Friday, December 16, 2011

Nutella and Banana Stuffed French Toast Bake

The Background

I have wanted to find a way to do French Toast in a manner that would make it easier to serve to a larger crowd, something that can stand up to a little time in a chafing dish.  A quick Google search will give you a ton of inspiration for baked French Toast recipes.  Some are more akin to bread pudding, others more like a casserole.  As usual, this recipe is a combination of inspirations from across the web, twisted in my own mind to meet a distinct flavor.

The Ingredients

1 loaf French Bread
2-3 bananas, sliced
For the custard:
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups half and half
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
For the topping:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 brown sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon


Making It Work

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that much of the work and mess is done the night before.  Begin by slicing the loaf of French bread into thick slices.  I like my slices to be about 2 inches thick.  The end pieces won’t be used, the crust won’t absorb the custard.  Take each piece of bread and slice to, but not through the bottom crust.  This creates a pocket for your stuffing, in this case, the Nutella and bananas.  I can tell you though that there is no need to stop there,  I made an equally delicious variation where I whipped cream cheese and apple butter for the stuffing. 
Spread a thick, healthy portion of Nutella inside each slice of bread, and top the Nutella with several slices of banana.

Lay each stuffed toast piece into a buttered casserole dish, packing them together tightly.
In a medium mixing bowl, make the custard by stirring together the half and half, eggs, vanilla and brown sugar.  Make sure that the custard is well mixed, and that the sugar dissolves completely.
Pour the custard mixture evenly over the top of the bread pieces.  Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  By the morning, the custard should have absorbed into the bread, with very little remaining pooled in the bottom of the dish.

When you are ready to cook, remove the dish from the refrigerator and allow it to begin to warm to room temperature while the oven preheats to 350 degrees.

For the topping, slice a stick of butter into thin slices and mix in a small bowl with the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand.  Sprinkle this over the bread, covering well.

Bake for 45 minutes.  The topping should be browned and bubbling.  If not, return for another 10 to 15. 

This definitely does not need any maple syrup, but would do well topped with fresh fruit.  I probably don’t have to say this, but this is a rich, decadent dish.  A small piece of this dish served as part of a larger brunch offering is probably the best use of this recipe.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Muffin Tin Frittatas

 The Background

I am always looking for easy, no fuss ideas for holiday meals, especially the “lead up” meals to a big event.  Everyone knows that Thanksgiving Day is all about a turkey dinner, and you probably remember all sorts of yummy eats that you enjoyed at last year’s feast.  But do you remember what you had for breakfast that morning?  Just because the day is all about dinner, doesn’t mean that breakfast should consist of slurping down a bowl Post Toasties while you wait for the oven to pre-heat.
No, we need something suitably special.  Something that will stand out in our memory of the day, without causing the dishwasher to rise up in revolt of another dirty kitchen.  Christmas mornings of my past are filled with breakfast casseroles, which were easy enough to prepare the night before and only mess up a single dish in the morning.  My wife has also done cinnamon rolls, for much the same reasons.  And, it is worth mentioning that both of these are perfectly fabulous options, I am just looking for something different.
Recently, my family has been serving our church by providing brunch for our hardworking worship staff.  These guys and gals are at the church early, work through 3 services and are often some of the last to leave.  We get to rotate with other families to make sure these wonderful people get to have something nice for brunch between services.  Last Sunday was one of these occasions, and these muffin tin frittatas, adapted from several online recipes I found were perfect!  This recipe is super simple, and much of the prep work can be done a day in advance to make this a great option for those busy holiday mornings.  This recipe is also so easy to adapt for a variety of tastes.  The recipe below is a basic ham and Swiss variety, but I also made some with asparagus and potato.  Other combinations that sound good to me are bacon and cheddar, salmon and capers with red onion, wild mushrooms and rosemary, crab and sweet corn, spinach and bacon with Gouda… oh man, I better stop.  I am sure you get the idea.

