In The Midwest, We Eat Casseroles

Growing up food was always a central part of any celebration, and that tradition has continued with my family.  It isn’t that we require elaborate or exotic fare on holidays. Rather, certain dishes have been associated with certain events, sometimes without rhyme or reason.

We always dine on carry-out Chinese on Halloween, several of my kids expect that I’ll make my “Rainbow Cake” for their birthdays, and no Thanksgiving would be complete without sweet potato casserole. 

Sometimes we celebrate our family Christmas on December 25, and sometimes we will celebrate it the week before or after Christmas day.  We travel to Minnesota every year to be with Julie’s family for Christmas, but we typically open our immediate family’s gifts at home in Illinois. 

On the day that we celebrate our immediate family’s Christmas, we have a mid-morning brunch with items that bake in the oven.  We can smell the food’s tantalizing aromas as we ooh and aww over our presents.  

The foods that we eat have no particular continuity, but they have become our Christmas brunch tradition.  There is always coffee, tea, and orange juice.  In addition, we have crackers accompanied by cheeses and sausage-type meats. Both Julie’s and my ethnic cultures eat pickled herring, and that will also be on the menu, as well as freshly baked cinnamon rolls.  However, the star of the show is a breakfast casserole that we call, “Egg Dish,” which is what many people would call strata or a layered casserole in the style of savory bread pudding. 

I recall this being a “new” recipe in the 70s or the 80s, and it was fashionable to make it for  Sunday brunch.  Apparently,  it was originally created in the early 1900s, although that dish was somewhat different from the overnight casserole that we associate with the name today.  

Midwesterners love casseroles, and Julie’s mother, Avis made this egg dish for a brunch that she hosted for us during our wedding weekend. Egg dish has had an integral part in our lives from the beginning of our marriage!

Simple to assemble and easy to make, its only barrier is that you have to refrigerate it overnight before baking, as this allows the egg and bread mixture to properly co-mingle.  Once in the oven, it tends to puff up into a delicate creamy texture.  I think of it as a Midwestern souffle. Not fluffy or pretentious, but rather delicious, practical, and savory.  

This recipe makes a big 9 x 13 pan, so it is best for larger families or gatherings.  The leftovers microwave well the next day (in individual portions) and are acceptable to eat the day following that. After two days most of the charm has left the dish and any remnants are best left for the bin.

Julie’s Egg Souffle

  • White bread
  • Butter
  • 10 beaten eggs
  • ½ t dry mustard
  • 1 t salt
  • Splash hot sauce (we like Frank’s)
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 ½ C milk
  • Shredded cheese (cheddar works well)
  • Ham chunks (can be omitted for vegetarians)
  • ½ of an 8 oz package cream cheese cut or torn into bits
  • 2T chopped green onions

Lay bread slices in the bottom of a greased 9 x 13” pan, then butter and tear bread into chunks.

Mix eggs, milk, and seasoning in a separate bowl.

Sprinkle cream cheese bits and shredded cheese over bread.

Sprinkle on green onions.

Sprinkle on ham chunks (the size of diced carrots).

Pour over mixed liquids.

Cover and refrigerate overnight. 

Bake at 350F 50-60 minutes or until lightly brown.

Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting.

Mike Kuna