Chef Andrew Lubatty of Avenue Grill taught last night's "Christmas Morning Breakfast" class at the Seasoned Chef Cooking School, and he was all for using pre-made puff pastry, room-temperature eggs and bacon grease. But he's not a fan of over-adulterated fruits or substituting Danish Fontina for Italian in a frittata.
Focusing on dishes that were simple to make, easy on the wallet and possible to prep beforehand, Lubatty instructed students on how to prepare fancy-yet-low-hassle holiday breakfast dishes: chorizo-green-chile strata; sausage-apple casserole; a spinach, bacon and Fontina frittata; refrigerator cinnamon rolls, almond-cinnamon Palmiers with fresh fruit; and a splendid and undemanding French toast bake with spiced red-pear compote.
"Christmas morning is about quick and easy," says Susan Stevens, the school's director. "You don't want to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is opening presents.... They may open your presents."
But then, presenting your family and friends with a hot, filling breakfast on Santa Day is a gift, indeed.
Lubatty gave each student a detailed recipe packet with instructions, went over basic knife skills and ingredient substitutions, then divided students into groups for each prep station. It was a full class of eighteen students, several of whom were repeat customers familiar enough with the well-equipped kitchen to assist the new ones. The kitchen was stocked with KitchenAid mixers, Le Creuset cookware and two brand-new Viking ovens.
Spinach, bacon and Fontina fritatta
For the Palmiers, Lubatty strongly suggested using pre-made puff pastry sheets (Pepperidge Farm this evening), which are significantly less time-consuming. One box, a few sprinkles of colored sugar and almonds, a bit of folding and a few minutes' worth of slicing produced two full cookie sheets of festive pastries. He showed students how to cut up pears, oranges, grapes and kiwi for a simple fruit salad to set next to the Palmiers, recommending a spritz of citrus juice to keep the fruit from oxidizing, but not to overdo it with sugary marinades or dressings. "If you use dressings, then you lose the taste of the fruit, which can stand alone," he admonished. The trick to making a good, fluffy egg frittata is making sure the eggs are room temperature (it helps the liquid/fat emulsion process), and Lubatty had students add a pinch of baking powder for extra lift. Although Italian Fontina was listed on the menu, students asked whether they could use the Danish variety instead. Lubatty advised against it, pointing out that the cheese had a stronger flavor that people might not like. (Danish Fontina is considered by some foodies to be the red-rind-ed bastard stepchild of Italian Fontina D'Aosta. It is generally less aged, softer, less pungent, costs less to buy, and better-suited to Americans' mild cheese palates.)
"Overnight" French toast bake
A pan full of sizzling bacon grease is just the thing for sautéeing fresh baby spinach, if you don't mind the pesky fat and sodium content. The recipe called for healthy olive oil, but to waste that skillet of naughty, tasty fat was a shame. So in went the raw spinach, and out came a glorious mess of pork-plied greens.
The sausage-apple casserole, Lubatty's polyamorous marriage of baked Gala apples, crispy cuts of link sausage, cranberries and golden raisins, was elegantly simple and a sweet-savory side dish that could lend itself to a lunch or dinner in addition to being a killer breakfast delight.
The chorizo-green-chile strata was the most time-consuming dish because the chile sauce was homemade, then layered with chorizo, shredded Jack and Cheddar cheeses and corn tortillas to make what Lubatty called a "Mexican lasagna." It came out extremely flavorful but a bit soupy -- probably because it had little time to set before students decimated the entire pan.
Once again, Lubatty's uncomplicated recipe skill produced a breakfast gem with the French toast bake. One loaf of cubed Texas toast, one bar of cubed cream cheese, two cups of milk, twelve eggs and a half cup each of melted butter and maple syrup were combined and scooped into a baking dish. Just less than an hour later, the contents were bubbling, golden and ready to be topped with the fragrant spiced red-pear compote. The simmering compote was augmented with vanilla paste, which Lubatty chooses over the extract because "you can see the vanilla beans."
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Cinnamon-roll dough had been pre-prepared before the class so students could have rolls already raised to bake, but while all the dishes were in the ovens, Lubatty demonstrated how to make the sweet dough "just for the experience."
Lubatty 's next class at the Seasoned Chef is his "Rollin' Sushi Workshop" on Tuesday, January 11, which runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.; for more info, call 303-377-3222.