I was gone for a few days, visiting my sister Juanita and her family. She and her husband were celebrating their fourth wedding anniversary, and what better way to celebrate than to rent a hall, an '80s cover band, invite 100 of your closest friends and throw a party? Man, what a party it was...the lights were dimmed, the seats full of family, friends and neighbours, the band rocking, and then rocking some more. Felt good to shake out the winter cobwebs, get glammed up and dance until the wee hours. Seeing my sister and her husband so happy and in love, well, that kind of rocked too.
Having the foresight of knowing no one was going to feel like cooking breakfast after a night of such revelry, (and maybe one-too-many spiced rum and gingers), I brought ingredients for a breakfast strata....something that can be prepped the night before, thrown in the fridge, and baked the next morning. I layered sourdough bread purchased from one of my favourite bakeries here in Saskatoon, with locally made Italian sausage, aged cheddar and an egg custard. Baked until golden brown and crispy and bubbly, it hit the spot that Sunday morning. As did the extra-strong pot of organic Guatemalan coffee...
My niece Miss O was a big help in whisking the eggs....who knows, maybe another chef in the family?
A strata is super convenient for feeding a large crowd...and you can prepare it in advance, so you have more time to mingle with your guests. I have a friend who prepares something similar for Christmas morning, freeing up valuable time for opening presents. Other variations on this recipe could be chorizo sausage and pepper Jack cheese; bacon and fontina; bacon and mushroom and Swiss; etc. Assorted veggies and cheese would be amazing too. I have a feeling I'll be making this again, and again.
Sausage and Cheddar Strata
1 14 inch loaf Italian bread, or Sourdough, ends trimmed
1 pound (454 g) Italian sausage, or breakfast sausage
1 small onion minced
3 cups extra sharp cheddar, grated
12 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups whole milk
1 tbsp Frank's hot sauce (if using Tabasco, use 1 1/2 tsp)
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400*F. Slice the bread in half lengthwise, then slice each in half crosswise, 1/2" thick slices. Spread the bread in layers on bake sheets and bake until golden, flipping the bread halfway through. Cool 15 minutes.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Take the sausage out of its casings, and cook until no longer pink inside. Add the onion and cook until golden.
Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish. Shingle half the bread so the edges overlap slightly. Top with sausage mixture and 1 cup of cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, sausage, and cheese.
Whisk the eggs, milk, and seasonings. Pour evenly over the bread. Wrap the casserole in plastic and weigh it down, either with juice boxes, or boxes of chicken broth. Or you could place another 9x13 inch pan on top of the plastic, and place canned goods on top of this for weight. You really want the bread squished so it absorbs the liquid. Refrigerate one hour or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350*F. Let the strata stand at room temp for 10 minutes while the oven is heating. Remove the weights, unwrap, and bake until edges golden and puffy. About 1 hour. Let stand 10 minutes before dishing out. Serves about 8. Adapted from "The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2011".