Mar 03 2014

Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole

Recently, a co-worker hosted a chili cook-off benefit lunch to raise money for his nephew. His nephew has been diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and is facing a total of at least 16 rounds of chemotherapy. The money raised would assist the family with paying for deductibles and travel costs, which will accumulate fast. I’m happy to say there was a great outpouring of support and a large sum of money was raised to help this young man and his family with their tough road ahead.

Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole

After the lunch, we were left with a gallon-sized bag of sliced French bread that had gone uneaten. Not wanting to waste it, I started brainstorming. And came to French Toast Casserole.

I love the idea of French toast. It’s an elite form of weekend breakfast, served only at special occasions or eaten when dining out. I’m not sure why it’s enjoyed so infrequently–it could be that it’s not exactly health food–but it makes the day seem so much fancier if French toast is on your plate. The down side is that someone has to stand at the griddle frying up slice after slice of that goodness, missing out on ambiance of the occasion. She gets to eat eventually, sure, but she’s usually last, when everyone else has already moved on to something else. It’s a lonely kind of job. Which is where French Toast Casserole comes in.

Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole

look at that sugar crust!

French Toast Casserole is really a glorified bread pudding. Soak your bread slices in custard overnight, add a topping, and bake in the morning. It frees you up to enjoy the whole meal with your friends and family and lets you pretend that dessert is breakfast. Works for me!

So the morning after the benefit lunch, I brought in a dish of this Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole. Because I’m so proud of my co-workers and how wonderfully supportive they are of each other. You can’t ask for a better bunch! Whip this up and serve it to someone special to you. They’ll love it!

Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole

 

5.0 from 1 reviews
Sugar-Crusted French Toast Casserole
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 1-pound loaf French bread
  • 6 large cage-free eggs
  • ⅔ cup whole milk
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Topping
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • ¾ cup (12 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1⅓ cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup (Grade B preferred, as it’s more flavorful)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Grease a 9″x13″ baking dish and set aside.
  2. Slice French bread into 1-inch thick slices and arrange in prepared dish.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs for 30 seconds or so.
  4. Add the milk, cream, cinnamon, and vanilla extract and whisk for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until frothy.
  5. Pour over the bread slices, coating evenly. There will be a lot extra in the bottom of the dish; this is okay, as it will get absorbed. (I actually took each slice and dipped both sides in the extra before setting them upright again, just to be sure they were well-coated.)
  6. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 6 hours.
  7. In the morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take out the dish, uncover, and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Set aside.
  8. In a 3-quart heavy-bottomed sauce pan, melt the butter over medium to medium-high heat.
  9. Stir in the brown sugar and maple syrup and gently boil until the sugar is (mostly) melted. This will not be a smooth caramel sauce, but that’s okay; you want crystallization when it bakes anyway for that crunchy crust.
  10. Remove from heat and add the vanilla–it will bubble up. Be careful!
  11. Stir in the vanilla, then pour over the prepared bread evenly.
  12. Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes.
  13. Serve immediately. No additional syrup necessary.

If you would like to help out in the fundraising efforts for this young man, there is a GoFundMe page set up to collect donations. Hodgkin Lymphoma, while a very curable form of cancer, still ravages the body. This family will need all the help they can get.

Mar 01 2014

#FirstOnTheFirst: Individual Beef Wellington

I am not much of a fan of reality TV. There’s very little that’s real about them, to start.I also don’t like how they’re intended to play the audience like a violin. In spite of all of this, I am a junkie for Gordon Ramsay‘s shows. MasterChef. Kitchen Nightmares. And, of course, Hell’s Kitchen. It seems like every week on Hell’s Kitchen someone receives Chef Ramsay’s wrath for screwing up either risotto or Beef Wellington. In my mind, both of these have become epic challenges, so difficult nobody can get them right. Nobody. And yet, I thought it would be a great idea to make Beef Wellington the #FirstOnTheFirst challenge for March 1st. Makes sense, right? Yikes!

Beef Wellington

I originally intended to make little bites of Beef Wellington–it seemed less likely I’d mess that up. But once I bought my meat–which, by the way, I have never approached the butcher in the grocery store before and certainly never spent $19.99/lb for any meat I’ve ever eaten at home–I was too terrified to chop it all up. $35 worth of beef sat on my counter in steak-form–I could not find a roast–and I started to hyperventilate. I don’t cook meat. I love it, but I don’t cook it because the stuff that sells for $7/lb seems too expensive to experiment with. This? This was insane.

