Breakfast on Christmas morning evokes a flood of memories for most people – and some of Charlotte's best chefs are no exception.
While some see sausage and cinnamon buns in their minds’ eyes, a different image springs to the mind of Ben Philpott, executive chef at Café Monte: Oyster stew with cheese pie and runny scrambled eggs. Philpott's grandfather would make this specialty on Christmas morning and he remembers as a young boy “dredging icky oyster stew and gross mushy eggs.”
Philpott didn't want to eat the dish – except for the cheese pie – but his family had a rule and he was always presented with a “no thank you helping,” which meant a small portion that had to be finished before presents could be opened. As he grew older, Philpott says he grew to love that oyster stew with the runny eggs – and he still always looked forward to the cheese pie.
Growing up in Wyomissing, Pa., Jon Fortes, executive chef at Mimosa Grill, helped to prepare the holiday breakfast his family would enjoy. He and his sister would stay up late Christmas Eve, with Fortes making croissants and his sister making pecan rolls. They woke their family with the smell of fresh-baked items, he says, “and of course me pounding on their doors to wake up!”
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Thomas Kerns, executive chef of Terrace Cafe, says his personal favorite Christmas breakfast is something his mother called “Mixed Eggs.”
Basically, he says, it's three-minute eggs removed from the shell and placed in a large cereal bowl along with slices of buttered toast cut into one-inch pieces and large slices of thick bacon mixed all together. Kerns isn't sure why he liked this dish so much as a child, but he appreciates it very much as an adult, because it's not so easy to prepare. “For instance, usually the eggs break, you burn your hands or you get shells in it,” he says.
Kerns, who grew up in Charlotte, says his family would go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and come home to open gifts instead of waiting for Christmas morning. That way, they wouldn't rush to get up on Christmas morning – since sleeping in was a present in itself for Kerns' mother.
His mom would make the family a huge breakfast, including scrambled eggs, grits, hash browns, bacon, ham and biscuits. “She didn't hold anything back,” Kerns says.
For his family now, though, “to serve more than one dish on Christmas morning, forget about it!” His family has continued some traditions, however. “Even now, we still open gifts up at midnight, and my wife has really come to love this different way our family celebrates Christmas,” he says.
Jim Noble, considered a pioneer of New Southern cuisine at places including The King's Kitchen, Rooster's Wood Fired Kitchen, Noble's Restaurant and Noble's Grille, says that growing up in High Point, “my Dad’s mom, Granny Noble (Alice), used to do hand rolled biscuits, the likes of which I have tried to replicate since my childhood.”
Before his father passed away in 1990, he would buy six to eight country hams every year from the North Wilkesboro/Jefferson area, bring them home and hang them in the basement where they stayed cool. The family would have them sliced and cook country ham and red-eye gravy.
One of the dishes Noble's family makes now for Christmas morning is a sausage and egg casserole with farm-fresh eggs and sausage from Corriher's of China Grove.
For a stress-free Christmas morning, Noble advises home cooks to prep what they can the day before – particularly the sausage casserole – and then bake it on Christmas Day. “Take your time and enjoy the morning,” he says.
Fortes agrees, adding “you don't want to think about things too much on Christmas morning. I realize now, more than ever, having a 4- and a 5-year-old, that it is all about them and their memories. My mom was always the one to worry about other peoples' day, and now I try to make sure that she and my kids have a great day.”
Kerns’ tip to make Christmas breakfasts memorable and stress-free? Don't do the cooking. Try to wrangle an invitation from another cook. “If you must cook, keep it simple,” Kerns adds. “Make the classics that make your mouth water. Breakfast casserole, quiche and french toast are a few things that come to my mind, along with holiday drinks like eggnog and hot chocolate with mini marshmallows and candy canes.”
Kerns does offer a sincere suggestion for enjoying the morning, saying “the best way to make things a huge success to make everything with love, and don't take things too seriously. Remember, it's for family and friends. That's the most important thing on the holidays.”
Smoked Ham and Egg Crepes with Four Cheese SauceFrom Chef Ben Philpott at Café Monte.
1 cup butter1 cup all-purpose flour4 quarts milk1/2 teaspoon nutmeg1/2 pound each Parmesan, Pecorino, Mozzarella and Provolone cheeses, gratedSalt and pepper to taste
Make a roux with butter and flour (melt butter in heavy-bottom saucepan and stir in flour until absorbed). Slowly add in milk, stirring with a whisk. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add in cheese. Let melt into sauce at very low heat, stirring often.
2 eggs2 cups flour3 cups milkButter for pan
Mix all ingredients together very well. In a nonstick pan, melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter and add about 1/4 cup of the crepe batter. Cook on medium heat until the crepe is set.
3 eggs (scrambled)1/2 cup black forest ham (diced)1/2 cup white onion (diced)1 tablespoon butter
In a nonstick pan melt butter, add onions and ham, and sauté until the onions are tender. Add the eggs, season with salt and pepper, and stir everything together until the eggs are set.Take two crepes and place half of the egg mixture in each one. Gently roll (or fold) the crepes, being careful not to tear them. Place the crepes on a plate and ladle slightly less than a half cup of the sauce on top. Garnish with whatever looks yummy!
Pumpkin French ToastCourtesy of Chef Thomas Kerns at Terrace Café.
1 3/4 cup flour1/4 teaspoon baking powder1 teaspoon baking soda1 teaspoon salt1/2 teaspoon cinnamon1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 1 1/3 cup sugar1/3 cup butter, softened2 eggs1 cup pumpkin puree1/2 cup milk1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract1/2 cup chopped nuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves. In a large bowl, beat together sugar and butter until fluffy, then beat in eggs. Add pumpkin and beat in. Add the sifted dry ingredients alternately with the milk and stir in the vanilla. (Do not overbeat). Fold in chopped nuts.Pour batter into a greased pan and bake about 1 hour (test for doneness). Cool on baking rack.
8 eggs1 teaspoon vanilla extract2 teaspoons ground cinnamon1/2 teaspoon ground cloves1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg1 tablespoon sugar1/2 cup whole milk
Whisk all ingredients together until incorporated.
Pumpkin Spiced Caramel Sauce:
1 1/4 cups (packed) dark brown sugar1/2 cup unsalted butter1/2 cup heavy whipping cream1/2 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
Whisk brown sugar and butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat until butter melts. Whisk in cream and spice and stir until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes.
Slice pumpkin bread into one-inch slices. Dip into the batter and soak about 5 seconds on each side.
Cook on a nonstick pan or griddle with unsalted butter about 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown.
Place slices on serving plates. Top with whipped cream and drizzle with pumpkin spiced caramel sauce.