How many meals do you fall asleep dreaming about?
As kids, my brother and I grew up eating my mom’s secret recipe breakfast casserole on holidays and special occasions; it was one of the few things that got a couple teenagers up before 8 a.m. on a weekend. Now that I have my own family, it’s become a staple in our kitchen. But in keeping with traditions, it is only served on special occasions.
Like many families, food is usually at the center of our momentous gatherings. Breakfast casserole has been made for every Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthday since I can remember.
It’s warm, gooey, creamy, cheesy, and melts in your mouth with an explosion of flavors. It makes you wonder, “What am I eating? What is this magic in a casserole dish?”
On Thanksgiving, my brother and I would stuff ourselves with it in the morning and fast the rest of the day until the big feast. The best part about Christmas would be waking up to the smell of the casserole in the oven – not the glittery Christmas presents under the tree.
My mom made this casserole special for us by reserving it only for those occasions. When we moved out, she held the recipe hostage as her way of ensuring we would come back home often.
My mom gave finally gave me this recipe eight years ago.
My relationship with my husband started to get serious. When I said this was the man I was going to marry, she felt it was time to pass this on to me. I’m not saying it’s the breakfast casserole that helped him ask me to marry him, but I also can’t prove it otherwise.
Since then, it’s become a special dish with an even deeper meaning.
A couple of years ago on Christmas Eve, I was preparing the casserole for the next morning. You can do most of the work the night before and pop it in the oven the next day. While I was layering the dish with the ingredients, I thought about the person behind the original recipe.
My mom got the recipe from a church cookbook my grandma had helped put together in the ‘90s; so while my mom borrowed it from someone else, it has become very much our own family recipe. I wondered if my grandparents still knew her from church (the same one they’ve attended since my mom was in high school).
As I was the next generation responsible for this recipe I wanted to reach out to the true owner and share with her just how meaningful it was to us.
I dug out a copy of the cookbook my grandma gave me when I got married and found the original submission from Karen.
In this day and age, I did what any one of us would do to find someone – I went to Google.
In an ironic twist of fate, I saw that Karen passed away just two weeks earlier. I found her son’s social media profile and – crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t be creepy – wrote to let him know how much his mother’s recipe had meant in my life.
Just hours later, he wrote back with a message that reciprocated the same meaning. The casserole had been an important part of his own life and family! My message brought him joy. He said, in parting:
Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story. I have shared it with my sister, and we both were left in tears. We are so grateful for learning of how our mother made this impact in your lives. My wife also makes this dish for special breakfast moments, and my sister said she is going to make it for Christmas, too. I cannot thank you enough for these wonderful tears and the knowing that my mother made such a positive impact beyond our family.
In that moment I uncovered what true value heritage recipes offer in human connections.
Although it was never my mom’s own recipe, she nurtured it over thirty years and made it her very own. Now that I have a daughter of my own, this meal lives on for another generation. I am truly honored to share this simple, vintage family recipe with you.
I have also adapted the recipe over the years to make it even more special for my own family. I’ve played with ingredients a little bit. My best tip is to use hot sausage; it doesn’t make it overly spicy but adds an extra depth of flavor. My mom would always prepare it the night before, put it in the fridge and then put it in the oven in the morning. I make the whole dish first thing in the morning and find that the croutons still soak up the egg mixture. And it tastes just as good.
Now when the casserole goes in the oven and my husband eagerly watches the timer, my heart swells. I think about all those years I just couldn’t wait for it to be ready. When I pull it out of the oven and see his face light up, it takes me back all those years ago to my reaction when my mom would make this for me.
I hope that you and your loved ones gather around the table with as much anticipation as I do each time. I must have eaten this more than 100 times in my life now, but every time I do it’s remarkable.
3 cups herb croutons
2 1/2 lbs sausage, crumbled and browned
2 1/2 cups of milk
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup of milk
3/4 tsp dry mustard (the super-secret ingredient that changes this otherwise good recipe into mouthwatering goodness)
Place croutons in greased 13×9 pan. Top with cheese and browned sausage. Beat eggs, mustard, and milk together in a bowl. Pour over top of croutons and browned sausage. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight (or you can make it the day of). Before baking, mix soup and milk together and smother over the top. Baked at 425 degrees for 30 minutes with tin foil top, then remove foil and bake 5-10 minutes. (The original recipe calls for it to be baked at 300 degrees for one hour but I find the alternative works just as well).