By Marsha Fottler –
When I ask chefs what is their favorite meal to prepare for themselves and family, they most often answer breakfast. Simple fresh ingredients, uncomplicated recipes, great color and it’s all comfort food. And who doesn’t appreciate a big leisurely breakfast with both sweet and savory selections.
When I ask chefs about their least favorite culinary project, they invariably say brunch. A lot of disparate foods, no clear menu direction, something breakfast-something lunch, some big meat thing required and it’s all served at an awkward time of day, generally on a Sunday. People who go out to restaurants for brunch often wonder if the kitchen just takes everything left over from the week and tries to do something imaginative and cost-saving with it for brunch.
At yet, brunch is back on the restaurant circuit. This odd meal seems to come and go in cycles and right now we’re in a brunch mode. Celebrity chef Bobby Flay has a TV brunch show running on one of the food channels and I’ve noticed that several of the better restaurants in my town are trying to revive their brunch business. Spring is a good time for brunch since people want to get out of their homes after this long and terrible winter that most of the nation has experienced. Restaurant brunch sounds like a good destination to connect with friends and family you haven’t seen for a while.
If you want a piece of this brunch trend and aim to host brunch at your own home, it can be fairly simple to organize. And, much of what you want to serve can be made a day or the night before. Good planning makes a good brunch. Consider what your kitchen is capable of, how many cooks you have and how elaborate you want to be. Here are some guidelines for a successful brunch as told to me by chefs who once in a while organize a brunch in their own homes when they have visiting friends and relatives from out of town.
Start out by offering your guests a traditional brunch beverage when they arrive – a mimosa, bloody Mary, or a sparkling fruit juice drink. Then set out your hot, cold and room temperature items and let everyone choose how they want to do brunch. Here’s the plan:
- Buffet is the easiest way to go. Set out a food table, a sweets table and a bar. Make sure you have plenty of sparkling and still bottled water. Americans are obsessed with bottled water. Of course, plenty of hot coffee (a pot of decaf for sure) and hot tea.
- Serve a combination of homemade foods and specialty items you can source from bakeries and clever gourmet markets. No need to make everything yourself.
- You need good breads and pastries at a brunch along with top quality butter and jams. You want a combination of savory breads and sweet ones – croissants, biscuits, whole-grain bread, Danish, bagels, coffee cake muffins, etc.
- You want a big, beautiful bowl of seasonal fruit salad and a platter of four different cheeses.
- Serve one or two egg or light vegetable casseroles that you make the day before and pop into the oven before guests arrive.
- If you’re going to have a meat (besides the bacon or sausage that could be ingredients in one of your casseroles), make it a ham or turkey breast. Both look nice on the table and aren’t too heavy. A platter of cold shrimp or cold salmon is a good addition if some of your guests disavow meat or fowl.
- Restaurant brunch often includes a person who stands ready to make hot pancakes and waffles. Don’t do this at home unless you have a friend who wants that job and is good at it. The host and hostess have other responsibilities.
- Have a place at tables for every guest. Brunch doesn’t work like a cocktail party. People need a place to sit and eat.
- Theme your party for the season. For spring, fresh flowers on the table and colorful serving platters. It’s the fashion lately to do table favors or guest gifts. A small pot of fresh herbs for each departing guest is a lovely gesture. When your friends pluck off a clump of basil, parsley, cilantro or watercress at home, they will be reminded of the good time they had at your brunch. Also, all of these little herb pots are appropriate as decoration during the brunch. Scatter them on the buffet tables and on the tables where your friends are seated.
Here are some easy and crowd-pleasing brunch dishes you might want to incorporate into your springtime brunch this month and next. They are from cookbooks that Flavors & More trusts.
Brie and Sausage Brunch Soufflé
(Serves 10.) From The Junior League of Tampa Culinary Collection. Do this one the night before the brunch and pop into the oven just before guests arrive. This recipe is a more interesting take on the traditional breakfast strata.
6 slices white bread
1 pound hot bulk pork sausage, browned and drained
¾ pound Brie cheese, rind removed, cubed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups milk
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup whipping cream
Trim the crusts from the bread slices and place the crusts evenly on the bottom of a lightly greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Layer the bread slices, cooked sausage, Brie and Parmesan cheese in the baking dish. Whisk 5 eggs and 2 cups half-and-half in a bowl. Add the milk, sage, seasoned salt and dry mustard and mix well. Pour over the bread layers. Chill, covered for 8 hours. When ready to bake, whisk 2 eggs and 1 cup whipping cream in a bowl. Pour over the prepared layers. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until the center is set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Garnish with fresh parsley for a nice presentation.
Raspberry Baked French Toast
(Serves 10). From Make It Ahead by Ina Garten. A Barefoot Contessa cookbook. Assemble this night the night before your brunch, refrigerate and bake it off in time for the party.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
10 extra-large eggs
2 ¾ cups half-and-half
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated orange zest, plus extra for serving
½ teaspoon kosher salt
10 cups (1-inch dice) day-old challah bread
12 ounces fresh raspberries
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving
Pure maple syrup, for serving.
Note: If your bread isn’t stale enough, slice it 1-inch thick, place on a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. Turn and bake for another 5 minutes.
Grease a 9 x 13 x 2-inch oval baking with with the butter and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, 1/3 cup of granulated sugar, the brown sugar, vanilla, orange zest, and salt. Spread half of the diced bread in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle on the raspberries in one layer. Top with the rest of the bread and pour on the egg mixture, pressing down lightly to moisten the bread. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the baking dish on a sheet and bake for 60-70 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is puffed and browned Check after 45 minutes; if the top is getting too browned, cover with lightly with aluminum foil. Coll for 10 minutes, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, dust with the extra orange zest and serve warm with maple syrup.
Potato Broccoli Quiche
(serves 6). From the Grant Corner Inn Cookbook by Louise Stewart
1 large baking potato
1 10-ounce package frozen broccoli spears
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
3 tablespoons homemade or commercial salsa
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 ½ cups half and half
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1 9-inch pie shell blind-baked at 450 for 7 minutes
Cut potato into quarters and bring to a boil in a small saucepan with just enough salted water to cover. Boil, uncovered for 20 minutes or until tender. Set aside. In another small saucepan bring broccoli to a boil with 2 tablespoons water. Cover and cook just long enough to separate and heat broccoli through. Drain and chop coarsely; set aside. Preheat over to 375. Melt butter in a small sauté pan. Sauté onion and garlic until transparent; add red pepper and sauté another minutes. In medium bowl combine potatoes, broccoli, sautéed vegetables, salsa and parsley. Correct seasonings and spoon into the pre-baked pie shell. In small bowl beat half and half with eggs. Sprinkle Cheddar over vegetables in pie shell and pour custard over all. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes to an hour, or until top is browned and knife inserted into center comes out clean. (Note: You can cook and chop the potato and broccoli as well as the vegetable mixture the day or night before and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble and bake the quiche.)
Lemon Yogurt Muffins
(Makes 2 dozen). These could be the homemade hit of your brunch table. From Grant Corner Inn Cookbook by Louise Stewart.
2 cups sugar
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup toasted wheat germ
1 ½ tablespoons baking powder
3 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
½ cup milk
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 cup (about 8) egg whites
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
Preheat the over to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl stir together the sugar, flour, wheat germ and baking powder. Set aside. In a medium bowl, beat butter, yogurt, milk, lemon juice, zest and whole eggs. Stir into dry ingredients. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold into batter. Fill paper-lined muffin cups ¾ full. Bake at 350 degrees until very lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes. Brush with combined glaze ingredients and turnout of the pans onto a serving platter.