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This wonderfully savory make-ahead breakfast casserole is brimming with vegetables. It’s perfect to feed a crowd on Christmas morning or at a festive brunch.

Easy Vegetarian Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole | Umami Girl

I won’t bury the lede. We’ve become obsessed with this casserole. It all started with some leftover stuffing cubes from Thanksgiving. The really good kind where Whole Foods dries out all their little bits of leftover bakery bread, from sourdough to pumpernickel, and hands it to you in a bag that lasts approximately forever (like definitely until Christmas — not asking questions).

We’re not inherently a casserole family. I feel about 40 years too young and altogether not midwestern enough to aspire to something like that. It’s not that we don’t like family-style dishes baked lovingly in the oven and served alongside a simple green salad. We TOTALLY like that kind of food. Speaking for myself, I probably like it a little too much from time to time. But when I hear the word “casserole,” I think of someone else. I don’t know — deep food thoughts for the day.

Easy Vegetarian Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole | Umami Girl

And yet. Here we are with this happy-making CASSEROLE. (I might call it Breakfast Strata in private, okay?) It’s brimming with vegetables — onion, shiitakes, Christmas-colored peppers and broccoli. It’s super-savory. It’s pretty good for ya, considering. And it tastes SO good.

Easy Vegetarian Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole | Umami Girl

I can think of two scenarios where this dish would be the answer to your wildest dreams. (No presh, Umami Girl.) First: Christmas morning, or any morning when you have sleepover guests and don’t feel like cooking breakfast to order. You can make this dish a whole day in advance and take it out of the fridge when you wake up in the morning. It bakes in 40 minutes, during which time you’re free to be doing absolutely whatever else you like.  

Easy Vegetarian Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole | Umami GirlSecond: this would be a fabulous anchor point for a festive and casual brunch, any time of year but especially around the holidays. Here’s what I would do:

The Perfect Casual Holiday Brunch

At this time of year, and especially this year, I love the idea of creating an event where guests feel cozy and totally low-key, where everyone can spend time together just feeling merry and without a lot of expectations. All you need is:

Food: Something savory and something sweet. If you’re making this casserole, how about serving it with a simple green salad, a big bowl of fruit salad, and some muffins or Lotta Jansdotter’s cinnamon rolls. don’t be shy about asking guests to bring something.

Drinks: Good coffee and one signature cocktail. For brunch I always gravitate toward seasonal champagne cocktails (these can be as simple as adding a splash of pomegranate juice to a glass of bubbly) or my favorite Bloody Mary recipe.

Music: My favorite trick is to ask the occasional guest to make me a new Pandora station. It’s a great way to expand your listening repertoire. 

Invitations:  Paperless Post has some great online holiday party invitations this year that look pretty and classy without creating a lot of work or environmental burden. (And while you’re at it, I like their holiday card line as well, especially the ones marked (RED), where they donate 25% of proceeds to help fight AIDS.) 

Activity: Totally optional, but I LOVE the idea of putting out a little coloring station so kids can send holiday cards to our troops through the Red Cross Holidays for Heroes program. 

Easy Vegetarian Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole | Umami Girl

That’s it! NBD. Have fun. Talk to you soon.

Carolyn xx

P.S. Affiliate links follow.

{Get the Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole recipe.}

Homemade donuts are easier than you think. These glazed beauties have a hint of gingerbread spice, which is perfect for the holidays or whenever the craving strikes.Glazed Homemade Donuts with a Hint of Gingerbread Spice | Umami GirlThanks to Celestial Seasonings for sponsoring this post.

Back in October I promised you more donuts. Remember that? I can’t decide whether it feels like five minutes ago or five years ago, but luckily there’s no time to dwell on such questions because the holidays are A-KNOCKIN’. We’re hosting Christmas for a small crowd this year, so I’m in the process of dusting off not only my presents game but also my holiday decor, party food and general hostess games. That feels like a lot of games at once, doesn’t it? 

Is it becoming obvious why I need donuts in my life at this particular moment?

And something tells me I’m not alone here. Got a lot going on? Maybe grab a donut and a nice cup of tea, and let’s just put our feet up on the couch and chill for a few minutes.

Glazed Homemade Donuts with a Hint of Gingerbread Spice | Umami Girl

Here are some things I bet you’ve thought a lot about recently: prioritizing the twelve-ity-teen items on your to-do list. What to have for dinner. Maybe some end-of-year charitable giving.

