Sausage-Mushroom Breakfast Bake

6 April 2013

Perfect casserole for brunch

Every semester, my former boss’s sweet wife, Mrs. Dunn, hosted a brunch for Dr. Dunn’s students. They graciously invited me every time and I was only too eager to go! This sausage-mushroom breakfast bake and Mrs. Dunn’s French toast casserole were always huge hits and I’m thankful she was willing to share the recipes with me. Making them reminds me of the good times, great fellowship, and delicious food we invariably enjoyed at those brunches. I’m posting the breakfast bake recipe today and will post the French toast casserole recipe next Saturday.

Sausage-Mushroom Breakfast Bake
Prep: 25 minutes

Bake: 50 minutes + 10 minutes standing

Serves: 10-12


1 pound bulk pork sausageIMAG0254

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

6 cups cubed bread

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes

10 eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups milk

2 teaspoons ground mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper


In a large skillet, cook sausage and mushrooms over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Place half of the bread cubes in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking dish; top with 2 cups sausage mixture and half of the cheese and tomatoes. Repeat layers (starting with bread cubes). In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper; pour over bread mixture.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Nat’s Notes

  • Do not substitute regular mustard for ground mustard, and do not skip ground mustard.
  • This recipe can easily be cut in half to accommodate a small group.
  • Because this casserole is very salty and not exactly low-cal, I serve it with a fruit salad (for example, fresh pineapple, orange, grapes, and strawberries).
  • If you like onions, consider throwing in a finely-chopped regular onion in the first step of this recipe, or adding chopped green onions in the last 5 minutes of the meat cooking process.

Homemade Hummus and Pita Chips

1 August 2012



A few days ago, I was on vacation in Greece eating souvlaki and swimming in the Mediterranean (not at the same time!). So today, to extend the experience a little, I decided to make that staple of the Mediterranean diet — hummus.


This recipe, posted by ROYHOBBS at, is super simple and easy to make.


1 (19 oz) can garbanzo beans, half the liquid reserved

4 TBS lemon juice

2 TBS tahini (I put in 3)

1-2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp salt

black pepper to taste

olive oil


1. In a blender, chop the garlic. Pour garbanzo beans into blender. Place lemon juice, tahini, chopped garlic and salt in blender. Blend until creamy and well mixed, adding in liquid from can as needed.

2. Transfer the mixture to a medium serving bowl. Sprinkle with pepper and pour olive oil over the top.



The recipe for baked pita chips has been modified from an online recipe located at


4 pita bread rounds (I use whole wheat)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil



1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush your baking sheet with olive oil, coating the entire sheet evenly. Brush the top of a pita round evenly with oil oil. Sprinkle pita with salt to taste.

2. Cut the pita in half, then in quarters, then in eighths to make eight equal sized triangles.

3. Place pita triangles seasoning-side up in a single layer on the oiled baking sheet. Repeat process for remaining three pita rounds.

4. Place baking sheet in the oven. Let the pita chips bake for 8-10 minutes, turning the sheet once during the baking to ensure even heat distribution. Chips are done when they’re golden brown and crisp. Towards the end of baking keep an eye on the chips, as they will brown quickly and can burn if not watched.

5. Remove chips from oven and allow to cool. Serve the chips on their own or with a dip like hummus or baba ghanoush. Store in a sealed Tupperware or Ziploc bag.

Nat’s Notes

* Hummus can be served with vegetables as an even healthier alternative

* Chickpeas contain loads of fiber and nutrients

* Hummus makes a healthy snack as well as a great sandwich spread



Cheesy Rigatoni Bake

29 April 2012

Rigatoni Bake

The March 2012 issue of Family Circle featured a recipe called “Rigatoni with creamy pepper sauce.” It looked so good that I decided to try the following variation with some ingredients I had on hand.


1 large sweet red pepper

1 or 2 yellow squash, sliced in half or fourths lengthwise

1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 cup shredded Swiss or parmesan cheese (or mix)

3/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

1 pound rigatoni

1/3 mozzarella ball, divided into 4 or 5 smaller balls

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced in thin strips

5-6 grape tomatoes

Parmesan cheese


1. Heat broiler. Line a large broiler pan with foil and coat with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Place pepper on prepared pan, cut side down; add squash. Broil for 9-10 minutes, about 4 inches from heat source. Turn oven to 350 degrees. Remove pepper and squash from heat and set squash aside, slicing into wedges when cool. Place the pepper in a paper bag or covered bowl for 5 minutes. Peel skin off peppers and discard; thinly slice peppers.

