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The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Story: Jennifer Stirling wakes up in hospital, having had a traumatic car accident. She’s introduced to her husband, of whom she has no recollection, and is sent home with him eventually, to a life she neither remembers or embraces readily. But this is the life she was raised to have, so surely it must be worth living, underneath the strange, muted tones of her daily existence. Jennifer goes through the motions, accepts what she is told is her life and all seems to bob along well enough, except when she finds a letter that isn’t her husband’s handwriting, and is clearly a link to someone she has been involved with, but whom? London, France, Africa and America all come into play in this story of a woman piecing back together her life in effort to understand what she has lost, and what she threw away. There is a bit of a time-hop from 1964 to 2003. . . from a reviewer on amazon.  I loved this book from page one to the end. There’s some bit of mystery and you so get into the head of Jennifer Stirling. I could hardly put it down. I read this while I was in England just a week or two ago (as I write this) so could so identify with the characters, the homes, the life. Great read.

Francine Rivers, an author relatively new to me, but much admired, is most known for this: Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) It’s a trilogy. The first 2 books are about Hadassah, a young woman in the time of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed, the Christians still alive were sent off and away, separated and derided and abused. Hadassah was one of them. She’s a slave to a wealthy family and it takes 2 of the books to read before the son of the family finally realizes that he’s in love with Hadassah. If  you’re a Christian, you’ll learn a whole lot more about the time following Christ’s crucifixion, about the lot of the struggling Christian community. The 3rd book in the trilogy is about a gladiator who is part of book 1 and 2, but not a main character. You’ll learn about his life too, after he regains his freedom from the fighting ring and the battle of his soul. These books are a fabulous read. Can’t say enough good things about them all. I’ve never been a huge fan of old-world Roman Empire reading, but this one was altogether different. Very worth reading.

Amy Belding Brown wrote this book: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America, a true accounting in 1676, of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans.  Even before she was captured on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. The story is riveting, and perplexing once she is traded back to her home. You’ll see a different side to the Indian problem back then and find yourself conflicted. An excellent read.

Taylor Caldwell was a prolific writer, and one I read when I was younger. She died in 1980, and this book, her last, Answer As a Man certainly delivers as her others did. All his life, Jason Garrity has had to battle intolerance and injustice in his quest for power, money, and love. His new hotel will give him financial security, the means to support a loving family and become an upstanding citizen. When family secrets and financial greed combine to destroy his dreams, his rigid moral convictions are suddenly brought into question. . . from Goodreads. Caldwell believed the banking industry was way too powerful, and often took aim at it, as she did in this book. It chronicles the life of a very poor, impoverished Irish immigrant to the U.S. He was an upstanding citizen, God-fearing, but maybe naive in some respects. Good book if you enjoy very deep character study.

Another book by Diney Costeloe, Miss Mary’s Daughter. When a young women is suddenly left with no family and no job or income, she’s astounded to learn that she’s actually a granddaughter of a “grand” family in Ye Olde England. She’s very independent (at least I thought so, for the time period), but is willing to investigate this new family of hers. There are many twists and turns – is she going to inherit the family home – or is the man who has been caring for the home and his daughter the logical inheritors. There’s a villain who nearly sweeps her off her feet, much intrigue from many characters. Well developed plot with a happy ending. A good read.

Celeste Ng is a hot new author. I read another of her books (see below) but this time I read Little Fires Everywhere. There are so many various characters and plots in this book, as in her others. This book focuses on a Chinese baby abandoned at a fire station and the subsequent court battle when the single mother surfaces six months later to try to reclaim her daughter from the family in the process of adopting her. Emotions well up, waxing and waning on both sides of the issue. You may even find yourself changing your own mind about the right or wrong of a child raised with a natural-born mother (albeit late to the raising) or the mother the child has known since near birth. Ng likes to write books with lots of grit and thorny issues. Although a good read, I liked Everything I Never Told You better than this one.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Brunch, on August 19th, 2015.

belgian_waffles_oatmeal

When I was in Colorado visiting my friends, Sue made these delicious (and healthy) oatmeal Belgian waffles one morning. They were so good. On top is defrosted frozen fruit. No syrup or butter needed.

As it so happens, I don’t own a Belgian waffle maker, but you can use a regular waffle iron for these. They’d be a little larger and also a little thinner. Sue’s grandchildren beg for these every time they have an overnight at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

It’s a typical waffle batter except that it calls for white whole wheat flour, and these contain some oatmeal, so they have a little bit more texture than traditional waffles. The recipe came from the Spark People (they’re a group of websites for healthy eating) and was submitted by someone who has a membership to the website. For 12 waffles you’ll use 1/4 cup of melted butter in the batter.

When Sue makes these, she makes all 12 waffles and freezes the left overs which can be quickly defrosted for another morning in the toaster oven. If you choose, you can use syrup and butter, but these are so tasty as is, you don’t need anything except some fruit. Thanks, Sue, for sharing the recipe.

