Festive Christmas Brunch

This busy cook has time to enjoy the merrymaking when she serves up a festive Christmas brunch with convenient make-ahead dishes.

By Julie Sterchi, Harrisburg, Illinois

Mushroom Sausage Strata Meal

Mushroom Sausage Strata Meal

Brunch is a wonderful meal to enjoy on a special day like Christmas! I love to gather my family for Mushroom Sausage Strata, Fruit Medley, Cinnamon Rolls and Warm Christmas Punch.

My husband, Edd, is the minister for the Church of Christ here in Harrisburg, and we have three children—Bethany, Brittany and Ben.

Thanks to several recipes that can be made ahead, even the cook can relax and enjoy this appealing holiday brunch!

The hearty Mushroom Sausage Strata is a delightful do-ahead main dish. A friend brought this dish to serve to our Home Extension group one year, and I was so impressed with it. Made with whole wheat bread, sausage, mushrooms and two types of cheese, it's an appetizing combination.

Salad Was Mom's Creation

I remember my mom coming up with the colorful and tasty Fruit Medley salad one Christmas. Wanting something bright and refreshing for breakfast, Mom combined pineapple, sweet cherries, oranges, berries, grapes and more…and the whole family raved about how good it was.

Some years later, I realized I had better write down the recipe so I could continue this popular tradition with my own family.

Warm Christmas Punch is another recipe you can mix up beforehand and simply heat in a slow cooker the morning of the brunch. Its rich color, inviting aroma and delightful flavor win over even those who aren't usually punch fans. I also serve this pretty beverage at a holiday open house we host each year, and it's always a hit.

Doing so much of the preparation the day before frees up time for me to make Cinnamon Rolls the day of the brunch. They're such a treat, served fresh from the oven!

A dear friend brought these yummy rolls to a church fellowship meal several years ago. Edd was instantly hooked and encouraged her to bring them at every opportunity!

I love how easy it is to make these rolls. With the quick-rise yeast, they don't take as much time as traditional yeast rolls…and they are much less labor-intensive than others I've made.

Guests Drop in Often

Casual entertaining such as a brunch or open house blends well with my cooking style, which you could call "family friendly." I love whipping up a batch of cookies or a special pie or cake and having friends over on the spur of the moment.

We live just north of the high school football field, so most Friday nights when the Bulldogs (our school team) are in town, you'll find a group gathered around our kitchen counter after the game, drinking hot chocolate or homemade "gourmet" coffee and eating a warm, sweet treat.

Nestled in the hills of southernmost Illinois, our town of Harrisburg is known as the Gateway to the Shawnee National Forest. We all enjoy the breathtaking scenery, unique rock formations and hiking trails located in this beautiful area. 

Our busy lifestyle—the kids play soccer, football, basketball and tennis—keeps me looking for everyday meals that go together quickly after I get home from work (I'm a legal secretary). Church activities also help fill our schedules to the brim.

All three children are showing an interest in cooking, and it's been fun to see their tastes expand as we've tried new foods. Their efforts make me think back to cooking projects during my years in 4-H. I especially loved baking.

Understudy in the Kitchen

Cooking on top of the stove, however, was a different story! But when I became engaged and realized I soon would be responsible for feeding a hungry man, I started taking mental notes when Mom cooked, especially Edd's favorites, such as cream gravy. I even asked her to measure ingredients that she usually just threw in until it "looked right."

It's a great honor to have been a field editor for Taste of Home since the magazine's inception. I laugh when people recognize my name from the masthead and exclaim, "Wow! You're famous!" I often hear glowing stories of how much they and their friends and family love the magazine.

I hope you'll enjoy my brunch dishes and that they'll warm your holiday gatherings as they have ours.