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Organizing Brunch For A Bunch

Since another successful Easter brunch has become history, I am going to take a few minutes to offer my hints and tips for organizing brunch for a bunch.  I’ve been hosting Easter brunch for over 10 years now and have figured out a few things about what works and what doesn’t work when organizing brunch.     organizing brunch

While I host Easter brunch each year, these tips and tricks could easily be applied for almost any brunch you find yourself needing or wanting to host.  I’ll go ahead and also confess that I do one of these organizing brunch type posts about my Easter brunch each year so I will have a point of reference for the next year.  That sentence actually brings me to my first tip for organizing brunch if it is an annual holiday type event you host.

Tips and Tricks for Organizing Brunch For A Bunch:

  1. If it is an annual holiday brunch, keep records each year.  The easiest way to do this is to take pictures and (ahem) write blog posts about it if you have a blog.  A word document file is another great option.  It is also helpful to have all the recipes stored in one spot.  I like to keep most of mine pinned over on my Easter Brunch Ideas pinterest board.  I add ideas to it all year but I also have all my tried and true recipes pinned on it as well with a few exceptions.

  2. Make notes of which dishes are popular and what dishes have lots of leftovers.  I run out of blueberry muffins each year.  This year I made more bacon during brunch (in the oven).  I probably need to make more of those two items in the future.  I will probably drop one my ham and cheese quiches as well since I had a full one left this year and make a few different muffin choices.  Muffin choices are a bit tricky because everyone has their favorites and I like to make my guests happy.

  3. Work ahead of time so you can actually enjoy the event.  Organizing brunch should not mean missing out on the fun.  Most quiches can be made well in advance.  This year I actually cooked them about 2 days prior and then reheated them on Easter morning.  In past years, I’ve frozen them uncooked and cooked them early on Easter morning.  The can be frozen up to about a month.  organizing brunch They can also be kept uncooked overnight in the fridge and prepared the next morning (I did that with  a sausage puff dish).  Chocolate covered fruit can be made the night before the event but I wouldn’t advise making it any sooner as the chocolate does tend to pull the moisture out and I’ve not had good luck with berries keeping more than a day (usually, there aren’t too many left at the end of brunch to store).  Fruit can be sliced ahead of time and stored in Ziploc bags until you are ready to make a fruit tray.

  4. Plan to get up early and get yourself ready prior to making the last-minute dishes.  I’ve found I enjoy brunch so much more in the years when I’ve done this than when I’m hurrying to shower and get dressed before the guests arrive.  I usually get up early, start the coffee, turn on the oven, and take my shower before proceeding to preparing the final dishes.

  5. If you can’t make it good, then make it pretty!  I’m not even going to pretend I’m a great cook.  Honestly, more than a few of those muffins pictured up above come from box mixes (made a day ahead of time and kept in Ziploc bags overnight). I pull out my fine crystal (I love that hosting Easter brunch once a year gives me an excuse to use my special dishes), and try to make a pretty centerpiece.

    organizing brunch

    Easter Centerpiece

    organizing brunch

    Silverware station

  6. Accept that you are going to make a few mistakes but don’t let them ruin your brunch.  Bonus points for making the same mistakes each year like not trying out a new recipe ahead of time.  My big mistake this year was grabbing shredded carrots to use in these inside out carrot cake muffins instead of reading the recipe and realizing that grated carrots were the ingredient listed.  There IS a difference in those items.  Then, there was the year I forgot to thaw the frozen quiches overnight.  We ended up thawing them on the grill as I cooked the other last-minute dishes.  My experience is that everything always comes together nicely in the end.

  7.  It’s best not to plan for an exact number of guests.  Circumstances change and the number of guests always tends to be a bit higher or lower than I expect.  I prefer to error on the side of too much food as opposed to running out of things.

