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Asparagus Strata (Serves 12)

When the March winds blow, those of us who live here in the Midwest start to think about the coming of spring, even though it is probably weeks away. One of those spring messengers is fresh asparagus, so have this brunch recipe ready to go as soon as the crop is ready to pick.

12 slices good-quality white bread
1 and 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (6 ounces) ,divided
1 and 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus cut in short pieces (3-4 cups)
2 cups diced cooked lean ham
6 eggs
3 cups milk
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Using a 2 to 3 inch round cutter, cut 12 circles from bread slices; set aside.

2. Fit remaining bread into bottom of lightly greased 9x13-inch baking dish.

3. Layer 1 cup of the cheese on top of the bread, followed by uncooked asparagus and the ham.

4. Arrange bread circles on top of the ham.

5. Combine eggs, milk, onion, mustard, salt and pepper. Beat together gently with rotary beater or wire whisk.

6. Slowly pour egg mixture over bread circles. Cover and chill 6 hours or overnight.

7. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 325 degree oven about 1 and 1/4 to 1 and 1/2 hours or until puffed and set.

8. Sprinkle with remaining half cup of cheese.

9. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

Nutritional information per serving:
213 calories, 17 grams protein, 9 grams fat, 16 grams carbohydrate, 131 milligrams cholesterol, 565 milligrams sodium