With the holidays coming up and people dropping by for weekend and holiday visits, I thought I'd share with you some tips on preparing a big breakfast brunch spread, sure to accommodate vegetarian and meat eater alike, that can be done in about 30 minutes. I've included some tricks of the trade I've learned along the way, from doing as much as I can in advance to how to keep everything warm and toasty until serving.
Tip #1: Have A Bagel and Schmear
One of the easiest and most satisfying breakfast items you can offer guests (and yourself!) is a bagel bar. You can do just plain or assorted, toasted or not. Simply lay out the bagels on a plate or platter and the various accouterments. Cream cheese is a good idea. Smoked salmon, thinly sliced tomato, jams are also a great idea and classic combinations. For more ideas on using smoked salmon for your bagel bar, check out my previous Smoked Salmon Bagel Bar posting.
I love doing a bagel bar because it pleases everyone: kids, adults, vegetarians and carnivores. Everyone loves a bagel. Even if your guests are watching their carb intake, they can use tomato slices and smoked salmon for a non-carb version (although I don't know why you wouldn't just eat the godamn bagel).
Make Ahead Tip:
- If you know you're serving breakfast/brunch to your guests the next morning, then prepare everything but the bagels the night before.
- Portion out the cream cheese or jams in a nice glass bowl, then cover with plastic wrap.
- Repeat the same process with any accouterments (capers, tomato slices, etc.) -- you can place these right on the plate you plan on serving them, then tightly cover with plastic wrap. Even smoked salmon can be prepped this way!
- The next morning, take the platter out, keeping it wrapped, and set it on the counter to come to room temperature about 15 minutes. Add your bagels and you're good to go!
Bacon or sausage. How about bacon AND sausage?!
People are often freaked out about serving bacon and/or sausage for big breakfast brunches because of the mess. If you're planning on frying everything, then yes -- it's going to stink up your house, you're gonna get pelted in grease, and be pissed off about it. But check this out:
- Don't fry your bacon -- roast it in the oven! Line a baking sheet (or 2) with aluminum foil. Place a rack on top (I like using those metal cooling racks for cookies for this), then lay out your bacon on top of that. Roast in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until desired crispiness.
- By roasting the bacon, you (a) are actually getting a less greasy product because you're not using additional oil; (b) not creating a mess -- when you're done simply throw your rack in the dishwasher and the aluminum foil that you'll see caught all the grease that dripped to the bottom right into the trash! You don't even have to wash your baking sheet!!; and (c) the oven is doing the watching for you -- you don't have to keep an eye on if it's burning or not like it does in the frying pan or griddle. You're welcome.
- You can try different styles of bacon, but I prefer a classic hickory smoked, thick cut bacon for breakfast.
- Plan 2-3 slices per person; 2 if also serving sausage, 3 if not serving sausage
Make Ahead Tip:
- Fry/grill your sausages -- usually takes about 5 minutes for the little breakfast sized ones and up to 10 minutes for the larger kielbasas or andouille sized ones, then place them in an oven-proof casserole dish, cover with a lid or aluminum foil, and keep them warm in a 300 degree oven until ready to be eaten.
- If you're making them way in advance (like an hour before eating), then keep them warm in a 250 degree oven -- this way they won't dry out on you.
- I'd plan on 2 small breakfast sausages per person, and 1/2-1 larger sausage per person.
#3: Use the Veggies to Your Advantage!
Roasted veggies like tomatoes and asparagus are perfectly acceptable breakfast/brunch foods that can offer more flavor and texture to your overall meal as well as punches of color. Here's what to do:
- For tomatoes: take some Roma tomatoes and wash and dry them; cut off the ends then cut in half; place in a roasting dish or casserole dish and drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper; roast on a baking sheet in 375 degree oven until softened and starting to caramelize, about 20 minutes
- For asparagus: wash and trim the rough ends of the asparagus; toss in olive oil and season with salt and pepper; roast on a baking sheet in 375 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes
- In case you haven't caught on, you can roast these vegetables at the same time in the same oven as your bacon, and they'll be ready at the same time!
- If you're planning to use these for breakfast the next day, prepare your vegetables the night before.
- Place the tomatoes and/or asparagus in gallon-sized plastic bags, add the olive oil and salt and pepper right in, close the bag and massage the seasonings right on the veggies.
- Place the bag in the fridge overnight and it's ready for you to throw on a baking sheet the next day.
#4: Don't Complicate The Eggs...
Just because you're having guests over does not obligate you to make food to order. I cannot repeat this enough. If one guest wants scrambled eggs hard and the other wants an egg over-easy and this guy wants basted eggs, then give them $50 and tell them to go eat at IHOP. Forget it.
