I just had the best morning ever.

If someone told me that, I’d assume they got to sleep in, have a big breakfast on the porch, and then maybe eat some cupcakes. With Ryan Gosling.

I didn’t do any of those things (but hey Ryan, call me maybe?)

I went to the gym.

If you know me at all, you’re probably calling my doctor right now to report sudden, inexplicable changes in my mental state. While I tend to remain trim by watching my diet (nobody say one word about those cupfakes down there), I’ve always hated exercising.

HATED. I hated playing kickball with such a passion in elementary school that I constructed elaborate fantasies in the outfield, transporting myself to imaginary tropical locales. I welcomed bodily harm if it excused me from the mile run. I got on the soccer team in 7th grade through sheer pity, and even then I was played where my incompetence could do the least damage. When I finally got to the point during my first year teaching where I was doing the elliptical for 15 minutes a day, I felt like a superstar. And then I quit after a month.

I’ve never been one to push myself physically.

But I’m serious: The reason this morning was the best morning ever was because I went to the gym. After a few Zumba classes, barbell classes, and yoga classes lately, the exercise bug seems to have finally bitten me (I used to regularly tell exercise to “bite me,” so it’s about time.) This morning, I started with a hard cycle class, swam laps for 45 minutes, did some back extensions, and then settled into a relaxing 45 minutes of yoga-pilates. After showering, I headed to my favorite little deli for a leisurely, celebratory lunch. Even though that was probably a little too much exercise for one day (I’m sore and will be doing less tomorrow), I loved every minute.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not actually good at any of this. Yoga least of all. Everyone’ll be ohming and breathing and stretching while I’m flailing and eventually falling on my face. Today we were in whatevervasana, that meditative part at the end, and my yoga teacher said, “Breathe — feel yourself extending beyond your boundaries.”

I was the middle school kid in the corner with an attention deficit thinking, “I can’t even extend beyond the fact that my face itches. I wonder if everyone’s face itches right now?”

Even though I’m a spaz, I do love that part at the end of yoga where we just lie on our mats for like 5 minutes in a mock kindergarten naptime. Any exercise routine that includes naptime works for me.

I even love the hard stuff, though: pushing myself to climb a hill in cycle, lifting a heavier weight, swimming one more lap. My favorite part of exercising is feeling clean, relaxed, and healthy after working out and showering. I also love eating meals and an occasional treat knowing that I worked hard on my health all week and don’t have to feel guilty. Who knows, this might finally be the turning point in my relatively sedentary life!

Exercise definitely makes for a great morning in my book, but one thing my morning was lacking was these gorgeous stuffed tomatoes. I made them last week and am sort of obsessing over the memory. If you love a good breakfast strata, you’ll love this cute and tasty presentation. Spicy sausage, buttery toast, eggs, and cheese are layered into ripe, juicy tomatoes. The resulting breakfast is hearty, delicious, and so pretty. Since these tomatoes can be prepared the night before and baked in the morning, they’re perfect for company or any mornings where you want a nice breakfast without the fuss.

What would your perfect morning consist of? Other than these tomatoes, of course!

One year ago: Sweet and Spicy Pickled Grapes with Goat Cheese
Two years ago: 48 Homemade Breakfast Cereals
Three years ago: Chocolate Cheesecake Stuffed Cupcakes with Ganache

Sausage & Toast Breakfast Strata in Baked Tomatoes

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: 4 servings

This gorgeous breakfast can be prepared a night ahead and baked in the morning. It’s hearty, filling, and tasty. Enjoy!

4 large beefsteak tomatoes
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 egg
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus more for sprinkling
3 slices of bread (2 thick slices and 1 thin; sourdough or Italian would be nice)
about 3 tablespoons butter, melted for toasting
3/4 cup chopped bell peppers and onions (I used a ready-chopped fajita mix from my grocery store)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced jalapeño (or to taste)
about 12 ounces hot sausage
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Toppings: sour cream, diced jalapenos, hot sauce, salsa, chopped green onions, and some fresh cilantro or parsley

Note: This is a great make-ahead breakfast! You can prepare the tomatoes and stuff them the night before (leave off the top croutons so they don’t get soggy), covering with a piece of plastic wrap in the fridge. When you’re ready for breakfast, leave them sitting out while the oven preheats. Top with croutons, bake, and serve.

