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Joni Woolf: Christmas morning breakfast: plan now; be ready

Christmas morning can be a rather chaotic time if more than one person lives in the home. So planning ahead, preparing ahead, even cooking ahead, all help to reduce the stress that is often present, even in happy times. Reducing chaos is a serious goal of some (those of us, perhaps, who cannot deal with mess and clutter and who want everything to be ORGANIZED), but Christmas is a pause in time, a brief respite from the cares of the week, or month, or year. So prepare in advance; then on Christmas, put the casserole in the oven, slice the banana bread, add a bowl of fresh fruit, pour a cup of Christmas punch or a cup of coffee. Pause. Give thanks. We’re still here.
I found the following recipe last year in a magazine and clipped immediately. It is robust, filling, delicious. And you can assemble it up to four days in advance and keep in the fridge, then let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before baking.

Smoky Sausage and Grits Casseroles
1 ½ lbs smoked sausage, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups uncooked quick-cooking grits
2 8-ounce blocks sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup milk
1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
Vegetable cooking spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brown sausage in a large skillet over medium high heat, stirring often, 7 to 9 minutes, or until cooked; drain on paper towels. Bring salt and 4 ½ cups water to boil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Whisk in grits and return to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes or until thickened, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat; add cheese, stirring until completely melted. Stir in milk and next 4 ingredients. Stir in sausage. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased (with cooking spray) 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until golden and cooked through. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Banana Nut Bread
(This is my recipe and different from one published last year. This is simply the best banana bread recipe I have found and have used it 40 years. It can be baked several days in advance and can be eaten at room temperature, or slightly heated.)

½ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups sifted plain flour
3 large or 5 small, ripe bananas, mashed and beaten to a pulp
2 eggs
½ cup sifted plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
¾ cup chopped nuts (I use pecans)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream shortening and sugar well. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add 1 ½ cups flour alternately with banana pulp. Combine remaining ½ cup flour, salt, soda, baking powder and nuts, and add to batter. Add vanilla. Beat only until blended. Pour batter into well-greased loaf pan, pulling dough to ends and sides to make a well-shaped loaf. Bake one hour at 350 degrees F. The secret to a good banana flavor is to use well-ripened bananas — skins well-speckled with brown.

Orange Blush
(This Christmas morning non-alcoholic cocktail comes from “Worth Savoring,” a grand cookbook from New Albany, Mississippi, published during the William Faulkner centennial.)
1 6-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed and undiluted
1 cup cranberry juice
4 tablespoons sugar
1 pint club soda
Combine first 3 ingredients, stirring well. Chill. Add club soda to mixture just before serving. Serve over crushed ice in old-fashioned glasses.

These recipes should get the holiday blood pumping, and eager for Christmas morning to arrive. Plan and prepare now. Then savor the day — and the food.

– Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net.