Making the overly celebrated and super-traditional holiday something of your own can be a feat, especially because we've all developed specific expectations of what Christmas means. Every year I find myself shopping until I literally do "drop," and staying up until the wee hours of morning baking my gingerbread loaves and 85 assorted cookies and candy, of course. I tell myself that I wouldn't want anyone to be disappointed, but deep down inside I actually anticipate and revel in lengthy holiday preparation because that's my personal countdown to the Day.
So, after brushing off the flour and icing caked into my pores and everywhere else, I begin to muse about Christmas breakfast. Preparing a special morning feast for your family and friends is what begins the day, initiates the entire Norman Rockwell holiday experience, and a moment if executed well, can be forever cherished.
I laugh inside when I visit someone's house for dinner, all is picture-perfect and the host insists that "they weren't working on it all day." Believe me, creating a certain ambience and sense of welcome is an art form. The beautiful flowers, lighting, tableware, menu and even the little bowl of spiced nuts on the mantle are actually deliberate and help guests feel comfortably at home. While it's not always about the food (even though I'd like it to be), producing your own eventful and remarkable Christmas breakfast scene takes a little time and love, a few easy tricks and minor tweaking.
Create a whimsical yet relaxed winter breakfast scene by:
Cover your table with a light colored, lacy or white tablecloth.
Set the table with your best matching dinnerware, silverware, wine glasses instead of water glasses, and cloth napkins instead of paper.
Even though it's morning, sporadically set out large white candles in pretty dishes and garnish with holly sprigs or un-shelled nuts.
Try a functional centerpiece: Take a large rectangular platter or a rectangular wood planter box, place in middle of table and arrange fresh, whole pomegranates, Satsuma oranges and firm red or Bosc pears. Arrange fresh pine tree boughs around the platter or planter box, and nestle short, stubby white candles in holders throughout. It's easy for guests to see over, partially consumable, looks good for two-three days and cheaper than ordering.
House floral arrangements: Purchase a dozen each of cream and red roses (the best price is at Safeway Food & Drug), clip off two-thirds of stems; arrange the roses equally in color variation; portion into four bouquets and arrange in small mason jars or short, clear vases. Place around the house for a bright and elegant effect.
Play Christmas music at a medium-low volume, preferably old-school classics from the 40's and 50's.
Have a tray of drinks ready to hand guests when they arrive, such as mimosas, bellinis or champagne cocktails (sparkling apple cider is good, too).
Offer breakfast foods that are simple, comforting and innovative. Always include something baked such as scones, pastries or sweet rolls; an egg dish such as a strata or frittata and a special protein such as good sausages (Aidell's Chicken & Apple sausages at Costco are delicious and low-fat), thick-cut maple bacon or your favorite vegetarian option.
Lastly, always greet guests with a warm smile and a Christmas hug versus being the host who scurries around the kitchen, because that makes everyone feel included and welcome.
Listed below are a few of my favorite dishes that satisfy, comfort and surprise the palate. The Pumpkin and Cranberry Scones with Maple Spice Glaze can be assembled the night before, and then baked off the next morning. Salmon Fishcakes with Caper & Lemon Remoulade Sauce pair lovely with a simple Goat Cheese & Chive Frittata topped with an Avocado & Tomato Relish. Woo your guests with a Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail. These dishes are fun to make and scrumptious to eat!
Pumpkin & Cranberry Scones with Maple Spice Glaze
Makes 14 scones
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. each ground cloves, ginger & nutmeg
1/2 tsp. kosher or fine sea salt
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
3/4 cup dried cranberries
Maple Spice Glaze:
1-1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground clove
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or non-stick baking mats.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, egg, vanilla extract and cream. Combine the flour, spices, salt and sugar in another medium bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, fork or your hands until it resembles small pebbles. Be careful not to completely incorporate the butter, which creates less flaky scones. Add in the cranberries, stir briefly and then pour in the pumpkin mixture and gently mix together with a spoon until a soft dough forms. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and pat or roll out dough to 1-inch thick. Flour a 3-inch round or fluted biscuit cutter and cut out scones. Keep a small bowl of flour on hand to re-dust board and to continually dip biscuit cutter-this dough is sticky! Place scones on the prepared pan, about 2-inches apart. Bake on middle racks of oven for 18-25 minutes or until tops are golden brown and the insides are fully baked. Let scones cool 8 minutes before drizzling each scone with a tablespoon of glaze.