Brush both sides of each slice of bread and toast them in a skillet over medium-high heat, flipping once, until they’re golden brown all over. Set them aside to cool and, when cooled, slice the thick slices into 1/2-inch cubes. Slice the thin slice into smaller cubes (about 1/4-inch maybe?) — these will be the little “croutons” for the top! Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a small baking dish or pie plate with a sheet of parchment paper. You can also use a cast iron skillet (no parchment necessary. Just spritz with cooking spray.) I got my mini ones here.

Use a serrated knife to cut the top off of each tomato. Gently remove the innards (seeds and flesh) of each tomato with a spoon without breaking through the outside flesh — you’ll end up leaving a shell that’s about 1/4-inch thick all around. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and pepper and place them in the baking dish. If they won’t sit upright, you can carefully slice off a sliver of the bottom to create a flat surface. Just don’t cut all the way through.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage until fully cooked through. Spoon it out with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Discard all but a couple of teaspoons of the sausage grease on the stove (or add a little olive oil if there isn’t enough grease). Heat the remaining grease over medium-high heat. Place peppers, jalapeños, and onions into the skillet and toss to coat them with the grease. Sauté them for about 3-4 minutes until they’re soft and the onions are beginning to turn translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly, until it’s fragrant. Remove this mixture to the paper-towel lined plate with the sausage. After letting the mixture drain for a few minutes, place it in a small bowl and toss it together with the cheddar cheese.

Place a layer of thick bread cubes into each tomato. Spoon a heaping spoonful of the sausage mixture over top. Continue layering bread and sausage, ending with a layer of sausage at the top. Really pack it down! In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, evaporated milk, cayenne pepper, and a little more salt and pepper. Pour this mixture slowly (so it has a chance to soak in) over each tomato, dividing it evenly, until you can’t fill anymore without them overflowing. Place your tiny “croutons” on top of each tomato’s filling, packing them down. Bake the tomatoes for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the casserole is set and the tomatoes are nicely roasted. You might have to tent with foil after about the first 15 minutes so the little croutons don’t get too dark. Top with the remaining cheese and continue baking for 5 minutes or until melted. Serve warm with sour cream, cilantro, and any other fixings you’d like.

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35 Comments on Sausage & Toast Breakfast Strata in Baked Tomatoes

  1. Spookykat
    August 11, 2012 at 8:07 pm (10 years ago)

    I have just started exercising too, and like you, I HATED it growing up, mostly because my parents forced me too. I just joined a gym, and I have about 70 lbs. to lose before I’m at what is considered to be my “healthy” weight, so we’ll see how it goes.

    Also, I’ve been following your blog for a long time now, and your recipes always make me drool.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      August 29, 2012 at 1:24 am (10 years ago)

      You can do it!! We can keep it up! We’ll encourage each other 🙂

      Thank you!

  2. Joan Nova
    August 11, 2012 at 8:58 pm (10 years ago)

    Wow, multiple classes ….! Tough schedule to keep to but glad you enjoyed.
    And I enjoyed this beautiful strata breakfast.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      August 29, 2012 at 1:25 am (10 years ago)

      Tough schedule especially now that school has started! I’m still trying 😉 Thank you, Joan!

  3. Gio of The Hungry Giant
    August 12, 2012 at 12:15 am (10 years ago)

    this is most definitely a great reward after hitting the gym, and before your body begins to feel all that pain. i celebrate with a nice glass of matcha and milk over ice, but that’s just me. 😀

  4. Hayley @ The Domestic Rebel
    August 12, 2012 at 4:59 pm (10 years ago)

    Holy cow. This looks amazing. I love me some hearty breakfast, and if Ryan decides to show up, even better. Otherwise, pass the skillet!

  5. ItalianGirlCooks
    August 12, 2012 at 9:27 pm (10 years ago)

    Oh my – this looks incredibly scrumptious!

  6. Foodiewife
    August 13, 2012 at 2:39 am (10 years ago)

    I’ve always hated to exercise, until I discovered that I love swimming. Good for you, for doing all those exercises at once. I gotta tell you– I’m not the biggest strata fan. But, this one…I just gotta have it. The tomato idea is pure genius, and I adore tomatoes!

