Meals to let you sleep in

Joseph Hernandez, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

If only I were the kind of person who could wake up easily, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to tackle the day. You know, Beyonce-level, “I woke up like this” alert, with a cup of coffee in one hand and a perfectly composed, Instagram-ready breakfast in the other.

But I’m not.

No, mornings are a battle with the sun and alarms. Toiling in the kitchen is the last thing I want to do, and I suspect my fellow sleepyheads agree. Between hustling to get ready for work or bustling kids out to school, it’s easy to skip the meal altogether in favor of the grab-and-go route, nabbing a sweet pastry at the neighborhood coffee shop or hitting a drive-thru for a greasy breakfast sammie. Not that these are bad, necessarily, but are they the best choices? Probably not.

Breakfast does not need to be an elaborate affair, but it also doesn’t have to be a bowl of soggy cereal. Making breakfast ahead of time balances the need for extra Z’s with a satisfying meal that starts the day on the right foot.

Strata, a savory bread pudding or casserole, is a favorite in my home. Taking advantage of otherwise stale bread, it’s a cheesy, satisfying start to the day. A basic recipe of cheese, egg and bacon is a blank canvas for improvisation. Omit the meat, and sub in mushrooms or peppers for a vegetarian-friendly dish, or switch out the cheeses for what you have on hand. For the best results, allow the dish to sit in your fridge overnight, so that the bread thoroughly soaks up all the custard. Just set in your oven when you wake up, and go about your morning; it’ll be hot by the time you’re ready to walk out the door. Alternatively, you can bake ahead and slice off a cube to enjoy at the office.

Oatmeal is the ultimate make-ahead breakfast, and it can be made in a slow cooker set to low. Another blank canvas, it can go traditional with standard mix-ins like granola and berries, but we decided to have some fun. Our carrot cake oatmeal is a playful, unexpected treat for mornings, evoking flavors from the rich dessert but without the guilt.

Another favorite that lends itself to tinkering is a yogurt parfait. Layered in a 4-ounce Mason (or other brand) jar, it makes for a convenient grab-and-go breakfast without the added sugar of store-bought varieties.

Make a couple of these recipes on the weekend, put them in the fridge and enjoy your extra few minutes of snoozing. Stumble out of bed, and greet the day on your own terms.

Make-ahead Yogurt Parfaits

Prep: 10 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

1 cup frozen or fresh fruit

4 teaspoons honey, agave syrup or maple syrup

1 cup plain Greek yogurt, or your favorite yogurt

1 tablespoon chia seeds

1/4 cup granola

In each of four 4-ounce jars, layer the ingredients in order and seal. They keep several days in the refrigerator.

Overnight Slow Cooker Oatmeal

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 6 hours

Makes: 10 servings (about 10 cups)

2 cups steel-cut oats

8 cups water

13/4 cups whole milk or almond milk

1 teaspoon fine salt

Thinly butter the inside of your slow cooker. Combine the oats, water, milk and salt in the slow cooker. Set to low; leave overnight. In the morning, add your desired toppings to hot, creamy oatmeal.

The formula above acts as a great base for savory or sweet preparations:

Carrot cake overnight oats: Trust us on this. Follow the instructions as above but add: 2 cups grated carrot, 2 tablespoons golden raisins, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 11/2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and 2 tablespoons chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans or almonds), optional. Follow remaining instructions as written.

Cheesy, savory slow cooker oatmeal: Omit the milk and water, replacing with 81/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth. Follow remaining instructions as written. In the morning, add 2 tablespoons cheddar per serving. Season with salt and pepper. For more flavor, diced green onions add brightness.

Bacon and Triple-cheese Strata

Whether you call it a casserole or a savory bread pudding, an Italian strata is the perfect make-ahead dish, nourishing and satisfying with a range of flavors. Just prep the night before, and pop in the oven in the morning. The best part? You can use up stale bread, minimizing kitchen waste.

Prep: 30 minutes (plus overnight)

Cook: 1 hour

Makes: 8-10 servings

12 ounces (1 package) pancetta or bacon, chopped

2 small yellow onions, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

6 large eggs

21/2 cups whole milk

2 cups finely grated smoked Gouda cheese

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan

1/2 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 loaf rustic French or Italian bread, cut in 1-inch cubes

2 cups grated fontina cheese (about 8 ounces)

Heat a large skillet over medium heat; cook bacon until crisp. Transfer bacon to a dish. Drain excess fat from skillet, but don’t wipe out pan. Add the onion and garlic; cook until golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk the eggs, milk, Gouda, Parmesan, cream, oregano, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch ceramic or glass baking dish (about 3 quarts). Spread one third of the bread in the pan, top with a third of the bacon, then one third of the onion. Pour one third of the egg mixture over. Repeat layering with the remaining bread, bacon, onion and egg mixture. Cover and leave in refrigerator overnight, to allow the bread to soak up the custard.

To cook, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Allow the strata to come to temperature on the counter. Top with grated fontina. Bake uncovered until golden brown and cooked through, about 50 minutes.