Sumptuous, Southern-Style Christmas Brunch

There's nothing better on a cold Christmas day than a warm country meal.

On The Early Show Tuesday, Gourmet magazine Executive Editor John Willoughby showed how to do the holiday brunch right, with a fabulous, traditional menu inspired by the flavors of the South.

It's all part of Gourmet's Southern Cooking issue, on stands on Christmas Day.

It features "Gourmet Entertains: 'Good Day Sunshine, ' " in which Atlanta chef Scott Peacock brings Southern soul to a brunch menu: Champagne Punch; Pimento Cheese Toasts; Ambrosia; Braised-Pork Hash; Creamy Stone-Ground Grits; Low-country Breakfast Shrimp; Eggs with Cream, Spinach, and Country Ham; Slow-Roasted Tomatoes; Crisp Winter Lettuces with Warm Sweet-and-Sharp Dressing; Crusty Buttermilk Biscuits; Spoon-Bread Muffins; Sugared Blackberries; Warm Sweet-Potato Pudding with Apples and Chestnuts; Bourbon Pecan Tarts; and Boiled Coffee.

Willoughby shares some of those delicious recipes with Early Show viewers.

Champagne Punch

Serves 8

Active time: 25minutes; start-to-finish: one-and-a-half hours (includes chilling)

Eye-opening notes of lemon, lime, and grapefruit keep this festive punch from heading into ultra-sweet territory-and fresh mint seconds the motion. "Once the Champagne has been added," says Peacock, "serve the drinks as soon as possible to experience the maximum tickle of bubbles."

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup white grape juice
1 1/2 cups fresh grapefruit juice (preferably pink or ruby red)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Cognac or other brandy
1/2 cup packed mint leaves
1 navel orange, cut into ‚-inch pieces
1 lime, cut into ‚1/2-inch pieces
1 lemon, cut into ‚1/2-inch pieces
1 (750 ml.) bottle Champagne or other sparkling white wine, chilled

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then transfer to a bowl and cool syrup completely (or quick-chill by setting bowl in an ice bath and stirring occasionally until cool).

Stir together juices, wine, Cognac, mint, fruit, and cooled syrup in a large pitcher. Chill, covered, until cold, about 1 hour. Stir in Champagne.

Cooks' Notes:

Syrup can be chilled up to 1 week.
Punch, without Champagne, can be made three hours ahead and chilled, covered. Add Champagne just before serving.

Pimento Cheese Toasts

Makes about 36 hors d'oeuvres

Active time: 20 minutes; start-to-finish: 25 minutes

In its usual form, pimento cheese is a blend of mayonnaise, sharp Cheddar cheese, and pimentos that induces nostalgia. Here, made with roasted peppers and spread on tiny toasts, then broiled to transform it into hot melted heaven, it dresses up for a party with a nod and a wink.

10 oz extra-sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated (4 cups; see cooks' note, below)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade; see gourmet.com for recipe)
1/4 cup finely diced bottled roasted red pepper (rinse and pat dry first)
1 baguette

Preheat broiler.

Stir together all ingredients, except baguette, plus 1/8 teaspoon pepper and salt to taste.
Slice baguette crosswise „ inch thick and spread bread thickly with cheese mixture. Broil 5 to 6 inches from heat until cheese is bubbling and browned, about 2 minutes.

Cooks' Notes:

Peacock recommends using half white Cheddar and half orange Cheddar.
Cheese spread can be made 3 days ahead and chilled, covered.

Ambrosia

Serves 8

Active Time: 35 minutes. Start-to-finish: two hours (includes chilling)

This juicy, fresh-fruit version evokes those described in 19th-century southern cookbooks. Flakes of fresh coconut provide a nice chew, and a little Sherry gives it sophistication and complexity. Ambrosia is often served as part of the transition to dessert, but at a generous meal like this one it fits in well earlier on, providing a bright, refreshing contrast to the main course.

1 medium coconut (see cooks' note, below)
8 large navel oranges
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons cream Sherry

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.