What’s GOOD: these are healthy, with very little fat, and you can keep them extra low in calories if you use fruit instead of syrup and/or butter.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever!

printer friendly PDF – and – Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Oatmeal Buttermilk Belgian Waffles

Recipe By: Adapted from SparkPeople, by my friend Sue
Serving Size: 6

1 cup white whole wheat flour — (or use all-purpose)
1 cup quick cooking oats
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 dash salt
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup butter — melted (or vegetable oil)

1. In a large bowl combine all ingredients. Beat together with an electric mixer until blended.
2. Pour 3/4 cup batter onto hot Belgian waffle iron. Close lid and bake until steam stops and waffles are brown and crisp. (These can be made in a traditional waffle iron, but may require more batter and less time).
3. Keep waffles warm or on a rack in a low oven, or serve immediately. Serve with maple syrup, blueberry sauce, or frozen fruit (like strawberries, defrosted and mashed). Serve 2 per person. Left over waffles may be frozen and defrosted quickly in the oven set on low heat. They can be defrosted in the microwave, but you may have some hot spots and the time between frozen and defrosted is a few seconds (easy to defrost for too long).
Per Serving: 244 Calories; 11g Fat (42.0% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 94mg Cholesterol; 560mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, on February 16th, 2015.

thin_pancakes_lemon_pwd_sugar

If you already know all about (thin) Swedish pancakes, then this recipe will be nothing new. You have to LIKE thin pancakes, though. Just so you know . . .

The other morning I got up at my usual time, did my usual thing of making a latte, sitting down at the computer to read email and to check the comments here on my blog. I began reading some other blogs I follow and time slipped away. I realized that I’d forgotten to defrost my usual single sausage link I eat most mornings for my breakfast (with some yogurt, blueberries and walnuts on the side). What sounded good was pancakes. But not those big, puffy types. I’ve never been fond of thick pancakes. Thin pancakes are my cup of tea, always have been.

Back in the day – my younger years – I kept a sourdough starter, baked lots of my own bread, and found other uses for the sourdough batter. I often made sourdough pancakes, and I preferred them thin and dollar-sized. I recently threw away the starter I had begun a couple of years ago because since my DH passed away it had languished in the back of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, unused.

What sounded good was trying a recipe I’d saved some years back, a Marion Cunningham one for yeast waffles. But I didn’t want to dig out the waffle iron – seemed so silly to do that for one little bitty waffle. Then I realized that batter would make thicker pancakes. Nope, didn’t want that. So I started searching for a recipe for thin pancakes. Found a great one that required buttermilk. Nope. None in the refrigerator. Another that required an overnight stay in the frig. Nope, no time for that. So I searched on the ‘net for thin pancake recipes. I ended up combining a couple of recipes and whipped up these Swedish pancakes. Super thin. Not difficult to make, but I did dirty-up a bunch of bowls and dishes in the process.

Do you own a crepe pan? I used to, but didn’t use it enough to keep it, so gave that away years ago. But I had out a 12-inch nonstick skillet I used the night before to cook a big batch of Brussels sprouts. It was perfect. I scaled the recipe to serve 2, which meant just one egg. So now I have two more pancakes for tomorrow’s breakfast.

There’s nothing special about the batter, other than it’s thin. You actually mix milk with a bit of water, an egg, a pinch of salt, and flour. Butter also. Cinchy easy, really. It’s a recipe children could make easily enough. The only tricky thing is picking up the pan to allow the drippy, thin batter to spread out in the pan. If you just pour and cook, these will be thicker (still thin, but thicker than you want here) than traditional Swedish pancakes.

For the first pancake I slid a little bit of unsalted butter around in the pan to moisten it, then poured in a couple tablespoons of batter, picked up that big sucker of a pan and rolled it in every direction to spread out the wet batter. (If you do this with children, you might want to do that part.) The pan’s got to be hot enough to cook, so the pan is pretty hot (medium-high). It takes about 30 seconds or so for it to begin to brown – just barely – then you slide a spatula under and flip it over for another 30 seconds. Done. Do put these out on a warmed plate or stick them in a low oven – they cool quickly. Finish cooking the pancakes. Meanwhile have ready the powdered sugar and a wedge or two of lemon.

Fold the pancakes in half at least – you can also roll them up (you could even put some yogurt and berries inside. These pancakes, by themselves, are not sweet – there’s just a tiny bit of sugar in them. As I ate these (which tasted wonderful, certainly satisfying my desire for a pancake) I dipped each bite into a tiny amount of yogurt.

What’s GOOD: loved the texture – thin and just a tiny bit chewy, but they’re also extremely tender too. It must be the egg that gives it that consistency. Loved the little dusting of powdered sugar and combining each bite with a little bit of the sweetened Greek yogurt. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: really nothing – dirties up a bunch of dishes, cups, measuring cups, bowl, whisk, bowl or pan to melt the butter, etc. Most of it went in the dishwasher, however. I’d definitely make these again.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Thin Pancakes with Lemon and Powdered Sugar

Serving Size: 4

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted (divided use)
Lemon wedges and powdered sugar to serve on top

