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Make-ahead Easter brunch of creme brulee casserole, sliders, quiche

Brunch is my favorite meal these days, and I know I'm not alone.

One of my favorite spots recently said it would be more than an hour before we saw any eggs or pancakes. The Portlandia episode in which a long line evolves into a brunch village complete with an overlord suddenly doesn't seem so outlandish. For our next Sunday out, I reserved a table.

Wait, what? Brunch is supposed to be easy. Lazy. Indulgent. We smooshed two words into one for this thing and yet there's nothing shortened about the meal itself.

I propose a new plan: brunch at home. No reservations. This is an especially nice way to celebrate Easter.

We told our friends to show up at noon and we'd have breakfast: something eggy; bacon; coffee, and a mimosa-ish drink, definitely. At home, the drinks really can be endless, and soon brunch morphed into a dance party. The dance party turned into dinner.

Going out for brunch is still fun and means trying something new, but brunching at home means kicking back and losing track of time and your shoes. And since having people over for brunch isn't as pricey as a dinner party can be, we could have friends over more often.

Our tiny apartment kitchen belies the late-morning feasts it has turned out, including creme brulee French toast and all kinds of quiches. Our dinner table seats four, but we've had a dozen people over on a Sunday. Friends kept asking about the next brunch, and I realized we'd inadvertently formed a sort-of brunch club.

Grace Parisi, a James Beard-nominated cookbook author and former senior test kitchen editor at Food & Wine magazine who is now executive food director for publisher Oxmoor House in Birmingham, Ala., said she prefers brunch to dinner when entertaining. It's more relaxed and nothing has to be fancy if you don't want it to be. Plus, eating at home when you have kids is easier than hustling for busy tables in Brooklyn only to get what she calls the biggest crime of going out for brunch — mediocre coffee.

"On Sunday morning, do you really want your blood pressure getting that high hoping you get a table?" she said.

No, she'd rather be home sipping a Bloody Mary made with gin and the right balance of tart lemon juice, spice and aromatics.

Parisi's rule for brunch is to avoid anything that has to be cooked individually or plated. Parisi's favorites include a Monte Cristo sandwich strata, the egg-poached-in-tomato-sauce dish shakshuka, a big upside-down caramel apple pancake to satisfy a crowd of pancake lovers, and casseroles of huevos rancheros or chilaquiles.

Let's join her. The brunch-at-home club has room for more, and there is no wait time. Consider this your invitation.

Ileana Morales writes the In Our Kitchen column for the Taste section. It publishes on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. She also blogs at alittlesaffron.com.

>>EASY

Gin-Thyme Lemonade

1 ½ cups sugar

1 bunch fresh thyme, plus sprigs for garnish

2 cups fresh lemon juice (from about a dozen lemons), plus lemon slices for garnish

1 cup gin

To make the thyme simple syrup, bring sugar, thyme and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Let cool completely. Remove thyme.

Add simple syrup to a pitcher with lemon juice, gin and 4 cups cold water. Stir to combine. Taste and add up to 2 more cups water if lemonade is too strong for your taste.

Refrigerate until cold, about an hour and up to a week. Serve lemonade in tumblers with thyme sprigs.

Serves 8.

Source: Adapted from Everyday Food

>>Moderate

Creme Brulée French Toast

8 tablespoons (½ cup) unsalted butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 loaf challah bread (or a 9-inch round country loaf) cut into six 1-inch-thick slices from the center of the bread

5 eggs

1 ½ cups half-and-half

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon bourbon

¼ teaspoon salt

Zest of ½ an orange

Fresh raspberries and powdered sugar, for serving

Melt butter with brown sugar and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until smooth, then pour in a 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Arrange bread slices in the baking dish in one layer. It's okay if the bread overlaps to fit.

Whisk together eggs, half-and-half, vanilla, bourbon, salt and orange zest in a large bowl until combined. Pour mixture evenly over bread, pressing bread down into the egg mixture if needed. Cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.

Heat oven to 350 degrees while you let the bread sit on the counter and come to room temperature.

Bake, uncovered, in the center of the oven until the bread puffs up and the edges are golden, about 35 minutes.

