May 8, 2013

The Maine Ingredient: Here's to moms, mine and yours

As an homage to mothers everywhere, I herewith present two of my own mother's favorite recipes -- egg and cheese strata (which in mid-20th century parlance was known as "cheese scallop"), and date-nut bread, which together comprise the basis for a most lovely brunch.

Complete the menu with blanched, chilled asparagus dressed with a simple vinaigrette, a bowl of whipped cream cheese for spreading on the tea bread, and lightly sweetened sliced strawberries (perhaps combined with some stewed rhubarb) to finish.

CHEESE STRATA

Servings: Six as a brunch dish.

I think the scallions in the strata add a bit of interest and a nice touch of color, but feel free to omit them if you wish. The base and the custard can both be made ahead and then combined and baked at the last minute.

12 slices good quality firm white bread, preferably day-old

3 to 4 tablespoons softened butter

2½ cups (about 10 ounces) grated sharp cheddar cheese

3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions, optional

4 eggs

2½ cups whole milk

1½ teaspoons dry mustard

½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper, preferably coarsely ground

Paprika for dusting top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking dish.

Cut crusts off the bread and spread each slice with butter. Cut each slice into 3 strips. Layer half the bread in the bottom of a prepared baking dish and sprinkle with half the cheese and half the optional scallions. Repeat with remaining bread, cheese and scallions. (Can be made ahead to this point and held in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for several hours.)

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper. Pour milk mixture evenly over the bread, pushing the bread down into the milk to make sure it is all well-saturated. Lightly dust with paprika.

Bake uncovered in the preheated oven until the strata is evenly puffed and golden and a knife inserted near the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Serve soon, or it will lose its puff.

DATE-NUT BREAD

Brewed coffee adds a hint of bitterness that nicely balances the sweetness of the dates in this moist, dark bread. It's delicious as is or with softened sweet butter or whipped cream cheese.

Makes: One loaf

1½ cups chopped dates

3 tablespoons butter, cut in chunks

1 cup brewed coffee (see note)

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup dark brown sugar

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ cup chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, combine the dates and butter. Pour hot coffee over and let stand for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9- by 5- by 3-inch loaf pan.

Add eggs to date mixture and whisk to blend well. Whisk in vanilla. Add two sugars and whisk well to blend.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to date mixture, whisking to blend. Stir in the nuts.

Scrape into the prepared pan, smooth top, and bake in preheated oven until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 60 to 75 minutes. (Baking time will depend on moisture content of the dates.) Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn loaf out of the pan. Let cool completely and wrap well in plastic wrap. Bread is best if allowed to rest in refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. It also freezes well.

Note: Use hot brewed coffee or a heaping teaspoon of instant coffee powder combined with 1 cup boiling water.

 

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently "Lobster!" (Storey, 2012). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at facebook.com/brookedojny

 

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