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Issue Date: January 24, 2010
Dining out? Try these specialties of the house
Ask Pamela Anderson a food question!

6 simple steps to a perfect brunch

Expert tips to help host a great meal (and still sleep in)

By Allyson Dickman

Hosting a brunch is a great way to unwind on the weekend. But putting together a late-morning meal can be tough. "Brunch is about everyone relaxing -- nobody wants to be stressed out. And a stressed-out cook can really stress an entire room," says Ron Silver, chef/owner of Bubby's Pie Co., which serves more than 800 brunches on Sundays at its lower Manhattan branch.

Silver, co-author of "Bubby's Brunch Cookbook," and Gale Gand, co-author of "" and partner/executive pastry chef at Tru in Chicago, offer these tips for stress-free hosting:

Plan ahead
Prepare as much in advance as possible, saving one complicated dish for the day of the event, Silver says. Items that can be made the night or days before include muffins, quick breads, cakes and compotes. If you can't make a whole dish in advance, then start building pieces the night before, perhaps cutting potatoes for home fries and making sauces and dressings.

Serve buffet-style so you'll have more time to cook.

Fill the air with fragrance
"You kind of want the smell of things having been cooked when people come into the house," Gand says. So be sure to save quick but need-to-be fresh dishes for the morning of your brunch. Lay out the prepared elements, and flip pancakes, make om?elets or cook French toast as your guests walk in the door.

Set up a buffet or serve family style
Promote self-service so you have time to finish cooking, Silver says. Don't worry about made-to-order plates or chafing dishes. Rather than make individual omelets, Gand suggests preparing one large omelet and cutting it into pieces. Don't focus on temperatures -- quiches, omelets and frittatas are just as enjoyable warm as they are piping hot from the pan, Gand says.

Choose in-season foods (frozen is OK, too)
You can add tasty twists and robust flavor to common brunch food and drinks by using in-season fruits and veggies. But don't think you can't have blueberry pancakes in the middle of winter. Frozen berries are often fresher than market ones because they are frozen within hours of picking, according to Silver. "There's nothing wrong with frozen berries, and there's nothing wrong with frozen meats," Silver says.

Want blueberries, even though they're not in season? Use frozen: They often taste just as fresh.

Skip the individual drinks
In addition to a pot of fresh coffee, Silver suggests serving chilled drinks in pitchers rather than mixing up individual cocktails. Bloody Marys, sangria, fresh-squeezed lemonade and juices are all great for pitchers. Also, try using a thermos, urn or pitcher to serve hot spiced cider or tea, Silver adds.

Accept -- even plan for -- help
Solicit help from your guests so that you don't get overwhelmed, Gand says. Think of what you can hand off to others, like cutting stems off strawberries, and have the job set up for when they arrive. "Preplan for helping," Gand says. "It's good because they help you, and guests want to be involved in the kitchen at times, but they won't be flustering you."

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Dining out? Try these specialties of the house

Don't want to spend your time in the kitchen? Sample these brunch hot spots and signature dishes:

Chicago -- Gemini Bistro
Try: The Croque Madame or lobster roll

Denver -- Beatrice & Woodsley
Try: The Kentucky Hot Brown (grilled turkey with onions and fried green tomatoes on toasted bread with cheddar and butter)

Jacksonville -- Biscotti's
Try: Prosciutto, arugula and sun-dried tomato frittata

Milwaukee -- Bayou
Try: Blackened catfish Benedict

New York -- Friend of a Farmer
Try: Back Country eggs (eggs Benedict with crab cakes)

Philadelphia -- Carman's Country Kitchen
Try: Pulled pork over cheesy grits

Phoenix -- Matt's Big Breakfast
Try: The salami scramble

San Francisco -- Bar Jules
Try: Baked eggs with short ribs

Savannah, Ga. -- B. Matthew's Eatery
Try: Black-eyed pea cake sandwich

Tucson -- Blue Willow
Try: The chicken, avocado and Swiss omelet

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