1. Sift the flour, salt and granulated sugar into a bowl (with a pouring spout if you have one). Sifting assures there won’t be any lumps of flour. Make a well in the center and add eggs. Gently whisk a little flour into the egg, then gradually add the milk mixture and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, whisking in with the flour. The batter should be the consistency of half and half. Don’t over mix the batter.
2. Heat a crepe pan (or a very large nonstick skillet) over high heat. Grease the pan with some of the remaining butter. Pour about 2 tablespoons batter into the pan, quuickly tilting and rolling the pan from side to side to get an even coating of batter. Cook for 30 seconds, then use a spatula to flip the pancake. Cook the pancake for a further 30 seconds until pale golden and crisp at edges, then tip onto a plate.
3. Repeat with the remaining melted butter and batter, stacking pancakes on top of one another as you go. With a nonstick pan you may not need any additional butter.
4. To serve, sprinkle the warm pancakes with some powdered sugar and squeeze a little bit lemon juice over each one. Serve with some sweetened yogurt and berries on the side, if desired. If you make more than you can eat, separate them with waxed paper and store in a ziploc plastic bag. Reheat for 10-15 seconds in the microwave, one at a time, and garnish as above. They taste every bit as good as left overs as they do right out of the pan.
Per Serving: 296 Calories; 16g Fat (49.8% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 145mg Cholesterol; 101mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, on January 3rd, 2015.

mascarpone_pear_french_toast

My photo isn’t very indicative of the deliciousness of this dish – sorry about that.  The pears are sensational. Is this rich? Yup! Worth it? Yup! The mixture is kind of drippy with the sauce, hence it was served in a bowl.

Diane Phillips, in the cooking class, used red pears for this brunch dish, her favorite type. You do have to use ripe pears – using mediocre or under-developed pears would just make this ho-hum. I don’t know if Trader Joe’s in your area offered Harry & David pears last month, but they did in my neck of the woods. Delish. They’d be wonderful in this. But they weren’t red pears. Diane called this “roasted” in both the French toast part and the sauce part. I kind of think that’s a misnomer. To me, “roasted” means oven-roasted. More likely this should be called sautéed  pears, not roasted ones. But oh well, it’s just a brunch dish, so we’ll go with both.

First you prepare a cinnamon butter (butter, sugar and cinnamon) and set that aside. Then you create the egg and milk mixture (which contains pear nectar) and the bread is dipped into it and put into a 9×13 baking dish. Another mixture is made composed of mascarpone, more pear nectar and sugar – that gets spread over the top of the French toast. Another layer of bread, then it’s spread with the soft cinnamon butter. You refrigerate it at that point – overnight if possible, remove to bring to room temp, then bake until it’s golden brown and bubbling.

In between time, you make the pear sauce – butter, brown sugar, chopped pears, some Amaretto (or almond extract) and spices. When the French toast is served,  you cut it into squares and pour some of the pear sauce on top – hence the bowl for serving – you may choose to serve on a plate, but some of that pear sauce is going to gravitate to the low spot on your plate. Just so you know . . .

What’s GOOD: absolutely the pear aspect of this. You don’t taste the mascarpone – it doesn’t have a whole lot of flavor in and of itself, but you sure do notice the winter spices and the pears are just lovely. Tasty. Scrumptious. Comfort food at its best. And it can be made 3 days ahead and baked at the last minute. So plan ahead if possible.

What’s NOT: really nothing, other than there is some level of preparation to this. It’s not like dipping bread in egg and milk, frying it and serving with maple syrup. This is more complicated in every aspect. Of course, I say it’s worth it. This isn’t a throw-together kind of dish.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mascarpone & Pear Stuffed French Toast with Pear Sauce

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 10

CINNAMON BUTTER:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter — softened
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
FRENCH TOAST:
8 tablespoons cinnamon butter (above)
8 large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup pear nectar
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 pound white bread — like Pepperidge Farms, or Hawaiian sweet bread (sliced)
2 cups mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup pear nectar
1/4 cup brown sugar — packed
SPICED PEAR SAUCE:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 pinch ground cloves
2/3 cup brown sugar — firmly packed
6 large red pears — peeled, cored, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup Amaretto — or 1 teaspoon almond extract

1. BUTTER: Cream mixture together and refrigerate up to a week ahead.
2. FRENCH TOAST: Melt cinnamon butter and brush the inside of a 9×13 baking dish with some of it.
3. In a shallow mixing bowl beat together the eggs, cream, pear nectar and nutmeg. Dip 6 slices of the bread into the egg mixture and lay slices into the dish, wedging the pieces to fit, or tearing some. If your baking dish is smaller, you may only get 4 slices in the dish. (You can make 3 or even 4 layers if need be, but divide up the mascarpone mixture; start and end with bread slices.)
4. In another bowl cream together the mascarpone, pear nectar and sugar. Spread this mixture over the egg battered bread in the pan.
5. Dip the remaining slices into the egg batter and place over the mascarpone in the dish. Pour any remaining batter (if it will fit) into the dish. Refrigerate, covered for at least 4 hours.
6. DO AHEAD: Cover the French toast and refrigerate for up to 3 days (yes, really).
7. Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove the baking dish from the refrigerator at least 45 minutes before baking. Bake the dish until golden brown and bubbling, about 30-45 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into squares and serving with pear sauce and remaining cinnamon butter.
8. PEAR SAUCE: In a large skillet melt the butter, then add cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and sugar, stirring until sugar melts. Add the pears and cook for 20 minutes, until the liquid in the pan evaporates and the pears are soft. Add the Amaretto or extract and cook another 15 minutes. DO AHEAD: Cool sauce completely and refrigerate up to 3 days ahead.
9. Serve the sauce warm over the French Toast. Can also go on pancakes, waffles or English muffins.
Per Serving: 761 Calories; 53g Fat (61.9% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 62g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 312mg Cholesterol; 336mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, Desserts, on December 31st, 2014.

