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Hosting a cozy brunch provides a good excuse to gather together with loved ones during the winter holidays, when precious sunlight is at a premium.

Whether you sit down with family on Christmas morning or throw an impromptu brunch with friends, hosts can toast the season with sparkling mimosas and a sunny menu of simple, savory dishes.

"I love to celebrate different occasions with brunch and make it really fun and decadent," said Annie Simmons, who gave a festive Holiday Brunch class at Ramekins in early December. "People tend to relax at brunch, because it's the beginning of the day."

As the brunch's first course, Simmons chose a few of the season's brightest flavors to whet appetites, slicing up a Fresh Citrus Compote with Honey and Mint.

"I love to use citrus because it's so beautiful this time of year," she said, while cutting up ruby grapefruit, blood oranges and tangerines. "I like to add a little bit of honey because it brings out the floral quality of the citrus."

For the requisite mimosas, Simmons puts pomegranate juice and candied hibiscus blossoms into the sparkling wine, providing an extra splash of color and flavor.

Her menu's main course — Baked Eggs with Chanterelles, Herbs and Cream — takes advantage of the wild mushroom season now underway in the Pacific Northwest.

"Chanterelles are one of my favorite things in the world," Simmons said. "They have a nice texture and a delicate flavor that's earthy and apricot-y."

Simmons wiped the mushrooms clean, then chopped the stems and tore the cap into pieces before sauteing them with olive oil and a splash of Marsala wine.

"I found Marsala and chanterelles have a very happy relationship," she said. "When it's almost cooked off, you add some cream."

To ensure the eggs cook more quickly, Simmons lines the bottom of each ramekin with the sauteed mushrooms and slides them under the broiler. Then she removes them and adds the cracked eggs and a sprinkle of garlic and fresh herbs.

"Baked eggs is a simple method of preparing a really delicious dish," she said. "You could also use spinach on the bottom."

For the meat lovers in the crowd, Simmons suggests covering a spiral-cut ham with a glaze that creates a sweet, spicy and crackly crust.

"I bake the ham with a simple glaze that's thick, so it sticks to the meat," she said. "It's made with brown sugar, orange marmalade, Dijon mustard and cloves."

For those who love fried food, Simmons shared her secret technique for making Crispy Potato Pancakes with Fried Apples.

For the potato pancakes, Simmons uses a mixture of grated carrots, parsnips and russet potatoes. She grates the potatoes over a bowl of water in order to capture the starch and use it to bind the root veggies.

"The water will get very cloudy with starch," she said, squeezing the grated potatoes and pouring off the excess water. "Then you mix the egg with the starch left in the bowl."

For frying, Simmons suggests using canola, olive, grapeseed or avocado oil. But rendered duck fat is ideal.

"Duck fat is amazing," she said. "It creates crispy and delicious latkes."

If you want to make the latkes ahead of time rather than to order, she suggests holding them at room temperature, then popping them back in the oven to warm before serving.

To garnish the pancakes, she sautes the apples in butter, sugar and spices until they are soft but still hold their shape.

"When I fell in love with the South, I discovered fried apples," she said. "But they are not really fried."

As a decadent brunch dessert, Simmons offers a triple treat — Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding with Toffee Sauce and Whipped Cream.

Simmons discovered this sweet, custardy dish while working at an inn on the coast of Maine. You can either make your own cinnamon rolls for the pudding, or use leftover rolls purchased from the grocery store.

"I slice them lengthwise into 1-inch-thick slices," she said. "Then layer in the slices, overlapping a little, with the cut side up."

Simmons loves breakfast so much that she plans to open a breakfast and lunch spot, Topsy's Kitchen, this month in the former Aram's Cafe at 131 Kentucky St. in Petaluma.

"On weekends we'll do big, Southern-style brunch," Simmons said. "We'll have sweet and savory pies and sweet-potato biscuits."


The following recipes are from Annie Simmons. You can find the candied hibiscus blossoms in the grocery store's liquor department.

