Boozy Baked French Toast

The only thing better than delicious brunch is brunch that you do not have to get up early in order to pull off well. This baked french toast is least stressful thing you could make while hosting brunch or lunch. I made this while preparing for a friend’s baby shower and this was definitely the easiest part – cut slices of old Challah, and let them soak in the custard overnight. In the morning, just bake it and serve! I went with a very citrusy flavor here with lemon zest and cointreau, but you can definitely go with a wide range of flavor combinations – Frangelico (hazelnut liquer) and nutella or cookie butter, Chambord (raspberry liquer) and fresh raspberries, bourbon and toasted pecans., Calvados and apples – just name a season, and there’s an apt combination to devour. This french toast also puffs up beautifully, so you should plan on baking it right before it’s supposed to be served, so you can get all the ohs and the ahs!

Boozy Baked French Toast

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/2 loaves supermarket Challah bread in 1-inch slices
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp Cointreau

Directions

1. Generously grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with salted (my choice) or unsalted butter.
2. Arrange bread in two tightly-packed layers in the pan. I cut one slice into smaller pieces to fill in gaps. If you are using any fillings of fruit or nuts, this is the time to get them between the layers or sprinkled atop.
3. Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, salt, lemon zest, and cointreau and pour over the bread. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
4. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The bread will absorb all of the milk custard while you sleep.
5. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden. This will take longer if you have additional layers.
6. Cut into generous squares and serve with maple syrup, fresh fruit, powdered sugar or all of the above.

Slow Cooker Apple & Almond Oatmeal

While I am excited about this warmer weather, I am a little sad about saying goodbye to winter vegetables and fruits. This is the first year that I have really started enjoying brussels sprouts (particularly, roasted), but I have also enjoyed experimenting with apples and not just in baking. I first made this oatmeal the night before what was going to be a snowstorm. I threw all these ingredients in the slow cooker just before going to sleep, and when I woke up in the morning, the house smelled just like an apple pie! With the winter wonderland that was outside, and the great smell inside, this was the perfect start to a snowy, cozy weekend. But besides a lazy weekend, this is also a great everyday breakfast because it hardly takes any active preparation time, and is very high in protein and filling. If you want less sugar, you can do so by taking out the brown sugar, and adding a little bit of honey to your serving at the end. And if you want to make it more decadent, you can add some toasted pecans or glazed pecans to your bowl.

Since these oats cook for a long time, you should only use steel-cut oats, as old-fashioned or rolled oats will not hold up their texture when cooked for a long time. This recipe results in 4-6 servings, depending on your portion size.

Slow Cooker Apple Oatmeal

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/2 cup steel cut oats
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups almond milk (you can substitute regular milk as well)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 large apple diced (preferably Granny Smith), and extra for topping (if desired)
  • Glazed or toasted pecans, for topping (optional)

Directions

  1. Add all ingredients to the slow cooker – oats, almond milk, water, apples, raisins, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir to combine well.
  2. Cook on low for 5-7 hours depending on your cooker.
  3. Serve and allow to cool. If desired, add toppings of your choice.

New Orleans Red Beans & Rice

There are few things better in life than food in New Orleans – which is the reason it’s one of my favorite cities ever. I’ve been there twice now, and I still do not feel like I have had enough of it, and I am eagerly awaiting my third trip there. After my first trip there, I wrote in one of my past blog posts about the unique mix of French and Southern food, and some of my favorite restaurants in the city. And I am thankful that during my second trip, I was eating way more fish, so besides gorging on red beans and rice, jambalaya, beignets, bananas foster, and po-boys, I got to eat a lot of oysters and shellfish as well.

New Orleans food has definitely left a mark on both me and my partner’s heart, because we’ve decided to have both beignets and bananas foster at the dessert station at our wedding – with the caterers cooking bananas with brown sugar, vanilla, butter, and cinnamon with dark rum right out in the vineyard in a cozy spot! But besides my obvious love for their desserts, the other dish that really speaks to me is their red beans and rice. I have a special weakness for red beans, because growing up, my favorite food was an Indian curry dish made with red beans, rajma. Even now, every time I go back home, that is the first meal that my mom cooks for me. And while this version of red bean might be very different, it still has some very hearty flavors that are absolutely evocative of some of the Indian comfort food that I am used to. With the holy trinity of onions, celery, and bell peppers, and the flavors and smells of parsley and thyme, this dish with red beans and smoked sausage is a hearty, filling, winter meal.