Umbrian Apple Cake with Creme Anglaise made with apple cider

Diane Phillips, the cooking instructor who made this, is Italian. And this is her grandmother’s recipe, one that she has made hundreds and hundreds of times over her lifetime. It’s a beautiful cake – almost more like a coffeecake than a dessert cake – but it could be either one. It was scrumptious.

At the cooking class, Diane says her mother is probably rolling over in her grave because she serves this occasionally with a crème Anglaise. The cake is a firmer style – notice it has some bigger holes in it – this isn’t a super-tender kind of cake, but kind of like the difference between white bread and corn bread. They’re just different. The flavors were wonderful, and if I’d felt I could have, I’d have licked the plate of the crème that still clung to it. Someone in our cooking class did just that. My mother would have rolled over in her grave if she’d seen me do that!

In the photo at top you can’t quite see that the apple slices are placed in a decorative pattern, cored-edge down into the batter. Makes for a very pretty look when it’s done. The recipe calls for 5 Golden Delicious apples. Two of them are peeled, cored and diced into the batter itself. The other 3 apples are peeled, cored and sliced, and go into the pattern on the top.

The crème Anglaise starts off with apple juice. But after watching Diane make this, I decided that when I make this myself, I’ll use apple juice concentrate – why go through the process of reducing apple juice when you can use concentrate? The cake can be made 2 days ahead (covered, unrefrigerated). The sauce can be made up to 4 days ahead and can be frozen for up to a month.

What’s GOOD: the sauce was divine. It’s rich, but makes a nice moisturizer for the cake, which is just slightly on the dry side (good dry, though). It could also be served with whipped cream (easier). The cake has very nice flavor from the apples. Diane served this as part of a brunch, but it could be a dessert too.

What’s NOT: the sauce takes a bit of time to make, but hey, you can do it ahead, so do that!

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Umbrian Apple Cake with Cider Creme Anglaise

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
1 cup unsalted butter — softened (can use mild, fruity olive oil if preferred)
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon Amaretto
1 teaspoon vanilla paste — or extract
4 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 medium Golden Delicious apples — peeled, cored, cut in 1/2″ slices
1/4 cup unsalted butter — melted
3 tablespoons sugar
CIDER CREME ANGLAISE:
2 cups apple juice — or cider
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
5 large egg yolks

NOTES: To keep apples from turning brown while you make the batter, pour Sprite over them, to cover. Drain and pat dry before proceeding with the recipe.
1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the inside of a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray (not Pam).
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Add the zest, Amaretto and vanilla paste. Beat until blended.
4. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
5. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, blending until smooth.
6. Cut 2 of the apples into very small dice and fold them into the batter. Transfer to prepared pan and smooth the top.
7. Arrange the cut apples, core side down (in other words, don’t lay them flat but push them into the batter on the edges) on top of the batter in circles over the entire surface (in the shape of a sun). The apples should be close together. Brush the apples and batter with the melted butter.
8. Generously sprinkle the apples and batter with the 3 tablespoons of sugar.
9. Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan, and the cake is golden brown. A skewer inserted into the center should come out clean.
10. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, remove the sides of the springform pan and cool completely. Dust top with powdered sugar if desired. The cake will keep, covered, at room temperature, for 24 hours.
11. CREME ANGLAISE: In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the cider and 1/2 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, until reduced to 1 cup. Cool the cider completely.
12. In a 2-quart saucepan heat the cream, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and egg yolks over medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes.
13. Continue stirring over medium heat until the mixture thickens and just begins to simmer. Immediately remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the reduced cider to the bowl, cover and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until well chilled, about 2 hours. Sauce may be served warm or cold. Use any left over sauce in salad dressings, or as a drizzle over ice cream.
DO-AHEAD: The Creme can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for a month.
Per Serving (you’ll use just half the sauce): 596 Calories; 34g Fat (51.5% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 66g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 252mg Cholesterol; 255mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, on December 16th, 2014.

mini_quiche_lorraines

Oh my gracious, was this ever delicious. I think I’m going to make this for Christmas morning. My cousin Gary will be here with me, and he likes eggs. And bacon. And cheese. I’ll make two apiece for us, although probably one would be enough. They’re rich.

At the recent cooking class I went to, Diane Phillips made this as part of a brunch menu, and oh golly, the cheese, that fabulous Gruyere, gives this the best flavor. Diane used thick-sliced bacon, cooked it just enough that it was “cooked” but not crisp – otherwise it wouldn’t curl around in the muffin tin. Then she mixed up the egg part (eggs, cream, salt, pepper, Tabasco, green onions and the cheese) and that is poured into the middle of the muffin tin. She filled the muffin cups clear to the top and during the baking they rose up higher than the bacon. They looked beautiful in the 12-cup muffin pan. There were over 40 people in the cooking class, so I couldn’t very well get up and go up to the demo counter to take a picture, now could I? Wished I could though, as they were really something to behold.

