You know what I miss most about America? Brunch. Yeppers-that lovely somewhat breakfast and somewhat lunch and nearly always Sunday event called brunch makes me weak in the knees for the States. To help soothe my inner brunch wench, I decided to host a small, intimate birthday brunch this year instead of a birthday party. I’m all about small intimate gatherings these days and besides-who doesn’t love lounging around eating fried chicken and quiche while drinking mimosas at 12:00 in the afternoon?
Hosting a brunch while very awesome (like totally awesome…dude), can be very labour intensive if you aren’t careful. One could be crazy enough to wake up at 6 to prepare for a 12 noon start and be shattered and exhausted by 14:00. No way Jose says me-I’m all about the plan ahead and sleeping in the day of the not-so big event. From setting the menu to cleaning house and organizing seating spots, follow the below tips to help your next brunch event be a success, without losing sleep.
1. Plan a menu that includes mostly make ahead items and cheat items where it makes sense. My brunch menu focused on gluten-free, vegetarian and low GI friendly foods (obviously excluding the fried chicken) many of which were make-ahead:
- crust-less vegetable and cheese vegetarian quiche
- traditional quiche with bacon, leek, broccoli and cheese
- carrot, raisin and coconut salad (with homemade mayo)
- green bean, pumpkin seed and pomegranate seed salad
- black bean salad with corn, red bell pepper (paprika), cilantro
- spinach salad with homemade vinaigrette
- roasted sweet potato with rosemary
- fried chicken
- fresh bread (bought from God Brød) and organic butter
- tuna and sweet corn salad on cucumber slices
- salmon and homemade dill dip on salted potato chips (weird but CRAZY good!)
- organic Norwegian semi-hard goat milk cheese
- raspberry trifle
- s’mores pops (marshmallows dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in graham cracker crumbs)
- Drinks: Pimms, Prosecco, OJ, Water and Coffee
Sounds like a lot right? Wrong. All of this was made and prepped the day/night before the brunch, excluding the quiches, roasted sweet potato and friend chicken. I could have made the sweet potatoes and fried chicken the day before too and warmed them up, but I didn’t. I like my fried chicken cooked same day. I’m weird like that.
All of the ingredients for the quiche were prepped (washed & chopped) the day before so all I had to do the morning of was defrost the puff pastry dough for the crust, roll it out, fill the crust and bake. All in all, from the time I took out the puff pastry dough until it was in the oven was 20 minutes. The roasted sweet potato went in the rack below the quiche, so it was done at the same time. After the first one was done, I put in the second for 35 minutes. Wham bamm, thank you mam, two quiches + sweet potatoes knocked out in just over an hour.
The fried chicken took the most amount of energy/steps to complete, mainly because it was marinated in buttermilk and spices overnight, brought to room temperature the next day, then floured and fried. But again, it was marinated the day before, set out while the quiche cooked, then fried in two pots while I cleaned the kitchen before the guests arrived. Wham bamm, thank you mam, total time investment day of=60 minutes (35 to bring to room temperature, 25 to cook).
So called “cheat” items make life easier, so use them-but only where it makes sense. I try to cut out processed foods from my diet as much as possible because 1) they are EXPENSIVE and 2)they taste bad and 3)they usually aren’t that good for you but things like puff pastry for the quiche bottom make my life easier. And, I’m like, so totally about making my life easy and simple! While puff pastry is a must have ingredient for a brunch, I’d always make my own salad dressing or salad vinaigrette. Why? Because for the cost of one egg and one cup of oil, I can make super tasty mayo, a great base for salad dressing. Alternatively, for the price of one lemon, oil and herbs, I can make a salad vinaigrette that blows any of that bottled stuff out of the park. Pick and choose what makes sense for you.
I like, oops I mean LOVE to use my vegetable slicer to cut vegetables because again, this makes my life easier. Cutting vegetables like carrots into rounds with my slicer (or knife if you don’t have one) instead of julienned strips for things like carrot, raisin and coconut salad makes life easier and allows one to use the cooking tools they have on hand. Which leads me to my next point . . .
2. Don’t be afraid to get creative and use what you have one hand. I usually have a lot of cooking ideas for different types of parties, but I find having parties is a lot easier if I don’t have to do big food shopping runs as well as clean, set up and decorate. This of course would be less of an issue if I had a car, but I don’t. I like to base my menu on what I have on hand first, and then find other things I’d like to serve. Like the potato chip idea. Saw that on a food site and just had to try it. I had thick yogurt on hand already, and was planning on serving salmon anyway, so making the salmon and homemade dill dip on salted potato chips allowed me to use what I had on hand + a bit of something I had to buy. But I really got to use what I had on hand. One can also do recipe searches for a food item they have on hand and see what comes up. Have a ton of black beans and you’d like to use them for your brunch? Make black bean salad with corn, red bell pepper (paprika) and cilantro or a 7 layer dip with mashed black beans instead of refried pinto beans. Have loads of fennel from your garden? Make a nice crispy Italian fennel salad.
3. Several smaller vegetable based salads and dishes are easier that a few meat intensive ones. Brunches are great because we can play out all of our commitment phobias in order to try some of this and some of that. Veggie salads that are interesting, colourful and well presented are always a winner-and are easier to make. Make a few of those in lieu of setting out a plate of a meat intensive dish. They also tend to taste better over a period of time while sitting out as guests mingle.
4. Ask guests to bring drinks, ice, chairs , bread, booze or another items you don’t have on hand. I asked a few people to bring chairs as my apartment is still lacking in the seating department for more than 6 people and one person to bring bread. Delegating a few easy tasks to others helps them feel included and gives you a chance to focus on other things.
5. Clean and set up your brunching aka seating space 3 days in advance. My apartment got a good scrub down 3 days before my guests arrived. The morning before they arrived, I vacuumed our seating space again aka the living room and wiped down the mirrors and sink in the bathroom. This helped stretch the prep work for the party out during the week and I didn’t have to do it the day before. Total time investment the day of=10 minutes.
It is also great to do the cleaning in advance because then you can see if you need to stock up on toilet paper (have I mentioned my fear of running out when I have guests?) or paper towels (kitchen paper as it is called in Norway) for spills. And a word on spills-they can, will and do happen, always-so have paper towels ready to help clean and in a guest accessible space. I like to keep mine on the beverage station because people tend to spill drinks and not food (or maybe that’s just my friends?).
6. Set up a separate food and beverage section. If space permits, separate the food and beverages into different areas. That way it’ll be easier for the people who only want a second glass of OJ to get it without having to wait for the person wanting more quiche and salad. Also helps minimize icky food/beverage accidents. It’s not nice to find carrots in the OJ or pumpkin seeds in the Pimms.
7. Consider using (and recycling) disposable plates, cutlery and napkins to make clean up easy. Enough said. You certainly do not want to be washing dishes while you have guests-or spending your night washing dishes after they leave. Buy disposable and recycle where possible.
Those are my tips for a stress-free brunch. What are yours? Feel free to drop a line or two in the comments and let us know how you like to brunch or manage brunchin’ without stressin’.