Some time ago, after a particularly busy and engaging academic year, my sister announced that she was proof positive you can live almost exclusively on sandwiches for a prolonged period of time with no discernible ill effects.  She’s a PhD and Professor in Occupational Therapy now, so she should know!  My own experience has led me to believe that there is a period in a solo-diner’s life that precedes the “toast and tea” era of old age; I call it the “grilled cheese sandwich phase”.

Health effects aside, there exists a quick and easy alternative to the endless parade of sandwiches that can overwhelm the solo-diner’s menu, and its name is “Strata”, or savory bread pudding.  Basically, you take your sandwich (minus the lettuce), cut it into pieces, soak them in custard and bake the whole thing up.  Depending on what you choose to add to the basic mixture, you get something just as comforting as a bowl of mac and cheese, but somewhat more variable.  AND you can add vegetables!

Here’s how it goes:

Strata — Savory Bread Pudding For One


  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup milk, or milk and cream, or cream
  • A pinch of salt, a couple of grinds of pepper
  • Seasonings (see options)
  • 2 slices of bread (approximately), or a scant 2 cups of bread cubes
  • Approximately ½ to ¾ cup total additional protein and vegetables

Tra la-la la-la…. Let’s see what’s in my fridge:

Ham, cheddar cheese, non-fat dairy creamer and an egg – a little mustard and herb blend for flavor, a little parsley for color.  Pretty basic.


Preheat the oven (or toaster-oven) to 350°F.  Butter a 2 ½ cup casserole or other heat-proof baking dish.

This is a “one-dish wonder” — very little cleanup.

Whisk the egg with the seasonings. Whisk in the milk/cream.




Fold in the bread cubes and additional solids, turning to coat completely.




Compact lightly.  Top with cheese or crumbs if desired.

Bake in a preheated 350°F (toaster)oven for 40 minutes, until well puffed and golden, and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean (ie, no uncooked custard in the middle).

Allow to cool for 5 minutes before eating, unless you really want to burn your mouth.


White bread, brown bread, leftover garlic toast (you knew I was going to slip that in there, didn’t you), corn bread, gluten-free bread – it’s all good.  Stale bread is why this recipe was invented, and a pretty substantial bread is preferred – standard white or brown sandwich bread makes a very soft strata, but maybe that’s what you were looking for.  Crusts on, crusts off, ALL crust – different textures, but all good.  For just a little bit more flavor, toast the bread, cool it completely, and then cube it up (or make extra toast at breakfast and leave it on the counter for later).

The classic custard ratio is 1 large egg for each ½ cup of milk.  If you only have small eggs, use two.  If you have only extra-large or jumbo eggs, go ahead and use a whole one – nothing bad will happen.

You can choose milk or cream or some of each, just like with sweet bread pudding.  Same rule about skim milk, though – the end result will be weepy and bland if there’s no fat in your milk (with the exception of fat-free dairy creamer).

This recipe is a cheese-lover’s dream.  Just about any kind of cheese will work, so turn on your imagination and think of favorite flavor combinations.  How about asparagus and brie?  Spinach and feta?  Applewood-smoked cheddar and onion/bacon jam?  Broccoli and Boursin?  How about JUST CHEESE?  You can add a little ricotta or cottage cheese if you happen to have it around.

You don’t have to use cheese if you don’t want to.  This recipe is NOT great for the lactose intolerant:  Coconut and almond milk bring their distinctive flavors to the mix, and I think Soy Milk is, um, not my favorite either.  Technically you can make this dish using broth in place of the milk, an experiment I have not yet undertaken.

While the recipe is pretty protein rich already, what with the milk and egg (and probably cheese), you can tuck a bit of meat protein in there.  All the smoked pork products are good choices – ham, cooked bacon or pancetta, salami.  I do a killer brunch strata with left-over pancakes and breakfast sausage.  Salmon, smoked or not, works really well too.

If you’re adding vegetables, it’s a pretty good idea to use them cooked.  Raw vegetables give off water as they cook, so you can end up with a pretty wet strata, which is not appealing.  Make “planned-overs” — do a couple of extra spears of asparagus or an extra broccoli florette or two when you’re cooking “big”, and save them for a quick meal later in the week.  If you are in the habit of grilling veggies like peppers, onions and zucchini as a side dish or for salad, do a few extra to add to the strata the next day.  If you use frozen veggies, let them thaw and either drain them on paper towel or squeeze them dry (especially spinach).  Oooo – I just imagined corn and jalapeno jack cheese strata – Yum!

As far as seasoning goes, dried herbs work very well, because they have time to rehydrate and reach their flavor potential in the 40-minute cooking time.  You can keep your strata comforting and mild, or you can really jazz it up with hot sauce, Dijon mustard, onions, chilies and garlic – there are no rules.  Try to keep it edible, though.

One final suggestion:   Strata is just a skip, hop and a jump away from good old-fashioned turkey stuffing.  If you’re pining for those holiday flavors, but it’s nowhere near the season, then here’s the answer:

Thanksgiving in a Bowl

  • Toast brown or white bread and cube it up.
  • Chop up some leftover roast chicken or some deli roast turkey.
  • Add a few dried cranberries for that holiday touch.
  • To make the basic turkey-stuffing-flavor, use a bit of finely chopped shallot, a finely chopped carrot stick and celery stick (leftover from lunch, perhaps?), a shake of poultry spice (or sage and thyme), maybe some fresh or dried parsley and/or chives if you have them, salt and a really good grind of pepper.
  • Make the custard with an egg, ¼ cup cream and ¼ cup flavorful chicken broth (canned is good – remember those cubes in the freezer?)
  • Fold everything together and put it in a nice buttered oven-proof soup bowl.
  • The crowning touch?  Melt a teaspoon of butter in the microwave, mix in a tablespoon of Panko breadcrumbs (or crushed dry croutons) and a bit of paprika, and sprinkle over the top for a crispy crust.
  • Bake as directed for 40 minutes until the strata is as plump and golden as the holiday turkey you were dreaming of.   Go wild – heat up some gravy!   You won’t be sorry