Metro-East Living

Local strawberries are ready to be picked and used in recipes

Overnight Strawberry Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole
Overnight Strawberry Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole

Strawberry season is upon us. Eckert’s Orchards in Belleville opened its pick-your-own strawberries at the Belleville farm on Friday. Picking hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until the crop is gone. This year, a field access pass will be required to enter the picking areas. Passes are $1 (children under 2 are free) each and pick-your-own strawberries are $2.79 a pound. You’ll also find strawberries in the Country Store if picking is not your thing.

I’ve included a delicious recipe, Overnight Strawberry Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole, from Angie Eckert’s food blog that would be perfect for a Mother’s Day breakfast.

Local chef kudos

A note about the recent James Beard Foundation awards. The 2017 Best Chef Midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Wisconsin) is Kevin Nashan, owner of Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis. Also nominated from the bi-state area was Kevin Willmann, of Farmhaus in St. Louis.

Messy brownies

Barbara Cempura sent an email about a recent vacation she took with her four sisters and three sisters-in-law. “One of my sisters made these brownies from a recipe she saw in the New York Times. Yummy.”

You’ll have to get past the bad-girl name, Slutty Brownies, to see what a fine mess they are, made with brownie mix, cookie dough and Oreos.

Contact me at, 618-239-2664 and follow me on Twitter @BoyleSuzanne. Write to 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

Slutty Brownies

This recipe is adapted from There are a variety of ways to make these brownies.

1 box cookie mix, plus ingredients*

1 box brownie mix, plus ingredients

15 1/2 ounce package Oreo cookies

Your favorite ice cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch or 9-by-9-inch baking pan with foil so it hangs over the ends. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. (This will make removing them easier after baking.)

Follow the instructions on the cookie mix box and stir furiously until you have gooey cookie dough; I usually add an extra teaspoon of water and oil to the suggested amount; it will keep the dough moist as it will be baking longer than the suggested time on the box. (*Or, use an 18-ounce roll of ready-made refrigerated cookie dough — chocolate chip works well here.)

Press the cookie dough so it covers bottom of pan. Cover this layer with Oreos.

Mix up brownie batter. Just stick to the recipe on the box for this one. Pour over cookies in pan.

Bake 30-35 minutes. Test with a knife to see if the center is done. It's OK if the knife has some brownie on it. It's easy to over-bake the cookie layer if left in the oven too long. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Note: Although you can scarf these right away (they'll be crumbly but delicious and gooey), they actually get better with age. Let them rest for several hours for easier handling and serving.

Adapted from

Overnight Strawberry Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole


12 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 loaf Irish Soda Bread (about 12 slices), or a similar bread

20 ounces or 3 cups frozen or fresh strawberries, sliced


3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup half and half

10 eggs

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Optional: Strawberry syrup or jam for topping

Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add cinnamon and nutmeg and beat to incorporate. Beat in sugar for 1-2 minutes. Then beat in 1 egg and lemon juice.

In a large bowl, whisk together custard ingredients: milk, half and half, 10 eggs, maple syrup and vanilla. Set aside.

Spread cream cheese mixture on one side of each slice of bread, then top cheese with sliced strawberries. Repeat with all bread slices. Using a serrated knife, cut bread (with topping) into 1-inch cubes. Place 2/3 of the cubes in the baking dish. Top with remaining strawberries and remaining cream cheese. Top with remaining bread cubes. Then pour custard mixture over the top. Lightly press the mixture down with the back of a spoon. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 30-40 minutes or until nicely browned. Serve with strawberry syrup or jam. Serves 12.

Angie Eckert and