At any party, people always end up in the kitchen.

Unlike a formal dining room or parlor, the kitchen is user-friendly. It's the heart, and hearth, of the home, where kids' pictures are on the fridge and friends know where to find the juice glasses. The perfect spot, then, to host an informal brunch.

Who better to offer advice on make-ahead brunch than those who have to feed, and impress, a dozen hungry guests every morning, all year long? For tips on preparing a sumptuous meal with a minimum of fuss, we turned to the hosts of nearby bed-and-breakfast inns. Here's what the insiders said:

Know what can be made ahead. "Fruit is pretty, and--except for melon--you can clean and cut it the night before," says Edie Sulivae, who owns Blue Bird on the Mountain in Cascade, Md. Certain breads, like coffeecake and zucchini bread, are actually better the second day.

Before opening the Shenandoah Valley's Inn at Vaucluse Spring, Neil Myers pored over cookbooks in the Arlington Public Library. "If a recipe said 'Remove from oven an hour before serving,' I turned the page," she says. "If it requires too much work in the morning, that's more stress than you need."

Souffles are notorious stress inducers. Many hosts find individual omelets too much to handle. Think through each dish to gauge the workload required.

Balance your menu. Think of one elaborate "centerpiece" entree, like French toast or quiche. Plan accompaniments that need just a garnish or a stir. Or make a simple, homey main dish and get fancy with the sides. Give people a first course to work on while you're arranging the second.

For toast, consider pairing a loaf of sourdough bread with homemade jam or honey butter. "People love anything that's a little creative or different," says Nancy Dick of St. Michael's Manor in Scotland, Md., who makes her own fig jam and crab apple syrup. Neither bread nor spread takes any work in the morning: Let guests slice their own and pop it in the toaster.

Get organized. Sulivae walks through each recipe in advance: "When it says to whip something, I get the beater ready. If it mentions spices, I have the jars and my measuring spoons waiting on the counter."

Adapt recipes. Some casseroles can be assembled at night and simply placed in the oven later. If you must bake in the morning, do what you can the day before.

At Shepherdstown, W.Va.'s Thomas Shepherd Inn, Lori Capettini uses sealed bowls for muffin fixings. In one bowl go all the premeasured dry ingredients; in the other--refrigerated--go wet ones like apples, grated carrots, eggs. "This saves 20 to 30 minutes in the morning," she says.

Use shortcuts. At Apple Hill Farm B&B in Sperryville, Va., Dot Waller always has packaged hollandaise sauce on hand after she once made it fresh and it separated. As for fruit, Sulivae buys cored fresh pineapple, sold in the produce aisle. Dick always has peach and apple slices on hand--she dips them in a bowl of water with Fruit Fresh, then freezes them in plastic.

Careful planning can help ensure your brunch goes well--for both guests and host. "If we didn't plan like this, we'd have to get up in the middle of the night," says Myers. "And who wants to do that?"

Fig Jam

(Makes about 8 pints)

Innkeeper Nancy Dick of St. Michael's Manor in Scotland, Md., concocted this recipe. Spread it on toast, biscuits or croissants.

Canning jars, rings and lids

5 cups (3 1/4 pounds) fresh figs

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup water

4 cups sugar

1.75 ounces (1 box) fruit pectin

1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine

Sterilize the jars, rings and lids according to manufacturer's directions.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over high heat, bring the figs, lemon juice and water to a boil. Add the sugar, fruit pectin and butter or margarine and continue to boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and skim the foam from the top.

Carefully pour the jam into the sterilized jars, leaving 1/8-inch space between the jam and the neck of the jar. Seal the jars according to manufacturer's directions. Unopened jars of jam will keep for about 1 year. It is not necessary to refrigerate the jars until they have been opened.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 17 calories, trace protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, trace cholesterol, trace saturated fat, trace sodium, trace dietary fiber

White Grape Ice

(6 servings)

This easy but showy first course, by Lori Capettini of the Thomas Shepherd Inn in Shepherdstown, W.Va., can be made several days in advance. 1/2 cup sugar

1 cup water

4 cups (about 2 pounds) green grapes

1 1/2 cups white grape juice, chilled

Sprigs of fresh mint (optional)

Place a metal roasting pan in the freezer to chill.

In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar and water to a simmer. Cook, stirring, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate.

Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, puree the grapes until smooth. Transfer the puree to a strainer set over a bowl and press the solids with the back of a spoon to extract all of the juice from the skin and seeds; discard the skin and seeds.

Stir together the grape puree, grape juice and chilled sugar-water. Pour the mixture into the chilled roasting pan and freeze until ice crystals form, at least 3 hours.

