Southern Brunch

The components of a successful Southern brunch are fairly simple: family and friends, good food, vibrant colors, and a whole lot of BUTTER. This past week, my mom-in-law, Mimi, and ten-year-old niece, Gracie, visited us from North Carolina. Mimi grew up in both Chatham County and Durham, NC, where her mother made homemade biscuits three times a day, each and every day, throughout her childhood. She inherited recipes, traditions, and kitchen necessities (like a three-generations-old cast iron pan), and so naturally she's a fantastic cook — one who rarely follows a recipe and can't help but add just a little more butter. Imagine Martha Stewart's ingenuity (but disregard the insider trading) combined with Paula Deen's Southern food knowledge (but disregard…well everything else) — you get the picture: the woman knows her way around a kitchen.

When Matt and I moved from the South to the West, the availability of authentic Southern foods dissipated a bit, as did our desire to cook up our favorites: buttermilk biscuits, cheese grits, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, etc. So, this family visit was the perfect opportunity to let Mimi spoil us with her prized "cat head" biscuit recipe (because they're "bigger than a cat's head!") along with a few other brunch favorites.

But first, Mimi and I wanted to make a tablecloth for our al fresco occasion. Because you won't find brunch on a naked table anywhere in the South (especially at Mimi's house). We picked one of my favorite pieces of vintage material and got to work.

Mimi, skillfully stitching up our vintage tablecloth.

Here's the menu we ended up with: Mimi's cat head biscuits with fresh nectarine jam (made from my backyard tree!), scrambled eggs with minced garden herbs, cheese grits, and garlicky tomato and arugula. We invited my sis, Jen, to partake in the fun, poured some French Press coffee, and had a great time enjoying our backyard brunch! Scroll down a bit for Mimi's biscuit recipe.

In progress table...

Mimi's Cat Head Biscuits

1 ½ cups White Lily Self-Rising Flour
1 ½ cups Swans Down cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½  sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups buttermilk (or, if in a pinch, you can substitute 3 tablespoons sour cream or crème fraîche into heavy cream here)

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

  • Combine the flours, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl.
  • Rub the butter and shortening into the flour mix until the mixture resembles course meal.
  • Gently stir in the liquid until just combined.
  • Gather mixture onto floured parchment paper and fold mixture like a letter (in thirds).
  • Sprinkle with small pieces of cold butter in between folding layers. Fold only two or three times.
  • Using a biscuit cutter, cut out your biscuits and place them onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
    • *Notes from Mimi: Try not to twist the biscuit cutter — they won't rise correctly. Also, don't refold once they've been cut — simply reshape extra pieces to the large form. And lastly, avoid touching the mixture too much!
  • Bake 20-25 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown on top and baked all the way through.

Speaking of good cooks, the day after our brunch, we had the good fortune of chatting with one of the world's best — Chef Thomas Keller. We were walking through The French Laundry garden and he happened to be doing the same!

Mimi was so beside herself that directly after shaking his hand she said "you're like a God to me!" and he so graciously replied "well, thank you." Gracie, who loves to play sous chef when we cook, got a kick out of the chance meeting as well. I'd call this a good weekend in Wine Country!