  8. Know your guests.  Hopefully, this isn’t too hard to do if you are hosting family.  I always try to have at least one vegetarian dish on my brunch spread (I was quite surprised when the vegetarian Quiche I simply threw together was all gone!) and a good variety of fresh fruit as even the most picky eaters generally can find a form of fresh fruit they enjoy.  Since I knew there would be a few more kids in attendance this year, I tried to offer a few more “plain” items like regular bacon and sausage patties in addition to my sausage pinwheels and caramelized bacon twists.

    organizing brunch

    another view of brunch

  9. If you are working on a budget for organizing brunch, then start early and buy just a few ingredients extra on each of your regular grocery store trips.  I always start early and start buying muffin papers at least since I know I will need a bunch for my Easter Brunch.   After Easter is a great time to find deals on pretty muffin papers, sprinkles, and other fun supplies to make the table setting pretty.

  10. Know when to stop.  I want to make everything for Easter brunch.  I always over plan the dishes that I plan to prepare and find myself with the ingredients for them.  I have almond flour sitting in the cabinet right now for cookies that didn’t come to pass.  Nuts as well.  Luckily, there are plenty of occasions after Easter to try new recipes so my ingredients won’t be wasted.

Those are my best 10 tips and tricks for organizing and hosting brunch for a bunch.  I’m sure I missed many tips and tricks that should be shared.  I didn’t give any clean up advice but that’s not really an area where I excel.  My only advice there is to start early and pace yourself.

Do you host a special brunch or holiday dinner?  What advice have I missed?

*just for fun I’m linking this post up at the following fun places:  Pintastic Pinteresting Party #58 over at Blessed Learners, This Is How We Roll Thursday #9 over at Wondermom Wannabe, & Pretty Pintastic Pinterest Party over at Divas Run For Bling.

 

 

Easter Brunch Menu Plan

It’s past the time for me to sit down and make an Easter brunch Menu Plan.  My boys are on spring break this week and we’ve been out-of-town visiting relatives so my weekly planning was pushed into mid-week.  If I was a bit smarter, this would have all been done prior to our leaving on Saturday.  However, it didn’t work out that way.

Easter brunch menu

Part of the Easter Brunch Spread from 2013

Each year I host Easter brunch for our family.  I’ve claimed Easter as my holiday and I do love having everyone over for brunch.  I prefer to host an Easter brunch as opposed to a big dinner for a few simple reasons.  The most important reason is simply I am better at preparing breakfast and brunch food than dinner food.

At some point in the past 13 years I’ve been hosting the annual Easter brunch for our family, I became smart enough to record the menu from the previous year.  Since I’m working with a new computer this year that I haven’t completely figured out, I’m really excited that I posted the menu from our 2014 Easter brunch on my recipes page.  By the way, I see I really do need to update the recipes page.

I love planning our Easter brunch menu each year although typically I have it done before the Wednesday prior to Easter.  Oops!  Thank goodness some of the dishes stay standard each year.

My rough count for Easter brunch attendees this year (including us) is roughly 25.  This number could increase by a few or decrease a bit as life happens.  I’m planning for 25 though.  Time to get to the Easter brunch menu for 2015.   If an Easter brunch menu is not your thing, I will go ahead and include our regular menu at the end of this post but it is going to be super simple.

Here’s the plan for Easter brunch:

Traditional Muffin choices:

Blueberry, Chocolate Chip, Triple Berry Chocolate, and Pecan Pie muffins.  I may make a very small batch of cappuccino muffins as well.

Muffin choices I may add depending on time and ingredients:

Poppy seed (special request), lemon, orange muffins with orange glaze, and inside out carrot cake muffins.

Standard “side dish” choices:

Bacon hash brown bake (my husband’s annual request), caramelized bacon twists, sausage pinwheels, fresh fruit, vegetable tray, and chips.

Side dishes I’m thinking of adding in 2015:

Trail mix with glazed nuts, cucumber tomato bites, and perhaps some sort of take on macaroni and cheese bites or this asparagus and pesto tart.

Main Dish Choices:

Ham and cheese Quiche, Southwestern Quiche, Sausage bake, and a vegetarian Quiche of some sort (I threw one together last year-no recipe-and it was a bit of a hit).  And of course, we’ll also have brisket with some sort of sandwich rolls.  I generally don’t mess with adding new main dishes very often although I’m debating adding some sort of baked oatmeal dish to the mix for this year as well as these breakfast stuffed peppers.

