February 5, 2009

Vegetable Strata

I checked out The Red Hat Society Cookbook at the library, excited to try all the yummy, home-cooked, tried-and-true recipes that these ladies put together. I thought to myself, who better to try a cookbook from than a bunch of sassy moms, grandmas, and divas that run around town wearing big red hats and causing a ruckus. These are my kind of ladies! When ever I have spotted a group of them out and about, they are always laughing loudly...usually at a restaurant. A bunch of women who love eat and enjoy life with their pals...sign me up! I seriously can see myself become a red-hatter sometime in the future...maybe about 20 years or so. I have already started shopping for the perfect over-the-top red hat...and let me tell you, I want a big one!

Needless to say, I have high hopes for this cookbook. Also, I have heard really good things about it. I flagged a bunch of recipes, and this Strata is the first one that I am trying out. The ingredients looked really yummy, and it looks like a good vegetarian recipe to get my feet wet. Certainly not boring. I was really looking forward to making and eating this dish...past tense. Now, I am not so sure.

Sadly, I have run into some snags. Through a series of false starts, I have been stumbling through this recipe. Now, most of the problems have been my fault. This dish takes a long time to make (rather a long time to sit and rest, then to actually bake). I did not read the recipe very thoroughly. Then, I forgot about it all together. I remembered that this was supposed to be our dinner earlier today; around noonish. Oops! See...totally my fault for being a bubble-brain!!! After assembly, this strata is supposed to sit for at least 5-6 hours, better if overnight. Then, it has to rest at room temperature for another 30 minutes and then bake for an additional hour. Ugh! I did not get the thing assembled until about 1:30pm!!!! Since we have dinner plans for the next two nights, I can't put it off another day. If I did, we would not get around to it until Sunday night. By then, the whole thing may be ruined if it sat around for another three stinkin' days. Also, I made the whole darn thing. It is ready to go and resting in my fridge as I type this. If I scrap it now, I have to make a new-from-scratch meal for tonight!!!! Double Ugh. I really don't think I have a choice.

My decision is to wing it.

I am only going to let it rest for about 3 hours and then see what happens. Depending on what time it is, I will probably pull it from the fridge and just bake it (not letting it come to room temp). Or I may let it sit out for half of the recommended time. I am not sure. Either way, I am nervous about the results. I really don't want this dish to be totally screwed up. There are a lot of my favorite ingredients in it, and the dish itself is very promising. I am hoping that it will all be okay. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Vegetable Strata

1 Tablespoon of olive oil
2 Tablespoons of butter
1 cup chopped red onion
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
8 ounces of sliced mushrooms
1 cup of seeded and diced Roma tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large loaf of stale Italian bread, cubed (8-9 cups)
1/2 cup plus 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
9-10 large eggs, beaten
2-3 cups of milk
2-3 Tablespoons of Dijon mustard

In a large skillet heat olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Melt the butter in the oil and add the onions and peppers. Saute until tender and caramelized. Add the mushrooms and the tomatoes and heat through. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

In the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 casserole dish, place a layer of bread cubes. Distribute half of the cooled veggie mixture over cubes. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese over the veggies. Add the remaining bread cubes over the top. Add the remaining vegetables over the cubes again. Top with another 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Top that with the cheddar cheese.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, mustard, salt, pepper. Whisk with a hand mixer until frothy. Pour over the bread mixture in casserole dish. Make sure that all bread is covered and egg mixture is distributed evenly. Cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate, and let sit for 5-6 hours minimum or overnight.

When ready to bake, remove dish from fridge and let come to room temperature for 20-30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 45-60 minutes or until golden and puffy. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Jen's Notes:
Okay, I did make some changes. I used a regular onion instead of red. I added 2 cloves of minced garlic to the sauteed veggies, because I just can't help myself. I used canned, drained diced tomatoes. I used 10 eggs, 1 cup of milk, a 1 cup of heavy cream...only because everything is better with heavy cream. (The cookbook notes do say that if you want a firmer strata use 2 cups of milk.) I used a combo of mild cheddar cheese, mozzarella, and Parmesan because that is what I had on hand. I used some Dijon mustard along with some whole-grain mustard, because I like the flavor combo and the texture of the rough, whole mustard. Lastly, I toasted my bread cubes in the oven first. My bread was pretty fresh, and toasting makes it dry so the liquids will absorb better. I already shared my time-table issue, so I won't get into that again. I will let you know how this all turns out.

The Result:
I am so relieved! This was AWESOME! Seriously, fan-freakin'-tastic! We loved this dish, and I am happy to say that I was unnecessarily worried. It turned out perfect, despite my lack of following directions. Actually, I don't think I will change a thing when I make this dish again. I think the directions overstated things, as it was. My strata rested for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours tops, and it was just fine! Better than fine....perfectly cooked and delicious, as a matter of fact. I did pull it out of the fridge during the last 1/2 hour of resting and I let it come to room temp before baking. Then, I did let it rest for 5-10 minutes after it came out of the oven. This made it way easier to cut and portion. Overall, this recipe is a keeper. It was delicious! This is a great vegetarian choice, as it was filling and satisfying. The flavors blended perfectly, and the mustard gave it a tiny little twang that was complex, but not overwhelming...just savory. Yum! I can't wait to have leftovers for lunch today!!!

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