Using dried beans is key in this recipe. And as I have realized, in my beloved rajma too. While canned beans might be more convenient,  the possibility of a mushy texture by simmering them for too long really detracts from the experience of both dishes. And of course, it’s always good to be able to season your food yourself, instead of getting the seasoning that comes in a can.

Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried red beans, rinsed and picked through for stones
  • 1/3 cup diced pancetta
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 green and 1 red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 pound cooked smoked sausage cut into 1-inch pieces
  • about 10 cups chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • chopped green onions, garnish

Instructions

  1. Place clean dried beans in a medium pot and cover with room temperature water. Allow to soak overnight before making the beans.
  2. If you don’t have time to soak the beans overnight, don’t fret. Place the clean dried beans in a medium pot and cover with room temperature water. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. As soon as the beans boil, cover, remove from heat, and allow to soak for 1 hour. Carry on with the recipe.
  3. In a large soup pot over medium heat, cook pancetta until very well crisp, about 6 minutes.
  4. Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper and cook until vegetables are very well done, about 8 minutes.
  5. Add salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne and stir to combine.
  6. Stir in the garlic, parsley, thyme, and sliced sausage. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until the sausage is well browned, about 5 minutes. Stir frequently.
  7. Add the softened beans to the pot, the stock, and bay leaves. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for about 2 hours, uncovered, until the beans are well softened.
  8. Taste and season with more salt or pepper.
  9. For a slightly smoother consistency, blend about 1/3 of bean and sausage mixture in a blender or food processor and return to the pot. This way, some of the beans will be ground smooth and some will be kept whole, creating a really lovely consistency. You can also smooth out some of the beans by mashing them against the side of the pan once they’re softened.
  10. Serve beans with white rice and a hearty garish of green onions.

What to Bake during a Snowstorm

With winter storm Jonas being touted as another Snowmageddon, and winter storm watches being issued across 14 states, the most important question to answer is: what baking projects should we undertake this weekend? There are a few things more delightful than having your oven going during a winter storm. The cozy warmth, the delicious smell of baked goods, and in many cases, the long amount of time that you might have to spend in your house means that undertaking a baking project is totally worth it!

My current cooking projects for this snowstorm include making Kung Pao chicken, cajun-spiced sweet potato fries, and hot buttered soft pretzels sprinkled with some sea salt. Finally, I want to slow-cook some steel oats with apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, a little bit of brown sugar, vanilla, and topped off with some pecans and raw apples – not only does this mean a pretty  healthy breakfast, it will also make your house smell like apple pie! Here are some suggestions for some baking project you can undertake during a snowstorm:

  1. Cranberry-Orange Bread with an Orange Glaze – Nothing like the smell of baked bread to make you feel warm and cozy, and this one uses fruits that are currently in season. The tartness of the cranberries is a nice complement to the sweetness of the orange.

    Orange-Cranberry Bread

    Orange-Cranberry Bread

  2. Chocolate Souffle – Souffles actually do not take that long to bake. As long as you have a hand mixer or a stand mixer, these are quite straightforward. With a recipe by Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, these incredibly rich and decadent chocolate souffles are sure to hit the spot during a snowstorm. And since you will not be rushed, you can take your time to make sure that it turns out well.   souffle5
  3. Cheese Souffle – The idea of sweet souffles does not do it for you? Try this savory version that you can make with either Gouda, Gruyere or Fontina Cheese, flavored with fresh thyme and lemon juice.  Cheese Souffle
  4. Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart – Planning to have people over for a snowstorm party? Then this is the perfect candidate. This tart may take time, but the caramel, chocolate, and nuts means that you cannot go wrong with the end product.  Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart
  5. Lemon Blueberry Mini-Bundt Cake – Having some frozen fruits that you finally want to use? Try putting some of those summer berries in these mini cakes, and they will be acceptable both for breakfast and as a dessert!

