August 31, 2009

Recipe: French Toast Casserole

This bad boy is breakfast dessert. Eggs and cream and sugar and butter transform white bread into a delicacy that begs for seconds. Drawing on inspiration from a French toast casserole I had at boat church a few years back (that I remembered had Grand Marnier), I whipped this out on a whim to prepare something a little different for community group breakfast night. 

It gained rave reviews on the buffet line alongside stellar omelets, pancakes and potatoes. There are lots of recipes for French toast casserole out there, but the prospect of the sinful tastiness of this recipe from a weird user-generated site called Squidoo convinced me that it was to be my guide.

French Toast Casserole

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons corn syrup

8- to 9-inch round loaf country-style bread

5 large eggs

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (I didn't want to spend $40 on a bottle just to use one teaspoon, so I substituted orange juice.)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Powder Sugar

In a small heavy saucepan melt butter with brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth and pour into a 13x9-inch baking dish.

Cut six 1-inch thick slices from center portion of bread, reserving ends for another use, and trim crusts.

Arrange bread slices in one layer in baking dish, squeezing them slightly to fit.

In a bowl whisk together eggs, half-and-half, vanilla, Grand Marnier, and salt until combined well and pour evenly over bread. Chill bread mixture, covered, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.

Preheat oven to 350° F. and bring bread to room temperature.

Bake bread mixture, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed and edges are pale golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Garnish with powdered sugar if desired.

Serve hot immediately.

August 27, 2009

Three Things: No Lettuce Required

What follows are the result of playing with my farmer's market finds after lettuce had left the building, er market (it's too hot now in mid-Mo). I boiled up a bunch of veggies on Sunday and then threw them together for lunch during the week.

1. Corn salad
This really dresses up corn, and the Fritos add crunch and super salty flavor.
Ingredients: corn chopped off the cob, chopped green peppers and crushed Fritos tossed in 50/50 plain yogurt and mayo mix.

2. Potatoes, green beans and trout salad
Such a healthy yet tasty combo of flavors that I eagerly anticipated eating it a second day in a row. 
Ingredients: Chopped boiled new potatoes, green beans cooked with onion, crumbed smoked trout (from a package) tossed in a mixture of olive oil and white vinegar

3. Peach -walnut rice salad
Light, fruity, grainy.
Ingredients: cooked brown rice (I cooked it up in the morning while showering and eating breakfast), chopped peaches and chopped walnuts tossed in a mixture of olive oil, honey and lemon juice.

August 24, 2009

Pesto Cubes

It doesn't make sense not to whip up fresh pesto you can grab a bunch of basil at the farmer's market for a buck. But because I can only use so much of it to top my pasta, sandwiches and veggies in the week it is good, I froze what I had left in an ice cube tray to easily defrost for future meals, particularly after farmer's market season (tragically!) ends. I left the Parmesan out of my pesto recipe for better freezing consistency, so I just sprinkled the cheese on foods when I added the pesto.


After a few hours in the freeze, at which point they got individually packed and placed back into their frozen hibernation:

(Recipe from my Cuisinart food processor booklet)

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (or walnuts)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves, washed and completely dried
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Add nuts to the processor and chop 5 times; remove and reserve. Add garlic to processor and chop for 5 seconds. Add basil and half the olive oil. Pulse on grind 10 times, then grind continuously for 15 seconds. With the machine running on grind, add the remaining oil slowly through the holes in the lid. Process on grind for an additional 10 seconds. Add nuts and pulse 10 times on chop to blend. 

Let the pesto sit for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop.

August 17, 2009

Recipe: Banana Bread French Toast

What do you make with rotten bananas?
Duh, banana bread.

What do you make when you think banana bread is really unoriginal even if it tastes really good?
Banana bread french toast. Oo, la, la!

I used the most basic, classic banana bread recipe from Cooking Light (with half white flour and half wheat flour) and then the simple French toast recipe I picked up from my mom when I was like 12 years old. The Saturday morning treat proved more flavorful than my usual wheat bread French toast. Maple complements banana quite well, not surprisingly. But I think I still like plain ole banana bread the best.
Banana Bread French Toast

Banana Bread (1 loaf)

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup butter, softened

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas)

1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cooking spray

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk.

Place sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 1 minute). Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist. Spoon batter into an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

French Toast (1 serving)

2 slices banana bread (I like mine thin, but most recipes say you want thick, stale slices)

1 egg

3 tablespoons milk

Beat egg. Mix in milk. Dip bread in egg and milk mixture and coat well. Place on skillet over medium heat. Flip once bottom is golden brown. Brown the other side and remove to chow down. Serve with powdered sugar and/or syrup.

August 13, 2009

Recipe: Peach Trifle

One of the things I miss most about spending the summer in Alabama would be a food: Chilton County peaches. These ultimate sweet and juicy fruits seriously call into question how it is that Georgia is the peach state and not it's neighbor to the West.