About 30 minutes before serving, remove the pan from the freezer and scrape the surface with a heavy spoon. (If the grape ice is too hard to scrape, let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.) Transfer the scrapings to a parfait glass or other stemware. Then transfer the filled glasses to the freezer so the ice doesn't melt. Garnish with a sprig of mint in each glass, if desired.

Per serving: 178 calories, 1 gm protein, 45 gm carbohydrates, 1 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 6 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Blue Bird French Toast

(5 to 6 servings)

"Guests always ooh and aah over this," says Edie Sulivae of Blue Bird on the Mountain B&B in Cascade, Md.

Though this dish does require some work in the morning, much of the preparation takes place the night before. Serve with raspberry coulis or butter and maple syrup.

1 unsliced loaf cinnamon, raisin or French bread

1 quart French vanilla ice cream, softened

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup orange juice

2 1/2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as triple sec

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 orange, peeled and sliced

Confectioners' sugar

Raspberry Coulis (recipe follows)

Cut the bread into 1- to 1 1/2-inch slices. Reserve the end slices for another use.

In a medium bowl with an electric mixer or a whisk, beat the ice cream, eggs, orange juice and liqueur until creamy. Stir in 1/4 cup nuts, if using.

In a 10-by-10-inch dish or pan, layer the bread slices. Pour the ice cream mixture over the bread, cover tightly and refrigerate.

Turn the bread every 15 minutes for the first hour to coat the bread. Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat an electric frying pan to 250 degrees or heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and heat until melted. Add as many slices of bread as will comfortably fit in the pan or skillet and cook, covered, until browned, about 10 minutes per side. Check frequently to prevent burning. Repeat with the remaining butter and slices.

To serve: Place 1/2 of the orange slices in a chafing dish or warmed baking dish. Add 1 layer of French toast slices and top with the remaining orange slices. Add another layer of French toast. Sift confectioners' sugar over the top and garnish with the remaining 1/4 cup nuts, if desired. Serve immediately.

Per serving (with Raspberry Coulis, using cinnamon- raisin bread): 452 calories, 8 gm protein, 66 gm carbohydrates, 17 gm fat, 89 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 329 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Raspberry Coulis

(24 servings)

"This one is a no-brainer, and it looks and tastes wonderful," say Neil Myers and Karen Caplanis, co-owners of the Inn at Vaucluse Spring in Stephens City, Va.

Use the coulis as a sauce for French toast or to dress up sliced or chopped fresh fruit such as kiwi, mango, pineapple, melon and peaches. A little goes a long way; leftovers can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

12 ounces frozen raspberries, thawed

1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons creme de cassis

1/4 teaspoon orange flower water* (may substitute orange or vanilla extract)

In a food processor or blender, puree the raspberries. Transfer the mixture to a strainer set over a medium bowl and press the solids with the back of a spoon to extract all of the liquid. Discard the seeds; set the raspberry puree aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the jam, sugar, creme de cassis and orange flower water until smooth. Whisk in the raspberry puree. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

* Note: Orange flower water is distilled from bitter-orange blossoms and is often used as a flavoring in baked goods and drinks.

Per serving: 43 calories, trace protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 gm saturated fat, 5 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Crab and Goat Cheese Quiche

(6 servings)

According to Dot Waller of Apple Hill Farm B&B in Sperryville, Va., combining the wet ingredients ahead of time gives the flavors a chance to blend.

9-inch deep-dish unbaked pie shell

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 medium onion, finely chopped

4 stalks celery, finely chopped

4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced

8 strips bacon

5 eggs

3/4 cup sour cream

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 ounces fresh crab meat, picked over

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

The following steps can be done the night before:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Prick the pie shell with a fork and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Cool completely. Cover loosely with foil. Do not refrigerate.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery and mushrooms and cook until the onion is softened and translucent. With a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a dish. Cover tightly and refrigerate.

Wipe out the skillet. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain. Crumble the bacon, wrap in a paper towel, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Whisk in the sour cream until thoroughly combined. Add the baking powder, flour, salt and pepper to taste. Whisk to combine. Cover tightly and refrigerate.

The following steps can be done in the morning:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Spoon the vegetable mixture into the pie crust. Sprinkle the bacon over the vegetables. Make a layer of the crab meat, followed by a layer of feta cheese. Pour the egg-sour cream mixture over the layers and set aside for 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the grated Parmesan over the quiche. Carefully fit a thin strip of aluminum foil over the exposed pie crust to prevent burning.

Place the quiche on a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 407 calories, 13 gm protein, 21 gm carbohydrates, 31 gm fat, 229 mg cholesterol, 15 gm saturated fat, 639 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Ellen Ryan is the author of "Innkeeping Unlimited: Practical, Low-Cost Ways to Improve Your B&B and Win Repeat Business" (Can-Do Press, 1998). Her e-mail address is eryan@erols.com.