Meet Darla

Sausage and summer veg strata 2

It’s the same sort of day as most of the other days here in Seattle, I suppose. I’m sitting at a coffee shop, next to a woman who appears, at a brief glance, to be editing a Swedish-Chinese dictionary.

I’ve started working again, three days a week. Sitting down at Herkimer, my body remembered all the right moves—sidling into a seat before getting coffee because the line was long, shyly sneaking my yogurt snack into the corner of my little bench seat, tuning into Basia Bulat. I even remembered my favorite barista’s name.

It all seems amazingly simple: I had a certain life. Then I had a child. Now I have a different sort of life, and I also have a child. Life’s changed, but then again, it hasn’t.

I can’t imagine anything better, for me, for now.

At least, I couldn’t, until we got a new dishwasher.


A new dishwasher, people, really does change a life. It’s not that we didn’t have one before. We did. It was white and dirty, rusty inside and cranky. It didn’t clean dishes particularly well, and our dinner plates didn’t fit inside. I consider myself neither a dishwasher snob nor a connoisseur, but clearly, fitting one’s dishes inside and getting them clean should be two of a dishwasher’s top attractions.

I actually learned a few things in the buying process:

a) a dishwasher should wash your dishes for you, not after you

b) putting rinsed dishes in the dishwasher with abrasive soap leads to cloudy glassware

c) with a new energy-efficient dishwasher, you really only need about a tablespoon of soap

The new one is named Darla. Yes, I named it. I mean her. But only after some thorough testing. She had to earn her keep, you see.

It turns out that the guy I bought our new KitchenAid from, Joe, has an appliance blog. Yes, he blogs about dishwashers and refrigerators and washing machines. When he told me, I tried to stifle a laugh. But then he challenged me: Try everything, he said. See if you can stump your dishwasher. Then tell me what happens.

So I did. I baked blueberry crisp, ate half of it, and reheated the leftovers, so the purple scrapies on the bottom burned right into the pan. I left the empty pan in the sink overnight, untouched, and Darla cleaned it right up.

Cranberry goop

Then I made Thanksgiving. I know that sounds crazy. It was mid-August and 85 degrees outside, but I was working on some recipes for a November issue, and I didn’t see any way to avoid it. Darla took on the sticky cranberry sauce ring, and a  challinging kale gratin dish, and boy, did she shine.

Hand tarts, assorted

Next I made little hand tarts. I let the fruit bubble up and over the cornmeal crust, right down into the baby brulee dishes I baked them in, and plunked the dishes right onto the top rack, berry crusties and all. The first time, they didn’t come quite clean, but once I moved them to the bottom rack, where the real business gets done, she came through.

Hand tart mess

Finally, I gave her cheese. I made a sausage- and vegetable-studded breakfast strata, and baked it until the top layer of cheese – the cheese leather, Jim calls it – was good and brown. We ate a third of it for breakfast the first day, then a third the second day, and the last of it on yet a third day, reheating it in the oven each time and cementing (at least we thought) layers of cheese to the dish’s topsides. Again: clean.

Strata to bake on

Darla darling, we love you for your cleaning ability. Joe was right. You can do anything.

Now, if you could only figure out how to dry the dishes, we’d be much obliged. Joe said you might not like our eco-froofroo dishwashing detergent. We switched to something that looks much more environmentally harmful, but you’re still not happy.

Darla. Oh, Darla. What should we do? We’ll have to call Joe again.

Sausage and summer veg strata

Sausage & Summer Vegetable Strata (PDF)

It’s easy to fold summer’s best produce into lunches and dinners, but I think we too often forget how good the garden tastes first thing in the morning. Here’s a make-ahead strata that shines with bright cherry tomatoes and zucchini. You can buy a baguette just for the occasion and let it sit out overnight, to dry it out, but I love to use up all the old bread heels that somehow end up congregating in the corner of my freezer.

