Monday, September 24, 2012

Sausage kale breakfast strata

Mission: Feed 12+ hungry people (9 of which are manly men) a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast. Sounds like a reasonable request, right?

Oh, and keep in mind that it'd be best if you made whatever dish you planned on serving ahead of time.  And easy to transport.  While keeping it warm because there isn't a way to reheat it.

And, did I mention that this will be eaten by folks who are standing around in a parking lot?

It might seem like a bit of a challenge -- how do you do this every week, Bonnie?! -- but it turned out to be as easy as making pancakes for Matt and me on any given morning.

My first clue was to make something confined to a single dish, like a casserole, to minimize hassle and possibility for errors (I've been known to forget a thing or two under pressure, like a knife to cut a cake... d'oh!).  I immediately thought of the baked French toast I've made so many times.  Preped the night before, covered and  refrigerated, and baked in the morning.  Something like that was ideal in order to be out the door en route to Land of the Ketchup by 8:30.

Knowing full well what delicious yet not quite so well-rounded treats we'd be eating that day, I wanted something that was a complete one dish meal with carbohydrates, protein, and -- gasp -- vegetables.  Pioneer Woman to the rescue!

Her sausage kale breakfast strata hit all the marks on my checklist and, if it were hearty enough for a cowboy, it'd surely satisfy a bunch of Pitt football fans.

After an uncharacteristic mid-week trip to the grocery store, I was armed and ready for battle breakfast.  Bread, mushrooms, sausage, cheese, and eggs.  Luckily for me, I already had half of a bunch of kale leftover from soup earlier in the week, so I simply supplemented the bunch (pun absolutely intended) with an equal amount of baby spinach.

On Friday night, after dinner had been devoured and dishes cleaned by my helpful husband, I got to work assembling the next morning's breakfast... and dirtying a few more dishes, too.

I don't know what it is about layering recipes that I love so much.  Maybe it's being able to look through the side of the glass dish and see every savory ingredient mingle, just waiting for me to take the first bite.  Or it could just be the fact that I get to build and play with my food.  More mature cooks might refer to this as an assembly line.  They also might have explained to you earlier that a strata is simply a brunch dish made with layers of ingredients placed over day old bread and fresh cheese, covered with a blended mixture of eggs and milk, baked in an oven.  Apparently, I am not one of them.

Rarely do I remember my dreams, but I bet I dreamt of my impending breakfast that Friday night.  Saturday morning couldn't have come soon enough!  A little bleary-eyed and still sporting my pajamas, I took the strata out while the oven pre-heated (perfect timing, in case you're wondering).  As it baked, I fetched my most, um, fetching blue and gold and got ready to head dahntahn downtown.

I timed things so the strata came out of the oven roughly 10 minutes before we walked out the door because I wanted it to be as toasty warm as possible for eating.  How did I manage that?

If you're like me and too cheap to invest in a fancy hot dish carrying apparatus, fret not.  I lined a small duffel bag with two beach towels, carefully placed the foil-covered casserole dish on top, added a dish towel to cover the whole thing, and zipped up the bag.  Then proceed to give your carrier of choice (i.e. Matt) a million annoying directions about how to carry the bag by the handles perfectly while keeping the dish level.  The things people do for love :)

Twenty minutes later we were laying out the brunch spread, and the strata was still hot!  Victory for weird applied kitchen sciences!  But the real victory was the food itself.

The bread absorbs all of the egg mixture and bakes into this amazing savory and chewy bread pudding-like dish.  The cheese melts and oozes, bringing together the mushrooms, sausage, and greens.  Cheese unites everyone and everything in perfect harmony.  Cheese for president!

And the cheesy breakfast strata certainly united all of the tailgaters in attendance.  Breakfast was a success.  So successful that I'm convinced the good (first typed "food") vibes carried Pitt to a surprising victory over ranked Virginia Tech.  Who says you can't have a hearty and well-rounded meal on a plastic blue plate?  Not this girl, for sure!

Two years ago: Stromboli

Sausage and Greens Breakfast Strata
(adapted slightly from Pioneer Woman's recipe)
-serves 12

A few notes: Please don't be intimidated by the sheer volume of food this recipe makes.  It is something that can be easily halved or even quartered without any trouble.  Also, consider this recipe more of a guideline.  Feel free to use your favorite cheese, seasonings, and whatever other items you like, including but not limited to peppers, diced ham, tomatoes, cooked bacon, and onions.

12 whole eggs
2 1/2 cups milk
Ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 loaf crusty sourdough bread or baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 pounds breakfast sausage patties, cooked and cut into cubes
1 large bunch kale (or 10-ounce bag spinach), torn into pieces
Olive oil
16 ounces white mushrooms, halved
2 cups grated colby jack cheese mix

Mix together eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and oregano. Set aside. Drizzle olive oil over mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast in a 425 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat, then throw in kale and spinach.  Cook for 2 minutes, or until slightly wilted.  Remove from heat and set aside.   Layer half the bread, half the kale, half the mushrooms, and half the cheese in a large, buttered lasagna pan.  Repeat with the other half of all the ingredients, ending with the cheese.  Slowly pour egg mixture all over the top.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (up to 12 hours).  To bake, remove from fridge 20-30 minutes before baking.  Replace plastic wrap with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes.  Remove foil and continue baking until top is golden brown and slightly crisp.  Serve and enjoy!  Leftovers will keep covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.  Simply dish out and reheat in microwave for individual servings or warm in oven.

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