Butternut Squash, Bacon, Onion, and Spinach Quiche

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I have a horrible habit of buying butternut or acorn squash and then letting it decompose on our kitchen countertop without ever using it. Grandiose ideas always dance in my head when I happily add it to my shopping cart at the grocery store. “I will carve this butternut squash into a festive turkey, roast it, and drizzle it with a balsamic reduction,” I tell myself. “It will serve as the centerpiece for our thanksgiving meal and it will become so beloved, that it will evolve into a tradition that I pass down to my children’s children and we will call it the Gobbler Gourd.” The voice narrating the regal scene I am imagining suddenly develops a hybrid accent of British/Australian/West Virginian because I have never been good with linguistics, even in my dreams. And then I make it through the checkout line, struggle to find my car keys, load a crying and hungry Smith into his car seat, pull in the garage, and drop half of the groceries on the floor before I see the butternut squash again and wonder if our sheep or chickens will eat the rotting blob it will surely become. “Surely the grocery store used some sort of trickery to force me to buy it,” I surmise. In the moment, I second guess whether or not we actually enjoy the taste of squash.

The particular butternut squash I used in this recipe was destined for a similar fate of those before it, but I decided it was time to stop being so wasteful and find some new ways to incorporate this ingredient into our weeknight meals. The idea for a quiche quickly came to my mind as we had a surplus of eggs from our hens and I needed to make a few batches of pie dough for the upcoming Turkey Day celebration. I turned to my new favorite book, America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School, and followed the guidelines for making quiche and then added some extra jazziness to it. By the way- if you don’t have this book and would like to learn some classic cooking techniques, I highly recommend it. I adore everything ATK produces and this publication did not disappoint.

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In addition to the butternut squash, I used ingredients that I had on hand that I thought would go well together. Because I was going to be serving this for dinner, I added bacon to it to appeal to some of the other members of my household. I like to think the new reports on the health risks of cured meat are mitigated if one consumes good quality bacon and makes sure to incorporate plenty of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables in one’s diet. But maybe that’s just me.

Soapbox aside, the quiche was a surprising hit for our family. Though Robert is always very kind and gracious when I make new recipes, I could see the flash of what I like to call “meat insecurity” shoot across his eyes when he saw what was for dinner. It only took a single bite to reassure him. Poor guy.  I only wish I would have thought of this sooner, but I was so glad I was able to at least save this butternut squash from a sad ending.

Happy Saturday, all!

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Butternut Squash, Bacon, Onion, and Spinach Quiche

Yield: 1 9″ quiche

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups butternut squash, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 6 strips bacon, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 medium onion, sliced lengthwise in thin strips
  • 1 cup loosely packed spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup freshly shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 single layer pie crust
  • Olive oil, butter

Directions

  1. Press pie dough into 9 inch pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer for 30 minutes.  While the dough chills, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large, nonstick sauté pan over medium heat.  Once heated, add the squash and onions and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add in the garlic and heat until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, for about 1 more minute. Remove from heat and set aside. Meanwhile, whisk together the milk, eggs, salt, and pepper. Add the shredded cheese and sautéed vegetables to the custard mix. Set aside.
  2. After the dough has been chilled, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place aluminum foil over pie crust and secure down with pie weights. Blind bake crust just until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Reduce the heat of the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the aluminum foil and pie weights and transfer pie pan to a rimmed baking sheet. Place the baking sheet back in the oven and carefully pour the custard mix into the pie crust, making sure to leave 1/2 room between top of the custard and edges of the pie crust. Moving the baking sheet to the oven before adding the custard prevents the custard from spilling all over the place if you add it before you move the baking sheet to the oven.
  3. Bake the quiche until puffed and lightly golden brown, about 40-50 minutes. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack and allow to set for 1-3 hours before serving.

Note: You may have extra custard depending on the depth of your pie pan. I used the extra I had to bake egg cups in standard muffin tins (I baked these for about 18 minutes) and they were great for breakfasts on the go.

