For the first time in my adult life, I have a garden big enough for a crowd, with a table and everything. The only hitch: I live in San Francisco, where dinner time is about one season colder than it is by day. Evening barbecues aren't really an option, but I haven't given up hope on outdoor entertaining. The key is to host a daytime meal, a brunch for eight or so hungry friends who have no plans other than basking in the sunshine until the fog rolls in. The menu's Mexican inspired, with some wiggle room depending on how devoted to DIY I really am when the weekend rolls around.
I like to hand my guests a drink as they join the party; it makes them more relaxed and gives them something to do while I finish up the cooking. For a brunch like this, a range of drinks is appropriate: pour coffee brewed over ice to start, or offer the option of coffee-cinnamon horchata. If you're thinking horchata, prep it the night before, grinding dark-roast coffee beans and whole cinnamon sticks right in with the rice and almonds.
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Fresh watermelon juice will keep people hydrated outside; you'll want to double the recipe if you have a big group.
But nothing says 'relax and stay awhile' like a little daytime booze. Go tart and fresh with a pitcher of Hibiscus-Tequila cooler, or bring in the citrus parade with the tequila, Campari, and grapefruit-based Long Faced Dove.
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I live a few blocks from an excellent tortilleria, but wherever you are, considering whipping up these buttermilk bacon-fat flour tortillas from scratch. They're really not complicated: the dough comes together easily, and the abundance of fat in the mixture keeps everything workable. You can roll them out and cook them at the same time—rolling one while the previous tortilla puffs and browns in a hot cast iron skillet.
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Want to make your own corn tortillas? Kenji's guide is right this way »
A fill-your-own breakfast taco bar appeals to the kid in everyone. I like to go meaty with fresh chorizo and offer a vegetable option too, like charred zucchini and red bell peppers. Scrambled eggs are easy for a crowd, served next to a platter of sliced avocados, radishes, cilantro, and lime wedges. Warm up a pot of black beans or make creamy refried beans.
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We can't forget the salsa! Sometimes I'll just pick up an assortment at my best nearby Mexican market, and no one's the wiser, but the tacos will really shine with a dollop of the fresh stuff. Go for an assortment, or choose just one: pico de gallo is easy and lets summer tomatoes shine, or play a bit with peach salsa made with pickled red onions, or offer a tart and smoky tomatillo salsa with orange and chipotle.
What to serve on the side? Another round of tacos, of course. If time allows, though, a salad is nice, like this charred corn number with tomatoes, chopped cilantro, and crunchy radishes. It's dressed with lime and a little crema to add some tang, and it's not bad added to a taco, either.
Looking for something sweeter? This season's nectarines, peaches, and plums need no adornment, but a little ginger syrup and fresh mint make this fruit salad extra special.
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Okay, some people might say that dessert is optional at brunch-time, but those people, well, I'm not inviting any of them to my Mexican-inspired brunch. I'd love to tell you that I'm ambitious enough to make fresh churros for a crowd (on top of the rest of the meal) but I'm guessing that you're with me on wanting something that can be prepped a bit more in advance.
A caramel flan is much easier to make than it looks, silky and rich with a burnt sugar caramel on top. Make it the night before your brunch party, invert onto serving plate when the tacos part of the morning is over, and don't take "I'm full" for an answer.