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To brunch and beyond

A sweet and savory anytime meal that lets you set the rules.

By Stephanie Cook BroadhurstCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 17, 2008

Corbis Royalty Free/Corbis/Newscom


As the warmth of summer lingers, Main Street cafes continue to draw lines for that weekend meal favored by the sleep-in-late crowd: brunch. A mixture of breakfast and lunch, sweet and savory, brunch serves up something for everyone. Enjoy fruit salad, crepes, sliced roast beef, or simply opt for bacon and eggs. There are no menu rules, say chefs, but whatever you choose, use brunch as an opportunity to indulge a little.

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"It just deserves a medal," says chef Curtis Stone of The Learning Channel's "Take Home Chef." "It just gives you complete flexibility as a chef. You can serve it between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. It gives you the opportunity of doing a lot of sweet stuff and also savory."

When Mr. Stone makes brunch, he'll whip up anything from baked prosciutto cups filled with poached eggs to grilled portobello mushroom caps topped with fresh basil and ricotta cheese. Even a simple plate of steamed asparagus with browned butter and a fried egg will do, he says. "You can start out with something savory and end with the blueberry pancakes or waffles or cinnamon French toast."

Stone likes to experiment with brunch because he says it's about "breaking the rules of tradition, and approaching it as a meal to entertain at, as opposed to something to just start the day with."

Whether it's a special occasion or just an excuse to whip up waffles, brunch usually involves a little splurge, says Kevin Donoghue, manager of Walker Bros. Original Pancake House in Wilmette, Ill. Every weekend, people line up around the corner for a table in this restaurant locally famous for its apple pancakes and stained-glass windows. "Brunch is special," he says. "Someone having brunch may think along the lines of eggs Benedict or an apple pancake, something that they would not normally eat."

Though people often associate brunch more with breakfast, lunch fare is perfectly acceptable – there's no right or wrong approach, says Georgeanne Brennan, author of "Brunch: Recipes for Cozy Weekend Mornings." "If I'm hosting a brunch, it tends to lean more toward the lunch side, with a nod to breakfast. If my son and his wife do it, it's more of a breakfast."

Ms. Brennan points to eggs as a versatile option for hosts. "You can make frittatas and quiches and things that bring in sausages, or you can use smoked salmon," she says. "You can make omelets, and people can put in whatever they want."

Stone says he's perfected his approach to making scrambled eggs by using a lot of heavy cream – as high as a 40-to-60 cream-egg ratio. He suggests cooking eggs over medium heat and slowly stirring them until they are like "big fluffy clouds." From there, he says, you can add bacon, chives, smoked salmon, or whatever you'd like. When fixing eggs, it's better to undercook than overcook them, he says.

For summer, one of Brennan's favorite dishes is a frittata made with fresh cherry tomatoes, basil, sautéed bell peppers, onions, and other vegetables. She mixes in goat or Gruyère cheese. On the sweet side, she says a fresh-baked coffee cake is a delicious fail-safe (see recipe).

When making waffles or pancakes, Brennan separates the eggs and beats the whites before folding them into the batter. It yields a lighter texture, she says. "It's one extra step, but it works."