When I'm serving a morning crowd, strata is usually part of the meal. This simple bread-and-custard breakfast casserole appeals to a wide swath of diners, especially if flavorings are kept to a minimum (with breakfast meat on the side). And you can make and bake it ahead of time.
Strata can be savory or sweet. I usually opt for savory because of all the sugar, butter and heavy dairy in the sweet versions, but I decided to see if I could make sweet strata a little less naughty.
I was able to cut back on some of the sugar and fat and still deliver strata worthy of a celebration. Many strata and other sweet breakfast casserole recipes call for anywhere from one to two sticks of butter — that's eight to 16 tablespoons! Mine requires just six tablespoons, and I feature it in the crumble topping.
I concentrated the sugar in the topping, too. Similar recipes include sugar in both custard and topping, as well as a dousing of syrup, but I've found that if the sugar sits on the surface it's more prominent and you need less. I also offer a lightly sweetened fresh-strawberry sauce instead of straight syrup. My custard is simple — eggs, vanilla and evaporated milk rather than the usual half-and-half or heavy cream.
Scotch eggs are perfect for this time of year. Rather than blanket them with pork sausage, try chicken sausage. Depending on your crowd, you might use a spicy chorizo or Andouille.
Add to that a seasonal grated-carrot salad in butter lettuce "nests." This is not the typical raisin-studded, mayonnaise-dressed salad. It's fresh and flavorful, with parsley and a bright kefir-based dressing. Kefir — with the taste and texture of buttermilk and high levels of good bacteria — has all the health benefits of yogurt and is worth seeking out. You should be able to find it in a well-stocked grocery store; if not, substitute buttermilk.
There's a time to eat healthy — and that's most of the time — but there's a time to indulge a little too. Enjoy.
Scotch Eggs With Chicken Sausage
Makes 8 eggs
Use your choice of sausage, but if using denser pork sausage, you'll need a little more than a pound. I used — and loved — chicken chorizo sausage.
- 1 pound bulk chicken or turkey sausage
- 8 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled
- 3/4 cup crushed saltine crackers
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
Divide sausage into 8 equal portions. Working one at a time, press a portion of the sausage mixture into a patty. Set egg in patty and work sausage around it to completely enclose. Mix cracker crumbs and parsley; dredge each egg in cracker crumbs and place on a small, rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining sausage, eggs and cracker crumbs. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake, turning every 15 minutes, until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, and serve.
Strata With French Toast Flavorings and Strawberry Sauce
Serves 8 to 12
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted but not hot
- 1 loaf (about 1 pound) crusty French bread
- 2 cans (12 ounces each) evaporated milk
- 9 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 cups sliced strawberries
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon of water
Mix flour, sugar, cinnamon, almonds and butter with hands in a medium bowl, pressing together to form large clumps; set aside.
Arrange bread in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish so that it slightly overlaps. Whisk together milk, eggs and vanilla. Pour mixture over bread and let stand, weighting the bread so that it absorbs the custard, at least 20 minutes or overnight.
When ready to bake, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake until golden and set, about 45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring berries, sugar, zest and 1/2 cup water to boil in a small Dutch oven or large saucepan. When mixture starts to simmer, whisk in cornstarch mixture. Continue to simmer until mixture thickens to sauce consistency.
Cut casserole into portions and serve with sauce alongside.
Carrot Salad in Lettuce Cups
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons coarse-grain Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup plain kefir (or buttermilk)
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 pound carrots, trimmed, peeled and coarsely grated
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 large head butter lettuce, separated into leaves
Whisk garlic, mustard, kefir and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil to create a thick dressing.
When ready to serve, place carrots and parsley in a medium bowl. Add all but a couple of tablespoons of the dressing; toss to coat. Lightly drizzle lettuce with remaining dressing and toss to coat. Arrange a lettuce leaf or two and a small mound of carrot salad on each plate, and serve.
Pam Anderson, a best-selling cookbook author, writes about food and develops recipes for AARP.
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