FIVE GREAT IDEAS
1. Grow Some Fun
Create a centerpiece that's delicious: Stud a small planter of wheatgrass with lollipops in bright colors. You can even write a guest's name on each wrapper for easy grabbing.
2. Plan Your Prep Time
For a dinner party, you theoretically have all day to prepare, but brunch can start as early as 9 a.m. (or as late as 2 p.m.). The trick? A little planning. Gale Gand, author of Gale Gand's Brunch!, recommends shopping two days before the party and prepping the day before. Also, lighten the day-of load by serving dishes that can be cooked in advance: Two of Gand's favorites are strata and baked apple french toast.
3. Pick Easy Apps
Save time with store-bought favorites. Event planner Liz Seccuro, of Alexandria, Virginia's Dolce Parties, swears by the cheese puffs (or gougères) in Trader Joe's freezer section. "Who wants to make a cheese puff? Nobody. Who wants to eat a cheese puff? Everybody," she says. (She suggests melted apricot jam for dunking.) Gand hits Asian grocery stores for chicken-and-scallion pot stickers. "They're kid-friendly, and great on a buffet," she says. She makes a dipping sauce of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar with a drop of toasted sesame seed oil.
4. Include everyone
Even most meatless brunch items contain eggs or cheese, which won't appeal to vegans, so know the dietary preferences of your guests before devising the menu. "There should be something good for every guest, whether he's a vegan, vegetarian or carnivore," Seccuro says. For a please- 'em-all main, Seccuro loves spinach-and-mushroom risotto served with a small dish of grated parmesan -- vegetarians can use it, but vegans can pass.
5. Mix hot and cold dishes
Befitting its name, brunch fare can encompass a wide range of dishes, from coffee and pastries to waffles and spiral-sliced ham. Gand says to round out low-fuss, room-temperature dishes (like berry bread pudding and oatmeal-apple scones) with one last-minute hot item. For lunch-oriented items, ginger-glazed shrimp with orzo is great at room temperature.
Get a little more creative than bloody marys and mimosas. Gand creates cocktails that start with the same letter and therefore sound good together, such as Pomegranate Prosecco, a combination of pomegranate juice, prosecco, cucumber and mint.
For nonalcoholic drinks, Seccuro flavors lemonade with fresh blueberries or strawberries that she's pureed with simple sugar syrup. She pours the drinks into large glass containers with spouts for easy service.
DELICIOUS FINISHING TOUCHES
For Your Food
1. A spread will look bountiful with little things that add big impact. "A package of smoked salmon becomes a star because of the accompaniments: bagels and platters of lemon wedges, chopped red onion, capers and cream cheese," Seccuro says. Marmalade, apple butter and Nutella are some of Gand's favorite small touches. Bowls of whole fruit round out a spread, too.
2. Plating is also important. "There's a real art to presenting food on a platter," Seccuro says. "Food looks best on white, especially when you add a garnish." Make platters pop with fresh items, like sliced lemon or bunches of herbs.
3. And don't place those perfect platters directly on the table -- give them height with cake stands. "You could even use glass bricks, which you can get for pennies at any bigbox home store," Seccuro says.
For Your Space
1. If it's nice out, make the most of it and take the party outside. After you've got indoor seating situated, set up garden benches and small card tables around the yard, Seccuro says. A bonus: By setting up numerous seating areas indoors and outside, you'll encourage guests to mingle.
2. Celebrate the outdoors in your decor, too, with a low-fuss flower arrangement. Seccuro likes to gather gerbera daisies in fuchsia and orange and arrange them in mason jars ($10 for 12, tooldistrict .com). "Line up a few down the table, and it'll be gorgeous," she says. Not to mention simple.
3. A buffet-style brunch is easy and made for all-day appeal. Plus, it's a cinch to keep it looking great even after you've run out of something -- just sneak out empty plates and reorganize. Another great placeholder? A big stack of Sunday newspapers for guests to peruse.