Beginning cook? Start with brunch

If you're just starting to cook and entertain, brunch is a casual, relaxed meal that's served all at once.

So you're at that place in your life where you want to start cooking and entertaining at home. Awesome. We can definitely help you get there. But what to cook? Make brunch. It's a good place to start your venture in preparing food and hosting friends and family. Brunch is a casual, relaxed meal that's served all at once, eliminating the potential of panic in making a big multicourse meal.

Additionally, the menu we propose — quiche, salad and a sparkling drink — affords you the luxury of preparing and cooking in advance, so you're not spending time in the kitchen away from guests.

For the quiche, I call for a handmade pie crust, but a refrigerated pie crust is a totally fine substitute. The filling, fashioned after a traditional quiche Lorraine with ham and cheese, is as simple as stir and dump. And it's highly adaptable. Keep the proportions the same and substitute shredded rotisserie chicken for the ham — or use crumbled bacon, diced meatballs or diced leftover steak.

The homemade thyme-shallot-mustard salad dressing is so easy that once you learn how to make it, you will forever think twice about purchasing bottled dressing. Toss any mixed greens in the salad dressing just before serving. I like a combination of arugula, baby kale and spinach. Or simply cut a head of iceberg lettuce into wedges. If you'd like to gild the lily, top the salad with chopped, roasted, salted pistachio nuts, almonds, pecans, cashews or any combination of chopped nuts. Or consider adding shaved Parmesan cheese, dried fruit, canned pears, a sliced apple, shaved carrots, roasted cherry tomatoes or wedges of garden-fresh heirloom tomatoes — you get the idea.

The sparkling drinks, based on simple fruit purees, could easily become a cocktail with the substitution of sparkling wine for the sparkling water.

So, go ahead and make brunch; you got this.

Mark Graham is a freelance writer and a chef in the Tribune test kitchen.

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