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Brunch for the bunch

Thanksgiving leftovers can handle the morning demands of holiday houseguests

Breakfast is overshadowed during the holidays, lacking, as it does, a giant bird on the table and Norman Rockwell to paint it.

However, it’s more important than ever during holiday mornings.

Relatives and in-laws emerge from the spare bedrooms, rubbing their eyes and looking expectantly at you. Someone has to fill them up with enough breakfast to carry them to turkey time.

So here are a few ideas for feeding those hungry morning houseguests, based on my years of experience as my family’s designated Field Marshal of Breakfast. Most of these tips are not particularly holiday-related, but we’ll begin with one that is perfectly suited for the morning after Thanksgiving.

Birds in a Nest

Here’s an easy breakfast idea that has been a particularly big hit at our house. It can be made with leftover stuffing from the Thanksgiving bird, or, just as easily, a box of Stove Top stuffing mix.

Prepare Stove Top stuffing mix, if you’re using it, according to package directions and let it cool until it can be handled.

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray. Make “nests” in muffin pans by pressing ¼ cup stuffing into each muffin cup. Nests should be deep enough to hold an egg and can be made the night before and covered with plastic wrap.

When ready to cook, crack an egg into each nest. You may also, if you prefer, beat the egg before pouring it in the nest. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 20 minutes, or until eggs are set to your liking.

 Sprinkle cheese or cooked, diced bacon over eggs for last few minutes of baking. You can also put crumbled bacon or ham pieces in the bottom of the nests before the egg goes on top.

Run a knife around the edges of the nest and lift carefully from the muffin tin. Two nests equal one serving.

Whole-Wheat, Buttermilk and Orange Pancakes

Adapted from “Cooking Light,” October 2013

Thanks to Cooking Light magazine, I have recently discovered a pancake recipe far better than anything that comes in a mix. It combines three flavors, each of which will automatically improve a pancake: Buttermilk, whole-wheat flour and orange juice.

However, what really makes these pancakes stand out is their amazing fluffiness. These are not your flat-as-a-pancake hotcakes. They’re light, soft and tender. It all comes down to a little bit of patience – 15 minutes will do it. That’s how long you should let the batter stand to let the baking powder and baking soda work their magic.

A few observations on these pancakes: If you don’t want to go to the trouble of adding the beaten egg white, you don’t have to. These pancakes still turn out light and fluffy.

Also, I highly recommend topping the finished pancakes with a dollop of orange-butter (softened butter mixed with a little orange juice and orange rind). This gives the pancakes extra citrus tang.

This recipe makes great waffle batter, too, by adding one extra tablespoon of canola oil.

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/8 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 large egg

1 large egg white

Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups, level with a knife. Combine flours and next four ingredients (through salt) in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine buttermilk, juice, oil and one egg in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist; let stand 15 minutes. Place egg white in a medium bowl and beat until medium peaks form. Gently fold egg white into batter. Preheat griddle to medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Spoon ¼ cup of batter per pancake onto griddle. Cook three minutes or until edges begin to bubble and bottom is browned. Flip pancakes and cook until done. Maple syrup is the syrup of choice.

Yield: 6 servings

Scrambled eggs

I am assuming that you already know how to make scrambled eggs. Yet here are few taste-tested additions, for making your scrambled eggs more flavorful and colorful.

Mustard – Yes, regular yellow mustard. A squirt or two will give the eggs a perkier flavor – and a brighter color as well.

Tabasco or other hot sauce – Just a few drops will boost the flavor but won’t be evident to the heat-averse.

Chopped chives – They add a mild oniony flavor, but most of all they improve the looks of the finished dish.

Sherry – Yes, seriously. A splash or two of sherry – any kind except the too-salty “cooking sherry” – will give your scrambled eggs a savory, almost nutty flavor.

Minced ham –To deepen the flavor, sauté the cubes of ham for a minute or two in the same pan, before adding the scrambled eggs mixture.