The Ingredients

  • 1/4 lb. Ham, sliced deli-thin, and chopped
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 cup Egg Whites (approximate – see notes below)
  • 2 tbsp. Milk
  • 1 cup Swiss Cheese, grated
  • 1 oz. Parmesan Cheese, grated
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Cooking Spray

Making It Work

  1. Start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees, with a rack in the middle position.
  2. Spray a full-size muffin tin very liberally with cooking spray.
  3. Divide the chopped ham and grated cheese between the cups.
  4. In a 2 cup measuring cup, crack the 3 eggs.  Depending on the size of eggs you have, the quantity will vary.  Add liquid egg whites to fill to 2 cups total, then add the milk and whisk to fully incorporate.
  5. Spoon the egg mixture into each cup of the muffin tin, filling to about 3/4 full.  If everything was measured correctly, you should be able to fill all 12 cups on the muffin tin.
  6. Gently give each cup a stir so that the ham and cheese are even distributed in the egg mixture.
  7. Bake the frittatas for 20 minutes.
  8. After 20 minutes, remove from the oven, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese, and return to the oven for another 5 minutes to brown the Parmesan.

Serve these hot, straight from the pan, or they will hold up nicely if you want to re-warm them for sleepy heads who are late coming to breakfast.  They also store really well, if you want to freeze some for later.  Feeling fancy?  A dab of Hollandaise sauce would be awesome.  But for my family, they are great plain, or with a bit of hot sauce or salsa for me.
So there it is, a holiday-worthy breakfast or a brunch treat suitable for the voices of angels.  Dress it up, or keep it simple.  Try these out, and be sure to let me know if you add your own flavors too!   I would love to hear what you do differently.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

French Toast and Bacon Cupcakes with Maple Butter Cream Frosting

The Story

Every month or so, we get the chance to serve brunch to the worship team at Hill Country Bible Church.  These guys and gals are absolutely amazing.  They spoil our congregation every week with some of the finest voices, music and technology anywhere.  So when we get the chance to serve them, I do my best to give back to them as extravagantly as I can.  I am constantly looking for new idea, new recipes and new gadgets that allow us to bring our best to them.  So a couple of weeks ago, a Facebook friend shared a picture of some cupcakes that a co-worker had made.  Cupcakes with bacon, now this was something I needed to try.  I also knew they were something the worship team would enjoy.  I was kind of surprised when I did a Google search for the recipe.  There are tons of recipes that I worked my way through.  Some used a cream cheese frosting, which I thought would be way too heavy.  Others had a cupcake recipe that would have turned out more like a muffin, and that wouldn’t do either.  After some “research” last weekend, this weekend I crafted my own version.  I generally try to offer recipes that are easier than they appear, but I have to say, this one is fairly complex.  But man… are they ever worth it.

The Ingredients

The Cupcakes
  • 1 lb. bacon
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1 ½  teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs, separated
The Frosting
  • 2 Sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup


The cupcake How to

  1. Chop and brown the bacon and set it aside.  I cut my bacon into relatively large pieces, approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inches. 
  2. Preheat your oven to 375, oven rack in center position.  Line a muffin tin with cupcake papers.
  3. Using a paddle attachment for a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar and brown sugar.  Start slow, until the butter and sugars are incorporated and then increase the speed to high, mixing until the butter is soft and fluffy (about 10 minutes). 
  4. While the butter is creaming, in a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and salt.
  5. In a another bowl or large measuring cup, whisk the milk and vanilla extract together.
  6. Slow the mixer speed to low and add the egg yolks, one at a time.  Wait until one yolk is fully incorporated before adding another.
  7. In the stand mixer bowl, on low, combine the dry ingredients with the creamed butter, and the milk.  To do this, alternate adding about a third of the dry ingredients, half of the milk, another third of dry, the rest of the milk, finishing with the last of the dry ingredients.  Let the ingredients become fully incorporated before adding more.  Once fully incorporated, increase the speed to medium until the a smooth batter is formed. 
  8. Remove the bowl from the mixer and transfer the batter to a large mixing bowl.  Stir in about 3/4 of the bacon bits into the batter, reserving the rest to top the frosted cupcakes.
  9. Clean and dry the mixer bowl thoroughly, and then using the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until they reach stiff peaks.
  10. Fold the egg whites into the batter in thirds. 
  11. Spoon the batter into the lined muffin tin (about 3/4 full) and bake for 20 minutes, turning them once after 10.  The cupcakes should be lightly browned, and a toothpick inserted in the center should have dry crumb when they are done.
  12. Once they have cooled completely, frost with the maple cream frosting and top with remaining chopped bacon.  For the topping, I minced the remaining bacon.  I didn’t want these pieces to be as large as the pieces inside the cupcake.