Source: Method for preparing quiche from America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School

Apple Crumb Coffee Cake

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A good coffee cake is an underrated baked good. Most recipes are easy to make, they can be fixed ahead of time, they are great for crowds, and best of all they transform a standard cup of joe into a quaint occasion. Our friends from college visited us last weekend and I decided a seasonal version of apple crumb coffee cake would be wonderful shared with some of our favorite people.

This particular recipe is from the gregarious Emeril Lagasse. A brief side note about Emeril: I will always hold a special place in my heart for this man. When I was in middle school, The Food Network was added to our cable package and I became obsessed with Emeril Live. One of the big highlights of my day was watching his show at night after I finished my homework. It was so fascinating watching him entertain the studio audience with his catchphrases “BAM!” and “let’s kick it up a notch!” and I tried to start incorporating a similar narrative into my detailed construction of nighttime snacks.  I was a pretty wild child, if you can’t tell. I think even my parents lovingly teased me about my infatuation with my boy, Emeril. I eventually stopped watching his show and replaced it with more age-appropriate social activities; but it was fun while it lasted.

Okay enough about New Orleans’ favorite chef; and back to this coffee cake. I was very pleasantly surprised how well it turned out. I am often so swept up in the pumpkin mania that surrounds this time of year, that I forget how delicious apples are in baked goods. This cake is well-spiced and scattered with generous chunks of apples and then topped with a crumb topping that balances the whole concoction. Don’t be deceived by the homely appearance of it. It really is anything but ordinary. Luckily I sent the majority of the leftovers home with our friends so I wouldn’t end up eating most of it.

If you are looking for a seasonal treat to jazz up your weekend morning, may I suggest this gem from my childhood friend, Emeril?

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A few snapshots from Autumn in Amish country:

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 Apple Crumb Coffee Cake

Yield: 12 servings

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups apples, chopped (I used 3 medium honey crisp apples)
For the crumb topping:
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9 inch springform pan with butter and line with a circle of parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Cream together the stick of butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition and scrape down the sides. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. In a third small bowl stir together the sour cream and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the sour cream mixture. Stop the mixer, remove bowl and carefully fold in the apples just until evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and spread out evenly.
  3. Next, make the topping by combining the sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, and butter in a medium-sized bowl. Mix using your fingers or a fork until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the topping over the cake and carefully press into the batter. Bake until golden brown and set, 50-55 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Remove from pan and serve.

Source: Emeril Lagasse

 

How to Make a Well-Balanced Smoothie

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Let me go ahead and preface this post by saying that I am not a licensed dietitian or nutritionist. I am a mere mortal, who has learned a lot about making well-balanced smoothies through the wisdom of dietitians, reputable podcasts, and reading over the past few months.  As a result, I’ve been able to experiment with a lot of different ingredients and discover the combinations needed to create a smoothie with nutritional staying power. Smoothies and protein shakes have become pretty popular in the last few years and, unfortunately, just because something sounds healthy, doesn’t always make it so. A lot of these drinks are essentially sugary milkshakes in disguise and they lack the nutrients necessary to keep us properly fueled. This may lead to a shameful run-in with cinnamon rolls, hypothetically speaking- maybe.

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When building my morning smoothie, I try to incorporate three main components: carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat.

The carbohydrates are complex and come from the fruits and vegetables.  The need to add in extra sugar is eliminated if you use extra ripe fruit. I also always add in a generous handful of spinach (and sometimes kale) as a way to kick start my vegetable intake for the day. Don’t worry- when you blend it all together, you can’t taste the spinach. As for the kale, you have to blend that extra well or you will be tasting “spinach with hair” as Jim Gaffigan so lovingly describes this green. I’m sorry, I love vegetables, but it’s true.

I’ve included a list of the fruits and vegetables I have personally used and loved. You may notice I didn’t include raspberries on the list because I have found they tend to make the smoothies too tangy and gritty for my liking.  Also, I typically use frozen fruit to make the smoothies thicker and more scrumptious.

