Brunch is my favorite meal these days, and I know I’m not alone.
You’re in line with me at opening time, hoping to get a table. One of my favorite spots recently said it would be more than an hour before we saw any eggs or pancakes. The Portlandia episode in which a long line evolves into a brunch village complete with an overlord suddenly doesn’t seem so outlandish. For our next Sunday out, I reserved a table.
Wait, what? Brunch is supposed to be easy. Lazy. Indulgent. We smooshed two words into one for this thing and yet there’s nothing shortened about the meal itself.
I propose a new plan: brunch at home. No reservations.
We told our friends to show up at noon and we’d have breakfast: something eggy; bacon; coffee, and a mimosa-ish drink, definitely. At home, the drinks really can be endless, and soon brunch morphed into a dance party. The dance party turned into dinner.
Going out for brunch is still fun and means trying something new, but brunching at home means kicking back and losing track of time and your shoes. And since having people over for brunch isn’t as pricey as a dinner party can be, we could have friends over more often.
So we hosted another. And another. A late summer brunch. A holiday brunch with a twinkling 7-foot Christmas tree and spiced sangria because I learned my cake stand can be inverted to serve as punch bowl. (Yours probably lives a double life, too!)
Our tiny apartment kitchen belies the late-morning feasts it has turned out, including creme brulee French toast and all kinds of quiches. A sort-of French 75 cocktail punch is in heavy rotation. Our dinner table seats four, but we’ve had a dozen people over on Sunday. Friends kept asking about the next brunch, and I realized we’d inadvertently formed a sort-of brunch club.
Grace Parisi, a James Beard-nominated cookbook author and former senior test kitchen editor at Food & Wine magazine who is now executive food director for publisher Oxmoor House in Birmingham, Ala., said she prefers brunch to dinner when entertaining. It’s more relaxed and nothing has to be fancy if you don’t want it to be. Plus, eating at home when you have kids is easier than hustling for busy tables in Brooklyn only to get what she calls the biggest crime of going out for brunch — mediocre coffee.
“On Sunday morning, do you really want your blood pressure getting that high hoping you get a table?” she said.
No, she’d rather be home sipping a Bloody Mary made with gin and the right balance of tart lemon juice, spice and aromatics.
Parisi’s rule for brunch is to avoid anything that has to be cooked individually or plated. Parisi’s favorites include a Monte Cristo sandwich strata, the egg-poached-in-tomato-sauce dish shakshuka, a big upside-down caramel apple pancake to satisfy a crowd of pancake lovers, and casseroles of huevos rancheros or chilaquiles.
Let’s join her. The brunch-at-home club has room for more, and there is no wait time. Consider this your invitation.
About this menu:
Everything can be made ahead except the bacon, which is part of this brunch menu’s appeal. You don’t want to invite people over only to be stuck in the kitchen.
The fruit salad is easy enough to throw together in the morning so it’s fresh, but you can also assemble it the previous night. If you do this, reserve the mint until just before serving. The lemonade and the pie dough can be made several days in advance. I included two main dishes, one savory and one sweet, because this is brunch and it calls for certain amount of excess, especially on Easter weekend. I bake the quiche the day before and assemble the French toast that day, too.
In the morning, I cook the bacon in the oven at about noon and arrange the strawberries and deviled eggs on the dining table. I place the French toast and quiche on the counter and heat them up once everyone arrives.
Brunch at home may go longer than you’d expect. It’s good to have a game plan and some snacks for when everyone gets hungry again. I have a slider recipe from the kitchen of Rich Valentine, my boyfriend’s dad. They are his interpretation of White Castle’s burgers, and it’s what he served at the end of the night to keep a party going, whether it was family or his grad students celebrating the end of the semester. Now Danny and I serve them to our brunched-out friends at the end of the day.
Tips for brunch at home:
*Set out the coffee mugs, glasses, and utensils on your table the night before brunch. It’s a small step that is nice to have checked off the list by morning.
*Place a pitcher of cold water for your guests amid the coffee and cocktails. A few slices of lemon or cucumber in the pitcher gives it a nice touch, especially for special occasions, like Easter or a birthday.
*Stick to a menu with items that can be made ahead of time. Pancakes and omelets are out. Frittatas, baked eggs, quiche, and stratas are in. Scones and biscuits can be partially baked the day before and then frozen directly on the baking sheet. Place directly in the oven when your friends and family arrive and you’re golden.
*Buy fresh flowers. For a springtime table, especially on Easter, tulips and sunflowers are lovely. Just a $7 bunch of grocery store flowers in a vase is a fast way to make our home look more inviting.
*Your friends may or may not ask what they can bring. If they do, one task I like to delegate is the coffee. Have a friend pick up a carton of brewed coffee on the way over. More booze works, too.
*In the summer, I like to offer iced coffee as well. I pick up a growler from my neighborhood coffee shop and serve it in mason jars with colorful straws.
*The more brunches we host, the more our friends want to contribute. Our friend Drew shows up with a speaker and playlists. He knows music better than I do, and I’d rather worry about the French toast.
*Keep a deck of cards and a couple board games on the coffee table.
