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Over easy

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It’s funny how things you only do once a year can become routine. When I was growing up, Christmas morning was about stockings and presents and chocolate oranges—and my grandmother’s Christmas morning casserole. I looked forward to the casserole as much as I did all the rest of the proceedings, because we only ate it once a year—and what a treat it was. Basically a cross between French toast and a ham-and-cheese sandwich, it had eggy bread that was crisp on top and soft inside, delicious ham and melted cheese. It always disappeared in a flash, leaving us free to go back to opening presents.

I was well into my 20s before I found a recipe for our Christmas morning concoction in an old recipe book—but they called it a “Christmas Wifesaver.” The brief write-up that introduced the recipe celebrated the fact the casserole could be assembled the night before and then just popped in the oven for half an hour on Christmas morning, freeing the busy “wife” up for other important things—like making turkey dinner, presumably.

Old-fashioned name aside, the casserole is still delicious—and easy. It’s also one of those recipes that allows for endless improvisation. The original recipe is basically a sandwich in a pan—bread, ham, cheese, more bread—which is then doused in an egg-and-milk mixture and soaked in the refrigerator overnight. Half an hour in the oven at 350F the next morning, and breakfast is ready.

If your palate calls for something more sophisticated than cooked ham, cheese slices and white bread, however, you’ve got all sorts of options. My mother has re-invented our Christmas morning casserole to contain French bread, brie, tomatoes and basil; you could try sausage and mushroom or seafood and herbs as fillings, or experiment with different types of bread, sourdough or herbed focaccia for example. The egg-and-milk topping stays the same, as does the overnight refrigeration time (if you’d rather make it the day of, just allow half an hour for the casserole to sit before you bake it). Serve the casserole with a fresh fruit salad and a festive breakfast cocktail, and you’ve got Christmas brunch. It’s delicious, easy and fast, which gives you more time for the important things. Like opening presents.

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