Carbohydrate:

Fruits- About 1 cup

  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Peaches
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Bananas

Leafy Greens: 2 generous (and well-washed) handfuls

  • Spinach
  • Kale

For the protein portion, I prefer using a good quality whey protein powder. It turns out we don’t get nearly as much protein as we should and this is the component that helps keep our hunger at bay. I have also used cottage cheese and plain Greek yogurt when I don’t have the former option available.

Protein:

  • High quality whey protein powder (>15 grams of protein per scoop/serving)
  • Greek yogurt (1/2-3/4 cup)
  • Cottage cheese (1/2-3/4 cup)

Adding healthy fat is necessary to help stabilize blood sugar and increase our good (HDL) cholesterol. Contrary to my previous belief, nut butters count as a healthy fat and not a protein. Incorporating a healthy fat also makes the smoothie extra delightful.

Healthy Fat:

  • Natural peanut butter: 1 tablespoon
  • Natural almond butter: 1 tablespoon
  • Coconut oil  (unrefined, cold-pressed is best): 1 tablespoon
  • Canned coconut milk: 1/4 cup
  • Avocado: 1/4 cup

To provide the right consistency for drinking, I always add a liquid base to my smoothies. Using milk will add a little extra protein; but I often mix and match depending on my mood. Here are my favorites:

Liquid Base: 1/2-1 cup total depending on your preference

  • Unsweetened almond milk
  • Unsweetened coconut milk
  • Milk
  • Water
  • Cold-brew coffee

To top off my scrumptious breakfast, I usually add in a little extra jazziness to brighten my day.  I’ve listed my favorites below:

Extras: Usually between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon

  • Ground flaxseed
  • Chia seeds
  • Espresso powder
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Fresh lemon or lime juice
  • Orange zest
  • Canned pumpkin (it is that time of year)
  • Cinnamon or any other spices you fancy :)

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Some of my favorite combinations are:

  • Banana- spinach-peanut butter-coffee-almond milk-cocoa powder-chia seeds (inspired by one of my favorite local restaurants Zest)
  • Blueberries-banana-spinach-coconut cream-coconut milk-ground flaxseed-fresh lemon juice
  • Mango-pineapple-coconut cream-coconut milk-fresh lime juice
  • Strawberries-banana-spinach-avocado-almond milk

The possibilities are endless and delicious depending on your personal preference. Again, I am only sharing what I have learned and not intending this information to be dietetic law. Wishing you all a happy and healthy day!

SourcesNutritional Weight and Wellness, Nutrition Diva

 

 

 

 

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

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Do you hear that? It’s the sound of full-fledged pumpkin hysteria and I am right there on the frontline of it all. We have officially arrived at that time of year and I love to welcome this autumn staple with open arms when fall begins. Perhaps it’s the result of being married to a wonderfully practical man, but I am a firm believer in celebrating each season at the right time. I don’t purchase pumpkin spice lattes in August and we don’t put our Christmas decorations up until after we’ve enjoyed Thanksgiving. It’s all part of my super self-actualized ideology of living life in the present. By the way, I just finished Mindy Kaling’s new book, Why Not Me?  and she uses the term “self-actualized” rather frequently and I fancy it so much that it is now my go-to description for what I hope my thirties (gulp) will be.  How self-actualized of me. So hipster.

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I guess you could say I’m self-actualized in my ability to fully embrace the fact that I have an incredible propensity to embarrass myself on very regular occasions. In my younger years, I was less than fond of that part of myself; but I now accept it. The people closest to me seem to like my tales and I am glad I can provide comic relief for those I love the most. Just last week, I was evaluating a patient in her home and I wanted to look at the safety of the bathroom set-up, so I asked, with my hand already turning the door knob, “do you mind if I take a peek at your shower?” I said this more as a formality and I pushed my shoulder against the door and barged right in before the sweet, elderly lady could tell me her daughter was using the restroom. I got a high-def, panoromic view of a poor, unsuspecting women just trying to go to the bathroom in peace. The worst part was this was just the beginning of the eval, so we were able to spend lots more quality time together after I profusely apologized and slammed the door shut. Oy.

