To this very day, if we spend Christmas with my dad, one of my kids will beg him to tell the story of his favorite Christmas present ever. When he was about 10 or 11, his parents gave him an electric griddle. It was a high-sided aluminum square with a thermostat in its handle, probably made by Sunbeam. In my dad’s family, each child could take one gift to bed with him on Christmas night. Dad snuggled with his frying pan.
This story is special to me because my dad cooked our Christmas morning pancakes on that griddle. After he and my mom split up, he made breakfast on it when we had our bi-weekly visits with him in the city, but it’s the memory of those holiday mornings I cherish. For us kids, that tradition meant everything.
I’m not my dad, though. While I stick to a reliable menu for our Christmas dinner, sometimes I get tired of pancakes. I make them most Sundays, and they require more kitchen fuss than I want on a day when so much else is going on. So my Christmas breakfast menu varies. This year, I asked some friends about their traditions and found some great make-ahead ideas. The two I zeroed in on complement each other — one, a slow-cooker oatmeal, is spicy-sweet; the other, a mini-frittata, is savory.
Best of all, each can be customized according to your family’s tastes. The winter holidays celebrate light in the darkness, the shedding of the old year to make way for the new. One of the joys of building your own family is finding the balance between continuity and invention that brings the most light to you and those you love. Breakfast is a great place to start.
You can also make this in a rice cooker, using a ratio of 2 parts liquid to 1 part oats as a starting point. Slow cookers and rice cookers vary widely, though, so no matter which cooker you use, try this at least once before the big day to get the ratios right for your cooker and preference.
6 cups liquid (any combination of the following: water, milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and/or apple juice)
1.5 cup old-fashioned or steel-cut oats
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup-½ cup sweetener (try brown sugar, honey, or real maple syrup)
1 cup dried fruit, such as cranberries, raisins, or chopped apricots or figs, or a couple of fresh apples or pears, peeled and chopped
Optional spices: 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or any combination of ½ teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom plus a pinch of ground clove or allspice
To serve: chopped toasted hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, coconut, or almonds; butter and cream or half and half; additional sweetener because what the heck, it’s once a year
Right before bedtime, combine all ingredients in your cooker and turn to low to cook for 8 hours. In the morning, stir well and add additional liquid if it’s too thick. Set out nuts, butter, cream, and sweetener to serve.
Use two 12-well mini-muffin tins, greased with a little butter or olive oil. Muffin tin sizes can vary, so fill a 2-cup liquid measuring cup with water and see how much you use to fill the wells about ¾ full. That’s how much beaten egg you’ll need.
8 large eggs, beaten (or as much as needed)
¼ teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
Ground pepper to taste
¼ cup grated or crumbled cheese (parmesan, Swiss, cheddar, feta)
¼ cup chopped ham, cooked sausage, or chopped, sautéed mushrooms
½ cup chopped cooked spinach, excess liquid squeezed out (asparagus or broccoli would also be good)
Preheat oven to 325. Combine eggs, salt, and pepper in liquid measuring cup. Pour egg mixture into muffin cups to fill less than halfway. Divide cheese, meat, and spinach among muffin cups. Pour remaining egg over fillings and bake for 20 minutes. Remove frittatas by prying them loose with a skewer or toothpick. Serve immediately, or refrigerate and reheat in the microwave or a warm oven before serving. They’re also nice at room temperature.