*Grace Parisi, the recipe goddess, says the ideal number of guests is eight because after that you need a second casserole. If your invite list is longer (ours often exceeds eight) there are several ways to round out the meal. Options include a second quiche, banana bread studded with toasted walnuts, a big batch of granola, bagels and lox, and biscuits.
*For drinks, mix up a pitcher or punch bowl of cocktails once and you don’t have to play bartender the whole time. If mimosas are a must, Parisi’s fresh take on the brunch staple is a blend of fizzy cava and pomegranate juice.
Crème Brûlée French Toast
Quiche with Gruyère and Leeks
Strawberries with Rosewater and Mint
Bacon for a Crowd
This recipe is adapted slightly from Everyday Food.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 bunch fresh thyme, plus sprigs for garnish
2 cups fresh lemon juice (from about a dozen lemons), plus lemon slices for garnish
1 cup (Hendrick’s) gin
To make the thyme simple syrup, bring sugar, thyme, and 1 cup water to boil in a medium saucepan. Stir until sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Let cool completely. Remove thyme.
Add simple syrup to a pitcher with lemon juice, gin, and 4 cups cold water. Stir to combine. Taste and add up to 2 more cups water if lemonade is too strong for your taste.
Refrigerate until cold, about an hour and up to a week. Serve lemonade in tumblers with thyme sprigs.
Crème Brûlée French Toast
Gourmet magazine printed this recipe in 1998 after a reader who stayed at the Inn at Sunrise Point in Camden, Maine requested it. On Epicurious, the recipe has more than 500 reviews. It’s easy, low maintenance, and a total winner if you have guests over for breakfast. It’s just as easy to make two baking dishes of the French toast, and you can use challah bread, a country loaf, or a French baguette. I even filled in some spots with regular whole wheat sandwich bread. Leave the bread slices out the day before to let them get a little stale or lightly toast the bread. This baked French toast is sweet and perfect for a special occasion. The brûlée layer underneath the toast makes extra maple syrup unnecessary. Serve with bacon. Recipe adapted from Gourmet magazine via epicurious.
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 loaf challah bread (or a 9-inch round country loaf) cut into six 1-inch thick slices from the center of the bread
1 1/2 cups half-and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon bourbon
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of 1/2 an orange
raspberries and powdered sugar, for serving
Melt butter with brown sugar and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until smooth, then pour in a 13-by 9- by 2-inch baking dish. Arrange bread slices in the baking dish in one layer. It’s okay if the bread overlaps to fit.
Whisk together eggs, half-and-half, vanilla, bourbon, salt, and orange zest in a large bowl until combined. Pour evenly over bread. Chill mixture, covered, for at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.
Heat oven to 350° F while you let the bread sit on the counter and come to room temperature.
Bake uncovered in the center of the oven until the bread puffs up and the edges are golden, about 35 minutes.
Sprinkle French toast with powdered sugar and fresh raspberries. Serve immediately with bacon.
Serves 6 to 8.
Quiche with Gruyere and Leeks
This is a fairly light quiche for a springtime brunch. Feel free to add in a handful of lightly wilted kale or chopped bacon, but I like to keep the flavors simple (and vegetarian) when quiche is part of a full brunch menu for a crowd.
This recipe for pâte brisée makes two disks of dough, but you only need one for the quiche. Wrap the second disk in plastic wrap, place in an airtight container or ziptop bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Recipe is adapted from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child and The Kitchn.
For the crust:
2 1/2 cups (320 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or food processor. Add the butter and combine at slow speed or pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with different sized pieces of butter. Drizzle 1/4 cup ice water over the mixture as you continue to mix at medium-low speed. Mix or pulse until the mixture just starts to hold together and form a dough. Add up to another 1/4 cup ice water, a tablespoon at a time, if the mixture is too dry to come together.
Divide dough in half and place each on a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap loosely with the plastic and use a rolling pin to press dough into a disk. Let dough rest in the fridge until firm for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. This relaxes the gluten and a proper rest period helps keep your pie dough from shrinking when it bakes. Dough can also be frozen for up to 3 months.
Rub flour onto a large cutting board or clean surface. Use a rolling pin to roll out dough into an to fit a 10- or 11-inch tart pan with about 2 inches extra all around. Place your tart pan in the center of the dough and use a knife to cut the dough into a large circle around it. Set the pan aside and roll the dough onto your (floured) rolling pin to transfer it to the tart pan. Tuck in the dough to fit the pan. Fold the dough hanging over the edge and crimp the edges.
Prick all over the bottom of the dough with a fork. This will help prevent the bottom of the crust from rising when it bakes. Freeze for 30 minutes in pan. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Line pan with parchment paper and fill with 2 pounds of dried beans or pie weights to blind bake the crust. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove beans and parchment paper. Bake uncovered until the crust starts to lightly brown at the edges, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Meanwhile, prepare the quiche filling.
For the filling:
2 garlic cloves
2 leeks (white and light green parts), thinly sliced
1 cup milk
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated
1 teaspoon salt
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic for 1 minute. Stir in leeks and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. A few browned spots are fine.