Finally, I gave in. Shut the TV off and immersed myself in the challenge. It was time to face my fear and go for it. I had investigated several recipes for inspiration and even watched Chef Ramsay make Beef Wellington himself. I had this.

Once my Individual Beef Wellingtons were in the oven, I watched closely. I was terrified of overcooking them, or ending up with a totally raw center. Chilling the meat in between and throwing the puff pastry-wrapped meat parcels in the freezer for a bit helps keep the beef inside from getting too well done while the puff pastry finishes. 12:30 AM and I was done. Because everyone makes Beef Wellington in the middle of the night, right? I held my breath, plated it, and adored it. Snapped some photos and then dug in. Because you can’t waste a project like this by turning it immediately into leftovers.

Beef Wellington

It was uh-mazing. No exaggeration here. So tender, so rich, so salty and yet not. Wonderful. The next night (the same night?) I served the rest as leftovers to my family. Which was also nerve-wracking–reheating without overcooking. I highly recommend heating on a rack in the pan so the crust doesn’t get soggy, and in a toaster oven or oven, NOT the microwave. The kids LOVED it. They couldn’t get enough, begging for more and more. My leftover Beef Wellington was just as awesome as my midnight snack, albeit a little less glorious. YUM.

So yeah, consider that challenge killed with great success. Will I ever make it again? Probably not–the anxiety level was too high and the investment was too great for a family meal. But I’m glad I tried it. And all of us enjoyed the end result. Take that, Hell’s Kitchen!

Beef Wellington #FirstOnTheFirst collage

Now I know you’re dying to see how everyone else did on this challenge….

Beef Wellington

slightly overcooked but still extremely delicious

Next month for First on the First…

…we’ll be making naan. A much more economical culinary adventure, and one I am really looking forward to. Check out the First on the First tab for more details on how to participate.

#FirstOnTheFirst: Individual Beef Wellington
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 beef tenderloin steaks (about 1.75-2 pounds total)
  • ¾ teaspoon flaky sea salt (like Maldon)
  • ¼-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 ounces baby Bella mushrooms
  • 1 medium shallot
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Kerrygold garlic and herb butter
  • 3 Tablespoons cooking sherry
  • 8 ounces Prosciutto di Parma (8 slices)
  • 1 package Dufour puff pastry (14 ounces), thawed
  • 1 large cage-free egg
Instructions
  1. Take the steaks out 30 minutes before cooking and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Set aside.
  2. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet heat 2 teaspoons EVOO over medium high to high heat.
  3. Add the steaks, spacing at least an inch apart from each other. Sear each side for 1-1.5 minutes, then remove to a plate to chill in the refrigerator while preparing the next part.
  4. Clean mushrooms and slice, then chop shallot. Add both the bowl of a food processor and chop until almost pureed.
  5. In the same skillet used to sear the meat heat the Tablespoon EVOO and herbed butter over medium heat. Add the mushroom paste and sautee until the moisture has cooked out, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the sherry and cook until the moisture has, once again, cooked out, about ten minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat.
  7. Lay out 4 pieces of plastic wrap and lay out 2 slices of prosciutto in the center of each piece of plastic wrap, overlapping them slightly.
  8. Divide the duxelles (mushrooms/shallots) evenly and spread over the prosciutto.
  9. Remove the steaks from the refrigerator, place one in the center of each prepared prosciutto and, using the plastic wrap to assist, wrap with the prosciutto. Wrap tightly with the plastic wrap and stash in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
  10. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  11. Divide the thawed puff pastry into 4 portions and roll them out, if necessary, to accommodate each steak. Cut squares off the corners so you're left with + signs. Set aside scraps to be cut into small shapes for accents, or saved for another project.
  12. Remove the plastic wrap from the steaks and place one in the center of each piece of puff pastry. Gather the ends so the steaks are wrapped entirely in puff pastry. Place on the prepared baking sheet.
  13. In a small bowl, whisk the egg for 1 minute. Seal the edges of the meat parcels using a little egg wash, then brush over the steak packages. Adhere any cut-out accents and brush those with egg, as well.
  14. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes. Save the remaining egg in the fridge.
  15. Remove dough packages from the freezer and apply egg wash to the dough packages again.
  16. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until pastry is golden in color.
  17. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Notes
While I have noted this serves 4, you can (and probably should) split each one into 2 servings, resulting in a total of 8 servings that are enough with side dishes. No one will feel skimped on.

