Baked French Toast

French toast has forever been one of my preferred breakfast foods. It is mildly sweet, and can be dressed up or dressed down, depending on the toppings, which can range from versatile fresh or cooked fruit, to caramel drizzle, to wonderfully plain maple syrup. French toast can even have savory toppings. It pairs well with both bacon and sausage, and I’ve been known to eat it alongside a small omelet on a few occasions. There’s even a sandwich made of french toast, raspberry jam, and sliced ham. And it’s delicious and it’s called the Monte Cristo.

This recipe that I created is like a custard; a soft, caramelized combination that falls somewhere between bread pudding and french toast. It is delicious, but it is more rich and sweet than perhaps a normal version would be. I’ve served it as dessert a few times, but it also makes a killer breakfast.

Baked French Toast
(Makes 6 servings)
For the caramel:
2 Tablespoons whiskey or bourbon
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons salted butter

For the French Toast:
5 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup cream
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
6 1″ slices “French” or “italian” style soft bread

Optional: maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 390 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the whiskey/bourbon, vanilla and brown sugar in a small sauce pan over low heat. Let the sugar dissolve, stirring frequently. When the sugar is just melted (this should take no more than 3-5 minutes) and steaming very, very lightly, add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon until is just combined, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and pour the caramel into the bottom of an 8″ by 10″ pan.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, crack and lightly whisk the eggs. Add the milk and cream, whisk to combine. add the cinnamon by sprinkling on top and stir lightly with a fork to mix in. If you stir too quickly, the cinnamon will clump up. Arrange the bread slices on top of the caramel in the pan. You might have to smoosh them together, but they should all fit. Once the bread slices are in the pan, pour the custard over.

It may seem like a lot, but use all of the custard. Cover the pan with foil and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Remove the foil and raise the temperature to 425ºF, bake for about 15 minutes more. Use a metal, non-slotted spatula to serve the bread slices from the pan. Serve warm, slightly above room temperature. This french toast is very good with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream or a heaping amount of unsweetened, freshly whipped cream.

Notes:

*I have found that when I crack eggs, I prefer to crack them on a flat surface rather than on the edge of a bowl. This results in a more even crack and therefore less flaking of the shell into the bowl that you are working into. 

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Turmeric Roasties

Turmeric is underrated in America. Its earthiness, bitterness, light sweetness and bright color are all wonderful attributes. I used it when I was in culinary school in some Spanish dishes, some Indian dishes, but that was about the extent. Turmeric isn’t humble, and it isn’t shy, but it’s also not loud and bold. It’s kind of like that overly smart, nerdy kid who never talks and sits in the back of Algebra class who just doesn’t bother because he knows that everyone has already pre-judged him. (I always felt bad for that kid. More than that, I really wanted to be his friend. But he always thought I was making fun of him, so he ignored my efforts.) I chose turmeric for the same reason I chose to befriend that kid: they deserve some well meaning effort and general kindness. That’s really tragic, so we’re going to move on to less dark analogies now. 

Turmeric is like turmeric. I can’t really compare it to anything else. It’s perfect on these vegetables, and all those in my life whom I have exposed to this recipe have loved the addition of it, too. I’m not a raw vegetable person, and I’m not a steamed vegetable person, and saute is good for the spring time, but roasties are a staple in a state where it’s below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for about 8 months out of the year. Most of my recipes come about because I’m trying to figure out what to do with all of the stuff at the back of my fridge, and this was no different. Onions, potatoes, and some carrots from the farmers market combined with a head of cauliflower to accompany some lemon chicken, and I tell you, I have no regrets. (Except my remark about the nerdy kid.) The beauty of this particular combination is that the onions get very soft and blackish/charred, the cauliflower takes on a silky texture with ruffly, crisp edges, the carrots have a bit of a bite and the potatoes are crispy and soft both. If you are stuck in a roasted vegetable rut or want something easy to toss with pasta, pile on jasmine rice, or eat alongside your meat of choice and a salad, try these.

 

Turmeric Roasties

1 head of cauliflower
2 yellow onions
5-8 small bunch carrots from the farmers market or organic section of your grocery store
2 medium sized russet potatoes, scrubbed and dried
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. Core the cauliflower by cutting it in half and slicing the core out on either side. Lay each half of the cauliflower on its side and slice it about 1/4 inch thick. You want the slices to be thin and it’s alright if they crumble. Slice each of the cauliflower halves this way.

Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and slice them thinly. Cut the onions in half and remove either end. Remove the peel. Slice them widthwise about 1/3 of an inch thick. Hopefully the carrots you bought were no more than 2″ long. If they are, cut them down to about that length, then cut them into four wedges each. Put the lot of them all in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil and lemon juice.