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When I am not storming in on people using the restroom, I like to fill my house with aromas of fall. These pumpkin muffins do just that. They are made with a full can of pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. I made these for breakfast for Smith and he loves them. I like them because they aren’t too cloyingly sweet and the whole wheat flour adds a good heartiness with each bite. The muffins are equally great for busy weekday mornings or for lazy fall weekends paired with a piping-hot cup of joe.

Happy Saturday, all.

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Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1½ cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • ¼ cup real maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 3 eggs
  • Cinnamon sugar (1 teaspoon cinnamon 3 tablespoons sugar), for topping

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 standard muffin tins with cupcake liners. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a separate large bowl, mix together the pumpkin puree, butter, maple syrup, milk, and eggs until well-combined. Carefully add dry ingredients to the wet and mix gently until just mixed through.
  2. Use a large ice cream scoop to fill batter into cupcake liners. Sprinkle the top of the muffins with cinnamon sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until top of muffins spring back when you gently push down with your finger. Transfer to cooling racks to cool for about 5 minutes, remove muffins from the tin and allow to cool completely. Enjoy! These muffins also freeze well.

Source: Adapted from A Pinch of Yum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding Our Rump Roast: No Bake Oatmeal Energy Bites

IMG_6685Our little rump roast isn’t so little these days. He is a rambunctious toddler with a serious love for running, not walking, to explore the fascinating world around him. Because of this, it can be a bit challenging to pin him down and make him eat; he’s just too busy chasing the dog or driving his matchbox cars all over the house. I have been trying to find quick and healthy snacks that don’t need to be refrigerated, so I can be ready to refuel my little dude at a moment’s notice. These no bake oatmeal energy bites are one of my new favorites. 

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They are super easy to make and they are perfect for summertime because I don’t like using my oven more than I have to this time of year. All you need is a food processor and, voila, a delicious and healthy snack awaits you. With only five ingredients and no added sugar, I feel really good about letting Smith dig into these little nuggets of fun. He loves them and feels so proud because he can play and eat at the same time.   

An added bonus to these babies is that they are equally tasty for adults.

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No Bake Oatmeal Energy Bites

Ingredients

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup Medjool dates (usually in the refrigerator section at Trader Joe’s or health food stores)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

  1. Remove the pits from the dates. Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the dough comes together and all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined. You may need to add a few more dates if the dough is too crumbly.
  2. Remove the dough from the bowl of the food processor and shape into balls. Place in on a plate in a single layer and refrigerate to allow the bites to firm up slightly. Enjoy! I keep them stored for about a week in the fridge.

Source: Barely adapted from A Couple Cooks

Crumb Coffee Cake

 

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Mother’s Day is upon us and I wanted to kick off the celebration with a delicious coffee cake recipe. The flavorful cinnamon crumb layer is extra thick and sits atop a fluffy piece of vanilla-buttermilk cake.  It’s a special treat that goes well with breakfast, brunch, or as a dessert. Another bonus is the coffee cake is even better the day after it’s baked, establishing it as a great option for a make-ahead menu item.

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My mother actually introduced this recipe to me shortly after I had Smith. She stayed at our house for several days to act as a private chef, housekeeper, and grandmother extraordinaire as we adjusted to our new life as a family of three. We were so grateful for all she did for us in those first few weeks as new parents and I remember experiencing a feeling of homesickness when she left, the kind of homesickness I used to feel when I was eight years old and at a slumber party.

It turns out we never stop needing our mothers. I still talk with my mom nearly everyday and seek her advice on several occasions. Now that I am a mother myself, I have an even greater respect for my mom. She is determined, independent, intelligent, and friendly to all she meets. My mother is also fiercely passionate about politics and she can turn a simple conversation about bananas into something involving the government in less than five seconds. But above all that, what I love most about my mother is her fantastic wit and sense of humor. She can always make us laugh until it hurts. Thank you, Mom, for being the best mother to us. Your children and grandchildren love you so much.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Crumb Coffee Cake

