What a duo.
The marriage of breakfast and lunch may be the best of both meals, better than either one separately. For one reason, the food possibilities double; for another, brunch possesses a joie de vivre unlike any other gathering.
Brunch has an elegant or special feel that breakfast doesn't, says Georgeanne Brennan, author of the newly published "Brunch" cookbook (Fireside, $18.95). While brunch typically is planned for the weekend or a holiday, Brennan also thinks the mind-set is one of guilty pleasure.
"If you're having brunch, it already says you're having a leisurely day. It has a decadence to it, that you're having breakfast so late in the day."
Brunch is a great way to entertain, too — relaxed, fun and usually less formal than dinner. The point may be "just because" or driven by purpose, such as celebrating a birthday, shower or homecoming.
A change of seasons, such as winter into spring, might inspire both the menu and the ambience.
"I think it's a nice opportunity to set a buffet table with whatever flowers are in season, potted plants or a special tablecloth," says Brennan, who also contributed to the newly published Williams-Sonoma book "Essentials of Breakfast & Brunch (Oxmoor House, $34.95). "On a winter morning, I love to put candles out."
Brennan, who lives in Northern California but also runs a cooking school in Provence, France, likes to have "something that's breakfasty and something that's lunchlike" for eating.
"It might be an omelet or some type of an egg dish, or a salad with some kind of seafood or citrus in it. I think quiches are wonderful brunch food. You can add asparagus or ham; seafood quiches are really nice."
As for beverages, Brennan says think festive. "I think by brunch time you've already had coffee or hot tea, so I think it's appropriate to serve Champagne, bloody marys — virgin or not — something that's a little bit special; or light, bubbly, refreshing and fun. I don't think of beer or wine for brunch."
On Easter, for example, Brennan made mimosas with Champagne and blood orange juice.
Sweet endings aren't required, she says, at least in a conventional sense. "I think of brunch as entertaining but not with desserts per se. Not with cake or pie, but with a bowl of seasonal fruit, or fruit with cream ... something you would sprinkle powdered sugar over, not an overwhelming dessert."
Brennan advises doing as much as possible the day before, preferably in the late afternoon, to save time when guests arrive. She sets or gets the table ready with knives, forks and glasses. She also starts preparing the food.
"Say you're making a quiche — the pie crust can be made the day before," Brennan says.
Some fresh fruits can be prepared and chilled overnight. Have ingredients already chopped for any dishes that need to be cooked or assembled right before the brunch.
Don't forget to include dishes that can be served at room temperature, Brennan adds.
For the inexperienced hostess, quiche is a winner, Brennan says. "They're so beautiful and easy to do, they get that lovely brown crust on the top."
Seasonal fruit such as strawberries also make a big impact. Serve them in a pretty bowl with a nice serving spoon, "so you're thinking presentation," Brennan says.
Eggs Benedict is one of Brennan's favorite brunch foods. "They symbolize that old-fashioned glamour of hotel restaurants."
Vary the cheeses, vegetables and herbs in this frittata recipe from the "Brunch" cookbook. This version evokes spring flavors with asparagus, cherry tomatoes and goat cheese.
A frittata can be made up to one hour in advance and kept at room temperature until serving time.
Spring Vegetable Frittata
Serves 4 to 6
16 asparagus spears, tough ends removed
8 large or extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons half-and-half
2 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, stemmed and halved
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a steamer pan. Place the asparagus in the steamer rack, set over the boiling water, cover and steam until the asparagus can be easily pierced with a fork, 4-5 minutes. Remove from the steamer and plunge into a bowl of ice water for 4-5 minutes to halt the cooking. Drain, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, and set aside.
Preheat the broiler and position a rack 8 inches from the heat source. In a bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, cheese, salt and pepper and whisk until evenly distributed, about 2 minutes.
In a 14-inch ovenproof frying pan, melt the butter with the olive oil. When the butter foams, add the shallot and saute until softened, 2-3 minutes. Quickly layer the asparagus pieces and the tomatoes in the pan and pour the egg mixture over them. Reduce the heat to low and cook just until the eggs are set around the edges, 3-4 minutes. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, lift the edge and tip the pan so the uncooked egg runs underneath. Place the pan under the broiler and cook until the top of the frittata is set and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 4-5 minutes.
Remove the frittata from the broiler and sprinkle with the tarragon. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Williams-Sonoma's "Essentials of Breakfast & Brunch: Recipes, Menus and Ideas for Delicious Morning Meals" (Oxmoor House, $34.95) includes a chapter on drinks, with and without alcohol.
Blackberry Champagne Cocktail
Makes 4 servings
4 blackberries, quartered
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces) Triple Sec
4 sugar cubes
1 bottle (24 fluid ounces) Champagne, Prosecco or other dry sparkling white wine, chilled
Select 4 Champagne flutes. In a small nonreactive bowl, combine the blackberries and Triple Sec and let stand for about 15 minutes to let the fruit macerate. Place a sugar cube in each flute and add 1 or 2 dashes of bitters. Spoon 4 pieces of marinated blackberry into each flute. Top with Champagne or other sparkling wine and serve at once.