Diane explained that she sometimes uses some white Cheddar. She’s also used sausage, although you can’t really get sausage to hug the rim of the muffin tin. She’s also used Gouda and chicken, and cheddar and smoked sausage also. Another variation: Havarti with dill and bay shrimp added to the mixture.

The quiches can be made ahead and partially baked, removed to cool, chilled, then baked at 350°F covered for just 3-4 minutes to finish the cooking, or long enough to heat them through completely. So, there’s lots of flexibility with this recipe. It’ s a keeper.

What’s GOOD: for me, it was the bacon with the Gruyere that shined through in the complex flavors here. It was wonderful. Rich. Special. And it was beautiful to look at, besides that.

What’s NOT: not a single thing – loved this. There’s nothing about it, however, that isn’t high in fat and calories. So it’s a treat, that’s for sure!

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Bacon Wrapped Mini Quiche Lorraine

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 12

12 pieces thick-sliced bacon
8 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 shakes of Tabasco sauce
2 whole green onions — white part and a little of the tender green
3 cups Gruyere cheese — finely shredded

1. Cook bacon until cooked, but not at all crisp. This can be done in a 400° F oven for 7-8 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
2. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, pepper and Tabasco. Stir in scallions, then using a flat whisk, add the shredded cheese. Cover and chill.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
4. Coat the inside of 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray, arranging the bacon against the wall of each cup.
5. Pour the quiche batter into the muffin tins, (they’ll be quite full) and bake them until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean and the quiche has puffed up above the rim of the muffin tin, about 15 minutes. NOTE: you can bake this about half way the day before, cover and chill (or freeze for up to 6 weeks), bring to room temp and reheat, covered with foil in a 350° oven for about 20 minutes. Can be served warm or an room temperature. SUBSTITUTIONS: you can use other cheeses and meat combinations: white Cheddar and ground sausage; Cheddar and smoked sausage or Havarti/dill cheese with bay shrimp.
Per Serving: 372 Calories; 33g Fat (79.8% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 236mg Cholesterol; 533mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, Miscellaneous, on November 30th, 2014.

five_spice_fall_fruit_salad

five-spice fruit salad

It’s always nice, at a brunch, to have some kind of a fruit dish. You could certainly do plain, fresh fruit, but you can also make it special with this recipe that has some spice additions that are certainly a little off the usual list – five-spice and vanilla bean.

We had this lovely, fun brunch. We sat outside (a few weeks ago, here in California, we were still having full-on summer) so gathering on a Sunday, at nearly mid-day, we enjoyed the waning days of summer with a delicious mixture of brunch dishes. This being one of them. Peggy brought this one, a delicious marinated fruit mixture that contains some five-spice powder and a half of a vanilla bean. It’s marinated in a honey-based mixture, which also gave it a lovely sweetness. The recipe came from epicurious a couple of months ago. Peggy couldn’t find any figs, since they’re out of season, so she used peaches, the plums, and she added a few prunes to give it some alternate color. I think this dish could be very adaptable – use whatever fruit is in season, though not apples unless you cooked them a bit. Pears would probably work also.

The spiced honey syrup is made ahead, cooled, then poured over the fruit. It’s refrigerated for a few hours. It probably would be fine made the day before as well. I would think this could be made with less honey syrup – starting with 3/4 cup of honey is a lot. I might try making half the amount of honey and water (but use all the spices), marinate in a plastic bag, and turn the bag over several times in the refrigerator.

What’s GOOD: well, you know me, I like foods and recipes that have something different about them, and this definitely fits the bill here, with the five-spice (not overwhelming at all) and the vanilla bean. Of all the dishes we had at the brunch, this was the only one I went back to for seconds. Use fruit that have different colors to them if at all possible. The syrup could be used again – strain it, freeze it and use it weeks or months later.

What’s NOT: nothing at all – it was a really lovely fruit salad.

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Five-Spice Fall Fruit Salad

Source: adapted slightly from epicurious
Serving Size: 8

3/4 cup honey
1/2 vanilla bean — split and scraped
1 piece ginger — (1 inch) thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 plums — black-skinned, if possible, pitted and sliced
5 red plums — pitted and sliced
4 whole peaches — or fresh figs, if available

Notes: the original recipes called for 2 types of plums plus figs. If those fruits aren’t in season, substitute other – even cherries or prunes. If using apples, you may need to partially cook them; same perhaps with pears. Plums, figs and peaches are all soft fruits, so they lend themselves well to just marinating in the syrup. Try to vary the color in the fruit just because it looks nicer.
1. Place 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan. Add the honey, vanilla bean pod with seeds, ginger, and five-spice powder. Bring to a boil and stir until honey dissolves. Set aside to cool completely, and stir in lemon juice. Discard ginger and vanilla bean pod.
2. In a large bowl, pour cooled syrup over the sliced plums. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
3. An hour before serving, slice peaches (or figs) and gently fold into plum mixture. To serve, use a slotted spoon to ladle fruit into a serving bowl.
4. DO AHEAD: Syrup can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. [My suggestion: save the syrup, strain it, and freeze to be used again.]
Per Serving: 166 Calories; 1g Fat (2.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, on November 22nd, 2014.

bacon_cheddar_egg_casserole1

bacon, tomato & cheddar breakfast bake with eggs

You’ll remember that our little gourmet group had a recent brunch. This was the main dish – a delicious casserole with toasted bread croutons, tomatoes, bacon, oodles of grated Cheddar & Jack and other goodies, baked awhile, then during the last 15+ minutes you make little indentations in the casserole and plop in raw eggs and bake until the yolks are just smooth and runny. Of course, if you don’t like runny egg yolks, you can bake it longer.

