Guide me to brunchy success!
April 22, 2012 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Help me plan my first brunch ever, to celebrate my birthday! All I know is I want to make macarons. I also have never hosted any kind of party and don't know how to entertain.

I would like to have 7-9 girlfriends over for my birthday next Saturday. I will be sending the invitations out tomorrow morning. I would like to have some light sweets (I'll be making raspberry macarons with lemon ganache, and matcha ice cream- that's all I'm certain of at this point). Oh, I will be decorating with flowers, too.

:D so...

What easy savories do you recommend? Is alcohol usual at brunches? Like champagne, or fruity wine? Or maybe iced tea? I could put little flowers in the ice cubes.

How can I ensure my friends have a good time? Some are from work some from the neighborhood, most of them from different countries. Should I just let the conversation flow? Should I prepare games? That feels silly somehow. Should I play a cute movie like breakfast at tiffany's in the background?

What kind of music do you recommend for a spring birthday brunch?

Any other ideas, or something I'm missing?
posted by ADent to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Mimosas are prefect for brunch! Champagne and pulpfree oj- that's it! That's usually the extent of alcohol at brunch, at least in my experiences, maybe bloody marys as well.

Things like mini quiches or cheese stick swivel things are great savory brunch eats. You could also do somethings like a frittata or pigs in a blanket (but that's mostly because I love pigs in a blanket, not that everyone has them at brunches).

A fruit salad is also nice along with a few sweet things.

Have a wonderful birthday!
posted by raccoon409 at 5:25 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

If anybody wants the macaron recipe, here it is (in french). I'm making the pink ones.
posted by ADent at 5:27 PM on April 22, 2012

If you get frozen scallops wrapped in bacon, those are great for brunch, as the sweet scallops and the bacon go well with sweeter fare for brunches.

A nice basket of rolls/breads is a good brunch idea.

Also, Croque Madame is a brunch option, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a bechamel sauce and a fried egg on top. It's both lunchy and breakfasty, so...brunchy!
posted by xingcat at 5:32 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Make (or buy) something eggy that can be done ahead of time, then just bake, so you're not rushing and fussing last minute. I love strata, and there are a zillion recipes online for it. Don't stress too much, as you want to enjoy your hostessing, and do more!

A bunch of fresh flowers, some not-intrusive music, mimosas and food, you'll be fine. Happy Birthday!
posted by cyndigo at 5:33 PM on April 22, 2012

Fruit salad or fruit tray

quiche or egg casserole

baked brie with preserves or honey, baguette slices

Yes to alcohol. You could do mimosas.

Serve a pitcher of orange juice, fresh coffee, iced tea, water. You might like Ina Garten's California Iced Tea or Arnold Palmer's.
posted by Fairchild at 5:35 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Happy birthday! I had a brunch on my birthday this year, too!

One very easy savory is a quiche. I make this spinach quiche, and serve it with slices of ham or bacon, and some biscuits or toast. I also like this hash recipe.

As for alcohol, may I recommend a Bloody Mary bar? When I had my brunch, I put together a Bloody Mary bar that was a huge success.

First, get a good vodka. There are some top shelf vodka producers like Tito’s Handmade (Texas) and 13th Colony (Georgia). If you have time, you can also kick things up a notch by infusing your vodka. Lemons and limes add a citrus-y kick while fresh jalapenos lend heat. In general, most infusions take less than a week for the flavors to develop, although more creative blends (such as bacon-infused vodka) will take more time. In a pinch, you can buy vodka already infused--Mags recommends Absolut's Pepper vodka.

Of course, you want a good quality tomato juice, since this is the base for your Bloody Mary. I like V-8, for its fuller flavor. V-8 also offers a hot and spicy version, for people who really want heat in their Bloody Marys. And many folks like some orange juice and bitters mixed in.

