Let's face it. On Christmas morning, most of us are thinking of one thing; we can't wait to see what Santa put in our stockings and under the tree.
But we're also usually famished and can't wait to see what Mama Claus has cooked up in the kitchen, either. However, Mrs. Santa usually has her mind on other things come Christmas morning. So here are some easy ways to satisfy those early risers and still have time to enjoy those special holiday moments with your friends and family.
First of all, setting up a buffet for brunch is one of the best things you can do on Christmas Day when you don't know whether Aunt Sally may sleep in or your 3-year-old niece will be running up and down the halls at the crack of dawn. In other words, it's best just to set up a breakfast "bar" in the kitchen and let everyone help themselves whenever they feel like it. There's always the microwave to warm up a late-morning snack.
Brunch is a tradition at my house because parents and grandparents live nearby and arrive before noon, giving my own family plenty of time to open our own presents and spend some time getting ready for the rest of the day. My brunch menu has changed through the years, but there are some definite favorites.
I start with a "percolator" punch brewing in my 40-cup Farberware coffeepot. All the ingredients go in the night before -- 1 part pineapple juice, 2 parts cranberry juice and apple juice, with plenty of brown sugar and spices in the coffee basket -- and that cinnamon-clove "Christmas" smell is "percolating" through the house even when the mice are not stirring yet. The fixings for Bloody Marys and mimosas are always nice to have for "do-it-yourselfers."
Then I always have a special casserole that I have prepared the night before or frozen. The sausage-egg casserole is a traditional brunch favorite, but my Aunt Connie has a great recipe for a blueberry French toast casserole that is even better. Specialty stores also have many different kinds of bite-sized quiches that are available.
Another favorite: a big bowl brimming with fresh fruit that is easy to assemble. I just buy the trays of assorted fruit at the grocery and empty it into a festive cut-crystal bowl. Add a smaller bowl of vanilla yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon and you've got instant Christmas.
Also, don't hesitate to serve store-bought baked goodies for a Christmas Day brunch -- or at any other time during the hectic holidays. We all may have special favorites that only Grandma can make, but this is not a time to be cooped up in the kitchen when everyone else is hitting the eggnog. One of my go-to places is Williams-Sonoma for all kinds of pre-prepared treats, especially for holiday brunches. Oprah Winfrey made their handmade croissants famous when she featured them on one of her "Favorite Things" shows, and because they are shipped overnight, you can be guaranteed of their freshness. You also can check out your local bakeries and specialty shops for more pre-made treats to either freeze or buy fresh the day before. There are lots of muffins, coffeecakes, strudels and scones that you can pick up to have on hand for a holiday breakfast.
I also usually order a special Southern-baked ham from a local barbecue place that is famous for its sugary, bourbon-soaked meats that are spiral-cut and ready to serve. You can either heat this up Christmas morning or enjoy it straight from the refrigerator for days in sandwiches. Place a grainy country mustard in a side dish, and serve the ham slices with bakery rolls. For smaller crowds, substitute store-bought sausage-cheese bites heated up in the oven with the casserole. Or do as one of my favorite nieces does and simply wrap cocktail "smokies" with crescent rolls and bake for a quick treat.
You easily can make holiday sweetbreads ahead of time, too. There are lots of packaged mixes available that make whipping these up for the freezer fast and easy. One of my favorite ways to dress up a store-bought pumpkin bread mix is to add a cup of mini chocolate chips to the recipe before it goes into the oven. These loaves make great holiday presents, too. Just wrap them up in festive holiday cellophane, and tie them up with curly ribbon.
AUNT CONNIE'S OVERNIGHT BLUEBERRY FRENCH TOAST
1 baguette or loaf of bread, sliced 1-inch thick
3 cups milk
1 cup brown sugar, packed
Vanilla and nutmeg, to taste
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 cups fresh blueberries
Optional: maple syrup
Arrange baguette slices in a lightly greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish, and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, 3/4 cup brown sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Pour mixture evenly over baguette slices.
Cover and chill overnight. Just before baking, sprinkle remaining brown sugar, pecans and blueberries over top.
Bake uncovered at 350 F for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.
Serve with maple syrup if desired.