Christmas Casserole

Make up this casserole the night before, then pop it in the oven for an hour while opening Christmas presents.  It makes a special treat, part of our family Christmas tradition.  The original recipe is called "Cheese Pudding" from my mother’s 1960 Charleston Receipt book, but it has now been extensively modified with some other recipe ideas thrown in over the years.
 
Ingredients: 
 
10 slices white bread
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated, or a similar amount of cheddar and monterey jack combined
4 oz cream cheese, softened 
1 pack your favorite sausage (about 1/2 to 1 lb, depending on shrinkage) 
about 1/2 cut chopped onions and / or sweet pepper (any color), only if desired
Two dashes of nutmeg (about 1/2 teaspoon total)
10 eggs
16 oz milk
2 Quart casserole dish, earthenware is best
 
The night before: 
 
(1) Cut sausage into bite size pieces and brown it, then set aside. 
Saute onions and peppers, if you are using these ingredients. 
(2) Cut crust off bread, then cut bread lengthwise and crosswise cut breat into bite size chunks. 
Use a very sharp knife and try not to squish the bread as you cut it!  
(3) Mix eggs with a fork or whisk, then add milk, set aside
 
After the ingredients are prepared, then:
 
(4) layer the first five ingredients as follows:
Half the bread (should cover bottom of casserole), then half the cream cheese spread as thinly as you can manage (use your fingers, this is messy), then half the cheddar cheese, then half the sausage, and half the onion and / or pepper.  Sprinkle with half the nutmeg, roughly "one dash" (very scientific measuring, eh?). 
 
(5) Repeat this process for a second layer:  bread, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, sausage, onion, pepper, nutmeg. 
 
These "dry" ingredients should fill the casserole dish, more or less.  Then,
 
(6) Pour the egg and milk mixture over top, being sure to wet all the bread as you pour.  Don’t be alarmed if the liquid totally disappears, the bread will soak it back up like a sponge. 
 
(7) Cover and pop in fridge to soak overnight. 
 
(8) Set up coffee, juice, and get fruit ready to slice fresh for breakfast. 
 
The next morning, preheat oven to 325.  (If casserole appears dry on top, the panicked cook may decide to mix up a bit more egg mixture and pour it over for good measure, but this is most likely unnecessary.)  Then cook (uncovered) for about an hour.  After everyone has opened their presents, serve the casserole up on your best Christmas China (or the best you have) with coffee, juice, and fresh fruit.   Everyone will love it. 
 
Chuck, Manager of S.C. Home at Montreat, NC, serves a variation of this recipe using leftover grits in place of bread.  He also leaves out the meat and serves bacon or sausage on the side, instead.  This basic recipe of cheese pudding will do fine with whatever you choose to put into it.  If you don’t want the meat, or if you prefer a different kind of cheese, feel free to experiment and invent your own new recipe! 
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