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Throughout the week we’ll be revisiting our 2013 Holiday Hosting Guide series. -ed.

All words: Nycci Nellis
All photos: Franz Mahr

Throughout the week we’re running our BYT Hosting Guides wherein our favorite lifestyle experts, fashion gurus and all-around social butterflies teach you how to style, dress and host your way to (and through) the perfect holiday party. Yesterday we kicked off our series with photographer Kate Warren and artist Martin Swift, who taught us how to dress our best for the holidays with the wardrobe you already own. Today we bring you Nycci Nellis–publisher of The List Are You On It and host of Foodie and the Beast–who lets us in on the secrets to hosting a perfect brunch (with a recipe or two).

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is my second favorite week of the year*.

Everything and everyone seems to slow down. While I adore the glow and warmth that attend evening holiday get-togethers, my personal entertaining preference is to have friends and family to my house for brunch–and not just on a Sunday–but really any day during that holiday week. Hosting brunch appeals to me on a variety of levels. First, I have several brunch menus that I can put together in a snap that truly look and taste like I spent days laboring on behalf of my guests, when maybe only a couple of hours of prep is all it took. And, second, I just love the informality of having people over for a daytime affair. It allows for an easygoing setting and is a chance for people to just eat, drink and enjoy. I love a party that starts at 11:30am and is still has a spark to it at 4:00pm.

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During winter months, standard fare is for guests to be greeted by a roaring fire radiating warmth from the 19th Century-inspired, Vermont Stove in our living room fireplace (that and more than 320 pounds of dog — Lucy, Prudence and Daisy — that also issue their own special greeting in a cacophony of barks and yelps!) Pass through the living room (when the dogs finally allow it), and the dining room offers its own, special, seasonal greeting: a bar stocked with every imaginable spirit and liquor (an unintended but welcome benefit of hosting mixologists, winemakers, spirits distillers and the like in-studio on Foodie And The Beast!).

My husband and I always invite our guests to be active participants in their own beverage preparation. Those who choose to do so always find plenty to play with. But beware. The Bloody Mary station is not for the faint of heart. Toigo’s “Birth of Pain” Bloody Mary mix (I get mine at Salt & Sundry) supplies a tongue-numbing kick as does an impressive offering of gins (two favorites are Catoctin Creek and Green Hat), vodkas (Sloop Betty) and tequilas, so that guests can whip up a “Mary” that suits their tastes, whatever they may be. The Mimosa station has fresh squeezed orange juice and a variety of Growers Champagnes that probably shouldn’t be married to the aforementioned juice, but – what the heck, it’s a party!

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Although made from sturdy barn wood, my brunch table always groans under the weight of an array of sweet and savory dishes. I love to stage platters and dishes, placing them at varying heights and in apparent disorder, so that the eye is taken in all directions.

Dishes that regularly grace my table include broiled grapefruit; salmon caviar torte; baked eggs in ham crisps; creme brulee French toast (I usually spend a lot of time shooing my husband a kids away from that one before the gun goes off!); bacon, lettuce and tomato salad; lox, bagels and cream cheese (I’m Jewish, and lox and bagels are going to be there every time); blueberry-streusel cake and a spiced chocolate loaf.

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My recipes are set, I get cooking knowing exactly what I want and need to do and when, and I knock out the whole deal in maybe five hours, honest. The evening before, I put together the French toast, the chocolate loaf and the caviar torte. The day of the brunch all I need is a few hours run-up time, and brunch is on the table when everyone arrives.

For me, that’s the best part of entertaining during the day — once the buffet is set, the fire is lit and the music is on … that doorbell rings and I can enjoy my guests, along with all the good food and drink.

*(Oh and I did say that the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is my second favorite week of the year. For the same reasons, my very favorite is the one before Labor Day, except you can find me with my bod in the sun at the pool, instead of in the kitchen.)

Serve these at your next brunch (or just for breakfast any day, you’ll thank me later):

  • Salmon Caviar Torte (Adapted from Gourmet Magazine)

8 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
10-12 hard-cook large eggs, chopped fine
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 cup finely chopped scallion greens
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sour cream
6 ounces salmon caviar

Garnish: dill sprigs
Accompaniments: rye toast

1.) In a bowl whisk together mayonnaise and butter and stir in eggs, celery, onion, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
2.) Spread mixture in an oiled 9-inch spring form pan and sprinkle evenly with scallion greens, chives, and dill.
3.) In a small bowl stir together cream cheese and sour cream until smooth.
4.) Drop dollops of cream-cheese mixture over herbs and spread carefully (keeping herb layer intact) to form an even topping. Chill torte, covered, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.
5.) Just before serving, run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side. Transfer torte to a serving plate and spread caviar over top. Garnish torte with dill sprigs and serve with crackers.

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  • Creme Brulee French Toast (Adapted from Epicurious)

1 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 Challah
5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

1.) In a small heavy saucepan melt butter with brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth and pour into a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking dish.
2.) Cut six 1-inch thick slices from center portion of bread, reserving ends for another use, and trim crusts.
3.) Arrange bread slices in one layer in baking dish, squeezing them to fit.
4.) In a bowl whisk together eggs, half-and-half, vanilla, and salt until combined well and pour evenly over bread.
5.) Chill bread mixture, covered, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.
6.) Preheat oven to 350° F. and bring bread to room temperature.
7.) Bake bread mixture, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed and edges are golden, 35 to 40 minutes.

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  • Baked Eggs and Mushrooms in Ham Crisps (Adapted From Gourmet Magazine)

1 1/2 lb mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped shallot
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
16 slices Black Forest or Virginia ham (without holes; 10 oz)
16 large eggs

1.) Preheat oven to 400°F.
2.) Prepare mushrooms: Cook mushrooms and shallot in butter with salt and pepper in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring, until mushrooms are tender and liquid they give off is evaporated, about 10 minutes.
3.) Remove from heat and stir in crème fraîche and tarragon.
4.) Assemble and bake:Fit 1 slice of ham into each of 12 lightly oiled muffin cups (ends will stick up and hang over edges of cups).
5.) Divide mushrooms among cups and crack 1 egg into each. Bake in middle of oven until whites are cooked but yolks are still runny, about 15 minutes.
6.) Season eggs with salt and pepper and remove (with ham) from muffin cups carefully, using 2 spoons or small spatulas.

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