Friday, December 31, 2010

Whole Grain French Toast Casserole

I made this wholesome French toast casserole yesterday.  I modified the recipe from the Best Casserole Cookbook because we didn't have half-and-half and substituted whole grain bread and added bananas, which, I think, gave it a rich creaminess.

Use your favorite French toast casserole recipe and substitute whole grain bread, or try this:


Eight thick slices of whole grain bread (from the supermarket's bakery)
2 bananas
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1 ts cinnamon
2 tbs sugar
1 ts pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup chopped pecans/1 ts sugar
Preheat oven to 350 and bake for 30-40  minutes

French toast casserole recipes always say to prepare the dish the night before.  I didn't plan ahead but wanted to make French toast casserole so I wouldn't have to stand at the griddle all morning.  I went forward with this recipe and after the bread absorbed the mixture, which took about 30 minutes (actually, I should have let it sit a little longer), I baked it and it tasted great.

In bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cinnamon, sugar, salt and vanilla.  Generously butter bottom of a casserole dish, layer whole grain bread slices and top with sliced bananas:

Add second layer of bread.  Slowly pour mixture over top letting top layer absorb some of the mixture before reaching the bottom.  (I noticed that, after pouring, the bottom layer was absorbing a lot more of the mixture, so when mixture was half-way absorbed I flipped the sections over with a skinny spatula so the top slices would absorb more.)  When mixture is fully absorbed, dot with butter and place in preheated oven. And bake according to recipe.

While the French toast is baking, chop about a 1/4 cup of pecans, add 1 teaspoon of sugar, and mash until finely mixed. This topping is modified from the cookbook's recipe to reduce the sugar. Blend in1 tablespoon of softened butter. Butter is optional. Spread pecan mixture over top about half way through baking:

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Tourtiere ~ My Memere Made This

An uncomplicated Christmas eve or New Year's eve/day dinner and quite comforting, this traditional French meat pie has become a favorite in our home.  It was my French-Canadian family's annual tradition, served at different times during the holidays depending on who I was visiting. Mostly, it was served on Christmas eve after midnight mass.

While the tourtiere is a traditional pie originating in Quebec (most think so) centuries ago, there are many variations.  Some don't use potatoes, some do.  Some use breadcrumbs instead of potatoes.  Some combine pork and ground beef, or some just use ground beef and so forth.  You too can make changes to suit you.

French Meat Pie Recipe (makes two pies):

3 lbs of ground pork
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
6 medium yukon gold potatoes, skins left on (2 potatoes for every pound of pork, if you want a meatier pie, use 1 potato per pound of meat but more meat will be needed to fill the pies)
1/2 ts of cinnamon
3/4 ts of poultry seasoning
1/4 ts of nutmeg (I use freshly grated)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tbs butter, can vary depending on the size of the potatoes
Pastry for two two-crust pies (Your favorite recipe or store-bought. I used pie sheets from Immaculate Baking Co.)

Boil potatoes, whole or halved, with skins on until fork tender.  Meanwhile, saute chopped onion until translucent.  Add meat and saute until just browned.  Remove from stove, drain fat, and in a large bowl mix meat with cinnamon, poultry seasoning, and nutmeg.   When potatoes are tender, remove from water and place in a separate bowl (including the skins for more nutritional value)  and break up with a spoon adding butter, salt and pepper to taste (keeping them lumpy).   Add potatoes to meat and mix together (the potatoes should bind the mixture, but if not you can add an egg).  Lay a sheet of pastry in each pie dish.  Add equal amounts of filling to each.  Top each with another sheet of pastry.  Slit holes in top, crimp edges, and wrap with foil to protect from burning.  Heat in oven at 350 degrees until the crust is done, about 45 min.

Can be served with ketchup.  I can't explain it - it's just what my family did!

The pies can be frozen for a few months. Make extra and take one out when you're too busy too cook.

Enjoy it for breakfast as well.

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2011 update: for the version using fresh herbs and spices and homemade crust, click here.

