Thursday, March 10, 2011

What’s A Strata?

Surprise…Pop Quiz today!

Define each of the following terms:
Breakfast Casserole-

I just gave a test last week to my social work students and there was a "definitions section".  It's always a challenge to determine the most effective way to test the definition of terms.
I could provide the word and they supply the definition, which seems like the most difficult for the student, but also for me, because I then have to decide, more subjectively, how complete the definition is;
OR I can provide the definition and they supply the word, which is far more objective, making the grading much easier. Unless that is, of course, if a student gives an answer that could be true, though not my intended term.  So then I'm led to the question of a word bank- to provide or not provide. I'll stop. This has nothing to do with your kitchen.

I'll just say, it is a good thing the test was not on Egg Dishes, because as I have discovered, the terms are not so easily defined. 

A couple of weeks ago I was co-hosting a baby shower with my friend, Jessica, for our friend, Alyson, who is in our women’s Bible Study.  You know how I feel about the necessity of baby showers!  Read this post if you don't know, and want to know.

It was a brunch- my favorite meal! I was in charge of making an egg dish.  I really like eggs.  In fact, I have grown to like them more and more over time.  I think because I have had some really nicely prepared eggs in the past few years that have endeared me to them. Also, because I continue to like meat less and less, I think it’s my body’s way of telling me to find some protein. (I have been working on another post about simple breakfast eggs that I will share soon).

But eggs for a crowd can be tricky- especially since something like a quiche is impractical for a crowd of 15 people. So I started poring through my cookbooks and notebooks, looking at my favorites and trying to find the perfect dish.

I began to get really confused about all of these terms: Strata, Quiche, Breakfast Casserole, Frittata.  Do you know the definition?  I thought I did, but with each page I read, it became clear that it's not very clear.  I realized that the only thing consistent in any of the definitions from source to source, was that every one of the dishes, in every one of the recipes I found, had eggs in them. (And almost all have some type of milk in them too).  That’s it!  Well, thanks a lot!

I finally decided to go with a recipe that I have had success with in the past.  I chose to call it a Strata because it just sounds more swanky than a breakfast casserole.  You can make it with ground sausage, which I have done in the past or, with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, like I did for this shower- which is more Alyson’s style (and mine).  And it worked! Yum!  My friend Melissa S., who was at the shower, called it "Silky Spinach Sundried-tomato Swiss Strata"! How’s that for alliteration?

I don’t know where I originally got the recipe, but according to my notebook where it’s written, it was in 2004.  I have changed a good bit of it, so I guess I can now call it mine, right?  This recipe is full of rich dairy products, so it is a splurge! But it is lovely for a special occasion- silky and savory.  It serves a crowd, isn’t too heavy, and doesn’t feel like you’re eating soggy bread (which is my complaint with some breakfast casserole dishes).  You could serve it for dinner with a simple green salad and have a filling, lovely meal. 

Next time I make it, I want to add even more veggies-maybe zucchini and mushrooms.  I think the trick is cooking the vegetables and removing the liquid before adding them to the dish, so as to prevent watery Strata. 

2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
1/2 lb. medium pork sausage
OR for vegetable version:
 ¾ cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 bag fresh spinach
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 French baguette, thickly sliced
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
7 eggs
3 cups whipping cream
2 cups skim or 1 % milk
¼ tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground dry mustard

Cook sausage and drain (or sauté veggies in oil). 
Place bread slices in a greased 13 X 9 glass dish.
Layer sausage (or veggies) on top of bread, then Swiss cheese, then Parmesan cheese
Wisk 5 eggs, 2 cups cream, and next 4 ingredients together until well combined
Pour evenly over cheese
Cover and chill for 8 hours (or over night)
Wisk 2 eggs and remaining 1 cup of cream together
Pour evenly over
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until browning on top and fluffy.

spinach in the pan
spinach 5 minutes later

layers of lovliness

done...wish you could smell it!

The good news about all of this is that, according to my research, there are no clear definitions for egg dishes- so you can name it what you want! 


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  2. I admit my first reaction to your quiz was "egg dishes...?" I tend to differentiate them in terms of consistency, instead of actual definitions. Though I do know that strata generally means a layered concoction and since that is the featured recipe, I'm giving myself an A!