Appreciating the beauty of sumptuous, all-afternoon brunches

Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2003

When I was growing up, breakfast was never a big meal in my family. A bowl of cereal or a couple of pieces of toast were enough to get us out the door each morning. That all changed when I met my partner six years ago. In his family, hot breakfasts were a regular weekday fixture, and weekends and holidays were opportunities for morning indulgence. These meals were not just substitutes for breakfast, but decadent all-afternoon feasts prepared and enjoyed by multiple generations. This was a tradition we decided to keep alive.

Ben Bohen is a local chef and food writer.

A celebratory brunch should be something more than a substitute for breakfast or lunch. It should be a meal that marks an occasion, and an opportunity for the cook to work with the foods and flavors that are associated with breakfast in ways that will satisfy the mid-day palate.

To create a memorable brunch that is tasty, fun and practical, consider the following:

Timing. Make sure to give yourself enough time to prepare before your guests arrive. You should also be rested enough to enjoy the meal and the gathering. Allow your guests the time to enjoy their weekend morning as they see fit rather than having to be somewhere on time. In short, don't start your brunch too early - I recommend noon, or 11a.m. at the earliest.

The menu. There are two things to keep in mind here. The first is flavor. A good brunch should include foods that are quintessentially associated with breakfast, when the interplay of dishes with obvious impulses - salty, sweet, juicy, rich - simultaneously awakens and soothes. To achieve this fulfilling balance, I like to serve a number of courses, each of which includes ingredients that are familiar morning companions. Perhaps a fruit salad or sorbet, followed by eggs benedict or quiche lorraine, and topped off with crepes filled with chocolate, caramel or jam.

Ensuring your own relaxing morning requires planning a menu that includes at least some dishes that can be prepared ahead of time. It is also a good idea to get all of your shopping, cleaning, and table setting done the day before your brunch. You can even measure out ingredients the night before you have to do your last minute cooking.

Beverages. Everyone has their own favorite breakfast drink, so it is advisable to have a free flowing variety of offerings such as fruit juices, coffee, tea and hot chocolate. Mimosas or Bloody Marys add festive accents while inviting the leisurely lingering that might otherwise be chased off by caffeine or sugar.

The recipe given here strikes several essential brunch cords - it is rich and eggy with a bit of contrasting spice. If you prepare the artichokes and refrigerate them in a sealed container over night it will take less than half an hour to make.

Baked eggs on artichokes with genoa salami and cayenne cream

4 large artichokes

4 eggs

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup heavy cream

fresh lemon juice to taste

cayenne pepper to taste

2 teaspoons vodka

4 slices Genoa salami, slivered

1. Remove the stems from the artichokes so that they can sit straight up on their own.

Place them in a pot and add one inch of water. Simmer, covered approximately 45 minutes, testing to make sure that the artichokes are tender. Drain and cool the artichokes.

2. Once the artichokes are cool enough to handle, remove the leaves and chokes.

Scoop out a bit of flesh to form a cup for the egg to rest in later. This is done most easily using a melon baller.

3. Place the artichoke bottoms on a lightly greased baking sheet. Break an egg into each bottom and top them with the parmesan cheese, parsley and salt and pepper.

4. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until the eggs are set. This will take 10-15 minutes if you like your yolks runny, slightly longer if you prefer them cooked through.

5. While the eggs are baking, whip the cream until it holds firm peaks.

Add the lemon juice, cayenne pepper and vodka, and whip until stiff. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

6. Plate the artichoke bottoms as soon as the eggs are done. Top with dollops of the cayenne cream and the slivered salami and serve.

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