My breakfast casserole is delicious but not photogenic. So the photos here are of the roses that decorated my brunch table on Sunday, not the entrée. But, if you’ll permit a little indulgent metaphor, the real flowers in the bouquet were the faces around the table. This was a gathering of old friends, too-long absent from regular contact. A Venn diagram of the connections shared would reveal many overlaps: church, children, school, a marriage support group, a pre-Cana seminar team. These folks know where the bodies are buried, which buttons not to push, who prefers beer over wine. We’ve watched each other’s kids grow up, and some of those kids now have babies of their own. I don’t know where the years went.
In a similar fashion, time slipped away on Sunday. I enjoyed the interactions, saw the bonds renew, and felt compassion for our older, wiser selves. The years have seen everyone wounded in some ways and made stronger in others. The same things are funny, though, and if there’s a better way to spend an afternoon than laughing with old friends over flutes of mimosas (easy on the OJ), I don’t know what it could be.
Breakfast Casserole, adapted from a recipe in Saveur magazine, issue #78 (October 2004). The story containing the recipe was about breakfast casseroles in general and listed several recipes with esoteric ingredients like goat cheese and asparagus. Those I dismissed instantly, because I don’t like being challenged by my breakfast plate. This recipe stood out because of its simplicity and solid, middle-class American food style. It was proffered by a Saveur staff member, whose aunt had made it for about 20 years. I’ve been making it for nearly 10.
Serves 8, with leftovers if you’re lucky.
1 teaspoon butter, softened
2 pounds Jimmy Dean bulk sausage (regular flavor), cooked through and drained of fat
9 slices Pepperidge Farm Italian bread, crusts removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (8 ounces) (Please grate your own cheese. Those packages of already-grated cheese have anti-caking chemicals added. Who needs that?)
6 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with the softened butter. Scatter the bread cubes in the bottom of the dish in a single layer. Scatter the cooked sausage meat over the bread cubes, and then sprinkle the top evenly with all of the grated cheese.
Break the eggs into a large bowl or pitcher. Whisk lightly, then add the milk, dry mustard, and salt. (The dry mustard tends to clump if simply dumped out of the measuring spoon. I push the powder through a small sieve over the milk. You could also sprinkle it in with your fingers.) Whisk vigorously to blend the custard ingredients, then pour carefully over the top of the grated cheese.
Bake until golden brown on top, about 30 minutes. Cover lightly with a sheet of foil to prevent over-browning, and bake another 15 minutes, until the center is set but still wiggly. Remove the casserole from the oven, and take off the foil. Let sit for about 20-30 minutes to firm up before serving, which gives you time to roast some new potatoes to serve alongside.