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.

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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.