My favorite category, Desserts and Table Décor:

Chocolate covered fruit, coconut nests, angel almond cookies, yogurt filled tart shells, and of course, various candy.  I’m still searching for a fast, easy way to add cinnamon rolls to the mix.  I’m toying with an idea for it in the back of my mind.  I usually let the desserts double as my center piece and table décor but I am really tempted by this lollypop flowerpot idea.

Drink choices:

Pretty standard fare here with coffee, juice, tea, or water.  This “sophisticated sangria” may need to make an appearance though.

Most of these recipes (and pictures…still haven’t mastered how to make the Pinterest images show up in my posts) can be found over on my Easter brunch Pinterest board.

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And now for the hard part of this menu plan, it turns out that even if I am hosting an Easter brunch for 25+ people in a few days, my husband and boys still want to eat dinner each night.  Both boys also want to have friends stay over during their spring break. Here’s the basic plan for this week (I did get a bit of a break as we were out-of-town for the first part of it and are having dinner with my in-laws on Friday night).

Monday:  Ham, Sweet Potatoes, Corn, Salad (served at an out-of-town relative’s home)

Tuesday:  Frozen Pizza

Wednesday:  Tacos (frozen meat in freezer) or some take on them.

Thursday:  Lasagna (from a box), garlic toast, and salad

Friday:  Dinner with my in-laws

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Not exactly the most exciting weekly menu and it may change or end up being more dinners out this week but at least, we have a plan.  It is never too late to menu plan and that is why even though it is Wednesday, I’m still going to link up my post over at Menu Plan Monday hosted by Laura from I’m An Organizing Junkie.

What is on your menu for this week and weekend?

French Toast, The Secret to Our Family Favorite

Do you like French Toast?  I can remember going on the occasional sleep-over as a kid and getting up the next morning to find the breakfast was French Toast.  Soggy Bread that tasted like eggs that had syrup poured all over it (I’m guessing to cover up the bland egg taste?).  I would eat the polite amount but oh, how I hated it!  I still don’t like that type of French Toast.  Today, I’m sharing the French Toast that our entire family (and if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know we are picky!) likes.
Our Favorite French Toast

Our Favorite French Toast

My recipe is very slightly adapted from The Betty Crocker Cookbook, an older paperback version that belonged to my husband.  Here’s the true sign that a recipe is a good one:
I really should copy this over on to a recipe card.

I really should copy this over on to a recipe card.

My favorite thing about this recipe is that the preparation is the easy.  Throw everything in a bowl, stir, and you’re ready to go with dunking the bread.   What could be easier than that?
Here is what the bowl will look like prior to mixing the ingredients.

Here is what the bowl will look like prior to mixing the ingredients.

You could probably mix these ingredients with a whisk and a lot of arm strength but I prefer my hand mixer for this (I could also drag out the Kitchen-Aid but since it takes up the same counter space where I set out the pancake griddle, I opt to use my hand mixer).    I do use the hand mixer on the highest “whip” setting.  The ingredients should look like this after mixing:
Ready for the bread!

Ready for the bread!

Now, it is time to reveal the secret ingredient in our family’s favorite French toast…
Thin Cinnamon Swirl Bread makes the best French Toast.

Thin Cinnamon Swirl Bread makes the best French Toast.

French Toast is all about the bread.  I use cinnamon swirl bread.  Sara Lee is my favorite brand but the other similar brands work just fine.  Now it is time to heat the griddle and get started.  I promise this bread will not be soggy and tasteless!  While the griddle is heating up, dunk your first piece of bread.
I don't soak my bread for long.  I just give it a dip and then turn it over.

I don’t soak my bread for long. I just give it a dip and then turn it over.

Then I repeat the process until I have a full griddle of bread:
Make sure you spray your griddle if it is not non-stick!
Make sure you spray your griddle if it is not non-stick!
I wait 1-2 minutes and flip the bread over using a spatula.
Your bread should now look like this.

Your bread should now look like this.

Cook it on the flip side for another 2 minutes.  This part is kind of personal preference.  Basically, cook it until the egg mixture is cooked enough for your taste. I usually flip it again and cook each side an additional minute if I don’t like the color or the bread seems too soggy.   If I’m going to freeze a batch, I cook it slightly less so that the toast will not burn when we reheat it in the toaster.  I cover the slices of toast with paper towels (keep them in a single layer!) during the cooking process to keep them warm and from going soggy.  As you might have guessed, I have a thing about soggy bread.  I do not like it.  However, I do like this French Toast.  Even my husband who does not care for egg and milk based dishes likes this French Toast and will eat it.  Here is how J likes his French Toast:
FrenchtoastJ

French Toast Sticks Served with Peanut Butter.

