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Monday, May 12, 2008

Brunch in a crunch

Belated Happy Mother's Day to everyone! (well, just moms really)

The challenge of this past weekend: organizing a made-from-scratch packed with healthy foods while being away most of Saturday.

I LOVE brunches. They are easy, because you have a bunch of food and everyone just picks what they like and eats as much or as little as they want. There is a lot less fussing about: no getting up to serve seconds or get the next course, no risk of serving something your guests don't like after slaving over the stove for hours... in other words, much more relaxed.

The trick is doing your homework. In the week before a brunch I like to browse through some of my cookbooks to find the right recipes. I pick several ones based on season, guests, etc and then I start narrowing them down, because I tend to make way too much food. (Please, I'm Italian, of course I make too much food - not having enough food is an Italian hostess' nightmare!)

For this particular brunch, some of the friends I invited have food allergies so I wanted to make sure I served foods that everyone could eat without worrying about the ingredients. Battling with food allergies is really a pain in the butt. Imagine going out with your family and having to avoid all baked goods, all entrées containing dairy, all creamy salad dressings, all coffee drinks containing dairy, ice cream parlors... it really narrows down your choices and you can never really relax when eating out unless you are in one of those somewhat uncommon restaurants that cook allergen-free (or at least mark their menu items with symbols of allergens). I really like this family, they are wonderful people and I have been looking forward to having them over, so it was very important to me that they could totally relax and eat whatever they felt like during brunch.

So for that purpose, I browsed through the following cookbooks:
- Recipes for Dairy-Free Living
- The Whole Foods Allergy cookbook

and then of course I had my current favorite dessert cookbooks on hand:
- Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World
- Baking with Agave Nectar

I have a list of basics I usually like to serve for brunch, varying some of the recipes - however that list had to be modified to fit the allergen-free bill. I also wanted things I could make either the day before or the morning of the brunch so I could sit and eat with everyone else, so I decided to serve:
- fresh fruit
- coffee, teas, juice, water, white wine
- jams, buttery spread
- spelt muffins, spelt bread (my friend brought home-made cinnamon buns)
- organic cold cuts, smoked salmon
- creamy scrambled eggs with chives
- Waldorf salad
- my vegan quiche (you can find the recipe here)
- for dessert: agave-sweetened vegan cupcakes (I can hear you say yuck all the way here, you miscreants.... but these are so good and rich I promise you'll eat your hat as well as my cupcakes if you ever taste them!)

Next: make a shopping list based on the dishes I wanted to serve and shop for the ingredients (ok, dh shopped).

Little twist: I wasn't going to be home on Saturday for most of the day... On Saturday I went to the event (the one in New York). I had been looking forward to the event and purchased my ticket back in March so I didn't want to give it up for brunch prep. I looked at the recipes and decided what I should do on Saturday night and what on Sunday night.

I got home on Saturday around 5.30, greeted my family, thanked my lovely husband for holding the fort on his own so I could have some "me time", took a shower and got started. This is the Saturday night list:
- bake cupcakes
- bake muffins
- let cool, make dinner
- ice cupcakes
- cook chicken (for salad)
- steam broccoli and cook potatoed (for quiche)

And this is what was left to do on Sunday:
- prepare salad dressing, slice fruits & veg (for Waldorf Salad)
- sautee veggies, mash potatoes, assemble quiche (you can find the recipe here)
- slice the fruit, assemble fruit platter
- brew coffee, boil water for tea (I like to fill a thermos pitcher for brunches)
- prepare deli meat platter
- make eggs
- prepare the table

Of course I had to also fit in taking a shower and getting ready and also some last-minute cleaning (it is me, afterall).

Anyway, the brunch was lovely, we had fun, we chilled, everybody enjoyed the food and we were also lucky with the weather, so the kids could play outside afterwards. Then we went back in and had coffee and dessert.

Have I mentioned how much I love brunches?

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