Brunch is one of the best meals to host, since there is a lot more flexibility than at a Friday or Saturday night dinner. For one, brunches can last as long or as short as you like. Most of the time, friends will have plans for the afternoon and won't stay all day, but sometimes they'll have nothing to do, and some of our best brunches have lasted almost until dinner. On the other hand, if you have plans, everyone will understand.
Beyond those perks, there is the inevitable con that brunch occurs relatively early. Set your own schedule. If you're not an early bird, don't invite anyone over before 1:00pm. No matter what time you wake up, we've figured out how to do a festive, fun brunch with no more than a hour or so of work.
Here are our general tips, as well as our quarter-life approach to all of the classic brunch items.
--Cara & Phoebe, of Big Girls, Small Kitchen
**Tips and Tricks**
Cook. Assemble. Make Ahead. Choose one item that requires attention the day of (scrambled eggs or hash browns), one that requires assembly (salad or sandwiches), and another that can be made start to finish the night before (quick breads or coffee cake), and brunch will be a breeze.
Simple Scramble Eggs. Eggs are cheap, traditional, and tasty, and they are easy to double and triple according to your party size. Frying eggs and making omelets are stressful and should be avoided. Go for a simple scramble, or choose an egg dish that only requires baking in the oven. A frittata or a strata are great choices. In the case of the last two, they can be completely assembled the night before and baked off the morning of.
Roasted Hash Browns. Since, potatoes are probably more comforting for a hangover than either Advil or hair of the dog (booze), adding them to your brunch menu will increase you popularity. We love this recipe for Spinach Hash Browns but if you want to take a shortcut, simply roast potatoes instead. Halve baby Yukon gold or red potatoes, toss with salt and olive oil, and roast for 50 minutes at 425°F. Parmesan-Roasted Potatoes are fantastic too.
Breakfast Meats. A little sausage and bacon never disappoints. To avoid using your stovetop, bake your bacon and sausage in the oven. Drain the bacon afterwards on paper towels, as you would if you fried it in the pan.
Serve Bread. A loaf of good bread can bulk up your meal for cheap. It keeps people occupied while you finish cooking, too. If you buy your bread the day before, you'll save time, but it could potentially get a little stale by brunch time the next day, especially if you buy baguette, which always tastes best freshly baked the day of. Toast the whole loaf for ten or fifteen minutes in the oven before serving it. Rubbing a little water on the crust with your hands will help crisp it up if it has gotten rubbery and soft. Getting in the habit of making no-knead bread is a great way to ensure there's bread on the table without you having to leave the house at all.
Make Sandwiches. Egg sandwiches are a traditional brunch item; BLTs or Pesto Chicken Sandwiches may be more lunch-like, but they're always winners. Letting guests make their own sandwiches, as Phoebe does on St. Patrick's Day, will make your life easier.
French Toast. This can be an incredibly easy, cheap brunch option, but frying up individual slices of French toast is a huge pain. Try baking your French toast instead. The bread can soak in the custard mixture overnight if your schedule warrants it, then you can bake off the toast just before your guests arrive.
Pancakes. Nostalgic and delicious, pancakes love variation. Just add some chocolate chips or fresh fruit and you can have pancakes two ways. Pumpkin Pancakes are wonderful in the fall. Because making pancakes can get messy, we only do it when we have four or fewer guests. If you're serving a crowd, choose quickbreads or muffins instead.
Fruit. Fruit satisfies light eaters, and it can brighten up an otherwise monochromatic brunch plate, but platters and salads can get expensive. If you're cutting costs, best to offer one kind of fruit--a melon, perhaps--or get your fruit serving via compotes.
Baked Goods. Quick breads, coffee cake, and muffins are a great addition to any brunch and are a pretty cheap, filling choice. Try Double Apple Walnut Cake, Cocoa Quickbread, and Banana Chocolate Chip Bread. Also don't miss out on scones and biscuits; though Toasted Pecan-Oatmeal Scones should be made the day of, if you have space to slip them in the oven your guests will be grateful.
Caffeine. If you own a coffee maker, great. Buy an inexpensive roast and whip up a pot. Put out milk and sugar. If you happen to lack a coffee pot, don't bother with the powdered stuff. Serve tea instead, unless you want to ask a friend to pick up a jug from Dunkin Donuts.
Booze. Mimosas, Bloody Mary's, and Bellinis are what make brunch worth believing in. You knew we would say this...but: Try to get your friends to chip in by bringing a bottle; you can supply orange juice to mix, or ask someone to get that too. Big Kid Hot Chocolate or Irish Hot Chocolate also happens to be a fantastic brunch beverage.
Follow Big Girls, Small Kitchen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BGSK