French Toast Casserole

I can remember weekend mornings being nothing but happiness growing up…the slow long stretch to wake up, the leap out of bed and the run to the kitchen.  My mom would be in there with a big smile on her face wishing my sister and me a happy “good morning”.  Smells of cinnamon, maple syrup and other spices floated throughout the air and as I got older I would also enjoy the smell of a fresh pot of coffee.  Now that I am an adult the roles have reversed.  I am the one waking up and making a weekend breakfast that fills the area with those same warm and welcoming aromas.  I truly have enjoyed this passing of the baton but there are some weekends that even though I want to make something great and wonderful for my family, I would rather sit and sip a hot cup of coffee for a few quiet moments rather than slave over a hot stove.  For these times, I am always looking to create recipes that I can put together ahead of time and just pop in the oven the next morning, letting the warm heat of the oven do all the work for me.  You know those meals, hot, gooey and full of flavor.   

The longer this wonderful casserole sits in the refrigerator the better it gets! The fun part about the french toast casserole I made this morning is that my two year old son was able to get in there and get his hands dirty with me. I love being able to let him be involved, especially with him being in that “No, Hunter do it!” phase of development.  It’s so refreshing to say yes instead of saying no to him when cooking.  There is nothing more that I enjoy doing than pulling up a step stool close to the counter and letting him be part of the preparation process. To see the smile on his face when he pours a measuring cup full of milk into a bowl of dry goods because he hasn’t spilled anything, gives both of us a surge of pride. I hope that one day he is able to look back on these moments with great fondness and that someday he gets to experience the joy of being a parent on weekend mornings with something sweet baking in the oven and a big “Good Morning!”

Recipe:

1-1½ loaves of bread (I used a whole loaf of sprouted bread and a half a loaf of sourdough for a nice textural contrast)

6 organic eggs

2 cups coconut milk

2 Tbsp vanilla extract

½ cup applesauce

½ cup coconut sugar

½ cup organic sucanat (natural brown cane sugar I use instead of normal brown sugar)

Organic butter

Topping:

½ cup spelt flour

½ cup sucanat

¼ tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp orange zest

1 cold stick of butter, cubed

Pinch of salt

In a large casserole dish coated generously with butter, evenly layer the loaves of bread torn into large chunks (little ones love to do this part for you J).  You can also cut into cubes if you want a more uniform look. In a large bowl, mix all other ingredients and pour over the entire dish. Cover with plastic and place in the refrigerator overnight for at least 8 hours. The next morning preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl combine ingredients for topping, cutting in the butter with either a fork, pastry knife or even pulsed in a food processor.  Mix until the butter is broken into little bits and the dry ingredients are fully incorporated with the butter.  Sprinkle over the top of the bread and egg mixture.  You can even do this the night before as well and just store in the refrigerator so the butter stays cold.  Place in the oven for 45 minutes…this will produce a bread pudding like consistency, if you want a firmer casserole you can leave it in the oven up to an hour.

I served mine with a Berry Sauce that you can throw on the stove and let it cook down while the casserole bakes.

Berry Sauce:

1 cup fresh blueberries

6 oz. container of fresh raspberries

10 oz bag of frozen strawberries

Juice of 2 small lemons

½ cup coconut sugar

Bring all ingredients to a boil and then turn down the heat to medium-low heat, allowing the fruit to break down for the most part as the sauce thickens.  I then took a handheld blender and pureed it; you can also use a regular blender.  Place back on the heat and let it cook a little more to thicken to the consistently you want. 

Drizzle a bit of real maple syrup on it as well to get a nice blend of sweet and tart between it and the berry sauce. Top with a bit of butter and fresh blueberries if you want.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Potato Salad with a Spicy Avocado Mayo

Last week I went back to where my passion for food all began.  I decided to take a little vacation to Seattle and have some good quality “me” time.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and I love being a wife and a mom. But every now and again, especially with a two-year old running around, silence really is golden.  Walking into my hotel room and hearing nothing was such an odd sensation for me and as the weekend went on I realized a few days of it was ok but l missed my noisy and sometimes chaotic life.  However, in those few days I drank in all I could before I came back to reality.  I simply dubbed it as my “momcation.”  Walking around downtown Seattle along the wharf and through the market I forgot how much influence the Asian culture has on the Pacific Northwest cuisine.  I love how two very different customs come together so easily and beautifully in a city like this, a place where that little coffee company called Starbucks got its humble start can be nestled up against little shops that offer steamed buns and egg rolls.  I think it really is a perfect example of the true definition of what America is today, a big pot of diversity.  I loved being around all the different Asian influenced and inspired dishes.  My father is half Japanese and I have grown up being exposed to and falling in love with some really great dishes I probably would have never heard of otherwise. 

I think taking something truly representative of America and spinning it on its head with a little Asian influence can result in something really special.  What is more American than potato salad?  I love potato salad and could it eat all the time but it is one thing that you usually only get one of two choices with.  Mayo or mustard based.  Now I know that in and of itself can result in long heated debates about which is better, people can be pretty passionate about their potato salad.  So I am going to throw in another twist and see what you guys think about this one.  A homemade mayo with the additions of Sriracha and avocado paired with traditional elements of the red potatoes and celery with a couple other surprises thrown in.

