By Ann Cipperly
As azaleas and dogwoods begin to bloom, plan on serving a leisurely weekend brunch on the patio or porch for enjoying spring days with fragrant warm breezes. Brunch is also ideal for Easter, Mother’s Day and other spring occasions. Plan a make-ahead menu to enjoy more time with family outdoors, rather than in the kitchen.
When I was growing up in Opelika, brunch was not as popular as it is now. The first brunch I remember was at Don’s parents’ home. His mother was in the kitchen cooking bacon and grating cheese for a Quiche Lorraine that she had tried on a trip to Europe. As the quiche was baking, the house filled with a tantalizing aroma.
Quiche is a tasty dish for brunch, as well as being good for lunch or supper. While quiche is really good baked in pastry, they are also good baked without the pie crust. Serve quiche with a fruit or green salad and muffins.
Over the years, we have enjoyed many interesting brunches at hotels, restaurants and inns. I will request recipes or try to recreate some of the dishes after we return home.
Shrimp and grits dishes are popular for brunch throughout the South, not just in Charleston. JoAnn Woodall makes a delicious version that is so easy. The shrimp are sautéed in butter with garlic and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, which are optional. For an attractive presentation, the grits are placed in martini glasses and topped with a generous serving of the shrimp. It will be scrumptious however you choose to serve it.
Jessica Nicholson makes a delectable version too on special occasions for her family. Shrimp Florentine with spinach is served over Tomato Grits. This grits casserole is also good by itself or as an accompaniment with eggs and sausage or bacon.
When selecting grits, look for the stone ground type. I have been using Oakview Farms grits from their granary in Wetumpka. I visited the granary and their retail shop a few years ago with friends. Owners Patty and Joe Lambrecht started the granary about 20 years ago. The business has been featured in “Southern Living” and other publications.
Oakview Farms’ products have been served locally at Acre, Cafe 123, Zazu, AU Club and Springhouse. At one time, Chef David Bancroft had the grits for sale at Acre.
I contacted the Lambrechts to let them know I was mentioning them in an article. They said that they still own the business, but COVID-19 essentially shut them down since their customers were high-end restaurants, some specialty markets and their small shop where people could not socially distance.
The Lambrechts have the business for sale and are reducing their inventory to restaurants that survived the pandemic closedown. They are keeping their strawberry u-pick farm, which is expected to open by the end of March.
If you find Oakview Farms grits, you will want to stock up. I am glad I have a bunch in the freezer.
Callaway Gardens’ stone ground grits are good too. If you visit the Gardens this spring, stop by the Country Store to pick up a couple of bags. If you find any other stone-ground grits, let me know.
The basic recipe for cooking grits is 4 cups water, 1 tsp. salt and 1 cup grits. Instead of water, I prefer to use 2 cups chicken broth and 2 cups milk. I add 2 Tbsp. butter after they are cooked and sometimes a little heavy cream. You can add a cup or more shredded cheddar cheese or smoked Gouda. I generally double the recipe and freeze one pan.
For a brunch dessert, the Crème Brulee French Toast is one of our favorites. The top is not torched like a crème brulee. It receives its name from the caramel sauce baked on the bottom, and the dish can be inverted after baking to have the caramel on top. It can also be cut into squares then inverted onto a plate. The dish is just as yummy served with the sauce on the bottom.
Once when I was inverting an entire dish of Crème Brulee French Toast onto a platter, I almost dropped it as it began sliding. Of course, there were houseguests sitting nearby to see this activity going on. (Thankfully, no photos!)
Another delicious baked French Toast is one from Fountainview Mansion in Auburn. The French toast is baked with a cheesecake type filling. Fresh or canned fruit can be added. I made it once with canned peaches. It was good, but fresh would be better.
Treat your family to a brunch on a Saturday morning before heading to activities or for relaxing leisurely after church on Sundays.
After Easter services at church, brunch dishes can be waiting in the refrigerator to quickly warm and serve. Decorate the table the day before with spring flowers and colored eggs.
Look over the following recipes and plan a brunch to savor with your family while enjoying azaleas and other spring blooms.
