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Pantry: Perfect holiday breakfast foods

What do you do on Christmas morning? Sleep? Read the paper and sip coffee, as if it were a leisurely Sunday? Or race to the tree at the crack of dawn to watch your kids delight in their presents?

I’ve always believed Christmas morning is a great time for a delicious breakfast, the one day a year it really is essential. Though, just once, I’d like someone to bring me hot beignets, cafe au lait and sparkling wine while I’m still in bed. But, mostly, I cook on Christmas morning.

After asking the question of a number of friends, I learned that there is a lot of intersection among us. Strong coffee, Champagne, bacon, Costeaux French Bakery’s cinnamon bread, croissants from Patisserie Angelica (frozen, left on the counter to rise overnight, baked first thing in the morning) and Dungeness crab left over from Christmas Eve dinner are among the treats we like to enjoy, at our leisure, in our jammies.

When I was a little girl, I stayed in my pajamas nearly until dinner time, as I’d always get a new night-time ensemble, the one gift I was allowed to open on Christmas Eve. When I think of it now, I can see them, year after year in a changing rainbow of colors, and there are several that I miss, especially the red corduroy one with white cotton lace.

Perhaps there is time to sew myself a new bathrobe, as the type I prefer is not in vogue these days. When did clothing manufacturers decide we all want to look like frumps in the morning? Where are the stylish bathrobes that we see in 1940s movies?

But back to eating and drinking. Something sparkling is always welcome, I think, cider, hard cider, cava, sparkling wine, Champagne. There should be something hot, too, homemade chai, your very best coffee, hot chocolate made with organic cream. A fire is nice if you have that option and there should be music, too, something you love, whether Christmas music or not.

Before too many more days pass, we will notice that the days are already starting to get longer, something that has been happening since Sunday. Before you know it, we’ll all be complaining that Daylight Savings Time has started too early and what happened to the first quarter of 2015, anyway? For now, while the days are short and the nights long, it is time savor the season, minute by minute, with your loved ones as nearby as possible.

No matter what you celebrate at this time of year, I wish you a warm, happy and delicious time of it, this evening, tomorrow and for the rest of the year.

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Grits are a close cousin, or even a sibling, of polenta. In the United States, we mostly see yellow polenta, though in Italy, both yellow and white corn are used, with white polenta typically used with fish. Grits are typically white. White corn is a bit more gelatinous than yellow and has a more delicate flavor. If you serve a big breakfast on Christmas morning, this is an easy and delicious way to feed a crowd without working too hard. Just plan ahead so that you go to bed about the time you can switch the slow-cooker control to “warm.” Perfect grits will await you when you rise.

Slow Cooker Grits

Serves 12 to 14

3 cups grits, coarse-ground white cornmeal or coarse-ground white polenta

1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

6 tablespoons organic butter

8 ounces grated cheese, such as white Cheddar, St. George, Bellwether Carmody or similar cheese

-Black pepper in a mill

-Selection of toppings (see Suggestions below)

Pour 3 quarts (12 cups) of water into a large crock pot or slow cooker and use a balloon whisk or other large whisk to stir in the grits. Add the tablespoon of salt, set the control to high and cover.

Stir the grits every 15 minutes or so until they begin to thicken; it will take about an hour and a half. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 4 to 5 hours, stirring now and then when you think of it. Add more water, a half cup at a time, if the grits ever seem too thick.

When the grits are tender and creamy, reset the heat to warm and hold for up to 8 hours or so.

To serve, return the heat to low. Stir in the butter and cheese, taste, correct for salt and season with several turns of black pepper.

Arrange toppings nearby the grits, grouping savory toppings together and sweet toppings together.

Set out bowls and spoons.

When the grits are hot, allow guests to serve themselves.

Neutral Toppings:

Butter

Whole-milk yogurt

Heavy cream

Savory Toppings:

Olio Nuovo

Grated cheese

Hot sauces of choice

Italian style salsa verde

Dungeness crab warmed in butter

Fried or braised sausage, such as One World Sausage’s cotechino, sliced

Crisp bacon, chopped or crumbled

Shrimp sautéed in butter, garlic and lemon

Poached eggs

Sweet Toppings:

Homemade jam

Homemade chutney

Real maple syrup

Brown sugar

Bowl of pomegranate arils

Salad of mixed citrus

Sliced persimmons with lime wedges

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There are many versions of red-eye gravy, some with mustard, some without it. It is a Midwest and Southern dish that is perfect in cold weather, especially when you feel like preparing something special on a holiday, such as Christmas. <>

Ham Steaks with Red-Eye Gravy and Grits

Serves 4 to 8

-Slow-cooker grits (see recipe, above) or regular stove-top grits

3 tablespoons butter

1 large ham steak, preferably center cut

1 cup strong brewed coffee

2 tablespoons Dijon, coarse grain or other mustard of choice

1 tablespoon maple syrup, molasses or honey

-Generous pinch crushed red pepper flakes

-Kosher salt

-Black pepper in a mill

1 tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.

In a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat, melt a tablespoon of the butter and add two pieces of ham. Sauté 2 minutes, turn and sauté 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and set in the warm oven. Repeat with the other two pieces of ham.

Return the skillet to medium heat, add the coffee and deglaze the pan. Stir in the mustard and syrup, molasses or honey, along with the crushed red pepper flakes. Simmer until the mixture reduces slightly. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Swirl in the butter and the moment it melts, remove the pan from the heat.

Working quickly, add grits to individual plates, set ham alongside, spoon sauce on top and serve right away.

Variation:

Top each portion of grits with a poached egg just before serving, with Tabasco sauce alongside.

If you’re feeling ambitious, make cream biscuits and serve alongside, with plenty of good butter.

Michele Anna Jordan has written 18 books to date, including the new “More Than Meatballs.” Email Jordan at michele@saladdresser.com. You’ll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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