Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thoughts on Strata and Doing it Right


I wasn't planning to tell you about Sunday dinner this week.  We just had some friends over for a casual meal, and the plan was to cook pretty simple foods and just have a nice time.  The half-vegan was originally planning on coming, and so the menu was set to include some foods she could eat.  We made up the buffalo seitan, and a kale salad, and I made some of David Lebovitz's blue cheese dressing,** and wanted to make another entree.  And I had all those farmshare eggs.  And I wanted to prep in advance as much as possible. 

Oh yeah, strata.   Sure, it's not for the half-vegan, but she didn't come anyway so we were able to use cheese.  So, like I said, I wanted to prep in advance.  Classic strata is made the night before, but last time I made strata I made it  a few hours in advance and it came out fine.  Classic strata is made with a ton of eggs, but last time I used just three eggs and two whites and it came out fine.  

So, I wasn't going to tell you about Sunday dinner this week, which totally confused MSNDG.  Midway through prep, she asked where the camera was.   She knows what cooking in my house usually looks like.  But I was all, "Oh, I've written about all this before, nothing special here."  

I took the strata I had prepared the night before and put it in the oven while we did other things, and then when I pulled it out, one of our guests was like, "Whoa, what's that?" and I was all dismissive, and I was like, "Oh, it's strata, it's like an egg and bread casserole with cheese and veg," because I had buffalo seitan on my mind, and kale salad, and the carrot cupcakes our friends had brought.

But like I said, I had extra time to prep it, and all these eggs to use up.  So, in reality, it was a lot more like this recipe than the one I made up last time.  Different cheeses (fontina and sharp cheddar), different spices (salt and pepper, all simple-like), and 4 whole eggs, plus 4 egg whites, but otherwise, I used the technique as written.  I had these terribly boring dinner rolls to use up and some random bread ends in the freezer. 

I dished it out and we passed plates and ate buffalo seitan and celery and salad and talked and laughed and then people started commenting on the strata.  My friends are super-sweet, and were complimenting the whole meal, but really, the strata.   The strata won dinner.   So there's something to be said for using all the eggs and letting it sit overnight to form a cheesy custard.   

And then maybe when everyone is is having ice cream, one of your guests will open the fridge, grab some leftover strata, douse it in hot sauce and eat it cold (not recommended).  I heated some up for breakfast and Sous Chef Brian took it for lunch.  

So while you can make a totally ok lighter strata in way less time, you could also use all the eggs and let it sit.  And you would win then. We shouldn't be constrained by having day jobs and forced into a strata-less world, so we can totally make lighter, quicker, weeknight variations, but there's something to be said for taking the time and doing it "right".

*Originally, I had called this post "rethinking strata," but that's a sure sign that I read too much Cooks Illustrated.

**Yeah, I told MSNDG that I made blue cheese to go with the buffalo seitan, and she was like, "How the hell did you make blue cheese?" and I was like, "Um, buttermilk and sour cream and blue cheese...." and she was like, "I thought you said you made the cheese?"  So suddenly the dressing wasn't all that impressive.  I liked it a lot though. 

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