Thursday, May 3, 2012

Refrigerator Roulette

Have you ever watched the TV show Chopped on the Food Network? In case you haven't, it's a show where 4 chefs compete against each other to make a tasty meal for 3 judges (one chef gets eliminated after each course).  The catch is that they have to use specific ingredients provided to them in a mystery basket.  Sometimes the ingredients aren't not so bad, but there's usually one crazy ingredient like chicken feet (appetizer round, and FYI, don't forget to clip the nails off) or blue cornmeal (dessert round). There was one episode where they had to use specifically use leftovers (I think leftover rice turned up at some point).  I could totally relate to that one!

Frankly, I don't see the huge challenge, 'cause I do something like that all the time.  After a few days of cooking, I always have a few odds and ends hanging out in the fridge.  And so it was that I found myself checking out the refrigerator for stuff that needed to be used up.  What did I find?  A cup of cream, some old bread (actually, that was in the freezer), ham and some smoked cheddar that I bought on a whim the week before.  Certainly not as crazy as chicken feet, but still.  What to make?  A strata, of course.

Strata is basically a savory bread pudding, with stale bread soaking up a custardy egg and milk mixture.  You can add whatever flavors you like. I adapted a recipe that I found on sticky gooey creamy chewy, a really fun blog, if you're interested in the original.  But the main thing is, a strata is pretty simple to make, and is a great way to use up extra ingredients that you might have lying around. I often buy a baguette or a ciabatta loaf and end up only using half, so, unless I have a plan for the rest of the loaf, I'll slice it and put it in the freezer.  That way, it's ready to go if I get an itch to make a strata, bread pudding, french toast, or just need some breadcrumbs.

A strata is pretty forgiving, as well. If you want a richer, eggy-er flavor, add another egg or two.  Don't have smoked cheddar? Regular cheddar is fine. Or swiss, or provolone (although I'm not sure you'd want to leave out cheese all together, but that's just me. I needs my cheese.)  Don't have spinach? Leave it out.  Like broccoli better? Switch it up.  My youngest son doesn't like cooked spinach, so I left it out of a couple of the layers.

Ham and Spinach Strata with Smoked Cheddar

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • about 12 slices of ham
  • 1 box frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
  • 7 eggs
  • 1 cup milk (I used a mixture of cream and 2% milk)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
  • 12 slices (3/4 inch thick) crusty, day-old/stale bread (baguette, ciabatta, batard)
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded smoked cheddar cheese
  1. Lightly butter a 3-quart ceramic baking dish with at least 2-inch high sides.
  2. Sauté onion in butter over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Starting with the bread, layer one slice of bread, then a slice of ham, then a little of the spinach, repeating layers until you've used up all the bread, ham, and spinach.
  4. Scatter the sautéed onions on top of the layers.
  5. Whisk together the eggs, milk/cream, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Pour over the strata and let it chill in the fridge, covered, for several hours or overnight. (confession: I got a late start and only let it soak for a couple of hours. It turned out fine)
  6. When ready to bake, let strata sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 F. (here's another tip: if you forget to take the strata out of the fridge to get to room temperature, you can also just put it straight in the oven while it's pre-heating. I swear it won't blow up or anything)
  7. Bake, uncovered, on the center rack of the oven until puffed and golden brown, about 40-45 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Serves 6.

What creative stuff do you like to come up with to use up leftovers from the fridge?  Feel free to share your ideas!


  1. soups and salads..hey..i would like to know what exercises you do to use up all the calories in these wonderful dishes you're creating!!

  2. Ha! I am almost religious about yoga (try to get to class two times a week and do more at home), plus the gym for cardio a couple of times a week. Stay tuned, I'm going to share my favorite salad dressing recipe soon!

  3. I really like you post good blog,Thanks for your sharing.