My friend Cherrie made this dish. She said it was a little bit more work than she’d anticipated, but she did almost all of it the day before. Buy good bread, first of all. I think Cherrie used ciabatta. Chop it up in cubes and toast it – but only baked it some, because the dish gets baked once you put it all together. It makes a really beautiful presentation – we all oohed and aahed when she delivered it to the buffet area, hot out of the oven.

What this is, is a savory bread pudding. There’s chicken broth in it to soften the bread, and there’s onion and chives too. It was altogether wonderful. I’d definitely make it myself. The recipe came from Food & Wine, from Grace Parisi (I like her recipes – she’s a frequent contributor to the magazine) from November, 2010. The only thing Cherrie and I decided to change (we talked about it the day before when she was working on this dish) was the type of tomatoes – the recipe called for canned tomatoes that you dice up – well, you can buy already diced tomatoes – I think that type is wonderful! So I changed that in the recipe.

What’s GOOD: it feeds a crowd, that’s for sure. You might be able to stretch this to feed 12 – obviously add 2 more eggs. It’s pretty, and it’s really delicious. If we hadn’t had other dishes to choose from (I made the Pineapple Upside Down French Toast) I’d have had seconds. It doesn’t take long to put it together if you have all the ingredients ready to go – cook things partially and refrigerate (not the bread, of course) and put it all together just before it goes in the oven.

What’s NOT: nary a thing. Just know it does take some time to prepare – from reading the recipe you might not think so.

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Bacon, Tomato and Cheddar Breakfast Bake with Eggs

Recipe By: Food & Wine, 11/2010
Serving Size: 10

1 pound white bread — cut into 1-inch cubes (16 cups)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound bacon — sliced applewood-smoked, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion — halved and thinly sliced
28 ounces canned tomatoes — diced type, drained, patted dry
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 pound extra-sharp cheddar — shredded (about 2 cups)
1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese — shredded (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons chives — snipped
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Salt
10 large eggs
Hot sauce — for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. In a large bowl, toss the bread with the olive oil and spread on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, tossing once or twice, until the bread is golden and lightly crisp.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain; reserve 2 tablespoons of the fat in the skillet.
3. Add the onion to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and crushed red pepper and cook until any liquid is evaporated, about 3 minutes.
4. Return the toasted bread cubes to the bowl. Add the contents of the skillet, along with the bacon, shredded cheeses, chives and broth. Stir until the bread is evenly moistened. Season with salt. Spread the mixture in the baking dish and cover with lightly oiled foil.
5. Bake the bread mixture in the center of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is crispy, about 15 minutes longer. Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven and, using a ladle, press 8 indentations into the bread mixture. Crack an egg into each indentation. Return the dish to the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Serve the breakfast bake right away with hot sauce. Sprinkle some more chives on top if you have some.
Per Serving: 705 Calories; 49g Fat (62.7% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 28g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 295mg Cholesterol; 1426mg Sodium.

Posted in Brunch, on November 3rd, 2014.

pineapple_french_toast

An age-old recipe of mine – the easiest French toast you’ll ever make, almost. You just have to have some of that King’s Hawaiian bread on hand, and a can of pineapple. Along with milk, eggs, butter and brown sugar. I sprinkled the top with cinnamon.

Years ago, 2007 to be exact, I wrote this up on my blog – during a time when I’d actually broken a bone in my foot and had to use crutches and/or a wheelchair. I wrote up some posts during that 12-week period but didn’t have pictures. I just wrote up the story and provided the recipe. I located some photo on the web that kinda-sorta looked like it. So, I’m giving you an updated post about it and oodles of pictures. I expect most readers don’t go back into the ancient writing here on this blog anyway. I never fixed this for Dave, my DH, because he was a diabetic, and this was just loaded with sugar. Is loaded with sugar. But oh-so-good.

kings_hawaiian_bread_wrapperDo grocery stores across America have King’s Hawaiian bread? I have no idea. It’s a very sweet, but super-tender eggy yeast bread, sweetened some with pineapple juice, so it is believed. There are any number of copycat recipes on the web if you’re interested – see this one if you want to try to make the bread from scratch. Otherwise, buy an eggy bread or Challah, and add more sugar to the recipe below. I used the mini sub rolls. hawaiian_sweet_breadPicture of the actual roll is at left. My grocery store only had hot dog buns and these.  Some markets have their sliders, or their regular loaf bread, or nice dinner rolls. King’s Hawaiian makes any number of different types of bread shapes. Glancing at the package I assumed (correctly) that one package of these sub rolls, placed cut side up would be just right for a 9×13 pan full of this french toast. And it fit perfectly, with just a tiny bit to spare.

pineapple_mixtureThe brown sugar, butter and pineapple gets heated up on the stovetop, just until the sugar melts. Then it goes into the Pyrex dish (no need to butter it). That’s the photo at right. Then you mix up the egg-milk mixture and dip the bread into that mixture and place them just so in the dish on top of all that pineapple. My recipe called for baking it immediately, and that’s what I’ve always done. But this time, I was taking it to a Sunday brunch, and would not have time to french_toast_ready_to_bakemake it that morning, so I mixed it all up and left it in the refrigerator overnight. I still had some of the milk mixture left over, so once I got to our hostess’ house, that got poured in on top and after sitting out for about 45 minutes I baked it.

