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A gift of breakfast<br> The presents are opened and everyone is hungry. We went to the experts for easy and tasty dishes to wake up to on Christmas morning

When it comes to holiday breakfast recipes, who knows the sweet spot between effort and crowd-pleasing results better than a restaurant chef?

Those are the cooks who, after working a year's worth of long, weary shifts, wake up on one of their rare days off. To, quite often, cook breakfast for their families and friends -- because it's a special day, and who knows the kitchen better?

Asked to share some of their prized holiday breakfast and brunch recipes, local chefs contributed a delicious collection of centerpiece dishes, and some savory sides worth exploring.

The three main dishes below can be assembled the night before.

"When you get ready to open gifts you throw it in the oven," chef Carmelo Raimondi said of his Basil Breakfast Strata. "When the gifts are done, it's warm and ready to eat."

His wife Kristen actually makes it more than he does, said Raimondi, who owns Carmelo's in Lewiston. The bright flavor of basil pesto hearkens back to warmer times, he said. "It's like summer in December," he said.

Raimondi also contributed a baked pancake that'll turn heads when you bring it to the table. It's simple, but substitute eggnog for milk for extra holiday flavor. Raimondi said he loves to add maple syrup and some of his homemade bacon and sausage.

"The presentation draws ooohs, then you smell the eggnog," he said. "But with the maple syrup -- the salty of the sausage and bacon with the sweet -- it's so good."

Chef Jennifer Boye of the Mansion on Delaware offered a Brunch Stromboli that's perfect as a bring-along dish. Make it a day ahead, "Wrap it in foil, take it to someone's house and pop it in the oven to reheat it," she said. "Since making bread dough intimidates some people, you can use premade dough but it still tastes like homemade."

For Torches owner J.J. Richert, getting holiday breakfast together the day ahead is a must. "I'm not really a morning person," said Richert. "The restaurant keeps us up late."

One favorite, a recipe of his aunt, Kathy Schumacher, is a baked French toast with port-maple sauce. Many holiday mornings, it's served as part of a "seriously glorious" spread, alongside bacon, pancakes and his brother Kevin's bacon-onion potatoes, dubbed "homeboys."

"Right after that, everyone's so incredibly full, it's a black cup of coffee and straight to the family room for TV watching, holiday movie watching, and dozing in and out," said Richert.


Basil Breakfast Strata

1 cup milk

1/2 cup white wine

1 loaf day-old French or Ciabatta bread, in 1/2 -inch slices

8 ounces prosciutto, sliced thin

2 cups arugula leaves

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pound Fontina cheese, sliced thin

3 ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4 -inch thick

1/2 cup pesto (recipe below)

4 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup half and half

The day before, mix milk and wine in shallow bowl. Dip slices of bread and gently squeeze out most of the liquid.

Place layer of bread in a 12-inch round Corningware dish or your favorite casserole dish.

Cover bread layer with proscuitto slices, then arugula leaves dipped in the olive oil, then cover with some of the cheese and tomato slices, and drizzle with pesto.

Repeat layers twice or so, until dish is full, saving a little cheese, arugula, pesto and tomatoes to top dish. Beat eggs with salt and pepper and pour over layers. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, set oven to 350 and let container warm to room temperature (to prevent cold dish from breaking in oven).

Drizzle with half and half, top with reserved ingredients. Bake until browned, about 45 minutes. The sides should start to bubble and pull away from the pan. Serves 10.

For pesto: Combine 2 cups fresh basil leaves, 3 minced cloves garlic and 1/3 cup pine nuts in food processor. Pulse a few times, then leave running and slowly add 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil in a constant stream. Stop and scrape down the sides of food processor with rubber spatula. Add 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese and pulse again until blended. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes 1 cup.

-- Chef Carmelo Raimondi, Carmelo's.


Brunch Stromboli

2 pound loaf frozen French bread dough, thawed, or ready-made pizza dough

1/2 pound breakfast sausage, cooked and crumbled

6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

1/2 cup havarti cheese, shredded

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 small to medium onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium skillet, saute sliced onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft and translucent. Add maple syrup, salt and pepper and continue cooking until onions are golden brown and most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside.

Meanwhile, roll dough into a large rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick. Place sausage, cheese, bacon and onions in the center of the dough, in the middle third, not near the edges, or it won't seal when you pinch it. Fold top of the rectangle toward you to meet the bottom and seal by pinching.

On each end, gently fold the last inch underneath and pinch to seal the dough, forming a stuffed loaf. Gently pierce the top of the loaf with a fork to allow steam to escape. Place on a greased baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for an hour.

Brush loaf with remaining olive oil and bake at 350 degrees until dough is cooked through and golden brown. Let cool slightly and slice into individual portions. I love to top mine with a poached egg. -- Chef Jennifer Boye, Mansion on Delaware


Aunt Kathy's Holiday French Toast Bake with Maple-Port Syrup

1/2 cup milk

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup sugar

1 loaf bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup raisins

1 cup port wine or more

1 cup maple syrup

The day before, cover raisins with port. Set aside.

Grease a 9-by-9-inch pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, mix milk, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla and sugar until smooth. Drain port wine from plumped raisins, reserving port. Mix raisins with bread until well incorporated and place in pan.

Pour egg custard over bread and raisins and let sit for 1/2 hour. (Dish can be prepared to this point the night before, covered and refrigerated.)

Measure reserved port and add some, if needed, to equal 1 cup. Place port in small pan with maple syrup, and boil mixture rapidly until reduced by half.

Place egg dish in center rack of oven for 25 minutes until custard in center is firm. Serve warm.

Place a generous scoop of French toast in center of bowl, along with a healthy dusting of powder sugar, sliced bananas and perhaps a few raspberries. I like to serve my syrup in a helpy-selfy fashion, in an old tea pot or gravy boat.

-- Chef J.J. Richert, Torches


Puffy Eggnog Pancake

6 eggs

1 cup eggnog

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a blender, combine the eggs, milk, flour and salt; cover and process until smooth.

Batter can be made the night ahead and refrigerated, covered.

To cook: Pour the butter into an ungreased 13 by 9 inch baking dish; add the batter.

Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Pancake will puff up, then deflate as it cools. Serves 8.

You could serve it with fresh fruit. I would "go for the gusto" -- breakfast sausage, bacon and topped with maple syrup. -- Chef Carmelo Raimondi, Carmelo's.


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