Christmas morning should be greeted with something more festive than cold cereal, especially if friends and relatives are popping in to visit.
But there's no need for anyone to be stranded in the kitchen, missing all the chatter and gift-opening.
That's why stratas are so popular on Christmas morning. You might know them as "breakfast casseroles."
They can be assembled and refrigerated the night before and oven-baked the next morning to puffy golden goodness.
And they're a good antidote to the tendency to just nibble on candy and sweets all morning.
In the nonfood world, a "strata" is a layer of rock or sediment. Perhaps the layering concept is where this dish gets its name, because the egg mixture is usually poured over layers of bread, cheese or other ingredients.
Besides the make-ahead advantage, stratas have other pluses. Eggs are a low-cost protein and can stretch a handful of other ingredients into a meal. In fact, the Eggs Benedict Strata cashes in at about 90 cents per serving.
You can vary ingredients based on what you have on hand. You've got a few slices of ham left over from Christmas Eve dinner? Just chop and add to the mix.
Although stratas are similar to quiches, some come pretty close to the hearty Mountain Man Breakfast, recognized by anyone who's ever been on a Boy Scout campout. However, this Paula Deen Hash Brown Casserole, layered with sausage, hash browns and cheese, doesn't require a campfire or Dutch oven. Baked Oatmeal Wisconsin-Style is a cross between hot cereal and a breakfast casserole. The recipe comes from "Hot Dish Heaven" (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $16.96). Author Ann L. Burckhardt explains that she first tried this egg-rich, oven-baked oatmeal when it was served at the Lake Geneva, Wis., conference center.
If you don't have time to assemble a casserole the night before, the Rapid-Fire Strata Italiano can be thrown together, microwaved and on the table in minutes.
One cooking tip: Take the casserole out of the oven when a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. The very center may not be completely cooked, but the residual heat will finish the job, according to the American Egg Board. Overcooking can result in a curdled or weepy egg mixture.
RAPID-FIRE STRATA ITALIANO
1 1/2 cups unseasoned stuffing cubes or toasted bread crumbs
1/2 cup skim or low-fat milk
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup minced green onions with tops
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional
Celery leaves, optional
Evenly coat 1 1/2-quart baking dish with spray. Add stuffing cubes.
In medium bowl, beat together eggs and milk until well blended. Stir in cheese, onions, garlic, seasoning and salt, if desired. Pour over stuffing cubes. Cover with plastic wrap.
Cook on full power 2 minutes (600 to 700 watts: 3 minutes). Stir to move cooked portions at edges toward center. Cover. Cook on full power until eggs are almost set, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Let stand, covered, until knife inserted near center comes out clean, about 5 to 7 minutes. Serves 4.
Garnish with celery leaves, if desired.
— American Egg Board
1 12-ounce package English muffins
6 slices (about 4 ounces) Canadian bacon, chopped
1 1/2 cups skim or low-fat milk
2 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Halved lemon slices, optional
Split muffins and cut into cubes. Alternate even layers of muffin cubes and ham in lightly greased 8-by-8-by-2-inch baking dish.
In medium bowl, beat together remaining ingredients except chives until well blended. Pour evenly over muffin-ham mixture. Cover. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
Uncover. Bake in preheated 350° F oven until golden brown and knife inserted near center comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes.
Garnish with chives and lemon slices, if desired. Serves 6.
BAKED OATMEAL WISCONSIN-STYLE
13/4 cups water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup old-fashioned or quick oats
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring water and salt to boil in saucepan. Stir in oats and cook 5 minutes, until thick.
Set aside while combining remaining ingredients. (If desired, oatmeal can be cooked the night before. Just cover and refrigerate, then reheat in microwave before making casserole.)
Beat together eggs and milk. Stir cinnamon, baking powder, salt and brown sugar into warm oatmeal, then fold in egg mixture. Pour into buttered or oil-sprayed 1 1/2-quart casserole.
Bake 30-40 minutes, until set and a cinnamon-sugar crust forms on top. Serve with milk or half-and-half.
