March 8th, 2010

Make-Ahead Brunch Menu for Company (Part 1 of 3: Spinach & Cheese Strata)

We recently had friends over for brunch. They don’t have kids (yet!), so we made a plan for 12:30 pm (a “morning” plan for after noon, imagine that!). That would have normally taken the pressure off of cooking the day-of, except for the fact that we had other friends over the night before, friends for whom I cooked dinner, friends who also have no children and stay up later than we usually do. I needed a plan. A plan that would make back-to-back entertaining possible. Even with two little kids.

And it did. My plan—it worked!

If you ask me, every brunch needs a) coffee, b) savory eggs, c) something sweet and d) something light and healthy to balance out the eggs and sweet. My brunch menu was complete with all of these essential elements and all I had to do the day-of was put eggs in the oven and toss together a salad. THAT’S ALL.

My menu was simple: A Spinach and Cheese Strata, Escarole Salad with Roasted Squash and Cheddar and a Lemon Blueberry Crumb Bundt Cake. At first I was worried about not offering breakfast meat (okay, I admit it: even I find my omission of bacon or sausage as an essential element of brunch controversial)—but it totally worked. Chock full of gooey bread (think a savory bread pudding), the strata is quite filling. Paired with a hearty salad and cake, there was plenty of food. But, you know, I won’t blame you if you decide to quick roast sausage or oven crisp bacon, too. (Ooh! Or add some crispy pancetta to the strata.)

I was turned onto this strata from Gourmet by Deb of Smitten Kitchen. It’s a snap to put together: throw the ingredients in a baking dish the night before your brunch, store in the fridge overnight, begin the cooking process about an hour and a half before you plan on serving. In fact, it’s a great recipe for any weekend—even if you’re not entertaining.

Spinach and Cheese Strata,
from Gourmet
(can be served to kids 12+ mos)*

1 10-oz package organic frozen spinach, thawed
1 1/2 cups finely chopped organic onion (1 large)
3 tbsp unsalted organic butter
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
8 c cubed (1 inch) French or Italian bread (1/2 lb)
6 oz coarsely grated Gruyère (2 cups)
2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)
2 3/4 c organic milk
9 large organic eggs
2 tbsp organic Dijon mustard

1. Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then finely chop.

2. In a large pan over medium heat, cook onion in butter until soft, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg, and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in spinach, then remove from heat.

3. Spread one third of bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other shallow ceramic baking dish and top evenly with one third of spinach mixture. Sprinkle with one third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice (ending with cheeses).

4. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, mustard and remaining 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper and pour evenly over strata. Chill strata, covered with plastic wrap, at least 8 hours (for bread to absorb custard).

5. The next day, preheat oven to 350°F. Let strata stand at room temperature 30 minutes before baking, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

*Note: Egg whites are a high allergen food usually not recommended until 12+ mos (plain egg yolks can be served to children 8+ mos), but the recommendations are changing. Evidence is mounting that there is no significant protective effect by delaying the introduction of high allergen foods. Read more about eggs—and shifting attitudes about food introductions—on one of my favorite baby food resources, Wholesome Baby Food.

If your child does not have food allergies and there is no history of food allergies in the family, you may consider talking to your pediatrician about introducing eggs (a great source of protein!) much earlier.

8 Responses

  1. mmm love gruyere, one of my fave stinky cheeses. i’m bookmarking this one.

  2. Aimee says:

    You’re a superstar. What a menu!!

  3. Kim says:

    Where did you get the recipe for the lemon blueberry crumb bundt cake? Sounds delicious.

  4. [...] planning my make-ahead brunch, I was looking for a hearty salad to pair with the Spinach and Cheese Strata. At first I [...]

  5. stacie says:

    coming on thursday!! :-)

  6. rebecca says:

    Made this for company and it rocked! I only had 5 eggs on hand, so I used less milk as well. And i used a 50/50 mixture of cheddar and gruyere. It was fabulous and perfect for a busy mama of two. LOVE the make ahead entertaining idea- give me more chowmama!!!

  7. Selfish Mom says:

    I am totally going to try this! Not just this, but the whole brunch plan. I’m a picky vegetarian and it’s rare that I find a whole meal planned out that I like. Yumm.

  8. [...] rejoice: not every great make-ahead egg dish calls for bacon or sausage. This Spinach and Cheese Strata is my go-to vegetarian, make-ahead brunch dish that even non-vegetarians love. It’s [...]

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