Brunch is more of a celebration than the everyday utilitarian breakfast or lunch.
The menu is invariably more interesting, and the pace is leisurely. I think that’s what makes it a popular weekend event at restaurants.
When compared to dinner, it’s more casual, less structured. People don’t expect a given format at brunch, the way they expect appetizer, main course and dessert at dinner.
There are also no rules for brunch, but usually the menu has something to appeal to many tastes: some breakfast-type food, some lunch-type food, something to satisfy the sweet tooth, served with plenty of juice, coffee and tea. The assortment of foods and beverages is usually served buffet-style, permitting people to pick up what they like without the formality of separate courses.
I think that it’s the freedom that makes brunch our meal of choice to serve on Christmas Day. There isn’t a set menu that people expect, the way they expect to have turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, turnip and cranberry sauce for Christmas dinner (which is definitely a delicious feast and extra special when enjoyed with people you love). It’s just fun to have the flexibility to serve whatever tickles our fancy.
The other appealing aspect of brunch is the timing. We can take time to see what Santa left before gathering around the table, and when the meal is over, there’s time for our guests to head to Christmas dinner with their other relatives or friends and for us to clean up, with plenty of day left over to enjoy our gifts or take a walk.
Some brunch menu selections that come to mind are breakfast casserole, eggs benedict, crepes or other pancakes, fancy pastries, roasted potatoes or hash browns, sausage, bacon, baked beans, fruit, cheese, smoked salmon, nuts, stuffed mushroom caps and French toast.
I have been trying to decide what to serve at our table for Christmas brunch. One dish that I have settled on is a rich, flavourful Mushroom Bread Pudding.
The original recipe calls for whipping cream. A specialist in compromise, I couldn’t help but reduce the fat content a little by substituting coffee cream. I decided not to reduce it further, because I wanted to maintain the luxurious richness of the dish. It still supplies a generous amount of fat, but it’s Christmas, and the dish is delicious.
Mushroom Bread Pudding
Adapted from Ogryzlo, Lynn: The Ontario Table: featuring the best food from around the province, Epulum Books, Toronto, 2011.
4 strips artisan bacon, diced
125 mL (½ cup) onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
200 g (8 oz) button mushrooms, chopped
2 mL (½ tsp) fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or a pinch of dried thyme)
1.25 L (5 cups) day-old artisan bread, cubed into 2.5 cm/1 inch pieces
500 mL (2 cups) 18 per cent coffee cream
250 mL (1 cup) whole milk
6 farm fresh eggs, beaten
175 mL (¾ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F). Spray a casserole with vegetable oil spray and set aside. (I have found that a 3 L rectangular casserole, measuring 10 ½” x 8 ¾ “ x 22 ¼ “ works well for this recipe.)
Place a skillet over medium heat and cook the bacon. Cook, stirring often, until the bacon is browned and crispy, about 8 minutes.
Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms and thyme and cook until the mushrooms have released their water, about 10 minutes.
Season the mushrooms, lightly, with salt. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the mushrooms to a large bowl. Allow them to cool completely and then add the bread.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the coffee cream, milk and eggs, and 125 mL (½ cup) of the grated Parmesan. Season and pour the egg mixture over the bread and mushrooms. Fold in the crispy bacon and allow the mixture to sit for at least 30 minutes or overnight. (Refrigerate if leaving it overnight.)
Once the bread has absorbed most of the custard, pour it into the casserole dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake until golden brown and set in the centre, about 40-45 minutes.
Makes 6 servings
Along with the Mushroom Bread Pudding, I’ll be serving lean back bacon and breakfast sausage, a tray of red and green pepper strips and cherry tomatoes, skewers of fresh fruit and cubed cheddar, assorted bread and rolls for anyone who doesn’t enjoy mushrooms and our quirky family tradition, an orange jellied salad with mandarin orange sections in one layer and cream cheese and whipped cream in the other.
There will also be three kinds of biscotti, to dip in our coffee, and maybe, if I find time, I’ll try my hand at making baklava.
Whether or not the meal ends with baklava, I hope that all our guests will fill their plates with foods they enjoy at Christmas morning brunch.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.