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Take my brunch...please

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I'm throwing a birthday brunch for a close friend, Looks like we'll be between 12 and 15 people. I'm grappling with the menu. It will be at least partly pot luck - I'll be making the main and dessert, and I'll be assigning dishes to others. Not sure if I'll be telling them EXACTLY what to make or just give them a category they can handle, but I'm definitely not interested in a free-for-all.

So here are the parameters. The birthday gal loves a good crepe so I'm thinking that will be the main. Might do something seafood-filled (any great recipes?). I'm looking for all sorts of suggestions for starters, sides, drinks (champagne-based or otherwise). I want this to be elegant and lavish and wonderful. She isn't much of a meat-eater, has a generally mediterranean sensibility around food and loves vegetables.

I'd appreciate any and all ideas to help construct this meal. Probably will do it as a buffet-style meal, but we'll see how many people end up coming.

Thanks in advance for sage advice.

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  1. Well, drinks are righ up my alley!

    I was watching Rick Bayless yesterday and he prepared a Champagne Margarita. Mixed lime juice and triple sec and then added it to champagne instead of orange juice or chambord.... with a little salt around the rim, it looked refreshing and delicious.

    1. Brunch to me equals fancy breakfast, because I love breakfast. This is especially true when the guest of honor is not partial to meat.

      Fresh squeezed orange juice
      Mimosas

      Egg Strata
      cut fruit with raspberries [cause I love raspberries]
      fish [gravalax, smoke haddock and salmon, kippers]
      cheese plate [hard and soft]
      platter of really nice French baked goods [sweet and savory]
      steamed or roasted asparagus

      crepes [though for 12-15 you would need to make ahead]

      Without the "no meat", I might want to have a smoked ham or roast beef along with nice mustards.

      coffee
      teas
      roasted potatoes

      1. I -heart- brunch!!! I just did a post holiday brunch a few weeks ago for about 15-18 people and it was a huge hit. I'm not as gourmet/experimental as many Chow-types, but I was proud of our spread. I was originally thinking crepes, but when it came down to crunch time I thought it would be too much trouble... but that's just me. I personally like to let guests do as much of the work on their own as is reasonable--that way I am actually socializing and they feel like they're more involved/participating without getting stuck doing dishes at the end!

        We did:
        veggie, (leftover) ham & gruyere quiche (made piecrust a few days earlier, froze, then baked and made quiche the day before), reheated in oven day-of
        popovers (made batter hour or two ahead, then made hot batches while everyone was here)
        eggs benedict--let people toast their own English Muffins while BF made poached eggs to order, had hollandaise, ham, and avocado waiting (could do crab too--yum!)
        green salad w balsamic maple syrup vinaigrette
        fruit salad
        bloody mary & mimosa bar--BF likes to make his own blue cheese-stuffed olives for the Bloodies, and Pom is always a nice alternative/additive to the regular mimosas
        and, good coffee, of course

        thats it. nothing extravagant, but easy and nice enough to be "nice". good luck!!!

        1. A vegetable medley is always good...steamed soft. Like a mix of broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, squash, zucchini...you can choose what veggies you want to mix in.

          1. I love crepes! For savory crepes, here are some ideas:
            with fish/meat:
            -gravalax with creme fraiche and chives
            - prosciutto with gruyere and arugula
            - scrambled egg with chorizo or bacon
            For vegetarian:
            - goat cheese, anjou pear and honey walnut

            For starters,
            - a caprese salad: mozzarella with tomato and basil
            - crostini with white bean puree or eggplant or such.

            As for dessert, may be mini fruit tarts or mini strawberry shortcakes
            - or chocolant mousse sprinkled with fleur de sel
            - or you can even make cupcakes looking very elegant too!

            1. I set up a sparking wine self-serve "cocktail bar" at a recent gathering, and it was a big success.
              I was inspired by a Food & Wine recipe for champagne over red grapes w/simple syrup & coconut water. Besides that combo, I offered:
              1. crushed raspberries w/orange peel & simple syrup
              2. pear nectar w/ginger-infused simple syrup
              3. mango nectar w/fresh lime

              I set out the 4 mixers in pretty glasses with spoons next to the flutes and the chilling bucket. People caught on quickly, and they had fun with it. The most popular flavors were the pear and the raspberry.

              1 Reply
              1. re: maestra

                Ginger-infused simple syrup in champagne? *Swoon*

              2. Ny, rather than prepare last minute crepes for 12-15 people, how about a crepe casserole? I do a cheese blintz souffle, which I imagine could be adapated for seafood crepes. I would do (2) 9X13 pans of 12 crepes in each pan (24 total). You could make the whole thing the day before and bake the morning of. Grease the dishes, lay in the filled crepes and cover with mornay (cheese) sauce or whatever you prefer. Bake at 350 for 20-30 min till lightly browned.

