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Artichoke and Ham Strata

The other day I got to thinking about some of my favorite restaurant dishes…you know, the ones that you crave because they are just so unique.  I began remembering the smell and taste and sight of some of my ultimate faves…..and realized that many of these favorite dishes came from restaurants in San Diego, where my husband and I lived for a few years what is now almost a decade ago.  Clearly I dream of those dishes and restaurants because they are, right now in my life, the forbidden fruit (as we are currently living in Columbus, Ohio).  One of our favorite breakfast spots in San Diego was called Crest Cafe in Hillcrest (a fabulous, small, hip neighborhood just north of the city).  Crest Cafe was known for comfort foods with a twist.  My all time favorite was this Strata…..the flavors were bursting…so savory and rich…..perfect for a lovely sunny Saturday morning in San Diego.  Years ago when we lived out there I wrote down what was in it (as best as my palate could decipher).  The other day I was about to start to create it from scratch (based on the notes that I had saved from 10 years ago).  Before I started I decided to see if the recipe was online….low and behold there it was!  I debated not reading through the recipe and instead just trying to figure it out on my own but I realized that that would be a big waste of time because there is no way I could create something better than the real thing!  That said, I printed the recipe and got started immediately.  I did lighten it up a bit and changed the amounts of various ingredients so that is why I suggest that I have adapted it.  But if you are ever in San Diego, do yourself a favor and order this dish from Crest Cafe.

Artichoke and Ham Strata (Serves10)

Ingredients:

2 cups 1% milk

1/4 cup olive oil

8 cups sourdough bread (cut into 1 inch cubes – leave crusts on)

1 1/2 cups half and half

5 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 oz gorgonzola, chunked

12-16 ounces chopped ham

2 6 oz jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained (if quartered, cut in half again)

1 cup grated monterey jack cheese

1 cup parmesan cheese, plus a little more

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Directions:

Preheat oven 10 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 inch casserole pan.  In a large bowl, whisk together milk and oil.  Add cut up bread and let sit for 10 minutes.  In another bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, salt and pepper and gorgonzola.  Place half of the soaked bread cubes into casserole pan.  Top with half of the ham, half of the artichokes and half of the monterey jack and parmesan cheeses.  Repeat the layering.  Pour the cream and egg mixture over the layers.  Cook for approximately 1 hour or until set.

*This can be made the night before, refrigerated overnight and put in the oven in the morning.  If you are going to do that, I would suggest using more like 1 1/2 cups milk in the milk/oil mixture for soaking the bread so the bread is not too soggy.