This past weekend we had our Second Annual Christmas Everything Weekend, where a group of our dear friends got together and wore Christmas sweaters, exchanged Christmas presents, drank Christmas drinks, and watched Christmas movies. I mean, Christmas everything!
I love to host, but over the years I have learned that no matter how far in advance you plan, it’s really easy to get caught up in the stress of cleaning and preparing and wanting everything to go perfectly. I’ve come up with a list of tips that have really helped me have a stress-free gathering.
By following the tips below, the morning of our brunch I only had to actually make one dish from scratch since so much of it had been prepped the night before, allowing me more time to visit with friends!!
1. Find recipes that can be prepped the night before. When it comes to brunches, the list of casseroles, stratas, and french toast bakes are limitless. The internet is full of recipes that can easily be prepped the night before, customized to fit your guest’s preferences (some of our guests didn’t eat pork, so we easily replaced pork breakfast sausage with turkey), refrigerated overnight, then popped in the oven in the morning.
2. Make recipes that can feed a crowd. While I’ll admit that mini pancake skewers and mini chicken and waffle bites look beautiful on any table, these are time consuming recipes that would require quite a bit of time away from your guests. Opt for dishes that can be prepared in a large dish and allows people to serve as much or as little as they want.
3. Find a balance between carbs, meat, and greens. It’s easy to get caught up in “hearty” dishes when planning a spread, and many potluck dishes are carb or meat heavy. When planning a spread, I try to always add a fruit salad or vegetable tray, simple greens, and a vegetarian dish.
3. Make the cocktails ahead of time, or offer simple drinks. Because in the heat of the moment things don’t always go according to plan, any step that will save you time is a must. Whether it’s making a bloody mary mix the night before, having all your ingredients out on the counter, throwing ingredients for mulled wine in a crockpot, or just choosing to make a simple concoction like juice + champagne for mimosas, there are so many ways to simplify this process!
4. Set the table the night before. For me, this is HUGE. I always take out my serving platters the night before and set the table exactly how I want, including silverware, napkins, serving spoons, and cups/glasses. When you’ve got everything laid out, it saves you time by not having to locate certain platters or shuffle things around at the last minute.
5. No matter what, have fun! There’s always a chance that things will go wrong. Something may not come out just right, your guests may be early or late, or you may have forgotten that one dish you had wanted to make. Chances are your guests won’t even notice, so if things don’t go as planned, brush it off, remember the reason why you’re getting together in the first place, and have fun!
- 1 pound croissants (about 5 to 7), split in half lengthwise
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, more for baking dish
- 1 bunch scallions (6 to 7), white and light green parts thinly sliced, greens reserved
- 1 lb turkey breakfast sausage
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
- 8 large eggs
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 8 ounces Gruyère, grated (2 cups)
- 1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread croissants on a large baking sheet and toast, cut side up, until golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes (watch carefully to see that they do not burn). Let cool, then tear into large bite-size pieces. (Sometimes I like to the lay the torn pieces out on the tray for a few hours to allow them to get really stale to absorb all that milky/cheesy goodness!)
- In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add sliced scallions and sausage meat; cook, breaking up meat with a fork, until mixture is well browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in sage, and remove from heat.
- In a large bowl, toss together croissants and sausage mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, 1 1/2 cups cheese, salt and pepper.
- Lightly oil a 9- x 13-inch baking dish. Turn croissant mixture into pan, spreading it out evenly over the bottom. Pour custard into pan, pressing croissants down gently to help absorb the liquid. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight ( I usually do about 8-9 hours max).
- When you’re ready to bake the casserole, heat oven to 350 degrees. Scatter the remaining grated cheese over the top of the casserole. Transfer to oven and bake until casserole is golden brown and firm to the touch, 40-45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Garnish with sliced scallion tops before serving.
- The original recipe calls for the croissants to be toasted at 500 degrees, but I found that for me, this burned my croissants very quickly.
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound pasta shells
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 4 oz unsalted butter
- butter/oil spray
- 5 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 5 cup whole milk
- 3 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 3 cup grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese
- 3/4 pound (about 16 slices) American cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used more for my taste)
- 1 cup Italian Panko Breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- Preheat oven to 425° F.
- In a large pot of water, boil pasta shells to 1 minute less of package directions (you want the noodles to be al dente). Drain pasta and coat with olive oil to prevent it from sticking together. Grease 9 X 13 baking dish with the butter or oil spray.
- Melt one stick of butter on medium-high heat in a soup pot. Add flour to butter and constantly whisk for 5-6 minutes until the mixture is light brown and toasty. Keep whisking and add the milk slowly. Bring the heat up and keep on whisking. When it boils, decrease the heat and whisk for another 4-5 minutes to thicken.
- Add all of the cheese, but save a handful of each to sprinkle over top later. Don’t forget to whisk it! Whisk in two teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and the cayenne pepper.
- Add the cooked pasta and more seasoning if desired. Combine it all, and transfer to greased baking sheet. Cover the top with leftover cheese and the breadcrumbs (see recipe below). Place in oven and cook for eight minutes until the topping is golden and crunchy.
- In a small saucepan, melt unsalted butter. Add in the Italian breadcrumbs and combine well.
- Instead of making the garlic breadcrumbs the original recipe called for, I melted unsalted butter and combined with Italian Panko breadcrumbs, and sprinkled this over the top of the mac and cheese to save time.
- 2 cups flour, lightly spooned into the measuring cup and leveled with a knife
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 t baking powder
- 1/4 t baking soda
- 1/4 t salt
- 1 t poppy seeds
- 8 T frozen butter
- 1/2 cup sour cream, I used light
- 1 egg
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 T melted butter
- 1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, poppy seeds and salt. Add the lemon zest and whisk to combine. Grate the frozen butter (or used a food processor) and toss it into the flour mixture. Combine it with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal. set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream and egg. Add this to the flour/butter mixture and toss with a fork until it comes to a ball and all the flour is moistened.
- Lightly flour a surface and place the dough on it. Press the ball into an 8 inch disk and cut into equal wedges using a butter knife or pizza cutter. Place them evenly on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15-17 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and let them cool.
- While the scones are cooling, whisk together the glaze. Drizzle over the scones.
- 2 bunches arugula, washed, dried, and torn
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- A chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano
- In a serving bowl, drizzle the arugula with the oil, squeeze in the lemon juice, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss until well mixed and taste for seasoning. Use a vegetable peeler to shave thin pieces of Parmigiano over the top.