Brunches and lunches are perfect for casual spring entertaining – Easter, wedding showers, baby showers, graduation celebrations, or an afternoon at steeplechases. But it’s a lot more fun to have company come for lunch or brunch when you are not frantically getting ready for them on the morning of the party.

Here are a couple crowd-pleasing recipes that let you do almost all of the prep the day before. Hands-on time before your guests arrive is no more than a half hour, and that’s mostly roasting the potatoes, warming, and tossing the salad together.

Marinated Ham & Swiss Sandwiches

Each of these dinner rolls is the equivalent of ½ standard sandwich, so I allow 2 per person, but they are so addictive, you may want to make an extra package for seconds. I’ve tried other brands, but King’s Hawaiian rolls are definitely the best. A standard rimmed baking sheet will hold 24 rolls perfectly.

  • 2 pkg. (12 rolls per pkg) King’s Hawaiian dinner rolls
  • 24 slices of a sweet deli ham (Boar’s Head honey is a good choice)
  • 24 thin slices Swiss cheese

Marinade (Mix Together)

  • ½ C butter, melted
  • 3T Worcestershire sauce
  • 2T honey mustard**
  • 2T brown sugar
  • Dash of onion powder

Cut the rolls in half horizontally into tops and bottoms. Lay the bottoms on a rimmed cookie sheet and pull apart. Layer each with a slice of deli ham and a slice of Swiss cheese. Put the tops on and separate.

Pour marinade over sandwiches, saturating them. Cover tightly with saran wrap and marinate 12-24 hours.

Heat oven to 350°. Uncover sandwiches and bake, starting to watch them closely at 12 minutes. They quickly go from wet, to perfectly glazed and ready, to over-browned. So watch them carefully and they should be perfect at about 15 minutes.

**I’ve made these with Dijon mustard and they have a different, tart flavor that some may prefer. Since the accompanying salad dressing has Dijon in it, I make the sandwiches with honey mustard. And I’ve found that if you are making double or triple batches of sandwiches, it’s best to make separate batches of the marinade and not to double or triple a batch.

Spring Mix Salad with Roasted Potato Croutons and Shallot Dressing

Recipe makes 6-8 side servings. Make the dressing the day before and roast the potatoes early in the day. Let them cool thoroughly before covering so they don’t get mushy.

  • 1 ½ lb. small potatoes, diced ½”
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • Mild olive oil
  • 1 bag spring mix lettuces
  • ¼ C grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Dressing (Whisk Together)

  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ T red wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ t Dijon mustard
  • 1 t Kosher salt
  • Slowly add 4 ½ T olive oil and whisk until emulsified.

Toss diced potatoes with garlic, 2 T olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 450° for 15 minutes. Turn over and roast another 5-10 minutes until browned.

Toss greens, roasted potatoes, and cheese together. Add enough dressing to suit – you may not use all of it.

Butternut Squash and Parmesan Tart

Make the day ahead and warm. Serves 8.

  • 2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled and cut to ½” dice
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T garam masala (in the Indian foods section of the store)
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • ½ C Parmesan cheese, finely shredded or grated
  • ½ t each: salt and ground pepper
  • ¼ t thyme
  • 3 eggs, beaten

One 9”-11” tart shell, partially baked, brushed with a very small amount of Dijon mustard

In a shallow roasting pan, combine the squash, olive oil, and garam masala. Roast at 350° until tender.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then cool to room temperature. Whisk in the beaten eggs.

Fill tart shell with butternut squash, then the cream/egg mixture. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes until custard sets.

If you feel like you need one more dish, or an appetizer to offer as guests arrive, I like to serve small cups of soup.

White Bean Soup with Gremolata

This soup is ready in less than 20 minutes. Chop and store everything the day before. Cook in very little time the morning of the party. Look in the deli of your grocery store for packaged finely chopped pancetta. The gremolata adds so much flavor – worth the time to make it.

  • 2 t olive oil
  • ½ C finely chopped pancetta
  • 1 C chopped onion
  • ½ C chopped celery
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 2 C fat-free, less sodium chicken broth
  • ½ C water
  • ¼ t pepper
  • 2 (19-oz) cans cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 bay leaf  

Gremolata

  • 1 T chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 t grated lemon rind
  • 1 t minced garlic

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add pancetta; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in onion and celery and 2 t garlic; sauté 3 minutes or until almost tender. Stir in broth and next 4 ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To prepare the gremolata, combine parsley, lemon rind, and garlic. Sprinkle over soup servings.


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