    Lemon Blueberry Mini-Bundt Cakes

    Lemon Blueberry Mini-Bundt Cakes

  6. Apple Brandy Bread Pudding – Have a ton of leftover bread? Make this bread pudding, and if you do not have brandy or calvados on hand, you can substitute whiskey or bourbon or rum.
  7. Beignets – This is probably the best candidate for an extended weekend project. The dough needs to be a left for a few hours so that it rises and the end product is nice and airy. The only main thing you need for this a thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil in which you will be frying your beignets.
  8. Salted Caramel Popcorn – Planning a movie or TV marathon during the snowstorm, and are bored of regular old popcorn? Salted caramel popcorn is pretty straightforward to make, and unlike other kind of popcorn, you do not need to eat it all immediately!
  9. Homemade Dulce De Leche – Don’t want to spend a lot of effort in making something delicious? This dulce de leche takes a few hours, but involves minimal steps and hardly any prep. At the end of a few hours, your home will smell delicious, and you can spread this on fruits, or whatever else catches your fancy.
  10. Boozy Baked French Toast – Want to make a fancy breakfast? This french toast uses challah, and can be flavored with Frangelico (hazelnut), Chambord (raspberry), Creme de Cassis (black currant) or Grand Marnier (orange) depending on whatever you have lying around at home!

So what are some other things that you are thinking of cooking or baking during the snowstorm?

Apple Brandy Bread Pudding

One of my favorite desserts to make over the holidays is bread pudding. It is a great way to use up old bread because the drier that a bread is, the more it will soak up the custard. You also do not have to be extremely precise unlike other desserts – you can easily use more or less bread or custard depending on your preferences. You can also pretty much go any route with it – sweet or savory. And if it’s the holidays, I think having a brandy/whiskey/rum/bourbon sauce to go along with it is essential!

I have made a bananas foster bread pudding with a vanilla rum sauce in the past, so I decided to go with a different one this time. While looking for recipes over the holidays, I fell in love with Food and Wine’s Yearly Compilations that have the recipes from every month together in one place. Though I subscribe to Bon Appetit, I have to confess that the amount of advertising in that magazine really detracts from the recipes, and having a yearly compilation means that I get a giant cooking magazine, with just recipes and no ads. I finally ended up settling on this apple bread pudding from  Food & Wine’s website. You can alter the level of sweetness in this recipe depending on your taste – I personally like a little less sugar, letting the sweetness of the apples and raisins complement the warming flavors of cinnamon and brandy. My two main tips  for bread puddings are – 1) you should cut the crust off the bread, and then cut the bread into cubes and leave it out to dry overnight. Then it’ll be sure to absorb more of the custard, 2) if you are using raisins or fruit, you can infuse them with the brandy (or whatever else the recipe calls for), to ensure that the raisins soften a little bit, get more plump, and get more flavor.

Apple Brandy Bread Pudding

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine Magazine

Ingredients

  • 1 pound brioche, cut into 1-inch pieces without the crust
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 Granny Smith apples—peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup Calvados or other brandy (I used Calvados)
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 1/2 cup raisins, soaked in brandy
  • Whipped cream or crème fraîche, for serving

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. If you did not leave the bread to dry out overnight, spread the brioche on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until lightly golden and dry. If you did, you can skip this step.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter; reserve 2 tablespoons of the melted butter in a small bowl. Add the apples and 1/4 cup of the sugar to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are golden and softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon. Remove from the heat and add the Calvados. Return the skillet to the heat and cook until the sauce is syrupy, about 1 minute. Apple Brandy Bread Pudding
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the custard (save the vanilla bean for another use). Add the brioche, raisins, and apples and toss until evenly coated. Let stand for 5 minutes to allow the brioche to absorb the custard.
  5. Brush an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the reserved melted butter. Add the bread pudding and drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of melted butter on top. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden. Let the bread pudding cool slightly, then serve with whipped cream or crème fraîche

 

Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Pecans, Cranberries, and Orange Zest

