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Brunch casseroles to start the New Year

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

Next week will be New Year’s Day. How will you start the day after the big party that said so long to 2018?

If you’re lucky, you have New Year’s Day off and you can take a deep breath and relax a little. It’s going to be the perfect day to get up late, have brunch and sit in the recliner.

Most breakfast casseroles include meat and cheese, but we found recipes for a sweet French toast and a lively Greek omelet that are meatless.

All of these can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight, so when you feel hungry, it’s just a matter of putting it in the oven.

If this is brunch, a fruit salad or a green salad will go nicely.

Try a mix of simple things — apples, grapes and mandarin oranges, or bananas, blueberries and strawberries.

In some cities and towns, the New Year’s Day brunch is a traditional hangover cure, the solution to a night of too much champagne or other spirits. If you believe in the hair of the dog that bit you, fix a mimosa to go with your hearty casserole. It’s just equal parts of orange juice and sparkling wine.

Later in the day, you can have your black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread. Season the greens with a bit of hog jowl or ham hock and you’ve got the rich pork needed to start the year off right. Soak up the pot likker from the greens and the beans with the cornbread.

Apple-Cinnamon French Toast Casserole

For the French toast casserole:

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

6 large eggs

2 cups half-and-half

3/4 cup apple butter

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp. salt

1 (1-pound) loaf challah or brioche bread, halved lengthwise, then cut into 1-inch-thick slices

2 large Pink Lady or Honeycrisp apples, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)

2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

For the cinnamon-sugar topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

For serving (optional):

Powdered sugar

Maple syrup

Assemble the casserole: Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with some of the melted butter. Place the remaining melted butter, eggs, half-and-half, apple butter, 1/2 tsp. of the cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl and whisk until combined.

Dip the bread slices in the custard one slice at a time. Arrange the slices in four rows by slightly overlapping each bread slice. Depending on your loaf of bread, you’ll use about 5 slices of bread per row. Alternate the direction of each row for an attractive presentation.

Place the apple, sugar and the remaining 1 tsp. of cinnamon in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Tuck the apple cubes in, around and between the bread slices. You’ll want a taste of apple in every bite, so make sure to fill any open spaces. Pour the remaining custard evenly over the bread and apples.

Make the cinnamon-sugar topping: Place the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Add the cubes of butter. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, work the butter into the flour mixture until crumbly, then sprinkle evenly over the casserole. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, take the casserole out of the refrigerator and uncover. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Bake until puffed and golden-brown, 35 to 40 minutes. To serve, scoop onto plates and dust with powdered sugar and drizzle with warm maple syrup if desired.

Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole

4 cups (loosely packed) day-old challah or other egg-enriched bread (3/4-inch cubes)

2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced

3/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided

1/4 tsp. granulated sugar

8 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, diced

6 large eggs

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 cup grated Gruyère cheese (about 4 ounces)

Grease an 8-inch square baking dish (or another 1 1/2-quart to 2-quart baking dish) and spread the cubed bread in the bottom.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, 1/4 tsp. of the salt and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized (a medium golden-brown color), about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another heavy skillet, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil over medium heat and sauté the pancetta until the fat is almost all rendered and it begins to get crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Whisk the eggs, milk, dry mustard, nutmeg, thyme, remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper together in a large bowl.

Spread the pancetta over the bread cubes, then layer the onions on top. Sprinkle grated Gruyère on next, and then pour the egg mixture over the entire thing.

Press down on the top gently, so that all of the bread cubes get soaked a bit with the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Take the casserole out of the refrigerator so it can warm on the counter while the oven preheats.

Bake, uncovered, until the edges are bubbling and the top begins to brown, 35 to 50 minutes. The baking time will depend on the depth of dish you use. Check the interior with a knife; if it comes out clean the bread custard is baked through. (Cover with aluminum foil near the end of cooking if the top is already browned.)

Make-Ahead Spinach and Feta Egg Casserole

1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for the baking dish

1/2 medium yellow onion, diced

1/2 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt divided

6 ounces baby spinach (about 6 cups, packed) or 8 ounces frozen spinach thawed, drained and pressed well to remove liquid

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill

12 large eggs

2 cups milk

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 375 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, pepper and 1/2 tsp. of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the spinach and garlic, and toss until wilted and almost all of the liquid is evaporated, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the dill. Transfer to the baking dish and spread in an even layer.

Place the eggs, milk, mustard, remaining 1 tsp. salt and pepper in a large bowl and whisk until the eggs are completely broken up and incorporated. Pour over the spinach mixture in the baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the feta.

Bake until the top is light golden-brown and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

Make ahead: The casserole can be assembled, covered tightly with aluminum foil, and refrigerated overnight before baking. Uncover before baking.

The casserole can also be frozen unbaked. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then proceed with baking uncovered as instructed. Depending on how frozen the casserole still is, it may take up to 1 1/2 hours baking time; check after 1 hour.

Cheesy Hash Brown Breakfast Casserole

Cooking spray or oil, for coating the baking dish

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 pound uncooked breakfast sausage, casing removed if necessary

1 medium onion, diced

1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

3/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided

1 (20-ounce) bag frozen shredded potatoes (do not thaw)

10 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 cup whole or 2% milk

2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 375 degres. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray or oil; set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until browned and no longer pink, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the onion, bell pepper and 1/4 tsp. of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, add the potatoes, stir to combine, and spread into an even layer.

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the sour cream, milk, mustard, cheese, remaining 1/2 tsp. salt, and pepper and whisk to combine. Pour over the vegetable mixture.

Bake until the top is light golden-brown and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

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