The frosting how to

  1. Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, or a handheld mixer, cream together the butter, syrup and confectioners sugar on high until fluffy and light (about 10 minutes).
  2. Add heavy cream and mix again until completely incorporated.

The Wrap up

Nobody will confuse these cupcakes with diet food.  Certainly lots of butter, sugar and bacon goes into this recipe.  But if you are looking for a decadent treat to add to a brunch, then by all means, make enough to share!  Remember, everything in moderation, and that includes moderation, right?!  Seriously, don’t keep a dozen of these around to tempt you.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tomatillo Avocado Salsa

It’s Cinco De Mayo, so it seems fitting to offer this salsa recipe I have been playing with recently.  So eat up!  Happy Cinco De Mayo, everyone!

The Background

Whenever I go to a Mexican restaurant and there is a green salsa, I usually love it, but for some reason I have never tried to make my own.  My grocery store carries tomatillos year round, so access to good fresh produce isn’t the problem.  A couple of weeks ago, I went to my favorite taqueria in Round Rock, where they make their salsas fresh everyday.  I love their green salsa.  I could drink it with a straw, but that might seem a bit inappropriate as I stand there at the salsa bar.  Above the salsas, the restaurant had provided a description of each salsa and their relative heat factor.  As I read the description, which included a list of the ingredients, it finally sunk in.  I am a relatively smart guy, and I know my way around a kitchen, recreating this salsa can’t be THAT hard, can it?  Armed with a mental list of the ingredients, I raided the HEB produce section with reckless abandon.

The Ingredients

  • 1 lb. fresh tomatillos (about 10-12 depending on the size)
  • 2 fresh avocados
  • 1 medium size sweet onion
  • 6 Serrano peppers
  • 1 tbsp. garlic (chopped)
  • 1 fresh lime
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste


Making It Work

Tomatillos are really quite easy to work with.  If you aren’t familiar with it, a tomatillo is green fruit that is used a lot in Mexican cooking.  The fruits themselves are sheathed in a husk, so the first order of business is to remove the husks and wash the fruit.  Once the husks are removed, you will find that the fruits are kind of sticky.  A rinse in cool water will take care of this.  Now is a good time to go ahead and give the cilantro and peppers a rinse while you are at it.  Go ahead and rinse that lime too, we are going to use the zest, so we want to make sure it is good and clean.
Now that your fresh produce is all clean, its time to get busy chopping.  I prefer to let my food processor or immersion blender do most of the heavy lifting, but a coarse chopping of the tomatillos, cilantro and onion will give us a head start.  For the cilantro, I generally chop the leafy greens right above the band holding the bundle together.  We are looking for a fairly uniform 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch chop of the tomatillos, onion and cilantro.  Once they are chopped, put them into a nice big bowl, or your food processor. 
The Serrano peppers need to have their stems removed, and depending on the amount of heat you prefer, you may want to open the chiles up and remove the seeds.  I like the heat, so for me, they are staying in there.  Again a coarse chop is all that is needed, I chopped mine into about 1/2 inch pieces and toss them into the salsa bowl.
For the avocado, I find it easiest to cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, use a spoon to scoop it from the shell and then mash it with a fork in the salsa bowl.  Next, use a micro plane to zest the whole lime.  Be gentle here, the green zest definitely adds to the fragrance and flavor, but the white pith is not good eats.  Zest the entire lime and then cut it in half and squeeze all the juice you can get out of both halves.  Now we just need to add the garlic and spices and then let the food processor do its thing. 
I prefer my salsa to be silky smooth, so I let mine go for a long time.  If you prefer a chunkier salsa, use the pulse feature and go slow. Do a taste test periodically before adding any salt and pepper.
This recipe makes quite a bit of salsa, far more than I needed for the birthday party I made it for.  The good news is that I was able to freeze the leftovers in glass jars in smaller quantities.  I was amazed at how well the frozen salsa thawed and tasted after several weeks in the freezer.  This a new favorite of mine.  I will be making this recipe a lot this summer, taking advantage of the in-season prices for the tomatillos, cilantro and peppers.  And now that I know how well it freezes, I am anxious to see how well it handles the canning process for longer storage possibilities.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mango Margaritas

