hosting a weekend brunch

Saturday morning. The best part of the weekend (in my opinion). A time for hot coffee, mellow music, and something delicious and satisfying for breakfast. During the week, I tend to eat breakfast on the go, so it's a treat to have time on Saturday or Sunday to make a more wholesome, fulfilling dish to kick off the day.

Having people over for brunch is a great way to start the weekend, but you do not want to spend the entire early morning prepping in the kitchen. Hosting brunch is easy and satisfying when you prepare select ingredients ahead of time. Fresh fruit tends to keep well overnight, so a big and colorful fruit salad is a great side dish to prepare ahead. Consider the blend of flavors, colors, and textures of your fruits; the best fruit salad is one that is pleasing to the palate and the eye. I like to use a couple types of berries, at least one type of melon, citrus (think grapefruit or orange), and a bit of orange zest. Zest is an ingredient that is prepared by scraping the outer layer of citrus using a microplane or grater. It is zippy in flavor and very fragrant, and holds the essential oils of the rind. Adding orange zest, a few teaspoons of orange juice, and a teaspoon of sugar to your cut-up fruit can help enhance the natural sweetness.

While most of the egg dishes that are served on brunch menus are difficult to prepare too far in advance, as you want the eggs to be hot and freshly cooked, strata is easy to make and most of the components can be prepared well in advance. Strata is a layered casserole dish, similar in make-up to a quiche or frittata. The base ingredient is bread, whether it be cubes of sourdough or sweet challah or brioche. The bread can be layered with numerous combinations of ingredients, including sausage or ground beef, sauteed vegetables, various cheeses and fresh herbs. This recipe includes ground Italian sausage, white onion, spinach, red bell pepper, and shredded Parmesan and Gruyere cheeses. Each individual strata component can be prepared, chopped, or sauteed ahead of time, as the dish will ultimately be baked before serving.

The creamy mixture that binds the casserole is a blend of milk, cream, eggs, and Dijon mustard. The entire dish cooks in the oven and comes out crispy on top, moist in the middle, and easy to serve family-style to your guests. A wonderful say to start a Saturday with friends!