Today’s recipe is a savory bread pudding. It is like a quiche without a crust. The ingredients soak in a custard of eggs and milk overnight. When you bake it in the morning, it comes out bubbly, puffed, and smelling like heaven. I make this when I have company coming for a weekend because I can prepare it ahead and serve it straight from the oven piping hot. My guests wake up to the smell of hot coffee and this casserole baking in the oven. Everyone arrives in the kitchen with a huge smile on their faces!
This recipe can be made for either a small family gathering or large brunch parties. When you are serving a large gathering of people, no one will eat a “full” serving of anything. You need to calculate based on the alternate serving size, in this case about 16 servings per 9×13-inch pan. For 75 people you would need 5 pans of eggs. Err on the high side and make more than you think you will need. You can leave the extras at the host’s house as a thank you, or divvy it out between your workers. Bring “to-go” containers with you so your guests can take home leftovers if they like.
This strata is delicious baked ahead and reheated. If you are taking it to another location, you can bake it in advance and reheat on-site. If you are baking them on-site, they will take at least an hour to cook (sometimes a bit longer because you’ve got 2 or more pans per oven.) If you are baking them ahead, plan on some cooling time so that you can handle and transport them. Then you’ll need to reheat on-site, about 20 minutes.
Because this is part of a buffet and you have so many other food offerings, you probably want to make just one or two versions of this strata. A vegetarian version and a meat version would cover just about everyone. If you want a fancier option, you can make a seafood version. Make sure you can easily tell between the veggie and meat versions. One idea is to sprinkle the top of the veggie with sliced black olives or chopped tomatoes because they’re really easy to see!
When you are designing your table, think about how people will move around. What foods make sense to have first or last. Rolls can always be placed on top of other foods so it makes sense to serve them toward the end of the table. Rent chafing dishes with Sterno to keep hot foods hot, and bowls with ice will keep cold items chilled at a safe temperature. Don’t forget to take serving utensils with you. If you are working with non-stick pans you will need plastic spatulas which will both cut and serve the eggs. Also, do everyone a favor and have the silverware and napkins at the end of the buffet table, not at the beginning. It it much easier for them to serve themselves when they aren’t juggling extra things in their hands!!
Remember that having everything matching is boring. Make the table look pretty with colorful tablecloths, napkins, flowers, and risers. Risers can be small boxes, piles of books, or an overturned bowl draped with large napkins or a complementary tablecloth. Create interest with your dishes and vary the options. Use containers of different materials like crystal, pottery, wood, and woven baskets. Add fresh fruits and vegetables for colorful and natural decorations. Prepare multiple bowls of each dish so you can swap them out as they start to get low. Refill in the kitchen and replenish as needed. Get as much as you can done ahead of time, then relax and enjoy the party!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
If you are making this strata with sausage, bring plenty of paper towels with you. No matter how well you drain it, there will be residual grease that floats to the top. Use the paper towel (or paper napkins) like a wick to absorb excess grease. It will look better and your guests will appreciate your attention to detail.
Kitchen Skill: Cooking for a Crowd
Why: Successfully creating and presenting a meal for a large group of people.
How: Cooking a large meal is an exercise in organization and juggling. You have to plan the dishes so that they will all be ready and hot at the same time. How many containers will fit in your oven(s) at the same time? How many dishes can be cooked on the stove at once? Are there parts that can be cooked ahead or served at room temperature? Anyone who has ever made Thanksgiving dinner understands the complexities. Start weeks ahead, make lists, select dishes you’ve made before and are comfortable with.
If you are trying something new, practice the recipe at least once or twice to work out any kinks and to customize the timing to your oven or stove. If you are not a baker, don’t stress yourself out and try to make dessert. Ask one of your guests to bring something. People are happy to pitch in!
- Base Recipe
- 1 lb each of prepared meats and vegetables, (total 2 lb)
- (OR Vegetarian option - 1 lb each of 2 prepared vegetables)
- 1 quart (4 cups) half & half
- 12 eggs (3 eggs to each cup half & half)
- 1 tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 12 slices fluffy white bread or sweet French bread, crusts removed
- 12 oz extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
- Sauté vegetables in 1 to 2 tbsp oil. Season with salt and set aside. Cook meats if needed, drain well (set on paper towels if needed), and set aside.
- In a very large bowl, whisk half & half, eggs, salt, and pepper together until smooth. Butter 9x13 pan or other baking dish or spray with vegetable spray.
- Line bottom with 6 pieces of bread. Scatter half the cooked meat and half cooked vegetables over bread, and then top with half scallions and half of cheese. Pour 1 cup of eggs over top. Repeat layers. Slowly pour remaining eggs over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Return to room temperature before baking in the morning.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position. Bake in preheated 325°F oven until custard is just set, about 50 minutes. Turn on broiler and broil until strata is spotty brown and puffy (don’t let burn!), about 5 minutes longer. A knife inserted in the center should come out clean. Continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes if needed. Do not over-bake or the eggs will get rubbery. Let stand 8 to 10 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.
- Yield: 12 servings - for a large gathering this will make about 16 servings
Bell Peppers: Slice and saute in 1 tbsp oil, salt & pepper.
Baby Spinach: Steam, covered, with 1 tbsp oil & salt until wilted, 3 to 4 min. Drain.
Frozen Spinach: Thaw, drain in a colander. Squeeze hard until all water is removed. Wrap in paper towels to absorb any remaining liquid
Frozen Corn: Thaw and drain.
Fresh Corn: Cook 4 minutes in boiling salted water, cool slightly, and cut kernels off cob.
Shallots: Sliced and sautéed in 1 tsp oil.
Asparagus: Cut into 1-inch pieces. Saute in 1 tbsp oil with a sprinkle of salt & pepper. Cook until crisp tender. Do not overcook.
Zucchini and Mushrooms: Cube zucchini, half or quarter mushrooms; sauté until tender in 1 tbsp oil. Drain well.
Bacon: Cut into 1/2-inch pieces and fry until crisp. Drain well.
Sausage: Fry bulk breakfast or Italian sausage (without casings) until fully cooked. Drain really well on paper towels. Change towels 2 to 3 times.
Kielbasa or Chorizo: Thinly slice and cook off; drain very well.
Crab: Pick over crab removing shell and cartilage.
Fully cooked ham: Cube
Combinations (amounts per pan):
Italian: Pepperoni, chopped; 1/2 cup pepperoncini, stemmed, seeded and chopped, 10 oz frozen spinach, drained well, 1/2 cup oil packed sun dried tomatoes, drained and chopped, 2 tsp Italian seasoning, and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
New Mexican: Chicken cilantro sausages, corn kernels, jalapeno, and Tomatillo Salsa.
Southwest: 1 sm can chopped mild green chiles, 1 tomato chopped, 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced, and cheddar & Jack.
Benedict: Canadian bacon, English Muffins, Asparagus; serve with Hollandaise Sauce.
Cheeses: Cheddar, Gruyere, Swiss, or Parmesan.
Seafood: 1 lb crabmeat or cooked shrimp, chopped, 1/2 tsp dry mustard, 1/2 tsp seafood seasoning added to milk mixture.
Asparagus/Crab: 9 oz asparagus, 6 to 8 oz crabmeat, picked over, 1/2 tsp dry mustard and 1/4 tsp Old Bay seasonings added to milk mixture.