Here’s something I bet you haven’t thought about too much: putting tea in your food. I hate to give you one more thing to do, but I gotta say: you’re going to want to consider giving this a try. I think we all basically understand the magic of tea: it’s everything from a cozy hug to an Arnold Palmer to a veritable Indian Visa — whatever you need at the moment. But did you know it’s also a DONUT? 

Celestial Seasonings Gingerbread Spice Tea | Umami GirlThis recipe, which just tastes like a perfect little donut, has a little bit of Celestial Seasonings Gingerbread Spice Tea steeped into both the batter (via the butter — a cool trick) and the glaze. And after you make the glaze, you’ll literally have a cup of tea waiting for you to drink with your donut. Call me middle-aged (despite my borderline absurd use of “literally,”) but that’s some pretty exciting stuff right there.

If I do say so.
{Read on + get the glazed homemade donuts recipe.}

I deeeeefinitely didn’t run in the direction of spiralized zucchini noodles in the early days of this trend, but it turns out that, prepared well, I really, really like them. Oh well. :)Zucchini Noodles (Zoodles) Piccata Lemon Caper Butter | Umami Girl

At this time of year, my food personality gets a little frenetic, and I’m cool with that. With festive events and the abundance of tempting goodies that contribute to a well-lived life, it’s hard to bother with making sure nearly every meal is balanced. But I still like to strive for balance overall — albeit a slightly more relaxed interpretation, and in a bit of a longer arc. Sometimes this means spending the busy hours until dinner with just coffee and a green juice early in the day and maybe a smoothie and a couple of pieces of fruit in the afternoon. And sometimes it means the kind of lightened-up meals that I otherwise might giggle at a little bit, like these spiralized zucchini noodles lightly but deliciously dressed with lemon-caper butter and a mere sprinkle of grated cheese and parsley.  

Zucchini Noodles (Zoodles) Piccata Lemon Caper Butter | Umami Girl

I really did NOT run toward spiralized zucchini noodles when I first (or second or twelfth) became aware of them. And truth be told, we had my favorite spaghetti for dinner last night and I’m a little disappointed there aren’t any leftovers. That said, when I finally did try zoodles, I was really surprised by how much I liked them. Prepared properly, and thought of as something different from spaghetti, they’re delicious and pleasing and without need for any kind of apology.

You’ll have two main tasks when dealing with zucchini noodles. First, liquid management. I read about a great method of drying zoodles from the website Gourmet Girl Cooks, and I use this method every time. About half an hour before you want to eat, spread the zoodles on a thick layer of paper towels, salt them lightly, and then cover with another thick layer of paper towels. Let them sit until you’re ready to toss the noodles into the pan. They’ll release a lot of moisture. Right before adding to the pan, roll up the whole bundle and squeeze a bit to make sure all the moisture gets absorbed into the paper towels. This step makes a huge difference in the quality of the final dish.

The second task is to season aggressively. Zucchini tastes good on its own, to be sure, but to make zoodles into a satisfying main dish, you’ll want to add lots of flavor. This recipe does exactly that.

Talk to you soon.

Carolyn xx

P.S. (Affliliate links…wait for it…) If you’re in the market for a spiralizer, I’ve used both this one and this one (for those of you with a KitchenAid mixer), and both work just fine.

{Get the recipe for Zucchini Noodles with Lemon Caper Butter.}

A show-stopping cheese board may be the easiest possible contribution to a holiday party. Here’s how to make one in about 15 minutes.

Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami GirlAh, the cheese board. The old standby that never gets old. First of all, there’s cheese, which really speaks for itself. CHEESE. Did you hear it? If you don’t speak this language, we’ll have to agree to disagree. (And luckily, a good cheese board always comes with wine.) But the beauty of a good cheese board doesn’t end — or even begin — with its namesake ingredient. It begins with the perfect ease of picking up a few beautiful ingredients and assembling them in 15 minutes or less. And it ends only with your creativity. 

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links.)
Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami GirlThis being your cheese board, you are of course welcome to design it any way you like. I even collected a few examples for ya. But here’s my favorite thing: the current trend in cheese boards is to make them basically the bedhead of appetizers. Nothing too structured. Make it beautiful, but make it seem like it just woke up, rolled out of the fridge looking like this and arrived at the table ready to biz-lady its way through the best day ever. Look, I even tossed some corn nuts. That sounds like a euphamism, but it isn’t. 

I think.

Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami GirlOf course, like any kind of effortless chic, there’s some thoughtfulness and structure underlying a good cheese board. Let’s talk through the elements for a minute:

Cheese Selection

For a group of 10-ish people and to provide some nice variety, start with four cheeses of 8 to 12 ounces each. The most important thing is to select cheeses you like to eat. Beyond that, aim for variety in type of milk (cow, sheep, goat, even nut), strength of flavor, softness or firmness of texture, and style of cheese. You can select cheeses from one region or aim for variety here too. For this board, I used a small wheel of Camembert (mild flavor, soft cow’s milk cheese from the Normandy region of France), some 3-month aged Manchego (medium flavor, semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese from the La Mancha region of Spain), a mild and creamy Danish blue cheese (medium flavor, semi-soft, cow’s milk cheese) and a good old red wax Gouda from Holland (semi-soft, cow’s milk cheese), requested by the 8 year old, which turned out to be wonderfully nutty like more aged Goudas usually are, and was the star of the show. 

Obviously I did a fairly crap job of achieving variety of milk type, but no one seemed to care. Point being: break the rules all you like, and there will still be cheese.
Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami Girl

Savory Elements

While it’s perfectly fine to add only sweet or only savory elements to a cheese board, I find it’s easiest and most crowd-pleasing to do a little of both. For savory additions to this board, I opted for two types of green olives, again following the principle that it’s a good idea to choose what you like to eat. We all love Sicily’s Castelvetrano olives, those plump green beauties with a slightly sweet flesh. And recently we’ve been obsessed with a marinated garlic and lemon olive situation that Whole Foods offers, so of course some of those made the cut as well.

I don’t always add meat to a cheese board, but when I do, I add prosciutto and hard Genoa salami or sweet sopressata made by smallish companies that treat their animals well. 

Also, corn nuts, which seem way fancier when they’re called Spanish Quicos. They add a welcome crunch to the mix. Just do it.
Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami Girl

Sweet Elements

Helloooo, fruits and jams. In the winter, I like to include a couple of quartered blood oranges, some tart green apple slices, and a pomegranate that I’ve quartered medium-savagely and removed some of the arils from to toss faux-relaxedly onto the table. The shapes and colors add a whole lot to the presentation with only about three minutes of work. I haven’t included any jams here, but we often use fig jam or quince paste.
Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami Girl

Platters and Bowls

For one of these bedhead cheese boards, it’s fun to use cutting boards and bowls that you’ve been bequeatehed by grandparents or salvaged from estate sales. No, I’m totally kidding — I don’t have any of those AT ALL. What I do have is some suggestions on how to make it look like you have a few those treasures. Step 1: click through on these links, which literally all lead to the Target website, where I’ve purchased all of these boards and bowls within the past few months. Step 2: Answer the door when the delivery arrives. That’s it. Yay.

Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami Girl

And that, my friends, is seriously all there is to it. Get crazy with the slicing. Don’t leave a whole wheel of cheese untouched or your guests may be shy about cutting into it. Put out a few cheese knives of various types — blunt ones for soft cheeses, sharp ones for hard cheeses, end of story. Be generous with the wine and the baguettes or crackers.  Have fun.

Cheese Platter 101: How to Assemble an Epic Holiday Cheese Board | Umami Girl

Talk to you soon.

Carolyn xx

{Get the epic cheese board

A fabulous bowl of vegetarian chili can be yours in 30 minutes. (Post contains affiliate links.)

Smoky Vegetarian Chili Recipe with Pinto Beans and Corn | Umami GirlHooray for chili season. There’s nothing like a 30-minute dinner (or week of lunches) that’s as good for you as it is warming and wonderful. This smoky vegetarian chili recipe gets its deep flavor from lightly browned vegetables, tomato paste and sweet smoked paprika, so you can cook it up in a flash without sacrificing one ounce of authenticity. And not that anyone’s counting, but it’s gluten-free and also vegan if you opt out of the cheese and sour cream.

Smoky Vegetarian Chili Recipe with Pinto Beans and Corn | Umami GirlSo. Now that dinner’s taken care of, what will you do with your time? Get a lot done. Shop for presents. Do a little dance. Volunteer. Take a nap! Whatever works. No matter what, there will be chili.

Smoky Vegetarian Chili Recipe with Pinto Beans and Corn | Umami Girl
Talk to you soon.

Carolyn xx

{Get the Smoky Vegetarian Chili Recipe.}

WELCOME TO UMAMI GIRL!

Hi there, I'm Carolyn, and I'm delighted you're here. I'm a NYC-area food, travel, yoga, coffee, wine, running, music making and book obsessive with a great family and a love for sharing it all with you. Grab a drink and come on in. Learn more.

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