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Front Page - Friday, April 15, 2016

Ham and Cheese Casserole

Kay's Cooking Corner

Kay Bona

Oh, Kellogg’s Fruity Pebbles are the best thing about morning,

Those colorful, enchanting, little specks…

They make my taste buds spring to life without the slightest warning,

In a way they never do when I eat Chex!

(Jingle by Scott Stutzman)

According to researchers (you know – the people who test hundreds of other people to tell us what is best for us, even though we might not ever be tested, nor will we ever know anyone who was tested), breakfast is the healthiest and best meal for us in the day, but if you stopped and asked the people around you if they ate breakfast I’ll bet half of them didn’t. They must not pay any attention to the all-knowing researchers.

Hubby and I hardly ever ate breakfast when we were younger, however, due to health reasons and researchers knowledge, we are now pretty consistent with eating a healthy breakfast every morning. It is supposed to help us to maintain a healthy weight – research found that people who eat breakfast are less likely to gain weight. And – eating breakfast every morning is supposed to help you think better. Hmm…they must not have performed that test on older people.

I usually prepare boiled eggs and half of a toasted English muffin with some honey on it, along with a few orange segments or a banana - something I dubbed “Sunshine on a Plate”. At least that is what I would name it were I writing a menu. It isn’t a lot, but it is healthy.

Many people who exercise heavily in the morning claim they can’t eat before they go to exercise. I understand that – I used to be the same way. I used to run a few miles every morning (remember I said “used to”), and I would do it before anyone else in the house had awakened. If the kids happened to get up before I left, then my run was scrapped until later in the evening.

Starting a workout routine when you first wake up in the morning, without having put any “energy” in your system, can set you up for a less than perfect workout. Our body needs a nutritional boost before we put it to the test.

Some people (i.e. mothers, who have to get ready for work, prepare lunches, feed kids, get them to the bus or drive them to daycare or school) find themselves so ravenous after such an active morning that they frequent fast food joints on their way to work. I love McDonald’s Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit and I was guilty of just that very thing.

WARNING: If you don’t want to know the non-nutritional value of a Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit then don’t read this paragraph! One of those yummy, drenched in butter biscuits has 420 calories, 23 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 235 milligrams of Cholesterol, and 1160 milligrams of sodium. At Sonic, a Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Burrito has 470 calories, 30 grams of fat, 325 milligrams of cholesterol (or 108 percent of the RDA), and 1040 milligrams of sodium. Ouch! Get those running shoes on quick!

According to the American Heart Association, we should consume no more than 2300 milligrams of sodium per day, so that means that you have eaten nearly half of your daily sodium allowance in one little biscuit, or one Breakfast Burrito. There is not even room to discuss the fat and cholesterol content of each, but one thing I will say – it ain’t pretty! However, both of the above establishments are striving to offer healthier menus.

One thing I have found that isn’t hard to squeeze in, in the morning, is a bowl of cereal with a handful of berries, even when you are busy. If nothing else, throw some cereal and fruit in a bag and carry it with you. Fill up that thermal, lidded coffee cup with milk, and nibble on your breakfast when you get to your desk. 

There are several ways you can fill the breakfast void if you just get creative and think ahead. Do it for your heart. For your future!

For all of those weekend mornings when you want to do something special for your family, here is a great heart-healthy breakfast casserole that won’t blow anyone’s diet!

Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole

1 1/2 cups Egg Beaters Egg Substitute 

1 cup skim milk 

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary 

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper 

5 cups spinach, wilted 

5 slices whole-grain bread

5 ounces ham steak, trimmed of fat 

1/2 cups sweet red peppers, roasted 

3/4 cups gruyere cheese, shredded 

Preheat oven to 375° degrees. Coat a 7X11-inch glass baking dish or a 2-quart casserole with cooking spray. In large bowl, whisk egg substitute and milk. Add mustard, rosemary, and pepper; whisk to combine. Add spinach, bread, ham, and roasted peppers. Stir together well. Transfer to baking dish and push down to compact. Cover with foil. Bake until custard has set, 40-45 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with cheese, and continue baking until it is puffed and golden on top, about 15-20 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. 

 *To wilt spinach, rinse thoroughly with cool water. Place in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap; punch several holes in it. Microwave on High 2 to 3 minutes. Squeeze out excess moisture before adding to recipe


Kay Bona is a staff writer for the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact her at kay@dailydata.com. v