Saturday, July 18, 2009

How To Throw An Engagement Brunch. (Or, At Least, How We Did.)

True, James and I got engaged months ago. But we only recently set our date, and decided it was as good a reason as any to throw ourselves a brunch. Figuring that our fairly large one-bedroom apartment could hold around 20 people comfortably, we sent out Evites to just over that number of family and close friends. (For anyone who doesn't use Evite already, you should.) Given our space constraints, extended family didn't make the cut, and instead this seemed like a good opportunity for our parents and siblings to mingle with what wedding party members and other future wedding guests were still in town. Rather than provide a long, rambling paragraph full of engagement brunch miscellany, here is a long, rambling step-by-step run-down of what we did:

1) I picked a "theme" of sorts based on what fruit was in season. The brunch was in mid-June, so I came up with a menu that featured fresh strawberries. We went to Bishop's Orchards in Guilford, CT on the day before the brunch and hand picked four pounds of berries for about $12 total. (Bishop's also has goats and llamas for visitors to feed, so really, I'll use any excuse to go there.) We made sure to get a mix of big AND small berries for different purposes: big for covering with chocolate, and smallish for floating in a champagne punch and skewering.

2) Menu design. I am a firm believer that brunch is more breakfast than lunch, and picked what to serve accordingly. In order to both play up the strawberry theme and get a little festive, we first decided on a "feature" dish: a big, beautiful fruit trifle. (Recipe link at the end of the post.) For the rest, I felt that things should be mainly finger/toothpick foods to keep it simple, since guests were already bringing: a quiche, fruit salad, lemon-cranberry scones, banana and zucchini bread, lavender-lemon cupcakes AND a tomato-basil strata. So without further ado, here's what we came up with on our end:

-Strawberry champagne punch and peach iced tea to drink.
-The Trifle: with strawberries, blueberries, lemon curd and a mascarpone cream.
-Various skewers: tomato-basil-prosciutto; just tomato/basil; fruit-and-cheese with three types of cheese and three types of fruit to each skewer (cheddar, jack and swiss cheese with small red grapes, strawberries, watermelon and cantaloupe). We accidentally bought bamboo skewers that were much too big and had to cut them in half, so stick to something smallish.
-Melon wrapped in prosciutto (cantaloupe or honeydew) and held together with colored toothpicks. I used both the big and small ends of our melon baller ($2.50 at Target!) and mixed up the arrangement.
-Chocolate-covered strawberries: dark chocolate, and dark chocolate with white chocolate tips.

3) Trader Joe's for (most of) the rest. Though I typically prefer other, non-chain grocery stores in the area (Nica's, Bishop's, Edge of the Woods) TJ's has great bulk specialty items. We picked up a hefty supply of prosciutto, mozzarella balls, assorted cheeses for skewering, melons, lemon curd for our trifle and melting chocolate for about $100. We also grabbed some frozen appetizers to keep on hand in case of an emergency shortage, because why not? Finally, at the liquor store we stocked up on rose champagne for the punch. We got three bottles for 20 people, and it was more than enough even with me drinking it like juice all afternoon.

4) Assembly. We had told everyone to come over at noon, and we wanted things to be fresh without having to wake up at 6:00 a.m. So, at around 7:00 p.m., we sat down for a long night of food preparation putting the fruit slicing off until the very end. The mascarpone cream for the trifle had to be whipped up beforehand anyway, we alternated between doing that and dipping/freezing the chocolate covered strawberries first. When we did get to assembling the fruit and cheese skewers, sometime around midnight, everything was immediately wrapped up and stacked in an extra-cold fridge. Since stuff was being served in large amounts over the course of an afternoon, I used multiple small plates rather than one big platter. That way there's room for more things on the table at once without overcrowding, and things stay wrapped up longer. Same for the iced tea: in addition to filling the big pitcher that we planned to serve it from, I filled multiple big Tupperware containers with it to have on hand for easy refills.

5) Layout. If you're a grad student living in an apartment like we are, chances are you don't have a giant dining room table either. So, we arranged one portion of each item at a time around the trifle centerpiece, and brought in a small bistro table to use as a drink station. The strawberry-champagne punch was the last thing we made in an effort to conserve precious carbonation, and we put it out in a punch bowl that matched our trifle dish. We went with clear plastic cups and paper plates even though I wanted to use real dishes (James thought I was crazy). In a gesture towards eco-friendliness and cost-savings, we brought in one of our potted flowers instead of buying fresh cut ones. I printed out simple menus and hung one on the wall behind each table, though in retrospect I wish I had put more effort into them--in true Martha Stewart style--or ditched them altogether.

And to wrap things up, here is the link to the trifle recipe we used substituting lemon curd for lime and adding a fresh mint garnish:

Hosting your own brunch is fun, brings your friends and family into one place, and most importantly, allows you to put off doing other things while tricking yourself into feeling productive. And if you don't feel like getting engaged just now, I'm sure you can think of another excuse to fete yourselves. Enjoy!

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