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Friday, December 27, 2013

Overnight herb and cheese strata with marinara sauce & Apple, dried fruit and nut salad

These are two recipes that I used for brunch on Christmas Day. Both used only what I had on hand, and were very economical to make. Carol from CTMom asked for the recipes in the comments the other day. But also, this would make an easy breakfast for New Year's Day, so thought I'd post it in case any of you would like the recipes.

The strata, in particular, was sparing of my dwindling egg supply (I am now down to 2 eggs, total), and my small amount of cheese. Yet, it fed my family at brunch, and left us with snacking extras in the afternoon. You don't need to serve it with marinara sauce, but if you are a fan of polenta with marinara, then I suggest you try this. It adds a flavorful touch to the strata.

To make the strata more frugal than standard recipes, I use just a little cheese (many recipes call for 8 ounces of cheese for this amount of eggs/bread). I also use whatever cheese I happen to have on hand. (Some recipes call for fontina or other more spendy cheese.) And I use herbs from my summer garden, that I now have in my freezer. (I freeze basil, parsley and rosemary, instead of drying them. I think they have more flavor frozen, than dried.) You could substitute dried herbs, or change the herbs altogether.

A true strata is made with layers of bread slices. I prefer the "bread pudding" variation of strata, with cubes instead of slices of bread. The bread cubes allow the herbs, seasonings and cheese to coat each bite.

Herb and cheese strata with marinara

5 thick slices of French bread, cubed
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash red pepper flakes
3 to 4 ounces of shredded cheese (I used half cheddar and half mozzarella), use 2/3 of the cheese in with the bread, and 1/3 to top the strata
2 tablespoons fresh or frozen basil
1 tablespoon fresh or frozen parsley
marinara sauce (any leftover pasta, pizza or marinara sauce will work)

Butter an 8 by 8-inch pyrex baking dish.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Combine with milk, salt, pepper flakes and herbs. Add bread cubes and 2/3 of the cheese. Toss well to coat each piece.

Spread mixture in baking dish. Top with remaining cheese. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, remove strata from refrigerator about 30 to 40 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Warm marinara sauce and spoon over individual servings.

This recipe makes about 4 main-dish, breakfast servings. For us, it was part of a larger brunch, so it went much further. To serve 6 to 8 people, simply double the ingredients and use a 9 by 13-inch rectangular casserole.

Apple-dried fruit-nut salad

This salad has many variations on our table. I add celery when I have it, and alternate between raisins, chopped prunes or dried apricots or dried cherries (which ever I feel like using). My favorite nuts in this are either pecans (expensive here), or almonds (the budget alternative for us). And I sometimes add cubes of cheddar to this salad -- good with the apples!

For 3 to 4 servings:


2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fruit vinegar (I use raspberry, blackberry and blueberry -- but plain vinegar will also give that tang)
1/4 cup spray whipped topping (if using real whipped cream or Cool Whip, 3 tablespoons may be enough)

In the bottom of your salad bowl, combine the above ingredients.

Toss dressing with the following:

1 large apple, skin left on and chopped
1/2 cup dried fruit
1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped nuts (roasted or unroasted)

If I'm making this an hour or so in advance, I add everything but the apple, then chop and add the apple at the very last minute.


  1. Lili
    thanks for posting these yummy recipes! I don't normally have French bread on hand, but usually have homemade white, honey wheat, potato-depends on what is on hand at the moment. Have you tried the strata with "regular" breads?

    1. Hi Carol,
      Yes, I've used other breads. I think, since it's savory, it's best with your least sweet bread, whichever that would be. I use French bread for this because my whole wheat tends to be on the sweet side.
      Hope you enjoy it!

  2. Oh, that looks yummy. If I use dried herbs, how much should I use?

    1. Hi Kath,
      the general rule of thumb for herb conversion is:
      if the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh, then use 1 teaspoon of dried leaves, or 1/4 teaspoon of ground to a powder herbs.

      So, I'd try 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of dried basil leaves, and 1 teaspoon of dried parsley leaves. (I personally think that too much dried basil is overpowering, hence the slightly reduced conversion amount on the basil.)

  3. Both recipes sound yummy. I tend to use less cheese than is called for in recipes because it's easier on my waistline, so this appeals to me. Thanks!

    1. Hi Kris,
      We enjoyed this recipe quite a bit! Enough cheese for flavor, but not overwhelmingly cheese-y.


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