Red Raspberry Champagne Cocktail: Substitute 8 halved raspberries for the blackberries, and framboise for the Triple Sec. Garnish with red raspberries.
Pancakes are made lighter and fluffier with ricotta cheese and beaten egg whites, according to the "Essentials" cookbook, which features more than 130 recipes in its eight chapters.
Makes 4 servings
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup whole-milk or part-skim ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
12 strawberries, hulled, sliced and tossed with 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 250 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg yolks, sugar, ricotta and lemon zest. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until blended. There will be some small lumps.
In a separate bowl, using a mixer on medium speed or a whisk, beat the whites until soft peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the beaten whites into the ricotta mixture just until blended.
Place a large griddle or frying pan with low-sloping sides over medium heat until hot enough for a drop of water to sizzle and then immediately evaporate. Brush with about 1/2 teaspoon of the melted butter. (The butter should be bubbling but not browned when the batter is added to the pan.) For each pancake, ladle about 1/4 cup batter onto the hot surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until small bubbles appear, the edges start to look dry, and the bottoms are golden brown, about 4 minutes. Carefully turn the pancakes and cook until lightly browned on the second sides, about 1 1/2 minutes longer. Transfer to an ovenproof platter and place in the oven to keep warm; do not cover the pancakes or they will get soggy. Repeat with the remaining batter and butter to make about 16 pancakes, each about 4 inches in diameter. Serve the pancakes at once, accompanied by the strawberries.
Grapefruit accentuates the sweetness of the lobster in this salad, also featured in "Essentials." The avocado adds richness. If using frozen lobster tails, allow enough time to thaw them overnight in the refrigerator.
Lobster With Grapefruit and Avocado
Makes 6-8 servings
1 tablespoon salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat, picked over for shell fragments, or 5 frozen lobster tails, thawed and halved lengthwise
2 1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons minced shallot
5 teaspoons snipped fresh chives
2 to 2 1/2 cups mixed young greens
1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
If using frozen lobster tails, bring a large pot three-fourths full of water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice. Add 1 tablespoon salt and lobster tails to the pot and boil until the shells are bright red and the meat is almost opaque throughout, about 8 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the lobster tails to a large colander, cover with ice, and let stand for 30 minutes. The quick cooking causes the flesh to pull away from the shells, making it easier to remove the meat.
Remove the lobster meat from the shells. Cut the cooked, frozen or fresh lobster meat into generous bite-size pieces. Set aside.
Meanwhile, cut a thick slice off the top and bottom of the grapefruit. Stand the grapefruit upright and, following the contour of the fruit, slice downward to remove the peel, pith and membrane. Holding the grapefruit over a bowl, cut along each section of the membrane, letting each freed section drop into the bowl. Strain the grapefruit, reserving 2 teaspoons of the juice.
In a large bowl, whisk together the 2 teaspoons grapefruit juice, 2 tablespoons of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, shallot and 3 teaspoons of the chives. Add the lobster meat and turn gently until well-coated.
Divide the greens among individual plates or shallow bowls. Arrange the grapefruit sections on the greens, dividing them evenly. Top with the lobster mixture and then with the avocado. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and remaining 1/2 tablespoon vinegar to the bowl, mix well, and drizzle over the salads. Garnish with the remaining 2 teaspoons chives and serve at once.
This recipe is adapted from Breakfasts & Brunches" by the Culinary Institute of America (Lebhar-Friedman, 2005). It features a mound of spiced fruit in the center of a pan-cooked pastry. Peaches are used here, but feel free to experiment with other fruit or combinations of fruit such as bananas, raspberries, apples or strawberries. Sour cream or yogurt may be substituted for the whipped cream.
Dutch Baby With Spiced Fruit
Makes 6-8 servings
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted; divided use
2 3/4 cups peeled and sliced peaches
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Powdered sugar, as needed
1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Sift the flour and salt together into a small bowl.
Put the eggs in a blender and blend at low speed. Add the flour mixture and the milk alternately, in thirds. Scrape down the sides of the blender and continue to blend until smooth. Blend in 2 tablespoons of the melted butter.
Pour the batter into a nonstick skillet a well-greased 10-inch cast-iron skillet, or ovenproof saute pan. Bake for 20 minutes without opening the oven door. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake 10 minutes longer.
While the Dutch baby is baking, prepare the spiced fruit. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter in a medium saute pan over high heat. Add the peaches, cinnamon and brown sugar. Continue to cook until the peaches are browned, 5-6 minutes.
Remove the Dutch baby from the oven. Drizzle with the lemon juice and sprinkle with the powdered sugar. Fill the center of the Dutch baby with the hot fruit mixture. Top with the whipped cream and lemon zest. Serve at once.