Whether it takes the form of a lazy Saturday morning for two or a gathering of a multitude of friends and family, brunch can be a celebration that takes us away from our everyday routines.
I have found that the most relaxing way to enjoy the food and one another's company is to partially prepare it in advance. These recipes are perfect for that mindset. Vegetable and cheese strata, sweet and nutty bacon, gingerbread pancakes topped with orange marmalade and a side of baked fruit comprises a delectable meal that everyone can enjoy.
While a grits and sausage casserole is a favorite standby in the South, this strata is different, and you can assemble it the day before your brunch. The bacon recipe is similar. Make the topping in advance and sprinkle on the bacon before roasting. Both dishes bake in the oven at the same temperature, which saves time in the morning.
While you may want to include a bread of your choice—croissants, biscuits or toast—the gingerbread pancake recipe is seasonal and festive. The batter and syrup can also be made a day before serving. If you decide against the baked fruit, consider providing fresh fruit instead.
Serve the requisite coffee, tea and juices, but also try Champagne for mimosas. I have included a recipe for made-in-advance bloody Marys, a lovely cocktail for brunch.
Vegetable and Cheese Strata
1-1/2 cups onions, finely chopped
1 cup scallions, finely chopped
3/4 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 red bell peppers, cut into thin strips (about 2 cups)
2 yellow bell peppers, cut into thin strips (about 2 cups)
9 cups Italian bread cut into 1-inch cubes (about 1-1/2 loaves)
2-1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 10 ounces)
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
12 large eggs
3-1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Tabasco, to taste
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the onions, scallions and mushrooms until softened. Add the bell peppers, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring, 10 to 15 minutes, or until all the liquid the mushrooms give off has evaporated and the peppers are tender.
Arrange half the bread cubes in a large, buttered, shallow baking dish and top with half the vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with half the cheddar and half the Parmesan. Arrange the remaining bread cubes over the cheeses, top with the remaining vegetables and sprinkle the remaining cheeses over the top.
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, mustard, Tabasco, salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the strata. Cover and chill overnight. Let the strata stand at room temperature for 15 minutes, and bake in the middle of a preheated 350 degrees oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until it is puffed and golden and cooked through.
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon molasses (light or dark)
Combine first nine ingredients in large bowl; make a well in the center of the mixture.
Mix the large egg and remaining three ingredients; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.
Spoon about 2 tablespoons of batter for each pancake onto a hot, lightly greased griddle.
Cook until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look set; turn and cook other side. Serve with orange marmalade syrup or maple syrup.
Yields 10 pancakes.
Made-in-Advance Bloody Marys
1 can (46-ounce) tomato juice
1 can (46-ounce) vegetable juice
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon Cajun salt
15 ounces vodka (optional)
hot sauce, to taste
celery sticks, sliced
Combine all the ingredients in a glass pitcher, except for the vodka. Shake and let chill overnight. Stir in vodka before serving, if desired. Top with sliced celery sticks and adjust seasoning with the hot sauce of your choice.
Orange Marmalade Syrup
2/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup orange marmalade
Heat together, gently, at a low temperature until hot.
1 teaspoon flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
1 pound bacon
Mix flour, sugar and pecans, and sprinkle over bacon. Place on broiler pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
1 can (20 ounce) sliced pineapples
1 can (17 ounce) apricot halves
1 can (16 ounce) peach halves
1 can (16 ounce) pear halves
1 jar (14 1/2 ounce) spiced apple rings (pitted, canned sweet cherries are a nice substitute for the apple rings)
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup dry sherry (may be halved)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
Drain first five ingredients, reserving juices for another use. Combine fruit in a 2-quart casserole and set aside.
Melt butter over medium-low heat. Add combined sugar and cornstarch to butter, stirring constantly. Stir in sherry and cook until mixture is slightly thickened. Pour over fruit mixture.
Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove from refrigerator and let stand, covered, for 30 minutes.
Uncover and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until bubbly.