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Planning a New Year's brunch in a pinch


Whether you're watching the ball drop from the couch or ringing in 2023 out on the town, for a lot of us, the best part of celebrating the new year comes tomorrow morning. Yep, I'm talking about New Year's Day brunch. Starting the year off with a big, beautiful meal shared with family and friends is a tradition for many on the 1st of January. But if you're anything like me, the holiday season has left you with very little time to actually cook that meal, which begs the question - how can we put together a fabulous New Year's brunch without that much time? To help with that question, we've called someone who knows a thing or two about brunch.


SOHLA EL-WAYLLY: As soon as it came out and we saw the little cheese all over the edges, I loved that.

It's flaky and light, but it still has that heartiness that you want from a scone.

I like how you got really good charring on here, because that's really where all that flavor comes from.

NADWORNY: That's Sohla El-Waylly. She's a chef and New York Times contributor, and you can currently watch her on HBO Max's cooking competition show "The Big Brunch," along with actor Dan Levy and restaurateur Will Guidara. And she joins us now. Hi, Sohla.

EL-WAYLLY: Hi. How's it going?

NADWORNY: Good. Welcome back to the program.

EL-WAYLLY: Thanks for having me.

NADWORNY: Before we jump into specific recipes, let's talk about "The Big Brunch." So you're no stranger to cooking for the camera. Your videos for The New York Times have gathered a lot of views, and fans might know you from your test kitchen days at Bon Appetit. I'm wondering what made you decide to do a cooking competition show?

EL-WAYLLY: Well, I was really interested in this cooking competition show in particular because it's different from the other ones. It's not so much about the competition. It's more about the chefs. It's really about highlighting these really talented people doing cool things in their community. And, like, yeah, there's some cooking and there's some elimination, but that's not really what at the core of this show is.

NADWORNY: OK, so let's talk about actually preparing a meal. If you were planning your own brunch in a pinch, what's, like, your go-to dish, and can you talk us through, maybe, some of the steps to make it?

EL-WAYLLY: Yeah. So my favorite place to brunch is actually at my home because then you can just really casually hang out for a really long time. But I want to keep it low-lift because it's early. You know? I'm not great at planning the night before, so I like to do kind of a mix of store-bought stuff with, like, a couple of homemade things. One of my favorite things is to just go pick up some bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, and then my homemade addition will be I'll chop some onions and some herbs and let everyone make a little spread. Maybe I'll make a bagel chip if I'm feeling crazy. But I think brunch at home should be as little work as possible.

Another, like, go-to brunch for us is always I'll make a Spanish tortilla, which is pretty much you beat up some eggs and then you slowly cook some potatoes and onions in a lot of olive oil. Once it's really nice and tender, you strain all that out, stir it into your eggs, and then you cook that whole mixture together until it's, like, perfectly set and custardy. It's almost like a crustless quiche, and it's great because you can serve it hot or at room temperature and then just open up a bunch of tins of seafood, get a really nice piece of bread, and then let everyone hang out.

NADWORNY: What about on the sweet side?

EL-WAYLLY: Something really simple, like baked French toast. Take any, like, leftover bread. What I always do is whenever I have bread, the heel never gets eaten. So I'll save all those in the freezer, and then when it's time to make, like, a bread pudding or, like, a big French toast, you pull all that out, rip it up into pieces, make a really simple custard with half-and-half and eggs. If you have about one egg per cup of half-and-half, you'll be solid.

You can sweeten it up to taste, or even if you have a lot of family coming over - I have family who don't really like to do sweet, and then you can just have maple syrup on the side. Pinch of salt, cinnamon, vanilla, and then make sure you've got enough custard to, like, really, really soak your bread, and then that can hang out the night before or you can do it the morning of, however your day is going. And then pop that in, like, 325 for about 45 minutes. It's going to get, like, really poofy, custardy, and then that also could be served at room temp. So you can be very, very chill.

NADWORNY: OK. So on the show, you've said - and this is a direct quote - "it's not brunch without drinks."

EL-WAYLLY: Absolutely.

NADWORNY: So I'm wondering, what are your favorite brunch drinks?

EL-WAYLLY: Well, my favorite drink is my all-time drink, which is whiskey.

NADWORNY: You don't care what time of day it is or what meal.

EL-WAYLLY: For brunch, especially, instead of, like, really spending a lot of time on the food, I like to find out what each guest's favorite cocktail or beverage is, and then I'll take a little time doing that. So I have one friend whose favorite drink is a cosmo. So I, like, premade a batch of cosmos, and then he could, like, pour himself a cosmo whenever he wants. If you have a nonalcoholic friend, there's so many amazing bubbly NA drinks these days. Stock your fridge with that. It's like that extra little touch. So even if you bought everything, they'll remember that you thought of them and you got their favorite drink.

NADWORNY: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for folks who are maybe a little intimidated on putting a brunch together?

EL-WAYLLY: When I first started entertaining - which wasn't that long ago because I lived in a studio for most of my life, so it really just started when I had a dining table, which was recently - I, like, really overthought it. I would make all these lists and plans and really spend hours cooking, and what I've realized is people just want to see you and they want to hang out. So it doesn't really matter what the food is. You just want to, like, make sure that you have time to hang out with your friends. So do whatever you need to do to be chill, have time. And if that means you're buying a lot of stuff, that's cool because it's really just about hanging out.

Or even have it be, like, potluck-y vibes, because that's actually what I did this year for Thanksgiving. I usually make everything, decided to do a potluck instead, and it was the best Thanksgiving ever because everyone got so into it. They, like, presented their dish. It was like show and tell. It was very exciting. So it's just about hanging out. If you're stressed about something, outsource it. Have a friend do it.

NADWORNY: That was Sohla El-Waylly. She's a contributor for The New York Times cooking section and one of the judges on HBO Max's "The Big Brunch." Thanks so much for joining us, and Happy New Year.

EL-WAYLLY: You, too. Happy New Year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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