3. In a large nonstick skillet bring broth to a simmer; add garlic and simmer 2 minutes. Stir in cream, salt and pepper and cheese and simmer for an additional 2 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, cook pasta following the package directions, about 10 to 14 minutes for al dente. Drain and return to pot.

5. Butter a medium-sized casserole and add cooked pasta. Add cream mixture and sliced peppers, squash, tomatoes and mozzarella balls; stir gently to combine. Sprinkle with basil and parmesan.

6. Bake uncovered at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until bubbly and slightly browned on top.

Easy Deviled Eggs

22 April 2012

Deviled Eggs

This is my go-to side dish for parties and get-togethers — I never have to worry about leftovers! All measurements are approximate and should be modified to taste.


6 large eggs

1/3 cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip

1/8-1/4 cup sweet pickle relish

1/4 tsp of mustard (I like dijon)

Dash of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

6 pimento-stuffed green olives, cut in half




1. Boil eggs, then peel and cut in half lengthwise.

2. Scoop egg yolks into a shallow bowl and smash with fork; place egg white halves on a plate.

3. Add mayonnaise, relish, mustard to egg yolk mixture and stir to combine. Add sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Add more mayonnaise if smoother consistency is desired.

4. Fill each egg half to overflowing with yolk mixture.

5. Place one olive half in the middle of each egg. Sprinkle eggs with paprika (see photo).

Nat’s Notes

* For eggs that are easier to peel, I like to put them immediately under cold water after they are done boiling.

* To peel the eggs, crack them on both ends then roll them gently on a clean counter until they’re cracked all over. Starting at the hollower end of the egg, stick your thumb under the layer of egg shell and start peeling back the shell. It should come up in one solid sheet of shell.

* The smoother the filling, the easier it is to put into a pastry bag and do fancy deviled eggs. But then this would be a recipe for “fancy” and not “easy” deviled eggs. 🙂

* I always boil one more egg than I’ll actually need. I use the extra egg whites as “replacement” for any whites that get damaged in the peeling process.

Easy Guacamole

15 April 2012

I love guacamole!

In my opinion, there is no wrong way to make guacamole: the key is to use the ripest, freshest ingredients possible. Here’s a basic easy recipe but there are dozens of ways to personalize it. For example, some people don’t use tomatoes — but I love the beautiful color they add and how the red contrasts with the purple of the onions. Some like their “guac” smashed to death while I like it with a bit more chunks and texture. And sometimes I leave out the jalapeno. 🙂


Fresh, beautiful ingredients

2 ripe avocados

1/2 red onion, minced (about 1/2 cup)

2 TBS fresh cilantro (more or less, depending on taste)

1 small jalapeno, seeded, minced (Be careful when handling hot peppers!! Don’t touch your eyes.)

1 TBS fresh lime juice

1/2 tsp sea salt

Dash of fresh black pepper

1/2 ripe tomato, seeded, chopped



1. Slice avocado in half, twist to separate and carefully remove seed. Scoop out avocado “meat” into a small bowl.

2. With a fork, mash the avocado. Then add the onion, cilantro, lime and seasonings; mash to combine. Add jalapeno if using.

3. Gently mix in tomatoes just before serving.

Serves 2-4

Best French Toast Recipe

7 April 2012

In spite of having been born and raised in France, my favorite French toast recipe actually comes from Courtney Heins in Palmer, Texas. Ironic, non? We had these for breakfast this morning along with a fruit cup consisting of melon balls, sliced strawberries and kiwi.

Easy French Toast

French Toast

3 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla

Bread (preferably “stale” or a couple of days’ old)

salt (just a sprinkle)


Combine and whip eggs, milk and vanilla; pour into shallow dish. Dip both sides of bread in mixture and place in skillet or frying pan on medium heat. Grill both sides until golden brown. Top with sprinkle of cinnamon while grilling. Add toppings when finished. Voila!

Nat’s Notes

* I like to use slices from a round loaf of French bread. Also works great with challah.

* Sprinkle with powdered sugar (as in photo) for a nice presentation.

Delicious Possibilities

10 January 2012

One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year was a a book called the Menu Cookbook: Kitchen-tested menus for foolproof dinner parties. This book is sheer genius. It’s published by the same people who put out my other favorite cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen’s New Best Recipes.

What I love about their cookbooks is that each recipe has been tested 8-36 times in order to find the perfect recipe that will never fail you. The instructions are so specific that it’s like each recipe is a cooking class. Some people would find that a little taxing — and it’s definitely not a “go-to” everyday-type cookbook — but I find it absolutely fascinating.