Stopping to Smell the Coffee

I sighed as I took the exit the other night to our ski vacation place and saw the big golden arches glowing in the sky.  I've heard that that was just the beginning of the invasion.  First McDonalds then Dunkin Donuts and recently Subway settled in amongst the quaint local shops, cafes, deli's and restaurants.  

When I drive along route 93 I see the ubiquitous signs directing travelers to fast-food chains.  I've noticed, that if I drive a little past the fast-food chains, I can often find an independent cafe, deli, pizza place, etc.  It makes sense, since fast food chains often take advantage of popular places with similar food where travelers stop to rest.  

A woman and her husband told me a wonderful story a few years ago (and while eating in a small independently-owned restaurant) about the time her son opened a coffee shop, the Mad River Coffee House, in Campton, NH.  Right off an exit.  But, about a year after his opening, Dunkin Donuts opened across the street.   I often stop at the Mad River Coffee House now, which has great coffee made from their unique blends.  I get a coffee to go and a few bags of whole beans to bring home.  No lines of people.  Across the street, however, there's usually a busy parking lot and cars at the drive through of Dunkin Donuts.  Sigh.

* * *

Below is a note I posted on my personal facebook page a few months ago after getting upset when Subway had moved into the New Hampshire town where we like to ski and hike.  I think it's a good time to share it on my blog.

"The Other Reasons I Don't Like Fast Food"
This isn't a note about the nutritional quality of fast food.  We all already know how bad it is for us (and how bad it is for the economy, environment, agriculture and the meat industry).  I want to share the reasons I avoid fast food on a more philosophical level.

I recently read an article in "Psychology Today" that claims fast food impacts our behavior.  It has a profound effect on our stress levels, sense of urgency in the way we run our lives, "seeps into the way we approach leisure", and "represents a culture that emphasizes time efficiency and immediate gratification".  

I was happy to read this because these are some of my arguments against fast food.  I was upset when while in New Hampshire I saw yet another fast food franchise open up amidst the cozy, friendly local shops.  I wondered why people eat at fast food chains when they can have a new experience at a local shop and give business to local families.  Why, it's New Hampshire after all, where leisure is a valued past time!  Then, I understood that these franchises are favored because they are familiar, fast, and cheap.  

I admit.  On occasion, I used to rush into fast food drive-throughs without much thought.  But, three years ago, after my daughter was diagnosed with a serious kidney disease I reconsidered my eating habits and that of my family's (not that we ate fast food regularly, but the thought of putting any processed food in her body was really frightening).  Then, unexpectedly, I noticed that the change in my eating habits caused a change my philosophy.  

Yes, life IS busy.  I try to cook at home as much as possible, but, when I do need to order food, I like to stop to order my food at an independent shop because:

I get out of my car.  With all the driving I do these days as a mommy chauffeur for my children, I embrace every moment out of my car. 

It allows me a few minutes to sit at a table with a magazine, newspaper, read a few pages in my book, or peruse a story or two on the internet off my phone. 

I meet nice people.  Often, while standing in line or waiting for my order, I actually talk to someone - someone I know and sometimes someone I don't know. 

I discover new foods or a new twist on a dish I love to make.

I get to talk about the food, or the day, with the person waiting on me.

In an unfamiliar town or city, I learn a little about it by listening to the people waiting or sitting nearby.

I discover interesting events or new places to visit by looking through flyers displayed at the counters or posters on the bulletin boards, or by just asking a question.  

I feel good knowing I'm helping an entrepreneur or a family business trying to earn a living and making a healthy contribution to their community.

I feel good knowing I'm feeding myself and my family better food.

The people waiting on me are usually friendly.

In New Hampshire, I love to visit the independently owned shops, no matter how long the wait can be. In those places, I often learn about hiking locations, where to find moose, good restaurant tips, other good tips (like the Mad River Coffee House tip), meet interesting people, or just hear a good story, and eat good food!

I don't want to support the fast food industry, period.

I like variety.  I'm tired of seeing the same fast food franchises everywhere I go. 

I like being surprised.  Sometimes an unfamiliar shop can be surprisingly eclectic or unusual in design or decor.

I savor the experience and I know what I'm eating.

