A thousand years ago, before Michael Greenspan and I got married, we made a prenuptial agreement: I would do the cooking (never mind that I had never cooked before) and he would do the dishes.
It’s a great arrangement every day except Thanksgiving, when the forces of Michael’s tidiness and his lifelong disaffection with turkey collide, and he gives away every leftover morsel of the bird and its stuffing. He leaves the potatoes, because he likes them, and the cranberry sauce, because it’s what I like. Other than those two bundles in the refrigerator, when Black Friday dawns, you wouldn’t know there had been a Thanksgiving feast at our house.
No leftovers seemed a small price to pay for 364 days of clean dishes, especially when I started making my own leftovers. While all of America was out shopping and returning home to cold turkey sandwiches, I was roasting a turkey breast. Sure, I was always a day behind, but it seemed to work out perfectly: It meant that I could make this savory turkey-and-cranberry strata for brunch on Saturday or Sunday. Turkey-tucked-into-something-else was always okay with Michael, and turkey strata-ized is more than okay.
A strata is a cross between a bread pudding and a French-toast casserole: layers, or strata, of bread, layers of something delicious and an egg-and-cream(ish) custard to hold it all together . It needs to be prepped hours, if not a day, ahead and can be refrigerated overnight. It bakes peacefully, completely unattended, and it can be served warm or at room temperature. There’s little that’s more convenient or more easily fitted into a busy weekend.
Michael’s complaint about turkey is that it is bland. There’s no complaining about this strata, because it is anything but bland. In fact, the first time I made it I went overboard on the hot sauce, and it was downright fiery!
Here’s how I layer my strata: First comes the bread — don’t be surprised that it’s cinnamon-raisin. It’s nice to have the sweetness and spice with the heat. Then there’s a layer of baby greens — spinach, kale or arugula — for a touch of bitterness. After that, it’s dollops of cranberry sauce (I’ve included a recipe for a quick and so-good sauce, in case you don’t have any left over); cubes, chunks or shreds of turkey; and sharp cheddar – what’s a casserole without a little gooeyness? There’s a repeat set of layers and then more bread to cap it. As for the custard, it’s a surprising mix of eggs, half-and-half and Sriracha, tempered to your taste.
●The strata needs a two-quart baking dish that can go from refrigerator to oven. It can be a 9-by-8-inch roasting pan, a square pan or even a round souffle dish, in which case you’ll have more layers. Whatever size it is, make sure to put it on a lined baking sheet, as drips are inevitable.
●Whole-berry cranberry sauce is the way to go here; the jellied kind is too slippery. If you want to make your own, it will take less than 10 minutes. My recipe is for a cranberry sauce that’s not very sweet; feel free to add more sugar or drizzle in some honey or maple syrup.
●I like Sriracha in the custard, but you can use your favorite hot sauce or chili sauce. Or mix in a little adobo from a can of chipotle chilies. You could even add a little chopped chipotle to the cranberry sauce.
●Make sure to give this a long rest in the refrigerator. The bread has to be completely saturated for the strata to be delish.
●You could serve this hot or cold, but I think the dish is best when it’s warm or at room temperature.
●When there are no more turkey leftovers but you’re still craving this, use roast chicken instead, or make it a meatless strata.
Wishing you all a happy and scrumptious Thanksgiving and an equally happy and scrumptious next-day and day-after-that, too.
Greenspan will join the second hour of Wednesday’s special two-hour pre-Thanksgiving Free Range chat, which starts at noon at live.washingtonpost.com.
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The author has included a recipe for cranberry sauce, because a chunky one works best in this recipe. It takes about 10 minutes to make. If you have leftovers that are like that already, you’re ahead of the game.
MAKE AHEAD: The assembled strata needs to be refrigerated for at least 6 hours and up to overnight. Uncover and let it sit at room temperature while the oven preheats. The baked strata can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. It will taste best if you let it come to room temperature or reheat it gently in a microwave.
Unsalted butter, for the baking dish
14 to 16 slices cinnamon-raisin bread (about an entire 1-pound loaf of Pepperidge Farm Raisin Cinnamon Swirl)
1 to 2 (packed) cups baby kale or baby spinach
1 to 11/2 cups homemade or store-bought whole cranberry sauce (see NOTE)
About 2 cups leftover roasted turkey cubes
1 to 11/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 cups half-and-half
6 large eggs
3 to 4 tablespoons Sriracha (may substitute a few dashes of hot sauce for less-intense heat)
Lightly grease the inside of a 2-quart roasting pan or a deep 8-by-9-inch Pyrex baking dish with butter. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment, foil or a silicone liner
Cut each slice of bread diagonally to make 2 triangles, then cut it diagonally in the opposite direction so that you have 4 triangles.
Arrange about one-third of the bread on the bottom of the pan, leaving space between the triangles. (You don’t need a solid layer of bread.) Cover the bread with half of the greens and dollop on half of the cranberry sauce, again not aiming for a full and smooth layer. Scatter half of the turkey over the greens, then cover with half of the cheese. Season generously with salt and pepper. Repeat with another layer of bread (use half of the remaining bread) and all of the remaining greens, cranberry sauce, turkey and cheese. Season with salt and pepper, and top the casserole with the remaining bread triangles.
Whisk together the half-and-half, eggs and Sriracha (to taste); season with salt and pepper. Slowly and gradually pour this mixture over the strata. You want to cover the top layer of bread — a sometimes messy job, because the liquid might seep over the edges of the pan – and have it trickle down evenly to the base of the pan. Once all of the mixture is in, gently press the layers down with a spatula or fork.
Cover the strata and refrigerate it for at least 6 hours or up to overnight. Remove it from the refrigerator while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Uncover the strata and keep it on the lined baking sheet.
Bake (middle rack) for 45 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the strata comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and let it cool until the strata is warm or at room temperature. Serve solo or with a lightly dressed green salad.
NOTE: To make the cranberry sauce, combine 12 ounces of fresh or frozen cranberries, 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring, until most of the berries pop, a bubbling syrup develops and the sauce leaves tracks that quickly fill when stirred. It will not look set, but it will set as it cools. Scrape it into a heatproof bowl and leave at room temperature to cool. Use immediately, or cover well and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Nutrition | Per serving (using spinach): 420 calories, 23 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 210 mg cholesterol, 530 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 22 g sugar
Recipe tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org