A sackful of ideas to start the day deliciously

December 21, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER | SUSAN REIMER,SUN REPORTER

Breakfast might not be the most important meal on Christmas Day. Perhaps it is because the cook is focusing on Christmas dinner or because the kids are too excited to eat. Or perhaps Christmas Eve church services were followed by a late supper of traditional foods, and breakfast the next morning is leftovers.

Whatever the reason, Christmas breakfast often doesn't get the attention it deserves, and guests and family must survive on coffee and Christmas cookies until the ham comes out of the oven.

"It is hard even for the professional cook to do double duty like that," said David Kamen, associate professor of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

"When you have the best in your repertoire earmarked for dinner, there isn't much in the arsenal for breakfast."

"That's why an easy-to-assemble brunch is really the way to go," said Lou Seibert Pappas, author of dozens of cookbooks, including Omelettes, Souffles & Frittatas (Chronicle Books, 1999).

Parents can put juice boxes and granola bars in the children's stockings, but the grown-ups deserve something better.

Stacey Zier, a professional chef and cooking teacher in Annapolis, says there are plenty of foods that can be made ahead for Christmas morning - including poached eggs, which can be cooled in a water bath and then reheated just before serving.

"My parents are fabulous cooks and, growing up, this was a time of year when we had brunch and dinner. There was a lot of good cooking going on during that day," she said.

Zier recommends that the cook serve a couple of signature dishes "that you can put your love and energy into," and add make-ahead items that can be pulled from the fridge or freezer Christmas morning, such as scones, muffins, quick breads or quiches. Even crepes can be made a week ahead and frozen, to be filled and baked on Christmas morning.

"I also like to have a platter of yogurts, fruit and granola so guests can make their own parfaits," she said.

Do-it-yourself may be the way to go on Christmas morning, especially if friends, neighbors or relatives are coming and going during the morning.

Kamen suggests doing what hotels do: Put coffee cups filled with just the right amount of batter next to the waffle iron and have Grand Marnier and strawberries or orange butter nearby.

Put a blender on the counter along with a bowl of fruit, yogurt, ice and fruit juices so guests can make their own smoothies, he said.

Zier also steals an idea from hotel kitchens and keeps her hollandaise sauce - too fragile to reheat - in a thermos for eggs Benedict made with those poached eggs that were made ahead.

Pappas says a fruit plate can sit on a buffet table for hours, and she likes hers in holiday colors, with kiwi and strawberries.

And she favors the Christmas reds reflected in her Red-Pepper-and-Red-Onion Frittata. "Very Christmas-y," she said. And frittatas, she said, can be cut into bars, becoming finger food. They are just as good served cold or at room temperature, too.

Zier puts together a plate of smoked salmon, mussels, oysters, bluefish and trout with some wonderful dark bread, red onions, capers, hard-boiled eggs and dill mayonnaise. "All of this can be put together a day ahead of time," she said.

"Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. It is when you can have the most variety. You can stick with eggs or pancakes or you can introduce a hash," she said.

Orange juice and some good coffee will do. But beverages also might include pitchers of flavored chai teas, mulled cider, mimosas, Bloody Marys or champagne with kir royale or flavored syrups, coffee brewed with hot cocoa mix and cinnamon sprinkled over the grounds.

"Very Starbucks-y," said Kamen.

And if everyone is tired of Christmas cookies, for dessert Kamen recommends a simple rice pudding or a toasted slice of poundcake dressed with whipped cream.

While Christmas breakfast may get short shrift in some kitchens, it is the center of holiday traditions in others, along with some very unusual main dishes.

Andrea Just, who returns to her mother's home in Joppatowne from Virginia for Christmas, has helped keep the tradition of her father's holiday breakfasts alive since the death of Frank Just in 2001. "He called it an omelet. We call it `Glop,' " said Andrea, manager of corporate communications for Norfolk Southern Railway in Norfolk.

"It consists of diced bacon, onions, polish sausage or hot dogs, canned tomatoes and scrambled eggs all served in the same bowl," she said.

Growing up, she was in charge of the toast, which, she said, is particularly good when dipped in the tomato sauce.

"My dad is gone now, but Mom and I will be preparing Glop for our Christmas breakfast as the turkey roasts in the oven."

Christmas breakfast is the main event in the Canton home of Betty Piskor, and you can smell it cooking all the way down the block.

She prepares a Polish peasant soup from a recipe that includes homemade sausage she makes with her daughter on Christmas Eve.

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