Prepare make-ahead casseroles for Christmas morning enjoyment

Cheesy Potato Breakfast Casserole With Cheddar and Sun-Dried Tomatoes, baked Christmas morning but assembled the night before, is accompanied by a Citrus Salad.

Patty Yablonski | Times

Cheesy Potato Breakfast Casserole With Cheddar and Sun-Dried Tomatoes, baked Christmas morning but assembled the night before, is accompanied by a Citrus Salad.

When all the presents are open and the pile of torn wrapping paper threatens to grow taller than the tree, you can feel warm and fuzzy knowing there's still one more gift to come.

That's the eggy-cheesy-bready breakfast casserole that's bubbling away in the oven. You were on-the-ball enough to assemble it on Christmas Eve and all you have to do is bake it while the mayhem ensues. Smart cookie, you are.

Breakfast casseroles can be savory or sweet, or you can make one of each. Pair them with a bright citrus salad — especially nice if you've got a tree in your yard. Muffins or scones with an assortment of jams, plus juices and plenty of coffee round out the meal. A brilliant red pomegranate or cranberry cocktail is a nice touch.

A big holiday breakfast serves a couple of purposes. With dinner often served earlier than usual, brunch takes care of lunch, which is easy to overlook on this busy day. Brunch also allows some civilized down time for the adults and a respite from the frenzy for kids. Bless your heart if you've got little ones who've opened all their gifts by 5 a.m. Then you have to make multiple meals, unless you can convince everyone to go down for a morning nap.

To me, the overnight breakfast casserole, sometimes called a strata, is a no-brainer offering. It's always well received, especially if you select ingredients you know your crowd likes. I never have any leftovers.

At its most basic, bread cubes (or slices) are layered with sausage (or bacon) and cheese, and then an egg-milk mixture is poured over the top. Sometimes there are vegetables. It melds in the fridge overnight and when it's baked the next day, it produces a custardlike melange of goodness. When you first mix all the ingredients, it seems there is something wrong. How can this soupy mess taste like anything in the morning? Why doesn't the bread disintegrate in all that liquid?

What you are making is very much like a bread pudding. The bread soaks up the liquid and the egg mixture helps bind it as it bakes.

Warning: Let the cold mixture sit on the counter at least 30 minutes before popping into the oven. When cold glass meats hot oven, bad things can happen. A cracked baking dish, or worse yet, one that explodes, is not on the agenda for Christmas morning. I actually let the dish warm for 30 minutes, then don't turn the oven on until I put the casserole in. The preheating oven warms up the pan even more slowly.

Though it's easiest to let the mixture sit overnight, if you forget to do that, you can recover by whipping it up in the morning. If won't set up quite as well, but it will work if you give it a couple hours for the starch to absorb the liquid. Get up before everyone else — unless you have those wee sprites who spring from bed way before sunrise.

Dig in

Today's selection of mostly savory casserole recipes includes two that are vegetarian. Cheesy Potato Breakfast Casserole With Cheddar and Sun-Dried Tomatoes calls for frozen, shredded potatoes, which are convenient. It gets a lot of its flavor and texture from sun-dried tomatoes. Brie and Veggie Breakfast Strata includes a green bell pepper and you might consider mixing in red, too, for the seasonal colors. The bread here is sourdough which is a lovely combination with the creamy, soft cheese.

I love the Overnight Biscuit, Sausage and Apple Casserole, mostly because I adore everything in it. I don't make biscuits from scratch, so for this recipe I bake the frozen variety a couple days before brunch. Bread that is slightly dry is always better for overnight casseroles because it holds up to the liquid better. I use mild sausage but if you want more spice in yours, use hot.

Chicken and Chilies Breakfast Casserole includes mild canned chilies and shredded rotisserie chicken. Pepper Jack cheese is mixed with Monterey Jack for added spice. The recipe calls for Cuban bread but you can use a baguette if you like. This is a very hearty offering and a good one for guests who don't eat beef or pork.

Finally, consider French Toast Casserole. It's prepared with the same techniques as the savory versions. This recipe calls for a braided challah or a brioche loaf. Both are light breads which contributes to the tenderness of the finished produce. Whether baked or made in a skillet, French toast should be fluffy. Vanilla, cinnamon and ground ginger flavor the custard and pecans add crunch and depth.

An all-purpose fruity vinaigrette with tangy balsamic is perfect with sliced oranges, tangerines or grapefruit, or a combination. Ribbons of fresh leafy herbs, such as basil or mint, are a lovely accompaniment. Winter Citrus Salad mixes peppery arugula with citrus and fennel, dressed with a sherry vinaigrette.

The nondrinkers will enjoy a glass of pomegranate juice or pomegranate juice mixed with orange juice, but a pitcher of Pomegranate Mimosas might just be what Santa ordered to continue the festivities.

I said the casserole was the last gift, but maybe the colorful mimosas will keep the party going.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586.

>>MODERATE

Overnight Biscuit, Sausage and Apple Casserole

2 pounds bulk sausage

2 tart apples, cored and sliced

6 cups biscuits, torn or cut into ½-inch pieces

9 large eggs, beaten

¾ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

3 cups milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the sausage in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks, and drain on paper towels. Reserve the fat and let the sausage cool. Saute the apples in the reserved fat, remove from pan, and let cool.