Pierce softest eye of coconut with a small screwdriver, then drain liquid and discard. Bake coconut in a shallow baking pan until it cracks, about 20 minutes. When cool, wrap in a towel and break shell with a hammer. Pry flesh from shell with screwdriver and peel off brown membrane with a vegetable peeler. Rinse coconut flesh. Coarsely grate coconut on large holes of a box grater using light pressure in long strokes to produce long, feathery flakes.

Cut peel and pith from oranges with a sharp paring knife. Working over a large bowl, cut segments free from membranes, letting them drop into bowl; squeeze juice from membranes into bowl.

Gently toss oranges with coconut, sugar, salt, and Sherry. Chill, covered, at least 1 hour.

Cooks' Notes:

Coconuts can sometimes be rancid. You may want to buy an extra one.
Orange can be cut 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.
Ambrosia can be chilled up to 2 hours.

For more recipes, go to Page 2.

Creamy Stone-Ground Grits

Serves 8

Active time: 1 hour; start-to-finish: one-and-a-quarter hours

"Grits love salt," says Peacock, and his creamy-white, almost milky grits, with yellow and black flecks of coarsely ground corn, demonstrate that it's not saltiness he's after, just perfectly balanced seasoning. Grits usually function as an accompaniment, like polenta or rice, but it's certainly easy to imagine eating a bowl of these on their own, with no more than a pat of butter.

4 cups water
4 cups whole milk
2 cups white stone-ground grits (see cooks' note, below)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 stick unsalted butter (optional), cut into pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Bring water and milk just to a simmer in a 4- to 5-quart heavy saucepan. Meanwhile, cover grits with water in a large bowl and whisk vigorously. Let stand 30 seconds, then skim any chaff that has floated to surface with a fine-mesh sieve. Drain grits well in a fine-mesh sieve and whisk into simmering milk mixture.

Reduce heat to low and simmer grits, partially covered, stirring often with a heatproof rubber spatula, until grits are tender and thickened to the consistency of loose oatmeal, about 1‰ hours (stir more toward end of cooking to avoid scorching). If grits become too thick before they are tender and creamy, thin with hot water.

Stir in cream, butter (if using), and salt. Remove from heat and keep warm, covered, up to 20 minutes.

Cooks' Notes:

If you can't find stone-ground grits, use regular grits (but not quick-cooking). Regular grits will take less than half the time to cook.
Grits are at their creamiest right after they are made but can be made up to 2 days ahead. Chill, uncovered, until cool, then cover. To reheat, break congealed grits into pieces and whisk in enough boiling water to loosen (up to about 1 cup). Heat over low heat, stirring constantly.

Low-country Breakfast Shrimp

Serves 8

Active Time: 25 minutes; start-to-finish: 25 minutes

This shrimp's gentle preparation yields an utterly soothing broth that tastes just right first thing in the morning. Grab some grits or a warm biscuit to help sop up the juices.

3/4 stick unsalted butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallion
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 lb medium or large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/2 to 1 cup water

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until foaming, then cook onions with scallion, garlic, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add shrimp and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup water and simmer gently, stirring, until shrimp are just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes (shrimp should be saucy; add more water if necessary). Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Eggs with Cream, Spinach, and Country Ham

Serves 8

Active time: 45 minutes; same for start-to-finish

You'll return again and again to this recipe since it can be assembled in advance and delivers serious flavor. The scent of ham gently permeates the eggs, whose yolks can be broken into the rest of the dish or dipped into with biscuits, while the mineral notes of the creamed spinach proclaim its freshness.

1/4 cup thinly sliced country ham, finely chopped
Scant 3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3/4 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
10 oz spinach, coarse stems discarded
8 large eggs

Equipment: 8 (6-oz) ramekins or ovenproof teacups

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Bring ham and cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, then remove from heat. Let steep, uncovered, about 10 minutes.

Cook onion in 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-low heat, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and season lightly with salt and pepper, then cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add spinach, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and cook, turning with tongs, until spinach is wilted.