And, it slows me down.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Sandwich Board: Open face chicken salad sandwich

The other night we were too busy to cook.  I had been out all day running errands and had tickets to see A Christmas Carol that night.  We were so tempted to order Chinese takeout or pizza but, wanting to empty the fridge to make room for holiday groceries, we pulled out a few ingredients for the sandwich board:

With the spicy peppery watercress, I would have preferred a more creamy mild cheese like Harvati perhaps, but the avocado and tomato helped to mellow out its pungent flavor.  I love garlic so I rubbed my toasted bread with a clove.

All the fresh ingredients went well with the chicken salad we had on hand to make a pretty tasty open face sandwich.  The cheese melted quickly in the microwave, right on the plate.

The sandwich board comes in really handy on busy nights.  Lay out a variety of ingredients, let the kids choose their favorites, try new ones and get creative!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

These Candy Canes Are Not For Decorating!

I'm so excited!  The candy canes I ordered from Zoe's Chocolates,, have finally arrived.

These are not those average sugar sticks we're so use to, decorate our tree with, or turn into reindeer for our kids to pass out to school friends.

These are "porcelain-like" handcrafted candy canes. No two are alike. A "true artisanal creation" made by the Tsoukatos family in Pennsylvania.  They taste refreshing with bright flavors of cinnamon, anise and peppermint.

They're so good they make me giddy!

Voted best candy canes in the world by Saveur Magazine,

Beautifully packaged. A delightful gift, indeed!

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No compensation was received. This is just something I love and want to share.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Festive Cranberry Corn Salsa

Here is another holiday dish tradition that we absolutely love. While I don't use canned goods often, a few for a quick salsa is a valuable time-saver around the holidays.

We love serving this salsa with blue corn chips. They look so pretty together.

And it makes a great gift.

I always gift it with a bag of organic blue corn chips so it can be used immediately.  Crucial:  since the salsa hasn't been preserved, gift it immediately, and keep it refrigerated (tastes great for up to a week and can be frozen for a few months).  I always make a nice note card with the gift explaining this.

Cranberry Corn Salsa Recipe:
I found this recipe in Cooking Light Magazine a few years ago, but can't find a direct link to it. It is featured on this website, check it out for a printable version of the recipe.

1/4 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro (can substitute with parsley)
1 16 oz can whole-berry cranberry sauce (or same amount of leftover fresh cranberry sauce)
1 15.25 oz can whole-kernel corn, drained (I use no salt; for less corn, use the 7 oz can)
1 4.5 oz can chopped green chilies

Combine all the ingredients then chill in refrigerator at least 30 minutes to build flavors.

So, for something different this holiday season, or anytime, enjoy this cranberry corn salsa with blue corn chips, or your favorite corn chips. This salsa also tastes terrific with ham or pork, chicken or turkey sandwiches, and with cottage cheese.

For the fresh version of this Cranberry Corn Salsa, please see this post.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Split Pea and Ham Soup, A Holiday Comfort Food

Around the holidays we traditionally have a ham dinner on Christmas eve and from the leftovers we make this wonderful split pea and ham soup, that even our teenage children love.  My favorite recipe comes from the New Basics Cookbook.

The recipe has a lot of ingredients but it is relatively easy and quick (although, I always cook it about an hour longer than the time called for in the recipe to really break down the peas).  And fresh ingredients are a must for success!  We are careful about our salt intake so we use ham sparingly and don't add salt.  Low-sodium broth helps, or I use my own no-salt broth when I have it on hand.

This recipe is so good I deviate only a little from the original.  

