Thursday, December 12, 2013

365 Breakfast Casserole

As long as I can remember, my mom has made her breakfast casserole every Christmas morning. Occasionally she would bake it for some other special occasion, but on Christmas we could count on this delicious dish alongside Cinnabon cinnamon rolls (she'd stop at the mall a day or so in advance to pick some up for us to share), fresh berries, and, as we got older, mimosas.

Of course, growing up, the casserole included white bread and 2% milk and a few other ingredients I prefer to avoid now that we're eating real food as much as possible. So this week I finally created the real food approved version of this beloved dish, and I am happy to report that it's just as delicious as my mom's! I called it a 365 Breakfast Casserole because it's no longer a splurge--it's perfect for any day of the year. (But if you're going for the Cinnabon on the side, stick to once a year.)

365 Breakfast Casserole
Serves 8, because people are going to want seconds
*Note: This is an overnight recipe. You'll make the dish before bed and bake it in the morning.
  • Butter to grease the casserole dish
  • 10-12 pieces whole wheat bread (ideally, find whole wheat bread with as few ingredients as possible)
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • your choice of "fillings" (ideas below)--about 3 cups total
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • your favorite cheese, grated, 2-4 ounces
Lightly grease a 9x13 casserole dish with butter and set aside. 

Cube up your bread slices. I cut them three times across each way so I end up with 16 squares per piece of bread, but you can go slightly bigger or smaller. I think my mom removes the crusts, and I think she just leaves the bread pieces whole and layers two slices of bread in the casserole dish, so go with what works for you. Either way, the entire bottom of your dish should be layered evenly with bread.

Next up: work on your filling. You can get creative here! You'll need to roast or saute your fillings so they are fully cooked before adding them to the dish. Here are some ideas:
  • sauteed onion
  • sauteed bell peppers
  • wilted spinach
  • cooked and crumbled bacon, sausage, pancetta, and/or ham
  • roasted zucchini or other squash
  • sauteed mushrooms
Once you've cooked your fillings, sprinkle them evenly over the bread. You could even make a half-and-half casserole if you have folks with different likes and dislikes (my mom loves mushrooms, so her corner always has tons, but the rest of us stick with a normal amount). 

Next, sprinkle most of your grated cheese over the fillings. I like to leave a little for the end to sprinkle on top to brown a bit. 

Time for the egg mixture: Whisk the eggs and milk in a medium bowl, along with salt and pepper to taste. Then pour the egg-milk mixture over the cheese, fillings, and bread. If you saved some cheese, sprinkle it on top. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. The bread will soak up the egg mixture, and you'll get a light, fluffy texture when you bake this baby!

In the morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and remove the foil from your casserole dish. Bake, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes, or until a small knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Enjoy! It's a great meal to prepare alongside dinner (you can saute some extra veggies while you cook dinner and throw the casserole together before bed) and perfect for a weekend brunch. You could make it at the beginning of the week and enjoy it reheated each morning, too. Of course, it's also awesome for Christmas morning.

What fillings would you choose? I think my favorite ever was a combo of spinach, bell peppers, onion, and bacon. Hearty and filling!

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