Friday, December 24, 2010

A Foodie Friday of the Traditional Sort

For the second Foodie Friday in a row - we are not going the healthy route. But 'tis the season people, reserve your judgement for another week - it's time to eat, drink and be merry y'all! So I'll make the same disclaimer that Sal made last week - WARNING: judgy healthnuts need not read beyond this point!!

Everyone has their usual Christmas traditions. Most of mine revolve around meals and the amazing dishes that we have every year. Because let's face it - the most fun with friends and family is always had around the dining room table....once we've all properly popped the champagne, spiked the 'nog, and poured the wine. We kick it off on Christmas Eve by having my favorite meal of the year, seafood gumbo! It's the best gumbo you've ever had in your life, I kid you not. My mom has been expertly cooking it for - I don't know...25 years or so and she can get the roux so dark it will bring tears to your eyes, it's beautiful. It's a top secret recipe that was passed down through my dad's family.

[a little side rant: When my great-great grandparents on my father's side, Charles and Marie Lusco, came from the mother-land of Italia, they eventually settled in a little town called Greenwood, MS. Guess who else is from Greenwood, MS...that's right, the hubster - i know, kismet. Anyway, they opened up a little grocery store in Greenwood where my great-great grandmother started serving meals, so it eventually became a restaurant, a restaurant called Lusco's (as in my maiden name), currently run by some of my cousins, the Pinkstons. Other than the fabulous food, the neatest thing about Lusco's is it's atmosphere. Still at its original location from 1933, it has these private booths maintained from the prohibition era when people had to secretly get their drink on. Lusco's is amazing, and if you are ever in the Mississippi Delta you must go there. I insist. And if you don't get the onion rings, the broiled shirmp, the pompano, or a steak - shame on you!]

For Christmas day supper, we always have a yummy beef tenderloin. A lot of people have turkey on Christmas day - and to each his own - but I love the fact that we change it up with beef tenderloin. I feel like I was just stuffed with turkey and dressing less than a month ago, and there is so much yummy amazing food in the world, why repeat when you can have beef tenderloin! So anyway - Christmas dinner consists of the roast beast, normally with some sort of amazing potato side dish (accordion potatoes are my favorite).

While those two traditions are the longest standing....for the past five years or so we added a new one - where I cook the Christmas morning breakfast feast. And in this Christmas morning breakfast feast there are always two staples. The Beautiful Breakfast Strata from Notably Nashville, the Junior League of Nashville cook book, and cheese grits. How did I get assigned the task of breakfast chef? Well when the stresses of preparing three huge meals took a tole on my mom and she threatened to cut one - I saw the breakfast strata was in jeopardy and I knew I had to rescue it (it was in everyone's best interests). So I did what any good daughter would do and took over the meal.

So today, on this Eve of Christmas, I'll be baking the strata and carrying the breakfast tradition to my in-laws, where we'll be spending Christmas. If you're looking for something to add to your holiday recipe arsenal, or looking to make your family drool, I recommend this recipe. And as much as I look forward to eating it on Christmas morning, I can't wait to eat the left-overs throughout the rest of the week.

Beautiful Breakfast Strata
1 cup milk
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 loaf dried French bread
2 cups loosely packed cilantro
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces smoked Gouda cheese, thinly sliced
3 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup basil pesto
4 eggs
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup whipping cream

Blend the milk and wine in a shallow dish. Cut the bread into 1/20inch slices. dip 1 or 2 slices in at a time in the milk mixture and press gently to remove excess liquid, taking care not to tear the bread. Arrange the bread in a lightly greased 12-inch baking dish or 10-inch pie plate (note: it makes quite a lot and I don't think I've ever been able to fit it all into one baking dish. Be prepared to have a small auxiliary dish on hand for what won't fit. You can freeze it and bake it later if needed.) Sprinkle with the cilantro and drizzle with the olive oil. Layer the cheese, tomato slices and pesto 1/2 at a time in the dish.

Beat the eggs with the salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour evenly over the layers and pour the cream over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 8 hours or longer. (this is definitely a make ahead dish - which actually makes Christmas morning easier and stress free. I've even made it on the 23rd).

Let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours. (seems like a lot - but no worries, just set an alarm to set it out and go back to bed...or start w/ some mimosas and see what Santa brought ya!) Place the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until puffed and golden brown.

Take a bite. Let the swooning commence. Amen.
Serves 8

[photo disclaimer: Since I have not yet made the strata and am currently making the recipe myself, I therefore do not have a picture for this post. And I found no strata picture on the internet to do it justice. Stay tuned, I'll tweet-pic the final product]

Whatever you do....just don't spill the strata

Merry Christmas Eve everyone!

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