The breakfast bunch

Now that the holidays are over, the temptation for many of us is to try to eat lighter. That’s a good resolution, but the earliest meal of the day — breakfast — is not the place to scrimp. A moderate portion of a substantial breakfast casserole will help you feel fuller throughout the day, leading to less temptation to overeat.

Breakfast casseroles, from sweet to savory, are a great way to feed the family. Even single or two-person households can enjoy them. Simply halve the recipes accompanying this story, or make them on the weekend and savor them into the work week.

These recipes from three experienced hostesses: Fran Scibelli of Fran’s Filling Station in Charlotte, N.C.; Jean Martin, owner of NOFO at the Pig in Raleigh, N.C.; and Sara Foster of Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill and Durham, N.C.

“They are really easy. They appeal to everybody and can be either down-home or fancy,” Scibelli says.

Scibelli often will tweak her recipe for ham and cheese strata to include sauteed mushrooms and Gruyere cheese or bacon, roasted green chiles and cheddar, she said.

“That’s the beauty of something like that,” she says. Just open your refrigerator and use what’s on hand to create your own variation.

Foster says most breakfast casseroles, like the one she shared for breakfast bread pudding, can be assembled beforehand and popped in the oven in the morning.

Ham and cheese strata

3 tablespoons unsalted butter or as needed for baking dish

1 lb. (12-14 slices) Italian bread or baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices, preferably day-old (can be lightly toasted if fresh)

1 cup diced ham

1 cup grated sharp white cheddar

1 cup grated Manchego or Fontina cheese

2 tablespoons minced chives or finely chopped green onion

4 roma tomatoes cut in 1/4-inch slices

8 large eggs

4 cups milk or half-and-half

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard or 1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Butter bottom and sides of baking dish. Arrange half of bread slices in tight rows to cover bottom of dish. Sprinkle with half of ham, cheeses, and chives or green onion. Add another layer of bread and cover with remaining ham, cheese, chives or green onions. Arrange tomatoes in pattern over the top.

Whisk eggs with milk, mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl until well combined. Pour over bread mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Let strata sit on counter 20-25 minutes, then unwrap and bake for approximately 1 hour, until top is golden and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Makes 10 servings.

From Fran Scibelli at Fran's Filling Station in Charlotte, N.C.

-- The Wichita Eagle—01/06/10

Cheese pastry casserole

1 pkg. (8-roll) crescent roll dough, such as Pillsbury

1/4lb. Monterey Jack cheese

1/4lb. Swiss cheese

1/4lb. Muenster cheese

1/4lb. sharp cheddar

1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature

1 egg, beaten slightly

1/4to 1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

1 to 2 tablespoons melted butter, or more if needed

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Unroll crescent roll dough and divide into 2 sections. Pat half the dough in the bottom of an 8-inch-square pan, completely covering bottom of the pan.

Grate the Monterey, Swiss, Muenster and cheddar cheeses. Mix with cream cheese. Mix together egg and parsley, then stir into cheese mixture, mixing well.

Spread the cheese mixture on top of dough in pan. Roll out rest of the dough and fit into the pan, covering the cheese mixture. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake 30 minutes or until nicely browned on top. Cut into 6 or 9 squares.

-- The Wichita Eagle—01/06/10

Sweet Fruit-full Breakfast Bread Pudding

The base for this can be made from a number of things: day-old bread, dry or broken pound cake, even day-old scones and biscuits.

Butter for baking dish

2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

2 cups half-and-half

6 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

1 loaf country Italian or French bread, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes, or about 6 cups any stale bread, biscuits or cake

2 cups fresh or frozen fruit (such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, pitted cherries, sliced peaches or plums) or 1 cup good-quality semisweet chocolate, cut into chunks

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1/2cup powdered sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with butter.

Stir buttermilk, half-and-half, eggs and vanilla together in a large bowl. Add bread cubes. Let them stand in the liquid for 10 to 15 minutes, until the bread has absorbed most of the liquid. Add fruit or chocolate and stir to combine. Pour bread mixture into buttered baking dish, making sure to get all the liquid out of the bowl.

Cut a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to cover the baking dish and grease it with butter. Place the aluminum foil, buttered side down, over the baking dish and place in the oven to bake 1 hour. Uncover and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, until the top is golden brown and crispy.

Prepare the buttery glaze while the pudding is baking. Whisk the butter and cream together in a small bowl. Slowly add the sifted powdered sugar, whisking until smooth. Drizzle over the warm pudding. Serve warm, fresh from the oven or reheated in a 300-degree oven until warmed through. Makes 12 servings.

-- The Wichita Eagle—01/06/10