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

Food Memory Friday: Blackened Chicken with Black Bean and Corn Salsa

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The summer Robert and I were married, I was finishing up my physics pre-requisite for graduate school and my schedule allowed me extra time to cook for us each night. Those were the days. I was able to work out every morning and I happily perused cookbooks and magazines for menu ideas. I also consulted with my mother a lot as I tried to figure out my way around the kitchen and she introduced me to this recipe. She’d made it a few times before and it was a delicious hit. Feeling confident, I collected the ingredients I needed. I was happy to find that I already had everything in our apartment. The chicken breasts I was using were frozen, but I figured if I allowed them to thaw for a few hours, I would be in good shape by the time I was ready to make dinner.

Fast forward a few hours and I followed the recipe to a tee. The kitchen smelled wonderful as the food baked in the oven and it looked gorgeous as I ceremoniously placed dinner on our table. We each served ourselves a piece of chicken and dug in. A few bites in, Robert turned his fork upside down and examined the piece of chicken pierced through its prongs closely. “This chicken is really chewy,” he said, “is there something different about it?” I assured him that it was the usual chicken I always purchased and I took his plate to check it out myself. I cut the chicken in half and scraped the salsa away to reveal a delightfully raw piece of chicken. The center was still cold and nowhere near the safe temperature recommended. My heart sank and I apologized profusely. Bert reassured me we could just pop the chicken in the microwave, which we did, but we both had not-surprisingly lost our appetites by that point. On the bright side- neither of us ended up with any food-borne illnesses and I learned a very valuable lesson in defrosting chicken that day.

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Here we are nearly eight years later and I still make this dish a few times a year. Every time I do,  it seems like one of us will bring up that chewy chicken I served just a few weeks after we became a family. We laugh and then we both furtively check our chicken to make sure it is indeed cooked through.

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Blackened Chicken with Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Yield: 4 generous servings

Ingredients

  • 15 oz can (1 1/2 cups) black beans, drained
  • 15 oz can (1 1/2 cups) corn, drained
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Olive or coconut oil
  • Sour cream, green onions, avocado, tortilla chips (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the black beans, corn, and salsa in a 9×13 inch casserole dish. Set aside.

2. Combine the chili powder, garlic, salt, and cumin in a bowl and pour into a thin layer on a plate. Dip each of the chicken breasts in the spice mixture and use your fingers to “massage” the rub evenly on each piece of chicken.

3. Heat olive or coconut over medium-high heat in a large saucepan until hot. Carefully add each piece of chicken to the pan and sear the chicken on each side, until blackened, about 2-3 minutes each. Transfer the pieces of chicken to the casserole dish with the black bean and corn salsa. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and top with shredded cheese and other toppings, as desired.

Source: Taste of Home

 

Sweet Potato Chili

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I love the above picture. Little Smee is so curious these days and he couldn’t let me snap a quick photo of dinner without checking out why I was pulling the window blinds up and grabbing my camera. Luckily, my reflexes have sharpened and I was able to quickly snatch the soup away from his curious hands (don’t worry- the soup was already pretty cool at this point due to a toddler meltdown distracting me).

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I’ve been on a big sweet potato kick as of late. In particular, savory sweet potato dishes. My new favorite breakfast consists of a sweet potato hash topped with two eggs and my current preferred work lunch is this delightful chili. It’s loaded with a healthy dose of vegetables, it’s flavorful, and it prevents me from turning into a hangry grouch by late afternoon. This recipe is highly adaptable and can easily be turned into a vegetarian dish if that is what is desired. Another bonus is that this chili freezes really well and is a great option for a last minute dinner.

If you’re looking to mix up your lunch routine or are in the mood for one final round of soup before the warm weather is here to stay (maybe?), look no further.

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Sweet Potato Chili

Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground beef or turkey
  • 2 sweet potatoes, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 28oz can diced tomatoes
  • 28oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 quart (4 cups) low sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cups (about 1 can) black beans
  • 2 cups (about 1 can) corn

Directions

1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the ground beef and cook until brown. Drain to remove excess grease. Place the cooked beef into a separate sale and set aside.

2. Add the sweet potatoes, onion, and green pepper to the Dutch oven. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Next stir in the minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute longer.

3. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, bay leaves, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken stock, beans, and corn. Bring the soup to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 2-3 hours to allow flavors to fully develop.

4. Top with sour cream, cheese, and green onions, if desired.

Source: Adapted from A Couple Cooks

How to Make Delightful Hard-Boiled Eggs

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With Easter right around the corner, it seemed like the perfect time to talk about hard-boiled eggs. They are fun to decorate and they are even more delightful to eat. Since we’ve moved from Columbus to the country, I’ve gotten into the habit of purchasing fresh. local eggs because they are readily available and scrumptious. Though the fresh eggs are fabulous, I quickly noticed they are very difficult to peel if I hard-boil them.

With a little google research, I discovered this is likely due to their freshness compared to eggs commonly found in grocery stores. In very fresh eggs, the inner shell membrane adheres tightly to the egg white, making it trickier to peel away the shell without puncturing the cooked white. As the egg is exposed to air for longer periods of time, it loses some of its protective coating and that bond between the shell and the white becomes weaker. Translation: older eggs are easier to peel.

But what if you can’t wait around for a few weeks to allow those eggs to age before you need to cook up a batch of hard-boiled beauts? Fear not! I have successfully used this method for the past 2 months. The key is to place the eggs in already boiling water. This instant high heat allows the egg white to separate from the shell right away for easy peeling. The reduction of heat to a gentle boil prevents the whites from getting too tough.  It results in beautifully-cooked eggs and peeling is a breeze.

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Here’s what you do:

1. Bring a pot of water (about 2 inches high, or enough to  completely cover the eggs) to a full, rolling boil.

2. Carefully place the eggs into the boiling water (I like to use a soup ladle to ensure I don’t burn myself with boiling water).

3.  Turn down the heat to medium to a gentle boil and cook for 11 minutes.

4. Drain the eggs and place in a large bowl of ice water for 15 minutes.

5. Peel and enjoy!

Source: Serious Eats