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Chef John Foster: Meal planning takes center stage in the kitchen as holiday season approaches

Holiday meals always present the most obvious challenges to cooks. Pre-planning, prep lists that stretch over two or three days. Multiple trips to the grocery store and multiple carts are standard operating procedure this time of year.

So many articles on holiday planning, menus and “new” techniques fill the magazines or websites of the cooking world that the rest of the day-to-day planning is often put aside. There may be an article about the snack habits during the holidays, and of course plenty of day-after information on how to deal with leftovers. But what about the other weekly meals, or even the meals that occur on the same day as the big ones? What do you do for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning?

It’s a fair question, considering that most cooks are up early on Thanksgiving. It’s not a sleep-in day when there is a turkey to prep, bread to bake, pies to fill and stuffing to make. What do we eat? Do we plan ahead to have something for the family or do we scrounge a bowl of cereal and move on?

In talking with my peers, the answer is in no way clear. Some do plan ahead, making croissant dough the night before and even getting up early the next morning to pull them out of the fridge. They may go back to bed, but still, there’s a treat for the family. I try and make a coffee cake while I’m multitasking the rest of the day. Because we often eat earlier than normal, it’s not uncommon to have the oven on at 7 a.m. So why not bake a coffee cake.

At Christmas, we are less traditional with our main meal. I might fry some bon hommes (more on these later) instead, and save the oven for later. When the kids were younger they were up with the sun, so bacon and eggs, a coffee cake and some juice were a typical breakfast while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Now we’re lucky if the kids are home, and up before noon. If that’s the case they’re on their own as Thanksgiving dinner is only about 4 hours away at that point.

For most, coffee is a given or maybe a mug of tea, and that may be all you have time for. Some have told me of cooking for extended family that reached into the thirites! That’s a lot of prep, and not much time to savor the quiet of early morning. And forget running out to get something, I’m usually still in my pajamas and an apron as noontime rolls around.

It seems counter-intuitive to worry about a special breakfast when holiday meals are usually the main focus. But some of my best holiday memories are about the meals and mealtimes that surround the main events. When I was young it was watching my Mom prepare stuffing and eating bacon and eggs as she did it. Home from college I was more active in the preparations and she would suggest maybe some bon hommes or a coffee cake the night before. Once I had my orders, that’s what I gladly made.

Before the kids came we would lounge on a holiday or in extreme cases return home, a trip that placed us right back in the lap of nostalgia, and old habits. Kids change everything, as does working for a living. Different priorities, multiple opportunities, and some pressure to carry on tradition leaves us most holidays reaching for the old recipes, doing the tried and true dishes and still enjoying the day. Knowing that a simple breakfast, cup of coffee and a croissant can start the special day without too much fuss gets me ready to tackle all the rest of the activities and the prospect that I’ll spend the majority of the day, as I do most days, in the kitchen.

I can’t claim this recipe, it’s actually a mish-mash of several different ones. But it’s never failed me and the fruit can be substituted freely.

Coffee cake, from the vault

Pre-heat oven to 350.

2 cups of all-purpose flour
3 tsp. of baking powder
1 tsp. Of salt
½ cup softened, unsalted butter
1 cup vanilla yogurt
1 egg
1 cup of sugar

Berries- fresh or frozen, toss them with a bit of flour, just to coat. If youre using cranberries its best to add some sugar to the flour mixture. I like blueberries for this.

Topping – ½ cup walnuts chopped, ½ cup brown sugar, ½ cup butter, 1 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. nutmeg, 1 Tbl. Butter, mix together to a sandy consistency. (I usually double this mix as I like a lot of streusel in my coffee cake).

Sift the dry ingredients together. Whisk the egg and sugar together until pale yellow. Stir the yogurt into the egg mix and then blend the dry with the wet until a smooth batter is formed. Butter and lightly flour a 9″x 9″ pan. Alternate layers of batter, topping and fruit in the pan, ending with the last of the topping mixture. Bake about 40 minutes or until the toothpick comes out clean.

Bon hommes – literally meaning “good men,” this is a fry bread recipe from my father’s French-Canadian side of the family. Most bread or roll doughs can be used and the only accompaniments needed are some butter and real maple syrup. When I make Parker House rolls for Thanksgiving dinner, I usually try and steal some dough, roll it thin and place it in a cast iron skillet with enough hot fat to make it swim. The dough puffs and browns on one side and you then simply turn it over and brown the other side. Brush with butter, douse with maple syrup, and enjoy.

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John Foster is an executive chef who heads the culinary program at Sullivan University’s Lexington campus. A New York native, Foster has been active in the Lexington culinary scene and a promoter of local and seasonal foods for more than 20 years. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef has been the executive chef of his former restaurant, Harvest, and now his Chevy Chase eatery, The Sage Rabbit.

To read more from Chef John Foster, including his recipes, click here.

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