I’m about to say something that I realize may make me very unpopular.
I’m totally over brunch.
Brunch, especially across the island of Manhattan, has become a predictable, cholesterol-laden affair.
Open any menu at any pseudo-trendy spot across town and you’re sure to find the usual suspects: smoked salmon Benedict, bacon cheeseburger with an egg thrown on top for good measure, insert egg + breakfast meat + some word that means hashbrowns here.
When avocado toast came onto the scene a few years ago things started to look up, but now even that’s been overdone. Overall, I find brunch to be a hot mess of things people are supposed to want to eat after a night of drinking. And personally, all I want after drinking is to pump as many nutrients into my body as possible, preferably in the form of a green smoothie and a (dairy-free) kale Caesar salad. I realize this makes me a freak but so be it.
Now, I’m a big micromanager so it’s probably no surprise that when it comes to this whole brunch debacle the only solution I’ve found is to make it myself. And thus, my Christmas Eve brunch tradition began.
After college, my friends from growing up scattered to the ends of the Western Hemisphere (Anchorage, New Orleans and London to be specific). This means that the holidays are one of the only times we’re all together in one place. And I think that calls for cheesy eggs and a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar. Don’t you?
Last year I gave myself a stroke making these smoked salmon latkes topped with poached eggs and Trader Joe’s hollandaise, served with real Charleston cheese grits. It was delicious, but it was a mistake.
Everything in the above sentence requires artful timing. Frying the latkes to golden brown perfection while avoiding spurts of hot oil, folding eggs in vinegary oil until they form a white dome concealing their yolky perfection (a task performed by a friend as I’m incompetent), and serving it all with the grits still hot and the hollandaise not congealed. It was a mess, one that ended in me yelling at my guests to prepare their Bloody Mary’s before the food got cold, whilst sweating profusely.
This year I went with Smitten Kitchen’s spinach and cheese strata – it’s make-it-aheadness appealed to me after last year’s fiasco. Also, my mother informed me that I was not allowed to actually cook in her kitchen on Christmas Eve.
Now, I have a slight obsession bordering on hero-worship of Deb Perelman, so I’m usually not inclined to change anything about her recipes. But I haven’t forgotten the whole eggs + breakfast meat brunch equation so I decided to add pancetta to my strata. I meant to fold it in artfully…but then I burned it so I ended up just sprinkling it over the top like a crunchy topping. No one complained.
As for the Bloody Mary bar, it’s kind of an art form, dependent on personal preference and whatever spices you happen to have lying around. I go with: Old Bay, garlic salt, onion powder, Tabasco, Cholula (my fav), Worcestershire, Tony Chachere’s original creole seasoning and The Gourmet Collection’s chili & lime spice blend – along with lemon and lime wedges and celery. I don’t actually know what celery salt is but sometimes I use that too. Throw in some olives if that’s your thing; I like my bloodies more citrusy-spicy and less briney.
We rimmed our glasses with Tony’s and Old Bay and it was glorious.
So this is my Christmas Eve brunch tradition. I’ve done it twice which officially makes it tradition, and I can’t wait to do it again. Next year I’m toying with the idea of doing something sweet which is a BIG DEAL for me because I’m the queen of savory. Stay tuned.
Spinach and cheese strata: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2009/12/spinach-and-cheese-strata/