Christmas morning my mom and I woke up and cleaned the kitchen. I looked down at the dishes I was scrubbing and said, “Mom remember when I would wake up at 6 am Christmas morning and sprint to my presents? I want to feel that sugar plum fairy excitement.”
Presents no longer seem to give me that feeling like they did when I was a kid, but Christmas brunch does. I pulled my grandmother Bunny’s coffee walnut chocolate chip muffins out of the oven, a sentimental smell permeating the room. My mom made a citrus salad. We bantered back and forth about how much honey to drizzle over the top. My brother and dad knocked on my door. My dad told my mom she really needs to start aging and then they bonded over their mutual plantar fasciitis. (I’m going to get a text from my dad after this post goes up saying yet again I’ve put him on “blast.”)
We opened our stockings, and I pulled my strata out of the oven. We swooned over the soft, custard center with a crunchy top. The bread was crusty in all the right places with ribbons of chard throughout. Everyone loved it.
Generally we make Grandpa Mackey’s famous breakfast casserole with white bread and cream of mushroom soup among other things. It’s one of those really bad Midwest treasures that is remarkably satisfying. This year my dad requested that we take it up a notch.
Makes 1 hefty casserole//Dahlia Bakery Cookbook
- 1 loaf of rustic bread, about 1 1/2 pounds
- 1 pound bulk Italian sausage
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 12 ounces wild mushrooms like shiitake, chanterelle, button or oyster, sliced
- 1 pound chard, stems removed
- 2 teaspoons thinly sliced chives
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 12 ounces cheddar, grated
- 6 large eggs
- 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Cut bread into 3/4 to 1-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups loosely packed bread.
Place sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a spatula. Cook until no pink remains, about 10 minutes.
Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside. To the same pan, add the onion and cook over medium heat until soft. Add the butter and olive oil to the skillet and toss in the mushrooms. Cook until tender and then transfer to a bowl.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the chard and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain the chard and plunge the chard into a bowl of ice water. Drain again. Squeeze out as much of the water as possible. Roughly chop and add to the bowl of mushrooms and onions. Add the sausage, bread, chives and thyme. Reserve 3/4 of a cup of the cheese and then stir in the remainder. Transfer the contents of the bowl to the greased dish.
Whisk the eggs, cream, salt and pepper. Pour over the rest of the ingredients. Use a spatula to press down on the bread and submerge it as much as possible. Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a couple hours or overnight.
When you’re ready to bake, remove the plastic wrap and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake until the top is golden and the center is firm. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and serve.