Yield: 8-12 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 Tablespoons (1 and 1/4 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature1
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature2
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform  with butter. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with 1 Tablespoon of flour and tap out the excess. Set aside.
  2. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir the flour, sugar, and salt together. Add in the pieces of butter and stir on medium-low speed until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside 1 cup of the flour mixture.
  3. Mix the baking powder and baking soda into the remaining flour mixture. Add the room temperature buttermilk, egg, and vanilla and mix everything together until the batter is smooth, fluffy, and resembles frosting – about 2 full minutes. Transfer the batter into the prepared springform pan and spread evenly.
  4. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon to the reserved flour mixture. Mix with a fork until well blended. Sprinkle the crumbs over the batter and use your fingers to press them lightly into the batter. Bake the cake until the center is firm, about 55-60 minutes. Place on a baking rack and cool for 10 minutes before removing the sides of the springform pan. Allow cake to cool completely before serving.

Source: Sally’s Baking Addiction, who adapted it from Cook’s Illustrated

Baked Blueberry Lemon French Toast with Fresh Blueberry Sauce

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This past weekend, I had a few of my very dear childhood friends over for brunch. It was really lovely catching up with these ladies and I am always amazed to see how we each have embarked on our own paths and yet that bond we once had still remains strongly intact.

Now that I have a child of my own, I often wonder what the most important factors are in determining the type of person an individual becomes. Parenting? Siblings? Birth order? Peers? Geography? There are several variables, that is certain; but I know that the group of friends a person surrounds themselves with has to have a significant role in development.

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I was very fortunate to have had a great group of girlfriends when I was young. They were (and still are) very kind, compassionate, and empathetic human beings. We went through those awful and awkward middle school years together and had very immature moments; but we sincerely cared about one another.  I can recall a particular instance, in seventh grade, when a group of us were on a hayride and one of the boys on the tractor trailer said something mean about how I looked and Andrea swooped right in and put that kid in his place and then reassured me that he was “such a jerk.” She may not even remember this event now, but I am eternally grateful.  While most 13 year old girls would have been more concerned with fitting in, Andrea didn’t stand for that kind of rudeness. I think that’s why my parents always loved her so much. There are countless other warm memories the group of girls and I share and some of those were recounted as we dined together. It makes my heart happy and very thankful.

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Robert was working on Saturday morning so I tried to prepare most of brunch in advance because it’s sometimes challenging cooking while Smith pulls dirty diapers out of the Diaper Genie or uses my eyeliner pencil as a crayon on our bathroom floor. One of those items I prepared in advance was this baked blueberry lemon French toast with fresh blueberry sauce. I used day-old sandwich bread because stale bread is the best type of bread to soak up the custardy goodness in this type of dish and assembled the French toast the night before. All I had to do the next morning was preheat the oven and pop the dish in the oven.  I also made the blueberry sauce to accompany the French toast the day before. Perfectly simple.

In addition to this recipe, I also served:

I had a wonderful time reuniting with these wonderful women and I think they did, too. Have a great weekend everyone!

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Baked Blueberry Lemon French Toast

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 loaf of day old French or Amish sandwich bread
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) fresh or frozen, thawed, and drained blueberries
  • Cinnamon sugar to sprinkle over mixture (1 tablespoon ground cinnamon plus 3 tablespoons sugar)

Directions

1. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Add the milk, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and lemon zest. Add the bread cubes and mix until coated. Stir in the blueberries. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the top of the French toast. Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the bread to soak up the custard mixture.

3. The next morning, when you are ready to bake the French toast, remove the dish from the fridge and preheat the oven to 350 degrees (putting a refrigerated casserole dish directly into a hot oven can shattered the dish!). Bake until the top is golden and the filling is set, about 60 minutes.

4. Place onto serving plates and top with blueberry sauce.

Fresh Blueberry Sauce

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Directions

1. Place the blueberries and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes, or until the berries have plumped and released their juices.

2. In a separate, small bowl stir together water, cornstarch, and lemon juice. Whisk this mixture in the blueberries and stir until mixture is thickened, about 2-3 more minutes.

3. Remove from heat and serve over French toast, on yogurt, or over baked brie.

Source: Blueberry Lemon Baked French Toast- Giada De Laurentiis, Fresh Blueberry Sauce- Annie’s Eats, who adapted it from David Lebovitz