I was in HEB a couple of weeks ago and noticed that mangoes are coming back into season.  The ones I saw were from Peru and they were huge.  As we get into spring they will continue to get less expensive and the source will get closer.  Mango is one of my personal favorites, it reminds me of a tropical peach.  To me, a group of friends, a platter of fajita tacos and a pitcher of mango margaritas would probably be one of my top choices of a way to spend an evening under the fans of the covered patio pool-side.
This recipe was sent to me from Texas Monthly.  It was originally from Teala's (3210 W. Dallas) in Houston.

1 cup white tequila
1/2 cup Triple Sec or Cointreau
2 1/2 cups pureed fresh ripe mangoes (4 or 5, depending on size)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 pound crushed ice
Place half of the ingredients in a blender (it can hold only half the batch at a time) and blend to a slushy consistency (will not be as thick as a typical frozen margarita). If mangoes are not fully ripe, add more Triple Sec to taste. Off-season, use frozen mangoes. Makes four 10-ounce margaritas.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cilantro Pecan Pesto

The Background

Pesto has been a personal favorite of mine lately.  I have made a couple different variations and I have been playing with their usefulness.  Though I can honestly say that I have not created one that I necessarily dislike, this variation may be my favorite to date.  I used cilantro (instead of the more traditional basil) and pecans (rather than pine nuts).  Why?  Well, because this is Texas, not Tuscany; and it’s also what I had on hand! 


  • 1 cup Cilantro
  • 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese (Grated)
  • 1/2 cup Natural Pecans (Raw)
  • 1 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Sea Salt - Coarse
  • 1 tbsp. Pepper, Black
  • 2 Garlic Clove


The food processor will do almost all of the heavy lifting for this dish. I coarsely chop the cilantro and the pecans just to give my processor a bit of a head start. In the bowl of the food processor combine the chopped cilantro, chopped pecans, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic and olive oil. Pulse to combine everything. Once everything is well blended, stir in the grated parmesan.
Call this one done. It's a very simple pesto that is great as a topper to toasted garlic bread or tossed with pasta as a sauce. I actually use Adam's Reserve Truffle Salt (can be found at HEB) in place of Sea Salt, and I use Orange Pepper blend (from Texas Spice, in Round Rock, TX) in place of plain black pepper. These really add great depth to the flavor.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Entertaining at Home

Often times, I think the thought of entertaining guests in our home can be a bit intimidating or overwhelming, and it doesn't have to be this way. We put way too much pressure on ourselves to orchestrate the perfect event, even though we likely don't have the necessary resources, tools, time and/or money to pull it off.

Events you host in your home should be a reflection of your everyday life. This is YOUR home turf, a place where real life occurs. This should be a beautiful picture, a reflection of YOU at your very best. We should be hosting events in our homes because we want to be more relaxed and comfortable, not an attempt to appear like something we are not.