Sometimes I’ll buy the prepackaged French Toast Sticks at the grocery store and offer them for breakfast.  J will always inquire whether I mean the French Toast Sticks I make or the kind from the store. He’s been known on more than one occasion to refuse the ones from the store stating he thought I meant MY French Toast Sticks.   We’ll often have this meal for dinner (adding bacon or sausage as a side to please my husband) and then I’ll make extras and freeze them for quick breakfasts during the week.  This mixture is enough to make French Toast from almost 2 packages of cinnamon swirl bread as long as you don’t really soak the slices.  To freeze any leftovers, place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with wax-paper or parchment paper and place in freezer until frozen:
Place the toast on a lined cookie sheet to freeze.

Place the toast on a lined cookie sheet to freeze.

Ready for a quick breakfast!

Ready for a quick breakfast!

 After the toast freezes completely, place in a freezer bag.  I’ve also placed 2 slices at a time in individual Ziploc bags for a really quick grab and go breakfast.  Reheat in toaster until warm.  It usually takes our toaster about 2 cycles…1 on the normal setting, followed by a second cycle on the reheat setting.  Here is my “formal” recipe, ever so slightly adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook:
Frenchtoastrec You could of course, top this French Toast with whatever you like whether it is peanut butter, powdered sugar, or even maple syrup.  I even like it plain.  What is your favorite French Toast topping?

Caring Enough to Make a Chocolate Meringue Pie

I decided to keep things simple today and just share my chocolate meringue pie recipe.  This one is a true family recipe.  It comes straight from my aunt Ruth’s cookbook which is filled with her handwritten recipes.

Aunt Ruth's recipe book.

Aunt Ruth’s recipe book.

Chocolate meringue pie is my husband’s favorite but I don’t make it very often.  I really should make more of an effort to make his favorite dessert–maybe not every week because it is too rich a dessert for that but maybe sometime when it is not a special occasion.  I usually only make this pie for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and sometimes on Valentine’s Day.  I did make the one in these photos for our anniversary in August.  If you master this recipe, you’ll not need another one–just toss those pudding boxes right now.  It does take a bit of finesse to make this pie as the recipe is not exactly written Betty Crocker style but I’ll try to share my secrets as we go.

Chocolate Meringue Pie

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 heaping tablespoons flour

1/3 teaspoon salt

3 egg yolks, beaten (reserve egg whites for meringue)

2 squares unsweetened chocolate

1 1/2 cups boiling water

(You’ll also need a cooked pie shell.  I buy my pie crusts frozen and usually get a deep dish one for most my pies.)

Add sugar, flour, and salt to a saucepan and whisk it together a bit.

Break up any sugar or flour clumps with a whisk.

Break up any sugar or flour clumps with a whisk.

Add boiling water to this mixture and stir until smooth.  I use the whisk for this step but a spoon also works.  Then, over medium to high heat, add the egg yolks and chocolate.

I add my chocolate into the eggs so it's easier to add to the pan.

I add my chocolate into the eggs so it’s easier to add to the pan.

The mixture should look like this:

Doesn't look like chocolate quite yet.

Doesn’t look like chocolate quite yet.

Get comfortable and just keep stirring.  Stir until thick.  That is the official direction in the recipe.  I like to imagine my aunt there guiding me on what that actually means.

It will start to look like this.

It will start to look like this.

Then this.

Then this.

It will come to a nice, rolling boil before it is ready to go into the pie shell.  I also give it what I call the “spoon test” and if it is running off the spoon, it is not ready yet.  When it drops off the spoon, it is ready to go into the pie shell.

Ready for the meringue.

Ready for the meringue.

Here's a look at the pan to get an idea of what the finished filling should look like.

Here’s a look at the pan to get an idea of what the finished filling should look like.

Cover the pie with meringue.  I use this recipe that is handwritten under the pie recipe:   use egg whites for meringue.  Beat until stiff add 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar and 6 tablespoons sugar gradually.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. 