For Fruited Baked Oatmeal: Stir 2/3 to 3/4 cup dark or golden raisins, chopped dates or craisins into oatmeal mixture before baking.
—"Hot Dish Heaven"
RICE, BEAN AND VEGGIE CUSTARD BAKE
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat Monterrey Jack cheese
3 cups cooked rice (1 cup raw)
1 16-ounce jar thick and chunky red salsa, divided
1 15-ounce can red kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup whole kernel corn
1 cup chopped sweet red and/or green pepper (1 medium)
Evenly coat 11-by-7-by 2-inch baking pan with spray. Set aside.
In medium bowl, beat together eggs and cheese. Stir in rice. Pour into prepared pan. Smooth with back of spoon or gently shake pan to spread rice mixture evenly in pan. Gently spread 1 cup of the salsa over rice mixture.
In medium bowl, stir together beans, corn and pepper. Evenly spoon bean mixture over salsa.
Drizzle remaining 1 cup salsa over bean mixture. At this point, the dish can be covered and refrigerated.
Bake in preheated 350° F oven until custard is puffed and begins to pull away from sides of pan and knife inserted near center comes out clean, about 55 to 60 minutes.
If dish has been refrigerated, add another 5 minutes to cooking time.
—American Egg Board
CHICKEN A LA KING STRATA
1/2 cup chopped sweet red pepper
1 teaspoon instant minced onion
2 tablespoons water
1 10-ounce package frozen peas
1 5-ounce can chunk chicken
1 4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
4 cups day-old bread cubes (6 to 8 slices)
1 1/2 cups skim or low-fat milk
In medium saucepan, stir together pepper, onion and water. Cover. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add peas. Cover. Cook, stirring occasionally to break peas apart, until mixture is heated throughout. Stir in chicken, mushrooms and seasoning.
In large bowl, stir together vegetables and bread cubes. Spoon into lightly greased 8-by-8-by2-inch baking dish.
In large bowl, beat together eggs and milk until well blended. Pour over bread. Cover with foil.
Refrigerate several hours or overnight or bake immediately in preheated 350° F oven 30 minutes.
Uncover. Continue baking until golden brown and knife inserted near center comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes more.
—American Egg Board
PAULA DEEN'S HASH BROWN CASSEROLE
3 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 cups frozen shredded hash browns
1 pound bulk sausage, mild, hot or sage
2 1/4 cups whole milk
8 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
8 cups cubed French or Italian bread, crusts removed
2 cups (1/2 pound) grated Cheddar
2 cups (1/2 pound) freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Spray a deep 13 by 9-inch casserole dish with vegetable oil cooking spray.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the onion and saute over medium-low heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the hash browns and break apart. Saute until soft, about 5 minutes.
In a second frying pan, saute the sausage, breaking apart large clumps. When the sausage is cooked through, remove it from pan.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg and mustard; stirring briskly to blend.
To assemble, spread the onions and hash browns evenly at the bottom of the greased dish. Place the bread cubes evenly on top of hash browns. With a slotted spoon distribute sausage as the third layer.
Pour the milk and egg mixture over these layers. Add Parmesan as the next layer, then the Cheddar. Reserve a few tablespoons of Cheddar for the last 10 minutes of baking. Bake the casserole, uncovered for 45 to 50 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Sprinkle on the reserved Cheddar during the last ten minutes of baking.
SOUTH OF THE BORDER CUSTARD CASSEROLE
1 cup skim or low-fat milk
1/2 cup taco sauce
1 tablespoon instant minced onion
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, undrained
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
In large bowl, beat together eggs, milk, taco sauce, onion and salt until well blended. Reserving a few pieces of chiles for garnish, stir in remaining chiles, rice and cheese. Pour into greased 8-by-8-by-2-inch baking dish.
Bake in preheated 350° F oven until knife inserted near center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Add 5-10 more minutes to cooking time if casserole has been refrigerated overnight.
Garnish with reserved chilies and parsley, if desired.
—American Egg Board