Ideally, when serving it, you’ll use a spatula and scrape up a lot of the pineapple and you can serve it upside down – or right side up. No matter, other than the plain top isn’t all that exciting. Hence I sprinkled the top with a tiny bit of cinnamon. Not in the recipe . . . but I did it anyway. If  you have a crew of hungry kids, this won’t serve but about 4-5 people, but as part of a brunch, with other foods, this will serve 6-8 for sure.

What’s GOOD: how easy it is to make. Overnight chill? Fine. No time to chill? Fine too. Feeds a crowd of people providing you have other food available (fruit, smoothies, bacon, sausage). Doesn’t even need anything on top of it – no syrup or sauce or anything. You could serve it with maple syrup, but I almost think that would be sugar overkill! Kids adore this, I guarantee it.

What’s NOT: only that nothing in this is good for you – maybe just the milk and canned pineapple. It’s sweet, lubricated with butter and egg. But gosh, it’s ever so good!

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Pineapple Upside-Down French Toast

Recipe By: Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, back in the 1990s, I think.
Serving Size: 8

1/4 cup unsalted butter — (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup brown sugar — firmly packed
3/4 cup crushed pineapple — pack & drain well (I use 2 of the short cans)
2 whole eggs
1 1/2 cups milk — combo of low fat and full fat is fine; just don’t use nonfat
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 slices King’s Hawaiian bread — or egg bread or Challah (I used 6 mini-sub rolls)
2 pinches cinnamon — to sprinkle on top

Notes: If making this with Challah or egg bread, add some sugar to the milk-egg-mixture. You can use fake brown sugar, some egg substitute and low fat milk if desired. Obviously it won’t be quite so tasty, or decadent, either!
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a saucepan melt butter over moderate heat and stir in sugar and pineapple, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
2. In a shallow bowl whisk together eggs, milk and salt.
3. In a baking dish, 9 x 13 inches, spread pineapple mixture evenly over bottom. Dip bread slices into milk mixture in batches and arrange in one layer on top of pineapple mixture. (I place the rolls white side up.) If you have extra spaces in the pan, just mush the bread a little to squeeze in some more slices. It’s also fairly easy to mix up a little more egg/milk mixture to make the dish feed more people if you have more bread than you thought. Sprinkle the top with just a couple pinches of cinnamon.
4. Bake French Toast in middle of oven for 20-35 minutes (depending on the thickness of the bread), or until bread is golden brown. Cool in pan for one minute and serve. The French Toast will have risen up high (puffy) and it’s really nice to serve this before it deflates, which it will do as soon as it cools down. You can serve this with maple syrup or with sweetened fresh fruit, but the pineapple is the flavor you want to shine through. It really doesn’t need any embellishments.
Per Serving: 264 Calories; 12g Fat (39.8% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 97mg Cholesterol; 237mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, on August 24th, 2014.

apple_mini_muffins_raisins_walnuts

Mostly I’m wishing fall was in the air. But it’s not, and won’t be for a long time in this land of sunshine. So the only thing I can do is start to bake a very typical fall bread. I made this traditional muffin recipe into mini-muffins (max two bites per) and this recipe makes 24 of the cute little things. And yes, they’re delicious.

My Scrabble group was due at my house last week and the hostess usually bakes something. Sometimes we’re overly busy and we might buy something, but usually there’s some kind of bread or muffin served when we Scrabble. I bought a Granny Smith apple, cut the recipe (that made 12 regular sized muffins) in half (I gave away all but one or two of of the 24 the recipe made), added some chopped raisins and walnuts and they came together in a jiffy.

mini_muffins_ready_to_bake

Starting with a recipe from King Arthur Flour, I decided to not use whole wheat flour (I wanted a tender muffin), so I adapted their recipe a bit. The raisins and walnuts were my addition to the recipe, but the basic baking chemistry was all kudos to the King Arthur baking folks at Baking Banter. I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, but I did have Greek yogurt (which was an acceptable substitution in the original recipe). I think their recipe was hand mixed. I used my Kitchen Aid instead. Just don’t over-mix, that’s all. The pan you see in the picture is one of King Arthur’s – they’re bright aluminum looking, but they have some kind of Teflon surface because these muffins slipped out like greased lightning with no pre-greasing. Note that only about a rounded tablespoon of batter went into each muffin cup.mini_muffins_ready_to_bake_2

There’s a close-up of the batter. You can see the corrugated style of the pan. Makes for very easy cleanup, I’ll tell you for sure. If you don’t own any of these, I’d highly recommend you add a few to your Christmas wish list.

