Last week I told you about San Francisco’s annual Holiday Lights Night Ride—a lively nighttime bicycle tour of the city’s most outrageous, creative, and/or beautiful holiday homes. Robin Marks of Discovery Street Tours has been leading themed group rides in San Francisco since 2004, but the Holiday Lights Night Ride is one of the most enduring and well-attended. Every year, on the Sunday night before Christmas, dozens of cyclists decorate their bikes, crank holiday tunes on portable speakers, pack pot-luck snacks, and brave the cold weather to partake in the renowned rolling party. Homeowners are even starting to catch on. This year one man stepped out of his ornately adorned home to greet the throng of cheerful, bell-ringing cyclists admiring his luminous handiwork, and announced proudly, “I was hoping my house would make it onto your route this year!”
Naturally, my favorite part of every Holiday Lights Ride is the pot-luck picnic dinner at the very end. Not only is it a chance to rest, socialize, and descend upon a scrumptious buffet, but it’s also a fun creative challenge to come up with dishes that meet Night Ride requirements. I’ve got no complaints about the fact that most people bring something store-bought. Stores sell delicious food, there’s no doubt about it. But as a kitcheny type, I always like to cook something up myself. And that something must travel well, be easily shareable, not require utensils or plates, and not need to be served especially hot or especially cold. As an added constraint, I usually limit myself to some kind of savory entree to complement all the cookies and cakes.
This year I decided to bring my cousin Sara’s famous savory strata, a recipe she learned from her neighbor, Kate, who learned it from her mother who died not too long ago. (I like to think that in some small way, by sharing this recipe, I’m helping to keep a beloved mom’s memory alive in hungry strangers’ kitchens.) A strata is a savory bread pudding made with bread, eggs, milk, cheese, and often veggies or meat. Since it requires chilling after assembly, a strata makes the perfect brunch dish—throw it together the day before, chill overnight, and pop into the oven before guests arrive. As a Night Ride picnic dish it worked out great. Ideally a strata would be eaten with a fork, but cut into small squares it made a perfectly acceptable and delectable finger food for hungry, rain-logged cyclists. Thank you Sara, Kate, and Kate’s mom!Print
Since it requires chilling after assembly, this strata makes the perfect brunch dish. Tthrow it together the day before, chill overnight, and pop into the oven in the morning before guests arrive.
Feel free to substitute alternate dried herbs for the basil, and pretty much any soft veggies for the peppers and tomatoes. I made the sausage optional here, to please the vegetarians, but if you are omnivorous I’d strongly suggest leaving it in!
- 1-pound loaf of French bread, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
- 5 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼–½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1½ cups half-and-half or whole milk
- 8 ounces (about 2½ cups) grated sharp white Cheddar cheese
- 2 tablespoons minced onion
- 1 small red bell pepper, julienned
- 15 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 6 ounces sausage (optional), diced
- Butter or oil a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.
- Place bread slices in the bottom of the prepared dish, cutting up a slice or two as needed to fill in the gaps.
- In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, mustard, basil, salt, and pepper. Whisk in half-and-half or milk and blend well.
- Pour mixture over bread.
- Cover and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Sprinkle half of the cheese over the bread, followed by the onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, and optional sausage. Top with the remaining cheese.
- Cover loosely with foil and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.
- Remove foil and continue to bake until strata is set and firm to the touch, 20 to 30 minutes more.