All this summer sunshine begs to be celebrated with charming brunches instead of dinner parties. Give in to the light, and create a dreamy brunch for your favorite people. The weather is too hot for a formal and stuffy event. Our ideal brunch is festive, colorful, tasteful, comfortable, and full of good friends, food, and atmosphere.
How do you make this happen?
First, the ambience: Create a playlist of music that appeals to the vibe you want to convey: jazzy, bohemian, tropical, funk, and bluegrass come to mind for summer. Next, clean your house. Designate an area for people to drop their bags. Set up a dining table where you get a lot of light, be it outside, the porch, or near some big windows. Make sure you have enough seating, dishes, and silverware for each guest. Decide on placemats, a table runner, or a table cloth, and create low-lying centerpieces from something whimsical and airy, such as daisies, herbs, or lemons. Get low candles or twinkly lights.
Most importantly, the food: Make a meal plan with a couple items you can make ahead. You don’t want to be focused on cooking the whole time and not be able to enjoy your company. Choose a couple dishes you know already, and a couple experiements that just sound dreamy. Pick a salad or two, a savory main, a good bread and dessert (or two). Make sure to feature the vegetables and fruit that shine during the summer season. While looking at the recipes, check your kitchen for what you already have, and then create a shopping list of what you’re missing. Shop at least two days beforehand, which leaves enough time for another trip, just in case you need it, to get the freshest, last-minute or hard-to-find ingredients the day before. Oh, and drinks! A signature buzzy cocktail is a winner, but don’t forget to come up with a great mocktail option too.
Accept help from your guests. It’ll cut down on your work so you can enjoy the event, and also it’ll make guests feel more part of the action and invested in the affair. And when things don’t go as planned — the soufflé fell or there aren’t enough seats! — laugh it off and remember to focus on the guests. Food is the great connector, and people are the connections we crave (plus buttermilk biscuits!).
Choose one or two recipes from each category and get connecting.
Orzo Salad with Tomatoes and Pine Nuts
You’ve got several summer guests in this salad, with cucumber, basil and cherry tomatoes. The fresh-squeezed lemon juice and zest elevate an already light dish with a nice acid finish. Scallions and parsley round out the herbs. Oh, and orzo is like light rice and pine nuts add creamy crunch. Get our Orzo Salad with Tomatoes and Pine Nuts recipe.
Melon and Cucumber Salad
This is a ridiculously summery fruit/vegetable salad that will quench your thirst to drink up the season’s bounty. Honeydew melon and cucumbers combine forces with their mild, juicy sweetness, peppered by, well, black pepper, and salty feta crumbles. Oh, and there’s mint. We told you this was summer in a bowl. Get our Melon and Cucumber Salad recipe.
Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese Crostini
Salad is quite the regular at summer brunch, but give it some character. Add some heft to free-wheeling frisée or endive with still delicate lentils. Endive is in season too, and of course, cherry tomatoes are a must. With a crusty baguette and creamy goat cheese, you’ve got an ideal foil to a quiche or fish dish. Get our Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese Crostini recipe.
Shredded Kale with Tomatoes, Feta, and Mint Salad
Kale might not be the first salad green you think of, and that’s part of what makes it a great, unexpected pick. The hearty green does get harvested in the summer, and when you cut out the center stalks, massage the leaves in olive oil, and slice it into festive little ribbons, it’s quite the foundation for summer tomatoes, feta, and fresh mint, which do all the brightening. Get our Shredded Kale with Tomatoes, Feta, and Mint Salad recipe.
Fresh Corn and Tomato Salad
Not every dish has to be out-there. Let the freshness of the sweet, ripe summer corn speak for itself as it sings with the also fruity cherry tomatoes and ribbons of basil ‑ all summer ingredients that are best when fresh and local. Get our Fresh Corn and Tomato Salad recipe.
Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
You gotta have at least one dish that’s recognizable as breakfast. Pancakes are a crowd favorite, and there are so many variations. Here, ricotta makes the cakes creamy and fluffy and lemon gives a bright, summery zing. To make these breakfast treats even more special, sprinkle powdered sugar on top or serve with freshly whipped cream and lemon zest. Get our Lemon Ricotta Pancakes recipe.
Spiced Zucchini Muffins
Sure, you can lemon-blueberry muffins or something fruity like that, but if you’ve got enough fruit coloring your brunch, go for zucchini in your muffins. This simple recipe requires no mixing machines and is the perfect component to make ahead. Get our Spiced Zucchini Muffins recipe.