<strong>Blooming Pomegranate Mimosas</strong>

<em> Makes 1 serving</em>

— Pomegranate juice (chilled)

— Candied hibiscus blossoms

— Cold dry or demi-sec Champagne or Prosecco

For each blooming mimosa, pour 1-2 tablespoons of cold pomegranate juice into a chilled Champagne flute. Place 1 candied hibiscus blossom upright in the bottom of the glass, and carefully fill the glass with the sparkling wine. Serve immediately.


<strong>Fresh Citrus Compote with Honey and Mint</strong>

<em> Makes 6-8 servings</em>

4 blood oranges

4 cara cara or navel oranges

4 pink or ruby red grapefruit

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons raw wildflower honey

1 bunch fresh mint

Peel the oranges and grapefruit. Cut oranges lengthwise and slice in half-moons; set aside. Using a small paring knife, cut whole segments from grapefruit and add to oranges.

In a large, shallow salad bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and honey. Gently toss citrus in mixture and cover with plastic until ready to serve.

Coarsely chop fresh mint and fold into compote right before serving.


<strong>Brown Sugar Crackle-Glazed Ham</strong>

<em> Makes 8-10 servings</em>

1 large (8- to 10-pound) good-quality smoked ham, spiral cut

1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar

1/2 cup orange marmalade

1/4 cup Dijon mustard, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Whisk together the brown sugar, marmalade, mustard and cloves and set aside.

Place the ham in a roasting pan fitted with a wire rack. Brush about 3/4 cup of the glaze over the surface of the ham. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and cook for about 2-2 1/2 hours, or 15 minutes per pound.

With 30 minutes left of cooking, remove the ham from the oven. Brush a thick coat of the brown sugar glaze over the ham. (Glaze can be warmed in saucepan on medium-low heat to make it easier to brush, if desired.) Return to the oven, uncovered, to finish cooking and to set the glaze. Allow ham to rest for 10 minutes and serve any remaining glaze on the side.


<strong>Baked Eggs with Chanterelles, Herbs and Cream</strong>

<em> Makes 4 servings</em>

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces fresh chanterelle mushrooms, wiped clean

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup dry Marsala wine

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

8 large eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

— Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Tear chanterelles into large pieces and saute, tossing gently, until their water is released and evaporated, about 3-4 minutes. Add salt and Marsala and toss in pan until most of the Marsala has cooked away, then add 4 tablespoons of heavy cream (reserve other 4 tablespoons for eggs).

Simmer until cream has thickened slightly and remove from heat. Set aside.

Preheat the broiler for 5 minutes and place the oven rack 6 inches below the heat. Combine the garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley and Parmesan and set aside. Carefully crack 2 eggs into each of 4 small bowls or cups. (It's very important to have all the eggs ready to go before you start cooking.)

Place 4 individual gratin dishes on a baking sheet. Place chanterelles on the bottom and add 1 tablespoon of cream and ? tablespoon of butter to each dish. Place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Quickly, but carefully, pour 2 eggs into each gratin dish and sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place back under the broiler for 5-6 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are almost cooked. (Rotate the baking sheet once if they aren't cooking evenly.) The eggs will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven.


<strong>Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding</strong>

<em> Makes 10-12 servings</em>

<em><strong> For toffee sauce:</strong></em>

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 1/3 cups light brown sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons kosher salt

<em><strong> For bread pudding:</strong></em>

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cups whole milk

5 tablespoons light brown sugar

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

8 large day-old cinnamon rolls, cut into 1-inch-thick slices

<em><strong> For whipped cream:</strong></em>

2 cups chilled heavy cream

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

<strong>For the toffee sauce:</strong> Put butter and sugar into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir mixture with a wooden spoon until butter melts, then stop stirring and continue cooking until syrup reaches 280 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat; stir in cream, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt, then set aside.

<strong>For the bread pudding:</strong> Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a medium baking dish and set aside. Beat together milk, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Soak cinnamon roll slices briefly in mixture, then fit snugly in a single layer in prepared dish. Pour any remaining milk mixture over bread. Spoon two-thirds of the toffee sauce over the bread and bake until deep golden and puffed up, 45–50 minutes.

<strong>For the whipped cream:</strong> Beat together heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl until soft peaks form. Serve bread pudding warm with reserved toffee sauce and whipped cream.

<em> You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.</em>

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