Saturday, August 18, 2012

how to host a brunch

The most common way families in Ethiopia spend their weekends is at one another's homes for dinner parties, lunch play dates, birthday parties or brunches.  There really isn't a lot to do in this city with small children. So we entertain one another as way of entertainment.   Hosting parties in which food is the focal point is a great way to keep busy during the planning and spend time with friends during the hosting.

Brunch has become our "thing". We've hosted a lot of brunches, maybe 6 in the last 8 months. It's the perfect time of day to have other families with small children over. The kids eat breakfast at home as usual and when they come to our house it's still too early for lunch so they happily play awhile.  The grown ups get to drink coffee and converse over quiche and scones and then feed the kids waffles with whipped cream or roasted potatoes when they get hungry closer to lunch time. Everyone eats enough that a large dinner isn't necessary later.  People can still have their kids home for an afternoon nap after the party.  It's the perfect hosting situation for us since we have small children ourselves.  Plus I love brunch food.

Since we've been doing it a lot lately I'm kind of getting the hang of it.  I don't break a sweat pulling it all together anymore.  It's become really fun hosting friends at our house.  We hosted brunch this morning for two families with children (besides our own) and not once did I pull my hair out.  I've got the kinks out of brunch.

Here are a few of my tips for hosting a successful brunch:

Things to do the night before:
  • Make the appropriate dishes, refrigerated them overnight and and warm it in the oven a few minutes before serving.  (quiche, other egg casseroles, breads, dips, spreads, dressings, desserts).
  • Prepare scones and freeze them uncooked.  Defrost in the morning and bake them so they are still warm when guests arrive.  Scones are the perfect brunch food, easy to make but a special treat.
  • Set the table; complete with napkins and silverware-it's one less thing to do in the morning.
  • Take out all the serving dishes you will likely use in the morning.  
  • Refrigerate pitchers of water-add ice and cucumber slices in the morning for refreshing flavored water.
  • Tidy up the areas of the house your guests will see.  
  • Have fun with writing a menu (on a chalkboard or printed for the table) for your guests to see when they arrive.  Sometimes the extra touches are what make brunch feel special.
Other tips:
  • Ten o'clock is a good time for guests to start arriving.  10:30 food is served.  
  • Invite the right amount of people.  If your table seats 8 people don't host more than 8 adults (include the adults in your family in this number).  Having a more intimate meal with everyone gathered at one table makes for the best conversations.  All the kids can be accommodated by my next tip.
  • A small kids table is perfect for little diners (keep it on a easy clean-up surface).  Get your own kids involved by having them help set the table and make a centerpiece or name tags for their friends.
  • Have a high chair or booster seat ready for very little diners.
  • Serve a selection of savory and sweet items. Scones, grilled tomatoes, salad, fruit, potato cakes, crepes, flat bread, souffle, coffee cake, bacon, baked apples, bagels with smoked salmon, doughnuts...the list is endless.  Just pick a few in each category.
  • Having interesting toppings for ordinary breakfast food makes it brunch instead of plain old breakfast.  For example, a bowl of toasted coconut and cinnamon whipped cream for waffles or lemon juice and powdered sugar for pancakes or homemade butterscotch syrup for both.  Get creative. 
  • A soothing but hip playlist for background music keeps the brunch from feeling too stiff and formal. Think Mumford & Sons, David Bowie, Of Monsters and Men, Adele, Elvis Costello, Coldplay, and The Shins.  
  • Gather condiments like cream, sugar, syrup, dressings or other toppings on a tray for your sideboard.
  • Always have coffee ready but offer tea or something non-caffeinated for guests.
  • Make enough food that you can enjoy leftovers from the brunch for a light dinner later in the day.  After all the preparations you won't want to cook again that evening.  
  • If you are serving salad consider making your own dressing and tossing it with the greens right before the meal.  Homemade salad dressing always adds an extra thoughtful touch to an otherwise ordinary dish. (I serve salad greens with thinly sliced onions.  Homemade dressing is simply 1/4 red wine vinegar, 1 TBsp lemon juice, 1 TBsp honey, 1 TBsp dijon mustard, salt, pepper, 1/4 cup olive oil all whisked together).
  • Plan your menu ahead of time. When guests ask what they can bring, give them something specific that you need for your menu.  Like sliced strawberries for your waffles or fresh bread for your dips (which is exactly what I asked our guests to bring today when they asked).  You can cross  it off your list and your guests fulfill their hostess gift/bring something requirement.
  • The table setting might be formal but the atmosphere should be relaxed as kids come and go from the playroom and moms get up to nurse.  Make people comfortable in your home.  
  • Using your nice dishes and table linens is fun.  You have them, right? Why not use them?  Even for a kid friendly brunch.  Once in awhile it's nice to have a saucer for your coffee cup. It's a nice change from your usual dining routine (and the other parent's usual dining routines). Plus a pretty table makes the food look even tastier.
  • Stock your guest bathroom. Tape up those stinky third world drains, light a candle, leave an extra roll of toilet paper, hang up a clean hand towel and provide a small step stool for little ones.
  • Most importantly: take a shower right away when you wake up the morning of the brunch.  I've had a couple of close calls where I put off showering and start to prepare brunch first thing.  I end up racing to get ready as guests are coming in the door.  Best to get dressed and get brushing your teeth out of the way before you start cooking.
  • Don't forget to sit and really savor the brunch yourself.  You did all the work right?
Brunch can be a great way for families with children to host a get-together, meet new families, spend time with friends and stave off that boredom that can happen in locations where there isn't much entertainment outside of your own home.  Like rainy season in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia!


Anonymous said...

Omg sometimes I swear we must be the same person! Brunch is also our favorite way to entertain. Kids are still awake and happy, people can linger if they want to or can say they have things to do if they want to leave. No one is too tired and brunch food is so much less pressure than dinner! Like you say, you can prepare things the night before and flash freeze other things. I can't wait until we are a little more settled and can host our first one. Cinnamon rolls, homemade bagels and a giant egg and cheese and sausage dish (my "cowboy quiche") are my favorite dishes that can be prepped entirely the night before and then fired right before people arrive.

Sara said...

Love brunch food too! I would love to hear your other suggestions. I love cinnamon rolls too, I haven't made a batch in ages. I think that might be my Sunday activity with the kids. I read a mushroom crepe recipe on Smitten Kitchen I want to try for our next brunch. Seriously?! Lets have brunch some day together!

Heather P. said...

Ok, I am definitely bookmarking thos post:) though I can guarantee that I will be sweating. Thanks for the good tips!

Natasha said...

Ditto on bookmarking this! The DIY chalkboard looks great btw.

Bfiles said...

this is great. would you share your scones recipe, and how long to defrost them before baking in the am? thank you!

Sara said...

Why yes I would love to share. I think I have it up on the blog already! I have two scone recipes I like. Very similar, one just makes a slightly larger batch. I froze the pre-cut but uncooked scones in a Ziploc and then too them out in the morning around 7:30AM, placed them on my baking sheet and baked them about two hours later. It didn't take that long for them to defrost through. The dough was soft maybe after an hour of sitting at room temp. I just wanted to have them warm and fresh out of the oven when guests arrived.

Sara said...

Here is one of the scone recipes I use. It's perfect. It produces slightly smaller scones or just one or two less than my other recipe. Essentially the same ingredients and proportions though. Smitten Kitchen has become one of my favorites. Thanks for the introduction from Dani!

Bfiles said...

thank you Sara for all the info- I don't see the recipe link, though- could you try again? Thanks!

Bfiles said...

never mind, I found it in your 'cooking' tag...thanks!