I can’t believe we’re already gearing up for Christmas! It feels like this has been the longest year, you know, pandemic and all. From canceling school, weddings and gatherings to creating driveway dinners, virtual baby showers and masked ceremonies, we’ve found creative ways to make memories and we’re almost pros at this point. 

We’re still hanging in there and hoping this is the final inning of this pandemic. We’re hoping the new year will bring a fresh start instead of a 2020 overtime. But, more than anything, we’re ready to be with our loved ones again. We’re ready to be guests at weddings and clap at all the cake-cutting ceremonies. We’re ready to shower our friends with baby gifts in person and get birthday dinners without masks. We’re ready to gather at concerts and graduation ceremonies. We’re ready to hug our loved ones on Christmas morning without having to get tested beforehand. Yes, we’re certainly ready for this carefree life we took for granted and we’re ready to make up for lost time.

But what we’re ready for and what we have at the moment are two very different things. Unfortunately, this virus is still lingering around like the rancid smell of spoiled food you forgot to throw out. And even though it might be a while before the smell or virus is gone, we’re going to do what we do best: We’re going to make the best of it and keep going because giving up and wallowing in pity is very September 2020. We’re going to power through and make beautiful memories whether big or small. We will make this Christmas special.

The way I try to make things special is through food. What do you usually make on Christmas morning? Do you make a huge spread of items or just one thing to snack on while opening gifts and then move straight on to lunch? I’m somewhere in between the two. I don’t want a huge production, but I still want something great to look forward to without a lot of work that morning. I make something sweet to eat on, but I almost always serve it with eggs and or a meat of some sort. 

Because we’re making Christmas special, I’m not just giving you one recipe but two (as well as a breakfast inspiration) so you can pick whichever one (or all) that suits you best for Christmas.

 

Chai Spiced Cinnamon Rolls

By: Zara Abbasi

Chai Spice Mix:

  • 3 tbsp. cinnamon powder
  • 3 tsp. ground cloves
  • 3 tsp. ginger powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp. cardamom powder
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg powder

Mix all ingredients and set aside. You can also make a bigger batch and use to make your own chai later (or sooner!). *For a cup of chai, mix about 1/2 tbsp. into a cup of hot black tea or a tea of your choice. Then add milk and sugar to your liking.

 

Cinnamon Chai Mixture:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 2-3 tbsp. chai spice mix

Mix all ingredients together and set aside.

 

Cinnamon Caramel:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. Kosher salt

Heat all ingredients together until melted through. Set aside.

 

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese and butter together until fluffy. Add in the vanilla and powdered sugar and mix slowly so it doesn’t make a mess. Once incorporated, whip together at medium high speed until fluffy. Set aside to use once rolls are slightly cooled.

 

Cinnamon Rolls:

  • 3/4 cup warm milk
  • 2 1/4 tsp. or one package quick-rise yeast 
  • 1/4 cup sugar 
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 3 cups bread flour, plus extra for bench flour
  • 3/4 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, softened and set aside.

Directions:

  1. Warm milk in the microwave until it is a little warmer than lukewarm. It should not feel hot or else it will kill the yeast.

  2. Add the milk to the yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in the sugar and allow to sit for a few minutes until the yeast becomes frothy.

  3. Mix together and slowly add in the melted butter as well as the egg and the yolk. Mix until incorporated.

  4. Slowly add in the bread flour and salt and use the dough hook attachment to knead the dough for a few minutes (about 6-8 minutes).

  5. In a lightly oiled bowl, put the dough in the bowl and move it around to ensure all surfaces of the dough are oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and a warm towel and place somewhere warm to rise for about an hour to an hour and a half.

  6. Once the dough has doubled in size, pour out onto a floured surface and roll out using a rolling pin to about approximately 13x8 inches.

  7. Spread one stick of the softened butter all over the dough and then sprinkle with your cinnamon, brown sugar and chai mixture and press down to ensure it all sticks together.

  8. Roll tightly and pop in the fridge for about 10 minutes. This helps you not squish the dough when cutting into slices.

  9. Cut the dough into 8-9 thick slices. I like to trim the ends a bit to have even slices.

  10. Place the slices in a parchment paper lined pan and cover again with plastic wrap and a warm towel. Allow to rise again in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

  11. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350. Once risen, remove the towel and plastic wrap and bake for 20-25 minutes.

  12. While the rolls are still hot, I like to take the cinnamon caramel and pour it all over the rolls and separate them a little so that it can drip down the sides as well.

  13. Once they cool a bit, spread the cream cheese frosting on top. Sprinkle tops with some more of the chai spice mix and serve while still warm.

 

Savory Bread Pudding

By: Zara Abbasi

Ingredients:

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 7-8 slices, dense thick bread of your choice, cut into half-inch cubes
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 6-7 sprigs of thyme, destemmed
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 3 large leeks, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb. ground sausage of your choice
  • chives to garnish

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet, heat 1/3 cup of oil on medium-high. Add ground sausage and allow it to cook until golden and crusted, then stir in garlic. Season with salt and pepper and half the oregano and thyme. Reduce heat and cook until sausage is cooked through.

  2. Remove meat from pan, but keep the fat. Bring pan to medium-high and add the leek pieces, mushrooms and any additional oil if needed. Cook until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add a splash of milk and a sprinkle of salt, stirring lightly. Steam for another 5-6 minutes. Add meat back to the pan and remove from heat. Add in the remaining herbs.

  3. Toss the bread in 1/3 cup oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes, until slightly crunchy and golden, stirring cubes once or twice. Allow bread to cool.

  4. Reduce oven to 325.

  5. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, 1/3 cup of the Parmesan, salt and pepper in a large bowl until smooth. Fold in bread cubes and meat mixture, then spread into your prepared baking dish. I like to push it all down a bit to ensure everything is even. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and cover in foil. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove foil and continue baking until golden brown and set for another 15-20 minutes.

  6. When bread pudding is done, allow to rest for a bit and then garnish with chopped chives and melted butter if you’re feeling kind of extra.

 

Breakfast Charcuterie Board

This is not really a recipe per say, but more of an inspiration to use for you Christmas morning if you want to do something fun and different. You are probably well aware how charcuterie boards are currently all the rage. It’s easy to take that concept and apply it to any other realm as well. 

For a Christmas breakfast, I’d love to put together a collection of some or all of the following. The first thing you’ll need is a large board or platter. If you don’t have either, that’s ok, you can still do it. Just wrap a large piece of firm and unmarked cardboard with plastic wrap and proceed as if it’s a piece of wood. It’s 2020, we're gonna make it work! Then select a few of the following. The most fun is decorating everything, so that’s where you need to let your personality shine.

  • waffles and/or pancakes
  • meats such as sausage links, bacon slices or even cured meats
  • fruits of all kinds: berries, sliced oranges and dried cranberries for a festive touch
  • cheeses: any assortment of your favorites with a few herb crackers or mini biscuits alongside them
  • syrups and jams: fill cute small containers or jars with maple syrup and fresh jams to use on with the waffles, pancakes and/or biscuits
  • decorate the tray or platter with cute candy canes, dried oranges, basil leaves, rosemary sprigs, washed and dried ornaments or even a few decorated cookies (It’s Christmas morning after all, and we can have cookies for breakfast in 2020.)

 

Love to all and I hope you are able to find joy in even the small things this year because that’s where we need joy the most.

 

From Z to A with Zara Abbasi

Zara Abbasi is the pastry chef and recipe developer for Zara Made It. Follow her food adventures on Instagram at @zaramadeit