The third installment of "what's for [catered] brunch?" begins with a tip on cooking for a crowd. When cooking for a crowd -- especially if it's folks you don't know personally -- I always try to size up the guests during the menu-planning stage, so that I can be sure I'm cooking dishes that'll go over well, even if I don't care much for them. When Rocco DiSpirito was on Top Chef a couple weeks back, he announced (inappropriately, if you ask me) that he loves bacon; every chef but one presented a bacon dish. The chef that didn't actually made something that sounded pretty tasty, but he lost because Rocco likes bacon. Also: my friend Julia regularly cooks chicken when she hosts lunch, even though she's veg, because her guests like chicken and she aims to please. It makes sense: cook for the crowd, not necessarily for yourself.
While I don't always follow this rule, I tend to stick with it when I don't know the people I'm cooking for, as with the catered brunch from a few weeks back. And since I know that most people love creamy, gooey things, I opted for a (relatively) easy stuffed french toast recipe from Martha. It's basically thick slices of french toast that are stuffed with a mixture of apricot jam and cream cheese. Not my cup of tea, nor my mom's, but boy was it the crowd favorite. As usual, we made some key adjustments after tasting the filling, because we found the combo of cream cheese and apricot jam somewhat flat and lacking in character. A generous confetti of lemon zest and a fair sprinkle of lemon juice made all the difference. We made enough that there were three for each person; five courses notwithstanding, people did the job and polished off nearly all the french toast. Watching the guests rave, my mom and I took one of the end pieces, put it on a plate, sliced two little bites off, and each tried it. We looked at each other, bobbed our heads in agreement that it tasted as we expected, and then laughed as we acknowledged that neither of us particularly liked it. But hey, the guests were happy. More than happy.
Assuming you've got guests coming for the holidays -- or that you'll be a guest in someone's home and would like to cook brekkie one morning as a thank you to your hosts -- this is a true crowd-pleaser of a recipe. It doesn't take all too long to prepare, and it can sit happily in a low oven until it's time to eat. If the goal is happy customers, this recipe's the ticket.
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Apricot-Stuffed French Toast adapted from Martha Stewart serves 4
• 1 loaf challah, cut into eight 1-inch-thick slices • 3 tablespoons or more apricot jam or "just apricots" preserves (less sugar, more tang) • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, room temperature • 2 large eggs • 1/2 cup low-fat (1 percent) milk • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon • zest of one lemon • 2 tsps. lemon juice • 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter • Pure maple syrup, for serving (optional)
Directions 1. Using a paring knife, cut a horizontal slit in each bread slice to form a pocket. In a bowl, mix jam and cream cheese with a fork or hand blender. Add lemon juice and zest. Spoon 1 tablespoon mixture into each pocket. 2. In a shallow bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and cinnamon until combined. In a large nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-low heat. Lay half the bread slices in egg mixture, letting them soak 5 seconds on each side. 3. Place slices in skillet; cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining bread, adding more butter to skillet if needed. If desired, serve French toast with syrup (which we did, and we heated the syrup for maximum yum factor). We also topped the platter with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, which made for a lovely presentation.