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The Season to Brunch

Brunch is one of those occasions I always look forward to. What’s great about it is the time of day, late enough to sleep in and early enough to enjoy the rest of your day. Although brunch is celebrated all year long, spring and summer seem to be especially suited for a leisurely meal with friends and family.

Although we don’t really know how long brunch has been around, it appears to have been observed since at least the late 1800’s and is an obvious combination the words “breakfast” and “lunch. Brunch is generally believed to have been an outgrowth of an older practice of having a late meal after church services on Sunday. Since World War I, Americans have embraced the idea of brunch and today it’s a common weekend offering in most large city hotels and restaurants. Brunch in private homes is commonplace and is a great way to celebrate any special occasion, or just to get together with friends and family.

Brunch is a cheerful occasion and menus can be every bit as creative as a dinner party. The time of day encourages lively conversation and guests are usually several cups of coffee ahead of the curve by the time they arrive for brunch.

If you are hosting a brunch, there are many things that can be prepared ahead of time. Some things can even be done the night before, and there’s no reason to be stressed at all when you serve your brunch. A brunch is a nice way for someone beginning to entertain to host a party. Once the food is out you can enjoy your guests and relax.

Brunch cuisine should be fresh and inviting. Food that is served hot can often times be prepared in the morning and reheated for service. Dishes like quiche, frittatas, country roasted potatoes, ham and sausage are good for making ahead and reheating. A fruit platter or salad is always a hit. Many bakeries make nice Danish, breads and croissants that can go out in decorative baskets with napkin linens. Fresh brewed coffee, real half & half with a sampler of teas are the typical hot beverages. If possible, fresh squeezed O.J. is a nice touch.

When I serve brunch, I try to have everything ready to go well in advance. When I do put out the food, I like to spend any extra time arranging the food. If I use a table cloth to start with, I can stack books or little boxes covered with a linen napkin to make risers for a small platter. Having food at different levels keeps the display interesting and it allows me to place flowers or other decorative pieces around the food without getting in the way. Brunches offer a great way to show off some of your garden by bringing in cut flowers or herbs to make things cheery. The sky is the limit when it comes to decorating, and our chef Mario often puts it over the top by arranging sliced cheeses on top of a small mirror, among other things. But it’s ok to keep it simple and serve your food as an informal buffet.

It is perfectly acceptable to make some of the dishes from scratch and fill in with store bought baked items. The key is to have a good time with your company and not work so hard that you just want to collapse. Nowadays, fresh salads, fruit smoothies and even casseroles find themselves part of the brunch menu.

The classic mimosa or bloody Mary usually makes an appearance at brunch. I like the idea of a Bellini, the Italian cousin of the mimosa. For a twist on the standard peach Bellini, I like to mix it up with pear and rosemary syrup for a change.

Try this one:

Italian Peach Bellini

Serves 2 people

1 chilled can Kern’s pear nectar
1 teaspoon rosemary simple syrup (see recipe below)
1 bottle chilled champagne, sparkling wine or Sonoma Pear Sparkler (non alcohol)

Rosemary Simple Syrup

enough for several peach Bellinis

3 sprigs rosemary (fresher the better)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Bruise the rosemary by smashing with a heavy object (releases essential oils). I use a meat tenderizer with the flat, smooth side down, or a simple mortar and pestle.

Bring water and sugar to boil for 3 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Add rosemary. Allow to steep in simple syrup mixture for 4 hours (overnight is even better). Strain and pour rosemary simple syrup into clean vessel. Refrigerate up to 1 week.

Place tablespoon rosemary simple syrup in fluted glass. Add 1/4 cup chilled pear nectar. Stir with long handled spoon. Add champagne or cold sparkling wine into glass over top of simple syrup and pear nectar. Stir again. Serve ice cold.

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