Let’s face it: the real reason why we cook is to avoid doing dishes. Does the thought of putting a scrubber to a grimy plate make your skin crawl? Me too. Scouring? Never heard of it. Ever try and clean a plate of unfinished macaroni that has been sitting out for longer than 10 seconds? Impossible. This is, of course, a load of crap because any cook worth their salt knows that you need to clean as you go. Regardless, there is something extremely satisfying and luxurious about getting those plates plated, those pours poured, and then boom, your job is done. The holidays mean lots of meals, and a commensurate amount of dishes. Let’s avoid them, together.
Today we’re making breakfast. More specifically, breakfast for your family while you’re all gathered during the Christmas holidays. Why? Because holiday meals can get dysfunctional, and if you’re going to sign up to cook one (a very good idea, for many reasons), breakfast contains the fewest landmines. First of all, it’s extra casual and relaxed. Soft pants are the norm. Nobody is rushing off to work, nobody is freaking out (yet). Picture yourself trying to struggle-roast a turkey while everyone stands over your shoulder talking about how chubby you were when you were a kid, and when are you going to go back to university and get your degree already? Not a good idea unless you’re heavily seasoned/pickled (and your brine game is on smash). Christmas dinners are often best left to the pros (shoutout to moms everywhere), though there are exceptions to the rule – deep fryers, turducken, beef tenderloin, etc.
Rule #642 — Mimosas
The secret weapon to any breakfast with extended family is the almighty mimosa. Everybody likes them, all bubbly and citrusy, and they are deceptively boozy so things tend to get real festive, real quick. Plus, it keeps everyone off your back while you put in work at the stove. If you’re feeling ambitious, squeeze your orange juice fresh. Hit it with a little splash of Triple Sec or Grand Marnier if you want. Pour them heavy at first, lighter as the morning progresses. And don’t bother with real champagne, go with a dryer sparkling wine or prosecco. Mumm’s is a good bet for around 20 bones. Also because, “mumm” jokes. Gather your brothers, cousins and uncles and pop the cork into your neighbors yard.
Rule #296 — Fruit salad
Another go-to crowd pleaser is the fruit salad. It’s light, it looks pretty on the table, and you’re basically mainlining everyone with a serious hit of vitamins, which we all need during this season of cookies, candies and cakes. Enlist one of your reasonably competent relatives to help you wash and slice the fruit. (Keep some band-aids on hand, just in case). I went with grapes, bananas, strawberries and pineapple because they looked gorgeous in the market. And because I was in a major rush, and they were basically floating on top of everything else with beams of sunlight shooting down on them from the heavens. Get what looks good and get out. (Don’t do like I did and show up at the market an hour before plating time). Cut it all up purty-like, stick it in a bowl and hit it with a slug of liqueur that matches one of the fruit flavors. Done.
Rule #412 — Simplicity is key
It should be a given, but don’t overcomplicate this thing. You want a dish that has it all: salty bits, crispy bits, meat, egg, fat, starch, spice. It’s gotta be hearty. A little bit of veg too, if we must. Our centrepiece, corned beef hash, is (typically) straightforward to prepare and hits pretty much all these notes. If you execute it properly, that is. A gentle aside: when it comes to the food I make, I’m my own worst critic. If something goes wrong, it irks the hell out of me. In this case, I screwed up the potatoes. They went straight to mash in the pot because I overcooked and didn’t get a proper crisp on them. It still tasted great but, damn. Then again, making mistakes is a big part of being a home cook. You gotta pick up the pieces and move on. Do yourself a solid and read a recipe or two to get a feel for the general technique before you start cooking.
Wearing both sunglasses and (inexplicably) my apron, this is what I picked up at the market in an extreme rush, while sipping a traditional cappuccino. Serves 10, so adjust accordingly.
- About 3 pounds of baking potatoes
- A few white onions
- A 2-3 pound chunk of corned beef from the butcher (if you’re over-the-top ambitious, make it yourself)
- Butter, cream and some nice gruyere or aged cheddar
- Flat leaf parsley and a couple of plump red bell peppers (veg, remember?)
- A dozen free range eggs
This is what I kinda did but you should definitely do
Put a large, heavily salted pot of water on to boil and dice your potatoes into ½ inch chunks. Set aside. Wash your peppers and parsley and place on some towels to drain. Slice your corned beef up into chunks and put a pan (cast iron is best) on medium heat. Throw a dash of oil in the pan to get things going and start crisping up your corned beef. Meanwhile, take a large dutch oven or deep skillet, and get it on your third burner with some moderate heat. This will also be your serving vessel, so select accordingly. Chop up your now clean and dry vegetables into a rustic dice.
Get someone to fix you up a mimosa. Slam it. You’ve got three pots on the heat and now you’re really cooking. Throw a big pad of butter into the hot, empty skillet and dump in your onions and red peppers. Stir them around. Now that the water is boiling furiously, add your diced potatoes and cook for 3-5 minutes, until they are tender but not fully cooked. When they’re happy, drain the water and add them into the skillet with the onion and red peppers (which are now softening up and getting fragrant). Cook it all together for another 5 minutes and make sure your potatoes crisp up (i.e., add more butter). Right about now, you’ll want to take your hunks of corned beef and add them into the mix. This is the point where you season: hit it with a healthy amount of salt and fresh cracked pepper. Add some chopped parsley, pour a slug of cream in there, and give it a stir. Yum!
When it’s all looking ready, make little receptacles (super technical term) in your hash and crack the eggs right into them. Add some more butter at this point, because butter is life. Grate some cheese over top, lower the temperature and put the lid on it while your eggs slowly cook (about 5 minutes). When the yolks look like they are set but still soft, take it off the heat and ring your dinner bell. We’re ready to roll here. Your family will now be well-lubricated via mimosas, and you can go make a big fuss about breakfast being served. You got your kid brother to set the table for you, right!? Take the whole mess out to the table and set alongside your beautiful bowl of fruit salad. Take your massive wood pepper grinder and give it a couple turns for show. Your job is done. Time to eat.
The bottom line is, you made an effort. You showed your people that you love them by going straight for the stomach. My hash didn’t turn out absolutely perfect, but it didn’t stop us from having a perfect time. I know I sound like a broken record, but cooking for your loved ones is a beautiful thing. It’s visceral and challenging and so completely worth it. Do it.