I am fond of saying that inspiration comes in many ways to me. Some times I will see a dish at a restaurant, something in a magazine, or just looking at an ingredient. That is precisely what happened last week. I was cooking for a large event and assembling the breadbasket, of all things. I was slicing a cranberry-walnut bread and as I looked at it I was reminded of a sandwich that I love from The Kneaded Bread, a bakery/lunch spot in Port Chester, NY. The sandwich they make is cranberry-walnut bread with turkey and cheddar. It’s a delicious combination of tart cranberry, sweet turkey and savory cheddar cheese. I wondered how I could combine all that for a Christmas morning breakfast … then it came to me: a make ahead strata!
Stratas have been around for a long time. Since the early 20th century, as a matter of fact. They really hit their stride in the ’80s after being featured in a Silver Palate Cookbook. Stratas can be savory or sweet, and frankly the sky is the limit on what you can add. The base ingredients are bread and eggs, the rest is up to you. The best part is that it’s a great make-ahead option for a busy morning brunch.
For my dish only the cranberries need to be cooked ahead of time. Cranberries in the walnut bread are dried of course, and I suppose you could use dry for this recipe, but fresh cranberries have a delightful tartness that can’t be beat. Using a bit of sugar to balance them is all you need. You only want to cook them until they burst a little, then off the heat to cool enough to handle.
For the rest of the dish I used an aged-cheddar
and of course a loaf of Italian bread.
After I got the bread cubed and the cheese added, I gently placed the cranberries around the bread. I decided against tossing them in, for fear of ending up with a pink dish.
Drizzle the beaten milk-egg combination over it and you are done. Into the fridge it goes overnight. That will allow the bread to soak up the eggs.
The next morning it goes right from the fridge to the oven.
The second part of this dish is the meat. Remember, my original inspiration was the sandwich, which has turkey. Since this is going to be a breakfast dish, bacon is my protein of choice, specifically Canadian bacon. I wanted to keep this on the easy side, and Canadian bacon is just that. All you need to do is warm it up in a saute pan. You could use regular bacon, but you would need to cook it of course. All in all your active time is under 15 minutes, perfect for a busy morning of opening presents!
Click this link to see the recipe: Cranberry Cheddar Strata with Walnuts and Canadian Bacon.
Buon Natale tutti!