Dust French toast with powdered sugar and garnish with fresh raspberries. Serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: Adapted from Gourmet magazine via Epicurious

>>EASY

Strawberries With Rosewater and Mint

2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered

3 tablespoons sugar

1 to 2 tablespoons rosewater (see note)

A handful of mint leaves, torn or roughly chopped

Place strawberries in a large bowl. Scatter sugar over the berries and toss to combine. Place bowl in the refrigerator; the berries will macerate and release their juices in about 30 to 45 minutes.

Toss berries with 1 tablespoon rosewater and taste. Add up to 1 more tablespoon rosewater if you'd like. Toss with a handful of torn mint leaves. Transfer to serving platter and garnish with a few whole mint leaves.

The fruit salad is easy enough to throw together in the morning so it's fresh, but you can also assemble it the previous night. If you do this, reserve the mint until just before serving.

Serves 8 to 10.

Note: Rosewater can be purchased at specialty grocery stores, such as Whole Foods.

Source: Ileana Morales

>>MODERATE

Quiche With Gruyere and Leeks

For the crust:

2 ½ cups (320 grams) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) cold butter, cut into small cubes

¼ to ½ cup ice water

For the filling:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves

2 leeks (white and light green parts), thinly sliced

1 cup milk

½ cup heavy cream

3 eggs

½ cup Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper

Chives

To make the crust, combine flour, salt and sugar in a food processor or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the butter and combine at slow speed or pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with different sized pieces of butter. Drizzle ¼ cup ice water over the mixture as you continue to mix at medium-low speed. Mix until the mixture just starts to hold together and form a dough. Add up to another ¼ cup ice water, a tablespoon at a time, if the mixture is too dry to come together.

Divide dough in half and place each on a sheet of plastic wrap. You'll need only one so the other can be frozen up to three months for later use. Wrap loosely with the plastic and use a rolling pin to press dough into a disc. Let dough rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. This relaxes the gluten, and a proper rest period helps keep your pie dough from shrinking when it bakes.

Rub flour onto a large cutting board or clean surface. Use a rolling pin to roll out dough to fit a 10- or 11-inch tart pan with about 2 inches extra all around. Place your tart pan in the center of the dough and use a knife to cut the dough into a large circle around it. Set the pan aside and roll the dough onto your (floured) rolling pin to transfer it to the tart pan. Tuck in the dough to fit the pan. Fold the dough hanging over the edge and crimp the edges.

Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork and freeze for 30 minutes in pan. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Line pan with parchment paper, fill with 2 pounds of dried beans or pie weights and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove beans and parchment paper. Return crust to oven and bake until the crust starts to lightly brown at the edges, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Meanwhile, prepare the quiche filling.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic for 1 minute. Stir in leeks and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Spread cooked leeks and garlic evenly on the cooled pie crust.

Whisk together milk, heavy cream, eggs, cheese and salt in a bowl until combined. Pour mixture over leeks in pie pan. Season with pepper and sprinkle with chives. Bake until edges of quiche are set but the center is still a bit wobbly, 25 to 30 minutes. Check around the 15- or 20-minute mark to make sure pie crust isn't getting too brown. If it is, cover with pie crust shield or a ring of aluminum foil to prevent further browning.

Let quiche cool for 20 minutes before cutting. Quiche can be made a day ahead and served warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

>>EASY

Deviled Eggs

8 large eggs

cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon minced shallot

¼ teaspoon hot sauce, such as Sriracha or Tabasco

Sea salt

Black pepper

Paprika and flaky salt, for garnish

Place eggs in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover eggs by an inch. Bring to a rolling boil. Remove pan from heat; cover, and let stand 13 minutes. Drain and run eggs under cold water to cool them.

To make the eggs easier to peel, fill a mixing bowl halfway with cold water and place the eggs in it. Tap the eggs on a cutting board and then roll them back and forth to create more cracks. Put the eggs back in the water to peel. Use a sharp knife to halve eggs lengthwise.

