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Holiday Entertaining: Building Your Brunch Menu

This is part two in a three-part series offering tips on hosting the perfect midday celebration. 

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In an effort to find a better, less frenzied way to entertain this holiday season (and beyond) we’re taking a cue from one of our favorite restaurant trends and doing brunch. This three-part series turns the dinner party upside down and provides tips for hosting a midday meal at home. Don’t forget to check out Part I in the series on setting the mood.

Part II: Create the Menu

Sure, you could go big and whip up Eggs Benedict, but we think you’ll enjoy yourself more if you prepare a simple menu. Though we share recipes for you go-getters out there, brunch is an occasion where it’s perfectly acceptable to minimize the cooking and supplement with ready-made goods.

To start: Have some kind of pastry out for nibbling as guests arrive. Pick up croissants from Olive & Finch or Mercantile Dining & Provision or make your own tried-and-true zucchini bread. Or, try these stellar—and oh-so-simple—biscuits from Dot’s Diner in Boulder. The buttery orbs are so well loved they’ve received nods from both Bon Appétit and one of our favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen.

To drink: Have beverages ready to go. Coffee is a given. Have it freshly brewed, with the second pot prepped (with the beans pre-ground and the water filled) and ready for round two. Set out mugs, cream, sugar, and spoons so guests can help themselves.

Go big and create an extensive Bloody Mary bar (guests will naturally mingle while building their own cocktails). For a high-quality pre-made mix, we use the Real Dill’s fresh cucumber-infused version. Co-owner Justin Park suggests subbing in silver tequila for the vodka and—of course—garnishing with a Real Dill pickle spear. (We reach for the Habanero-Horseradish dills). Don’t forget crisp celery, olives, and a lime wedge for finishing the drinks.

Of course, no brunch is complete without mimosas, which you can serve with the meal. For a more elegant seated affair, start with mimosas and move to wine. Brett Zimmerman, master sommelier, Boulder native, and owner-operator of the Boulder Wine Merchant, advises what to serve during daylight hours:

To eat: To keep you from feeling like a short-order cook, pick up ready-made quiches (just warm them in the oven before serving). Sugarmill in Denver and Breadworks in Boulder never disappoint—but be sure to order ahead.

If you really want to cook, choose a strata, which tastes best when assembled the night before, and can be customized to your palette. The basic components are bread (day-old, slightly dried-out cubes), eggs, milk or cream, and cheese. Although there is no definitive ratio, try using three eggs to every cup of liquid (whole milk, cream, or half-and-half). Mix together the eggs, liquids, and cheese, stir in other fillings (if desired), and pour over crusty bread in a large baking dish. Allow mixture to sit for a minimum of 1 hour or overnight so the bread can properly absorb the custard. For additional fillings, consider: caramelized onions, sausage, and Gruyère; sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and feta; ham, broccoli, and cheddar. Factor an hour’s baking time (in a 350° oven) into your day-of prep.

Because quiche or strata are meals in and of themselves, there’s no need to go overboard with sides. But don’t forget the bacon—for many people it’s just not brunch without a couple crispy strips. Bake the bacon in the oven (400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes) on a foil-lined sheet pan to avoid a grease-splattered stovetop. Serve on a platter. Let simply dressed—olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper—greens stand in for potatoes for a pop of color and freshness.

Save the honey-almond granola (from Part I) as a light dessert. Spoon it sparingly over a dollop of Noosa Yoghurt or set it out as part of a buffet. Either way, keep it dainty by serving in petite bowls, like ramekins or cocktail coupes. Make an extra batch and send guests home with it packed into small mason jars. (They’ll thank you later.)

Bonus: Still itching to perfect Eggs Benedict? Sign up for Escoffier’s Sunday Brunch class on November 30 for professional instruction on a perfectly emulsified hollandaise and more.

Next up: We chat decorating tips with stylist Erica McNeish (Part III).

(Check out all the stories in the 5280‘s Holiday Entertaining Guide)

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