~By Emily Workman
My Mother’s family, the Jorgensen’s, had very structured guidelines about holiday traditions. For instance, they always went on a picnic and rolled hardboiled eggs down the steep hills of Logan Canyon on Easter. In observation of this particular tradition, my Alaskan family and I have ended up shivering inside a car, looking out at ice fog and enjoying tuna salad sandwiches on more than one Easter Sunday. The most important of all these traditions wasn’t centered around Easter, though; it was the ritual surrounding Christmas morning. Before the children are allowed to make the highly anticipated trip down the stairs to check on Santa’s handiwork, all hair and teeth must be brushed, matching holiday pj’s must be worn and all children must line up in order of age, youngest to eldest.
I can’t fully express the anticipation I felt every year when I’d sit on my Mom’s bed and patiently (for once) allow her to untangle my unruly snarles of hair. I would then stand facing their bedroom door with my brother so close behind me that I could feel his breath on my shoulder. My Dad would start the Manheim Steamroller record and my Mom would finally open the door. Most importantly, this was the specific moment when the first wafts of my Mom’s 24-hour omelet would reach my nostrils and jog all the joyful memories of past Christmas mornings, instantly making my mouth water in anticipation.
When my Mom talks about her 24-hour omelet, she starts by defending the reason it came to be a tradition. You see, my Mom’s a fantastic cook; she has wonderful instincts and is never afraid to try a new recipe. Therefore, one would expect a more “gourmet” or involved meal when eating at her table. However, my Mom and Dad used to have to stay up all Christmas Eve night, putting together toys and wrapping presents. To battle her inevitable fatigue, my Mom found a recipe for breakfast that she could make the night before and throw in the oven in the morning, allowing it to cook while we opened presents. It was easy and simple, but the result was the permanent connection between the joyfulness and excitement of Christmas morning and the hearty smell of cheese and ham warming into a gooey, eggy delight.
One year, against all her Jorgensen tendencies toward rigid tradition, my Mom decided that our family had suffered through enough 24-hour omelets. Instead, she decided to try a delicious sounding recipe for Strata that she found in a cookbook. Rather than cheddar cheese and ham, this recipe called for goat cheese, marinated artichoke hearts and herbes de Provence. Sounds wonderful, right? Well, maybe it was, but I must admit that this was one of the only times my Mom’s cooking was met with groans of dismay and disappointed frowns. The smell wasn’t the same, the taste wasn’t the same. In short, it just wasn’t Christmas! Our palettes had been so trained to expect the 24-hour omelet that we couldn’t even appreciate the gourmet dish my Mom had found to replace it.
It goes without saying that the strata, however tasty it might be, hasn’t been served at my Mom’s table since. Last Christmas, when I was opening up a package filled with printer ink and silently reveling in my parents’ ability to instinctively anticipate my office needs, I was transported back to the morning that I found the entire Barbie Heart Family under the tree. The sudden transportation back to the best Christmas of my young life was the result of that same old smell, the 24-hour omelet, slowly baking in the kitchen. The best part is, I know it will be there again, tempting us with its aroma, for years to come.
24 Hour Omelet
7 slices white bread
3/4 pound cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoons dry mustard
Dash cayenne pepper
Thin cubes ham (optional) I always put the ham in the food processor
Trim crusts from bread spices and butter on one side. Cut bread slices into 1 inch cubes, place buttered side up into a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.
Beat together eggs, milk, salt, mustard, and pepper. Pour over bread slices, add cubed ham, and top with grated cheese.
Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. (You can let it sit for 10 minutes or so and use it immediately.)
Bake covered in over preheated to 325 degrees about 1 1/2 hours or until egg mixture is set. Uncover the last 10 minute of baking time.
Goat Cheese, Artichoke and Smoked Ham Strata
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup olive oil
8 cups, 1 inch cubes sourdough bread, crusts trimmed
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 ounces soft fresh goat choose (such as Montrachet), crumbled (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (can use dried herb)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (can use dried herb)
1 1/2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
12 ounces smoked ham, chopped
3 6 1/2 ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained, halved lengthwise (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 cup (packed) grated Fontina cheese
1 1/2 cups (packed) grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 13x9x2 inch glass baking dish. Whisk milk and oil in large bowl. Stir in bread. Let stand until liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes
Whisk cream and next 5 ingredients in another large bowl to blend. Add goat cheese. Mix herbs in small bowl to blend.
Place half of bread mixture in prepared dish. Top with half of ham, artichokes hearts, herbs and cheeses. Pour half of cream mixture over. Repeat layering with remaining bread, ham, artichoke heart, herbs, cheeses and cream mixture.
(Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)
Bake uncovered until firm in center and brown around edges, about one hour.