In a small bowl, mug or ramekin, combine the turmeric, coriander and chile flakes. Add this mix to the vegetables and toss with your hands or a wooden spoon. Now add as much salt and pepper as you think they need. (This is different for everyone, so there is no way I am putting an amount.) I used a few generous pinches of each.
Lay out your vegetables on one or two roasting pans (lined with foil, optionally). You want them to be in a single layer NOT touching…this will allow the vegetables enough room to cook each at their own pace and brown on the edges…the caramelization is what you want! If they are crowded, they will end up steamed at the end, which will completely erase the purpose of the oven in this recipe. Roast the vegetables for 15 minutes, stir and roast for 10-15 more. After this, if your vegetables are not browned enough for your liking, you can roast them at 500ºF very briefly or broil them for a few minutes at a time. Serve hot.

Optional sauce:
2 cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
a good amount of finely chopped parsley and chives

Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Saute the garlic for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until soft and mellow, but not colored or crispy at all. This is just intended to take the raw edge off. Add the lemon zest and minced herbs when the oil is still warm, but not on the stove, just to wilt them. Transfer to a bowl and spoon over the individual servings of vegetables.

Brown Butter Bourbon Salted Caramel Ice Cream

When a good friend loans you an ice cream maker for your birthday, you take advantage of it. Or at least I do. In the past week, I’ve made three different varieties, and I’m hoping to make a few more before Monday, when I return it. The three flavors I’ve made so far are 1. Guinness milk chocolate (David Lebovitz’s version), 2. Peppermint with crushed peppermint candy and 3. Brown Butter Bourbon Salted Caramel. 

I love Caramel (so much that it gets capitalized). It is easily my most favorite dessert flavor of all time, be it cake, cookies, candy, tarts, pies, sauces, or ice cream. This recipe calls for making your own caramel, which is surprisingly easy, and incorporating it into the custard. It was decadent, rich, velvety and smooth, and someone went so far as to tell me that it was better than Salt & Straw. I’m sure they were just being nice, but I’ll take it. The finished consistency even after being frozen for a few hours was pretty soft-bodied, tasting like a firmer version of soft serve, but it was nowhere near as firm as regular ice cream. The nutty flavor of the brown butter is present but not overpowering, and the bourbon adds the right note to take it over the top. This is so rich and fulfilling that if you choose to accompany it, it should be with plain shortbread.

This recipe is lengthy, but actually surprisingly quick. Be sure to read the ENTIRE recipe first, so you’ll know all the crucial steps and you can be thinking one step ahead. It helps, trust me. Making the caramel and the base took me no more than 30 or 35 minutes, so take the time to read every detail first, and you’ll be in the clear for a fairly simple endeavor.

Image

 

(Obviously, this is not my photo because I did not take one. But thanks, Sugarhero.com for capturing the essence of what my soft, luscious ice cream looked like. That was sweet of you.)

Brown Butter Bourbon Salted Caramel Ice Cream
(Yields about 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 quarts)
Special equipment: ice cream maker

For the Caramel: 

1 cup granulated white sugar
1 1/4 cup warmed heavy cream
3 tablespoons brown butter*
1 teaspoon kosher salt or flaked sea salt

For the custard:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla or bourbon

To make the custard:
(This entire process should take no more than 10 or 15 minutes.)
place a large, 10 inch skillet over medium/low heat. Get all of your ingredients measured out and right beside you for convenience: a heatproof spatula, a fork, the sugar, cream in a liquid measuring cup with a spout, brown butter in a small dish, and salt. Add the 1 cup of sugar in an even layer and stir it with a fork until it begins to melt. When it starts to melt, use a heatproof spatula to start stirring it instead.

As you’re stirring it with a fork, the melting sugar will start to clump up with the dry sugar. Once this starts to happen, let it sit for a few seconds to get more melty. The sugar gets hot enough that the lumps disappear. If you start to see the sugar browning at all, begin stirring it gently again, and once it’s mostly melted, stir it consistently until it’s all melted and is turning a medium-dark rich amber color. At this point, begin streaming in the cream very slowly, but in a steady stream, taking care to stir constantly with the heatproof spatula and making sure that you’re getting the corners of the pan.

Because the cream is warm, it will be less likely to splatter, although the sugar may still start to seize up (this means that the part the cream has touched becomes cooler than the rest and forms a sticky clump. Just keep stirring and it will all be fine. This usually resolves itself within a few seconds but you have to keep streaming the cream in and stirring). When the cream is all added in, turn off the heat. Add the brown butter and salt, stir until combined. Remove the caramel from the pan and into a bowl, and let it cool.

 

To make the custard:
Crack your three eggs into a medium sized bowl that is flat and sturdy on the bottom and lightly whisk them. Get out another large bowl and set a wire mesh strainer over the top. In a sauce pan, combine the cream, milk, sugar and vanilla or bourbon. Place over medium heat. Do not allow this mixture to boil, and stir it frequently, but make sure it is steaming vigorously and is very warm.