Other things to consider having at your Bloody Mary bar:
Worcestershire Sauce
Red wine vinegar
Dijon mustard
Celery salt (can also be used to rim the glass)
Black pepper (some people like to rim the glass with a mix of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper)
Garlic powder
Clamato (for "Clammy Mary")
Old Bay Seasoning (something else to rim the glasses with)
Pickled asparagus
Pickled okra
Pickled green beans
Pickled baby carrots
Boiled shrimp (for garnishing a "Clammy Mary")
Celery stalks
Lime and lemon wedges
Olives, a variety of stuffed and pitted
Bacon (strips, or crumbled)
Beef jerky or pepperroni sticks

Really, you can get as simple or elaborate as you like. For a simple Bloody Mary bar, just have on hand some chilled vodka, a good pre-mixed Bloody Mary mix (also chilled), and three or four add-ins (such as tabasco sauce, lemon wedges, celery stalks, and beef jerky). Your guests will have a great time. Don't forget plenty of ice!
posted by magstheaxe at 5:36 PM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Where are you located in the world? Because if you don't cook, the go-to no-cook brunch of ease is in many places is fruit salad, bagels, cream cheese, salmon and if you're feeling adventurous, scrambled eggs or a fritata. You can substitute thin sliced tomato for the salmon if you prefer. Otherwise, you can go to a bakery in the morning and do pastries and fruit salad, which is also lovely. A more lunchy brunch option is hoummus, olives, pita, roasted red peppers, and various cheeses. All of these make lovely, friendly, enjoyable and casual group meals.

With a small group I would not do a film in the background because everyone will just end up watching it. Champagne or presecco is a nice touch!
posted by DarlingBri at 5:36 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Because you are already making something (from scratch), as well as shopping, cleaning (presumably), arranging flowers, and setting up, I would recommend that you use prepared foods for the rest of the meal. How about buying a dozen or so bagels, cream cheese (maybe a couple of different flavors), and fresh fruit? I think almost everyone likes those things and there is very minimal prep to set them up. (Well, cutting up fruit could be a little bit of a drag, but you could spend a little extra and buy it already cut up at, like, Whole Foods or something.) And yes, champagned, prosecco, or another sparkly wine is great, especially mixed with juice.

But mostly, because you're new at entertaining, I would try to keep things to a minimum so you can relax and have fun at your own party. Happy birthday, and have a blast!
posted by primate moon at 5:37 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If your brunch is more lunch I love Jamie Oliver's Perfect Pasta Salad. It's "girly" food and delicious.

More "lunch" ideas: chicken salad on croissants, fruit salad, mini homemade muffins.
posted by Fairchild at 5:39 PM on April 22, 2012

If it's not too pricey, you might arrange a platter of smoked salmon, toast points, and various toppings (capers, diced onions, chopped hard boiled egg, creme fraiche). I love birthday brunches; have a great time!
posted by lalex at 5:40 PM on April 22, 2012

I should add: my quiche recipe freezes well. I make it ahead, freeze it, and then reheat it in the oven (300 degrees for about 10-20 minutes).
posted by magstheaxe at 5:41 PM on April 22, 2012

Oh wow thank you for the recommendations! and the birthday wishes! I'm so excited!

I was considering moving it to my patio, but it looks like it will be 54-64F, is this too cold to have it outside?
posted by ADent at 5:41 PM on April 22, 2012

I was considering moving it to my patio, but it looks like it will be 54-64F, is this too cold to have it outside?

That would be chilly for me. If you do this, make sure the seats people are on have some sort of padding, and that they can go inside if they want to. Also, a big basket of lap blankets would be helpful.
posted by xingcat at 5:46 PM on April 22, 2012

The advice you have above is great.

I'm sure you've already thought of this, but definitely brew a pot of coffee and make sure you have milk and sweetener on hand. It's nice for guests to have the option of tea as well.

If you have the extra time, you could create a playlist - not music to crank up but music to set the mood and play in the background. If you don't have time to create a playlist, a pandora station should do the trick.
posted by bunderful at 6:02 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

pancake skewer? Maybe sprinkle some powdered sugar on top for more color contrast? Or make some with raspberries?
posted by at 6:04 PM on April 22, 2012

Happy birthday! This sounds like so much fun. Every time I've held a brunch, I manage to forget to check if I have milk or sugar on hand. I take my coffee and tea black, but most people don't.

No need for games or distractions - if you're old enough to work, your friends are old enough to mingle. They'll do fine.

Make sure to have something substantial enough for a meal; I've been to enough meal-timeish baby or wedding showers where the food is simply not enough. In fact, a ladies' brunch is one of the best times to go really luxe and supply a bagel bar (bagels, cream cheese, lox, capers, onion, hard-boiled egg, maybe sausage?) or a heart egg/spinach/bread quiche. At the same time, keep it easy. I find that I can control one finicky dish, and everything else needs to be pre-prepared or bought. Especially for your first party, you might be more comfortable taking that tack.

