It’s better at brunch

If you love to entertain but don’t want to spend all your time in the kitchen, then entertaining at brunch is the perfect solution. It’s a meal served in a more relaxed time frame: as host, you don’t have to fret about doing kitchen duty all day or cleaning up all night. As for your guests, they can enjoy a lazy morning on their own, arriving just in time for some wonderful wake-up food with a menu that’s casual but still impressive.

Tomato, Oregano and Brie Strata
This sophisticated layered dish takes stratas to new heights. It assembles easily, can be made up to 12 hours ahead and, if you don’t have time to make anything else, it can be a meal on its own.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

12 slices challah or egg bread
3 tbsp Dijon mustard (45 ml)
2 tsp dried oregano (10 ml)
3 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper (1 ml)
8 oz Brie cheese (rind removed), thinly sliced (250 g)
2 cups milk (500 ml)
4 eggs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (50 ml)

• Trim crusts from bread. In small bowl, mix together mustard and half the oregano. read on 6 bread slices. Top with about 4 slices of tomato each. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Divide cheese evenly among bread slices. Top with remaining bread slices. Cut diagonally into quarters to make triangles.
• Arrange triangles, longest side down, overlapping and curving slightly in three rows in bottom of lightly greased 13- by 9-inch (3.5 l) baking dish. (Strata can be well wrapped with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 12 hours.)
• Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
• Whisk together milk and eggs until well blended; pour evenly over triangles. Sprinkle with remaining oregano and Parmesan cheese. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until golden and puffed. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Shaved Fennel Salad
This light and refreshing salad provides a study in contrasts. The slight bitterness of watercress provides a happy counterpart to the sweet licorice flavour of fennel as well as the honey in the vinaigrette. If watercress is unavailable, substitute baby spinach.
Makes 8 servings.

2 bunches watercress
1 fennel bulb (anise)
Half red onion, thinly sliced
2/3 cup shelled pistachios (150 ml)

2 tbsp sherry vinegar or apple cider vinegar (25 ml)
2 tsp honey (10 ml)
1 tsp Dijon mustard (5 ml)
1/2 tsp salt (2 ml)
1/4 tsp pepper (1 ml)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (75 ml)

• Rinse watercress well; dry thoroughly. Remove stems and place leaves in large salad bowl.
• Trim fronds and stalks from fennel. Slice fennel very thinly. Add fennel and red onion to bowl. (Salad can be covered with moist paper towel and refrigerated for up to 8 hours.)
• Vinaigrette: In small bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper. In thin steady stream, gradually whisk in oil until mixture is emulsified. (Vinaigrette can be covered and refrigerated for up to 8 hours. Whisk to recombine if necessary).
• Toss salad gently with vinaigrette. Sprinkle with pistachios.

Chicken and Roasted Red Pepper Wraps
Although this wrap is superb with freshly cooked chicken, it can also be made with store-bought roast chicken slices. Use two slices for each sandwich and place them directly on top of the pesto. If you purchase bottled roasted red peppers, simply rinse off the brine and dry well. The halved sandwiches look lovely on a platter lined with red-tipped lettuce.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil (15 ml)
3 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard (45 ml)
Pinch each salt and pepper
5 large (10-inch/25 cm) flour tortillas
1/3 cup prepared pesto (75 ml)
10 green lettuce leaves
10 roasted red pepper halves
12/3 cups shredded Fontina or Asiago cheese (400 ml)

• Remove tenderloin from bottom side of each chicken breast. Cut each breast horizontally into three thin pieces. Set chicken aside. (Chicken can be wrapped well and refrigerated for up to 12 hours.)
• In large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil. Brush mustard over one side of each chicken piece and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, in batches if necessary, for about 3 minutes a side or until no longer pink inside. Transfer to plate; let cool slightly.
• Spread 1 tbsp (15 ml) of pesto over each tortilla. Top each with two lettuce leaves and two roasted pepper halves. Divide chicken slices among tortillas. Sprinkle with cheese. Fold in bottom and sides of tortillas and roll up.
• Cut each wrap crosswise in half diagonally and hold together with a toothpick. (Wraps can be covered individually in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 4 hours before serving.)

Ginger Coffeecake Muffins
These cake-like muffins are a real treat with their double dose of ginger. For an entirely different presentation, bake them in individual bundt pans.
Makes 10 muffins.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (125 ml)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar (150 ml)
2 eggs
3 tbsp grated fresh gingerroot (45 ml)
1 tsp vanilla (5 ml)
2 cups all-purpose flour (500 ml)
1 tsp baking powder (5 ml)
3/4 tsp ground ginger (4 ml)
1/2 tsp each baking soda and salt (2 ml)
1/4 tsp cinnamon (1 ml)
3/4 cup yogurt or low-fat (175 ml)
sour cream

1/3 cup packed brown sugar (75 ml)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (75 ml)
1/4 tsp ground ginger (1 ml)
3 tbsp unsalted butter (45 ml)

• Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
• Topping: In small bowl, combine sugar, flour and ground ginger. Gently work in butter until crumbly; set aside.
• In bowl, beat together butter and sugar until well combined. Beat in eggs one at a time,beating well after each addition. Beat in grated ginger and vanilla.
• In bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, ground ginger, soda, salt and cinnamon; stir into butter mixture alternately with yogurt, making 3 additions of flour mixture and 2 of yogurt.
• Divide batter evenly among greased muffin cups. Sprinkle topping over muffins. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly pressed. Let cool for 10 minutes. Unmould. (Muffins can be wrapped individually in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 2 months.)

Photo © Robyn Mackenzie