Diced bacon – Same as above. Cook and drain the bacon first.

Cheese – Toss some grated cheddar, Swiss or almost any other cheese into the mixture. You can also finely cube the cheese, if you like coming across little melted cheese pockets in your scrambled eggs.

Chopped herbs – Try a little tarragon, chervil or parsley.

Sliced mushrooms – Sauté some mushrooms in butter or olive oil before adding to the eggs.

Cream or half-and-half – Use it instead of the usual splash of milk when beating the eggs for a creamier texture.

Roasted red peppers – Chop ’em up to add rich flavor and color.

Egg-Beaters or any other no-cholesterol egg substitute – Replace some of the whole eggs with the same amount of egg substitute. If you have guests on a low-cholesterol diet, you can even replace all of the eggs. Your scrambled eggs will still taste good, especially if you add some of the flavor-boosters listed above.

A splash of hot water – When the scrambled eggs have just about set, splash a little bit of hot or boiling water into the pan. The steam will keep the eggs moist and fluffy.

Hash Brown Potatoes

I have tried many methods of making hash browns over the years. I have soaked them to get rid of starch. I have put them in dish towels and wrung the extra liquid from them. I have added cream to the potatoes.

However, thanks to today’s truly excellent no-stick skillets, I have gone back to the simplest method:

1. Shred the potatoes.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet to medium high and add a tablespoon or two of olive or canola oil.

3. Spread the shredded potatoes over the skillet and press down with a spatula.

4. When the bottom is just the right shade of brown, lift the entire disk, add another tablespoon of oil, flip, and cook until browned.

This is more or less the same method used for the Swiss dish Potato Roesti.

Maple Cured, Home-smoked Canadian Bacon

All right, I know this is a little bit complicated – and especially challenging during the cool-weather season. But I just made my own Canadian bacon – in the non-barbecue season of November – and it was surprisingly simple and smoky-delicious. This recipe is adapted from the “Weber’s Smoke” cookbook, revised for some maple-flavored sweetness.

1 gallon water

1 cup kosher salt

1 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons pink curing salt (not the same as gourmet Himalayan and Hawaiian pink salts)

4 medium garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon of black peppercorns

4 bay leaves

One boneless, center-cut pork loin roast, about 4 pounds, trimmed of fat

Mix all of the brine ingredients (through bay leaves) and stir to dissolve the salts and sugar.

Cut the roast in half lengthwise into two long pieces. Using cooking twine, tie at two-inch intervals to make each piece more cylindrical in shape. Put the roasts in the brine – make sure they are fully submerged – and refrigerate for 48 hours. Remove from the brine and set them on a wire rack and refrigerate uncovered for 12 more hours (this dries them and creates a tacky “pellicle,” which captures the smoke flavor).

Prepare a smoker or covered grill for indirect cooking at low heat (between 200 and 250 degrees). Add two wood chunks, preferably maple, but apple wood is also excellent. Smoke the roasts with lid closed at 225 degrees, or as close as possible, for about two hours, or until the roasts register 150 degrees in the middle.

Cut into thin slices and serve warm, or lightly brown the slices in a skillet as you would any Canadian bacon. This smoked and cooked Canadian bacon keeps well in the refrigerator for days and freezes well for later use.

Notes: I get pink curing salt (which includes sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate) from my Super One grocery store, but I have to ask for it at the meat counter. I have also seen it at Williams-Sonoma and other specialty shops. It discourages bacterial growth and gives cured pork its characteristic pinkish color.

You can also use Morton’s Tender Quick, available widely, which includes sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. Use the curing recipes on the package. With Tender Quick, you can also dry-cure your Canadian bacon (as opposed to brining), which takes longer but can produce even better results.

Smoking in cold weather can be a challenge, but since these small roasts only have to smoke for about two hours, it can be done. If you have trouble getting the roasts up to a 150 degree internal temperature, you can take them off of the smoker after a couple of hours and finish them in a low oven. They’ll still retain plenty of smoke flavor.


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