This peach really needs little dress it up for dessert; I find it cruel to alter their flavor by baking them in a cobbler. Instead, for special occasions I prefer to use them in dish that displays their raw flavor. While back in sweet home Alabama, I made this trifle tweaked from a Cooking Light recipe that blends the juices from the peaches a with a light, creamy custard as well as cake.
Peach Trifle

5 cups sliced peeled ripe peaches
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large egg yolks
3 1/3 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
2 cups evaporated fat-free milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pounds cake, sliced (I bought mine from Whole Foods.)
Combine peaches, brown sugar, and cinnamon, tossing well to combine; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
Combine granulated sugar, cornstarch, salt, and egg yolks in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth.
Heat milks in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat to 180° or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). Gradually add hot milk mixture to sugar mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk.
Return the milk mixture to saucepan. Cook mixture over medium heat 2 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla extract.
Spoon the custard into a small bowl. Place the bowl in a large ice-filled bowl for 15 minutes or until the custard is cool (which was significantly longer for me), stirring occasionally. Remove bowl from ice.
Arrange 1/4 pound cake slices in a single layer on the bottom of a trifle bowl. Spoon 1/4 of the peach mixture over cake. Spread 1/4 of custard over peach mixture. Repeat for 3 more layers of each, finishing with the custard. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

August 10, 2009

Something New: Pattypan (aka Scallop) Squash

I was feeling a little adventurous while shopping at the farmer's market, and this funny-shaped guy just looked like a fun challenge. What in the world do you what I learned was called a pattypan squash?
My internet stalking of the vegetable revealed that the best way to make it tasty and show off its funky figure was by stuffing it. And so I roughly followed this recipe that several blogs had referenced. I had sausage, not bacon, so the end result was a combo of sausage, onion, bread crumbs and extra parmesan. 
The end product's color was bland, but its flavor was far from it. The stuffed center kind of tasted like Thanksgiving stuffing, which seemed a little out of place in the summer, and the squash was similar to regular ole yellow squash. My version also included  more onions than the average eater prefers (my love for the veggie trumps fears of being socially ostracized from said breath). 

August 7, 2009

Three Things: Plain Yogurt

My favorite uses for one of my favorite kitchen staples that just so happens to be packed with good-for-you bacteria called probiotics...
1. Honey yogurt. Plain yogurt by itself does not taste good. But mixed with honey and topped with berries makes it far superior to any fruit combination premixed in a container.

2. Salads. Potato salad, coleslaw, chicken salad and other creamy dressings don't need a butt load of mayo. I like to use about half mayo and half yogurt. 

3. Smoothies. No need for super sweet frozen yogurt or ice cream. Just add lots of fruit, a tad bit of honey and plain yogurt. My favorite combination is ripe banana, frozen strawberries, blueberries, orange juice, ice cubes, yogurt and honey.

August 4, 2009

Books & Bites: Peach Cupcakes

ABOUT BOOKS & BITES: Once a month I meet up with college friends (and their friends) living in different cities for book club via video chat. And a female social event isn't complete without dessert, so Danielle, our Web master and Memphis hostess, usually bakes some bites for those that gather at her house.  Unfortunately, AIM has not yet figured out how to let us send food to one another. However, when we want it badly enough, those of us in other cities attempt to replicate cupcake master Danielle's recipe of choice.

TODAY'S BITE:  This light, summery cupcake recipe complemented our discussion of a quick, fun read about the spinster and other quirky characters in a small Virginia town (Big Stone Gap). The recipe looked far too good not to prepare. When I remembered I had a few peaches at home and my evening work duties ended early, it was clear that making a mini batch (1/3 recipe) was my destiny for the evening. 

Danielle made cream cheese frosting for cupcakes, and I made my old standby, buttercream, to which I added extra orange zest (maybe a little too much-- the taste was wonderful but overpowering on the cake). The Memphis crew was little critical of the "chunks" of fruit in cupcakes, but I chopped them small enough that it didn't bother me.

Peach Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup  butter, at room temperature
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoon grated orange zest
3/4 cup  milk
2 peaches or nectarines, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together sugar and butter until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition until light and fluffly. Add vanilla and orange zest, beating well. Alternately beat in flour mixture and milk, making three additions of flour mixture and two of milk, beating until smooth. Fold in peaches or nectarines.

Scoop batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated over for 23-28 minutes or until golden brown and tops of cupcakes spring back when lightly touched. Let cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on rack.

August 2, 2009

Recipe: Wedding Cookies

What do I make for a shower for a cookie-loving bride on the eve of her wedding? Wedding cookies, of course. Having not made these in more than a year, I had forgotten how the simple butter-pecan balls dusted in powdered sugar are light and delightful. 

The recipe (from one of my mom's neighborhood cookbooks) calls for the least amount of sugar I've ever put in cookies, but it's all they need. The dough ends up really crumbly, so I squish it into balls with my hands.

Wedding Cookies
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
4 tablespoons sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
Powdered sugar
Combine butter through vanilla then add nuts. Shape into small balls. Bake 35-45 minutes at 300 degrees. Roll in powdered sugar when cool.