Home: The Breakfast Club
It’s not called the most important meal of the day for nothing. Fresh fruit, sunshine and a delicious mix of breakfast and lunch foods make morning worth celebrating, especially when the weather’s fair. A backyard brunch party gives you and your guests plenty of reasons to rise and shine, and is a fun break from the standard fare at evening cocktail parties. Local chefs and party professionals will show you how to keep the casual, social atmosphere of a Sunday morning pajama breakfast, and class it up with a Breakfast at Tiffany’s table setting, easy-to-prepare seasonal dishes and pitchers of juicy cocktails. Best of all, most of the party prep work can be done the day before, so hosting means little more than brewing coffee and relaxing with your guests. That sounds like a reason to get up early.
Brunch is one of the few social occasions where, if you really wanted too, you could show up in your pajamas. But it is an occasion, so add a little formality to the day. “Don’t shy away from renting a few pieces to jazz up your tables,” says Sherri Williams, owner of the Bucks County event-planning company Williams-Sossen Events. “A special punch bowl or some linens make the day more special.” She recommends Brillman’s Rental Barn in Newtown, which rents everything from tables and chairs to candelabras, fine table linens and silver.
Sticking to a single color for everything from flowers to tabletop to cocktails is an easy way to set an elegant tone and still keep the party fun. Williams suggests pink, a color that lends itself to an outdoor setting. “It fits with garden theme because the color goes well with a backdrop of fresh green grass,” she says. If you’re working with flowers in similar shades, be creative with table arrangements. Try grouping different kinds of flowers together, or experiment with single stems. “Get a bunch of little vases and put one flower in each,” says Williams, and your guests can take the vases home at the end of the day as a keepsake.
TWO MEALS IN ONE
Most people are used to eating large meals later in the day. Brunch, happily, allows you to break that ritual. “People tend to overeat and overindulge at a brunch, so you want to serve smaller portions,” says Andrew Tomko, executive chef-owner of the Frenchtown Inn in Frenchtown, New Jersey. Try an assortment of maybe eight or 10 different dishes, along with a buffet table of fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese and homemade muffins.
The key is to have a mix of sweet and savory choices, according to Eric Tharp, general manager at the Continental Mid-town in Philadelphia, where gooey lobster mac-and-cheese is offered alongside chocolate-filled French toast on Sundays.
Eggs are a quintessential and versatile staple of the breakfast hour, either served on their own or in quiche or other dishes. Joe Garvey, executive chef-owner of The Brick Hotel in Newtown, makes a sophisticated eggs Benedict by substituting filet mignon for ham and garnishing individual servings with miniature asparagus.
Experimenting with cheese can give omelettes a whole new flavor. At the Continental Mid-town, a garden omelette filled with zucchini, onions and fresh spinach is dressed with boursin instead of the typical cheddar cheese. William Murphy, Continental Mid-town’s executive chef, recommends using three to four eggs for a big, fluffy omelette — and to make them a little more rich, add half-and-half to the egg mixture instead of milk.
Not all brunch dishes have to be traditional breakfast foods. For a late-morning meal, entrees may range from crab cakes and pasta to Tomko’s seared lamb sirloin. Round out your menu with seasonal breads, such as zucchini and banana — and remember, there’s no such thing as too early for dessert.
Drinks can range from classic mimosas and Bloody Marys to more spirited cocktails. Stir up something unexpected by mixing exotic fruit juices with a little bit of flavored vodka. At the Continental Mid-town, brunch orders are frequently accompanied by a Wink — a grapefruit vodka, triple sec and cranberry juice concoction that’s served in a martini glass — and the pretty-in-pink Pomegranate Daiquiri, made with POM Wonderful and Bacardi Razz rum and served in a sugar-rimmed glass.
Virtually all brunch food — breakfast meats like bacon and sausage, or in this case, filet mignon for eggs Benedict; and batters for waffles and breads — can be made ahead of time and then reheated for about 15 minutes or baked in the oven that morning. Eggs are the only exception — “[They] must be cooked and served right away,” says Garvey.
You probably have most of the equipment you’ll need, but if you plan on serving waffles, Tomko recommends a Belgian waffle maker (Hamilton Beach is his pick, with styles ranging from $26-$46) and an instant whipped-cream canister with an N20 cartridge (available at Williams-Sonoma) to top things off in style. Add heavy cream, vanilla extract and powdered sugar; shake the canister, spray and violà — fresh, real whipped cream. Just keep the canister away from the kids’ table.
From the Continental Mid-town, Philadelphia
1 oz. Bacardi Razz
1 1/8 oz. triple sec
Splash fresh lime juice
1 oz. pomegranate juice
Sugar for garnish
Rim martini glass with sugar. Combine other ingredients in shaker and strain into glass.
From the Continental Mid-town
1 oz. Danzka Grapefruit vodka
3/4 oz. triple sec
1 oz. cranberry juice
Grapefruit slice, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in shaker and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with grapefruit slice.