                We have been on a cosmo kick lately, you can use cranberry juice as traditional or pomegranate juice for a different twist. Make a large pitcher (or two) of this.

                If you are looking for assignments, in addition to the crepes, to me brunch should always include some kind of fruit salad (#1), coffe cake, breads or other sweets (#2 & #3), veggie plate (#4), and perhaps a cheese course (#5).

                4 Replies
                1. re: Diane in Bexley

                  do you have a recipe for that souffle? sounds great!

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    Susan, assume you mean blintz souffle? There are 2 version of this, the entire homemade version where you prepare at least 12 cheese or fruit blintzes or the "I am in a hurry.." version where you use frozen blintzes (Golden). This is so easy, it is shameful. Grease a 9X13 dish very well, place prepared blintzes in them, if frozen, no need to defrost first. Make custard using 6 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 3/4 cup sour cream, 1 stick melted butter, 1 T vanilla (or lemon juice/zest or orange juice/zest), 1 T cinnamon optional. You can bake right away or cover with platic overnight. Bake at 350 for 20-30 min.

                    1. re: Diane in Bexley

                      Diane - you don't mention using any sugar in the quick version. Was it an omission or do you not add any?

                      1. re: critter101

                        Critter, I try to use as little sugar as possible. Although thanks for catching that. The prepared blintzes are usually sweet enough. If using homemade blintzes, try maybe 1/2 to 1/2 cup sugar. I have also tried Splenda, wouldn't recommend it.

                2. Reviewers of the recipe say it is an excellent savory crepe filling http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... . I haven't tried it yet but absolutely plan to!

                  1. Wow - I think I hit a nerve. Thanks for all the suggestions. So here's what I think I'll do:

                    - The sparkling wine cocktail bar sounds fantastic - so that's probably going to be the drink. (But I'll save the champagne margaritas for another time!)
                    - Crepes with a lobster/shrimp newburg-ish-type filling. I will make the actual crepes ahead of time and possibly even prepare the filling the day ahead. In the a.m. I'll fill the crepes and arrange in a baking dish. Will heat and serve at brunch time.
                    - Caprese salad is wonderful and I might assign that to someone. But I'd have to make sure they use good cherry tomatoes instead of horrid January tomatoes. Otherwise, I'd prefer a nice mixed green salad.
                    - Grilled or roasted asparagus (assignment)'
                    - Crudites and olives.
                    - Possibly some hot or cold smoked fish (salmon or whitefish or something like that).
                    - Definitely a fruit platter (assignment)
                    - Home-baked croissants (from frozen) and good baguettes.
                    - Cheese plate (assignment)
                    - The dessert remains undecided. Since it's a birthday, I suppose a birthday cake ought to be part of the meal. Or else a cupcake tower or some other festive thing. I personally would prefer pastries to a cake, but maybe not for this occasion.

                    Thanks! Suggestions are still appreciated so don't hesitate to post.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Nyleve

                      i think cupcakes would be delightful.
                      i still dont think it is brunch without a bloody mary option lol

                      1. re: LaLa

                        Ok, ok. Bloody Mary also.

                      2. re: Nyleve

                        What a lucky friend you have! Sounds like a wonderful party.

                        Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup, if you have time to order them, are available from Amazon.com and when added to a flute of sparkling white wine open up and provide a lively fragrance and beautiful color. http://www.wildhibiscus.com/shop/inde... is a picture of them, but Amazon handles this Aussie companies business in the U.S. Might be very nice as you toast to the bday gal.

                        1. re: Nyleve

                          Personally, I'd pass on the caprese salad for this occasion - my instant reaction is that it clashes with the seafood crepes. Otherwise, where's my invite? A cupcake tower seems more in keeping with brunch than a standard birthday cake.

                          I once had an elegant brunch at The Copley Plaza in Boston. Roasted asparagus accompanied a dish called "Breakfast of Champignons" - I couldn't resist the pun.
                          The individual portion was made in a square mold of some sort (removed before presentation). It featured buttered slices of brioche or other good bread, tightly fitted into the mold and then baked to crispy golden brown. Removed from the mold, it formed a container which was filled with sauteed mushrooms in mornay sauce. A feast for the eye and the taste buds.

                          The following recipe for Baked Onion Dip appeals to me but I have never made it. It is served warm/hot, with crudite: In 2 Tbsp butter, saute 3 chopped large Vidalia or other sweet onion. Stir it into the following ingredients, then bake at 375 for 25-30 min in a 2-qt casserole and let stand at least 10 m in before serving: 8 oz (= 2 cups) shredded swiss cheese, 2 cups mayo, 8 oz chopped water chestnuts, 1/4 cup white wine, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/2 tsp hot sauce.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            Ok, I think you're right. Scrap the caprese. Fluffy mixed greens will be the salad. And your Breakfast of Champignons sounds fantastic. I think I'll add mushrooms to the seafood crepe.

