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Let’s do brunch!

Jennifer King Ferreira • Apr 10, 2019 at 10:30 AM

Spring is here, and scores of celebrations are looming on the horizon! Easter, Mother’s Day, graduation, proms, weddings — all lending themselves beautifully to brunch! It’s not breakfast. It’s not lunch. It’s a special meal that happens in between the two.

According to Irma Rombauer and “The Joy of Cooking,” brunch originated in the late 19th century in England and traveled across the ocean to America around 1930 to make its debut. The word “brunch” was reportedly first used in print in 1895 by British writer Guy Beringer, who wrote an article titled “Brunch: A Plea.” The article argued that a midday Sunday meal should be lighter than the traditional hearty post-church Sunday supper.

William Grimes wrote in his New York Times article, “At Brunch, The More Bizarre The Better”:  “As is the case with many culinary traditions, the origins are a bit hazy. Some food historians think that the meal has its roots in England’s hunt breakfasts — lavish multi-course meals that featured a smorgasbord of goodies such as chicken livers, eggs, meats, bacon, fresh fruit and sweets. Others believe that Sunday brunch derives from the practice of Catholics fasting before Mass and then sitting down for a large midday meal. And then there are those who look to New York’s abundance of dining spots when it comes to tracing the origins of classic brunch dishes from eggs Benedict to bagels and lox.”

In the 1980s brunch culture hit the celebrity scene in America and dug in its heels. It was here to stay! Hotels and fancy restaurants in big cities tried to top each other with their Sunday brunch menus by offering lavish buffets between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Complimentary mimosas and bloody Marys were often added perks. 

In the South, brunch meant the addition of Southern-inspired dishes such as crab or chicken biscuit Benedict. Cooking show hosts jumped on the band wagon and demonstrated how to prepare an impressive brunch at home. Bobby Flay’s “Brunch at Bobby’s” became a best seller, and hundreds of cookbooks hit the market to help the multi-tasking hostess plan the ultimate brunch. The rivalry continues with restaurants contesting for customers with such exotic offerings as ratatouille with fried eggs and tater tot waffles with smoked salmon. Even the drinks have become fancified — with names such as the “Sunday Slammer” and “Bacon and Egg Martini.”

But let’s get realistic here and forget the tater tot waffles and the ice carvings. We need to keep simple with recipes that can be made ahead to let you enjoy the occasion along with your guests. There is no doubt that brunch with friends and family is a social time. It takes away the worries of the past week and gets you ready for the week to come. Gathering with others over a leisurely weekend midday meal promotes happiness and a sense of well-being. 

The beauty of brunch is that you can use a combination of breakfast and lunch foods and tweak it to suit the occasion. So, with springtime flowers and sunshine making an entrance, now is the perfect season to clean up the porch or patio, get out your good china or some fancy paper plates, and celebrate in your own style. Here are some easy, delicious and beautiful favorites to make your brunch POP!

Spinach, Bacon and Potato Frittata

This is quick and versatile. You can literally use whatever you have in the refrigerator. Sausage, chicken or salmon make good alternative choices for bacon. Want to keep it vegetarian? Load up with other seasonal veggies. This recipe calls for sharp cheddar, but it is also delicious with feta or Gruyere. You be the boss!

3 green onions, diced with tops

2 Tbsp butter

1 cup sharp white cheddar

1 cup of cooked bacon pieces

2 medium-sized parboiled red potatoes, diced into bite-sized pieces with skin on

1 cup of chopped spinach with water squeezed out (if cooking fresh spinach, you will probably have to steam 4 cups to get a cup of cooked)

7 to 8 large eggs

1 cup half and half

½ tsp hot sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Panko bread crumbs

Sauté onion in butter and set aside. Parboil potatoes until almost done. Beat eggs and add cheddar, hot sauce, half and half, salt and pepper, and mix well. Fold in green onions, bacon, cooked potatoes and spinach. Mix well.

Spray or grease a 9- to 10-inch springform pan and coat bottom and sides with Panko bread crumbs.

Bake at 350 degree preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until set. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan. Cut into wedges. Serves 6 to 8.

Springtime Roasted Asparagus with Blender Hollandaise

Now is the time to hit your local farmers market and search for asparagus. If your market is like the one in Abingdon, Va., the early bird gets the worm, so to speak. This is an easy and brunch-worthy side dish for springtime affairs. The color palette offers the greens and yellows of the season.  Also, a perfect companion for chicken or pork dishes. Use the Hollandaise recipe for eggs Benedict and other veggies.

12 Tbsp. unsalted butter (1½ sticks)

4 extra-large egg yolks, room temperature

3 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 pinches cayenne pepper

2 pounds fresh asparagus

Favorite olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Break off tough ends of asparagus. Place the asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, then toss to coat completely.

Spread asparagus in single layer and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes until tender but still crisp.

While asparagus is cooking:

Melt the butter in small sauce pan.

Place egg yolks, lemon juice, 1½ tsp salt, ¾ tsp pepper and cayenne in blender.

Blend 15 seconds. With blender running, slowly pour the hot butter into the blender and blend for 30 seconds, until sauce is thick. Note: it can stay in blender at room temperature for up to one hour. If it is made in advance, add 1 Tbsp hot tap water and blend for a few seconds before serving. I prefer to make this quick Hollandaise just before serving.

Arrange artfully on serving platter.

Pour Hollandaise over the warm asparagus and serve. Garnish with lemon wedges. Serves 6 to 8. For larger crowds, double the recipe.

Honey Poppyseed Dressing

No brunch is complete without fresh fruit. The colors and textures add to the beauty of any brunch plate. Use any seasonal fruits that you wish and finish off with this tasty dressing. Store in a ball jar for weeks of enjoyment.

2/3 cup of sugar

1 tsp dry mustard

1 tsp paprika

½ tsp fine kosher salt

1/3 cup honey

3 Tbsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed

3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 tsp grated sweet onion

1 cup salad oil

1 Tbsp poppy seeds

Makes 2 cups

Mix sugar, dry mustard, paprika and salt in blender. Add honey, lemon juice, vinegar and onion, and blend on high speed for 1 minute. With blender running, slowly pour in oil until smooth and blended.

Remove from blender and stir in poppy seeds. Store in refrigerator in ball jar or sealed container.

Jennifer King Ferreira grew up in Kingsport, where she received her first cooking experiences from her grandmother, Genevieve Shivell. She is the past owner of the Abingdon General Store and Plum Alley Eatery, a gourmet store and restaurant in Abingdon, Va., and is the former director of the Cooking Along the Crooked Road Culinary Program.