Chocolate French Toast
From the Continental Mid-town
1 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup honey
1/8 corn syrup
13 1/2 oz. chocolate
1/2 cup butter
3 large eggs
1 cup cream
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup milk
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 loaf brioche
1 pint of strawberries, sliced
FOR FILLING: Bring cream, honey, corn syrup and salt to boil. Add chocolate and melt until smooth. Remove from heat and add butter. Stir until melted. Let cool.
FOR FRENCH TOAST: Combine eggs, cream, orange juice, milk, cinnamon and vanilla extract in large mixing bowl. Set aside. Cut brioche into eight slices. Place large scoop of chocolate filling on top of one piece. Place another piece on top, making a ‘chocolate sandwich.’ Dip both sides of sandwich into batter. Brown on both sides in pan with butter. Repeat. Place sandwiches on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until chocolate is liquid. Serve with sliced strawberries.
EGGS BENEDICT AU POIVRE
From the Brick Hotel, Newtown
6 ENGLISH MUFFINS, TOASTED
12 2-oz. filet tenderloins, thinly sliced
1 oz. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
3 large egg yolks
2 T. white wine
1 lb. clarified butter
Juice of 2 lemons
Tabasco, to taste
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
Salt and white pepper, to taste
2 quarts water
2 cups white wine vinegar
12 large eggs
FOR FILET: Marinate filet mignon pieces in oil, salt and cracked black pepper. Grill filet to medium rare.
FOR HOLLANDAISE SAUCE: Combine egg yolks with white wine. Whisk eggs and wine mixture to peak over hot-water bath, making sure not to scramble eggs. Mixture should be pale yellow in color and thick. Remove mixture from water bath and slowly introduce clarified butter while constantly whisking. Once all clarified butter is fully incorporated, add lemon juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and white pepper to taste. Store in insulated pitcher for up to three hours.
FOR EGGS: Bring water and vinegar to boil, then reduce to simmer. Crack eggs gently in water and poach to desired firmness. Remove with slotted spoon and reserve.
TO SERVE: Layer each English muffin with grilled filet mignon, poached egg and hollandaise sauce.
SEARED LAMB SIRLOIN OVER A STILTON RISOTTO GENOISE
From the Frenchtown Inn, Frenchtown
8 oz. cooked arborio rice
2 cups heavy cream
3 oz. stilton blue cheese
4 eggs, separated, with whites whipped to stiff peaks
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 T. diced shallots
6 6-oz. lamb sirloins
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. cooking oil
Baby carrots for garnish
Broccoli florets for garnish
2 T. butter, melted
White pepper to taste
FOR RISOTTO GENOISE: Simmer rice with heavy cream until kernels are soft. Add blue cheese and stir until dissolved into rice mixture. Place in mixing bowl and whip at moderate speed until cool. Add egg yolks and whip five minutes longer. Fold egg whites into rice mixture. Combine baking powder and flour and fold into rice mixture until thoroughly mixed, about 1 minute. Spread mixture in greased and floured 8-by-10-inch baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Allow to cool in refrigerator for one hour. Turn out on cutting board and slice into six squares or cut into six 3-inch rounds using cookie cutter.
FOR LAMB SIRLOIN: Season lamb sirloin with salt and pepper. Sear lamb in pan over high heat with cooking oil. Make sure all surfaces are seared evenly. Place sirloin in 375-degree oven for approximately 12 minutes until medium rare. Remove sirloin from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Blanch baby carrots for 5 minutes in simmering water. After 5 minutes add broccoli florets and blanch 3 minutes longer. Remove vegetables from water and place in pan with melted butter. Season with salt and white pepper and keep warm.
TO SERVE: Place risotto genoise on baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes at 350 degrees to warm. Center genoise in middle of warmed plate. Thinly slice lamb on cutting board and fan out on top of risotto cake. Garnish with baby vegetables.
From the Mendenhall Inn, Mendenhall
1 lemon, cut in half
3-4 oz. butter
6 T. sugar
6 bananas, quartered
4 oz. Myers’s Original Dark Rum
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
4 oz. banana liqueur
6 4-oz. scoops vanilla ice cream
Juice half lemon and set aside. Add butter and sugar to saute pan over medium heat. Stir until mixture is light caramel color. Spear unjuiced lemon half with fork and use to stir mixture. Turn heat up high and add sliced bananas. Saute on both sides, about 30 seconds per side. Remove pan from heat and add rum. Wait two seconds and return pan to heat and ignite to burn off alcohol.* Add cinnamon and remove pan from heat. Add banana liqueur. Light again.** Add lemon juice. Remove seeds from mixture if necessary. Reduce mixture to light caramel syrup, thick enough to coat spoon. Ladle four slices of banana and sauce over ice cream. Serve immediately.
Note: For a variation on this recipe, you can substitute brown sugar for granulated sugar or replace vanilla ice cream with macadamia nut or butter pecan ice cream.
* If cooking with gas, pan should ignite automatically when returned to heat. If cooking with electric, return pan to heat and click a long lighter an inch above liquid. Alcohol will ignite. Quickly pull back hand.
** Alcohol may or may not ignite.