Best in Brunch
by Carole Gorney
Brunch – the meal that combines breakfast and lunch – has been around since the 1800s. From a repast that originated for late-night party-goers in Europe, brunch today has become an American restaurant mainstay.
Sunday, which includes Mother’s Day and Easter, is definitely the most popular day for restaurant brunch, but you can make any day a great brunch day right in your own home with the proper planning, decorations and menu. You can use any excuse and any day to hold a brunch, but here are five special brunch days to consider: May Day, Cinco de Mayo, 4th of July, Halloween and Christmas day.
May Day lends itself to a spring or summer theme, perfect for displaying early garden blossoms and sprouting tree branches in old coffee and tea pots, or water pitchers. Potted flowering bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips, also work. Artificial birds and nests with bird eggs make appropriate accents. An inexpensive decorating trick is to put placemats under your table displays and around the dining room to tie in color and themes.
The menu for May Day, or any brunch, depends on how many people you have invited, whether you opt for a sit-down or a buffet meal, and how formal you want to be. The versatile egg is basic to any brunch, often served scrambled with milk or cream or as a quiche, with a myriad of additions, such as onions, sweet and chili peppers, asparagus, potatoes, cheese, sausage, ham, bacon and even pesto. For a simple sit-down brunch for a half-dozen guests, stick to basic breakfast fare, such as an oven-baked ham and egg casserole served with sweet quick breads and embellished with a fruit bowl. Round out the brunch with a couple of seasonable vegetable dishes, such as fresh asparagus and roasted zucchini. For an informal buffet add a mixed green salad, a cold platter of smoked salmon or shrimp and rolls or toasted English muffins.
If you want to go beyond coffee and juice, try a berry punch.
Cinco de Mayo
Mexico’s flag colors of green, red and white lend themselves well to table decorations for a Cinco de Mayo brunch. Table settings of vibrant Fiesta® dishware work perfectly, but plain white dishes and even a white tablecloth work well if accented with red and green napkins and glasses. Paper streamers and miniature Mexican flags would also add a nice touch.
For a sit-down brunch, provide each guest with a printed menu in Mexican colors listing ingredients in the menu. For a buffet, place “name” cards next to each dish listing its ingredients.
There are a variety of dishes that can be served at a Mexican buffet, including huevos (eggs) rancheros, chili cheese casserole, breakfast tacos, scrambled eggs and chorizo sausage wraps, jicama and pineapple salad, refried beans and Spanish rice. The menu can be trimmed for a smaller sit-down event, but green chili chicken enchilada casserole is a staple at both.
For “bread,” try warmed flour tortillas or make your own sopapillas. The recipes for both are virtually the same, except sopapillas are deep-fried. These tasty “pillows” are particularly good with honey and saucy enchiladas, but they can also be eaten for dessert.
For drinks, Margaritas go well with everything, or try an extra spicy Bloody Mary.
4th of July
Our own Independence Day is another good excuse for brunch. You can prepare your food ahead of time and pop it into the oven or microwave just before guests arrive. Patriotic red, white and blue decorations and tableware are available everywhere. Accent the table with candles of various heights. In a traditional vein, serve waffles with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, corned beef hash with poached eggs, ham slices, fried chicken, Boston baked beans, cranberry scones and blueberry cobbler.
A nautical theme also lends itself to July 4, with seashells and plastic or ceramic lobsters adding to the ambiance. Add a creative touch to the traditional menu: Shrimp frittata, lobster mac and cheese, corn fritters with Old Bay spice, and blueberry balsamic-glazed salmon. Serve with juice.
You can go crazy with spooky stuff, or go for a fall theme with a centerpiece of veggies, apples and other colorful fruit. Autumn flowers look great arranged inside hollow pumpkins, or fill mason jars with black and orange candies, or colored glass stones and flowers. Trim the tops with ribbon. Dim lighting and votive candles hidden behind decorations and food displays add to the atmosphere. Use black dishes or placemats, and napkins with an orange tablecloth, or reverse the color scheme.
Post your graveyard menu in a picture frame adorned with ghosts, spiders and witches. Include such delicacies as scrambled “brain” eggs, butternut “swamp” soup, chicken “cadaver” strips, fried polenta “puss,” and a bowl of “eyeball” grapes. Seasonally decorated cupcakes arranged on various levels of pedestal plates are not only scrumptious to eat, but make a great table adornment. Complement your menu with cups of hot apple cider or chilled apple juice. For a real “witch’s brew,” serve green apple martinis.
Brunch is perfect for Christmas, when the morning is filled with opening presents or getting ready to visit with family and friends. Why not go elegant with a champagne brunch, featuring your finest linens and dinnerware? Optimize the space on a food table by arranging the champagne, ice bucket and glasses on the buffet or separate covered table. Add another level to the back of the main table with a cloth-covered row of sturdy boxes or thick books, and decorate the front of it with evergreen boughs and holly berries. For variety, the center of the back tier can be higher than each side. Perch lighter serving plates on inverted cups and bowls so that the food becomes part of the decoration.
For sit-down place settings, tie napkins with festive ribbons securing a small ornament and a name card. Place a Christmas cracker (the non-edible kind) parallel to the top of each plate. The menu should not conflict with the main Christmas dinner, so avoid heavy meats. Select from egg and cheese casseroles, quiche, French toast with fresh berries or berry compote, baked grapefruit, and an assortment of sweet breads and coffeecakes. A good buffet option, especially with champagne, is to serve finger foods and small hors d’oeuvres, such as Chinese steamed dumplings and buns, and fried pot stickers. For a festive drink, serve mimosas with a slice of blood orange, a sprinkling of pomegranate arils, or even a couple fresh cranberries.