Rise and Shine: Easy Breakfast Entertaining

The ritual of lingering over a leisurely breakfast was once a privilege of the wealthy. But in today’s fast-paced world, a simple but well-prepared breakfast (or brunch, depending on the time and menu) is a great way to entertain friends of all ages. Wealthy or not, we can all linger over our eggs and crossword puzzles once in a while!

“Brunch” is, of course, the combination of breakfast and lunch, and its roots go way back to 1895 when the term was first used by a Mr. Guy Beringer in an article in Hunter’s Weekly magazine. Mr. Beringer pleaded for a meal that would eliminate the need to wake up early on a Sunday. Served around noon, such a repast would start with breakfast items then move on to heavier fare. “Brunch,” he wrote, “is cheerful, sociable and inciting.” Indeed!

Brunch – or as one household writer called it in 1924, “company breakfast” – did not catch on in the U.S. until the 1920’s or 30’s, but since then, it has developed into a Sunday tradition for many families, whether dining out at a hotel or restaurant on Mother’s Day or hosting a brunch at home on Christmas or Easter holidays.

So why not consider entertaining in the morning hours? Breakfast foods are typically less expensive and easier to prepare than dinner party fare. Both vegetarians and gluten-free guests will no doubt find dishes to their liking, and it’s the kind of party where kids can be welcomed.

Whether you call it for a Saturday or Sunday morning, any time from 8 to 11 am, be sure to look for one-dish recipes and balance your menu with proteins, starches and of course fresh fruits. I’ve provided a few recipes to get you started below – my French Toast bread pudding, a baked omelet that is a real showstopper, and an easy and colorful fruit salad. For more ideas, listen to my podcast here.

Bon Breakfast Appetit!

French Toast Bread Pudding

This is a one-dish version of one of my favorite breakfast foods. It can be prepared the day ahead, covered and stored in the fridge. Be sure to take it out of the fridge as the oven is preheating, as a very cold dish will take longer to bake.

5 thick slices of day-old Italian bread Val to summer 2011 039
¼ c. chopped pecans (optional)
3 eggs
1 c. milk
½ c. heavy cream or half and half
½ c. orange juice
2 t. vanilla
1 ½ t. cinnamon
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. melted butter

Spray a 2 quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Tear or cut the bread into chunks about 1 to 1 ½ inches and place in the baking dish. If desired, sprinkle the pecans evenly over the bread. (Alternatively, serve the pecans on the side.) Lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the liquids, the vanilla and the cinnamon. Pour the egg mixture over the bread, allowing the bread to soak up the liquid, until all the liquid is used. (At this point, the dish may be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated and finished the following day.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the top of the bread and then drizzle with the melted butter. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the custard is set. Serve warm with warm maple syrup. Serves 4 to 6.

Baked Omelet

This one-dish eggscellent brunch item can be prepared with any leftover veggies you have on hand, whatever cheese you have … you could add bacon or ham cubes if you like. In other words, it’s totally your show!
6 eggs
2/3 c. milk
¼ t. salt
¼ t. paprika
Black pepper to taste
1 c. cheddar cheese
2 T. butter
½ medium onion, chopped
2 c. fresh baby spinach (about 2 handfuls)
1 T. Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat the eggs, milk and seasonings together in a mixing bowl; stir in the cheddar cheese. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed, 9 inch skillet that is ovenproof. Saute the onions until translucent; add the spinach and stir until it’s wilted, just a few minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and pour in the egg mixture. Sprinkle with the Parmesan. Backed 20 minutes or until set (it doesn’t jiggle in the middle), puffy and golden. Serve warm. Serves 4 to 6.

Fruit Salad

This is just one of about a million variations. It’s easy – only 3 fruits, and that feels about right for a basic fruit salad. Combine whatever fruits you like, that look good in the market that day, or that you have on hand. There is no wrong combination! I take a hand from the market and buy a large container of pre-cut melon.