Drain spinach in a colander, pressing to remove excess liquid, then coarsely chop. Divide spinach, then ham, among ramekins, spooning 1 tablespoon cream into each serving. Crack eggs into ramekins and season lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon 1 teaspoon cream over each egg. Cut remaining tablespoon butter into 8 small pieces and dot each egg with butter.

Put ramekins in a shallow baking pan and bake, rotating pan halfway through baking, until whites are just set but yolks are still runny, 15 to 20 minutes, removing from oven as cooked.

Cooks' Note:

The eggs in this recipe will not be fully cooked, which may be of concern if salmonella is a problem in your area.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Serves 8

Active time: 10 minutes; start-to-finish: one-and-a-half hours

One of the most popular items on Peacock's menu at his Watershed restaurant, in Decatur, Ga., these tomatoes are concentrated and soft, and sugar plays up their sweetness, making for a homemade flavor riff on ketchup that you'll want to serve with everything. The tomatoes shrink quite a bit-but a little definitely goes a long way.

1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 (28-oz) can Italian plum tomatoes in juice, drained
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Lightly butter an 8-inch shallow baking dish.

Stir together sugar, salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a cup.

Put tomatoes in baking dish and sprinkle all over with sugar mixture. Dot tomatoes with butter, then bake until tomatoes are partially collapsed and deeply caramelized in places, 1 to 2 hours.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cooks' Note:

Tomatoes can be roasted 2 days ahead and chilled, covered. Reheat in oven just until warm.

For more recipes, go to Page 3.

Crisp Winter Lettuces with Warm Sweet-and-Sharp Dressing

Serves 8

Active Time: 30 minutes; start-to-finish: 40 minutes

In keeping with the rest of the menu, this is no shy salad. The sweet and acidic vinaigrette unites with the salty bacon and, along with the lettuces, produces fireworks in the mouth.

12 cups mixed salad greens such as romaine, watercress, and Bibb and/or Boston
1 large bunch arugula (optional), coarse stems discarded
6 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
9 bacon slices (1/2 lb)
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Tear greens into large pieces and put in a large salad bowl with arugula, scallions, and chives.
Cook bacon in a 12-inch non-reactive skillet (see Tips, page 113) over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain, then stir vinegar, sugars, salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper into fat in skillet. Boil, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 3/4 cup, 10 to 12 minutes. (Dressing should be syrupy and bubbling.)

Crumble bacon over salad, then toss with enough warm dressing to lightly coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Cooks' Note:

The vinegar, sugars, and seasoning (without bacon fat) can be boiled to reduce (by half) 2 days ahead. Add to hot bacon fat, then bring to a boil just before making salad.

Crusty Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes about 15 biscuits

Active Time: 15 minutes; start-to-finish: 30 min

The cliché, in this case, turns out to be true: Biscuits benefit from TLC. Peacock recommends White Lily flour, one of the lightest available, along with lard for a flaky texture so fluffy and airy that the biscuits almost float off the plate. One bite may well move you to tears-either with memories of your southern grandmother, or with regret for not having had a southern grandmother. For more on making biscuits, see Kitchen Notebook, page 106.

5 cups sifted White Lily flour or unbleached all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder (preferably homemade; recipe follows)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cold lard
1 1/2 cups well-shaken cold buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 500°F with rack in middle.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add lard, coating it with flour, then rub between your fingertips until coarsely blended with some 1/2-inch lumps.

Make a well in flour mixture, then add buttermilk, stirring just until a dough forms (it will be soft and sticky). Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 8 to 10 times. Roll out dough with a floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round (1/2 inch thick) and, using a fork dipped in flour, prick all the way through about every 1/2 inch.

Cut out as many rounds as possible with a 2 1/2 to 3 1/2-inch round cookie/biscuit cutter dipped in flour (do not twist cutter).

Bake, almost touching, on an ungreased heavy baking sheet, rotating sheet after about 6 minutes if browning unevenly, until crusty and golden-brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Brush tops with melted butter and serve warm or at room temperature.

Cooks' Note:

Flour mixture with lard can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.

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