TIME: 15 minutes prep time, plus 30 minutes baking time

MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

4 large eggs

3/4 cup half and half

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Butter (for the pan)

1/2 day-old baguette, cut into 1” cubes (or 4 cups cubes of assorted bread)

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 small zucchini, chopped into 1/2” pieces

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1 heaping cup cooked, crumbled sausage (from 1 large sausage, about 1/3 pound)

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Whiz the eggs, half and half, milk, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper together in a blender until well mixed. Butter an 8” x 8” casserole dish (or similar), and arrange the baguette chunks in an even layer in the dish. Scatter the feta, zucchini, tomatoes, and sausage evenly over the bread, then pour the egg mixture over everything, turning and scooping so that all the bread pieces are moistened. Top with the cheddar. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the foil and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top layer is toasted and melty. Serve warm.


Filed under bread, Breakfast, commentary, failure, kitchen adventure, pork, recipe, vegetables

15 responses to “Meet Darla

  1. Years of bad dishwashers make me rinse and sometimes even scrub everything. I never trust those babies. But if you want to give it a real test… burned on milk, not cheese, but just milk. Every time I heat a huge stockpot of milk to make chocolate ricotta, I’m left with this film on the bottom that takes a salt soak to get out.

    Also, I can’t remember if it’s dried on Corn Flakes or dried on Grape Nuts that seem to permabond to a cereal bowl like the guy hanging off the girder in the Krazy Glue ads, but I’m pretty sure it’s one of them.

  2. Laura

    Is Darla quiet? One of these days, we’d love to upgrade to a dishwasher that’s considerate enough to allow a conversation to occur while it’s (she’s?) running. If Darla is considerate in that way, I’d love to know her brand and model. Thanks for the fun post and the great looking recipe!

  3. Oh, Greg, I tried Grape Nuts, too. Done.

    She IS quiet – she’s a KitchenAid Superba EQ. (And by the way, if you’re in Seattle, hit Albert Lee Appliances – I paid about 35% less than that MSRP.)

  4. You had me at reheated blueberry crisp.

    I’m almost wishing ours would break down – that’s wrong, isn’t it?

  5. elizatruitt

    This post just spurred some major dishwasher envy in me. Oh, how I long for a dishwasher that doesn’t have to be rolled across the kitchen and hooked up to the sink…

  6. floridagal

    Be careful….we didn’t rinse dishes that went into our kitchenaid dw and then months down the road our glasses were MUCHO spotty. I called kitchen aid and tried running the dw with a bowl of vinegar … and finally had to call a repair guy. He had to get tools to lift up the bottom wheel and there was a ton of food sludge there.

    He said, “Always rinse your dishes.”

    😦 I am so sorry to tell you this. I hope you have better luck.

  7. Rachel

    How does it handle bowls that instant oatmeal was cooked in. Or anything with bits of leftover mashed potato (particularly the instant kind)

    I used to have an old (avocado green) kitchen aid dishwasher. It did what I expected of it. When it broke I replaced it with a kenmore mid level machine. Now I hand wash more then I use the dishwasher.

  8. Ugh, Floridagal, that’s bad news! But duly noted. And Rachel, oatmeal’s fine – but have to add the embarrassing caveat that we usually let our dog have a go at our oatmeal bowls…

  9. Amy

    Oh, we just bought Darla’s long lost twin, who has yet to be named. And I love ours just as much. I honestly thought our glasses were never clean before because of their shape! We’ve been using Electrasol tablets and stuff seems to dry okay….

  10. Ellen

    I, too, bought a new KitchenAid dishwasher. I (mostly) love it, although it doesn’t have a name. One tip worth trying: mine doesn’t dry dishes well unless I keep the liquid rinse aid well in the door full of Jet Dry. Without it, damp dishes. With it, even the plastics on the top rack are mostly dry.

  11. cindi

    she’s lovely. did you figure out a detergent that made her happy? the fact that she does not like the eco-froo-froo is too bad.

  12. Leslie

    Wow no one commented on the strata! I have now made it several times with some variations and it has become a staple. Had an Inn full of guests for my son’s birthday party and made up several pnas -perfect breakfast to get them ontheir way full and happy.

  13. Still working on the detergent. Things dry much better with JetDry, but haven’t tried the Electrasol tabs yet. And thanks, Leslie! Glad it’s working for you.

  14. In defense of eco froo-froo, have you tried white vinegar in place of JetDry? My crappy came-with-the-rental dishwasher didn’t like our hippie detergent until I added white vinegar to the rinse agent pot. Voila!

  15. Oooh, excellent idea, Stacy. I’ll give it a try.

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