Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Italian Brunch, The Lazy Woman's Way

The after-brunch cleanup crew discovers the creme fraiche.

I like to think of my approach to having people over as "The Lazy Woman's Guide to Entertaining" (inspired by my friend Judie O'Neill, author of
"The Lazy Woman's Guide to Just About Everything.")

The premise of the book (and my entertaining philosophy) is that it's OK to be "lazy" and eliminate or cut corners and and still live a big, luscious life or throw a lavish dinner party.

For example, years ago I spent hours shopping for, preparing and cleaning up after our traditional Christmas dinner of turkey and dressing with all the trimmings. My daughter, the picky eater, would eat a small slice of turkey, a spoonful of mashed potatoes and a slice of jellied cranberry. My husband was finished with his dinner in 20 minutes. I began to resent the low effort to reward ratio (i.e. big effort, little satisfaction).

About seven years ago, I changed the menu for our Christmas dinner to fresh crab from the Fish King in Glendale, Caesar salad and home-made French fries. This new tradition is an easy and lazy alternative that everyone loves. With the lazy approach, my effort goes way down, but my reward sky rockets.

I hosted a brunch for a dozen friends on Sunday and took a similar approach. My goal is to serve food that's beautiful and delicious without spending hours in the kitchen, especially after the guests arrive.

Instead of time in the kitchen, I tend to spend time "hunting and gathering" in the Pasadena area for my favorites that include:
- Cristalino Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) from Cost Plus
- Bellini mix from Cost Plus (I decided the home-made version was too laborious.)
- Prosciutto (for prosciutto and melon) from Porta Via (Jonathan Gold thinks it has the best in LA.)
- Pastries from Federico's Bakery
- Produce from Super King in Altadena
- Three-layer pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and marscapone cheese from Trader Joe's

The main dish was an Italian sausage casserole, a variation on the popular bread-meat-cheese, make-the-night-before brunch dish. I found the original recipe on my recipe, but made some tweaks after "taste driving" the dish for friends a week earlier. I also incorporated some tips from Jo at The Adventures of Kitchen Girl.

Here's the revised recipe:


  • 1 pound of sweet Italian sausage (The 1/2 pound in the original recipe was too skimpy.)
  • 8 green onions, sliced (1 cup)
  • 3 zucchini, diced (increased from two in the original)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard (Added, per Kitchen Girl's suggestion)
  • 1 (7-ounce) jar roasted red bell peppers, drained and chopped
  • About 5 cups of Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (Reduced from original recipe)
  • 3 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 8 large eggs (increased from original recipe)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 small block of cream cheese (Added, per Kitchen Girl's suggestion)


  • Remove and discard casings from sausage. Cook sausage in a large skillet, stirring until sausage crumbles and is no longer pink; drain.
  • Add green onions and next 3 ingredients to skillet. Sauté 4 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in roasted bell peppers. Drain and cool.
  • Mix bread cubes with sausage/vegetable mixture and half of cheese in a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, mix eggs, milk and dry mustard.
  • Add the egg mixture to the bread and mix thoroughly. (The original recipe says to layer the ingredients and pour the egg mixture on top. This results in uneven coverage. This bowl-mixing method results in a more uniform, moist casserole. Thanks, Jo.)
  • Spread the mixture into a lightly buttered 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Top with the cream cheese and the other half of the cheese.
  • Cover and chill 8 hours.
  • Bake, covered, at 325° for 1 hour or until bubbly and hot.
I also served an easy caprese salad from a basic recipe from Culinary Cory. The only addition I made was some fresh chevre.

I don't know if it was an act of laziness or graciousness or a little of both, but I failed to take any photos of the food. (Bad food blogger, bad!) I do, however have these "after" photos revealing that everything was consumed.

The remains of the day: Italian sausage casserole and Bellinis

Tiger finishes off the last of the creme fraiche, but passes on the berry.
Only one Florentine cookie and a fourth of a petit four remain.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

One Meal Three Ways - Ground Beef with Spinach and Mushrooms

Start out with ground beef, spinach and mushrooms rolled up
in a spinach-lined tortilla.

When I pick up our newspapers and see the words “collapse,” “crisis," and “catastrophe" (and that’s just on the comics page), it’s time for a little belt tightening. Or as my friend Altadena Hiker says, we need to exercise “fooduciary responsibility.”

That starts with letting no food go to waste. After all, leftovers, are not the fiscal equivalent of recycling bad debt. With a little ingenuity and pre-planning, their stock can go up, even when the Dow Jones is sinking faster than a failed souffle.

Take for example, one of my favorite dishes, ground beef with spinach and mushrooms. I’m a big fan of the leafy green vegetable. My family – not so much.
So when I cook up a skillet of ground beef with spinach and mushrooms, leftovers are a part of the equation.

With a little improvisation, I can take the base for the ground beef with spinach and mushrooms and create three completely different dishes:
  • lunch in a pita
  • dinner with penne pasta
  • breakfast with eggs

What you’ll need:
For base:
- Red onion
- Minced garlic
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 2 tsp. curry powder
- ½ lb. sliced mushrooms
- 1 bunch of spinach

For pasta topping:
- ¼ C. marinara sauce
- Penne pasta (or any pasta you prefer)

For Eggs Florentine
- 3 eggs
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Meal 1: LUNCH

1) Brown one pound of ground beef with red onion and three minced garlic cloves.

2) When beef is still slightly pink, add approximately ½ pound of sliced mushrooms and sauté for about two minutes.

3) Drain excess grease.
4) Throw in enough spinach leaves to cover top of meat mixture. Stir, reduce heat, add lid and let simmer for approximately 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6) Take out 2/3 of the mixture and save for later.

7) Add curry to taste. I use about two teaspoons.
8) Serve in a pita pocket or a flour tortilla lined with fresh spinach leaves.

Top with a dollop of sour cream if you like. Roll up the tortilla and congratulate
yourself for preparing the first of three great meals.

Heat up the leftover beef and spinach with a little marinara sauce and toss over the pasta of your choice.

I had a small container of penne pasta with marinara sauce in the freezer, so I was technically having double leftovers. I think I get extra credit.


1) Add a few more fresh spinach leaves to the leftover meat mixture.
2) In a separate bowl, whisk three eggs, a little milk and salt and pepper.
3) Add to meat mixture.

4) Scramble mixture, top with a little grated parmesan cheese and serve.

A hearty, yummy easy eggs Florentine

What are you doing to exercise "fooduciary responsibility"?