It's a Sunday morning tradition around here. After we have both been humbled by the word puzzles on the New York Times website—me moreso than Dave—he starts puttering around the kitchen making breakfast. Sometimes it's as simple as his famous cheese omelets, other times he's got some sourdough left over from bread baking to use for scones, biscuits or even waffles. I know that whatever it is, it's going to be delicious and I try to be appropriately appreciative.
But on holidays, I like to let him off the hook regarding breakfast. There are the tried-and-true, go-to selections—a hearty frittata, fluffy pancakes and real maple syrup from New England, a buttery, crumble-topped coffee cake—but this past Christmas Sunday I chose another standby, strata, which I hadn't made in a dog's age. I pulled out my trusty old recipe box and found the stained index card right there in the "Eggs and Cheese" section.
Dead easy, whether you call it a savory bread pudding or cheater's soufflé, strata consists of bread, eggs, milk and cheese, plus whatever other ingredients you want to add. Usually, in our case, this means mushrooms and bacon, but can include seasonal herbs, kale, tomatoes, asparagus, ham or other meat or seafood.
But note that this cogitating on the possibilities needs to happen a day ahead, since strata really needs to be assembled the night before, with the bread spending all night absorbing the custardy goodness of the eggs and milk in order to achieve its utmost lusciousness. So the evening before I hauled out a half pound of the chanterelle mushrooms that I'd roasted and frozen a couple of weeks ago, plus some of Dave's fabulous bacon and the leeks that we'd received in our CSA share from Cully Neighborhood Farm.
The next morning, after pulling it out of the fridge and popping it in the oven, it bubbled away for ninety minutes while we sipped coffee and dug into our stockings. (And yes, we still do stockings around here…how else can you surprise someone with that probe thermomenter they've been drooling over online?) And I think Dave was pleased that Santa had thought to make breakfast for him for a change.
Bacon, Cheese and Chanterelle Strata
3-4 c. bread, cut in 1/2" cubes (remove crusts only if you want)
1/2 lb. sharp cheddar or other cheese, grated
1/2 lb. bacon, cut in 1/4" strips
1/4 c. butter or margarine, melted
1/2 lb. mushrooms, chopped (I used chanterelles, but any kind will do)
1 med. or 2 small leeks, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2" slices
2-2 1/2 c. milk (see note)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
The day before baking, sauté bacon until fat begins to render. Add chopped mushrooms and sauté till mushrooms start to get limp, then add the leeks and sauté until tender. Remove from heat and cool. Beat eggs, milk, mustard and salt in a small mixing bowl. In a medium casserole dish (I used my 2 1/2-qt. Le Creuset casserole but it can be made in a 9" by 12" Pyrex baking dish), place half the bread cubes, topped with half the bacon mixture, half the cheese and drizzle half the melted butter over it. Repeat with another layer of the remaining bread cubes, meat mixture, cheese and butter. Pour the egg mixture over the top. (Note: You can add a little more milk the next morning if it seems too dry, but go easy—the bread shouldn't be swimming in liquid.) Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight to soak.
The next morning, preheat the oven to 300°. Place the casserole in a larger pan with about 3/4" of hot water and place those in the oven. Bake for 90 minutes.