Food guru Bonnie May takes the pain and strain out of entertaining at home with great ideas for a fun Sunday Brunch that will get guests talking.
When looking for a house it’s location, location, location…an apparently winning formula. If we adopt this ethos for our food and drink, we should be working along the lines of presentation, presentation, presentation!
Go that extra mile and think about how you are going to serve your meal. What dish is it going on, and how are you going to present it in the way it deserves? You have thought about it, bought it and cooked it – so a lot of work has gone in already. A little thought on dressing a very simple dish could ultimately save you time on trying to prepare something more complicated.
The most frequently served meal is with family around the table at home. Plated meals or family service? Well, there are pros and cons to both, but to get everything out, on the table and hot (crucial) I’d go with the family service. If nothing else, it’s easier! Have the table laid with plenty of room down the middle, service spoons at the ready, and place your dressed dishes for everyone to serve themselves. Someone needs to be appointed as ‘Mum’ to serve the main dish, and then let everyone dig in.
Simple dressings or garnishes (can’t tell you why, but I really don’t like that word!) can give culinary efforts a facelift. Timing wise, this is quicker as you only have to think about getting four(ish) dishes out, rather than having to think about the four dishes, and if there are six of you, six plates too! That’s 24 ‘movements’ as they would be called in a professional kitchen, which is a lot for a culinary diva flying solo. You would probably be doing this at speed to keep everything hot; so gently placing, in a uniformed fashion, your treasured garden grown new potatoes, and ribbons of parsnip and carrot is a long shot. They are more likely to be hurled on the plate and ferried to the table without passing go.
For those who fear extending the invitation to friends in a ‘dinner party’ format, use your family as a test pad. Master this main meal service and then package your starter and pud around it. Serve a cold starter and have it ready in the fridge, so all you need to think about is the main course as people arrive.
Then for pud. Time allowing, make one. If not, buy one and add a little va va voom of your own on the top – tell a little white lie and take all the credit.
Getting the timing right is the trickiest part, and often underestimated by many. People place the focus on the recipe rather than how long each component will take to cook. Claims that it’s ‘only a roast’ is a misnomer – that’s a lot of food, all cooked in different ways, to juggle and be ready to serve at the same time.
The Sunday Brunch
Sharing meals with friends and family is great, and we seem to associate this with entertaining in the evening. However, after very recently realising that we ‘owed’ a few people a return invite, we decided to make this a Sunday Brunch.
We were a little surprised that our last minute ‘shout out’ was so well received, to the point of over 25 yeses arriving in my inbox pretty quickly! I had to rapidly change tactics as my ‘little nibble’ concept was becoming impractical. First things first… drinks!
With a few more than originally planned making their way to ours, my fizz on arrival thing maybe wasn’t the best idea. So our ‘Bloody Mary Station’ became the feature of the day. Vodka from the freezer, bottles of Big Tom (the best mixer ever) www. bigtom.co.uk cut lemons and limes, celery sticks, pepper grinder, stacks of rock glasses and a bucket of ice…WINNER!
Our guests could help themselves and top up as required. Stashed in a big tub we had beers with the bottle opener tied with a piece of string to the handle (I can’t tell you how many openers we have managed to get through over the years) and magnums of Rose which looked beautiful rather than the usual offering of Red and White, all iced down in the kitchen sink. Check out Jez at www.morewineplease. co.uk , he is the most helpful chap ever and can talk in terms of matching wine with your menu, fitting in with a budget, or just coming up with lovely options that you might not have the confidence to choose off the shelf.
For the food, I decided to go for more finger food – a whole mixture of bits and pieces. I set the majority out for our friends to help themselves, and then enlisted a few of the younger contingency to help me play host and pass food around.
As well as serving the food, I had my organised head on in thinking about the clear up. So, with a great choice of serviceware that looks the part, but is destined for the bin after one use, it was disposables all the way. Bamboo boats and plates, little sticks and pots. Gone are the days of a flimsy paper plate. Check out www.skewers.co.uk for ideas that don’t compromise the service and style at all.
Make a few things and buy a few things, don’t set yourself up for a fall – don’t be shy to ask for help, a little elf for a few hours and a handful of pocket money will make the task easier and more fun.
So, a Sunday Brunch menu has no boundaries or expectations. You can be adventurous as far as your time and budget can afford, beautiful bacon butties on fresh white bloomers or fish finger sarnies with a dollop of tartare can simply do the trick, add in a great swinging Sunday play list and you are away – or, if a little more time is on hand why not do a ‘pick n mix’?
The easy route
If you fancy a little canapé or standing starter so you can mingle and chat, then here is my ‘cheats no cook canapés’…all made in advance, and can go from ‘chilled in the fridge’ to on the plate in almost two minutes flat.
Rustic raw veg and dips
Apple, blue cheese and parma ham Smoked salmon and cream cheese shells
Ploughman’s skewers Cherry tomato, basil and mozzarella pearl sticks
Rillettes and piccalilli on toast
Sunday Brunch sensations
Sweet potato wedges with chilli lime and sour cream dip Coronation Chicken with pomegranate and coriander …A MUST!
Pork and leek patties in seedy rolls with caramelised onion jam Thai salmon fish cakes with yoghurt and lime
Baked Camembert studded with rosemary and garlic and torn bread (there will be a queue for this)
Surf and turf skewers with a béarnaise dunk
BBQ lamb chop lollipops
The infamous cheese straws
Pasta pesto pots
Feta and chard filo twiddles
Cheeseboard: Look out for soft cheeses on offer, they freeze brilliantly and no one will know. I do this all the time; when in France find the best buys, bring them home and keep (well hide, actually) until the right occasion. Also check out www.pongcheese. co.uk – a cheese order online delivery service, great for home or a fab pressie for the ‘person who has everything’.
The little extras
A few little jovial gestures will top the day, www.amazon.co.uk have the most outrageous and fun napkins, check out NOKI lapkins to cause some giggles, and fake money napkins are always a winner.
Funny drinks mats from www.zazzle. co.uk and ‘pick your nose’ cups from www.lazyboneuk.com are hilarious! Harvey Nichols have the best ‘famous foodie postcards’ ever which I use as little menu cards. Lionel Rich Tea, Jonny Dip, Bread Pitt to name a few,
The atmosphere is the bit you can’t buy or organise. All the ‘what ifs’ invade my thoughts just before the doorbell goes for the first time. Well, nine times out of 10 this will be driven by you. Are you ready? Are you organised? Are you even dressed and is your hair done (call Cienté, www. ciente.co.uk, who are open on a Sunday).
Finally, are you in the mood? Because if not, everyone will feel it, no matter how much of a face you think you can put on, it ain’t gonna work! Yes, you are the host; yes, your other half could have done 10 times more, but if there is one ounce of reticence everyone will know… give yourself time to get ready, look fab and take all the credit!
Buy, buy, buy! You just need to do a good creative cover up job! These are fab:
Halved apricots with vanilla crème fraîche and blackberries
Lemon tart slices
Raspberries and cream
Old fashioned sweets
Fancy chocolate blocks
Jam jar puds….pick a jar and fill with, fruit salad, jelly and ice cream, choc mousse, banoffee pie, jumble berries and cream. The more random the collection the better!
The ‘piece de resistance’…Wagon Wheels, Club biscuits, Tunnocks tea cakes, and Penguins. This will set the conversations spinning out of all control – lunch box memories and bygone thoughts will have a corner of retro enthusiasts in giggles.