P. Allen Smith: Holiday Brunch
With a bit of planning and preparation, you’ll find a holiday brunch easy to host and enjoy.
As this is the season of bounty, there is no end to the fresh produce you can use in creating your own cornucopia. Small New England pie pumpkins, acorn squash and ‘Lady’ apples are seasonal favorites of mine.
photography by Jane Coclasure and Hortus Ltd.
As we all know so well, the holidays are rapidly approaching. It is a time filled with friends and family get-togethers. If you are like me, you find big celebrations and cocktail parties require tremendous effort.
As the holiday season progresses, the opportunity for evening events quickly dwindles, so why not try something different — like a weekend breakfast or brunch? This can be relaxing for your guests and less pressure on you.
By stocking the cupboards and fridge and preparing and freezing delicious foods ahead of time, it’s easy to put on a party in an hour or two. I find the night before is the best time to prepare the table and set out everything needed. I double-check everything so I still have time to make a pass through the garden or run to the store. Don’t forget to have on hand ice and whatever festive or seasonal music you think your guests will enjoy.
My tendency is to avoid menus and foods that are too difficult or fussy. Simple and seasonal is the way to approach fare for the holidays and other events. The creative use of citrus, such as Satsuma’s, kumquats and grapefruit, together make a delightful and refreshing fruit salad and can be made more festive by the addition of their own zest and accents of fresh pomegranate seeds. Likewise a medley of apple varieties — sliced and stewed with brown sugar, cinnamon and a touch of butter and served warm — are always a favorite; they’re also delicious on pancakes or waffles, toast or biscuits.
Decorating can be as easy as one, two, three … done! I have often assembled a centerpiece for the table while standing in the produce and floral department at the grocery. As this is the season of bounty, there is no end to the fresh produce you can use in creating your own cornucopia. Small New England pie pumpkins, acorn squash and ‘Lady’ apples are seasonal favorites of mine. As for the other table accessories, I keep on hand placemats and napkins that I mix and match yet follow the color theme of the setting and event.
To assist you as you plan your festivities and menus, I’ve included some of my favorite recipes for breakfast/brunch. They are easy to prepare and delicious. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
I like this family recipe because it has plenty of blueberries, and the muffins aren’t too sweet. Whip up a batch or two, and pop into the freezer to keep extras on hand for an impromptu brunch.
All-American Blueberry Muffins
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) butter, at room temperature • ¾ cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar • 1 egg • 2 cups all-purpose flour • ½ teaspoon salt • 2 teaspoons baking powder • ½ cup milk • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract • 1 pint fresh
blueberries • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin tin.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the ¾ cup sugar, using an electric beater. Add the egg and beat until it is well incorporated. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Fold half the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Stir in ¼ cup of the milk; repeat the process with the remaining dry ingredients and milk.
Add vanilla and give the batter a good stir. Gently fold blueberries into the batter. Spoon batter into the muffin cups, filling them almost level to the top. Mix the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar with the cinnamon, and sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar on top of the muffin batter. Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the muffins from the tin, and let cool on a wire rack. Otherwise, get ‘em while they’re hot!
Fresh and Hot
As anyone born and raised in the South can tell you, a good homemade biscuit is a key element of Southern tradition and hospitality; this recipe comes from my friend Regina Charboneau at Twin Oakes in Natchez, where I have often experienced her fine cooking and hospitality. You’ll find the touch of fresh thyme leaves infuses the dough with a subtle and tantalizing flavor. The recipe also includes bacon …what more needs to be said?
I often use citrus in my décor, and if time allows I make dual use of it by making marmalade. It is simple to make, and if you prepare more than you will use, guests will be delighted to receive a jar to take home. Last year my sister-in-law and I made 75 pints … plenty for us and plenty to share!
Bacon-Thyme Biscuits with Orange Marmalade Butter
8 ounces sliced bacon • 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour • ¼ cup baking powder • ¼ cup sugar • ¼ cup chopped fresh thyme leaves • 1½ cups (3 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1-inch cubes • 2 cups Bulgarian or cultured buttermilk • Orange Marmalade Butter (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the bacon into ½-inch pieces, and fry them in a skillet over medium heat until cooked — but not crisp. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, combine 5 cups of flour with baking powder, sugar and thyme. Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut butter into the flour mixture until the butter is the size of very small peas. Add buttermilk, and stir just until all the dry ingredients are incorporated (the key to flaky biscuits is to not over mix).
Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup flour on a work surface or pastry cloth, and turn the biscuit dough onto it. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a rectangle, about ¾-inch thick. Fold dough in half, bringing the two short ends together. Turn it a half turn, and roll it out again.
Sprinkle half of the bacon over the lower half of dough. Repeat the fold; turn it a half turn, and roll it out again. Repeat the fold; turn, and roll. Add the rest of the bacon, and turn and roll two more times. On the seventh and final roll, use the pin to roll the dough to a thickness of approximately ¾-inch.
Cut out the biscuits, using a 2-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter. (For the ‘no-waste’ method, cut the biscuits into squares with a serrated knife.) Place the biscuits ½ inch apart on a 10-by-15-inch, ungreased baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm with the Orange Marmalade Butter.
Orange Marmalade Butter
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature • ¼ cup orange marmalade
In a small bowl, use an electric mixer to whip the butter until it is fluffy and smooth. Add the orange marmalade, and continue to whip until the marmalade is blended into butter. Put the Orange Marmalade Butter in a serving bowl, cover and chill until ready to use. Bring back to room temperature to serve.
Sweep the Fridge
Making a frittata is very similar to making a garden: you adapt to what you have on hand and the conditions you have to work with. Frittatas are perfect to serve for breakfast or brunch; the key is just to have fun. Sweep through the garden/pantry/refrigerator and come up with your own version.
Frittatas are egg-based, like a combination of an omelet and a quiche with some additional ingredients. Adding cheeses, meats, vegetables and herbs enables you, as the chef, to create something that is your own.
Red Pepper Frittata with Prosciutto
4 red bell peppers • 3 medium-sized potatoes, chopped • 3 tablespoons olive oil • 2 tablespoons butter • 4 ounces sliced prosciutto, cut into strips • 2 leeks, white and green parts, sliced in half lengthwise, well-rinsed and cut into thin half-moons • 4 garlic cloves, minced • 6 eggs • ¾ cup heavy cream • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper • Freshly-grated nutmeg • 4 ounces goat cheese • ½ cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese • ¼ cup chopped, fresh chives
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay the peppers on a baking sheet and roast, turning them as needed, until the skins are well charred all over, about 30 minutes. Place them in a plastic bag, and steam for about 20 minutes. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skin and cut them into strips and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Rinse the chopped potatoes under cold running water, drain, pat dry and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in an ovenproof skillet. When the mixture is foaming, add the prosciutto and leeks, and cook until prosciutto is crispy and leeks are translucent, about 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a plate, and set it aside.
Add 1 more tablespoon each butter and olive oil to the skillet, and cook the potatoes over medium heat until they are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and remove the skillet from the heat.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the cream. Season with plenty of salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the cooked leeks and prosciutto, the goat cheese, most of the Parmesan, the chopped chives and the roasted peppers. Pour this over the potatoes in the skillet, stirring gently to combine. Put the skillet back on the heat and cook for just a couple of minutes, until the bottom of the frittatas is beginning to set.
Transfer the skillet to the oven, and cook for 10 minutes, until the frittata is just firm to the touch. Invert the frittata onto a large plate. (I think the top looks nicer, so I suggest flipping it back again). Allow it to rest for 5 minutes (it has far less flavor when it’s piping hot). Garnish with the remaining Parmesan, cut into wedges and serve.