Filed under: breakfast, challenge, farmers markets, local, phoenix, recipe | Tags: alice in wonderland, Arizona, bacon, challenge, cheese, eggs, farmers markets, hash browns, impossible, Iron Chef, locavore, Ming Tsai, Phoenix, potato, recipe, strata
This past winter, I read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass for the first time. Though I am an avid reader, I somehow managed to ignore the small paperback that’s been sitting on my bookshelf for years. As I look back on this week’s challenge, I realize that I, too, have “believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Notably, that I can cook breakfast for seven – including two small children – with all local ingredients and get everything on the table by 8:45am without any major catastrophes (the final batch of oily, uncooked hash browns that found a home in the trashcan do not count as major in my book).
The truth is, breakfast is a challenging meal. And as Chef Ming Tsai said on Iron Chef a few weeks ago, “Breakfast is really its own genre. Only certain people are good at cooking great breakfast.” Despite my best efforts, I am not one of those people who can get up bright and early and get those smiley face pancakes on the table. And as my black and blue thumbnail can attest, I can hardly even feed myself yogurt in the morning without something going wrong.
However, this breakfast strata recipe is a saving grace for night owls like me – it’s assembled the night before and only needs reheating in the morning. Combined with some cured, smoked pork shoulder and hash browns, it makes a perfect breakfast.
Though there were a few hiccups in the cooking, this dish represented a turning point for me in my locavore challenge: it was my first, true, multi-dish meal. Before this week, with the exception of a side salad, I’ve relied on stand alone items that don’t need side dishes. However, one breakfast strata cannot feed seven mouths alone – it needed those potato and pork back-ups.
My Saturday morning market trip reflected my broader shopping needs and came with its own side dish: a ray of sunshine. I decided to spread my shopping list around to different vendors this week, and my efforts were rewarded wonderfully. I found young, green-leafed spinach at one stall and pesticide free apples at another. I was even entertained by the very responsible young man, of about 12-years-old, who was manning the stall in his father’s absence. Apparently, he’s a loyal vendor at the market each week – “rain or shine” – unless there happens to be a natural catastrophe, like “an accident on the I-10.” Interacting with the vendors, of all ages, is one of the major benefits to these local meals.
Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Local Cheese
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Serves 4 – 6
1/2 loaf French or Italian bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick
4 tbsp butter
4 shallots, minced
2 bunches spinach
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 roasted green chile, diced (optional)
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups meltable cheese, grated (I used Monterey jack, but any meltable cheese will work)
6 large eggs
1 3/4 cups half-and-half
Spread the bread slices on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes in a 225 degree oven until dry (you can also use bread that’s been out overnight). Using 2 tablespoons of butter, thinly coat one side of the slices.
While the bread bakes, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened. Add the washed spinach leaves, bell pepper and green chile (if using). Cook until the spinach is wilted, season to taste. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add the wine to the skillet and simmer over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup – about 3 minutes.
Grease a 8-inch-square baking dish with butter. Arrange half the bread, buttered side up, in a single layer over the bottom of the dish. Spread half the vegetable mixture over the bread and sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheese on top. Repeat to form a second layer with the remaining bread and spinach.
Whisk together the eggs, reduced wine, half-and-half, 1 tsp salt and a generous pinch of pepper. Carefully pour the mixture over the top of the assembled layers. Be patient with this process – allow the mixture to soak into the bread as you pour.
Cover the dish with plastic wrap and weight with 2 pounds sugar that you’ve transferred to a plastic bag. refrigerate at least 1 hour, preferrable overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325. Let the strata stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. Remove the weights, uncover and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake until both the edges and center are puffed and the edges have pulled away slightly from the sides of the dish, 50 – 55 minutes.
From America’s Test Kitchen
1 pound potatoes, peeled and grated
2 tbsp onion, grated
1 tbsp minced, fresh parsley (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tbsp butter
Melt 1/2 tablespoon butter in a large, non-stick skillet over medium high heat until it begins to brown, swirling to coat the pan. Scatter the potatoes evenly into the skillet and press firmly into a cake. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until dark golden brown and crisp on the first side, about 8 minutes.
Slide the hash brown cake onto a large plate, then invert it onto a second plate so the browned side is facing up. Add the remaining butter to the pan and melt, swirling to coat the pan. Slide the hash brown cake back into the pan, browned side up, and continue to cook over medium heat until the second side is golden and crisp, about 5 minutes.
If you plan to make more than one hash brown cake, be sure the pan has no residue left in it from the first batch – if it does, the cake won’t stick together and you’ll lose the crispy brown layer to the pan.
Breakfast-style Pork Shoulder
1 package pork shoulder (or any other bacon like substitute)
1/2 tbsp butter
Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add a few pieces of pork shoulder, leaving plenty of space around each piece. As the pork begins to sizzle and crisp, flip the pieces. Cook until crispy and remove to a paper towel lined plate. It’s important to get the pork nice and crispy, otherwise it tastes too much like ham. Serve while warm.
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