The Kitchen Aid makes meringue easiest

The Kitchen Aid makes meringue easiest

I read somewhere you are supposed to spread it on the edges working toward the middle.

I read somewhere you are supposed to spread it on the edges working toward the middle.

The finished pie will not last very long!

Chocolate Meringue Pie

Chocolate Meringue pie

Note:  you’ll know when you cut into this pie after it cools a bit if you stirred the filling long enough during the cooking part.   If not, it will be a bit runny but still taste good.  Sometimes you’ll get little white bits in the mixture during cooking which can sometimes be avoided by tempering the eggs (add a bit of the hot sugar/water mix to the egg/chocolate mix before you add it to the pan) or perhaps doing a better job of separating the eggs and making sure you are using yolks only.  Of course, if that happens, it is fairly easy to pick the white bits out with a spoon as you are cooking.  Or if you miss them until the end, do not worry as they will not make a difference in the taste of your pie.

What is your favorite kind of pie?

*This post is part of the 31 Days of Putting My Family First Series. 

Triple Berry Yogurt Scones

Triple Berry Yogurt Scone

Triple Berry Yogurt Scone

I guess I just needed the pressure of Christmas to be off for a recipe to turn out right.  I was totally messing around on this recipe and they turned out perfect!  My oldest son even requested I make them again so he could take them to the church lock-in on Friday evening.  What??!  Also, YIKES because this was just me playing around in the kitchen and I have no idea if this would work a second time but I’m going to try.  Also, you know how there is always that one kid that doesn’t like anything?  I think I was that kid and now J is my kid like that.  He didn’t like these.  They would have been okay without the berries.  SIGH.  Anyway, here is my recipe for Triple Berry Yogurt Scones that I adapted from this recipe for Orange Yogurt Scones from Taste of Home (I actually subscribed to the Quick Cooking magazine and had made the exact recipe in the past without a lot of success and have no idea why I decided to try it again).  

I had a couple of Betty Crocker Triple Berry Muffin mix pouches in my pantry as they were on sale as a fridge stocked with AE yogurt cups (my favorite brand for yogurt!).  I had never been a big fan of the orange flavor when I made the scones previously so I thought I would try to  different flavor yogurt.  How about strawberry white chocolate? 

The 2 main ingredients in the scones

The 2 main ingredients in the scones

 

Hmmm….what if I cut that big list of ingredients short by using my muffin mix pouches which just happened to equal about 2 cups?   I cut in the butter and then added the yogurt plus needed 1/4 cup of liquid.  We were out of orange juice but I thought I should add something with a bit of citrus to complement the berries.  What about that tiny amount of leftover lemonade in the pitcher?  Cutting the butter in to the muffin mix went well but after I combined the liquids, it was a bit of a gooey mess.  I ended up adding about a 1/4 cup more flour before kneading my dough on a very generously floured cutting board.  I pressed my circle into 8 inches in a 9 inch cake pan and thought about my gooey mess.  I grabbed another cake pan and sprayed it with cooking spray and then flipped the circle into it.   Baked it at 400 degrees for 15 minutes not really expecting great results but the triple berry yogurt scones were superb!  My original plan was to drizzle them with a bit of white chocolate but G and I both agreed they did not need it.

Here’s the “proper” recipe if you like:

2 pouches of Betty Crocker Triple Berry Muffin Mix

3 tablespoons cold butter

2 tablespoons flour

8 oz (about 1 cup) Anderson Erickson strawberry white chocolate yogurt (If you are using a different brand, the original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of the yogurt)

1/4 cup prepared lemonade (We prefer Country-time)

Plus more flour as needed

Pour muffin mix pouches into mixing bowl and add 2 tablespoons flour.  Cut 3 tablespoons cold butter into muffin/flour mixture.  Add yogurt and lemonade and combine until sticky dough is formed.  Add enough flour to make dough that is easy to handle and turn out on floured board.  Knead 10 times and form into 8 inch circle.  Place dough in well-greased 9 inch cake pan.  Cut into 8 slices with knife but do not separate dough.   Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.   

If desired, lightly glaze with melted white chocolate. 

 

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