THE BLOG

The Main Ingredients: Holiday Brunch (Chef's Meal)

11/30/2013 09:18 EST | Updated 03/03/2014 04:59 EST

"There's always room for one more person at the table," my mom says whenever anyone in the family starts complaining about not having enough chairs or feeling overwhelmed by the amount of food they'll have to cook over the holidays. We momentarily dismiss her motherly advice but very quickly realize that she's always right. See what I just did there?

In addition to handling the festive cooking and entertaining load, we now also seem to be squeezing in multiple events per day trying to accommodate all our complex family obligations. I have recently begun a tradition of hosting a holiday brunch that involves less cooking, allows people to drop in and then head off on their various other journeys, yet still gives us the opportunity to celebrate as a family.

I love the breakfast/brunch time of day and the comforting smells of winter spices bobbing in warm ciders, the aroma of just-brewed coffee and the infinite combinations of fruit, eggs and breads. The challenge is how to successfully make a delicious brunch that isn't just a sugar fest. If you're thinking that the bacon in your chocolate bacon doughnuts makes them a healthy protein, you need to get some inspiration from the recipes I'm about to show you.

This week's challenge is to take the set of 12 ingredients and prepare a healthy brunch using the ingredients in a variety of ways. Remember, we don't have to use them all, but variety and balance are important.

For my first dish, I'm going with a crowd-pleasing egg dish that is nutritionally balanced but also looks very festive. For brunch, eggs are still king. They are so versatile and have few nutritional equivalents. But since vegetables are usually lacking in most brunch options, I'm adding some fresh cooked pieces of rapini right into the frittata.

Rapini and Goat Cheese Frittata with Red Peppers

The Main Ingredients Used:

The Main Ingredients III: Chef's Meal 1

Rapini

Goat cheese

Milk

Pear

Pomegranate

Brown Rice

A frittata is simply an Italian style omelet that is usually started on the stove and often finished in the oven to set the top, rather than being folded in half like its classy French counterpart. A good quality skillet is essential so the eggs don't stick. I used a well-seasoned cast iron pan but a non-stick pan with no scratches is also a good option.

Ingredients List:

• 45 ml (3 Tbsp.) extra virgin olive oil

• 1 medium Yukon gold potato, peeled and diced

• 1 onion, chopped

• 1 red pepper, diced

• 125 ml (½ cup) cooked rapini, (cut into 2" pieces and boiled for 3 min).

• 6 eggs, beaten and seasoned with pepper

• 15 ml (1 Tbsp.) chopped fresh or dry dill

• Fresh chopped chives

• 60 ml (2 oz) goat cheese

• Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Preparation: Preheat oven to 325°F.

In a deep, 11½" ovenproof skillet, heat olive oil on medium setting. When hot, add the diced potato and season. Cook at medium setting for about 9-11 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through and golden.

Add the onion, pepper and toss for a further 3 minutes until pepper is just tender.

Add the seasoned eggs, dill and chives to cover potatoes. Sprinkle with the cooked rapini, distributing it evenly throughout pan. Dot with crumbled goat cheese, ensuring you distribute it evenly. Transfer pan to oven and bake at 325°F until frittata is set, about 7-8 min.

Serve with whole grain bread, if desired.

Makes 4 servings

The Verdict: My husband loves eggs but is quite particular about how they are cooked. He was going over some work notes while eating this colourful frittata and immediately popped his head up to say how fantastic it was. He really loved the combination of the slightly tangy goat cheese and the rapini.

For my next recipe I wanted to make it a bit different as a brunch dish but I still wanted the family connection to be there. Rice pudding always reminds me of being a kid because my dad would make it regularly. I often came home from school to see the bowls of creamy pudding lined up to cool and I can smell the generous dusting of cinnamon he would sprinkle on them right now. To break my dad's tradition of using creamy white Arborio rice is quite a risk especially since my husband has his mom's rice pudding memories in his culinary childhood memory.

Brown Rice Pudding with Pears and Pomegranates

This version features short grain brown rice, which takes at least one hour to cook and isn't as creamy as the Arborio. In addition I am letting the natural sweetness of the rice shine through without adding too much sugar. The whole recipe has only two tablespoons of sugar in it with an additional optional tablespoon of maple syrup drizzled on top with the fruit, if desired.

Ingredients List:

• 750 ml (3 cups) 2% milk

• 25 ml (2 Tbsp.) sugar

• 1 cinnamon stick

• 1 cardamom pod

• 3 whole cloves

• 1 vanilla bean, split seeds scraped

• 125 ml (½ cup) brown short grain rice

• Garnish

• 1 ripe pear, peeled and diced

• 1 pomegranate, seeds only

• 15 ml (1 Tbsp.) maple syrup, optional

• Ground cinnamon to taste

In a medium saucepan combine the milk, sugar and spices and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the rice, stir well cover and reduce to low heat. Simmer covered for 60-65 minutes, until rice is tender.

Remove spices and discard. Stir and divide mixture into 6 small bowls. Cool to room temperature and sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Chill for at least 2 hours. Just before serving sprinkle with diced pears and pomegranate seeds and drizzle ½ teaspoon of maple syrup on top of each serving.

Makes 6 servings

To complete this festive brunch, I would serve some great quality coffee and unsweetened natural warmed apple cider with spices and lemon wedges.

The Verdict: This was my first time making rice pudding with brown rice and I knew my husband's childhood memory was going to factor into his opinion of how it tasted. Although his first word was "Mmmm", he followed that quickly with "it isn't cooked enough". I have to agree that you really have to ensure that the rice cooks for 65 minutes or even a bit more to ensure that it is cooked completely through. It will still have a bit of an al dente feeling but I really enjoyed the nutty flavor along with the crunch of the pomegranates.