Merry Christmas Morning

The last thing I want to do on Christmas morning is follow a complicated recipe—especially for the first time. With all the excitement around the tree, I want to be enjoying time with my family, knowing that a beautiful, delicious brunch is waiting in the wings. For that reason, I decided to share a few tried-and-true, make-ahead dishes that will have you feeling like a guest in your own home on Christmas morning. The biscuits in Easy Ham Biscuits with Homewood Honey Mustard can be made up to two months ahead. Be sure to split them in half once they have cooled before freezing. Thaw them out and add the ham a day or two before you serve them so they will be ready to warm on Christmas Day. These also make wonderful gifts.

Sausage-and-Grits Casserole, Easy Ham Biscuits and Winter Citrus Salad

For the Christmas Morning Sausage and Grits Casserole, I like to brown the sausage and grate the cheese a day or two in advance so I can quickly throw it together on Christmas Eve. I also go ahead and prepare the Winter Citrus Salad directly on my serving platter, cover it, and refrigerate it overnight. Before serving, simply add the dressing, which can be made several days in advance too. Lastly, the Best-Ever Holiday Cinnamon Rolls are a fun Christmas Eve project to do with your family. These will make your entire house smell like Christmas, I promise! They can be placed in the pan and stored in the fridge until ready to bake on Christmas morning. Allow them to come to room temperature before baking. Oh, I almost forgot to mention—to simplify things even more, all the recipes bake and reheat at 350°. So if oven space is tight, I’ve got you covered.

Here’s to a stress-free, make-ahead brunch all ages will enjoy. Happy holidays, and have a very merry Christmas morning!

Easy Ham Biscuits

Easy Ham Biscuits with Homemade Honey Mustard

Makes 24

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3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup cold butter (1½ sticks)
1½ cups whole milk
½ pound thin-sliced ham

Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until crumbly. Add milk, a little at a time until dry ingredients are moistened. (Note: All flour is slightly different, so you may need to add a little more milk if mixture seems too dry.)

Place 1- to 1½-inch balls of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. (I like to use my ice-cream scoop for this.) Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool on a rack, then split each biscuit in half with a serrated knife. Stuff each biscuit evenly with ham, replace lid, and place in a baking dish. Warm at 350° for 15 minutes before serving. These can be assembled a day or two in advance. Serve with Homemade Honey Mustard.

Homemade Honey Mustard:
1/3 cup coarse ground mustard
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon paprika

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with warm ham biscuits.

Sausage-and-Grits Casserole

Christmas Morning Sausage-and-Grits Casserole

Serves 12

3 cups water
1 cup quick-cooking grits
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 pounds pork sausage, cooked and drained
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
3 large eggs
1½ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup chopped roasted red pepper
¼ cup chopped parsley plus extra for garnish
Pepper to taste

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil, slowly whisk in the grits and half of the salt. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In a large bowl, combine grits, cooked sausage, and 1½ cups cheese. Beat the eggs and milk, and stir into grits mixture. Add the butter, pepper, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt.
Pour into a greased 9- x 13-inch baking dish. Bake uncovered at 350° until a knife inserted comes out clean, about 1 hour. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup cheese; bake 15 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting. Garnish with parsley.

Learn from Leslie:
This casserole can be assembled the day ahead, covered, and refrigerated overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes before baking.

Winter Citrus Salad

Winter Citrus Salad

Serves 8

4 blood oranges
2 large navel oranges
2 large grapefruit
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup arugula
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
Salt and pepper
Chopped toasted walnuts

Use a sharp knife to remove peels and pith of the oranges and grapefruit. (I like to cut both ends off first, then remove the sides as close to the fruit as possible.) Discard peels. Turn the peeled citrus on the side, and cut into ¼-inch thickness.

Arrange citrus slices and red onion over a bed of arugula. Cover and refrigerate up to 1 day.

To make the dressing: Whisk together lemon juice and next 4 ingredients until creamy.

Before serving, drizzle dressing over citrus. Top with chopped walnuts.

Learn from Leslie:
This recipe is easy to increase for a larger crowd. Plan on one whole citrus per person.

Cinnamon Rolls

Best-Ever Holiday Cinnamon Rolls

Makes 9 large rolls

¾ cup warm whole milk
2¼ teaspoons quick-rise or active yeast (¼ ounce)
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk at room temperature
¼ cup salted butter, melted (½ stick)
3 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
¾ teaspoon salt

½ cup butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Cream Cheese Icing:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons butter, softened
¾ cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla

Step 1: Warm milk to around 110°, about 40-45 seconds in the microwave. Transfer warm milk to the bowl of an electric mixer, and sprinkle yeast on top. Add in sugar, egg, egg yolk, and melted butter. Mix until well combined. Stir in flour and salt with a wooden spoon until a dough begins to form.

Step 2: Place dough hook on mixer, and knead dough on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes. Dough should form into a nice ball and be slightly sticky. If it’s too sticky and sticking to the bottom of the bowl, add a tablespoon or 2 of flour until resolved. If you don’t want to use an electric mixer, you can use your hands and knead dough for 4 to 5 minutes on a floured surface.

Step 3: Transfer dough ball to a well-oiled bowl; cover with plastic wrap and a warm towel. Allow dough to rise for 1 to 1½ hours or until doubled in bulk.

Step 4: After dough has doubled, transfer to a well-floured surface, and roll out into a 14- x 9-inch rectangle.

Step 5: For filling, spread butter over dough. In a small bowl, mix brown sugar and cinnamon. Use your hands to sprinkle over buttered dough, then rub brown sugar mixture into the butter.

Step 6: Tightly roll up dough, starting from the long side, and place seam side down making sure to seal the edges of the dough. Trim off about an inch on each end to ensure even filling in all the rolls.

Step 7: Cut into 1-inch sections with a serrated knife. You should get 9 large pieces.

Step 8: Place rolls in a greased 9- x 9-inch baking pan lined with parchment. *Cover with plastic wrap and a warm towel. Let rise again for 30-45 minutes.

Step 9: Preheat oven to 350°. Remove plastic wrap and towel, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until slightly golden brown on the edges. Meanwhile in a small bowl, combine the icing ingredients until smooth. Allow rolls to cool for 5 minutes before spreading the icing on top.

*Note: If making the day ahead, place tightly covered in refrigerator before second rise (Step 8). Remove from the refrigerator, and allow rolls to come to room temperature before baking.

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