Monday, December 21, 2009

how to host brunch (and still sleep in)

how to host brunch (and still sleep in)

I take brunch very, very seriously, so seriously that I don’t go out for it very often because, you see, few places do it right. The scones are chalky, the fruit cups are nothing but soggy raspberries and unloved green melon, the yogurt is too sweet; the baked eggs are either hard-cooked or have clear, unsettling whites and the toast, it never comes. Am I a brat with nothing but First World Problems? Indeed I am, but I make a mean brunch.

cream biscuits

I’m going to hazard a guess that in a week and season filled with house guests and sleeping in, you’ll spend a least one of these mornings forgoing your usual coffee and granola bar on-the-go for something social and substantial. And thank goodness, right? Here are the cornerstores I like a gather a brunch menu around: Something fresh, like a fruit salad, even better if you throw in a rich yogurt to spoon over them; something rich and eggy; something sweet, like a coffee cake, muffin, bread pudding or baked french toast; something bready like a biscuit or scone; something boozy, like mimosas, bloody marys or both and something unholy, like bacon or sausage. Or both, because it’s not January 1st yet.

winter fruit salad

And this is my only rule: Everything must be made in advance. The only thing required of you the morning of your brunch is to roll out of bed and turn the oven on, which came in handy when, in another life, I devised this strategy for all of those New Years Day brunches when I woke up too, ahem, after-partied to do anything more. (Nowadays, I’m just lazy, and will take extra sleep any way I can devise it.)

whole wheat apple muffin

Here’s how you can pull it off, too:

  • Pancakes, traditional French toast and omelets are verboten. The only people who can whip out omelet after omelet without breaking a sweat and at the kind of breakneck speed you need to serve a dozen people at once are the short-order griddle guys at NYC bodegas. I leave it to them. Updated to add: Unless, of course, you’re making the world’s best waffles, which are assembled the day before and are ready when you wake up. Make them before your guests arrive and keep them warm in the oven. [Suggestion: Essential Raised Waffles]
  • Scones and biscuits are a flash-freezers dream. Roll them out, shape them and arrange them unbaked on your baking sheet and stick the whole tray in the freezer overnight. Bake them directly from the freezer before you’ve rubbed the sand out of your eyes. They’re always best fresh from the oven, anyway. [Suggestions: Dreamy Cream Scones, Jalapeño-Cheddar Scones, Meyer Lemon and Fresh Cranberry Scones, Chive Buttermilk Biscuits, Cream Biscuits and How to Flash Freeze]
  • Fruit salads can be made the day before. In berry season, just grab a mix of whatever looks good and you’re done. In the winter, I make a winter fruit salad. [Suggestion: Winter Fruit Salad]
  • Bacon and sausage is best made the day-of but this doesn’t mean you must toil over a stove while your friends recount the night before’s antics in the other room. Sausages can be roasted on a tray, rolling them around occasionally to ensure even crisping; bacon can be cooked in the oven on a cooling rack suspended over a baking sheet to catch the drippings. Each can be ready long before guests arrive, and kept warm until you serve them.
  • Baked French toast and/or bread puddings can and should be assembled the night before; the more you soak them, the better they usually taste. [Suggestions: Boozy Baked French Toast, Raisin-Studded Apple Bread Pudding and Cinnamon Toast French Toast]
  • Quickbreads, muffins and coffee cakes are a great way to round on the meal, and satisfy sweet tooths, and if you wish to make them a few days or a week in advance, they freeze really well. Take them out the night before and they’ll be defrosted when you need them. [Suggestions: Whole Wheat Apple Muffins, Raspberry-Topped Lemon Muffins, Sour Cream Bran Muffins, Jacked-Up Banana Bread, Date Spice Loaf, Big Crumb Coffee Cake, Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake, Grapefruit Yogurt Loaf or Cranberry Vanilla Coffee Cake]
  • The base for Bloody Marys can be mixed and the orange juice for mimosas can be squeezed the night before. If it’s summer or if your apartment is always a-broilin’ thanks to New York City steam heat, so can iced coffee, and heck, it should be. [Suggestions: Bloody Mary, Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee]
  • If I think potatoes are in order, I make latkes, not home fries. They reheat on a tray in the oven best of all (I think the oven gives them a bonus crispiness) and your guests get something that might otherwise be a rare treat. Latkes keep for weeks well-wrapped in the freezer, so you get a lot of lead time on them too. [Suggestion: Latkes]
  • Finally, I always consider the centerpiece is the kind of deep, rich eggy dish that makes people forget you refused to fry an egg on their behalf. Until this weekend, this baked egg dish was my favorite, with the eggs baked in tomato sauce a distant second (I’d make the vegetable bases for each the day before, only cracking eggs as guests arrived). And hey, they’re still great. But for the sake of space, and because I am a terrible tease, you’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out what trumps them both. [Suggestions: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms, Eggs in Tomato Sauce]

(That is, besides a baby in a gigantic snowsuit, impatient for the blizzard to begin. But that went without saying, right?)

jacob henry suits up


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