Turns out, unsettling from the old place was much harder than settling into the new place. Luisa told me that I shouldn’t worry if, for weeks after the move, I still wondered when we’d finally go back home. That’s just what I expected to feel. But those final weeks pre-move were so stressful and sleepless and unsettling that by the time we unpacked everything, the place already had started to feel like ours.
It helps that 24 hours after move-in, we were fully unpacked. That’s my leading lady: she’s extremely efficient, she hates transitions, she wants it donedonedone. So it was. By Sunday morning, I was back to weighing coffee beans, pouring the slow stream of hot water over my filter, setting my favorite mug on the counter. And exactly one week after that, with both my brother and old friends in town, we managed to host some folks for brunch.
Save for a few old jars and nubbins of past-prime vegetables, the contents of our fridge made the move with us. Among the contents: half a stale baguette, most of a bunch of kale, and the end of a log of goat cheese. This is practically the holy trinity of strata, so strata it was. It’s simple, really: stale bread, some sauteed vegetables. A not-very-large quantity of milk, a not-very-small quantity of heavy cream. Layer; bake. Poof: the house smells like home.
And speaking of recipes that bring us home, I need to tell you about a book.
When Jess was 28, an aneurysm ruptured in her brain. The recovery was slow and uneven. To regain a sense of normalcy – and to fill the long days – Jess started baking. Stir is the story of the recipes that helped her heal.
In college, Jess was the awesome senior who ran the a cappella choir, lurking in my social periphery. We reconnected over our blogs, though – and one day, in Boston for business with a morning to myself, I hopped over to her place for brunch. Jess was one month into motherhood, an impossibly tiny Mia bundled in the stroller she pushed on our walk. We picked up bread from High Rise Bakery – a corn flour loaf, I think – and back home, she cooked me what to this day are the most perfect sunny-side-up eggs I’ve ever had. While she made the eggs, Jess put me to work grinding beans for my coffee. She’s a tea person, but she still managed to have the world’s coolest Hario grinder and Chemex carafe. I learned about both from her. I also heard more about why she’d started the blog in the first place.
Jess has quite a story to tell, and she tells it perfectly. (Frankly, she could write about wallpaper, and you’d still want to read more.) She also shares recipes at the end of each chapter, and having tested several of them, I can tell you that they, alone, are worth the price of the book. Apricots with cardamom and pistachios? Yes. My favorite Jess recipe, ever. Folded slow-rise challah? Feathery and brioche-like. You want it. An almond cake requiring one bowl, one pan, and lots of self control? Friday night dinner just got fancy.
Jess is baaacckkk. Go read her book. Make her apricots; serve them for brunch, with this strata, or just eat them straight out of the fridge. Toast your health and hers. Congrats, dear Jess!
Mushroom and Kale Breakfast Strata
Adapted, just slightly, from Merrill Stubbs, of Food52
This is almost exactly Merrill’s strata formula, minus sausage plus mushrooms. I did reduce the amount of pecorino, since I find it easily overpowers other flavors. I swapped out gruyere in favor of goat cheese, too. Merrill recommends assembling the strata 6 hours before serving, to let the bread fully soak up the liquid. I didn’t do this – not everyone plans brunch in advance! – and the strata came out great anyway.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 sweet white or yellow onion, diced
8 oz. mixed mushrooms (I used a mix of cremini and shiitake), wiped clean and sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large bunch kale (I prefer dino, the kind with the bumpy dark green leaves), stems removed, washed, dried, and chopped
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon smooth dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground if possible)
a few grinds of black pepper
7 cups cubed stale bread
5 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish and set aside. If serving the strata immediately (see headnote), preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat olive oil and butter in a large, shallow sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion, and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and salt and increase heat to medium-high. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until onions and mushrooms have softened and some have turned golden, 5-7 minutes. Add kale, reduce heat to medium, and cook until kale has wilted, about 3 minutes more. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, mustard, nutmeg, and pepper until fully combined. To assemble the strata, spread half of the cubed bread into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Top with half the greens, half the egg mixture, and half of each of the cheeses. Repeat with the remaining bread, greens, and egg mixture; sprinkle the remaining half of each of the cheeses over the top of the strata. At this point, either bake the strata immediately, or set in the fridge for up to 6 hours to set.
Bake strata for 35-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the middle is set (check with a toothpick). Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.