1 small container (6 oz.) blueberries or blackberries Fruit salad 010
2 c. red seedless grapes
1 qt. honeydew chunks
3 or 4 sprigs of mint
2 lemons
2 T. honey

Wash the berries and grapes and allow to dry. Cut the melon into bite sized pieces and place in a medium serving bowl. Add the berries; halve the grapes and add them to the mixture. Tear the mint leaves from the stem; you should have about 15 to 20. Chop the mint, as coarsely or finely as you like, and add to the bowl. Zest both lemons right into the bowl. In a small bowl, juice both lemons. Whisk the honey into the lemon juice and pour the dressing over the fruit. Toss gently to combine. Allow to chill for at least 1 hour or overnight. Serves 4 to 6.

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More New Year’s Nibbles

Whether you’re staying in, having a few friends over, or going to a full-on New Year’s Eve bash, satisfying snacks make a good accompaniment for the evening’s libations. Here are a few ideas for a simple buffet that is sure to please your palate and fill your stomach.

Meat and cheese display. Browse the specialty cheese section of your favorite grocery store for a few choices, maybe one bold flavor profile like a garlic cheddar; a creamy, mild Brie; and a middle of road Manchego – mix it up! Add in a dry salami or a prosciutto and serve it all up with some nuts and dried fruits and it’s a buffet on a platter.

Herbed onion focaccia. With some help from the market’s refrigerated section, this crowd pleaser takes about 30 minutes to prepare. (Recipe follows.)

Crostini trio. Three simple spreads – a roasted tomato bruschetta, a Tuscan white bean hummus, and an olive tapenade – can be whipped up in minutes and served with garlic toast. Guests help themselves to their favorites. (Recipes follow.)

As always, have plenty of water and non-alcoholic beverages on hand. If you’re having a party or going to one, be sure to have the number to a taxi service or a safe ride program so you can enjoy your evening knowing you’ll be safe, not sorry, in the New Year.


Herbed Onion Focaccia

Onion-Herb Foccacia and a simple meat and cheese platter are party food favorites.

Herbed Onion Focaccia and a simple meat and cheese platter are party food favorites.

  • 1 package (10 to 12 oz.) refrigerated focaccia dough
  • ¼ c. olive oil
  • 1 T. each fresh basil and oregano, chopped
  • 2 or 3 thin slices of red onion, separated into rings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the focaccia dough on a non-stick rimmed baking sheet and spread it out with your fingers until it’s even. The shape doesn’t matter. Dimple the dough with your fingertips and then prick with a fork 12 to 15 times. Brush the dough with the oil and then sprinkle with the herbs and onion. Allow the dough to rest 15 minutes. Bake 13 to 15 minutes until it’s golden brown. Allow the focaccia to cool on the pan at least 20 minutes before cutting into wedges to serve.


Crostini Trio

Garlic Toast

A white bean hummus (top), olive tapenade (left) and winter bruschetta topping (right) round out the buffet.

A white bean hummus (top), olive tapenade (left) and winter bruschetta topping (right) round out the buffet.

Slice 1 loaf of French baguette at a slight angle into ½ inch pieces. Heat a grill pan over high heat and place the bread slices on the grill pan, turning once when nicely browned. Remove the bread slices and, while still warm, rub with a garlic clove. Allow to cool.

Tuscan White Bean Hummus

Creamy, garlicky and satisfying. You may never go back to chickpea hummus again.

  • 2 cans cannellini beans
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ c. fresh oregano leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 t. salt
  • ½ t. black pepper
  • ¼ c. olive oil

Rinse and drain the beans. Place the beans, garlic, oregano, the juice of 1 lemon and the salt and pepper into the work bowl of a food processor. Process until the beans are broken down and nearly smooth. With the processor running, drizzle the olive oil through the food tube of the processor until the mixture is smooth and thick. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours to blend. Yield: 2 ½ c.

Olive Tapenade

This spread also makes a great puttanesca sauce for linguine pasta.

  • 1 6 oz. can whole black olives
  • 1 5.75 oz. jar green olives
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic (to taste)
  • 6 sundried tomatoes, packed in oil
  • ¼ c. grated parmesan cheese
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • ¼ c. olive oil

Place all ingredients except the oil in the work bowl of a food processor. Process until the olives are finely chopped. With the processor running, drizzle the olive oil through the food tube of the processor until the mixture just holds together. Yield: 2 c.