Now homemade mayo may sound like a big task to undertake but trust me it is sooooo simple and once you get a good base down the flavor options are endless!

Spicy Avocado Mayo:

1 large egg

1/2 tsp dijon mustard

1 clove garlic

1 small avocado

1 tsp lemon juice

2 tsp or more sriracha, depending on how hot you like your food

1/2-3/4 cup olive oil

Salt & Pepper

In either a blender or food processor combine all ingredients but olive oil,  Pulse a couple of times so they are mixed together.  Then while the blender/food processor is running slowly drizzle in the olive oil, starting with 1/2 cup but if it doesnt look like it is creamy enough add more up to 3/4 cup.

Potato Salad:

1 1/2 lbs red potatos

1/2 cup halved and thinly sliced radishes 

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

2 Tbsp chives

1/2 tsp fresh chopped lemon thyme or regular thyme works too

Zest of 1 large lemon

1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Salt & Pepper to taste

I use the smaller red potatos and quarter them.  In a pot of water with potatoes, bring it to a boil and let them cook until a sharp knife can be easily pierced through the potato but it doesnt fall apart.  Once potatos are drained and cooled combine with all other ingredients and part of the mayo.  I ended up having more mayo than needed so use as little or as much as you want and whatever is left over is great to use on a sandwich to spice it up a bit!

Cover with plastic and let sit in your fridge for 30 minute or longer so that the flavors really come together.  

ENJOY!!!

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A Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart

Some of my earliest childhood memories of gardens were the days my sister and I would sit in the middle of all the cherry tomato plants, picking and eating our weight in those sweet little gems straight off the plant.  As I have gotten older, I catch myself sometimes stepping outside and inhaling the smells of the garden at my parents and being overcome by those precious moments of childhood.  The simplicity of life long before the responsibility of being an adult sets in and sometimes I take those simple things for granted.  Exploring the dirt and enjoying the sweet little burst of a tomato popped straight into my mouth off the vine is now replaced with quickly gathering up the few tomatoes that produced on my tomato plants this year or putting the ones I bought from the grocery away to be tossed on to a quick salad.  Life is like that, passed by way too quickly, not truly enjoyed and savored. 

My parents subscribe to what is called a “happy box”, a weekly box of organic fruits and vegetables from a local farm.  Each week’s selection varies due to the weather, insects and the overall quantity of what they have available.  If you haven’t heard of these types of farm share programs, I highly recommend looking into it. The web link  www.localharvest.org/csa is a great resource to see what opportunities are available around you. 

This past week we received an abundant amount of tomatoes and once again those fond memories of childhood came flooding back.  I am not going to lie… I could have easily sat there and ate them all one by one like apples but I refrained, just a bit.  Instead, I turned those juicy gems into something that could be enjoyed as more of a meal than just a snack.  Pairing them with goat cheese and using spelt flour for the crust made this an awesome dinner to feed my soul while transporting me back to those wonderful memories of days gone by.

Tart Crust:

1 - 8-10’’ tart or pie pan

2 c. spelt flour

1/3 c. COLD butter, cubed

1/3 c. coconut oil

Very generous amount of Salt & Pepper

1 tsp paprika

¼ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp onion powder

Ice water

Filling:

8 oz. goat cheese at room temp with a large amount of fresh cracked pepper mixed in

7-9 medium sized tomatoes, sliced about ¼” thick

Preheat  oven to 355 degrees. 

Combine all the dry ingredients for the crust into a mixing bowl.  Take the cubed butter and coconut oil and cut it into the dry mixture.  To do this, take a fork, pastry cutter or even a food processor to incorporate the butter and coconut oil in the dry mixture.  You want the butter to resemble  the size of peas. This will make for a flakier crust.  Slowly drizzle ice water into the mixture until a ball of dough is formed; it may still be a bit crumbly.  Place mixture on the counter and kneed it a couple times until it stays together. You can add a little bit more water if necessary.  Wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.  Roll crust out on a floured surface and lay/form into pan, making sure it is no more than ¼” thick.  Score the bottom of the crust with a fork and bake for 25 minutes,. Depending on the size of the pan, baking time could vary a bit.

Allow the crust to cool for a few minutes. When ready, spread the goat cheese mixture on the crust and layer the tomatoes in a circular pattern on top, slightly overlapping one another with each circle you make until the top is completely covered.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and place back into the oven for about 20 minutes until the edges of the tomatoes have been roasted.  I sprinkle a handful of fresh chopped basil over the top when tart is removed from the oven.

I served mine with a bit of balsamic reduction that you can make by simply combining 1 cup balsamic vinegar and 1 heaping Tbsp. honey in a saucepan on the stove, allowing it to reduce on low for 20 minutes or until its about 1/3 of its original volume. It will thicken more as it cools.

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