The Menu Cookbook provides 51 complete menus that totally take the guesswork out of entertaining and menu planning. Each menu includes a well-tested timeline so that dinner preparation is seamless and you know exactly what to prepare ahead and when to put each dish in the oven or on the stove so that everything comes out alright and on time. There are also notes on reducing cooking stress, changing things up a little for variety, and all sorts of helpful kitchen tips. The menus are arranged by season, which I thought was a fresh and creative approach, and there are recipes from all around the world.

Here’s a sample menu:

“Dressing Up Chicken”

Smoked Salmon with Herbed Creme Fraiche and Potato Chips

Lemony Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Easy Green Beans with Porcini Butter

Wild Rice Pilaf with Almonds and Dried Apricots

Berry Fools

Looks great, doesn’t it? I can’t wait to hold more dinner parties in 2012! So many new recipes to try!

French Onion Soup

8 January 2012


French Onion Soup

I recently read on the cover of a magazine that January is “soup month.” Sounds good to me! There’s nothing as soothing on a cold day as a hot cup of homemade soup. Here’s a favorite recipe from our family vaults.


2-3 cups sliced onions

2 TBS butter

4-5 cups water

1 cup white cooking wine

2 bouillon cubes

Salt, pepper to taste

Cubed French bread (day-old, crusty bread works best)

Grated Swiss cheese


Brown onions in butter. Add water, wine, bouillon, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover. Simmer until onions are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Put cubes of bread into individual oven-proof serving bowls and sprinkle with a little grated cheese. Pour soup into each bowl and top with a generous additional amount of grated cheese.  Place the bowls under the broiler until  cheese is brown and crispy. Serves 4-5 people.

Bon Appétit! 

A Tuscan Holiday

17 November 2011

Cooking Class

The theme for tonight’s cooking class was “Tuscan Holiday,” inspired by Chef James Clary’s travels. Whereas the previous cooking class (where we made sushi) was very hands-on and interactive, this was more like watching a cooking show where you can actually sample the fare or like a “chef’s table” where the chef makes the food in front of you and then it’s served to your table.


Tuscan Pizza

Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushroom Ragout

Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with Risotto

Zabaglione with fresh strawberries

Tuscan Pizza



1 package dry yeast

1 cup warm water

1 TBS sugar

1 tsp salt

1/4 cup olive oil

3 cups bread (or all-purpose) flour

For toppings

3 lbs fresh or canned tomatoes

4 medium-sized fresh balls of mozzarella


ground pepper

12 leaves of fresh basil

extra virgin olive oil

To prepare dough

Mix the water with the sugar and yeast. Let stand 5 minutes until dissolved and the yeast starts to bubble. Add the salt, olive oil and 1 cup flour and mix well. Add 2 more cups flour. Dough should still be a little sticky but should be able to form a ball. Turn out onto floured surface and start to knead, adding a little bit of flour as needed, until your dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Form a ball, place into an oiled bowl and cover with a cloth napkin. Let dough rise for 45 minutes. Punch down and divide in half.

To prepare pizza

Lightly oil your baking pizza pan. With your hands, press on the dough to spread it out over the size of your pan, to about 1/2 cm high (very thin). If using canned tomatoes, make sure they are well drained and distribute over dough. If using fresh tomatoes, cut into slices and spread them out on dough. Cut the mozzarella into thin slices and spread over the top, then salt and pepper to taste, adding washed basil leaves last. Let the pizza rest for another 10 to 15 minutes. In the meantime, heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the pizza before placing into the oven and bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the mozzarella has melted and the crust is golden.

Polenta and Mushroom Ragout


For the polenta, first step

2 cups chicken stock or bouillon

2 TBS organic olive oil

2 TBS minced garlic

1 1/2 cup polenta

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

Bring stock to a boil in medium saucepan. Add olive oil and garlic. Slowly add polenta, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper. Polenta is done when it begins to come off sides of pan. Pour polenta onto a cookie sheet rubbed with olive oil and refrigerate until you are ready for step two.

For the polenta, second step

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup chicken broth

1 cookie sheet polenta from above

1/2 cup chopped fresh thyme

1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

8 oz cream cheese

Place cream and broth on stovetop in a heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Break up polenta into pieces and fill a food processor 2/3 full of polenta. Add some of the cream mixture to the polenta and process until smooth. Add some of the thyme, Parmesan, and cream cheese and process until smooth, but thick. Remove from processor and repeat process until all of the polenta, the herbs, and the cheeses are used. Mix all batches together in a large bowl and serve.