It's even better the second day

Split Pea and Ham Soup
  •  1 lb dried green split peas
  •  5 cups chicken stock
  •  5 cups water
  •  1 meaty ham bone
  •  2 ribs celery, diced
  •  3 tbls chopped fresh Italian parsley
  •  1/2 tsp crumbled, dried tarragon leaves
  •  4 tbls unsalted butter (or olive oil, or half butter and half oil)
  •  1 cup diced peeled carrots (I leave peel)
  •  1 cup diced onion
  •  1 leek, white part only, rinsed and sliced
  •  1 cup slivered fresh spinach leaves
  •  2 tbls dry sherry

    My method: Rinse the split peas in a strainer, and then combine with stock and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the ham bone, celery, 1 tbls of parsley and tarragon. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add carrots, onion, and leek. Cook until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes, then add to the soup, along with spinach. Simmer, partially covered for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the soup from the heat, remove the ham bone, and shred the meat from the bone, removing any excess fat. Return the meat to the soup, add sherry, pepper, and remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley. Stir and heat through. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Really Nice Small Businesses to Shop this Season, and Anytime!

12/1/11: I'm sad to say that Wrentham Antiques Marketplace closed in June 2011
Wrentham Antiques Marketplace
on Rte 1A in Wrentham Massachusetts, Wrentham Antiques Marketplace, is my all time favorite place to shop, visit and chat with owners and friends, Kathy and Chuck, and if they're not there, with Jane who is always friendly and helpful.  And, often, I get to chat with antique-curious customers who make the short trek like I do to browse the many unique items . . .
Enter the marketplace . . .
I am charmed . . . 
I start thinking how I'd like my house to look  

This looks cozy
Stunning vintage glassware for gracious entertaining
I can never wait to get to the vintage clothing area and start trying on hats and things
I chose this vintage pearly dress to wear in some creative way over the holidays
More fun accessories to choose from
And if you're not sure what to make for the holidays, this vintage Hoosier's cabinet has it listed for you. Why reinvent the wheel!
Well-crafted furniture that becomes a conversation piece in your home
Well worn furniture that begs you to touch and you can almost hear age-old stories
An old fashioned Christmas

Kitschy salt and pepper shakers - adorable!  And made in the USA.  (I bought these for my sister who I know will get the biggest kick out of them!)
A unique Chinese basket

Hidden treasures
You're Welcome!  And thank you for providing local jobs, fine quality local products and services, and a great shopping experience, always!

My expedition continued a few miles north on Rte 1A into Norfolk, Ma, to a lovely shop, With Heart and Hand

"A home furnishings store with an upscale country look."  There a several rooms full of country primitive and country chic furniture, decorative items, everyday ware, hardware, a large chic boutique with jewelry, accessories, clothing and there's a home decorating area upstairs with homespun decorator fabrics. 

Right next door is the Eagle Brook Saloon.  A nice place for lunch.  (Another great place for lunch if I didn't want to head north so quickly, is Cafe Assisi, a small quaint Italian bistro, right near Wrentham Antiques at the intersection of Rtes 1A and 121, just off of Rte 495.)

Turning around, I headed back, south, and stopped at the charming Wrentham center.  

Here, there is a fun shop for ladies called Bambi's.  The store is being remodeled so selections were limited, but I picked up a few novelty item stocking stuffers and at 50% off.

Next door is mmm-Marcia's Sweet Pantry. 
She makes cakes, pies, and dessert trays to order.  Sells chocolates, candy, teas and other goodies.  I picked up pumpkin whoopie pies and assorted "turtles".
I'm stopping by before Christmas to pre-order a chocolate "gingerbread-looking" house filled with assorted chocolate goodies.  If it's anything like the easter egg we ordered a few years ago, it's sure to be a hit

That was it for the day.  But if I had started earlier, I would have turned up Pine Swamp Road in Cumberland, Rhode Island, from Rte 121 and stopped at:

Pine Swamp Place for a look at Arlene's awesome silk floral arrangements in swags and wreaths, assorted country gifts and wares, snowmen, candles and charming ornaments.  

Then, I would have headed down Wrentham Road toward Mendon Road, still in Cumberland, RI.   A right takes me to With Heart and Soul, a lovely boutique with Pandora, John Madeiros and other brand name jewelry, Vera Bradley, Brighton, chic clothing and accessories, entertaining ware and much more. Although, I shopped there last week and found this cool bag made from seat belts!

And, If I really wanted to cap the day in style, drinks and dinner next door at Andrew's Bristro.  Here is a picture of a delicious scallop dinner I had there this summer: