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Strawberries and cream in a brunch casserole

Recipe: Treat Mom or yourself to an easy spring dish

Strawberry brunch casserole
Strawberries and cream cheese star in a casserole
prepared ahead of time. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Do we need another way to celebrate spring and enjoy strawberries? I definitely think so, and was thrilled to find this recipe at Sally's Baking Addiction for an easy overnight brunch casserole. Certainly easier than regular French toast, it's perfect for Mother's Day (hint, hint) or any brunch occasion this season.

My version below makes enough for 4 to 6 people, depending on what else is served, but as the original shows it's easily doubled and baked in a 9-by-11-inch baking dish. I used a little over half of an artisan sourdough loaf and baked it in 9-inch pan, but the quantities are easily adjusted for whatever you have. This also can be made with blueberries, blackberries or (just coming in to season) fresh cherries.

The cream cheese in the recipe makes it special, and the resulting sweet creaminess eliminates the need to pour syrup over the whole thing. (OK, if you like maple syrup, go for it.)

Strawberries and cream French toast casserole

Serve 4-6

Ingredients
Once the bread is cubed, this all goes together quickly.
Ingredients:

6 to 8 cups of day-old bread, such as sourdough, french or challah, cut into 1-inch cubes

4 ounces full-fat block cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided

1 cup of half and half, whole milk or nondairy milk

4 eggs

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup hulled fresh strawberries, sliced or chopped

Optional pre-bake toppings: Demerara sugar or cinnamon sugar

Optional accompaniments: Powdered sugar, maple syrup or more chopped berries

Instructions:

Grease an 8-inch or 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray or butter. Put half to two-thirds of the bread cubes evenly across the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

Whisk or stir together the cream cheese, powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla until thoroughly mixed and light.

Dab spoonfuls of the cream cheese across the bread cubes. Spread the strawberries over the bread, saving some out for garnish if desired. Add the rest of the bread cubes.

Finished casserole
Baked and ready to serve, with syrup or not.
Whisk together the milk, eggs, cinnamon, brown sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Pour this mixture over the bread. Gently press the top cubes down into the liquid. Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the cover on the pan. Sprinkle Demerara sugar or cinnamon sugar over the top, if using, and bake 30-35 minutes until golden brown.

Let cool at least 5 minutes and serve,  topped with powdered sugar, if desired. Pass syrup and/or additional berries as desired.




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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Feb. 5

Make the most of sunny days and get winter tasks done:

* This is the last chance to spray fruit trees before they bloom. Treat peach and nectarine trees with copper-based fungicide. Spray apricot trees at bud swell to prevent brown rot. Apply horticultural oil to control scale, mites and aphids on fruit trees soon after a rain. But remember: Oils need at least 24 hours to dry to be effective. Don’t spray during foggy weather or when rain is forecast.

* Feed spring-blooming shrubs and fall-planted perennials with slow-release fertilizer. Feed mature trees and shrubs after spring growth starts.

* Finish pruning roses and deciduous trees.

* Remove aphids from blooming bulbs with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap.

* Fertilize strawberries and asparagus.

* Transplant or direct-seed several flowers, including snapdragon, candytuft, lilies, astilbe, larkspur, Shasta and painted daisies, stocks, bleeding heart and coral bells.

* In the vegetable garden, plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers, and strawberry and rhubarb roots.

* Transplant cabbage and its close cousins – broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts – as well as lettuce (both loose leaf and head).

* Plant artichokes, asparagus and horseradish from root divisions.

* Plant potatoes from tubers and onions from sets (small bulbs). The onions will sprout quickly and can be used as green onions in March.

* From seed, plant beets, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes and turnips.

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