Trying to throw a dinner party in December is a scheduling nightmare. The first weekend of the month is too close to Thanksgiving, and the last is too close to Christmas, which leaves everyone jockeying for the same few available weekend evenings. My solution: Host a casual brunch party; it opens up your calendar and alleviates the stress of cooking a three-course meal. To make things even easier, I prepare dishes that can be served buffet-style, like a giant, fluffy baked-apple pancake or a Monte Cristo strata, which turns the diner classic—a ham-and-cheese sandwich between slices of French toast—into a bubbling, custardy one-pot meal. All of these dishes can be prepped in advance, so you don’t even have to be a morning person to host a fantastic first meal of the day.