Chatelaine Kitchen

Ask Claire: Best brunch for a crowd and the best way to wash produce

Those cooking questions and more (grilling fruit on a barbecue) answered by Chatelaine's food editor, Claire Tansey

Dear Claire, Last weekend at the cottage, I had to make breakfast for 12 people. I attempted poached eggs on English muffins. I found it difficult to coordinate cooking the eggs with preparing the toppings and other things (toasting, cutting up cheese, slathering on avocado), and keeping them warm all at the same time. I couldn’t poach all 12 eggs in one pot (it was a large pot, but I didn’t want them to stick together). Also, by the time I finished preparing the last English muffin, the first one had already gone cold. Can you offer advice on how to coordinate cooking breakfast for a large group of people?

A: Brave lady! Unless you’re a line cook with 15 years experience, poaching a dozen eggs to be served at the same time is nigh-on impossible. Gosh, I have a hard enough time soft-poaching eggs for two people, let alone 12!

Sounds like you maybe bit off a bit more than you can chew (forgive the foodie pun). One of the worst things to do when planning a menu for a large group is to choose something that has to be cooked at the last minute and served hot. Brunch is hard because people expect that they’re going to have eggs – and I would recommend never ever cooking eggs for more than six people at once. Even then, stick to scrambled eggs and add a ton of grated cheese and chives at the end.

Instead, try a strata or baked French toast. You do the work in advance and serve up a piping hot dish from the oven. Add a fruit salad or a green salad and the meal is complete.

And by the way, toast is a nightmare for any breakfast party. Instead, buy very fresh bread or make savoury scones and serve as is.

Dear Claire, How do you barbecue fruit without it tasting like yesterday’s salmon?

A: There is nothing worse! The trouble is, fish is oily and tends to cling to every little surface of the grill. No matter how much you scrub down the bbq with a wire brush (which you should do every time you bbq, while the grates are still smoking hot), you’ll still have a lingering fishy taste.

If you love to grill fruit, consider “saving” one quarter of your bbq surface exclusively for fruit. First, take the grill grate into the sink and wash it really well with the hottest, soapiest water you can stand, then mentally mark off one portion of it for fruit exclusively.

If it’s a last-minute, once-only fruit grill, lay a piece of foil down on the grill, then add the fruit. It’s not the ideal way to grill fruit, but it’s better than fishy peaches!

Dear Claire, A few years ago we used to buy a fruit and veggie wash. It would clean pesticides and waxes off of produce. I thought it was a really great product. Seemed like a good idea to me. But now I can’t find this product anymore or anything similar. Is a fruit and veggie wash unnecessary?

A: To be perfectly honest, I always thought that product was a bit of a scam. The last thing you want to do is add another product on top of what’s already on the fruits and vegetables. The best way to wash fruits and veggies is under cold running water. If the produce is particularly grimy, use a brush. Wash produce right before using or eating it, as any water lingering on the surface will make it spoil more quickly.