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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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Garden Checklist for week of June 23

Get to work in the mornings while it’s still cool.

* Irrigate early in the day; your plants will appreciate it.

* Generally, tomatoes need deep watering two to three times a week, but don't let them dry out completely. That can encourage blossom-end rot.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the early hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Avoid pot “hot feet.” Place a 1-inch-thick board under container plants sitting on pavement. This little cushion helps insulate them from radiated heat.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants. Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce heat stress.

* Cut back Shasta daisies after flowering to encourage a second bloom in the fall.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes. 

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

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