Mom-dom or the eternal struggle to feed the offspring

One of the challenges of being a parent and a working mom is feeding the family something tasty for breakfast in the mornings and still have time to chug down that all essential cup of morning java. My breakfast strategy kinda goes like this: You have about 15 minutes to eat in the AM, if you are lucky. The food needs to be hot, tasty and frugal. I also know that my teen daughter would rather talk than eat lunch, so at breakfast it is important to pack in as many calories as possible so she can function.

(My hubby asks, "Why can't we just be like those birds on the nature shows? The baby bird just opens it mouth and the mama bird pukes down it throat. Wasn't that good, little baby bird?")

One strategy is to stock up the freezer with homemade tasties. Homemade pancakes, properly wrapped, heat up well in the toaster or nuker. I also make breakfast burritos once or twice a month. They don’t look all that great, but they taste pretty damn good.

Basically, it’s scrambled eggs cooked with tons of veggies, cheese and a meat, wrapped in a corn tortilla, then individually wrapped in plastic wrap. A minute or two in the microwave - Presto! Breakfast on the run!

I also prepackage up oatmeal, Cream of Wheat and Coco Wheats in ziplock sandwich bags. Those are stored in larger re-sealable containers that have the basic cooking instructions written on the lid. Empty baggies are supposed to be placed back under the full bags so I can refill them. (Annie, I know you read this…take that as a HINT!)

A well stocked pantry makes it easy to come up with new and interesting experiments for my family to eat. My latest concoction was inspired by my trials with bread pudding and a wealth of $.99 loaves of bread from the Pepperidge Farms outlet store. Also, I had a pound of bulk sausage that needed to be used quickly. I always have eggs on hand, if for no other reason than to keep Annie from turning to cannibalism at school. After a little research online and in my cookbook collection, I decided a strata was the way to go.

Stratas, for those of you who do not know (or care), are casseroles usually containing slices of bread layered with meat, veggies and/or cheese and then topped with a egg/milk mixture, then placed in the fridge overnight to soak up the liquids. It is usually baked the next morning as a quick breakfast for the masses. The name has come to encompass all different types of casseroles lately, including those made with cubed bread, tortillas, plus sweet variations. I think bread pudding kinda falls into the ever widening definition of strata. I could be wrong..but hey, that wouldn’t be the first time.

Personally, I did not want to wait overnight. I wanted some instant gratification, so I cubed up my bread, giving it more surface area to soak up the custardy goodness of the eggs and milk. I used the Country Farmhouse White, though any of the Pepperidge Farm line would have been tasty (with the exceptions of the rye, pumpernickel or German Wheat, which contains some rye flour).

I fried up the bulk sausage (which proved to be disappointingly bland, and too low in fat) with onions, mushrooms and some mild chili peppers. I made very sure that everything had been drained of extra fat and that the mixture was at room temperature before I proceeded – nothing worse than greasy, chunky casseroles!

I used medium sharp cheddar, nothing special, just the plain kind you get for cheap at Kroger when it’s on sale for $2 a pound.

It turned out pretty good. Tony and Annie said they would eat it again, which is a good sign. I am waiting to see if I get a request to make it again soon. That will be the true test of this experiment’s product.

Rosie’s Experimental Strata
(or Breakfast Casserole, for those who ain’t into those furr-in words)

One pound of regular or spicy bulk sausage

One medium onion, diced

4 oz of white mushrooms, diced

1 large mild green chili, diced

9 eggs, beaten

1.5 cups milk, loving plucked from a cow’s teat

2 cups shredded cheese of your choice

1 loaf of substantial white bread (no Wonder Bread!), cubed into roughly 1 inch pieces

Salt, fresh ground pepper, pinch of cayenne plus anything else you might think will taste good

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 inch casserole pan. (I used a glass pan, so I lowered the temperature by 25 degrees.)

Fry up the sausage until cooked through, then remove from pan and drain. Sauté the onions, mushrooms and chili in the same pan, adding extra fat if necessary. Once the mushrooms had lost some of their moisture and the onions are transparent, mix with the sausage and let cool to room temperature.

Beat the eggs and milk together and season with the salt, pepper and other seasonings. Toss the bread cubes with the egg/milk mixture and let stand until bread has soaked up a good amount of the liquid.

Place one layer of the sausage mixture in the bottom of the greased casserole pan, then top with cheese, then slop in some of the bread/custard mixture and so on, ending with a bread/custard layer on top.

Bake for about 35-45 mins or until done. (Once again, I didn’t time it exactly. I just knew how done I wanted it to be. Sorry.)

Let cool about 10-15 minutes until cool enough to cut.

Serve with a salad for dinner, or fruit for breakfast.

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