By Jan Roberts-Dominguez
As the holiday season approaches, so do a lot of out-of-towners. And some of them might even be staying at your house! Are you ready for them or are you asking yourself “How am I ever going to make them comfortable?”
Well, it’s really pretty simple: Just figure out what it is that would make them feel at home in your home, then do it. Indeed, the art of hospitality begins the moment guests walk through your front door, but if you’ve done your homework, everything will be just dandy.
It helps to think about your own experiences on the road. What makes you feel welcome in unfamiliar spaces?
What kinds of amenities were provided?
For starters, your guests will appreciate it if you:
- Clear out a set of drawers for their clothes, and have some closet space and extra hangers available.
- Make sure there’s a decent reading light by their bed, as well as some entertaining reading material.
- Arrange a clear, uncluttered path to the bathroom; install some plug-in night lights in the hall and bathroom sockets so they can find their way.
- Think about the small details that will make your guests feel welcome and special, and not worry that they’re imposing. A chocolate truffle and little bag of Northwest hazelnuts waiting for them in their room, perhaps?
- Provide extra pillows and at least one extra blanket because everybody has a different thermostat in their body.
- Assemble a butler basket in their room or in the hall containing a lot of different little sample-sized items that might have not made it into their suitcase, like deodorant, toothbrushes, mouthwash, toothpaste, and disposable razers.
- Stock the medicine cabinet with sleeping aids, stomach medication, anti-diarrhea medicine and an analgesic, so a frazzled traveler can find some comfort without having to talk to about it.
- Find out their food preferences or avoidances ahead of time and stock the fridge and pantry accordingly. It’s also a good idea to provide a tour of the kitchen to show them where everything is located before going to bed. If you think they’ll be up before you in the morning, show them how to work the kettle or coffee maker and where the mugs and tea cups are.
- Fill them in on your family’s morning routine so they can adjust accordingly.
The following breakfast casseroles are designed for stress-free mornings. Any one of them can be assembled the day before guests arrive so all you have to do on that first bleary-eyed morning is pull it from the fridge, pop it in the oven and relax.
Simple! Simple! Simple! breakfast casserole
- 1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 cup finely sliced fresh mushrooms
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 pound loaf French or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes to measure 8 cups
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage (or another variety of your choosing)
- 2 cups shredded Gruyere (about 6 ounces)
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan
- 2 3/4 cups milk
- 9 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (or a whole-grain mustard for a heartier flavor)
Place the thawed spinach in a strainer and press firmly to remove all moisture, and then finely chop with a chefs knife and set aside.
Saute the onions and mushrooms in the olive oil until the mushrooms are softened and translucent and the mushrooms turn slightly golden around the edges. Add the sausage and brown thoroughly, breaking it into small chunks as it cooks.
Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper, and the ground nutmeg and continue to saute for 1 more minute. Add the greens and saute another minute as you distribute them throughout the mixture.
Remove from heat. This is the point where you will add any optional ingredients, as desired, listed below.
Grease a 3-quart ceramic baking dish. Spread 1/3 of the bread cubes in the bottom of the dish, top with about 1/3 of the sausage mixture, then 1/3 of both of the cheeses. Repeat the layering two more times, ending with the cheeses.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, mustard, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Pour evenly over the strata and cover with foil or plastic wrap. Chill overnight (or for at least 5 hours) so the bread can soak up the egg mixture.
To serve, bake the strata, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until puffed, golden brown, and cooked in the center (when a kitchen knife inserted comes out clean). Let stand about 5 minutes to compose and then serve.
Optional ingredients: 1/2 cup drained and chopped marinated artichoke hearts; 1/2 cup roasted, peeled, and diced red bell peppers; 1/2 cup sliced black olives.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Jarlsburg and vegetable breakfast strata
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 2 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 (4 ounce) can diced green chiles
- 8 large eggs
- 3 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups shredded Jarlsburg
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- About 12 ounces of sourdough bread loaf (3/4 of an average 1 pound package), cubed
In a large skillet saute the onion, red bell pepper and potatoes in the olive oil until the potatoes are tender. Stir in the green chiles and set aside.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, mustard, salt, and pepper.
Layer a lightly greased 13- by 9-inch baking dish with half each of the bread cubes, onion mixture, and cheeses. Pour half the egg mixture evenly over the cheeses. Repeat layers. Cover with foil or plastic wrap.
Chill overnight (or for at least 5 hours) so the bread can soak up the egg mixture.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until puffed, golden brown, and cooked in the center (when a kitchen knife inserted comes out clean). Let stand about 5 minutes to compose and then serve.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
One-dish Marionberry French toast
- 1 cup Marionberry jam (see note)
- About 12 ounces of French bread loaf (3/4 of an average 1 pound package), cubed
- 8 ounces of cream cheese (regular or 1/3-less-fat), cut into 1-inch cubes
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups half-and-half or milk
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- Optional toppings: powdered sugar, maple syrup, whipped cream
Warm the jam in a small saucepan over medium heat until smooth and runny (or heat in microwave).
Arrange half of the bread cubes in the bottom of a lightly greased 13- by 9-inch baking dish.
Top with cream cheese cubes, then drizzle with the softened jam. Top with remaining bread cubes.
Whisk together the eggs with the half-and-half, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Drizzle the egg mixture evenly over the bread mixture. Sprinkle with the brown sugar. Cover with foil or plastic wrap. Chill overnight (or for at least 5 hours) so the bread can soak up the egg mixture.
Bake in a 325 degree oven, covered with foil, for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the mixture is cooked in the center (when a kitchen knife inserted comes out clean).
Serve as is or with any of the optional toppings.
Note on jam: instead of Marionberry, use another flavor of jam, such as raspberry, apricot or strawberry.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.