For the mushrooms

3 lb. mushrooms

1 cup minced white onion

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup white wine

1 cup Marsala

3/4 tsp salt

4 oz Gorgonzola cheese

In a very hot saute pan, cook mushrooms and onions in oil until nicely browned. Add wine and Marsala, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until liquids are almost gone. Add salt and Gorgonzola. Place about 1 cup of polenta in bowl. Top with mushrooms and garnish with Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Risotto with Squash Medley


2 TBS butter

2 TBS olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups dry white wine

1 1/2 cups Arborio Rice

Lightly oil a large sheet tray with some vegetable oil and set aside. Melt butter with oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic, cover pan, and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally. The onions should be completely soft. Uncover pan, add rice and stir until opaque, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium. Add 1/2 cup of stock and 1/2 cup of wine and cook until almost completely absorbed, stirring constantly. Continue adding stock and wine, 1/2 cup at a time, until when tasted there is no “crunch” left in the rice, about 30 minutes. Rice should still be firm, but not crunchy at all.

As soon as rice is done, scrape from pan with a rubber spatula onto reserved sheet tray. Let rice cool completely.

Pork with wine reduction


2 TBS fennel seeds

1 tsp chili flakes

1 TBS oregano

1 TBS salt

1/2 cup olive oil

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 3-4 lb boneless pork shoulder

1/4 cup vegetable oil

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove pork from package and pat dry with a paper towel. Rub spices and olive oil all over meat. Heat a large skillet on high for at least 4 minutes. Add vegetable oil and sear meat on all sides. Remove from pan and place on a roasting pan. Pour broth into pan. Cover with foil and bake for 4 to 5 hours until pork is fork tender. Serve with Risotto.

Strawberries and Cream


8 egg yolks

3/4 cup sweet Marsala wine

1/3 cup sugar

Mix ingredients together in top of double boiler and cook rapidly over boiling water, whisking constantly until mixture doubles in bulk and thickens. Remove from heat and whisk for another minute. Pour mixture warm over fresh berries, serve it in a tall glass by itself, or chill it and serve as a sauce for berries.

Buon Appetito!

Creamy Potato Soup

11 November 2011

Several years ago, I watched my mom cook this creamy potato soup. She’d been making it for years – and her mom before her – but no one had written down the recipe. So, for posterity’s sake, I jotted it down on a piece of paper as I observed her. It’s a little tricky in parts (your arm may feel like it’s going to fall off in the white sauce stage) but it’s well worth it.


4-6 stalks celery (and leaf), chopped

6-8 medium potatoes, cut into chunks

1 large onion, chopped + ½ onion, chopped (reserved for thickener)

4 large carrots, chopped

2 TBS butter

4 TBS flour

1 cup cold milk

Seasoning salt

Herbs (like herbes de provence or whatever you prefer)

2 small chicken bouillon cubes

Salt, pepper to taste



1. Bring half a pot of water to a boil. Add chopped celery, potatoes, onion and carrots. Stir, season with salt, cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook for about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender and you can easily stick a knife through the carrots and potatoes. Try not to overcook the veggies or potatoes will dissolve.

Thickener/White Sauce

2. While vegetables are simmering, make the thickener in a large skillet or saucepan. This part can be a little tricky until you get the hang of it (I was scared of it for years) but it’s also surprisingly forgiving. See Nat’s Notes for an easier alternative to this step if you’re limited on time.

3. Melt butter over low heat. Once butter has melted completely, add reserved onions until cooked through and translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Don’t brown. Sprinkle flour over onions and mix with wire whisk until it’s a thick paste, then quickly add milk while stirring. Continue to stir continually while the mixture comes to a boil over low heat. Then take two big spoonfuls of broth from the vegetable pot and stir them into the white sauce. Keep stirring until the broth incorporates and the sauce starts to reduce and thicken.

4. Add two more big spoonfuls of broth and repeat step of stirring until incorporated. Add seasoning salt, pepper, herbs and bouillon to white sauce. Continue incorporating spoonfuls of broth until the vegetables in the first pot are barely still covered.

Final Steps

5. Increase heat under the vegetable pot to medium. Pour the white sauce into the vegetable pot and stir gently with a wooden spoon. Bring to a soft boil while stirring occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom and burns.  Serve immediately or refrigerate and reheat.


  • Make the chunks of potato big enough so that they don’t dissolve into the soup. I’ve made that mistake before and people are like, “Yum, tastes good … Where are the potatoes?”
  • Sauce will thicken naturally following the steps above, esp. overnight, but if you’re looking for a quick fix, skip the white sauce part and mix in potato flakes from a box (like Idaho Spuds) to desired thickness.
  • Add ham chunks as a little variation.
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