For many, Christmas morning is the most wonderful moment in the most wonderful time of the year, the climax of all the decorating and shopping and parties. It rises quietly and then, if there are children in the house, is fully ushered in mere minutes after its initial arrival with an eruption of excited squeals and gleeful laughter.
You want it to last all day, but often, it can’t, and the leisurely sofa-lounging, coffee-sipping, present-opening, and picture-taking is replaced with a more hectic pace as the wrapping and ribbons must be cleaned-up and pjs traded for cute outfits as you get ready to host or visit additional family and friends.
But before the really special part is all over, before you hit the road or open your door to others, you all ought to eat. So why not eat well? Here are two options for a Christmas morning breakfast or brunch that will be easy and filling and help you hold onto that warm, cozy, and relaxed feeling for just a bit longer. Pair either with a fresh fruit salad and maybe some biscuits to make them a real meal. Oh, and definitely add some bacon on the side too. There should always be bacon.
SWEET GRIT CAKES WITH HONEY & PECANS
Grits are a Southern standard, and you can always eat them with butter or add some (OK, a lot of) cheese. But why not put a little twist on the traditional this year? These sweet grits are just as satisfying, and you can (and should) make them ahead.
4 1/2 cups whole milk or half and half
1/4 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup stone-ground grits
1 tablespoon butter
honey for drizzling (raw and local is always best!)
Put milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla in a large saucepan over low to medium heat and steep the milk for 25–30 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks and bring the milk to a boil. Add the grits and cook, stirring often, until thickened. Spread the hot grits in a 2-inch layer on a sheet pan lined with wax or parchment paper and put in the fridge to set up, about 30–45 minutes. Use biscuit cutters or cookie cutters to cut the cold grits into grit cakes. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet and cook the grit cakes for a minute or two on each side, just enough to warm them through. Serve with honey and chopped pecans on top. Feelin’ fancy? Add a few crumbles of goat cheese. I love Alabama’s own Belle Chevre.
Note: You can make the grit cakes ahead and keep them in the freezer for up to two months. Just remember to thaw them in the fridge before you put them in the skillet. You can also forgo the “cake-making” step and just eat the sweet grits in original grit form. Still add the honey and pecans though. Trust me.
MUSTARD GREEN GRATIN
I won’t debate how much wisdom may or may not be gleaned from cartoons, but this much is clear: Popeye had at least one thing right. Sure, he might have relied too heavily on his physical strength to solve problems, and he had questionable relationship skills evidenced by his inability to ever get very far with Olive Oyl. But he knew that he was “strong to the finich ’cause I eats me spinach,” and that’s a valuable nugget of nutritional info that applies not only to spinach, but other greens as well, including my favorite, mustard greens. There’s really no reason not to eat these leafy lovelies. But here are a few reasons you should:
• They’re excellent sources of vitamins and minerals
• They hold up well to being wilted in bacon fat, smothered in eggs and cheese, and baked with even more cheese on top. The proof of this will be in your pan.
(If the last reason didn’t grab you, you may need to run to the mirror, stick out your tongue, and make sure your taste buds are still there.)
I adapted this mustard green gratin recipe from the amazing chef-scientist (and a Southerner to boot) Alton Brown, which initially made me nervous. Why mess with perfection, right? Still, I wanted bacon, and I didn’t want any mushrooms (as his recipe calls for), so . . .
1 pound stemmed mustard greens
5 slices of bacon, diced
1 tablespoon butter
3 eggs, beaten
10 ounces ricotta cheese
3/4 cups of grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Remove the leaves from their stems, wash them thoroughly, and chop them. After chopping, make sure they are dry. Alton recommends using a salad spinner. If you don’t have one, place them on paper towels, cover with another and press down, repeating until there is no water left.
Spray a 9 by 11-inch or 2 1/2-quart baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, ricotta, 1/2 cup of Parmesan, salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large skillet, cook the chopped bacon until crisp. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the greens and cook until completely wilted. Add the greens mixture to the eggs and cheese and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into your greased baking dish and cook for 30-35 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese on top and bake for 5 minutes more.
SEE ALL OF JENNIFER KORNEGAY’S CHRISTMAS BRUNCH PHOTOS HERE