Spread cooked leeks and garlic evenly on the cooled pie crust.
Whisk together milk, heavy cream, eggs, cheese, and salt in a bowl until combined. Pour mixture over leeks in pie pan. Season with pepper. Bake until edges of quiche are set but the center is still a bit wobbly, 25 to 30 minutes. Check around the 15 or 20 minute mark to make sure pie crust isn’t getting too brown. If it is, cover with pie crust shield or a ring of aluminium foil to prevent further browning.
Let quiche cool for 20 minutes before cutting into it. Quiche can be made a day ahead (ideal for brunch) and served warm or at room temperature.
Serves 6 to 8.
Strawberries with Rosewater and Mint
My friend Mal makes the best fruit salad — all berries and no filler. Hers is vibrant with shades of purple and red from blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and red grapes. This no-cantaloupe, only-the-good-stuff spirit led me to my own modern fruit salad. Most brunch menus tend to be heavy and indulgent, so this strawberry and mint salad is a refreshing and bright option on the table. Rosewater makes it special and incredibly fragrant (but this would still be good without it).
The fruit salad is easy enough to throw together in the morning so it’s fresh, but you can also assemble it the previous night. If you do this, reserve the mint until just before serving.
2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 tablespoons sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons rosewater
a handful of mint leaves, torn or roughly chopped
Place strawberries in a large bowl. Scatter sugar over the berries and toss to combine. Place bowl in the fridge; the berries will macerate and release their juices, 30 to 45 minutes.
Toss berries with 1 tablespoon rosewater and taste. Add up to 1 more tablespoon rosewater if you’d like. Toss with a handful of torn mint leaves. Transfer to serving platter and garnish with a few whole mint leaves.
Serves 8 to 10.
Our friends Jessica and Derek make great deviled eggs, and whenever we’d have them over for brunch and ask what they could bring, well, the answer was always the same. Eventually, we learned how to do it ourselves. This is a basic recipe for deviled eggs. My go-to garnishes are paprika, flaky salt, crushed red pepper, or chives, but you can top them off with bacon or anything else you dream up. Recipe is adapted from Everyday Food.
8 large eggs
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Sriracha or Tabasco
paprika and flaky salt, for garnish
Place eggs in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover eggs by an inch. Bring to a rolling boil. Remove pan from heat; cover, and let stand 13 minutes. Drain and run eggs under cold water to cool them.
I find it easier to peel the eggs when they are in a bowl of water. Fill a mixing bowl halfway with cold water and place the eggs in the bowl. Take an egg and gently tap it on the cutting board to crack the shell. Gently roll the egg back and forth to create more cracks in the shell. Hold the egg underwater in the bowl and carefully use your finger to peel off the shell. The shell tends to come off more easily and in bigger pieces if you do this in the bowl with water. Set aside egg when finished. Repeat with the rest of the eggs. Use a sharp knife to halve eggs lengthwise in one swift move.
In another bowl, mix together mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, shallot, hot sauce, a pinch of salt, and pepper. Hold a halved egg over the bowl with one hand. Gently squeeze at the sides until the hardened yolk pops out and into the bowl. Repeat with remaining eggs. Set aside the egg whites and mash the egg yolk mixture with a fork to combine ingredients until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Spoon egg yolk mixture into a quart-size ziptop or pastry bag, squeezing the mixture toward one end of the bag. Cut off the end of the bag at about ½ inch from the tip. Squeeze bag to pipe egg yolk mixture into the center of the egg whites. Don’t be stingy. I always have more than enough of the yolk mixture for skyhigh deviled eggs. Arrange eggs on a serving platter and sprinkle with paprika and flaky salt just before serving or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
Bacon for a Crowd
1 pound thick-cut bacon
brown sugar (optional)
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange strips of bacon on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with an ovenproof cooling rack for extra crispy bacon (or you can use parchment paper). Bacon strips can be arranged close together, but avoid overlapping them. Sprinkle with brown sugar if desired and bake until bacon is cooked through and starting to crisp at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes.
Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels before serving.
These steamed sliders come from the kitchen of Rich Valentine, my boyfriend’s dad. They are his interpretation of White Castle’s burgers, and it’s what he served at the end of the night to keep a party going, whether it was family or his grad students celebrating the end of the semester. Now Danny and I serve them to our brunched-out friends at the end of the day.
2 pounds hamburger meat
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 medium white onions, diced
18 slider buns (sliced in half)
mustard, ketchup, and pickles, for serving
Mix together ground beef, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and salt.
Press the mixture into thin, slider-sized patties.
Heat large, wide skillet over medium heat and add oil. Cook in batches, putting half the diced onions in the pan and cooking uncovered until softened and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes.
Place half the patties on top of the onions in the pan and cook, covered, until just starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Place the slider buns, cut-side down, the rest stacked, on top of the patties. Cover and cook until the bread is slightly steamed and the meat is cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes.
Transfer the burger patties, buns and onions to a plate and arrange the burgers. Serve immediately — or later in the day when people start looking for snacks — with plenty of onions, mustard, ketchup and pickles.
Makes about 18 sliders.