 

Feb 28 2014

Food Blogger Cookbook Swap & Triple Chocolate Cookies

Food Blogger Prop SwapRemember the Food Blogger Prop Swap last year? It was a fabulous way to send along some love to our fellow food bloggers and get to know each other a little better. This year, it became the Food Blogger Cookbook Swap, hosted by Alyssa of www.EverydayMaven.com and Faith of http://www.anediblemosaic.com. As part of the swap, I sent a cookbook to a food blogger and received this cookbook in return!

The Food Blogger Cookbook Swap works on the same idea as last year, except this time around we were to select a cookbook worth around $20 and send it to the randomly-selected blogger assigned to us. My match this time was Paleo Gone Sassy. I struggled a bit at first, being a baking blogger. Pretty sure my cookbooks on whoopie pies and cupcakes and bread would be a bad fit for Stacy. I didn’t want her to be disappointed, though–I know how exciting the anticipation is and what a letdown it would be to receive something completely useless. So I chose for her a Paleo-themed cookbook on Amazon–Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat–and hoped she didn’t already have it. It wasn’t an ideal situation, considering it was shipped directly from Amazon, but I figured it definitely beat the alternative. I would keep my grain-filled titles for myself.

When my package arrived, I was in for a big surprise. Believe it or not, the recipient of my care package last year–From My Sweet Heart–traded places with me, sending me an absolutely lovely package for this year’s version of the swap! What an amazing display of karma! She gifted me Donna Hay’s Modern Classics Book 2, which is full of not only tasty treats, but insanely gorgeous photography, too. I aspire to capture scenes like Donna Hay’s someday. But that’s not all! The cookbook was wrapped in an adorable Anthropologie towel, an indulgence I would never make for myself, but I adore it! So bright and beautiful, and it matches the enclosed whisk perfectly, too! I am a lucky, lucky girl. Thank you, Anne! You knew just what to send!

donna hay cookbook

It was hard to select just one recipe to adapt for today’s post. Every photo made me want to dig in. Ultimately, I went with the Double Choc Cookies, as I knew they’d be a big hit. They’re a little less sweet than the types of cookies we’re used to–which was a bit of an accident, as I forgot to add the regular sugar–but that made them all the richer. Which is probably a good thing because it’s not very ladylike to stuff my face with abandon.

Triple Chocolate Cookies

Double Chocolate is great, but I wanted more. I can’t help myself. So I added milk chocolate chips to the dark and white chocolate chunks and now we have Triple Chocolate Cookies. The more, the merrier, right? I also added a touch of salt, as all sweets need it to balance them out. I’m surprised it wasn’t in the original recipe, as it adds so much dimension. There is some patience required–each batch takes 20-22 minutes to bake, which is a long time between batches–but they’re totally worth it.

Want to check out which great cookbooks the others received?

A Baker’s House
An Edible Mosaic
avocado bravado
Blue Kale Road
Blueberries And Blessings
Cheap Recipe Blog
Confessions of a Culinary Diva
Create Amazing Meals
Cucina Kristina
Culinary Adventures with Camilla
Cupcake Project
Dinner is Served 1972
Done With Corn
Eats Well With Others
Everyday Maven
Flour Me With Love 
From My Sweet Heart 
girlichef 
Great Food 360° 
Healthy. Delicious. 
I’m Gonna Cook That! 
Je Mange la Ville 
Karen’s Kitchen Stories 
Kitchen Treaty 
Olive and Herb
OnTheMove-In The Galley 
Our Best Bites 
Paleo Gone Sassy
Rhubarb and Honey 
Rocky Mountain Cooking
Shikha la mode 
Shockingly Delicious
Sifting Focus 
Spiceroots
Spoonful of Flavor 
Tara’s Multicultural Table 
The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler 
The Suburban Soapbox 
The Whole Family’s Food 

And now, my adaptation, because you’ve earned it.