                        2. Bittman rhapsodizes about the baked egg for brunches because of their simplicity, and I agree -- since crepes are rather a la minute, baked eggs might be just the ticket to take some of the stress off of you. Perhaps eggs baked atop some sinfully creamy crab concoction? With little pumpernickel toast points?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: LauraGrace

                            Horrible, embarassing, somewhat self-centred admission: I cannot eat an egg where the yolk and white are separately visible. So, therefore, I can't bring myself to create a brunch main that presents eggs that way. I also suspect, somewhat less self-centeredly, that the Birthday Girl has a similar aversion. So this isn't entirely all about me. She has food texture-related issues that go way beyond mine - including undercooked fish (such as cold-smoked salmon) and anything that is gooey or slimy.

                            1. re: Nyleve

                              Oh God. No non-scrambled eggs?

                              Sigh. Well, I guess I understand texture issues. I can't eat mushrooms for that very reason. So we're back to some variation on the egg casserole... Takes all kinds. ;)

                          2. Another option for drinks:
                            Pomengranate Mimosa
                            2 cups chilled pomegranate juice
                            1 cup chilled fresh orange juice
                            1/2 cup orange-flavored liqueur (preferably Cointreau)
                            1 (750-ml) bottle well-chilled Cava or demi-sec Champagne

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Honey Bee

                              You had me at pomegranate. I will provide other options but this is clearly a winner. in my world. And I know the Birthday Girl LOVES pomegranate anything.

                              1. re: Nyleve

                                all i can think about is the lobster crepe (peas and carrots) from the french laundry book. it is soooo good, and it can be made ahead.

                                1. re: jeniyo

                                  Would you care to paraphrase the recipe, by any chance?

                                  1. re: Nyleve

                                    Not the recipe, but the instructions:
                                    http://carolcookskeller.blogspot.com/...

                                    My thoughts immediately went to butter-poached lobster.

                                    Here is one recipe, although I'd probably go for filling involving leeks and cheese.

                                  2. re: jeniyo

                                    Funny you should mention that, jeniyo... I was salivating over the French Laundry Crepes yesterday! Now am even more set on making them!

                                  3. re: Nyleve

                                    I got that one as a holiday gift this year. A friend gave me the recipe and all the ingredients to make the drink. Such a nice idea!

                                2. If you're not set on crepes, how about shrimp and grits? It can hold fairly well, though it's certainly a rich dish....which is where her love of vegetables and Mediterranean dishes can fit in wonderfully to complement.

                                  Fennel and orange salad with olives is refreshing and bright, especially at this time of year.

                                  With smoked salmon, homemade pickled red onions look festive and taste delicious with the richness of smoked fish. (along with some of the usual suspects like capers, a dill-laced mix of sour cream and mayonnaise, toast points, boiled baby potato halves, etc.)

                                  Grilled or roasted asparagus spears as previously mentioned (and/or green beans) are wonderful finger food, especially when served with a variety of enhancing sauces (e.g. vinaigrette, especially one flavored with orange zest, or for more decadence, homemade flavored mayonnaises)

                                  To serve with crostini, along with legume-based spreads, how about slow-roasted tomatoes? Or muhammara ? (I love that's it's better made in advance! My favorite recipe is from Paula Wolfert: http://www.leitesculinaria.com/recipe...

                                  )

                                  This Barefoot Contessa recipe for Orange Yogurt is more delicious than I'd expected when I first read the recipe- works well with Greek yogurt or even drained low-fat yogurt.
                                  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/in...

                                  Homemade cinnamon rolls or sticky buns definitely could serve as dessert (along with or in lieu of cake-like options) at brunch time (though I suspect they are delicious at any time of day!) Could make the filling more like baklava (e.g. with honey and pistachos, maybe even a touch of orange blossom or rose water?) to give it a more Mediterranean feel.

                                  I love so many of the ideas here- and I hope the celebration goes well! Good luck!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: 4Snisl

                                    Oh my god. Now I'm swamped. Sticky buns with pistachio and honey! Orange fennel salad! It's all too good. I suspect this brunch will be a work in progress right up until the day before.

                                    1. re: Nyleve

                                      Ny, if you like cheese danishes, Ina Garten has a great recipe that uses cream cheese and ricotta, puff pastry and makes 8. Everyone I have ever made this for has raved about them.

                                  2. You could consider serving dim sum at your brunch if you have a good source in your city. Dim sum is also something that guests can purchase and bring.

                                    1. barefoot contessa did the nice dried fruit cookies today. they looked great: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/in...