To make the glaze: Pour maple syrup in bowl and slowly whisk in powdered sugar until a smooth glaze forms, and then add in cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.
Note: If using a stand mixer, combine dry ingredients in bowl, and cut in butter with paddle attachment on low speed until small pebbles form. Add the cranberries, mix briefly and then add in pumpkin mixture. Mix briefly, just until ingredients come together, and follow remaining instructions.
Salmon Fishcakes with Caper & Lemon Remoulade Sauce
Serves 5-6, allowing 2 fishcakes per person
For Salmon Fishcakes:
1 lb. cooked salmon, flaked and bones removed
1/4 Cup + 1 Tbs. mayonnaise
1 egg, beaten
1/2 Cup dry bread crumbs, plus 3/4 Cup for coating
2 Tbs. freshly grated Parmesan, plus 2 Tbs. for coating
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Dash of hot sauce, or more to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 Tbs. cilantro, finely chopped
2 green onions, minced
Fresh ground pepper and kosher salt, to taste
Canola oil, for pan-frying
Combine salmon with mayonnaise, egg, Dijon mustard, cayenne, lemon juice, celery, red bell pepper, garlic, cilantro and green onion, mix well. Season to taste with fresh ground pepper and kosher salt. Add in 1/2 Cup dry bread crumbs and 2 Tbs. freshly grated parmesan and mix well. The mixture will be wet; adding additional bread crumbs will cause fishcakes to be dry. Combine remaining 3/4 Cup dry bread crumbs and additional 2 Tbs. freshly grated parmesan in a shallow bowl. Use about 1/4 cup of mixture per fishcake, forming into patties roughly 1/2-inch thick and 2-inches in diameter, and lightly coat each fishcake in bread crumb mixture.
In a large non-stick fry pan over medium heat, pour in enough canola oil to coat bottom of pan. Pan-fry fish cakes until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side, cooking in batches. Serve hot with Caper & Lemon Remoulade Sauce and lemon wedges, if desired.
Note: These can be made ahead of time or overnight, refrigerated and then pan-fried the following day. This recipe can be doubled or tripled for a larger crowd.
For Caper & Lemon Remoulade Sauce:
Yield: About 1 cup
3/4 Cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. lemon zest
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbs. Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbs. rinsed capers
1 small peeled shallot, minced
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Goat Cheese & Chive Frittata
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan
1/2 cup cream
5 oz. fresh goat cheese, cut into small cubes
1-1/2 tbs. fresh chives, chopped
3/4 tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. butter
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Beat eggs in a medium bowl, add in Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan, cream, fresh chives, kosher salt and pepper, to taste, and whisk until combined. Heat a large non-stick and oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add in olive oil and butter and swirl to coat pan, and then pour in egg mixture. Scatter goat cheese over egg mixture. Cook frittata 5 minutes, lifting up cooked egg around edges of fry pan with a spatula to let uncooked egg flow underneath, and then place fry pan in oven. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until frittata is set. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. With spatula, loosen edges of frittata and slide onto a platter, cut into wedges and serve with Avocado & Tomato Relish.
Avocado & Tomato Relish
Serves 8 as a topping
2 ripe yet semi-firm avocadoes, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs. good olive oil
2 tsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Combine tomatoes with lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste. Gently fold in cubed avocadoes, being careful not to over mix. For deepest flavor, serve at room temperature; do not refrigerate.
Note: This relish is also excellent on grilled salmon, halibut or seared tuna.
Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail
A colorful and festive holiday drink
Makes 1 drink
1 oz. pomegranate juice
Splash of Grand Marnier or other orange flavored liqueur
3 oz. Champagne, chilled
1 sugar cube?
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish, optional
Place sugar cube in chilled champagne flute, pour in pomegranate juice, then Grand Marnier and top off with champagne. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired.