Christmas Traditions - Cheese Strata

I think that there is something to be said for Australian's being laid back and relaxed and what better time than Christmas Day to bring out those qualities. Keep it easy, keep it simple and take advantage of the fact we get to celebrate Christmas in the summer time. So this year, we are hosting a casual Christmas dinner poolside. Finger food, good seafood and a delicious dessert bar with perhaps a pink grapefruit margarita or two. My aim is always to have most of the day prepared beforehand which means that Grant and I get to spend the entire morning together without a care in the world. You know I love cooking but I really love smart cooking where the preparation put in before hand makes the cooking so much easier.

I'm a little pedantic even breaking my to-do list into hourly intervals and this morning after putting on some Christmas music, I began to get a head start on cooking rosewater meringues while Lulu found a corner in the kitchen to watch me, make sure she was on hand to clean up anything I might drop and nod off occasionally.

One of our few traditions is that I'll often make an indulgent brunch on Christmas. Brunch is my favourite meal of the day and this Cheese Strata can be rather heavy and indulgent and and a bit too much if you're having lunch that same day so we often have it on Boxing Day. However as we're having a dinner on Christmas Day, its going to make an appearance for Christmas brunch. It is a delicious, a make ahead meal and the recipe is a slight variation from Martha Stewart.

CHEESE STRATA Serves 6-8

Ingredients

2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted, plus more softened for baking dish 8 slices white bread, crusts removed 1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar Cheese (I love Mersey Valley vintage cheddar) 1 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese (I use Gruyere) 4 large eggs 2 cups milk 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper 2 tbsp chopped fresh chives 1 tsp coarse salt 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

Mix both cheeses together in a bowl. ย Butter an 8 inch square baking dish. Line the bottom with 4 slices of bread (trim the bread if needed). Sprinkle with half the cheese. Top with half the chives. Layer with remaining bread and cheese.

Whisk together eggs, milk, melted butter, cayenne, salt and pepper. Pour mixture over bread in baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining chives. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Bake strata until puffed and golden, about 40 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

You can mix it up with layers of bacon (or using that huge ham we always have at Christmas), play around with the flavours of cheese or even use a sourdough. I love to serve it with a little smoked salmon while Grant prefers bacon. Either way, it is delicious.

Have a great weekend and a very Merry Christmas!