Put the biscuit pieces into a large, sealable plastic bag. Whisk together the eggs, mustard, cheese and milk in a large bowl. Stir in the sausage and apples. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the plastic bag. Place the bag inside another sealable plastic bag with the zipper facing another direction in order to prevent leaks. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight or up to 2 days.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour mixture into a buttered 9- by 13-inch baking dish or divide between two 1 ½-quart casseroles. Bake covered 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 30 minutes until eggs are set and the center reaches 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Serves 8.

Source: Southern Biscuits by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Stevens (Gibbs Smith, 2011)

>>MODERATE

Cheesy Potato Breakfast Casserole With Cheddar and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 small onion, diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

cup sun-dried tomatoes, preferably oil-packed, sliced into thin strips

9 large eggs

3 tablespoons hot mustard

1 cup whole milk

1 ½ teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

6 cups (or 1 pound) shredded frozen potatoes

Lightly grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray or olive oil. In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat until it melts and foams. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion has softened. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes or until they are fragrant and the onion is nearly translucent and beginning to brown around the edges. Turn off the heat.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs thoroughly with the mustard. Whisk in the milk. Stir in the salt and black pepper. Fold in the cheddar cheese, frozen potatoes and vegetables from the skillet. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish. (At this point, the casserole can be baked immediately or covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

If chilled, allow the casserole to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the eggs are firm and the top is slightly golden. Serve immediately with a fresh salad or fruit.

Serves 8 to 10.

Source: Faith Durand, thekitchn.com

>>MODERATE

Brie and Veggie Breakfast Strata

1 large sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 large red bell pepper, diced

1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (8-ounce) Brie round

1 (12-ounce) loaf sourdough bread, cubed

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Parmesan cheese

8 large eggs

3 cups milk

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1 teaspoon pepper

Saute first 3 ingredients in olive oil for 10 to 12 minutes or just until vegetables are tender and onion slices begin to turn golden.

Trim and discard rind from Brie. Cut cheese into ½-inch cubes.

Layer a lightly greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish with half of the bread cubes, the onion mixture, the Brie cubes and the Parmesan cheese.

Set aside while you whisk together eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper. Pour half the egg mixture evenly over the layered casserole, repeat layers and top with the remaining egg mixture.

Cover and chill at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Let the chilled casserole stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until lightly browned on top and set in center.

Serves 8 to 10.

Source: Southern Living

>>MODERATE

French Toast Casserole

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted

¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 loaf brioche or challah, sliced 1 ½ inches think (about 1 ½ pounds)

8 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup milk (not skim)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch of salt

½ cup chopped pecans

Confectioners' sugar for accompaniment

Maple syrup for accompaniment

Combine the melted butter and brown sugar in a baking dish. Arrange the bread slices in the dish. Whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and salt in a bowl. Pour over the bread, letting it soak in. Top with the pecans. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Let the chilled casserole stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Bake until browned and set, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Sift confectioners' sugar over the top. Serve hot or warm with syrup.

Serves 8.

Source: Bon Appetit, Y'all by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, 2008)

>>MODERATE

Chicken and Chilies Breakfast Casserole

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large bell pepper, diced

1 medium onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

6 cups Cuban bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (Day-old bread works best)

1 ½ cups shredded Monterey jack cheese

½ cup chopped tomatoes

1 ½ cups shredded rotisserie chicken

10 eggs

2 cups half-and-half

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 small can diced green chilies, drained

½ cup shredded pepper Jack cheese

Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Heat olive oil in a skillet and saute bell pepper and onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Set aside.

Scatter half of the bread in the prepared pan. Sprinkle with Jack cheese, then top with sauteed vegetables and tomatoes. Spread chicken evenly over mixture. Set aside while you make the custard.

Whisk eggs and then incorporate half-and-half. Season with salt and stir in drained chilies. Slowly pour the custard on top of mixture; cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes or refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Uncover casserole and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake until slightly puffed and just set, 40 to 50 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 10 to 12.

Source: Food Network magazine

>>EASY

Winter Citrus Salad

16 ounces (1 bag) arugula or mixed greens

2 navel oranges, peeled and sliced or sectioned

½ cup pomegranate seeds

¼ cup sliced almonds

1 shallot, thinly sliced

1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Place the greens in a large salad bowl. Top with the blood orange slices, pomegranate seeds, almonds, shallots and fennel.

In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, vinegar and olive oil. Pour over the salad and toss to combine.

Serves 6.

Source: Weelicious.com

>>EASY

Citrus Salad Dressing

This sweet-tart vinaigrette is good with any fresh fruit,

but especially with Florida winter citrus.

cup fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Whisk all the ingredients together, or combine in a small jar and shake well. Keeps in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Source: Food.com

>>EASY

Pomegranate Mimosas

This holiday twist on the traditional brunch cocktail sparkles ruby red with pomegranate juice, its tart intensity offset by a hint of sweetness from fresh orange juice and Cointreau liqueur.

2 cups chilled pomegranate juice

1 cup chilled fresh orange juice

½ cup orange-flavored liqueur (preferably Cointreau)

1 (750-ml) bottle well-chilled sparkling wine

Combine juices and liqueur in a large pitcher. Slowly add sparkling wine and stir.

Serves 8.

Source: Gourmet

Prepare make-ahead casseroles for Christmas morning enjoyment 12/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 19, 2013 6:34pm]

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