The Dinner Party Alternative: Brunch

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[Editor’s note: Molly Irwin did a fantastic job as our first dining-specific intern, and this is her last blog post on dinner parties. Thanks, Molly! And by the way, if you’re a student currently enrolled in school and looking for an dining-focused editorial internship, check out the application procedure: www.atlantamagazine.com/internships/editorial.aspx—B.A.]

I hope you don’t mind me making a little detour from dinner parties for my final post, but I have to pay homage to my other favorite way to gather friends around a table: brunch. There is something about this meal that seems satisfyingly self-indulgent. Perhaps it’s the endless combinations of savory and sweet foods, or maybe it’s just the excitement of not having to eat another bowl of cold cereal. In culinary school, we spent two full weeks learning about eggs. Some complained about the onslaught of frittatas, strata, soufflés, crepes and hollandaise sauce. I, on the other hand, relished the ten full days of brunch food.

I’ve made the rounds of brunch hot spots in Atlanta, but whenever I spend $12 on a simple eggs benedict, I can’t help but think about how easy and inexpensive it is to do it at home. You only need a few things to put a good brunch together—an egg dish, something sweet, fresh fruit, and some refreshing mimosas.

When hosting, try to stay away from individual breakfast items or you’ll feel like a short-order cook as you churn out pancakes, waffles and made-to-order omelets. That being said, branch out from traditional breakfast casseroles. Make up a grits bar and set out a creamy pot of grits with individual bowls of toppings such as chopped scallions, grated cheeses, bacon, sautéed shrimp, spinach, or tomatoes. Or, try one of the following recipes, which introduce some new ideas and flavors into the typical brunch repertoire. The truffled egg toast (a dish I first experienced years ago in a tiny Italian trattoria in Greenwich Village) is my personal brunch obsession.

Poached eggs and parmesan over toasted brioche with pistou

Ingredients
1/3 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/2 small garlic clove
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
¼ lb parmesan (preferably parmigiano reggiano), shaved into thin slices
4 1/2-inch thick slices of brioche or egg bread, toasted

Instructions
Puree basil, garlic, and oil in a mini processor until very smooth. Season pistou to taste with salt and pepper.

Add enough water to medium skillet to measure 1 ¼ inches. Sprinkle salt generously into water. Bring water to simmer over medium heat. Crack eggs one at a time and gently slip into water. Cook until egg whites are just set and egg yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes. Place hot toast on plates. Top each with fresh Parmesan shavings and using slotted spoon, transfer eggs, well drained, to each piece of brioche. Sprinkle eggs with salt and pepper and drizzle with pistou. Serves 4.

Truffled egg toast
Recipe courtesy of Simple Italian Sandwiches: Recipes from America’s Favorite Panini Bar
The runny yolks of the eggs serve as a rich sauce for the bread, cheese, and asparagus. Buy an unsliced loaf of bread and cut thick slices to serve alongside. The bread should be substantial enough to hold up to the weight of the eggs and cheese.

Ingredients
12 asparagus spears, woody stems removed
4 slices of bread, 1 inch thick
8 thin slices of Fontina cheese (about 6 ounces)
8 large eggs
3 tablespoons truffle-infused oil
1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions
Grill asparagus spears for two to three minutes until they appear roasted, but are still crunchy. Transfer to a cutting board and slice thinly on the diagonal. Set aside.

Lightly toast slices of bread in a 350 degree oven for 8 or so minutes. After toasted, use a serrated knife to score a 2-inch square in the center of the toasts. Use the handle of the knife to tamp the squares down, creating indentations to contain the eggs. Cut each Fontina slice into 4 wide strips and form a border around the flattened centers of the bread (there should be no cheese overhang). Crack and separate each egg, sliding 2 yolks into the center of each slice of bread (the whites can be discarded).

Return the baking sheet to the oven and toast until the cheese has melted and begins to bubble, about 3 minutes. (For those who fear an undercooked egg, cook the toasts for an additional 2 minutes until the yolks have set.)

Transfer the toasts to small serving plates, stir the yolks lightly with the tip of the knife (they should be runny), and garnish with asparagus slices. Drizzle a generous amount of truffle oil over each and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Grand Marnier-scented baked french toast
Ingredients
1 loaf Challah bread, in 1 inch slices
3 cups whole milk
4 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Instructions
Generously grease a 9×13 inch baking dish with butter. Arrange one layer of sliced bread and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Make another layer of sliced bread. If necessary, fill in any gaps with smaller pieces of bread. Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and orange liqueur and pour over the bread.

Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refigerate overnight to allow the bread to absorb all of the milk custard.

Bake at 425° for 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Cut into generous squares and serve with maple syrup, fresh fruit, powdered sugar, or all of the above.

Fresh fruit salad with honey-lime dressing

Ingredients
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
pinch nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh lime zest
1 quart fresh fruit of your choice (sliced strawberries, grapes, fresh pineapple sliced into bite-sized chunks, bananas, and melon balls are all good with this dressing)

Instructions
Combine honey, lime juice, nutmeg and lime zest and toss with fresh fruit before serving. Garnish with fresh mint if desired.

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