So here a few tips that I hope will help you survive your next home dinner party. First, don't pretend, for the sake of a party to be something you are not. It's phony and will come across as a cheap knock-off. This is not the memory you want your guests to take home with them. Second, do that thing YOU do well. Third, inventory your resources. You would be surpised at the talented folks you have at your disposal, without spending a dime! Last, budget your time and your money wisely.

There is absolutely no reason to attempt to cast an image you saw in the glossy pages of a magazine, or on HGTV. Life is about stages, and if your current stage in life involves toddlers, Veggie Tales and hotdog dinners, trying to turn your playroom/living room into the Ritz-Carlton ballroom for a 7 course haute-cuisine dinner party is a disaster waiting to happen. Likewise, hosting a 5 year old birthday party in a swanky bachelor pad is inviting a whole slew of problems and potential dangers.

Do that thing YOU do well
Have you been perfecting your grandmother's prize winning cake or pie recipe? Do you or your spouse have a knack for smoking the perfect brisket? Your best bet for a dinner party that your friends remember fondly, and an event you can be proud of showcases YOU at your best, so it stands to reason that your best talents are on display. Not a cook or baker? There is no shame in hiring a caterer (I know a reasonably good one if you want a reference!). A catered dinner doesn't have to be a big budget affair either. And good food from a good caterer will taste all that much better when its paired with your All-Star Margarita recipe or served on dishes that you got on your last shopping excursion.

Know Your Friends
I was looking through my Facebook friends list just the other day and marveling at all the amazing talents that I am surrounded by. Seriously talented people, some of which are professional artists, and others who are devote hobbyists. A quick review of my friends includes several photographers with keen artistic eyes, bakers and cake decorators, videographers, florists, a painter or 2, web designers and developers, an insanely meticulous green-thumbed landscaper, and several engineers. Now, it probably wouldn't be entirely appropriate for me to ask all of these friends to make their talents available to me at my whim, but I bet more than a few of them would gladly help me if I asked. I bet if I asked Donna, my friend who designs floral arrangements for weddings, she would love to help me put together an awesome arrangement or 2 for a dinner party, and I bet it wouldn't cost me the fortune that my local florist would charge me. Which brings me nicely to my last suggestion.

Budget Wisely
Now, there is a big difference between budgeting wisely and being cheap. Keep in mind we aren't just talking about budgeting money, but also our time. Afterall, your time is extremely valuable, and increasingly in short supply. If you don't have the luxury of lounging around your home eating bon bons all day, chances are that your home isn't passing your "white glove" cleanliness test. There is absolutely nothing wrong with calling in a cleaning service, and you might be surprised at how reasonable the cost is. What a great use of your dinner party budget to save yourself an entire weekend of cleaning so that you can focus on food prep, or just getting in some family-time with the kids. Also, hit up the farmers market. Most cities have several markets to choose from on Saturday mornings. Many cities will also have a handful of mid-week markets available as well. Talk to the vendors at the markets. These people are often the actually farmers who grew your produce, or raised the animals to supplied the milk, eggs and meat you are purchasing. These people will also have some great suggestions on how to prepare them.

As far as food goes, just because you are hosting a dinner party doesn't mean that you have to prepare every single morsel of food on the buffet table. Go to a speciality store or warehouse club and pick up a couple of prepared appetizers. If you can make a homemade spinach artichoke dip and pair that with store bought mini-quiches or bruschetta, then you will be that much farther ahead on the planning and you won't be stressed over all the details. Same goes for dessert. Hit up that amazing baker friend of yours to see if they will make their famous coconut cake or even a simple sheet cake and then pair that with a store bought tray of cheesecake bites or bakery cookies. You will stretch your food dollars further and have far less stress in the hours leading up to your event.

One more thing, don't forget that you wanted to host this party because it would be FUN for you and your guests. If you aren't having fun, then it wasn't worth doing. So please remember to relax and enjoy the company of your guests. And if all else fails... well, call a caterer. My number and email address are on the About Us page, located in a tab at the top of this page!