                                      1. Update!

                                        Brunch yesterday was a great success, even after some annoying mis-communication and aggravating recipe battles. I decided on a main dish of seafood crepes, using the Epicurious recipe for Lobster Newburg for the filling, but substituting a mixture of shrimp, scallops, mushrooms and lobster meat. Really, I only just referred to the recipe since I deviated so drastically from it. I included some reduced lobster broth (from my freezer), used fewer egg yolks and added grated Parmesan to boost the flavour. The sauce didn't thicken quite enough (I'm sure because there weren't enough egg yolks) so I thickened it with a bit of flour. In the end, the crepes were absolutely delicious - and everyone wants the recipe. But of course, I can't really give it to anyone because I was flying by the seat of my pants and have no idea how much of anything I put in. My friends think I'm being coy, but I really don't know. I made the crepes a day ahead, arranged them in baking dishes and just reheated before serving.

                                        Sides were an orange and fennel salad with red onion and olives and a big green salad. A friend who was supposed to bring a spinach souffle showed up, instead, with a cheese plate. So I quickly defrosted a side of smoked salmon and served it as well. If I had known he wouldn't be making the spinach thing, I would have served some roasted asparagus. Argh.

                                        The birthday cake was a tower of chocolate and vanilla cupcakes. I got the cupcake recipes from the Cooks Illustrated website and they were delicious. But the vanilla buttercream frosting was a disaster (also CI). You start with a sort of cooked egg and sugar mixture, then beat in the butter. It never really came together at all and I ended up pitching the whole mess and making some cream cheese icing instead. Other folks brought a coffee cake and biscuits. And I made pitchers of Pomegranate Mimosas - thank you Honey Bee! - which were absolutely wonderful.

                                        Thanks, everyone for your suggestions and recipes. Today I am exhausted and plan to do nothing but crossword puzzles.

                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: Nyleve

                                          It all sounds wonderful, so glad you reported back, and what was the spinach souffle / cheese plate guy thinking??? Oh, maybe he dropped it or similar kitchen tragedy and didn't want to show up empty-handed. Anyway, bravo, I bet it was the culinary event of the winter for all your friends.

                                          1. re: GretchenS

                                            Many years ago, I made crepes filled with "Seafood St. Jacques" for my SIL's 30th birthday. As 50 guests were expected, I made ahead and froze. They turned out beautifully, and were very well received.

                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                              Pickawicca, would love to see you post your recipe for Seafood St. Jacques if you can. Am always searching for seafood crepe ideas...and if you did it for fifty folks and were able to prepare ahead of time, the recipe sounds like a keeper!

                                              1. re: ideabaker

                                                This was way back in the Dark Ages, but I'd guess that I probably adapted Julia's recipe for Coquilles St. Jacques in MTAOFC.

                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                  Drat, I have that cookbook, just need to dig it out of storage. What a great one. Thanks for that!

                                            2. re: GretchenS

                                              Cheese plate guy - a very good friend and brilliant cook - yeah, what was he thinking? He says he mentioned it to me the night before (we had dinner at his home). I remember him saying something vague like: "I'm sort of re-thinking the souffle thing...". But I didn't press him for details, figuring he meant, well, maybe it wouldn't be spinach! Maybe it would be a broccoli souffle, or whatever. Anyway, yes, he mentioned it. I probably should have paid more attention. He probably should have been more definite. Whatever. No harm done and it was, frankly, a very beautiful and lavish cheese plate. And no one starved. At all.

                                              1. re: Nyleve

                                                It would probably be difficult to transport a souffle. Maybe that is what he was thinking.

                                                1. re: sarah galvin

                                                  The original plan was for him to prepare it at home, run it over here and bake in my oven. They only live a few blocks away so that was doable. Well, never mind. It's all champagne under the bridge now.

                                            3. re: Nyleve

                                              your brunch sounds absolutely, wonderfully, deliciously awesome. you had me at "lobster newburg." ;-).

                                              1. re: Nyleve

                                                Nyleve, thank you for reporting back on your brunch. So glad the Lobster Newburg worked out with the crepes; I suspect that your addition of home-made lobster broth, thickened a bit, added extra oomph to the dish!

                                                The tower of cupcakes sounds adorable and delicious. Gotta try those Pomegranate Mimosas!

                                                I can't believe you still have energy for crosswords.... Kudos to you and your lucky friend!

                                                Am now seeking out someone who will let me make brunch for them! :-)

                                                p.s. So when is she planning your birthday brunch ;-)?

                                                1. re: Nyleve

                                                  Glad the pomengranate mimosas worked out! I love them, as well.

                                                  1. re: Honey Bee

                                                    Oh they were a big hit. Big. Thanks so much for the recipe.