamic vinegar before tossing them on the grill and later having them on buns with the usual accoutrements.

We’ve had that version of grilled portabella, and there’s nothing like them smothered with sauteed onions on a hamburger bun. Toss in a few oven fries, and you think you died and went to heaven.

I’ve recently come across a couple of recipes for grilled mushrooms (courtesy of the Mushroom Council and that look they’d be fun to try — Grilled Philly Cheese Mushroom Sandwich and Mushroom Chips and Dip. The first calls for portabellas, the other white button or criminis.

In case you don’t know, mushrooms add great flavor and also can be used as a meat substitute. They also are an an inexpensive superfood that provides value to everyday meals by adding flavor, nutrition and vitamin D. A recent study published in the BMC Immunology journal reports that the common white button mushroom strengthens immunity.

And on top of all that, they taste good. I can’t wait to try the following recipes. 

Grilled Philly Cheese Mushroom Sandwich
4 large Portabella mushrooms, sliced
1 large red onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, core and seeds removed, quartered
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon grilled steak seasoning
4 Italian rolls, split length wise, toasted
8 slices provolone or American cheese or 4 ounces processed cheese spread
Heat grill to medium, about 365 degrees. Brush both sides of mushrooms, onions and bell peppers with oil and season with steak seasoning. Place on grill and close cover, cook 5 minutes on each side.
Remove onions and peppers from grill, thinly slice as desired. Place on aluminum foil and return to grill to keep warm. Remove mushrooms and thinly slice. Lightly toast bun on grill. Remove peppers, onions and mushrooms and combine.
Place cheese on each split roll, top mushroom mixture. Turn grill off and place sandwiches on grill with lid closed, 5 minutes or until cheese is fully melted. Cut in half and serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 370 calories, 210 calories from fat, 23 grams fat (10 grams saturated, no trans fat), 40 milligrams cholesterol, 590 milligrams sodium, 21 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams dietary, 4 grams sugar, 21 grams protein.

Mushroom Chips and Dip
12 large white button or crimini mushrooms
½ cup prepared pesto
½ cup light sour cream
Squeeze of lemon, season to taste
Mix pesto with sour cream and set aside.
Heat grill to medium, about 365 degrees. Cut each mushroom in half. Grill mushrooms 5 minutes with lid closed, turn and grill another 4 to 5 minutes, until cooked through and starting to brown. Skewer 2 to 3 mushrooms and remove from grill. Serve skewered mushrooms with pesto dip.
Hint: Prepared pesto can be found in the grocery store near the pasta and spaghetti sauce.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 200 calories, 160 calories from fat, 17 grams fat (6 grams saturated, no trans fat), 20 milligrams cholesterol, 260 milligrams sodium, 5 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram dietary Fiber, 1 gram sugar, 7 grams protein.