Casseroles are a funny thing. You aren't likely to see them lauded as the hot new food trend any time soon. Yet make a great one, and suddenly folks clamor for the recipe.
Take an egg strata, an excellent choice for breakfast or brunch. It's easy to prep ahead of time and bakes up light and fluffy, yet is substantial and satisfying - perfect for a romantic breakfast in bed come Valentine's Day.
You can tailor a strata to include your favorite flavors, as well as make it sweet or savory. Strata is the plural of stratum, which literally means layers, and you can layer all your favorite ingredients in with the bread and egg custard.
The classic strata is cheddar cheese, breakfast sausage and egg. But you can alter it any way you like, including a Greek strata with spinach, feta, onion and tomato. Or one with wild mushrooms, leeks and brie cheese.
If you're making brunch for a lot of people, make two strata - one sweet, another savory. An apple-cream cheese stuffed "French toast" strata can be the sweet version, but you could add any kind of fruit. If you make a sweet strata for Valentine's Day, try stuffing it with strawberries and chocolate for a new twist on everyone's beloved chocolate-covered strawberries. Just leave out the savory spices and add a touch of sugar and lemon zest to make the stuffed French toast of your dreams.
Letting the strata rest - even overnight - before baking allows the bread to become saturated by the egg mixture, as well as the other flavors. But if you prefer to make it the day of, plan to let it rest for at least an hour in the refrigerator.
Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (15 minutes active), plus resting time
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
3 slices white sandwich bread, cubed
1 pound sage breakfast sausage, cooked, drained and crumbled
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, half-and-half, salt, mustard, nutmeg and white pepper.
In the prepared baking dish, layer half each of the bread, sausage, cheese and scallions, then repeat using the remaining ingredients to create a second layer of each. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the layers, gently pressing with a fork to make sure all of the ingredients are submerged.
Cover the baking dish with foil, crimping the edges tight. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to overnight (longer is better).
When ready to cook, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover and bake the strata for 1 hour, or until puffy and a knife inserted at the center comes out clean.