Weekend Happiness Tip

202.jpgYou know French Toast? You know how easy it is? But you know how it’s so much better in restaurants? Well, real restaurants for yuppies, not the diner where they make it with Wonderbread. I was trying for a while to make better last-minute French Toast that didn’t involve tracking down brioche on a Saturday morning. Thinking ahead is not my bag re: cooking. I like to spring it on myself so it seems like it doesn’t last that long and I can say breezily, like a real cook, “Oh, I just threw this together.”

While we’re on the subject, after chopping endless numbers of ingredients into different-shaped tiny bits (how is that relaxing? don’t even start with me), the thing I hate the most about cooking is that sinking feeling you get when you read through a recipe and realize their prep time estimate of 15 minutes didn’t include the 4 hours to 4 months you were supposed to marinate/refrigerate/home-cure it before you could actually make anything out of it.

So there you are, all set with your breezy recipe that you didn’t bother to read all the way through, remembering your high school home ec teacher who told you to always, always read through the whole recipe first so could catch tricky, undermining steps like that one you just tripped over.

That’s just mean. If they’re going to ask you to do that, it should be in bold, red, 20-pt. font right under the title. Or better: in the title. “9-Day Pasta Fazool.” “Chicken Divan Your Whole Day Crepes.” Like that.

Speaking of my home ec teacher, she once gave us an unnamed recipe about a page long to make in our little cooking groups. The rule was you had to eat whatever you made, which was a great incentive not to goof off. My group dutifully read through the whole page first and noted that the very last sentence said to skip ingredients 2, 5, and 9, which were, like baking powder, lemon juice, and salt. The recipe was for hot chocolate. Some poor suckers in the other group had to drink down their lemony, foaming cocoa after disobeying her cardinal rule. I thought this was funny at the time but in retrospect, I think she was reading my future, which was weird and impressive.

Back to my French Toast. I have two recipes for you to make your Saturday brunch better.

The first one is easy. Quick tip: always have some decent thick white bread in your freezer. Put a few slices in the microwave for 10 seconds and you’re French Toast-ready. (On the west coast, in the shocking absence of Pepperidge Farm, try Oroweat Country Potato.) If you’re making it for two, mix up three or four eggs with a tablespoon of milk and add a teaspoon of vanilla (which gives is excellent flavor), and a teaspoon of white sugar (which makes is crispy and brown). I didn’t know about the vanilla or the sugar until about six months ago, which was a sad, sad thing. Now my French Toast rules.

The second recipe is a make-ahead French Toast for guests (guests without heart conditions or memberships at Weight Watchers that is). Since you make the whole thing ahead, it’s not like you’re getting hijacked on the day-of. And it’s fab that you can make a brunch dish the night before rather than running around like a crazy person trying to put together an impressive cilantro souffle between cleaning the toilet and trying to find a tablecloth.

It’s Paula Deen’s recipe but with some modifications because you might kill someone if you make the topping she describes.

Baked French Toast Casserole with Maple Syrup

Prep Time: 20 minutes + Inactive Prep Time of 8 hrs/overnight
Plan for 40 minutes of cook time in the morning
Serves: 6-8

Ingredients
• 1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)
• 8 large eggs
• 2 cups half-and-half
• 1 cup milk
• 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• Dash salt

• Praline Topping (you’ll need 1/2 stick butter, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and 1 cup of nuts)
• Maple syrup

Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F and make the praline topping:

Modified praline topping:
Half a stick of butter + 1/2 cup of brown sugar + slivered almonds or halved pecans to taste (up to a cup, but I use less). Blend it all together in a bowl. Done.

Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Serve with maple syrup – although you may not need this, honestly. Put it out but try it without the syrup. It’s plenty sweet!

Have a sugar-saturated, tasty, tasty weekend!

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Categories: Eat

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One Comment on “Weekend Happiness Tip”

  1. em
    September 27, 2011 at 4:13 am #

    Such a charming anecdote regarding home ec, what fun to watch that one. Your reference to inactive prep time is invaluable, you really should patent it and offer it up to cook book authors…it reminds me of the time I planned to serve homemade sourdough bread with our soup for dinner only to realize I should have started the bread a week earlier.

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