Waste Not, Want Not -- Breakfast Strata
What do you do with all that bread that's been accumulating on your counter or in your refrigerator? Don't throw it out. Turn it into a breakfast strata. Yes, that's right, one of those casseroles that many people eat for Thanksgiving or Christmas breakfast. This one's simpler, but it's the same basic casserole. It's good, filling, and helps use up bread that might otherwise go to waste. Ideally the strata should be assembled the night before you want to serve it and baked in the morning. That will enable the bread to soak up the custard mixture. Nonetheless, I usually like to bake stratas when I have the oven on for something else. So, if you want to bake a strata the same day after you assemble it, you can. You will need to let it sit for 20-30 minutes, though, and squash the bread down into the custard periodically. To do this, simply place a piece of waxed paper on the top of the strata and, using your splayed hands, mash down on the strata to keep the bread immersed in the liquid (gently, so as not to splash the liquid out). You can repeat the process every five minutes or so (or when you think about it, in between other stuff), or put a heavy dish on top to keep the bread pressed down (easier, less memory involved). What's in the strata besides bread? Lots of eggs, milk, and cheese--plenty of protein. If you'd like--and I usually do--you can add bacon crumbles for smoky flavor. The strata will puff up high while baking but deflate a little shortly after you pull it from the oven. Don't worry, though, the wonderful smells from the oven will bring people to the table quickly, and the warm, savory strata will make a hearty meal for a cool morning. Plus, the leftovers are great for later in the week.
Simple Breakfast Strata -- Serves 6+
4-5 cups of stale bread (preferably whole grain) torn into pieces (about 1/2 a 1 pound loaf)
3 cups of low-fat milk
2 tablespoons of grainy Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of onion powder
3 tablespoons of minced dried onions
1 tablespoon of minced dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of bacon crumbles
2 1/2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
Coat a large casserole or 9 x 13-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray and add even layers of half the bread, half the minced dried onions, and half of the bacon crumbles. Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese evenly over the bacon crumbles. Repeat the process, layering on the last of the bread, minced dried onions, bacon crumbles, and 1 more cup of cheese. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, mustard, onion powder, dried parsley, pepper, and salt. Pour the mixture evenly into the casserole over the bread layers. Sprinkle the last of the cheese evenly over the top of the strata. Cover the strata and refrigerate it overnight to bake the next morning or follow the directions above. When ready to bake the strata, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and, if the strata has been in the refrigerator, pull it out to warm up before putting the cold dish into the hot oven. Bake the strata for 50-60 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.