Not long ago a Southern breakfast was a massive meal of eggs, grits, fried country ham or bacon and buttery biscuits. Rib-sticking breakfasts were a robust way to start a long day of hard work on the farm. This has changed; we don’t have the time for big breakfast productions. Doesn’t that sound like a whole lot of work?
This breakfast casserole of bread, sausage and cheese is bound with custard, almost like a savory bread pudding. It can be made the night before so you won’t find yourself groggy and in need of caffeine, camped in front of a hot skillet. The next morning, remove it from the fridge to take the chill off. Grab a cup of coffee and pop it in the oven. By the time the table is set, the family is assembled and you’re ready for your second cup, breakfast is ready!
There are a lot of choices in the egg case these days. Consumer response to the big chicken farms is the increased desire for what are known as free-range eggs. However, it is, to a large extent, a marketing term. Producers of free-range chickens and eggs must simply be able to demonstrate to the USDA that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside. This does not necessarily mean the chickens are pecking away in a farmyard. They literally may simply have a door to the outside. Pastured poultry, on the other hand, is where the chickens are outdoors with a shelter. Pastured poultry eggs are increasingly available, most often at local farmers markets.
“Organic” is another word you’ll see. The USDA’s National Organic Program regulates the standards for any farm, wild-crop harvesting or handling operation that wants to sell an agricultural product as organically produced. Livestock must be fed a diet of 100 percent organic feed, raised free of antibiotics and hormones, and have access to the outdoors and sunlight. Eggs labeled “natural” are not subject to the same set of strict USDA standards as those that are labeled organic. Let’s face it, these eggs can be expensive; but when they are the star of the show, I find farm-fresh eggs are best.
Regardless of the eggs you choose, a make-ahead dish like this is especially helpful during the holidays when lots of friends and family come to visit. It’s one-stop shopping, with the eggs, bread, meat and cheese all wrapped up into one tasty casserole.
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