In another bowl, mix together mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, shallot, hot sauce, a pinch of salt and pepper. Hold the halved eggs over the bowl and gently squeeze at the sides until the hardened yolk pops out and into the bowl. Set aside the egg whites and mash the egg yolk mixture with a fork to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Spoon egg yolk mixture into a quart-size zip-top or pastry bag, squeezing the mixture toward one end of the bag. Cut off the end of the bag — or a corner of the zip-top bag — about ½ inch from the tip. Squeeze bag to pipe egg yolk mixture into the egg whites. Don't be stingy. Arrange eggs on a serving platter and sprinkle with paprika and flaky salt just before serving or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Makes 16.

Source: Adapted from Everyday Food

>>Easy

Bacon for a Crowd

1 pound thick-cut bacon

Brown sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange strips of bacon on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with an ovenproof cooling rack for extra crispy bacon (or you can use parchment paper). Bacon strips can be arranged close together, but avoid overlapping them. Sprinkle with brown sugar if desired and bake until bacon is cooked through and starting to crisp at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes.

Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels before serving.

Serves 8.

Source: Ileana Morales

>>MODERATE

Valentine Sliders

2 pounds ground beef

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 medium white onions, diced

18 slider buns

Mustard, ketchup and pickles, for serving

Mix together ground beef, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and salt.

Press the mixture into thin, slider-sized patties.

Heat large, wide skillet over medium heat and add oil. Cook in batches, putting half the diced onions in the pan and cooking uncovered until softened and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes.

Place half the patties on top of the onions in the pan and cook, covered, until just starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Place the slider buns, cut-side down, the rest stacked, on top of the patties. Cover and cook until the bread is slightly steamed and the meat is cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes.

Transfer the burger patties, buns and onions to a plate and arrange the burgers. Serve immediately — or later in the day when people start looking for snacks — with plenty of onions, mustard, ketchup and pickles.

Makes about 18 sliders.

Source: Rich and Danny Valentine

tips for the

perfect brunch

• Set out the coffee mugs, glasses and utensils on your table

the night before. It's a small step that is nice to have

checked off the list in the morning.

• Offer guests a pitcher of cold water containing a few slices of lemon or cucumber along with the coffee and cocktails.

• Stick to a menu with items that can be made ahead of time. Pancakes and omelets are out. Frittatas, baked eggs, quiche and stratas are in. Scones and biscuits can be partly baked the day before and then frozen directly on the baking sheet. Place directly in the oven when your friends and family arrive and you're golden.

• Buy fresh flowers. For a springtime table, especially on Easter, tulips and sunflowers are lovely. They don't have to be expensive.

A $7 bunch of grocery store flowers in a vase makes a home

look more inviting.

• Your friends may or may not ask what they can bring. If they do, one task I like to delegate is the coffee. Have a friend pick up a carton of brewed coffee on the way over. Or, perhaps, one friend can be in charge of bringing the music.

• In the summer, I like to offer iced coffee, too. I serve it in mason jars with colorful straws.

• Keep a deck of cards and a couple of board games

on the coffee table.

• Grace Parisi, the recipe goddess, says the ideal number of guests is eight because after that you need a second casserole. If your list is longer, there are several ways to stretch the meal. If you don't want to make a second quiche, you can serve things like banana bread studded with toasted walnuts, a big batch of granola,

bagels and lox, or biscuits.

• For drinks, mix up a pitcher or punch bowl of cocktails so you don't have to play bartender the whole time. If mimosas are a must, Parisi's fresh take on the brunch staple is a blend of cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, and pomegranate juice.

Ileana Morales

menu

Gin-Thyme Lemonade • Creme Brulée French Toast

Strawberries With Rosewater and Mint • Quiche With Gruyere and Leeks

Deviled Eggs • Bacon for a Crowd • Valentine Sliders

about the menu

Everything can be made ahead except the bacon, which is part of this brunch menu's appeal.

You don't want to invite people over only to be stuck in the kitchen.

There are two main dishes, one savory and one sweet, because this is brunch and it calls for certain amount of excess,

especially on Easter weekend.

I cook the bacon in the oven at about noon and arrange the strawberries and deviled eggs on the dining table.

I place the French toast and quiche on the counter and heat them up once everyone arrives.

Make-ahead Easter brunch of creme brulee casserole, sliders, quiche 04/14/14 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2014 10:00pm]
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