Ann Cipperly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Easy Shrimp and Grits
This recipe is so easy, but it always gets rave reviews! The dish looks attractive served in martini glasses or other wide rimmed glassware as a first course or for a buffet.
2 cups uncooked stone ground grits or regular grits
1 stick butter
3-4 cloves of garlic or more, minced
1-1 ½ lbs. shrimp, peeled
Dash of red pepper flakes (if you like spicy)
Salt to taste
Prepare grits according to package directions. In a skillet, melt butter on low heat; add garlic and sauté on low heat for several minutes. Add shrimp, red pepper flakes and salt; cook on medium heat until shrimp are done (do not overcook). Makes four main dish servings.
Fountainview Mansion’s Baked French Toast
Fresh or canned peaches or another fruit can be substituted for the apples or the fruit may be omitted.
3 large green apples
½ cup butter
½ cup or more brown sugar
12 oz. cream cheese
12 slices firm bread (your choice plain white, wheat, French, sourdough, cinnamon or your favorite)
2 cups milk
2 Tbsp. vanilla
Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Slice apples into wedges (may remove skin). In a skillet, melt butter with brown sugar and 1 tablespoon water. Add apples and stir for two minutes. Place apples in baking dish; cool.
Cut cream cheese into cubes. Arrange evenly over apples. Cut bread slices diagonally; place over apples to cover dish.
In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, milk and vanilla. Pour over bread. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.
Dish can be baked immediately or covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.
Place rack on lower third of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until golden and puffed. Let cool 10 minutes. Reheats well.
Tomato Grits Casserole with Shrimp Florentine
2 cups water
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
1 cup quick cooking grits
1 stick, plus 1 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup green onions, diced
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
2 cups cheddar, shredded, divided
10 oz. can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To make the tomato grits, in a saucepan, bring water and milk to a boil. Add salt. Slowly add grits and return to a boil; stir for one full minute. (The secret to preparing good grits is the initial stirring of the pot.) Reduce the heat, cover, and cook for three minutes.
Stir the grits and add one stick of butter, stirring until it has melted. Cover and cook for three to five minutes, or until the grits are thick and creamy. Remove from the heat and set aside. Sauté onions in the remaining 1 Tbsp. butter for one minute. Add garlic powder, 1 1/2 cups cheddar and onions to the grits, and stir until the cheese is melted. Add tomatoes and green chilies and mix well; stir in the beaten eggs.
Pour grits into a greased 8-by-11-by-2-inch casserole dish. Bake for 40 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cheese over casserole for the last five minutes of cooking time.
2 Tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, minced
12 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 to 2 lemons, juiced
White wine, for deglazing
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 cups fresh spinach, packed down
1 dash ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Start with 1 Tbsp. butter in a sauté pan. Add minced garlic and shrimp. Deglaze with lemon and wine. Add cream, cheese and spinach. Reduce, add nutmeg, season to taste with salt and pepper, and pour over grits.
Creamy Ham with Artichokes and Mushrooms
The filling can be prepared a day ahead. This is delicious served in hollowed-out brioches, pastry shells, popovers or on thick slices of toasted French bread.
6 Tbsp. butter, divided
½ lb. mushrooms, sliced
1/4 tsp. each dry mustard and thyme leaves, chopped
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk
2 ½ cups (10 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese (can use Swiss or Parmesan)
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. sherry, optional
1 can quartered artichokes, drained
2-3 cups cooked ham, cubed
Salt to taste
6 to 8 pastry shells or toasted French bread slices
Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter; add mushrooms and cook until liquid evaporates. Add remaining 4 tablespoons butter, thyme and mustard. When butter melts, stir in flour and cook until bubbly. Gradually stir in milk and cook, stirring constantly until sauce boils and thickens.
Add cheese, pepper and sherry; stir until cheese melts. Remove from heat; stir in artichokes and ham. Season to taste with salt. If preparing ahead, cool, cover and refrigerate.
To serve, reheat stirring gently over medium-low heat. Spoon filling into shells or transfer to chafing dish and let everyone serve themselves. Serves six to eight.
Crème Brulee French Toast
Assemble the night before.
