One of the things I love about cooking is that progress and growth are often very tangible. Dishes that I once considered elusive and challenging like liver mousse or risotto have over time become well within reach. With constant experimenting, exotic ingredients have grown familiar and challenging, new techniques, approachable and possible.
And one of the most telling signs of my improvement has been my ability to turn a kitchen flop into something magnificent, the kind of dish that seems like so much more than the result of happenstance.
My most recent save involved rescuing a loaf of cheddar bread from The King Arthur Flour Baking Companion. It was one of those recipes that started out with promise. The dough was supple, it rose beautifully, and it even baked off with a perfectly golden and crunchy top. But then, as baked goods sometimes do, it all went downhill when I tried to remove it from the pan; it clung on, refusing to give up its grip. I eventually freed it, but by that point it was reduced to several jagged pieces and not nearly presentable enough to serve its original intent, to accompany my Potato, Crab and Gorgonzola Soup to the soup party.
But because I hate throwing out virtually any food that is ugly but otherwise delicious, I cut it into cubes and froze it. And this weekend I redeemed myself by turning it into a delicious Mexican-Inspired Strata with Jalepeno Chicken Sausage and Chihuahua Cheese.
Even though a Mexican-Inspired strata originally seemed a bit odd to me, the flavors felt surprisingly at home in this casserole. I personally find it hard to turn down an eggy casserole especially when it comes with ribbons of molten cheese and the pleasant kick of jalapenos, so this dish hit the spot. I especially love that with its bread, sausage, cheese, and eggs it feels like a complete meal all in one dish.
-1 ½ tablespoons butter
-1/2 red onion, peeled and chopped, about one cup
-2 Spicy Jalepeno Chicken Sausages (I used Trader Joe’s brand), quartered lengthwise and cut into cubes
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 medium jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed and chopped
-1 cup chopped bell peppers
-1 12 ounce can fat free evaporated milk
-1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
-1 teaspoon salt
-6 cups of cubed sturdy, stale bread (I used a cheese jalapeno bread)
-1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
-1 ½ cup shredded Queso Chihuahua, divided
Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Add onion and sausage and sauté until the onion has started to soften and the casing on the sausage crisps up slightly. Add garlic through chopped bell pepper and continue to cook until the bell peppers have softened and the liquid evaporated. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
While onion mixture is cooling, mix together the evaporated milk through salt.
Grease a 8×8″-square baking dish with cooking spray. Lay half the bread cubes in the bottom of the dish. Stir parsley into the onion mixture and spoon on top of the bread along with 1 cup of the cheese. Layer the remaining bread cubes on top followed by the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the top and place in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.
30 minutes before you plan to make it, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and remove the strata from the oven. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until set in the middle.