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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Breakfast in the Strata-sphere?

The first time I saw a recipe for a breakfast strata I did not know what it was.  I read the recipe and it sounded awful.  Then I attended a brunch where this dish was served.  To my eye, unused to dishes of the casserole variety, it did not look much better than it sounded.  Alas, this was the kind of event where not tasting the dish would have been a big mistake.  Not to worry, I knew my manners and I also knew I could survive anything - even a deplorable breakfast dish.  I only needed to eat a bite or two and it would all be over.  I was so wrong.

The first bite let me know that I had been missing something.  My mom did not cook this way and for good reason - my dad did not like it.  But every so often we learn something new.  And when it is a delightful and delicious new recipe, I say let the knowledge begin!!!

Since then I have tasted many versions of this dish, one which included bacon, ham AND sausage!  Sort of a meat-lover's-pizza answer to the age old question "what's for breakfast".

I have been "pantry shopping" lately.  This means that my fridge, freezer and pantry are filled to overflowing with food that has to be eaten before it has to be thrown away.  The next item in the freezer (read the one I can reach and remove without causing an avalanche) is a package of breakfast sausage links.  This one is a no-brainer.  Who doesn't love breakfast for supper? 

I will cook all the sausage.  The first night's supper will be sausage and pancakes.  The rest of the sausage will be made into a strata to be cooked for supper (or breakfast even!) the next day.  Bonus Points!  Not only do I gain another inch of freezer space, Bill will be in sausage heaven (he's the meat lover mentioned previously) AND he loves this particular dish.  Here's how I make it.

Breakfast strata is essentially a dish that uses stale bread and any leftover meats or vegetables that taste good when baked with cheese.  Think quiche.  Think savory bread pudding.  I generally use a proportion of eggs to milk to cheese when cooking dishes like this.  That way I don't need to consult a recipe and I can use up whatever quantity of leftovers I have on hand.

A good proportion is about 1 egg per 1/4 cup of milk, 1 slice bread, 1/4 cup meats and 2 oz. shredded cheese.  Amounts will depend on how much of any ingredient you have to work with and how many you have to serve.  I usually make smaller portions to serve the two of us.  Easy and quick.

I like to cut the bread into roughly 1 inch cubes and spread them on a baking sheet in the oven for a few hours, either with the pilot light on or turned to a very low 150 degrees f.  Beat eggs and milk together in a  bowl (use half and half or a mixture of milk and cream if that is what you have).  Beat in seasonings like pepper, nutmeg, cayenne pepper for a little heat and maybe some dried thyme.  Go easy on the salt, especially if using salty meats.

Layer the dried bread in a buttered casserole of an appropriate size, again based on how much you are making, and scatter the meats cut into pieces over the bread.  Sprinkle with shredded cheese and pour the custard over.  If you wish you can saute onion and mushroom and/or scatter over some leftover vegetables.  Cooked broccoli or asparagus would be especially good - or make a vegetarian version with some cooked spinach, red and yellow peppers, and any other vegetables you like.  I would not complain if there was corn in there too. 

Allow the strata to stand overnight (for breakfast) or several hours (if it's for supper) then bake in a preheated 350 oven for about 35 minutes, covered with foil.  Remove the foil and bake 15 minutes longer to brown the top.  Don't forget to scatter a little extra shredded cheese over the top before you put it in the oven.  This insures a brown and crusty top.

The lovely thing about this dish (and quiche, and bread pudding) is that it puffs up dramatically in the oven and rises above the rim of the baking dish, not unlike a souffle.  Unfortunately it deflates quickly but this in no way diminishes its deliciousness.  All that's left now is to dig in!

If serving this for breakfast you will likely have a basket of muffins, a bowl of fruit and some butter and jam to go with it.  Mimosas would NOT be out of place.  For supper you might like to serve a green salad, some marinated vegetables, steamed broccoli or green beans along side.

Quotable quotes; in the category If Breakfast Is Good For Supper Then What 's Up With This?  A Guy With A Name Like That Ought To Know Better!

"Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper."  Francis Bacon.

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