1 stick butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. corn syrup
1 ½ cups half and half
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. salt
In a small saucepan, melt butter with brown sugar and corn syrup over medium heat, stirring until smooth. Pour into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Slice center part of bread into one-inch slices. Arrange bread slices in one layer over brown sugar mixture.
Whisk eggs, half and half, vanilla and salt until blended. Pour over bread. Cover and chill overnight.
Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until puffy and lightly brown.
Serve with the sauce on the bottom or inverted onto a platter with caramel topping drizzling over sides. It can also be cut into squares and inverted onto individual plates. Can be prepared in two small pans or served without inverting onto a platter.
Easy Crab Quiche
A family favorite
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1 partially baked 9 or 10-inch pastry shell or individual shells
6 or 8 oz. fresh or canned crabmeat, drained
2 green onions, sliced
3 beaten eggs
1 cup half and half
¼ tsp. dry mustard
Sprinkle cheese evenly over bottom of pastry shell in a tart or pie pan. Top with crabmeat; sprinkle with green onions.
In a medium bowl combine eggs, half and half and dry mustard. Pour evenly over crab. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. For individual tarts, bake 25 minutes or until set. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Can prepare ahead and reheat. Makes six to eight servings.
Quiche Lorraine with Mushrooms, Spinach and Ham
9-inch pie crust
2/3 cup half and half cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup or more ham, finely chopped
½ cup spinach, frozen, well-drained or fresh, cooked and well drained
½ – ¾ cup onion, chopped
3/4 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
2/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine eggs and half and half and beat with a whisk until frothy.
Add salt and pepper to egg mixture and set aside. Place ham into a food processor and pulse to finely chop.
In the uncooked pie crust, layer spinach, onions, ham, mushrooms and cheddar into two layers.
Top with Parmesan cheese and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until quiche is browned and center is almost set. Remove from oven and allow quiche to finish setting. May cover with foil loosely.
Cut into six or eight slices.
Chelsea’s Crustless Quiche
Former Chelsea’s and the Village Tea Room, Biltmore Village, Asheville, North Carolina
1 can cream of celery soup
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 cup provolone cheese, grated
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups cooked quiche filling (choice of ham and Swiss; tomato and basil; feta and spinach; or onion and bacon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs in a mixing bowl with a wire whisk until well combined. Add other ingredients along with filling of choice and combine well.
Spray a high-rimmed pie dish/quiche pan with cooking spray. Pour in quiche mixture. Bake for 1 hour or until the quiche is set on top.
Remove from the oven. Cool for 15 minutes before slicing. Serve hot.
Piecrust (homemade, frozen, or refrigerated)
3 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
Dash of ground nutmeg
3/4 cup cooked chicken, crabmeat or ham
1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded Swiss, cheddar, Monterey Jack or Havarti cheese
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
Precook piecrust according to directions.
In a bowl, stir together eggs, milk, onion, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in meat. Toss together shredded cheese and flour. Pour egg mixture into hot pastry shell.
Bake in a 325-degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean. If necessary, cover edge of crust with foil to prevent over browning. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Make Ahead Breakfast Pizza
1 can refrigerated crescent rolls
1 lb. hot ground sausage
28 oz. pkg. frozen hash browns with onions and peppers
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
12 tsp. pepper
Unroll crescent roll dough and press on the bottom and partially up sides of 13-by-9-inch pan (or 12-inch-deep pizza pan). Press perforations to seal. Bake at 375 degrees for five minutes.
Cook sausage in skillet, stirring until sausage crumbles and is no longer pink. Drain well, sprinkle over crust.
Potato, Sausage and Egg Casserole
4 baking potatoes or 2 1/2 lb. red potatoes, cubed
2 large red or yellow peppers
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 lb. smoked sausage, chopped
½ lb. shredded cheddar cheese
Parboil potatoes. Sauté peppers and onion in olive oil; set aside. Sauté potatoes and sausage; drain. Combine both mixtures and spread into a greased 13-by-9-inch dish. Make eight holes in mixture. Break eggs into holes. Cover with cheese and bake at 350 degrees until set.