When this is sufficiently warmed, transfer it to a 1 quart liquid measuring cup with a spout. Now begin streaming it very, very gradually into the eggs, setting down the measuring cup if you have to, while whisking constantly. (If this is your first time making ice cream or if you are new to cooking, it will help to have a second person assisting you.) Do not let the eggs curdle and make sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl. When all of the hot liquid has been streamed into the eggs, transfer the mixture back into the sauce pan and place over medium-low heat. Stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, you will know when the mixture is done when it coats the spatula lightly but the eggs are not curdled.

Scrape the be-Jesus out of the bottom and corners of the pan while you stir…otherwise it will turn into scrambled eggs and that is nasty. Now, pour the mixture through the fine mesh strainer into the large bowl. Remove the strainer, add the caramel. Whisk lightly until the two are combined. Pour the mixture into an airtight container and refrigerate for three to six hours, or place in an ice bath (a metal bowl containing the custard set into another, larger metal bowl containing ice and water) and stir frequently until cool, about 20-30 minutes.

Do all your dishes immediately. Seriously, do them now. Custard is pretty hard to clean off dishes once it has cooled, and it will gunk up your sponge. And that caramel pan…the longer it sits, the more of your life and/or will to live you’ll waste on cleaning it. It will help to fill the caramel pan with water and bring it to a boil. This will loosen any stuck caramelized sugar. When the dishes are dry/washed/put away, relax until the custard is cool. Unless you’re using the ice bath method. Then you can’t relax. You have to keep stirring until the custard is cool. Sorry, but you chose this life.

Once the custard is cool, very cool, (oh and it shall be very cool) freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Et Voila!!

Disclaimer: this ice cream is like meth. Once you eat it, your only true form of happiness will be the other times when you are eating it. Otherwise, you’ll  just be drudging through your days waiting for this ice cream to bring you true bliss.

Notes:

*making Brown Butter: Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until the foam subsides. Continue cooking it, stirring frequently, watching constantly, to make sure that it browns but does not blacken. This should take about 3-7 minutes depending on the heat of your stove. You’ll know the butter is done when it omits a nutty, sweet aroma and the milk solids are browned. 

Parmesan Dijon Broiled Tomatoes

Mary Engelbreit is not someone that I would regularly consider to be a culinary genius. She is a homemaker with decent taste in food and I’ve never had a reason to be particularly impressed with her cookbooks. My mom loves her, and so does my aunt, and one day, a few years ago, I stumbled across one particular picture in one of her cookbooks owned by own of them that looked like a glimpse into an oasis in the middle of the dessert. I had been wondering through the desert known as Food Funk, and I saw these literally glistening at me, so I ran for it.

Since my initial testing of the recipe, I have made these for lunch, dinner, brunch, in the spring, summer and fall, and because the tomatoes are cooked, even if they’re not absolutely  in season, you can get away with it (but obviously the most stellar results are the most seasonal ones). These would go well as a topping for a salad, an addition to a burger, a sandwich filling or a side dish/appetizer for any meal including chicken or anything with rice or pasta. I don’t see how you can really go wrong. I couldn’t find this recipe when I searched for it again, but these have been on my mind, and I’ve made them enough times to have my own adaptation that I jotted down, and here it is.

parmesan tomatoes

Parmesan Dijon Broiled Tomatoes

2 or 3 large round tomatoes, ripe
1 clove garlic, crushed through a garlic press or finely minced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons dijon or spicy brown mustard
2 teaspoons sriracha
3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 scallions, very thinly sliced
Basil chiffonade*, if desired, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Slice the tomatoes about 1/2″ thick. (You want the slices to be plump and juicy.) You can use the ends of the tomatoes as well, so save them. Combine the garlic, mayo, mustard and sriracha. Stir to mix well, until the color is uniform. Add 2 tablespoons of the cheese, black pepper if you like, and the sliced scallions. Fold them in gently with a spoon.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (not wax paper) and lay the tomato slices in a single layer, about an inch apart on the lined pan. Using a soup spoon (or similar spoon, just one you’d eat at the dinner table with), spoon the mixture evenly onto the tomato slices. You don’t want the mixture to be mounded, but you want a thick layer. Don’t press the topping into the tomato slices, just gently spread it on top. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese evenly over the tomato slices and add ground black pepper over the top. Bake them for about 10 minutes or so, until the tomatoes are soft and the tops are golden brown. Remove them from the oven at this point and serve hot as a side dish or a snack. Garnish with the basil if desired.

 

Notes: 

*Chiffonade means to stack up a few basil leaves and roll them, then use a sharp knife to slice them into really thin slices. When you separate and unroll the slices, this will result in thin grass-blade looking pieces, which is a decorative way to garnish the plate