Merry brunch: Time to move from presents under the tree to the ones on the table

News-DemocratDecember 16, 2013 

Hosting a Christmas morning brunch takes some organization, mostly because so much else is going on that takes precedence over food.

Hard to admit, but it's true.

When I've gone out to big brunches at restaurants, the one thing I didn't like was standing in line waiting for someone to make me an omelet or pancakes/waffles.

It's definitely not something any cook wants to do at home at 10 a.m. on Dec. 25.

That's why egg casseroles were invented: So you don't have to stand in front of a stove and cook while your family is doing something a lot more interesting!

It's also why getting out a waffle iron or pancake griddle is not happening in my household.

I resort to a luscious french toast casserole and ignore pancakes/waffles.

Until now. That's when I discovered puffins; a term I credit to food bloggers chicaandjo.com.

They decided to try putting pancake batter -- just your basic Bisquick or box recipe -- into muffin pans. they added some toppings, from chocolate chips to chopped apples, pecans and cinnamon. The resulting puffy muffin-style pancake was dubbed the puffin. Seems perfectly appropriate to me.

Even better, it's something that can be whipped up in no time. Make the batter the night before. Add whatever ingredients you want to the batter or the top; I'd try a streusel topping myself. Then bake at 350 degrees for about 10 to 12 minutes; less time if you're using a mini muffin pan. Test for doneness and cool for 5 to 10 minutes before removing from pan. Drizzle with maple syrup or set little individual cups with syrup in them on the buffet so guests can take one to their seat and use them for dunking. (A from-scratch recipe is below.)

Cheesy Potato Bake with Eggs

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons butter

4 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon each salt and ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups milk

8 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)

3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced*

Egg mixture:

1 1/2 cups chopped fresh broccoli

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

8 eggs

2 tablespoons water

Toppings:

6 slices bacon, crisp-cooked, drained, and crumbled

1 large tomato, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium saucepan, cook onion in butter over medium heat for 4 minutes, or until tender, stirring occasionally.

Stir in flour and salt and pepper.

Stir in milk; cook and stir until slightly thickened and bubbly. Stir in cheese until melted.

2. In a 3-quart greased baking dish, layer potatoes, then cheese sauce. Bake, covered, about 55 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

3. In a large skillet, cook broccoli in hot oil over medium heat for 5 minutes, until nearly tender, stirring frequently.

In a large bowl, beat together eggs, water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Pour over broccoli in skillet. Cook over medium heat, without stirring, until mixture begins to set on bottom and around edges.

Using a spatula, lift and fold partially cooked egg so uncooked portion flows underneath. Cook 2 minutes more or until egg is cooked yet still moist. Spoon over potatoes. Top with bacon and chopped tomato. Serve immediately.

Note: Quickly slice potatoes with a food processor or mandolin slicer.

Makes 8 servings, each with 421 calories, 22 grams fat, 36 grams carbohydrates, 259 mg cholesterol, 3 grams fiber, 7 grams sugar, 21 grams protein, 708 mg sodium.

Better Homes & Gardens

Praline Pull-Apart Bread

1 cup granulated sugar

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided

1 (2-pound) package frozen dough, such as Rhodes White Dinner Rolls

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 cup chopped pecans

3/4 cup whipping cream

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1. In shallow wide bowl, whisk together granulated sugar and 3 teaspoons cinnamon.

2. Coat each roll in butter; dredge rolls in sugar mixture.

3. Arrange in a lightly greased 10-inch tube pan; sprinkle with pecans. Cover and chill 8 to 18 hours.

4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat whipping cream at high speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form; stir in brown sugar and remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Pour mixture over dough. Place pan on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.

3. Bake 1 hour, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes; invert onto a serving plate, and drizzle with any remaining glaze in pan. Makes 12 servings.

Myrecipes.com

Hash Brown Breakfast Casserole

1 pound ground hot pork sausage

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 1/2 cups frozen cubed hash browns

5 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 3/4 cups milk

1 cup all-purpose baking mix

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Toppings: Picante sauce or green hot sauce, sour cream

Garnish: Fresh parsley sprigs

1. Cook sausage and onion in a large skillet over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until meat crumbles.

2. Stir in hash browns, and cook 5 to 7 minutes or until sausage is no longer pink and potatoes are lightly browned. Drain mixture on paper towels; spoon into a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

3. Stir together eggs, cheese and next 4 ingredients; pour evenly over sausage mixture, stirring well. Cover and chill 8 hours.

4. Bake, covered with nonstick foil,* at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 to 15 more minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven, and let stand 5 minutes. Serve with desired toppings. Garnish, if desired. Serves 8.

