Now that the Christmas season is officially in full swing (once Starbucks starts using the seasonal cups I consider it socially acceptable to put my tree up), I am starting to feel a little homesick. Holiday movies are the best, and they happen to be filled with mushy family love scenes…especially the Lifetime and ABC Family masterpieces. As someone that is a total family junkie, they always bring back warm and fuzzy memories just like every other year.
And as someone that always associates food with the best memories, I automatically think of cheese plates, shrimp cocktail, cocktail wienies, bottles of wine, and egg bake. Egg bake is the holiday tradition of my father’s family. My mom, dad, brother, and I always drive to my grandmother’s house on Christmas day to open presents and be merry. Egg bake is an egg casserole of sorts that is prepared on Christmas night for breakfast the next morning. I used to absolutely hate it when I was younger because it had sausage and mushrooms. I always opted for special pancakes or toaster strudel. Side note: I can’t help but think of Gretchen Wieners when I think of toaster strudel…and I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Nowadays I really enjoy sausage (though I still loathe mushrooms…maybe one day), so I partake in the holiday breakfast tradition—picking around the mushrooms of course. Because I’m feeling a little nostalgic, I decided to make my own version of egg bake. I made strata partly because of The Family Stone and that awesome scene where Sarah Jessica Parker spills strata all over herself on Christmas morning. Which I may or may not be watching while I write this post and eat strata. Because who doesn’t love that cast?
After you use practically a whole carton of eggs, you realize how important eggs are to strata. In fact, they are pretty much responsible for the whole thing. Duh Kelsey. But ever wonder what happens with those eggs to turn them into wonderful, delicious strata? No? Well I did once, so you’ll have to bear with me.
Eggs are predominately protein and water, and protein denaturation is a major part of the structure of strata. I explained it previously here, but basically the protein structures break down to expand in volume and form a gel. In this case, dairy is a big part of the structure as well because it is beaten into the eggs prior to pouring all over the other ingredients.
When you add dairy into the eggs, a few things happen. More protein is added into the mix, but this protein is a little different. You might remember a breakdown of milk in the Parmigiano-Reggiano post, but milk has two types of protein: whey and casein. Unlike egg proteins, these are more compacted. Casein is arranged in separate spheres and whey is more of a globule. In contrast, egg albumin is shaped like a heart (I know, it’s just too perfect). These diverse proteins have different zones that interact with each other in ways that similar proteins never would creating a different structure.
Another contribution of dairy is fat. Fat lubricates the overall texture stopping the proteins from expelling all of the water. A small amount of fat seals moisture in upon heating. I’m sure you’ve had egg whites before when trying to cut some calories, and I’m sure they didn’t taste nearly as good as eggs with yolks (predominantly fat)—especially reheated low-fat breakfast sandwiches. The extra fat from the dairy makes the strata softer and less rubbery than most egg products. This also makes strata a great thing to freeze because after reheating, the texture will remain soft.
So now that you know all about strata, put on The Family Stone, turn the Christmas lights on, and get to cracking those eggs! But please don’t spill it all over yourself because it will inevitably look like vomit in the aftermath as Sarah Jessica Parker has experience first-hand.
1 day-old French baguette
1 medium-large onion, chopped
3 scallions, green and white parts chopped
3 mild Italian sausage links
2 cups Swiss cheese, shredded
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded
½ cup feta, crumbled
1 ½ cups milk
¼ cup 2% Greek yogurt or heavy cream
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped Rosemary
Lots of salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 325⁰F. Cut your loaf into cubes and bake for about 10 minutes or until slightly browned and dried out.
2. Heat a pan over medium heat and drizzle olive oil in the bottom. When hot, add your chopped onion with a generous amount of salt and reduce heat to low. Cook slowly for about 30-40 minutes. When soft and browned, remove from heat.
3. Meanwhile, in another skillet warm 3 tablespoons of water over medium heat. Place your sausages in the pan and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes until warmed through. Take the sausage out and pour the water out if any remains. Return the skillet to the heat and drizzle in some olive oil. Put the sausages in the skillet once more and fry briefly in the oil until browned on the outside, about 1-2 minutes each side. Remove the sausages from the pan and slice when slightly cooled.
3. Mix the chopped scallions, onions, and rosemary in a bowl and the shredded parmesan and Swiss cheese in another bowl.
4. Grease a deep cast iron Dutch oven or a 9×13 glass dish in a pinch. Layer a third of the bread cubes followed by the onion mixture, one sliced sausage, and cheese mixture in the dish. Repeat two times to use up all of the bread, onion, sausage, and cheese. Sprinkle the feta on top of the last layer.
5. Whisk together the eggs, milk, yogurt, cayenne, Dijon mustard, and lots of salt and pepper.
6. Pour the egg mixture on top of the bread layers, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Don’t skip this step! It lets the bread soak up the egg mix and the flavors meld.
7. In the morning, preheat the oven to 350⁰F. With your Dutch oven lid, bake your strata. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue to bake for about an hour or until the top is nicely browned and it no longer wiggles. If you are using a casserole dish, forgo the lid and bake for an hour and a half. Your top may just be more browned. If you are worried about under-heating, heat until the middle of your strata reaches 165⁰F.
8. Let your strata cool for about 15-20 minutes before cutting pieces out. Eat while warm with extra shredded parmesan if you desire!