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Ask the Chef: Holiday entertaining- Brunch New Orleans style

Dear Chef Coco,

I remember on my last trip to the Big Easy we had a delicious brunch in the French Quarter. I would like to use that as a theme for my holiday family brunch I always hold the Sunday before Christmas. Can you give me some ideas?

Cindy P.

Dear Cindy,

Brunch in New Orleans after church is a long standing tradition among the local folks. It tends to be a more formal affair because you still have your church clothes on when you front up to your favorite neighborhood Sunday Brunch spot.

It's also a great way to entertain during the busy holiday season. Most Sunday mornings are still available even in busiest of times.

A great meal in New Orleans always starts off with Gumbo. Chicken and Sausage or Seafood fit the bill for a great starter. I like to serve this in mugs standing up as the first course of my brunches. If you want to be a little more formal, it can be a plated first course. Or if it's a buffet, you can set up a Gumbo station with a crock pot and mugs so folks can help themselves whenever they are ready. I normally make it ahead of time and freeze or fridge it so it cuts down on labor on the morning of the brunch. My go to brunch menu is pretty simple:

You can link to all of these recipes by just clicking on the link, it will take you to my recipe pages.

Here are some tips for hosting a smashing holiday brunch this season.

1. Pick a menu that has very few last minute tasks. Do ahead is the name of the game here. A egg strata or French toast bake works beautifully being made the day before. Just pop it in the oven and bake it, the best part about a bake is that it holds extremely well until you re ready to serve.

2. Set up a Bloody Mary Bar for self service- Have all the pickled vegetables, olives, garnishes and add ons ready when guests arrive, so they can help themselves when they are ready for a drink. Pitchers of water with fresh fruit slices and fresh mint are a welcome site at any time of the day.

3. Make your fruit salad a bit more special by adding a drop of almond extract to the fresh fruit.

4. Be aware of allergies. You don't have to particularly prepare something special, but know what's in the dishes you prepare to you can tell someone if they have an allergy.

5.Have some soup. snack or appetizer on hand when people are waiting for the casserole to bake.

6. Holiday time is a perfect time to decorate the table with greenery from the outdoors.

7.Don't forget to put together a dixieland playlist for a festive atmosphere.

8. Have a thoughtful take away gift- a bit of potpourri in a bag or special holiday treat from your kitchen makes a delightful departure for your guests.

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