This holiday season has been one of the most productive I have had in a while in terms of my baking ambitions – I’ve been meaning to make lots of complicated desserts that I otherwise would never get enough time to bake, and I finally got around to making a lemon meringue pie, a lemon cheesecake on a graham cracker crust, drizzled with raspberry syrup, and finally, some chocolate, lemon, vanilla, anise, and lavender macarons! And while I am excited to blog about all these baking adventures, I have to admit I am getting a little tired reading about desserts. Since these were not the most straightforward desserts, I spent a fair bit of time reading on how to avoid common mistakes that can occur with each of them. So for now, I will be writing about something savory, and return to writing about baking once I am over my sugar hiatus.

Maple roasted brussels sprouts with toasted pecans and cranberries

I never really ate brussels sprouts in India, and I have to admit that I was not a huge fan of them when I first tasted them in the US. But they have grown on me over time, especially as I have realized that pancetta and bacon does really elevate their flavor once they’ve been roasted. These ones are slightly healthier than using pork products, as it mostly uses the nuttiness of pecans, the tartness of cranberries and oranges to complement the roasted brussels sprouts. Roasting them in maple syrup also evens out the extreme tartness from the cranberries. Depending on your taste, you can decrease the maple syrup or decrease the amount of cranberries you put in this dish, so that you do not feel like it either too sweet or too tart. Plus, this dish looks so festive!

Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Pecans and Cranberries

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds/1 kg brussel sprouts, washed
  • 5.3 oz/150 g fresh cranberries
  • 3.5 oz/ 100 g pecans
  • Zest of an orange
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • A little freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  • Pre heat the oven to 350 F.
  • Place the sprouts on a large baking tray, add the orange zest, olive oil and maple syrup, stir it, and cook in the oven for 10 minutes. At that point, stir it to ensure even browning and bake for another 10. After these 20 minutes, stir again, and then bake for another 10 minutes. (30 minutes in total)
  • Now toast the pecans in a small pan for about 5 minutes, stirring them frequently
  • After cooking the sprouts for 30-35 minutes, add the cranberries and pecans and cook for another 10-15 minutes, until the brussels sprouts are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.
  • Serve hot with a little sea salt, black pepper and a squeeze of orange if you like.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

This year’s December issue of Bon Appetit got me really excited – while I am more a of pie or tart person, their ideas for 25 days of Christmas, each with a different cookie got me really excited about baking cookies. And even though I did not end up using any of their 2015 recipes (instead using one in their 2003 edition), I ended up settling on Mexican wedding cookies – butter-rich confections, that are often confused with Russian tea cakes. Unlike Russian tea cakes, which are made with walnuts or hazelnuts, Mexican wedding cookies use pecans. They are tender, buttery, crumbly, full of coarsely ground pecans, that are finally dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Too late to try them for you Christmas cookie exchange? Bake them anyway for the holidays – these are not sweet, which means that it’s easy to wipe them out post-dinner!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

The main thing to watch out for in this recipe is the temperature of the butter. When beating the butter at the beginning, make sure it is at room temperature, otherwise it will not mix properly. On the other hand, if the butter is too warm, it may start separating and may not become fluffy. For mixing and creaming, butter should be about 65 degrees F. The best way to get frozen or refrigerated butter ready for creaming is to cut it into chunks. Avoid using the microwave. When the butter is still cold, but takes the imprint of a finger when gently pressed, it is ready to be creamed.

Further, once the dough is prepared, make sure to chill the dough. This will ensure that the cookie does not start separating and/or spreading once in the oven. If the butter is cold, the cookies will hold their fairly circular texture.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit (May 2003 issue)

Makes around 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted, coarsely ground
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Using a mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy.
  2. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then pecans.
  3. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes to an hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Working with half of the chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls (I used a melon baller). Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart.
  6. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 14 minutes.
  7. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let them cool 15-20 minutes. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough.
  8. Once cooled, gently toss  cookies in remaining powdered sugar to coat completely. You may need to dip the cookies in the powdered sugar again before serving!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

What are your favorite cookies to bake for Christmas cookie exchanges?