While spontaneous entertaining has its obvious disadvantages, its last-minute nature ironically frees the host from all the minutiae that are factored into entertaining at home. Consider one of the easiest entertaining formats, an informal, leisurely, unpretentious Sunday brunch. You can even serve it buffet-style and not have to set a table. It's important that the food can be prepared quickly, so that there's little to do when the guests arrive.
A Southwestern menu is a natural choice for a buffet brunch. Each of these recipes is easy to prepare. The hominy-baked eggs can be served in wedges to be eaten with a fork or thinly sliced and wrapped in corn tortillas. The accompaniments offer a refreshing counterpoint: sweet and sour cucumbers with cilantro; fresh pineapple mixed with strawberries in orange syrup; and butternut cookies or brownies.
With such a simple menu, there's time to create an ambiance that's as bright and lively as the meal itself. Here's how:
* Cluster blooming plants and varieties of cactus together on the table and around the living room to set the theme.
* Pastel colors or deep rosy, blue and gray hues are appropriate for the tablecloth, napkins and candles.
* Large rustic pottery dishes work perfectly (and don't necessarily have to match). Buffet-size high-quality paper plates in complementary colors are another option.
* Music? Imagine you are on Canyon Road in Santa Fe listening to a string group; put on some chamber music, sit back and enjoy!
SANTA FE BRUNCH Baked Eggs With Onions, Sausage and Hominy Sweet and Sour Cucumbers With Cilantro Fresh Pineapple and Strawberries in Orange Syrup
Golden hominy boosts the taste and texture of this egg dish, giving it a significant Southwestern slant. The garnish of diced red tomato and sliced green onions makes it especially colorful, the splash of lime (a must) extremely refreshing. It can be served hot or at room temperature, for brunch, lunch, supper or late - night dining.
BAKED EGGS WITH
ONIONS, SAUSAGE AND HOMINY
12 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 cup soft bread crumbs
1 cup Jack cheese, shredded
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons oil
6 ounces onion, cut in small dice
1/2 finely diced onion
1 (3 1/2-ounce) piece spicy smoked sausage (such as andouille or Polish sausage), thinly sliced
1 (15-ounce) can golden hominy, rinsed and drained or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup tomato, diced and squeezed of juice
Warmed corn tortillas
Put rack in center of oven. Line 9-1/2-inch springform with foil so baked eggs can be easily transferred to serving platter. Butter foil. Set aside. Have baking sheet ready.
Whisk eggs in large bowl. Add milk, water, bread crumbs, 3/4 cup cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt and red pepper flakes. Mix well.
Heat oil in non-stick 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sausage and cook until onion is tender, about 4 minutes, stirring often. Add hominy and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until hot. Add egg mixture. Cook gently, stirring with spatula until beginning to set. Cook only until half-cooked, combination of curds and loose liquid. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Quickly spread evenly in bottom of prepared pan. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Place springform on baking sheet. Bake in center of 375-degree oven until lightly colored, about 35 minutes (up to 50 minutes if well chilled). Let rest 10 minutes on cooling rack. Transfer to platter and remove foil. Spread surface with sour cream. Sprinkle evenly with green onions, then diced tomato. Garnish platter with lime wedges (for each serving) and cilantro sprigs. Serve salsa in small dish.
Makes 8 wedge servings or 12 if thinly sliced and wrapped in corn tortillas.
Crunchy and refreshing, these cucumbers pair perfectly with the Southwestern-style eggs. Use a slotted spoon to serve the cucumbers since their juices accumulate in the serving bowl .
SWEET AND SOUR
4 large cucumbers, peeled, split lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced
1 1/4 cups minced onions
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons minced cilantro
Mix cucumbers, onions, sour cream, vinegar, sugar, salt and cilantro in large bowl. Cover airtight and refrigerate overnight or at least 2 hours.
Mix well before serving and drain off liquid. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve chilled with slotted spoon. Makes 8 servings.
Fork-size chunks of fresh pineapple are macerated in orange-flavored syrup and tossed at the last minute with strawberries.
IN ORANGE SYRUP
Grated zest of 2 oranges
1 cup orange juice
2 to 4 tablespoons sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit
6 tablespoons orange liqueur
2 ripe medium-size pineapples
2 pints strawberries, hulled (split if large), chilled
Combine orange zest and juice and sugar in small saucepan over high heat. Boil, uncovered, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in liqueur.
Trim top from pineapple and discard. Cut pineapple lengthwise in 4 quarters. With serrated knife, cut shell away from each quarter. Remove any "eyes" on outer surface of pineapple. Trim away core. Cut each wedge into thin slices, then cut each slice into thirds.
Toss pineapple pieces with orange syrup in bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 2 hours. Mix well before serving. Add strawberries and toss well. Serve chilled. Makes 8 servings.