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Sumptuous, Southern-Style Christmas Brunch

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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.