Roasted Tomato Bruschetta

Fresh summer tomatoes make the best bruschetta, but in the winter, a quick roasting brings out the flavor of the tomatoes.

  • 1 container grape tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • ¼ c. chopped fresh basil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the tomatoes and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, just enough to coat, about 2 T. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix to evenly coat the tomatoes. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Discard the garlic. Cut the tomatoes in half, allowing the skins to slip off. Strain the tomatoes if necessary and mix with the basil in small bowl. Yield: about 1 ½ c.

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New Year’s Nibbles

Simple NYE Buffet

Whether you’re having dozens of friends over on New Year’s Eve or keeping things quiet with just family, setting out a few midnight snacks will tastefully ring in the New Year (and help absorb the alcohol in the Champagne!).

Here are a few easy ideas for dishes to make and to purchase ready-made from your favorite market. Many of the dishes may be assembled ahead and/or served at room temperature, giving you more time to mingle. They’re so easy, the “recipes” are almost non-recipes!

Mix and match three from each category following the tried-and-true cocktail party rule of “Make 3, Buy 3.”


Garlic Parmesan Bites: Garlic + Cheese + Bread = Nirvana

Bacon Wrapped Dates: Sweet, salty and savory all in one bite.

Seasoned Chicken Strips: These crowd pleasers are a cinch to make.

Caprese Puffs: It’s like a summer caprese salad, only made with pantry staples and crescent rolls.

Roasted Pearl Onions: Bite-sized by nature, roasting these little gems gives them sweetness.

Mini Yorkshire Pudding Cups: A miniature version of a traditional holiday feast.


Marinated olives: Look on the salad bar or antipasto bar or in the deli section of your local market for more variety.

Flavored nuts: Many grocery stores have expanded their selection of nuts beyond the plain salted variety. Cost Plus World Market also carries a good selection of interesting flavors such as wasabi, chile-lime and barbecue.

Brie with dried fruits and nuts: Surround a wheel of brie with selections such as cranberries, apricots and walnuts or cherries, raisins and pistachios. Serve with crackers.

Roasted red peppers: In a jar or off the antipasto bar, be sure to look for areas of charring to make sure they were fire roasted.

Cornichons: If you can’t find these unique French pickles, substitute gherkins instead.

Parmesan: Cut a block of parmesan (such as Parmigano Reggiano) into bite-size shards.

What to drink?

The beverage of the evening is, of course, sparkling wine. Some sparkling wines have origin-controlled proper names such as Champagne (France), Spumante (Italy) or Cava (Spain). Most all sparkling wines use the winemaking method made famous by the French monk Dom Perignon some 300 years ago. Place your sparkler of choice in the refrigerator at 6 p.m. for a well-chilled midnight treat. If you forget to chill it ahead of time, do NOT place sparkling wine in the freezer. (It will explode.) Instead, place the bottle in a large wine bucket filled half with cold water and half with ice cubes for about one hour.

Calculate 1/6 of a bottle per person for a midnight toast. For a twist, add an ounce or so of fruit-flavored liqueur to the bottom of the glass before pouring the wine. Perhaps the most famous liqueur/Champagne cocktail is the Kir Royale—a blend of Crème de Cassis (black currant liqueur) and Champagne. More modern takes could include pomegranate liqueur, raspberry liqueur or cherry liqueur; each goes particularly well with a dry sparkling wine.Please drink responsibly and have a safe and happy New Year!


Garlic Parmesan RoundsGarlic Parmesan Rounds

Make the toasts and the spread early in the day and assemble and bake just before the party begins. These are tasty hot or at room temperature.

  • 6 slices of white sandwich bread
  • Olive oil
  • ½ c. grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ c. mayonnaise
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ t. salt
  • Dash of hot sauce (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut 4 rounds out of each slice of bread using a small cookie cutter. (If you don’t have a small cutter, trim the edges off the bread and cut into 4 squares.) Brush each piece lightly with olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and bake about 8 minutes, just until the bread begins to brown lightly. Cool. Mix together the remaining ingredients, combining well. Divide the mixture evenly among the toasts, about 1 teaspoon each. Return the toasts to the oven and bake 8 to 10 minutes until the cheese starts to bubble and the toasts are browned. Garnish with chopped chives if desired.

