make it ahead: breakfast casserole "muffins"

Is it really possible that I've never shared a recipe for the tailgate and company classic breakfast casserole?  The tried and true staple of brunch entertaining?  Really?  I sat down to write (finally) a new post and thought I'd just share the brilliant twist invented out of necessity over Easter weekend while visiting (and feeding) Sara and her friends.  I searched my blog and found plenty of references to "breakfast casserole", but no recipe.  It could still be here somewhere, but with 235 published posts and a quirky search function (even in my blogger screens, so I feel you there), I couldn't find it.  I do keep a binder of my favorite vintage recipe cards, magazine pages and printed recipes and I can easily find it carefully written out on a recipe card by my wonderful mother-in-law.  I've mentioned before how easily she appeared to entertain and how that really inspired me to do the same.  This is her recipe from at least twenty-five years ago.  When we would visit overnight from Purdue or later from wherever we were living at the time, Becky would fix either this breakfast casserole with biscuits and jelly on the side or the even more classic, biscuits and gravy which also had jelly for those of us that mostly ate the biscuits and not the gravy (and really that was just me).

Easter Sunday at Duke was going to be a quick event because we needed to get the ten hour drive home started and Sara needed to get back to the books.  So we decided to gather up brunch ingredients during the day on Saturday and make the casserole after going out to dinner on Saturday night.  The casserole is the kind you refrigerate up to 24 hours and bake just before serving.  Easy peasy.  Saturday morning we started off right at our favorite breakfast place, Guglhupf.  After enjoying every bite of omelet, pancakes, muesli and fruit we perused the gorgeous choices in their bakery.  This is actually kind of challenging on a very full stomach, but we persevered.  We bought pretty little fruit and lemon meringue tarts along with a little bag of adorable macaroons.  Later in the day we bought local (must have been local greenhouse because it's been a chilly early spring even down in North Carolina) strawberries and lots of champagne mangoes (they are back in season, smoother texture makes them the mango of choice at our house).  And of course we bought what we needed for the casserole:  milk, eggs, white cheddar, bulk freshly ground chicken breakfast sausage and nice egg dinner rolls.  I think that was the first time we didn't buy one thing from the incredible hot and salad bar at the Durham Whole Foods.

I knew Sara had some baking pans in her dorm/apartment kitchen but did not know she didn't have a 9x13x2 pan, so this is where the big twist comes in:  she did have a muffin pan and a loaf pan.  So while we watched basketball on her Macbook, we prepped for Easter brunch using what we had on hand.

Easter services at the Duke Chapel were as beautiful as I had imagined even without the trees and flowers all abloom outside.  The altar was lined with Easter lilies, the pews were full with plenty of Easter bonnets, the choir was accompanied by the organ and a full brass section and the readings were very skillfully done by seminary students.  The interim pastor's funny and inspiring sermon even included a little Duke v UNC basketball reference and a cheer for their Elite Eight game (that didn't work out as well as hoped later that day).  The service was just a little too long and we ducked out the side aisle during communion so we could eat brunch with Annie and Jack in a timely manner.  The breakfast casserole "muffins" were just that much better than the big pan of casserole because of the nice crust to casserole ratio on the muffins.  Plus, you could whip this up some weekend and freeze one whole tray of muffins and freeze them two, three or four to a bag and have a fast breakfast to go.

So strictly for blogging purposes, that's just what I did last weekend.  I took two bags in to my early Friday morning merchandising shift at lulu today everyone loved them.  So easy.  Just a minute or less to heat one up from frozen.  Genius.  Funny how a genius idea came from a visit to Duke.  We'll have to share that genius idea with our other smart friends at Purdue next football season.  Please, no jokes about how it may or may not be a sign of intelligence to actually attend Purdue football games.  It's a tradition, just like the breakfast casserole.

A little note about bread choices:  I like to use challah or some other good egg yeast  bread like the pretty dinner rolls at Whole Foods or even a brioche if you're feeling flush.  Pepperidge Farm's farm white bread loaf works well too.  I'm a whole grain fan and almost never eat any white bread, but I have yet to find a whole grain loaf that doesn't give this casserole a bitter or nutty taste that is just kind of wrong, but you can try.

Breakfast Casserole "Muffins"

1 1/2 pounds chicken or turkey breakfast sausage (I like the freshly ground bulk kind best)
12 ounces good egg bread (rolls, challah or brioche), but any sturdy white bread is fine
6 eggs
2 cups milk (skim is fine)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2-3/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp dry mustard
2 C white cheddar (or any cheddar or blend you like)

In a large non-stick pan with a little canola or olive oil, brown the sausage, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks.  Blot with paper towels or drain on bed of paper towels.

Tear bread into bite-sized pieces into a large mixing bowl.  In a 4-cup measuring cup, measure out the milk and add the eggs.  Whisk together with the salt, pepper and dried mustard.  Pour over torn bread.  Add the drained sausage and the grated cheese.  Mix well to combine.  I like to really work the mixture with a big spatula to further break down the bread.

Spray two 12-cup muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray.  Scoop the mixture into the muffin cups to fill the cups.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove plastic wrap and bake casserole muffins until they are puffy, browned and the egg mixture is set (18-25 minutes).  Serve hot or warm.

makes 24 muffins, serves 8-12


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