Brunch Basics

Treat your guests – and yourself – to a laid-back, festive gathering

Written by Amy S. White
Photographed by ALLEGRO ANDERSON

Oh, brunch. There’s so much to love about you. Your clever portmanteau label. Your wide array of delightful foods. Your juicy, meant-for-day-drinking cocktails. So special, so entirely bougie that you are reserved only for the weekend.
Breakfast or lunch? You don’t make me choose. With you, anything goes. I can eat anything, from eggs to prime rib to seafood to dessert, in any order I choose. Your buffet tables groan with variety – breads and pastries, salads and sides, eggs made my way, meat carving stations, puddings and cakes and pies (oh my!).
Your best offerings, in my entirely biased opinion, are true to your character and mash up both breakfast and lunch foods. Steak and eggs. Chicken and waffles. Sweet salads. Savory desserts. You are so satisfying with your unexpected intermingling of flavors. And have I mentioned that you have perfect timing? Neither too early nor too late in the day. Your existence lends itself to relaxed gatherings of friends and family. You are perfection on a plate (or several). You are my favorite of all meals.

My love for brunch is real, and in addition to my little love letter above, my job here is to convince you that winter brunches are the best of all. Brunch brings a beautiful respite to a stress-filled season of heavy meals and late-night parties. Here are some tips and tricks alongside a few recipes to help you host a successful seasonal brunch with as little effort as possible.
Most importantly, be mindful with your menu. Consider keeping it light. ‘Tis the season of overindulgence, so ask yourself whether your guests actually need that bacon or sausage. Stick to dishes that can be prepped the night before. Sure, everyone loves omelets cooked to order but if you’re tied to your stove, you’re not able to visit with your guests. Save those for the restaurant brunches and instead choose a couple of dishes that can be made in advance and will feed several guests. Baked French toast casserole. A quiche or frittata. Try this award-winning tart of mine that was once featured in an Ikea ad campaign that ran in O! The Oprah Magazine. I’m not ashamed to admit I make my work here even easier by using frozen pie crust on this one. (The folks at Oprah didn’t seem to mind.) Another great thing about this tart is that it tastes wonderful served at room temperature. Pair it with a salad or fruit, or, like I’ve done here, a fruity salad featuring some of the beautiful citrus that peaks during winter.

Now to my next tip – don’t go crazy trying to re-create the latest Pinterest-pretty baked goods. Do you have a dough laminator? Yeah, me neither. Purchase those croissants. Order some pastries. Grab a dozen bagels. Connecticut is home to some amazing independent bakeries. Support your local neighbors by buying their gorgeous products and making them look pretty on a nice platter instead of spending your day baking. Unless that’s your particular jam.
And speaking of platters, and jam for that matter, my third tip is that you gather your serving dishes, plates, glasses, coffee mugs, silverware, linens and condiments all in one place the night before your brunch. Don’t forget sugar and cream for coffee, as well as butter, jam or jelly, salt and pepper. That way, all you have to do is set your table before your guests arrive. Or, don’t even do that. Just buffet all the way!
Which brings us to the best part of brunch and my final tip. Set up a drinks bar so you’re not playing bartender as well as host. There must be coffee; a selection of teas is also a nice touch. But let’s be real here – brunch means mimosas. And while a traditional mimosa is simply orange juice with champagne, I challenge you to go beyond the basics and create your own mimosa bar. Set out carafes of different juices (cranberry, grapefruit, pomegranate, apple, orange) along with like-flavored liqueurs or vodkas and several bottles of your favorite sparkling wine. I like prosecco, champagne’s much cheaper Italian cousin, or cava, which is similar but from Spain. Line up some mix-and-match champagne flutes and small bowls filled with pretty garnishes like citrus twists or sugared berries. Encourage guests to try different combinations; you’ll find some of my favorites below.
To sum up, give yourself some low-stress brunch love this winter by remembering these tips: choose the right dishes, don’t be afraid to serve something store-bought, and prepare as much ahead of time as you can. But most importantly, sit back with a mimosa and enjoy the time with your guests. That’s what this season is all about.

Amy S. White is a teacher, food writer, and line cook in eastern Connecticut. While she wishes she could invite all of her readers to brunch at her place, this column will have to suffice. For more about Amy, go to amyswhite.com.

Caramelized Onion and Farmer’s Cheese Tart
Makes four to six servings; can be made ahead and heated or served room temperature

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, diced
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 frozen 9-inch deep dish pie crust (I prefer Mrs. Smith’s)
8 ounces farmer’s cheese
½ cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
1 Tbsp (about 5 leaves) chopped fresh sage
Optional garnish: fry whole sage leaves (one per slice) in hot oil until crisp

Preparation:
Heat oven to 350F. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the diced onions, sugar and salt, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the onions just start to turn brown. Be patient, as this takes time. Add the balsamic vinegar and continue to cook until onions are nicely caramelized. Spread the caramelized onions in an even layer into the bottom of the pie crust. Dollop half of the cheese on top of the onions. Whisk together the milk, egg yolks, eggs, pepper, chives and sage. Pour this into the pie over the cheese and onions. Dollop the remaining cheese into the mixture and place the whole pie on a baking sheet. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes, until the center is firm and springy. Cut into slices and serve each slice garnished with a fried sage leaf.

Winter Citrus Salad with Rosemary Syrup


Makes four to six servings
Make this salad your own by incorporating a wider variety of winter citrus like blood oranges, satsumas, and pomelos. You can get more servings out of it by adding baby arugula as well.
Ingredients:
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar
1 large sprig rosemary
2 grapefruits, peeled and cut into segments
6 clementines, peeled and cut into segments
2 Asian pears, cut into “batonnets” (like a carrot stick)
1 cup pomegranate seeds

 

Preparation:
Prepare the syrup by bringing water, sugar and rosemary sprig to a boil. Turn down heat and allow to simmer until liquid is reduced by half and mixture is syrupy. Gently fold together the fruits until well combined. Drizzle with the rosemary syrup.

Beyond-the-Basic-Mimosa


Recipe per serving:
½ ounce liqueur
2 ounces juice of the same flavor as the liqueur
1 ounce sparkling wine
Garnish

Pour liqueur and juice into a glass. Top with sparkling wine and your favorite garnish.
Cranberry:
Wild Moon Cranberry Liqueur, cranberry juice, and sparkling wine garnished with a sugared cranberry.
To make sugared cranberries: bring cranberries to a boil in a mixture of ½ cup water and ½ cup sugar. Allow to soak for an hour. Remove and roll in sugar

Citrus:
Your favorite citrus-flavored vodka, orange or grapefruit juice, and sparkling wine garnished with a citrus twist.
Apple:
Wild Moon Chai-Spice Liqueur or apple brandy, apple cider, and sparkling wine garnished with an apple slice.
Pomegranate:
Pama pomegranate liqueur, pomegranate juice, and sparkling wine garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds.


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