If anyone offers to bring something, accept their offer. People like to feel useful, and it's never bad to have more food than you need. I try to alternate suggestions for food or drink, just so that I have both covered (so, to the first person who calls, I'll say, "Bring some champagne!" and to the second, "Hey, cinnamon rolls would be great!") Plus, this gets people invested in the party.

The moment that planning for this becomes not fun, call your best friend and say, "Hey, best friend, could you take over some of this? I'd love you forever." They will, and you will, and you'll both be happier for it. You don't want to work yourself into a tizzy over this.

Have fun!
posted by punchtothehead at 6:07 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recently held a brunch for Easter. This was my menu:

Creme Brulee French Toast (like a casserole)- HUGE HUGE hit. Came off a bit like bread pudding.
Quiche Lorraine (easy tart crust recipe from David Lebovitz used for crust)
Summer Vegetable Frittata- Used this for vegetarians and gluten-free guests
Croissaints- mini ones from Trader Joes
Fruit salad with mint
Coffee and Tea
(I also had a candy bar since it was Easter)

In terms of entertaining tips, definitely make as much as you can in advance so you can spend time with your guests. I made everything except the frittata the night before and just reheated them before guests arrived. This can sometimes be tricky because you want the food to be hot. Also, I agree with getting a nice playlist together.

Good luck and Happy Birthday!
posted by superfille at 6:19 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have never made macarons before, I suggest doing a test batch several days before the brunch. They can be quite finicky and I'd hate for you to have a ruined batch the day of your event.
posted by chara at 6:22 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

All great advice! nth-ing making sure you have tea, coffee and related accessories on hand, unless you are *absolutely* sure your friends don't drink it. Diehard coffee drinkers regard coffee with brunch as sacrosanct and will leave your party to get some and bring back, to satisfy their craving... err, ok, maybe that's just me. :)

Having some cranberry juice on hand allows you to make poinsettas (cran + champagne/sparkling wine), in addition to mimosas.

Definitely queue up some good music. I don't think you need games, but you could check out tabletopics-type cards if you don't find them too cheesy, and are looking for something game-like to support mingling and conversation. I brought a set to a mellow bachelorette party/cabin getaway, and people were even just entertained looking through the deck.

Have fun, and early happy birthday!
posted by NikitaNikita at 6:23 PM on April 22, 2012

Two brunch classics I adore but haven't seen mentioned here: Crepes and tea sandwiches! You could easily make savory crepes with things like artichoke hearts and goat cheese (or have a mini crepe bar where people can stuff their crepes with savory or sweet fillings). Also, tea sandwiches are dead easy, very cute, and quaint/ladylike to go along with those macarons. I like to mix cream cheese, shredded-up carrots, and a ton of ginger. Spread between bread with no crusts and cut into cute little shapes with a cookie cutter.
posted by mynameisluka at 7:01 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mini-spanakopita can be bought in the freezer section; they cook up nicely as another easy finger-food vegetarian option.

I'll second fruit salad as a good catch-all healthy, vegan, gluten-free, etc option.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:06 PM on April 22, 2012

Consider making an overnight egg casserole - the less actual cooking you have to do on party day, the better.
posted by lakeroon at 7:06 PM on April 22, 2012

I think your party sounds lovely, and I'm sure everyone will enjoy sitting and gabbing (as long as there is coffee). :)

I strongly discourage you from adding crepes to your meu - they are delicious but finicky and time consuming to make and really need someone dedicated to them throughout the cooking process while you will want to be enjoying your guests.

Try to think through (write down) everything you want to do and plot out when you're going to do it between now and when your guests arrive Saturday morning. If you work Monday - Friday, don't plan to both clean & bake on Friday evening.

I definitely share the "buy entree food" suggestion, or make something that doesn't need lots of attention, like a casserole or frittata. You can freeze leftover bagels, salmon & cream cheese. Lemon, dill & capers will help the salmon look fancy.

Make sure you have enough glasses, coffee cups, plates, cutlery & napkins for everyone.

I would serve buffet style on my dining table or kitchen counter.

