A clear spring morning in Marina del Rey – fresh sea breeze, birds singing, and warm Southern California sun shining on our faces. We sat down to enjoy this lovely breakfast strata, relishing the relaxation after a very busy and business-packed conference in Hollywood.
The annual IACP conference is always a highlight of the year for me, a chance to see old friends, get caught up on each other’s lives, spend time discovering a new-to me city or revisit favorite haunts, and meet fascinating new people who could become lifelong friends. We inevitably walk away from our time together re-energized and ready to kick our businesses into high gear.
This year they held the conference in Los Angeles at the Loews Hollywood Hotel smack dab in the middle of the Hollywood Walk of Fame with Grauman’s Chinese Theater around the corner, the El Capitan Theatre across the street (you would recognize both from Hollywood movie premiers), and home to the Dolby Theater where they hold the Academy Awards each year. While Hollywood itself can be a little gritty and is packed with tourists from across the globe, it is also close to a number of the best restaurants in Southern California and believe me, we took advantage of the proximity.
Flying in and out of Burbank was the best decision. My friend Robin and I were out of there in no time, bags in hand, to begin our adventures. A few turn-arounds and “let’s try that again” thanks to a GPS that insisted on sending us on a road that didn’t exist – accompanied by our laughter – we hit the freeway and soon were spinning our way through the LA basin toward Hollywood.
Lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant was our first stop and it was great to sit back, sip on a cool cocktail and enjoy the foods that are so good in SoCal while watching an array of interesting people pass by. Hollywood is great for people watching! Then catching up on a little work, putting the finishing touches on blog posts and scheduling them, and it was time for dinner with more friends. Yep, that’s how we roll in the food biz – meal after meal with snacks in between, LOL.
This year was extra special because Shannon and I got to meet our publishers for the first time! They are delightful and it is so great to have a face to go with a name on the emails flying back and forth. It’s starting to feel real folks and before you know it I’ll be asking you to pre-order copies and write positive reviews on Amazon! 🙂
This year my blog was a finalist for the IACP Recipe Blog of the Year award which was very exciting. What an honor to be considered good enough to be in the top three – it is the thrill of a lifetime! Thanks to all of you loyal readers who have stuck by me as I learned how to write a totally different way (from business letter and briefs) and all about this new world called blogging. I appreciate every one of you!
A few of the highlights on this trip … Spending a lovely afternoon at the Getty Villa, surrounded by unbelievable beauty and chillin’ SoCal style. Dinner at Connie & Ted’s, a nod to New England clam shacks and fish houses in a building that looks like something The Jetsons’ would have designed. The brain child of Michael Cimarusti, the chef at renowned Providence, this very popular casual seafood restaurant is obviously a good choice for the West Hollywood crowd. Another night we went to Mud Hen Tavern, a Susan Feniger restaurant that took the place of the now closed Street. With a delightful blending of Feniger’s menu from Street and typical pub grub, she definitely has struck the right chord with the neighborhood. And lunch at The Hungry Cat, from Chefs David Lentz and Suzanne Goin, one of three of their restaurants that features the highest quality fish and meats paired with seasonal produce including exceptional house-smoked meats and seafood and esoteric wine and beer lists.
The food at all three restaurants was delightful and will linger in our minds for years, but it is the people I was with that make these memories so special. Having the opportunity to get away from the crowds and enjoy time sharing a meal with friends, new and old, is what I look forward to each year. Being able to sit down with some of the most highly regarded people in the food industry, sharing plates and stories, learning from them and enjoying the wonderful company, is a dream come true. Taking a breather in the midst of the chaos of the conference gives us perspective and often new-found friends.
After the frenetic pace of the conference, it was such a treat to have a few quiet days with my friend Kate – spending the night with one of her friends and former students in Marina del Rey where we had this beautiful and delicious strata for breakfast before heading North up the PCH to Santa Barbara. Believe it or not this California native had never been to SB and it was such a thrill to be able to experience it through Kate’s lens, reliving moments from her childhood. We were graciously welcomed into the home of another of Kate’s friends, this time someone she has known since her days of living there. More great Mexican food, fun shopping for new outfits, and time spent relaxing were just what I needed. Thank you again to Kate, Maren, and Laura for your hospitality and friendship!
Now to today’s recipe … Stratas are layered baked egg dishes typically made with milk-soaked bread, meats, cheese and vegetables. They are the perfect make-ahead meal because the strata needs to sit for at least 4 hours or overnight before baking. This ensures evenly soaked bread, optimal flavor, and a light and fluffy texture.
You can mix and match the meats, vegetables, and seasonings to make a different strata each time. You can leave the meats out and increase the amount of vegetables to make it vegetarian. Try using feta with Merguez sausage and oregano for spicy Greek flavors. Or Italian sausage, mozzarella, and basil for an Italian version. And brie with chicken and tarragon takes you straight to Paris. The world is yours, all you have to do is grab it!
When I have family or guests visiting, I put one of these together in the evening, keep it overnight in the refrigerator, and bake it in the morning. I can have a fabulous breakfast on the table in about 1 hour – just long enough for me to prep the rest of the meal, set the table, and pour a cup of coffee. No short-order cook duties, just relaxation with my family and friends and sharing another wonderful meal. You definitely want this in your regular rotation!
Have a fabulous weekend my friends!
Gluten-free bread can be more absorbent than regular wheat breads. To combat that, increase the number of eggs to 8 and after it has rested in the refrigerator, if there isn’t much liquid left, add just enough more milk until it is a little soupy again. It is better to leave it drier than too wet.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 2 red bell peppers, stem and seeds discarded, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 8 oz bulk ground pork sausage (if using links, remove from the casings)
- 8 oz cooked ham, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 tsp minced thyme leaves
- 4 oz Gruyere or Swiss cheese, shredded
- 3 oz Parmesan cheese, grated, plus extra for the top
- About 1 loaf artisan bread, cut into 1-inch cubes, about 8 cups (use 1-1/2 loaves gluten-free bread if needed)
- 6 large eggs, lightly beaten (use 8 eggs if using gluten-free bread)
- 1 cup whole milk (see Gluten-Free tips above)
- 1/2 tsp ground dry mustard
- 1-1/2 tsp Kosher or fine sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 to 3 tbsp butter for the baking dish
- Non-stick cooking spray (for the foil)
- Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, for garnish
- Make the Strata: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and red bell pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up any large chunks. Cook until the sausage is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ham and thyme.
- Spread the sausage mixture out on a baking sheet with sides to cool. Stir the mixture occasionally to speed up the cooling.
- Once the meat mixture has cooled to room temperature, transfer to a large mixing bowl. Mix in the cheeses and cubed bread.
- In another bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, ground mustard, salt and pepper together. Pour the egg mixture over the meat and bread mixture and gently fold all the ingredients together with a spatula. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Bake the Strata: With a rack in the center, preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish. Pour in the strata mixture, spreading it out into an even layer. Leave the pan on the counter for 30 minutes to bring the strata to room temperature.
- Spray a large sheet of foil with nonstick cooking spray and place it, oiled side down, over the baking dish. Crimp the edges to make a tight seal. Place the pan in the hot oven and bake the strata for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle a little extra Parmesan over the top, and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until lightly browned and a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let the casserole rest for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
- To Serve: The cooked casserole can be served hot, or can be kept covered at room temperature for up to 1 hour. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with fresh fruit and juice for a healthy, delicious breakfast or brunch.
- Yield: 8 servings
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