Biscuits with Honey Butter
A little extra touch can make all the difference in your brunch. Make our Buttermilk Biscuits recipe or Bacon-Cheddar Biscuits recipe, but don’t spread on regular butter. Up the ante here with compound butters, which are just butters melted a bit, mixed with other ingredients, and then hardened back up in the refrigerator. It’s so easy and yet feels so special. Get our Honey Butter recipe.
Savory Summer Squash Quick Bread
Now here’s a bread that’s not just a side note. And we notice it not for its crusty exterior and soft inside. We love it for all the goodies inside and a general moistness that could make great grab-and-go leftovers later. Cornmeal, oregano, buttermilk, grated yellow squash, and feta cheese: Here’s a dish that is in no way ho-hum. Do the unexpected. Get our Savory Summer Squash Quick Bread recipe.
Easy Crab Cakes
Almost everybody loves crab cakes, and almost everybody has had subpar versions. You’re homemade crab cakes won’t disappoint because they’ll be full of sweet crab meat and not overpowered by dry, heavy breading. You can make the aioli in this recipe or top them with a spicy-sweet mango salsa, or a jalapeño-raspberry jam. Just an idea. Also, you can make these ahead of time! Get our Easy Crab Cakes recipe.
Grilled, Blackened Catfish with Creole Mustard Butter
Remember that compound butter idea? It applies here too. Creole or Cajun mustard is a spicy-hot kind of mustard you can find in specialty stores, gourmet shops, well-stocked supermarkets, and online. So check ahead of time on this one. Summer is for grilling, so this would be a great meaty main for grilled corn on the cob, or some cheesy grits and buttermilk biscuits. And no, the blackened part doesn’t mean burned. It’s a seasoning. Get our Grilled, Blackened Catfish with Creole Mustard Butter recipe.
Broccoli, Mushroom, and Gouda Quiche
What, this is vegetarian? That didn’t even cross our minds until way late in the game. We were focused on how delicious this quiche will be at your brunch, packed with that wonderful Dutch cheese, meaty mushrooms, broccoli and flaky crust. Get our Broccoli, Mushroom, and Gouda Quiche recipe.
Summer makes us think of tropical fruit, and mango’s yellow-orange flesh is so juicy and sweet that we wanna gobble it up whenever we get the chance. The chance is now, and for you too. You can make this dessert ahead of time, too. Get our Mango Pudding recipe.
Rustic Blueberry Tart
This is a way to feature blueberries without having to make a pie. That can be good when you want everything to be homemade, and you’re not that adept at crusts. It’s really all about the fresh, limited-time blueberries, coated in a lemony sugar mix that only serves to highlight how wonderful these little sapphires are. Get our Rustic Blueberry Tart recipe.
Key Lime Pie
Savor the Floridian sweetness of key limes in this traditional tropical dessert for that storied peninsula. It’s tart, sweet, creamy, and crumbly, yet still light, which is helpful after a big meal in the heat of summer. Get our Key Lime Pie recipe.
Strawberry Whipped Cream Cake
This dreamy beauty should elicit some oohs and ahhs. If a three-layer cake can be fluffy and cloud-like, this is the one. The whipped cream isn’t as heavy as regular buttercream icing, and it doesn’t overpower the sweetness of fresh strawberries. Get our Strawberry Whipped Cream Cake recipe.
Easy Peach Crisp
For a crowd-pleasing dessert that features summer’s fruit yet won’t stress you out, there’s always a fruit crisp. When it’s peach season, this is such a good idea. And it’s so easy, you can focus on the other dishes in your brunch, and ahem, your guests. Don’t you dare serve this without vanilla ice cream, or at least whipped cream. Get our Easy Peach Crisp recipe.
The Real Mojito
With lime, mint, and rum, mojitos are the perfect warm-weather cocktail. This recipe asks you to press on the mint leaves to extract the minty juices, and then strain out the leaves so you don’t get teeth full of soggy leaves when you sip. Sounds nice. Get our Real Mojito recipe.
Cantaloupe Agua Fresca
Talk about refreshing. You don’t want your nonalcoholic drink options to be boring afterthoughts. Those who don’t want to imbibe are often left with meager options like water and soda. This is a drink that says, hey, there’s something fun for everyone. Get the ripest cantaloupe you can find. It’s a really simple recipe that will wow the crowd, drinkers or not. Get our Cantaloupe Agua Fresca recipe.
Boozy Biscotti Iced Coffee
This recipe combines all the things you could possibly want in liquid form at brunch. Caffeine. Alcohol. Ice. A Straw. Now go! Chilled amaretto liqueur and Pernod, a pastis which is similar to absinthe, in that it’s got that star-anise flavor. Use a high-quality coffee while you’re at it. Get our Boozy Biscotti Iced Coffee recipe.
Head Image: Katie Nesbitt Photography