Many people (including myself) made the mistake that when you host people, you have to act like a restaurant. Nope -- you're obligated to make food, people will elect to eat it or not, and then they leave. Period. End of discussion. You can tweak here and there like if someone is diametrically opposed to raw tomatoes, but to make eggs ten different ways to accommodate everyone is insanity.
For a crowd large or small, I've found that omelets and fritattas are your best bet. Or a huge pan of scrambled eggs. You want to go for "one-pot-meal" type of thinking here, so you're making it once and people can eat as much or as little of it as they wish.
Which ever dish you do, a great ingredient to keep in mind is cream. By adding basic light or heavy cream (heavy is better though) to your eggs when you're beating them, you will achieve that silky and creamy texture everyone craves when doing scrambled eggs, and it will help the eggs puff up nicely for an omelet or frittata.
If I'm doing a big pot of eggs, I also like to keep it really basic and simple: eggs, cream, salt, pepper. Done. This way people can add on what they like -- this guy likes ketchup...here you go; this one likes Tobasco...ok. Don't start adding all kinds of crazy ingredients into your eggs unless you know your guests are ok with them. Some people love onions for example, but not first thing in the morning. Here are some tips on how to navigate through it...
- Offer some basic accouterments to go with the eggs if you like that people can add on themselves, like cheese, onions, tomatoes, ham, salsa, green onions, hot sauce, etc. You can prepare these the night before, cover with plastic wrap, and then serve the next morning.
- Using a courser ground for black pepper and some fancier sea salt for texture can really spruce up a basic omelet, and make it quite elegant and special without having to throw in every ingredient in your fridge and the kitchen sink.
- If you wanted to make your guests feel special and you know they're more adventurous eaters, put out some more interesting accouterments like colored sea salts, caviar, or shaves truffles for them to help themselves.
- Everyone likes their eggs piping hot, so this is the LAST item you should be preparing for people. I want you to make the toast before you do the eggs.
#5: Toast In Groups, Not Individually
If you think you're going to sit there with 8 people waiting at the table, toasting bread one or two at a time with your handy dandy toaster you got for your wedding, I'm going to come over and slap you.
You can put some poor bastard on Toast Duty (The Hubsters has done this many times), but that usually doesn't work because they forget and then you get pissed they only toasted 2 slices of toast for 8 people. Snide remarks ensue, you're on the precipice of an epic argument, and your eggs are now cold.
Instead, do this:
- Lay out all of your toast bread on a baking sheet. You can fit around 8 slices, even more. Set your oven to low broil. Do not set it to high please -- you will soon evacuate your guests from your home because of the smoke. Low is great. Thanks. This will toast your bread all at once. Take out, flip the bread over if desired, and repeat until desired toastedness.
- Do NOT walk away from the oven at this point -- I want you to park yourself in front of that oven door until you're holding 8 slices of perfectly toasted bread. I cannot say this enough. The bread will go from "kinda toasted" to "burned in .000047 seconds and then you'll need to start from scratch. If someone wants a refill on OJ, point them to the fridge. If your kid cut off his arm, he has to wait. Toast is more important than God right now. This is why your eggs are last.
- You can also grill your bread if you've fired up the ol' grill outside to do the sausages. Same thing -- stay there!
Some more tips on an easy and organized breakfast or brunch...
1. Make a big huge pot of coffee first thing in the morning. People can help themselves to a cup while you prepare the food, the coffee is already done and ready for refill when the food is out, and it's a nice smell to wake up to in the morning.
2. Offer a sweet ending to the meal, especially if you're serving a brunch. This is no time to be rolling out cinnamon roll dough. Buy some pastries from your local bakery the day before (Danish are great and classic) and set them out. If you have a wonderful husband like I do, he can run out to grab some fresh doughnuts from the local guy. Or if you want to keep the carbs down, simply do a fruit platter. Cut up all your fruit and lay it out decoratively on a platter the night before, wrap it tight with plastic wrap and serve it up the next day.
3. Set the table the night before so when you wake up, it's one less thing to do and you can just focus on the food!
4. Pour your juices into pitchers the night before if you're using them, cover with plastic wrap and then serve out next morning. If you're just pouring from the containers, then don't worry about it (some people like to get fancy).
5. Take the opportunity to offer a couple of cool ingredients for your guests to experiment with -- I like finding some interesting jams to put out for example, or cheeses. Maybe your neighborhood has some amazing local honey -- get some. Or you found some wonderful mixed berry jam at the farmers market -- share that. I wouldn't go too nuts with stuff -- no one wants tomato foam first thing in the morning -- but little things like jam or butters are a nice easy touch.
6. Have fun and don't stress! Remember, people are there to spend time with you. Be relaxed, take it all in stride, and remember: if it all burns, you can go out to IHOP and get your eggs made to order.