A little bit of brown sugar is sprinkled on top just before baking. I don’t know that I’d bother with that the next time – some of the brown sugar spilled out onto the muffin pan surface once the muffins began to rise in the baking process. But no big deal – none of it stuck to the pan.

What’s GOOD: the best part is the tenderness (from the yogurt/acidic dairy). This recipes requires just one apple – a good thing. I liked the raisins in it and the walnuts (neither were in the original recipe – I just added them for texture). This was quick to mix up and bake. Delicious when they were still warm and still really good at room temp. When I served them I heated them up just briefly in a low oven.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. These are really tasty. And easy.

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Super Tender Apple Nut Mini-Muffins

Recipe By: Adapted from King Arthur Flour, 2013
Serving Size: 24 mini-muffins

1/4 cup unsalted butter — 4 tablespoons, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/8 cup brown sugar — divided use
1/2 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk — or 1/2 cup plain (not Greek-style) yogurt; or 3/8 cup Greek-style yogurt + 2 T milk (to equal 1/2 cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup Granny Smith apple — cored, and chopped; about 1 large apple

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour a mini muffin pan, or line with papers and grease the insides of the papers.
2. Mix together the butter, granulated sugar, and a little more than half of the brown sugar, beating until fluffy.
3. Add the egg and mix well, stopping once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
4. Gently mix in the buttermilk or yogurt.
5. Stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
6. Fold in the chopped apples, walnuts and raisins.
7. Using about a rounded tablespoon of batter each, divide among the prepared mini-muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining brown sugar on top.
8. Bake the muffins for 12-15 minutes (mine took 14), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
9. Remove the muffins from the oven, cool them for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn them out onto a rack to finish cooling completely.
Per Serving: 59 Calories; 2g Fat (32.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 56mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, easy, on February 12th, 2014.

apricot_jam_pastry

Oh my goodness, is this ever fantastic. The problems with this are: (1) finding good, tender and rich brioche bread; and (2) keeping your fingers out of the finished pastry. They are just so delicious. The base is a thick slice of brioche bread (the one above is about 1/2 inch thick, maybe just slightly thicker), spread with a ground almond and butter mixture (an almond cream, it’s called), spread with a little bit of apricot jam, some almonds sprinkled on top and baked briefly, then generously sprinkled with powdered sugar.

The other morning we were at one of my book group meetings, at our friend Peggy’s establishment, (Peggy & Gary own it along with their son) Mead’s Green Door Café in old-town Orange. Every other month we meet at their little café and enjoy a latte or cappucino and some lovely treat Peggy has baked while we discuss our current book selection. Peggy and her husband used to own a restaurant in Orange, but sold it a few years ago and bought a derelict building and spent over a year renovating it to the Café it is now. Cute as a bug, Old-world style, country-ish, eclectic, offbeat, catering a lot to the young Chapman University crowd nearby. They serve vegetarian and vegan food only, with usually at least one GF item too. They specialize in breakfast and lunch. Peggy does 90% of the baking. Peggy’s #1 seller (of her pastries) is her sweet potato scone, which is delish also, I can attest!

This little number, which blew me away, is so easy to make. Disclaimer here – I didn’t make the one you see above – Peggy did. But it’s so very easy, I was fairly certain you wouldn’t mind me showing you hers. If I made this now, I’d be gobbling it down. The recipe came from Sunset Magazine (earlier last year). First you must start with good brioche. Maybe one of our local bakeries (like Panera or Corner Bakery) will have it – I’ll have to look. You slice it thick (the recipe said 1-inch; I think Peggy sliced hers closer to 1/2 inch. Anyway, thick brioche. Then you spread the top with a little apricot jam, then a mixture of butter, granulated sugar, salt, egg, and half-and-half that’s been whizzed  up in the food processor. Then the top is sprinkled with almonds and sugar. Baked for 20 minutes or so, sprinkled with powdered sugar. Done. Very easy. Very special.

What’s GOOD: certainly the taste is first and foremost! These things are just delish. Worth making. You can make the almond cream ahead and it will keep for several days. The almond cream makes more than what you’ll use to make 8 – so perhaps cut down on the quantity first time.

What’s NOT: really nothing.

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Almond and Jam Pastries

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, March, 2013
Serving Size: 8

ALMOND CREAM: (you’ll have more than is needed)
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup granulated sugar — divided
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
2 tablespoons half and half — or milk
TOASTS:
8 slices brioche — or challah bread, 1/2 in. thick or thicker
1/2 cup apricot jam — or other flavor
2 cups sliced almonds — about 2 T per toast
Powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Whirl 1 cup almonds with 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer mixture to a bowl.
2. Blend butter and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add salt, egg, and half-and-half and pulse just to blend. Add reserved ground almonds and blend until mixture is smooth.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread about 1 tbsp. jam, then 2 tbsp. almond cream, on each slice of bread (you’ll have almond cream left over). Sprinkle each with about 2 tbsp. sliced almonds.
4. Bake until almond cream is golden brown and almonds are toasted, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
5. Make ahead: Chill extra almond cream airtight up to 2 weeks and use for making more pastries.
Per Serving (not accurate because you make more almond cream than you’ll use): 831 Calories; 55g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 71g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 141mg Cholesterol; 371mg Sodium.

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