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      August 29, 2012 at 1:27 am (10 years ago)

      I love swimming too! I wish I lived closer to a gym with a pool — this one was in Raleigh! Thank you 🙂

  7. Rachel @ Baked by Rachel
    August 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm (10 years ago)

    Beautiful photos! As for kickball and everything else… same page only I totally miss kickball! Such a great kids sport.

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      August 29, 2012 at 1:28 am (10 years ago)

      LOL, you were one of those fancy kickball masters! I envied you from the outfield 😉 Thanks, Rachel!

  8. Julie
    August 13, 2012 at 4:12 pm (10 years ago)

    LOL @ “whateverasana.” I’ve been doing yoga incessantly recently to get over a back injury and while I love it, I definitely spend half the time internally eye-rolling at “complete your journey from a human doing to a human being.”

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      August 29, 2012 at 1:30 am (10 years ago)

      LOL, I’m with you, Julie. I love meditating and getting all abstract, but sometimes it goes into a whollle different realm. Usually when I’m in an uncomfortable position and desperately hoping we’re about to “flow” to something else.

  9. Colette
    August 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm (10 years ago)

    Breakfast of Champions! YUM

  10. Ala
    August 14, 2012 at 1:23 am (10 years ago)

    Perfect morning? Disneyland and a chocolate-nut-dipped ice cream cone from Carnation Parlor. Was this a trick question?

    A close second, however, would be kicking off the day with a two-hour swim, showering before the sun is fully up, eating a parfait with a friend picnic-style, then doing something utterly and completely dorky like having a Disney movie marathon where we dub the films with our own commentary while wearing Alice in Wonderland shirts and eating ice cream. Fail-proof morning win.

  11. Kate
    August 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm (10 years ago)

    These look spectacular! I can even smell them. And congrats on easing in to the physical fun…. while I once was quite athletic, my adult life (read: kids) didn’t exactly leave me with the time or energy to pursue it, but now that I can focus more on myself, I’m re-learning all the amazing benefits of regular physical exercise and I love it immensely. The best part?? Re-fueling!!

  12. Jenny @ BAKE
    August 16, 2012 at 12:36 pm (10 years ago)

    firstly GORGEOUS photos and secondly well done! I hate exercise too, but you’re upbeat post has made me feel so inspired!

  13. Maranda
    August 16, 2012 at 8:38 pm (10 years ago)

    Oh wow. These look amazing! I wish that exercise bug would bite me lately. I am usually the girl who loves all that stuff but lately I just feel so tired and can’t bring myself to make it out of the house, let alone the gym. Anyway, I think I need to have these at a Sunday breakfast soon. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking
      August 29, 2012 at 1:31 am (10 years ago)

      You are SUCH a busy mama, I don’t know how you do it!! You always inspire me 🙂

  14. Karen Smith
    August 21, 2012 at 4:41 am (10 years ago)

    I want to thank you for the beautifully illustrated tomatoes. My husband and I don’t do yoga, we just travel and Scotland was our goal. Imagine running toward the buffet line and you come to a screeching halt (I mean your tennies leave skid marks on carpet). Half a tomato, egg, sunny side up (looking decidedly incomplete and a smidge anemic also) bangers black and white plus mushroms! All in all I believe a small tear fell. However, not to let unseasoned food go to waste, I managed all but the blood sausage. I will be creating what you so lovingly described and provided the recipe for in my cast iron skillet. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Karen Smith

  15. Yoshi Blue
    August 22, 2012 at 8:47 pm (10 years ago)

    This looks like an absolutely delicious breakfast idea. It is always nice to have some really different options available. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Claire
    August 23, 2012 at 2:27 am (10 years ago)

    I LOVED this post! I started cracking up at the “bitten by the exercise bug/bite me” line. Such a great and entertaining post with beautiful pictures to boot! Also, these baked tomatoes look delicious!

  17. Roz
    August 11, 2013 at 10:50 pm (9 years ago)

    Hi Julie,
    Thank you for such a delicious recipe that you shared on the FB round up group. I’ve selected it for my tomato round up and would just like to have you give me your approval to do so and to use your photo with a link back to this post. I’ll try to have this up and running by the end of the week, so I hope to hear from you!

    Thank you so much again for such a wonderful tomato recipe!


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