Remember the way you entertained as newlyweds? Precise, complicated recipes; everything served on that brand-spanking-new china, crystal and silver you’d never dare put in the dishwasher; and all the time in the world to make everything happen beautifully. Even quiet meals at home were languorous affairs, my husband and I spending Sunday nights drinking wine and tending to a long-simmering bolognese or stirring a high-maintenance risotto.
Then we had kids, and our free time shrunk to a rare and very small window occurring when both children are asleep and we have the energy to do anything. Forget elegant dinner parties past; now dinner for a crowd means whipping up a green salad to accompany the pizza I just ordered.
Brunch, however, exists in an entertaining sweet spot for young families: many of the provisions can be made ahead of time or purchased; brunch foods are extremely kid-friendly (even the pickest little jerk likes bacon and pancakes); and brunch occurs early enough in the day that your kids can’t thoroughly trash the house before guests arrive. Scaling quantities for a large crowd is easy (just buy extra scones and toss more eggs into the frittata) and serving buffet-style is totally appropriate.
Our family hosted a brunch at our home this past weekend for 16 dear friends and 10 of their children (that’s 26 people, math wizards) and it wasn’t nearly as disastrous as it sounds. Here’s why:
Embrace the High-Low Trend (on Your Dining Table). Using my stunning Bernardaud china makes me soooo happy, but unless there’s staff working the party (ha!), using anything other than paper plates would be insane. (The evening time after my kids go to bed is for finishing up work and having a drink with my husband, not hand-washing a mountain of dishes.) Serving on pretty platters makes me less depressed about the fact that disposable dinnerware is on my buffet.
Set the Scene. Laying out table linens and rearranging furniture is pleasant when you have the time and a hot mess when you’re scrambling, so putting everything in order the night prior is the only way to go. (And if you’re a wee bit OCD like I am, your partner would probably prefer if you decide the precise angle of each platter and champagne flute yourself.)
Surrender to the Make-Ahead Meal. While the perfect soft scramble or swedish pancakes might be your specialty, cooking those kinds of a la minute items just isn’t practical. Smitten Kitchen did a great post about make-ahead brunch dishes, which is where I found the recipe for this very well-received spinach & gruyere strata. For a large group, prepare several stratas and serve alongside a huge platter of bacon and breakfast sausage (prosciutto would also be a brilliant no-cook option), heaping bowls of berries (washed the night before), and tiered platters of croissants with a selection of your favorite preserves (extra bonus points for whipping some out of the pantry that you canned yourself).
And about that pastry: it’s a pipe dream to think you’re running out for morning-of freshies. That once-“quick” run is now 45 minutes minimum of dawdling, intermittent crying and carseat lugging, only to drop the box of delicate kouign amann while fumbling for keys in the diaper bag. If the party is small enough, be a bad-ass and freeze some homemade scone dough; but for a large group, frozen, bake-your-own croissants (like the ones from Trader Joe’s) are as delicious and hassle-free as it gets.
Delegate. I’m usually a little nutty about controlling every variable on my menu, but with a big crowd and limited free time, you’ve got to accept the help. My sister picked up coffee (french press for 16 was too agro even for a coffee snob like me), a friend brought some lovely pastries, and everyone brought mimosa supplies. (No such thing as too many of those.)
RELAX. Grab a mimosa and remember that it’s a party. No one is there to assess your culinary acumen or to inspect the cleanliness of your home. And don’t forget to grab your camera and capture some sweet memories. This really is the good stuff.