Brunch time: Ham and cheddar strata recipe

The word “strata” means layers, and in this case layers of potato, ham, fluffy, rich egg custard and creamy cheese. I learned to make strata when I lived in New Orleans. It was always a big seller at brunch, served with a green salad with a smoked tomato vinaigrette. The traditional recipe calls for slices of bread layered with cheese and egg custard. I prefer to use thinly sliced potatoes for a heartier meal. This version calls for ham and cheddar, but most any combination of meat, cheese and even roasted vegetables will work. It's a great way to use leftovers. Like a lasagna, strata always tastes better the next day.

Ham and Cheddar Strata

Difficulty Level: 2 (out of 5)

6 medium sized Russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8” thick*

4 large eggs

2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

2 cups thin sliced deli ham, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the eggs with the cream in a bowl and set aside. Have your shredded cheese and chopped ham ready to go. Slice the potatoes with a mandolin or a very sharp knife (the potato slices need to be consistent in thickness so that they cook evenly).

2. Coat a 13” x 9” cake pan with non-stick spray. Cover the bottom with a layer of potatoes, overlapping slightly (or “shingling”). Season with a little salt and pepper. Add a layer of ham and cheese. Repeat these steps until the pan is full, finishing with a ham and cheese layer on top. Pour the egg and cream mixture over the top and tap the pan gently to settle the liquid.

3. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Check to see if the potatoes are cooked through by poking a knife in the middle of the strata. If there is no resistance, they're done. If not, cook for another 10-15 minutes and check again. Cool completely, cover and refrigerate (unless you are serving it right away).

To reheat:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pull your strata from the refrigerator and let it sit for about 30 minutes, bringing it up to room temperature – this will decrease your reheating time and make sure that it won't be cold in the middle.

2. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Test to see if it's hot all the way through by inserting the tip of a knife in the middle, wait 5 seconds, then feel the knife. If it's hot, your strata is ready. If still cool, bake for another 10 minutes and check again.

3. Slice into squares and serve.

Brunch. The word evokes pleasant thoughts of a lazy Sunday, sleeping in, and a late morning indulgent meal. Many of us skip breakfast the rest of the week, rushing out the door on our way to wherever. There's the classic Sunday brunch, our opportunity to make up for the sunny eggs and salted cured meats that we deny ourselves the rest of the week.

Many Tampa Bay area restaurants offer wonderful brunch, buffet-style or plated and served. But what if you want to stay at home in your jammies and hair a mess? There is no reason not to enjoy this decadent meal in the comfort of your own home — with a little preparation.

Here is a recipe that can be made a day or two ahead of time. Just reheat, add a couple slices of bacon or sausage links on the side and a fresh-brewed pot of coffee. No shoes or combed hair required.

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