If you don't have time to make a playlist (I never do), find a cheerful Internet radio station that can play quietly in the background. Maybe search for Edith Piaf if you're feeling French?

Remember that it won't necessarily be as perfect as it is in your mind's eye, but your I ends are there for you and spending time together is what's important.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 7:22 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

This sounds awesome! Ditto on making the macarons ahead of time - I'm a decent baker, and I found them to be very difficult. Stressing out about a dish last minute is the worst.
posted by citizenface at 7:50 PM on April 22, 2012

Happy birthday!

Really fresh crudités are always fun.

Fresh raspberries solo always appeal to me more than a fruit salad, personally. Dates are also wonderful.

A delicious break from hummus as a dip is muhammara.

I love fresh radishes, and they always look pretty sitting in a bowl with a little water.

If you live near any place that will sell you two dozen mixed mini empanadas, do that.
posted by jann at 8:14 PM on April 22, 2012

Another point if you have never hosted:
Think about traffic flow as you're planning where to put tables and refreshments in your space. It's best if you can allow "circular" flow at many points, so that if a person wants to go to the drinks area, but one route is blocked by a group of people chatting, she has an alternate route available.

If you're not all sitting at one table, it's nice to group seating in several distinct areas, each near to one refreshment, and each with two access routes. So you might put the macarons and veggies+dip on one table, put the mini-quiches and fruit salad at a second table in another room, and put the drinks at a third table in a third room. (Or whatever works for your actual menu and floor plan.) This allows space for smaller conversational groupings, and gives people a good reason to go to the next room, which is a good lubricant for mingling.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:26 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

64F is too cold for eating outside, yes!

Are you planning to do a seated brunch or a buffet brunch? Either way, you can lay everything out on the table in advance. I like to stack the plates, stack the napkins, and put the cutlery in a jar, basically like this. Other people do it differently; you sort of develop a house style.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:54 PM on April 22, 2012

Good macarons are hard to make! You have to follow the steps precisely and neither rush or go slowly. Don't draw outside the lines! Even the relative humidity and temperature of your kitchen can make or break a batch. Start practicing some batches now.
posted by zardoz at 12:27 AM on April 23, 2012

I was going to say the same thing as zardoz. If you've never made them before you're in for a long hard recipe. Quality ingredients and skilled technique are essential to have them turn out the same way as they do down at the good bakery. You might want to have a backup plan in place just in case they don't work out....or double the Champagne budget so no one notices.

Oh, and happy birthday.
posted by mmascolino at 6:03 AM on April 23, 2012

Regarding the macaron, I agree with mmascolino: it would be a good idea to have a backup sweet (perhaps storebought or Trader Joe's frozen macaron) in case they don't work out. Macaron are on the challenging end of the homemade pastry spectrum. There is a reason why even very good home cooks buy them from professional bakeries. That said, there's no reason not to go for it anyway, especially as you seem so excited about them! Just consider having a backup plan.

Our usual brunch menu is:
- hearty egg dish (typically a strata -- a savory bread pudding like this one) prepped in advance and just put in the oven day of,
- fruit salad with mint (muddle the mint into a little bit of sugar, as if you were making a mojito, and prep an hour or two in advance so the mint flavors the whole salad)
- homemade breakfast pastry (e.g., scones, muffins, coffeecake, cinnamon rolls) either made in advance or easily made morning of,
- mimosas (which allows the non-drinkers to have just OJ) (purchased and organized in advance)
- and coffee (purchased in advance).

We usually discourage people from bringing things as it disrupts the balance, but if they insist, we'll ask for a bottle of champagne or prosecco or some fruit.

Good luck!
posted by Nx at 6:46 AM on April 23, 2012

I had a birthday brunch a year and a bit ago and made a lot of party-style twists on traditional breakfast food, like
-Mini eggs rancheros (scrambled egg with tomatoes, peppers, chilli and coriander, served on corn chips)
-Mini bacon sandwiches (bacon sandwiches, only cut really small)
-Mini fried eggs (fried quails' eggs on little rounds of toast)
-Small pancakes, freshly made
-Homebaked rolls and butter

I also prepared Heston Blumenthal's dish of egg and bacon ice cream, with Earl Grey jelly and tomato jam. The guests were... divided on its tastiness, but it was fun to make.
posted by Acheman at 8:22 AM on April 23, 2012

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