Triple Chocolate Cookies

Triple Chocolate Cookies
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Cookie
Serves: 30
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate chunks
  • 4 ounces white chocolate chunks
  • 4 ounces milk chocolate chunks
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar until creamy.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder, cocoa, and salt, beating until incorporated.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks and stir until well distributed.
  6. Portion out with a #40 cookie scoop, leaving room for spreading. Press down gently to flatten a little (or wait til they've been in the oven for a couple minutes and then flatten... you get better shaped cookies this way).
  7. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until edges are set and dry, rotating pans halfway through baking time.
  8. Leave on baking sheets for 2 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

 

Feb 24 2014

Espresso at Home and a S’Mores Latte #recipe #client #coffeequest

Disclosure: I received a complimentary Capresso EC50 Espresso and Cappuccino Machine for review. No other compensation was received. All opinions and photos remain my own.

espresso brewing

I am a coffee shop addict. Not for the coffee–I have plenty of ways to make my own, thanks to my Coffee Quest last year. But I love espresso. Like big puffy heart love. Like it’s probably a bad thing I work across the street from a well-known and huge coffee chain love. (This may be why I don’t sleep much…?) In lattes and macchiatos, Americanos and cappuccinos: it really doesn’t matter because it’s all good. And now, thanks to Capresso, I can make them at home, too.

Capresso brings the high end coffee shop experience to your home with their affordable EC50 Stainless Steel Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Machine. Retailing just under $100, it costs less than many coffee makers you’re already buying but the results taste a lot better. Right from your own counter.

Capresso EC50

The EC50 is a petite piece of equipment, taking up less counter space than prior coffee makers I’ve had. This is great because space is at a premium in my house! It’s also extremely quick. It doesn’t take long for it to heat up and be ready for brewing. For optimum taste, it’s best to let your cup warm up, too, but it can also accommodate you if you’re in a hurry. No worries!

Capresso’s EC50 is stylish. Sleek and modern with its black and stainless combo, it’s at home in contemporary kitchens but also fits in well in older homes, too, like my 1950s kitchen. It looks like it costs a lot more than it does. Score!

espresso

I have to admit that I never made my own espresso before receiving this machine. The fact that I had it up and running, brewing that nectar of the gods, in less than 10 minutes is a testament to the ease of set-up and use. There aren’t very many parts to worry about. The 42-ounce water reservoir is removable so you can bring it right to the sink to fill up. The portafilter and sieve do need to be removed post-brewing for cleaning, but that’s little more than dumping the spent grounds and a quick run under the hot water tap.

Capresso EC50

I did have some problems with frothing/steaming the milk at first. But that’s more because I usually only keep whole milk in the house, which is too heavy to froth beautifully. When I tried with skim milk that hasn’t been ultra pasteurized, I had much better results. (I also found this guide on How to Achieve the Perfect Frothed Milk on Capresso’s website to be quite helpful in troubleshooting that problem.)

s'mores latte

So what’s the verdict? If I were in the market to purchase an espresso machine, I would definitely put the Capresso EC50 at the top of my list. You get a lot of bang for your buck, and the espresso it brews is just divine. Plus Capresso offers a lot of assistance and ideas on their Facebook page, from Twitter, on Pinterest, and right on their own blog, which is full of recipes and tips. I like that they’re there to help you get the most out of your investment.

IMG_5677

And now… a recipe. Because you need something to make with all that lovely espresso. I was inspired by the S’Mores Hot Chocolate on Capresso’s website. I wanted to elevate it a bit with a riff off of a Mocha and voila–S’Mores Latte! Now all you need is a comfy seat in front of the fireplace and you’ll feel just like you’re in the coffee shop–at home. Cheers!

5.0 from 1 reviews
S'Mores Latte
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Beverage
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • 1 honey graham cracker sheet, crushed
  • 1½ Tablespoons + ¼ teaspoon chocolate syrup
  • 6 ounces cold skim milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 2 shots (about 2 ounces) espresso
  • whipped cream
  • 2 Tablespoons mini marshmallows
Instructions
  1. Spread crushed graham cracker in a circle on a small plate.
  2. Apply ¼ teaspoon of the chocolate syrup to a paper towel and run it along the rim of a latte mug to coat, then dip the rim in the graham cracker crumbs.
  3. Drizzle the remaining chocolate syrup inside the mug.
  4. In a large mug steam cold milk using the steaming/frothing wand with the frothing part removed. Heat until 145-160 degrees Fahrenheit, then set aside.
  5. Brew the espresso according to manufacturer’s directions and pour over the chocolate syrup.
  6. Pour the steamed milk into the mug, then spray a little whipped cream on top of that.
  7. Sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of remaining graham cracker crumbs and the mini marshmallows over the whipped cream.
  8. Enjoy!

 

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