Well, hello December. Did anyone else blink and practically miss November fly by, quick and cold? November was interesting in Sweden; I've found the darkness really disorienting - as did I the nearly endless light in the summer months, but that was disorienting in a much more enchanting way than the wall of darkness now looming ever earlier. While the darkness has been a challenge, what I found particularly lovely about November in Stockholm was the subtlety with which the festive season made it's approach. It's been slow and organic; arches of candles and star shaped lanterns appearing gradually at first, and now dotting most of the windows on our street, real trees decorating public spaces (including the courtyard behind our apartment), and outdoor skating rinks appearing in public squares. It is a stark contrast to the overwhelming festiveness that normally appears the moment Halloween is over, if not before, in North America.
So now, December. The grocery stores in our neighbourhood have been gradually filling up with festive fare; boxes of chocolates adorned with pictures of the king and queen of Sweden, sweet saffron-y Lucia buns, and some strange looking festive fizzy drink called Julmust which has been described as tasting somewhere between cola and rootbeer. Last week I tried samples at the grocery store of two classic Swedish holiday treats; glögg, which is a sort of mulled wine, traditionally served warm, with raisins and almonds in the glass (the sample I had at the store was room temperature, and unadorned, but I plan to do it up proper this weekend), and pepparkakor (ginger snaps) with blue cheese. I like pepparkakor, and I like blue cheese, but the combo I cannot get on board with. Sorry, Sweden, I think your holiday treat is strange.
Paul isn't much of a breakfast person, and weekends tend to be pretty busy at our place, what with long runs and yoga classes and Swedish lessons (vi talar bara svenska på lördagar!) to attend to, so elaborate breakfasts don't happen all that often.When my sister, Emily, and my soon-to-be brother-in-law, Andy, came from London for a weekend visit back in October, the normal weekend pace slowed considerably, and I took the opportunity to make some fancy breakfasts I'd long had in my mental archive of must-make items.
Wherever it is that you are, and however it is you normally welcome the festive season, chances are pretty good you'll be hosting visitors at some point. This breakfast is tasty and impressive looking, but if you make the polenta ahead of time, it's only as challenging as deciding what sort of accoutrements you'll set out and how you'll cook your eggs. I love poached eggs for special weekend breakfasts. One of the former loves of my life, a sweet Kiwi bloke who will forever have a special place in my heart, taught me how to poach eggs, and I always think of him fondly when I make them. The secret is a pan of water boiling only very gently, and a touch of vinegar added to the poaching water. The vinegar helps prevent the egg from spreading out when it hits the water. My friend Vince elevated my egg poaching by letting me in on his secret - using a shallow non-stick pan as the poaching vessel. I like to do only a few at a time, cracking the egg first into a small bowl and then sliding it carefully into the waiting water, and I think poached eggs are best made to order. Of course, you could swap out poached eggs for any other sort of eggs you fancy, and this breakfast would be every bit as good. We chose seasonal greens, sauteed leeks, fried mushrooms, and pan fried tomatoes for our toppings. If you've got a crowd for breakfast, prep all of your topping choices and lay them out buffet style so that everyone can build their own.
Crispy Baked Polenta Recipe:
This recipe makes a load of polenta. I sliced about half of it into six huge (I thought they were too big) squares and baked them for breakfast for three people (we had two each). Leftover unbaked polenta can be wrapped and refrigerated for a few days, or you can freeze it for another time. We sliced the leftover polenta into polenta fries, and baked them for a treat later the same day. For vegan polenta, simply leave out the cheese.
4 cups of vegetable broth
1 ½ cups polenta
½ cup grated Parmesan or sharp cheddar cheese
Brush a 9 x 11 pan with olive oil or butter and set aside. Bring the vegetable broth to a boil in a large pot. Add polenta and reduce the heat to low. Stir continuously as polenta starts to thicken - you want it to get quite thick, and start pulling away from the edges of the pot. Stir in the cheese if using. Remove from heat, and using a spatula, transfer the polenta into the prepared pan. Using a spatula or wet hands, smooth the polenta out into the pan. Set aside to cool for at least an hour. If you're not going to be using the polenta until much later, cover with plastic wrap so the top doesn't dry out.
When you're ready to bake the polenta, preheat the oven to 475 F (240 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the polenta out of the pan onto a cutting board. Slice into squares, and place the squares onto your lined baking sheet. Brush the tops of the polenta squares with olive oil, and slide into the hot oven. After 15 min, remove from oven, turn the squares, over, brush with olive oil again, and return to oven for another 15 min, or until brown and crispy.
Remove from oven, add toppings and egg, and enjoy your fancy-pants breakfast.
All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2010