Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Christmas 101" - Savory Sausage and Cheese Bread Pudding/Strata for Christmas Day

Date I made this recipe:  Christmas Day, 2014 (breakfast)

Christmas 101 – Celebrate the Holiday Season from Christmas to New Year's by Rick Rodgers, author of Thanksgiving 101
Published by:  Broadway Books
ISBN:  0-7679-0399-4; copyright 1999 (an updated version was published in 2009)
Recipe:  Savory Sausage and Cheese Bread Pudding – p. 62

I haven't made a breakfast dish for this blog in I don't know how long, but this was a perfect way to start our Christmas Day.  Plus, later that day, we attended a very fun Christmas open house, staying way later than we planned, pushing back my easy soup dinner to December 26th.  When these holiday events stack up, they stack up!

Now, lest you think I was organized enough to put this together the night before, I was not, nor did I hop out of bed first thing Christmas morning to make it.  Andy and I are all about the "ease into things" approach in this house and since we don't have kids or pets or (this year) visiting relatives, there was no need to rush.  In fact, we pretty much ate this breakfast, changed out of our very comfortable loungewear and hit the road for this party around oh – 3:00ish?  Like Quarterback Aaron Rodgers told Green Bay Packers' fans a while back, "R-E-L-A-X."  After all, Christmas lasts all day.

So with that in mind, I wanted Christmas Day food to be pretty laid back (why strain yourself?) and I accomplished this with this easy-to-assemble breakfast pudding a/k/a breakfast strata.  Since all the heavy lifting came the night before with those damned stuff shells, having something that required only a few steps was a lovely Christmas present to myself.

Naturally, a book titled Christmas 101 was just asking to be used for the winter holidays (although there was a good ham recipe that you might want to save for Easter).  And when I found this book and an updated version (published in 2009) I put them right front and center on my shelf so I wouldn't forget. Well, as if anybody could forget Christmas! The only difference I can see between the two versions I bought was that the newer one had a few more recipes.

Many items in this book tempted me and I was "this close" to making Red and Green Lasagna (p. 60) for Christmas Eve, but just like the stuffed shells, that would have been a major production so I passed.  Then there were some appetizers that looked good but I wasn't in an appetizer mood, and some roasts I considered and also passed on, mostly for the expense of buying the meat.  In the end, I decided to make this dish for breakfast and a corn chowder from a different book for dinner but as mentioned above, we got all wrapped up in chatting with the folks at this open house and so dinner got back burnered.  But as the song goes, there are 12 days of Christmas and so I figured I had a window of time at my disposal.  Whew on that, right?

Since there's only two people in our household, I made half this recipe and I'm glad I did as it was just the right amount with a bit left over.  You can make this the night before or the morning of so long as you've let your bread sit out for at least 8 hours.  Also, I think you can be creative about what you add to the sausage mix.  This recipe calls for red pepper but I think you can add green if you like or maybe even artichokes or leeks (sautéed).  Knock yourself out!

This dish was very yummy.  Very.  Hope you enjoy.

Savory Sausage and Cheese Bread Pudding (a/k/a Strata) – makes 6 to 8 servings
Make ahead:  This pudding can be prepared the night before, covered tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerated.

Day of:  To reduce the baking time, heat the milk in a medium saucepan until bubbles appear around the edges.  Slowly whisk the hot milk into the eggs.  Bake the pudding until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chipped
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 pound sweet Italian pork or turkey sausages, casings removed
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 ½ teaspoons Italian herb seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly milled black pepper
1 quart milk
12 slices day-old, firm white sandwich bread, crusts trimmed (Ann's Note:  I went rogue and sliced up two large bread rolls and left the crusts on.  Don't tell anybody!)
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar (divided)

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat and add the onion and red bell pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with a spoon until it loses its pink color, about 10 minutes.  Drain off any liquid in the skillet and set the sausage mixture aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, mustard, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.  Gradually whisk in the milk.  Set aside.  (Ann's Note:  I could not find my Italian seasoning until after the dish was made – naturally – and so mixed together basil, oregano and parsley).

Lightly butter a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish.  Line the bottom of the prepared dish with (half) the bread, trimming to fit, if needed.  Sprinkle the bread with half the cheese, then spread with all of the sausage mixture. Top with the remaining bread slices.  Slowly pour the egg mixture over the bread, allowing it to soak in.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325F.  Uncover the pudding and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 ½ hours.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Ann's Note:  If you make half the recipe like I did, bake for half the time.  I checked it at 60 minutes and it was likely done but kept it in another 10 minutes for good measure.  

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