*If you don't have nonstick foil, spray foil with nonstick cooking spray before putting over dish.

Southern Living, December 2003

Baked French Toast Casserole with Maple Syrup

1 loaf french bread (13 to 16 ounces)

8 large eggs

2 cups half and half

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Dash salt

Praline Topping, recipe follows

Maple syrup

Slice bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. (Use any extra bread for garlic toast or bread crumbs).

Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9-by-13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly.

Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Serve with maple syrup.

Praline Topping: Combine and blend well 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, 1 cup packed light brown sugar, 1 cup chopped pecans, 2 tablespoons light corn syrup, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.

Food Network, recipe courtesy Paula Deen

Mini Chocolate-Chip Pancake Muffins

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2/3 cup buttermilk*

1 egg

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons melted butter

1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease mini muffin pan.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Sift together with a wire whisk.

In another bowl, stir buttermilk, egg, maple syrup and melted butter until combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until combined. Stir in your chocolate chips and keep a few to sprinkle on the top.

Divide batter into 24 mini muffin tins. Bake 8 to 9 minutes.

Let cool slightly and remove from the pan. You may need to use a toothpick around the edges to separate the pancake muffins from the pan.

Serve immediately with warmed butter and syrup or your choice of topping.

*Or, try a buttermilk substitute: 2/3 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of vinegar left to stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

Buttered-up.com: (Adapted from Bakerella.

This dessert is made by layering crisp sugar cookies with a sweetened peppermint whipped cream. After refrigeration, the cookies soften, resulting in a cakelike texture.

Individual Candy Cane Dessert Cups

1 roll refrigerated sugar cookies

2 cups whipping cream

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Red food color

10 striped peppermint candies

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Very thinly slice cookie dough to make 30 cookies. Place 2 inches apart on 2 ungreased large cookie sheets.

2. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown and crispy. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, beat whipping cream and powdered sugar with electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Beat in peppermint extract and food color until stiff peaks form. Transfer to serving bowl; cover and refrigerate.

4. Pipe or spoon about 2 tablespoons whipped cream mixture into bottom of each of 10 small glass canning jars or small dessert cups. Top each with cookie. Repeat with remaining whipped cream mixture and cookies, finishing with whipped cream. Cover each jar, and refrigerate about 4 hours or until cookies are softened. Top each glass with a striped peppermint candy. Makes 10.

RED CURRANT AND CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE

6 ounces chocolate wafer cookies (2/3 of a 9-ounce package)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted

Four 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

6 eggs

1 vanilla bean or 2 tablespoons vanilla extract

6 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate

1/2 cup red currant jelly

1/4 cup chopped pistachios

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a deep 10-inch cake pan* with baking spray, then line the bottom with kitchen parchment.

In a food processor, combine the chocolate wafer cookies and brown sugar. Pulse until finely ground.

Drizzle in the butter and pulse to combine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pare and press evenly over the bottom. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl use an electric mixer on medium-low to beat the cream cheese until smooth. Take care to not beat in any extra air, but to scrape down the bowl thoroughly to avoid any lumps.

Add the granulated sugar and beat again, scraping the bowl thoroughly. Add the eggs one at a time, again incorporating gently, but thoroughly scraping the bowl.

Scrape in the seeds from the vanilla bean or add the vanilla extract. Stir in the bittersweet chocolate.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan over the crust. Tap the pan gently on the counter to eliminate any air bubbles.

Place the pan into a larger roasting pan. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan, taking care not to get any into the cheesecake, to come halfway up the sides of the cake.

Bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until just barely jiggly at the center.

Turn off the oven and prop the door open with a spoon. Allow to cool for 2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and refrigerate until completely cold, at least 4 hours.

When ready to unmold the cheesecake, run a paring knife around the edge. Dip just the bottom of the pan in hot water for 1 minute to loosen the crust. Place a large plate over the top of the pan, then flip the pan over so that the cheesecake is upside down. The cake should release onto the plate. Remove the parchment from the crust and place a serving platter over it. Flip the cake a second time to end with the cheesecake right side up.

Microwave the red currant jelly for 1 minute and stir until smooth. Spread evenly over the top of the cheesecake. Garnish the edges with chopped pistachios.

Servings: 16, each with 420 calories, 31 grams fat, 140 mg cholesterol, 33 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 25 grams sugar, 9 grams protein, 270 mg sodium.

Note: If using a springform pan, wrap foil around bottom and halfway up sides to prevent water from seeping into pan. Using this pan should also avoid flipping cake.

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