Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life in the kitchen and out of it. She has a weekly food column on CBC Radio One, Here & Now. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to university student, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman and Instagram. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Brunch in a snap with one amazing easy recipe

Notice, I didn't say freshly-made croissants?

(BTW: this is sponsored by SHOP.CA)

Brunch may be for a**holes, as the New York Times is telling us, but for families it is an easy time of day to actually host people in your own home. They come at 11 a.m. and by 2p.m. you can kick them out for nap time, homework time or just get on with the cleanup, and your life.

Last weekend, I hosted a brunch for my mother-in-law’s birthday. In my family, birthdays come in clusters so we were at my Dad’s celebration the day before in Hamilton which made brunch prep a little terrifying.

But I conquered my panic with one dish; it’s the cheese strata AKA homemaker’s surprise AKA cheesy-bread thing to the rescue. I have been making this strata for over 20 years in many different forms. I made it for a pot luck in university and presented it with a very snobby name of “Brie and Cheddar Strata “ (Brie was very nouveau in those days), and my friend said: “Oh, that’s homemaker’s surprise!”. So much for snob appeal.

Whatever you call it, it’s really just a savoury bread pudding and it is delicious. The bread sort of disappears but gives the dish some structure and the cheese oozes it out. A lot of the prep work can be done a day ahead, you can even make parts of it two days ahead – but none of it takes much time. (The recipe is at the bottom of the post.)

My other secret weapon when it comes to brunch is oven-baked bacon. Seriously, this will change your life:

Line a baking sheet  with tin foil, lay out the strips of bacon so it’s close together but not touching. Turn on oven to 450 degrees F and place the bacon in the cold oven. When the oven is at about 300 turn the bacon over, when it is at 450, it is probably done, or very close. You can also sprinkle brown sugar on top before roasting it. The clean-up is a snap – no more bacon fat burns. Whether or not you dip some croissant in the bacon fat bits left on the tin foil is our little secret.

I also bought frozen croissants and pain au chocolats at my favourite local bakery. (If your favourite don’t have any frozen ones up front, they may sell you some from the back.) I baked those on my brilliant raspberry pizza stone that doubles as a serving dish. 

Of course, brunch must have bagels (from Bagel House, which I sliced and froze a few days before), smoked salmon, cream cheese, and salad. And homemade chocolate cake for dessert. Obviously, there was lots of coffee too, (with amazingly beautiful whipped milk from our Nespresso attachment. My father-in-law drank so many that I was happy that I didn’t have to deal with him later).

So I was the star daughter-in-law and had enough leftovers that I didn’t need to make dinner. A win-win.

RECIPE: Cheese Strata AKA Homemaker’s Surprise AKA Cheesy Bread thing

My mother’s original recipe in her 1991 book Fast and Fresh doesn’t call for any vegetables. But we have adjusted it over time and I love caramelized onions or leeks and spinach in it. Be creative with the cheeses and fillings, you can add in sausage, bacon and/or mushrooms too. In last week’s incarnation I added sliced tomatoes to the top but I wouldn’t add them in the middle because I’m afraid of what that would do to the texture.

For some reason I only make this for brunch but it would be a really good week-night dinner with a salad and crusty bread. It’s also a good snack straight out of the fridge.


8 t0 10 slices white bread, crusts removed

1/3 cup melted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

3 leeks, white parts and light green chopped

1 ½ cup spinach

8 oz soft goat cheese

1 and ½ cup grated cheese (I used cheddar and goat gouda.)

4 eggs

1 ½ cups milk

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp finely chopped green onion

1 tomato

Pinch salt, pepper, cayenne


 Heat a medium skillet and add olive oil. Sauté leeks until softened, about 10 minutes, add in spinach and continue sautéing until spinach is soft. Add some salt and pepper to taste. This can be done one or two days ahead.

Line a buttered 11X17 baking dish with half the bread slices. Brush with melted butter.

Top the bread with the half the vegetables and half the grated cheese and dollop half the goat cheese on top randomly. Repeat with remaining bread, vegetables and cheeses. Top off with slices of tomatoes.

In a large bowl, mix eggs, milk, mustard, green onion, salt, pepper and cayenne. Pour over the bread. Let stand 30 minutes to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the strata for 30 to 45 minutes or until puffed up and golden brown. If it is getting too brown, cover lightly with a piece of tin foil.  Allow to cool before serving.


I know you are tempted to make this in a glass lasagna pan, but it is a teency bit nicer in a nice baking dish. I realize I have expensive tastes when it comes to kitchen equipment (my grandmother ran a kitchen store) but good equipment performs better for even the worst cook.  I am quite the shopper when it comes to my kitchen – but everything has to be beautiful, and useful.  

So I’m thrilled that SHOP.CA has the lines I already love and I can easily order a new roasting pan (lost somewhere during cottage season), and maybe a few more Emile Henri baking dishes, and have them delivered quickly before the next time I have people over. I don’t need to leave the house, and I get Aeroplan miles while I do it. SHOP.CA has free shipping and free returns everyday as well.

I’m just saying if you want super-frothed milk for the next time your in-laws come over, you should check out SHOP.CA

Tweet With Us! I'm co-hosting a Twitter party with @SHOPdotCA (and others) on Wednesday, November 5th from 8-9 PM EST. Follow along @emmawaverman and with the hashtag #ReInventTheMall and you could win some fantastic prizes for participating. (not just kitchen stuff --  gift certificates to buy whatever you want.)

Reader Comments (2)

Just came across your blog. visiting your page from London :D

Win a Two Week Stay in London + £5000

November 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbianca @itsallbee

darn you! you're making me want emile henri baking dishes (and you also had me at aeroplan points).

January 23, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertracy

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