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Wake up to a good breakfast in the new year

December 29, 2017

No matter how you celebrate the start of the new year, it's always nice to wake up to a good breakfast. Whether you fell asleep on the couch in front of the television, waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square, or stood outside to watch the ball drop in Dewey Beach, the first meal of the new year needs to be quick, easy and satisfying.

When there's a crowd at the house (college kids home from school, visiting relatives in for the holidays), the best choice is a breakfast casserole or strata (referring to the multiple layers in the dish). The typical list of ingredients includes meat, bread cubes, cheese, milk and eggs. You can put it all together the night before, store it in the refrigerator while you go out for the evening and then bake it in the morning.

Two of the most common combinations are sausage with mushrooms and ham with broccoli. My family had a version of the sausage recipe we called Eggs Portugal (I'm not sure where the name originated). I haven't made it in a while and was surprised I didn't remember the can of condensed mushroom soup among the ingredients. A healthier substitute is a sautéed mix of sliced mushrooms.

Using ham as the meat in this dish is helpful if you're trying to repurpose leftovers from that spiral-sliced beauty that's been around since Christmas. The recipe is similar, with the addition of broccoli and red pepper for texture and flavor interest. One key to success is to use a somewhat shallow baking dish so the center has the chance to cook completely.

Another option is to forgo the bread cubes and add potatoes to the mix. You can layer in cubed potatoes to replace the bread or open a package of shredded potatoes (found in the dairy aisle or grocery freezer section). In either case, the potato pieces need to be small enough for them to cook thoroughly.

If it turns out you don't need to serve breakfast to a large group, you can make individual breakfast bowls. The one in the photo starts with sautéed potatoes, topped with scrambled egg and a sprinkle of cheese. After a few moments under the broiler, the cheese forms a crunchy crust. For a more decadent variation, start with baked tater tots for the bottom layer and for some spice, top with a spoonful of salsa.

Now that you've handled breakfast, you can think about the main meal for New Year's Day. Almost every culture has a set of food traditions, most of which refer to prosperity in the year ahead based on the color or shape of the food. In the southern region of this country, the entire New Year's dinner menu follows that trend.

First on the list is beans or peas, believed to symbolize coins because of their round shape. Greens, resembling paper money (at least before they're cooked) are included to ensure good fortune in the shape of cash.

Pork is the meat feature because pigs root moving forward, unlike chickens who scratch in a backward direction. Finally, cornbread brings its golden color as another harbinger of financial success.

Many cooks manage to cover all these options by serving a dish called Hoppin' John along with smothered collard or mustard greens and warm buttered cornbread. And, as you plan your Monday dinner be sure to enjoy your breakfast.

Sausage Strata

1 1/2 lbs bulk breakfast sausage
1 T butter
8 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms
8 oz. sliced white mushrooms
2 minced shallots
6 C cubed Italian bread
3 C shredded cheddar cheese
2 C milk
1/2 C half and half
5 eggs
1 T vermouth

Coat the inside of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. In a large skillet, brown the sausage, crumbling into small chunks. Remove the sausage to a paper-towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. Discard all but 1 T of the rendered fat in the pan. Add mushrooms and shallots; cook, stirring often until the mushroom liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes. Place half the bread cubes in the prepared baking pan in an even layer. Cover bread with sausage and then layer with mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with 2 C cheese. Spread remaining bread cubes and top with remaining 1 C cheese; set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk together milk, half & half, eggs and vermouth. Pour the egg mixture over the bread layers; press down with a spatula to ensure the bread is moistened completely. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Remove pan from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking. Cook at 350 F until puffy and browned, about 1 hour. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Ham Strata

2 T butter
1 diced onion
1 diced red pepper
2 C diced ham
2 C chopped brocoli
6 C cubed Italian bread
3 C grated swiss cheese
2 C milk
1/2 C half and half
5 eggs
1/2 t Dijon mustard

Coat the inside of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. In a large skillet, melt the butter and cook the onion and pepper until softened. Add the ham and cook until lightly browned. Stir in broccoli and cook about 2 minutes. Place half the bread cubes in the prepared baking pan in an even layer. Cover bread with ham and broccoli mixture. Sprinkle with 2 C of grated cheese. Spread remaining bread cubes and top with remaining 1 C cheese; set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk together milk, half & half, eggs and mustard. Pour the egg mixture over the bread layers; press down with a spatula to ensure the bread is moistened completely. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Remove pan from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking. Cook at 350 F until puffy and browned, about 1 hour. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Hoppin' John

8 oz. dried black-eyed peas
1 chopped onion
2 minced garlic cloves
4 oz. diced ham
1/2 t thyme
2 bay leaves
3 C water
salt & pepper, to taste
chicken stock (if needed)
3 diced bacon slices
1 C rice
salt and pepper, to taste

In an oven-safe pot, combine peas, onion, garlic, ham, thyme and bay leaves. Pour in water and bring to a simmer. Cook until peas are tender, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 F. Transfer pea mixture to a bowl with a slotted spoon, discarding bay leaves. Decant cooking liquid to a measuring cup; if needed, add chicken stock to bring liquid measure to 2 1/4 C. In the same pot used for the peas, cook bacon until browned and crisp. Add rice and stir to coat completely with bacon fat. Return peas to the pan along with 2 C liquid. Cover and bake until rice is fluffy and liquid has been absorbed, about 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with smothered greens and cornbread. Yield: 6 servings.

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