Big Brunch Strategy

BigBrunch900I entertain a lot—just having people over as I’ve come to call it. I don’t see it as a big deal. Like a practiced athlete, I’ve got a plan. When the time comes, I focus and go into action.

Like today when we had 48 for brunch. (That was after cooking a celebratory dinner for threemanycooks and significant others last night, and frying breakfast beignets for breakfast this morning.)

But two hours before brunch we were all standing in the kitchen before heading off to a service and reception honoring David. Everyone was looking around, asking what needed to be done, and I couldn’t think of a thing.

Just to confirm: two hours before a brunch for four dozen we were heading off, returning only minutes before guests arrived, and there was nothing more to do.

Since this is just what I do, I don’t think it’s a big deal, but as we were all calmly walking out the door, Maggy said, “You’ve gotta write about this.”

So for those interested in how to simply and inexpensively serve a classy, tasty brunch for a crowd, read on.

The biggest part of classy is not the food as much as what you serve it on. Think foie gras on a paper plate or a hamburger on Limoge. I get why hosts resort to disposables, but it’s nice to eat from a plate that won’t collapse, with utensils that don’t snap.

For this reason I’ve invested in several dozen all-purpose stemmed glasses. Party’s end, I shove ‘em in the dishwasher. If one breaks, who cares, it’s just a buck.

I’ve also got inexpensive plates, silverware, coffee cups, a 30-cup coffee pot, and a drink tub, all of which have their own corner in the basement. When there’s a party, I haul it up. When the party’s over, it goes back down. It’s an investment, yes, but check out rental fees. Just one event and you can justify most of the expense.

As for the food, I slow-roasted two really good apple-smoked hams early morning and left them to cool while we were out. As people started to arrive, I set them out, along with four mustards, on a butcher block, leaving one attractively whole, carving the other for easy grazing.

There was Simple Strata with Scallions and Cheddar (see recipe below). With David’s help the night before, we made four of them in about 30 minutes. That was it until an hour before brunch.

The plan was to serve whole strawberries (no prep and beautiful) but none were available so I bought bunches of red and green grapes, which we cut into smaller clusters and displayed in a basket (very little prep and no worries about discoloration).

For the salad—Field Greens with Roasted Pecans and Red Onion—I dumped a one- pound container of baby greens into a large wooden bowl with pecans toasted the day before and onions sliced early morning. After that it was just dress and toss.

Sharon and Tony hung at the bar making mimosas, and as people were finished eating, Maggy and Andy walked around with coffee and baskets of warm cinnamon donut holes (bought from a decent donut shop) and a chocolate dipping sauce, (made in about 5 minutes).

There’s one final thing you need to pull off a large brunch. If you’re more than twenty-four, bring in a little help. While we were still at church, Giovanna arrived an hour before the party to put the stratas in the oven and plug in the coffee. She also helped us serve and clean up. Because what’s the point of having a party, if you can’t enjoy it a little yourself?

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  1. Simon says

    You make it sound soooo easy (and good) I just may have to try this menu myself!
    Now I just need to find 4 dozen friends.

  2. Maggy says

    It is pretty amazing how effortlessly you can cook for a crowd, mom. But I firmly believe that your success has much to do with your “having people over” philosophy. Take the stress of “entertaining” out of the equation and, as dad would say, that’s a game-changer.

    Things I’m taking away from this post: 1) Get organized and 2) cook food that is either simple or that you know you can cook well. I will certainly refer back to this post in the future when I have 50 people over to my house for the first time!

  3. Kristin says

    Love this! Especially since I’m hosting 25 for brunch in a couple weeks to celebrate Matt’s 40th at a house party at the beach in N.C. Lots of great ideas!!

  4. Charli says

    This is a great topic. Pam, I wish you could cover some of your other “having people over” strategies. Thank you. Enjoy your blog.

  5. Sharon says

    I always worry that if I simplify the menu it will be good enough, not just downright good. But that’s never true with your parties.

    I am here to attest that we really were just twiddling our thumbs two hours before the party, and that the food was realllllly good (so was the soup we made with the leftover ham bones!). And honestly, it was nice to have “jobs” like tending bar and passing dessert. I like parties, but I feel a bit listless if there is nothing for me to do. At gatherings of that size, I prefer talking to people while I pour them a drink, or serve them a cup of coffee.

    This weekend, we hosted a party for 7 at my place and I spent most of the DAY cleaning, shopping, prepping, and cooking–and I still BARELY made it out of the shower and threw on a dress and some make-up before people started arriving. (Tony never got the chance to shower…but you can never tell with boys.) And get this: we farmed out dessert and half the appetizers and it was STILL an ordeal.

    The food and wine were fantastic, the company was better, and I calmed down when people got there. But–no lie–I had to go stand outside in the cold for about 60 seconds to get my cooking-stress-shower flush to dissipate (thanks for that pale, Scandinavian coloring, Dad.)

    Anyway, the party probably would have been just as fun if we hadn’t made Osso Buco and homemade bread, but we did. I haven’t quite learned my lesson on planning menus that are appropriate and don’t make me freak out, but much like working against a deadline, I like a little racing-against-the-clock buzz in the house before people come over. Plus, our guest were our great friends and no one would care anyway.

    WIsh you could have eaten some of the food, Mom. I think you would have been proud! (I even passed out 3MC bookmarks to everyone!)

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