Our brunch was a success! The kids played really well together. Pete and their son took off to do Legos and have light saber battles almost instantly. Unfortunately, their daughter is the same age as Steph but had to play with Julie because Steph is away at camp—but neither seemed to mind one bit. We grownups had plenty of time to hang out and chat—and eat. I have three recipes to share. First is a foolproof strata that is definitely going to become a staple at every brunch I ever host from here on in. It was easy and delicious—and all the work can be done the night before! We have a ton left over too, as this could easily serve a dozen adults. Kudos again go to Pam Anderson; her book Perfect Recipes for Having People Over has not disappointed yet.
1 quart half-and-half
12 large eggs
1 tsp salt
12–14 slices fluffy white bread (You really need the cheap soft stuff to achieve the right texture here; don't splurge on fancy artisanal loaves for this recipe!)
1 lb. bacon, cut into ½" pieces, fried until crisp, drained (OR 1 lb. bulk sausage, crumbled, fried until fully cooked, drained OR 1 lb. diced ham or kielbasa)
1 lb. veggies, sautéed/steamed in a little olive oil until tender (I used about ½ lb. sliced cremini mushrooms, ¼ lb. baby spinach, and ¼ lb. sliced red bell pepper; you could also add other veggies, like asparagus or onions or yellow bell peppers, in any combination. You could also do 2 lbs. veggies and omit the bacon. Ha ha, omit the bacon, good one. Mmm, bacon.)
½ cup thinly sliced scallions
extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I used just plain sharp.)
Whisk half-and-half, eggs, salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste in a large bowl until smooth.
Spray a 13x9" baking dish with cooking spray. Line bottom of baking dish with 6 slices of bread, cutting another slice into strips to fill gaps if necessary (I didn't have to do this). Scatter half of bacon and veggies over bread, then sprinkle with half the scallions and half the cheese. Pour 1 cup egg mixture over bread. Make another layer with 6 slices of bread (again cutting another slice into strips to fill gaps if necessary). Top with remaining bacon and veggies, scallions, and cheese. Slowly pour remaining egg mixture over all.
Cover strata with plastic wrap. And now you have two options:
1. I didn't do this one: Lightly weight strata (with what? another baking pan, maybe?) and let stand for at least 15 minutes.
2. I did this one: Refrigerate strata overnight.
Then, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325° (I did 300° convection). Remove plastic wrap and bake strata until custard is just set, about 50 minutes (or 60 minutes if you refrigerated it overnight—unless you let it come to room temperature first; mine took only about 45 minutes on convection). Leaving baking dish on oven rack, turn on broiler and broil until strata is spotty brown and puffy, about 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and let stand for 8–10 minutes. Cut it up and serve it. Excellent.