Bacon Wrapped Dates

These may be assembled earlier in the day and kept in the fridge until ready to broil.Bacon Wrapped Dates and Chicken Strips

  • 1 tub flavored soft cheese (such as Alouette or Rondele)
  • 1 package Medjool dates
  • 10 slices bacon

Preheat the broiler. Cut the bacon slices in half. Make a slit in each date, being careful not to cut all the way through. Remove the pit. Stuff each date with a bit of cheese, wrap in bacon and secure with a toothpick. Place on a baking sheet and broil 5 to 8 minutes until the bacon is crisp.

Seasoned Chicken Strips

  • 1 ½ pounds chicken tenders
  • ½ c. Italian dressing
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the chicken tenders in half lengthwise to yield 1 inch wide strips. Season with salt and pepper and place in a plastic resealable bag. Pour in the dressing and turn the tenders to coat well. Place in the refrigerator to marinate at least 30 minutes. (This can be done in the morning.)Soak bamboo skewers in water 20 minutes. Thread each chicken tender onto a skewer and place on a wire rack set in a roasting pan. Bake 20-25 minutes, turning midway through the cooking time. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Caprese PuffsCaprese Puffs

  • 1 container of crescent rolls
  • 1/3 c. diced tomatoes, well drained
  • ½ c. shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 T. dried basil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the tomatoes, cheese and basil in a small bowl. Roll out the crescent roll dough, and separate into 4 rectangles. (Do not separate into triangles.) With a knife or a pastry scraper, cut each section of dough diagonally in half; each section will yield 4 triangles. Place a scant teaspoon of the cheese mixture in the middle of each small triangle. Working with one triangle at a time, fold in the sides and pinch the seams closed. (It’s okay to get different shapes out of each piece of dough. These are homemade!) Place on a baking sheet and bake 11 to 13 minutes until golden brown.Hints: For added flavor, use Italian recipe tomatoes. Fresh basil may be substituted, just be sure to cut it into small ribbons. If using a dark baking sheet, turn the puffs over midway through the cooking time to prevent over browning.

Roasted Pearl OnionsRoasted Pearl Onions

  • 1 12 oz. bag of frozen pearl onions
  • 1 T. olive oi
  • 1 T. Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Thaw and drain the onions and pat dry. Toss the onions with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the onions in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast in the oven 10 minutes or until the onions begin to brown. Shake the pan to turn over the onions and bake 8 to 10 minutes more until brown. Remove from the oven and toss with the Balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.Tips: These may be made ahead and served at room temperature. If you cannot find frozen onions, substitute a 12 oz. jar of plain cocktail onions, well drained.

Mini Yorkshire Pudding Cups

The Yorkshire Puddings may be made ahead of time. Assemble the dish a few
moments before the party begins and serve at room temperature.Mini Yorkshire Pudding

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 t. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 c. all purpose flour
  • ½ t. salt
  • ½ c. vegetable oil
  • Prepared horseradish sauce
  • 12 slices of deli roast beef
  • Chives

Preheat oven to 425. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and Worcestershire. Sift in the flour and add the salt; whisk until smooth. Let rest about 10 to 15 minutes.While the batter is resting, pour a small amount of oil (about 1/8 inch) in each of 36 miniature muffin cups. Place the muffin tins on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the hot oven, about 5 minutes, to warm the oil.With a gravy ladle, divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them to the top. Bake 10 minutes or until puffy and golden brown. Remove from the muffin cups immediately and drain on paper towels if needed.

Cut each slice of roast beef into 3 pieces and roll up. Cut chives to 2 inch lengths. With a small knife, cut a slit in each pudding, being careful not to pierce the bottom. Place a small dollop of horseradish in the bottom of each pudding, top with a piece of beef and 2 chives. Yield: 36.

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