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.