My younger daughter is getting married the week before Christmas. It's always a busy time of year. This year, even more so. These next few weeks there will be lots of houseguests, and I'm preparing now to welcome them and stay sane.
See also: More cooking tips and recipes from Pam
That means developing a strategy. One of mine is to offer just two meals — a filling late-morning brunch followed by dinner at dusk. For early risers we set up the coffee and put out a loaf of good bread, but brunch is our first official meal of the day.
One of my go-to brunch recipes is strata. It's easy to prepare and can be (but doesn't have to be) made a day or two ahead. Strata also has another selling point. Kids generally love it — after all, it's just cheese and milk and bread — making it ideal for intergenerational gatherings.
Of course, you can add ham or sausage to strata, but I prefer to keep mine plain cheese or veggie, which means it works for everyone. This time of year I've chosen roasted red peppers and canned green chiles. Not only do they offer great seasonal color, they don't need to be sautéed. Just dice and you're done.
Another holiday strategy — bake a festive spiral-cut ham to round out the meal. Leftovers are great for sandwiches, hors d'oeuvres and snacks throughout the holiday. And don't forget: save the bone for bean, lentil, or split pea soup.
Chocolate muffins with white chocolate and cherries make another festive addition to the brunch. Measure ingredients the night before so that all you have to do is mix and bake in the morning.
If you're ever going to serve sparkling wine, 'tis the season. This year instead of the usual mimosas, make it pomosas — pomegranate juice and sparkling wine. I like pomegranate juice because it's good for you, it makes a pretty drink and it's not too sweet, so it doesn't mask the bracing quality of a good Brut. If you don't want to serve wine, set out bottles of sparkling water and let everyone make pomegranate spritzers or simply buy a larger bottle of juice and serve it straight up.
Make a simple salad — green, fruit or, better yet, a mix of both — and you've got a beautiful satisfying meal that should keep everyone happy until the next meal — and that would be dinner!
Easy Strata with Roasted Red and Green Peppers
If you refrigerate the strata make sure you allow extra baking time.
1 quart half and half
1 dozen eggs
1 teaspoon salt and several freshly ground black peppers
1 good baguette (scant 1 pound) cut into 1/2 inch thick slice
1/2 cup diced roasted red pepper from a jar
1/2 cup diced green chiles from 4.5-ounce can
12 ounces pepper jack cheese, grated (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup thin-sliced scallions (about 3 medium)
Whisk half and half, eggs, salt and pepper to taste until smooth.
Spray a 13-by 9-inch Pyrex or ceramic baking dish with vegetable cooking
spray. Line pan bottom with half the bread slices. Scatter half the peppers over the bread, then sprinkle with half the cheese and scallions. Pour a couple of cups of the egg mixture over the topped bread. Make another layer with remaining bread, peppers, cheese and scallions. Slowly pour remaining egg mixture over bread. Press on bread to make sure it absorbs milk mixture. Let sit for about 15 minutes before baking. (Can be covered and refrigerated up to 2 days.)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Bake until custard is just set, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Without adjusting oven rack, turn on broiler; broil until strata is spotty brown and puffy, about 5 minutes longer.
Remove from oven, let stand for 8 to 10 minutes, and then serve.
Chocolate Muffins With White Chocolate and Dried Cherries
Makes 1 dozen large muffins
If short on time melt the butter and mix it with the egg and yogurt, stirring this wet mixture into the dry ingredients.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups plain low-fat yogurt
1 cup each: white chocolate chips and dried cranberries, divided
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer over medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Alternating between ingredients beat in 1/3 each of the yogurt and flour mixture until both are fully incorporated and batter is smooth. Stir in 3/4 cup each of the chips and cranberries.
Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable cooking spray. Use a large ice cream scoop to divide batter evenly among the cups (they will be full). Top with remaining 1/4 cup cherries and white chocolate.
Bake until muffins are browned and cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Let sit a couple of minutes in muffin tin and then turn onto a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve.
Next: Pomegranate mimosas. >>
Serves 8 to 12
1 bottle brut sparkling wine
1 bottle (16 ounces) pomegranate juice
Set out bottles of each allowing guests to mix to desired taste and strength.