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Want something decadent for breakfast or brunch?

Croissant French Toast2

This French Toast casserole has it all. Sweet, flavorful, fluffy, soft, and crunchy all at the same time and oh, so good. Paired with scrambled eggs and crisp bacon, this French toast takes a boring, bland breakfast to the next level. That special something you sometimes need to pair with say, a crisp, fall Saturday morning or Sunday brunch with family  or friends.

A snap to put together and very easily transported, this might become my go-to specialty. I’m betting this recipe can be changed up a bit by the addition of various fruits and nuts.

Maybe some chopped apples for fall and cranberries at Christmas time?

Yeah, that sounds like a plan.

Croissant French Toast0

Croissant French Toast

4 croissants

3 eggs, beaten

1 cup whole milk (I used 2%)

1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. sugar, divided

2 tbsp. orange juice

Grated zest of one orange

1 tbsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, beat the eggs. Add milk, 1/4 cup sugar, orange juice and zest, and vanilla. Whisk until well combined.

            Butter a 8×8 baking pan or casserole dish. Tear the croissants into chunks and arrange in the buttered baking dish in a single layer. Pour the egg mixture over the croissants.

Croissant French Toast4

Using a spatula, press the croissants into the egg mixture to ensure the croissants are moistened.

Croissant French Toast5

Bake, covered with foil, for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for another 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, sprinkle with the remaining 1 tbsp. of sugar. Return to oven and continue baking until crisp, about 5 minutes.

Croissant French Toast6

Croissant French Toast

This recipe was adapted from a Food Network magazine recipe (April 2013) that called for baking the French toast covered for the full 40 minutes, then broiling for 5 minutes after sprinkling the sugar on top. You can also broil the top to crisp, but I found that the top will burn easily. I prefer baking the French toast covered for the first half of baking, then uncovered for the second half of baking to brown and crisp the top. The sugar topping can be reduced or eliminated altogether, as the casserole is just as delicious without it.

The next time I make this, I think I’ll add a little cinnamon and nutmeg to just 1/2 tsp. sugar.

Serve with warmed maple syrup or make an orange syrup by warming 1/2 orange marmalade and 1/4 cup water in a microwave-safe container for 1-2 minutes in the microwave.

Happy Brunching!

 

Croissant French Toast8

 Croissant French Toast1

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IMG_9141e

Happy to finally see September arrive. Seems like this year, more than any other, I am looking for fall weather as kind of a saving grace. I have learned to dislike the summer weather here. The heat feels oppressive, the wind never ending, and I long for the blessings that fall brings, earlier and earlier each year. September still brings hot weather to the Southwest,  but hot eventually turns to warm, and warm to cool. This month also brings the promise of cooler nights and crisp mornings, making the world a much nicer place.

September also brings to me my favorite season at home, for with cooler weather, our homes come alive with color and the outdoors are renewed with a fresh season of outdoor living. As the cooler temperatures extinguish the heat of summer, the days of air-conditioned, stuffy air are slowly replaced with days offering the tickle of fall breezes, the hint of that pungent outdoor air that I love, and scents of fall cooking and baking coming from the kitchen.

Ah, what’s not to like about fall’s effect in the kitchen, all spicy and fragrant and delicious?

Pumpkin Scones3

Pumpkin Pecan Scones

Moist from the pumpkin, with just a hint of brown sugar sweetness, and topped with pecans, these scones are a good way to start the season.

3 cups flour

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

4 tbsp. cold butter, cut into small cubes

1/4 cup buttermilk

2 tsp. pure vanilla

2 large eggs, beaten

1 cup pumpkin, canned or fresh baked

1 tbsp. brown sugar, for topping

1/4 cup pecans, chopped

Milk or Cream, to brush top

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take the butter out and cut into small cubes. Place butter back in the refrigerator to keep cold.

In a medium bowl. whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and pumpkin. Set aside.

In a small bowl, measure flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Stir with a whisk to lighten and combine. Add the cold, cubed butter to the mixture and using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles very coarse crumbs.

Pumpkin Scones

Add the wet ingredients to the flour/butter mixture, stirring just until combined, leaving the butter wholly undisturbed. The dough will be wet and sticky.

Turn out & knead

Flour a wooden board lightly, and turn the dough out onto the board. Gather dough together and using floured hands, knead lightly 3-4 times, just enough to pull dough together.

Place dough onto a silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet and pat into a 9 inch circle. Brush the top of dough with milk or cream. Sprinkle with brown sugar and chopped pecans, pushing both into the dough lightly. Score the dough lightly with a sharp knife (do not cut all the way through).

Sprinkle w brown sugar and pecans

Score Scones

Place into preheated oven and bake for 18-24 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack before serving.

Delicious served with butter, apple butter, or pumpkin butter, but moist enough to serve plain.

Pumpkin Scones2

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a.k.a. Chocolate Chip and Yummy Topping Banana Bread

Speckled Banana Bread Slice

Banana bread recipes are a dime a dozen, with so many variations, but all using common ingredients. Nothing wrong with your basic banana bread – it’s comforting, simple, and delicious, but here’s one to try. Speckled with bananas AND chocolate, it’s a winner. I’m sure many banana breads are baked simply because there are a few overripe bananas laying around kitchens, which is why I baked this loaf today. I can’t tell you how many times I told myself, “I need to make banana bread with those bananas”, only to throw the bananas away a few days later, black and shriveled. I always feel a little sad, knowing I could have (and should have) gotten my act together and baked something that is essentially one of the easiest baked goods on the planet, but sometimes the days are simply too chaotic for even the simplest of recipes.

Today, a day as chaotic as any, I stopped and transformed three lovely, spotted beauties into this fragrant loaf, knowing full well that I didn’t really have the time. I just did it any way. I was in the mood and so I baked a recipe from long ago that I used to bake when my kids were small, adding a little this and that to it, for kicks. Just before I placed it in the oven to bake, I sprinkled the loaf with a little mixture of cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg, and then, for good measure, I stirred a little quick-cooking oats and almonds into a tiny bit of melted butter and pressed that into the top of the batter.

I may not get all of the stuff done that I need to, but that’s really nothing new. I will, however, be able to offer my husband a yummy slice of banana bread with his evening coffee, and I’ve already had a sample.

That’s a good thing, right?

Mmmm, so good.

Ingredients:

Banana Bread

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup (2-3 medium) bananas, mashed

1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature

2 eggs

1 tbsp. pure vanilla

2 cups unbleached flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup chocolate chips, chopped small (milk or dark, your choice)

Topping:

1 1/2 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

Dash of nutmeg

1 tbsp. melted butter

2 tbsp. quick-cooking oats

2 tbsp. sliced almonds

Pre-heat oven to 350○ (375○ high altitude). Grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan and flour the bottom. Set aside.

Chop the chocolate chips small, leaving some pieces finely chopped and some pieces a bit bigger (chopping the chips helps to keep the fine texture of the bread). I use a mezzaluna for this task. Miniature chips will work well too.

Mezzy Chocolate

In a mixing bowl, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add mashed bananas, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Blend well.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together to blend.

Add flour mixture, a little at a time, until mixed well with wet ingredients. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Smooth top. Combine the sugar with the cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle on top of batter. Melt butter. Stir in almonds and oats. Spoon on the top and center of batter and press lightly with a spoon.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out mostly clean.

Note: Take a peek at the end of the 50 minutes. If the topping is getting too browned, tent a piece of aluminum foil over the top during the last few minutes. Remove foil just before the bread is done to ensure top of loaf browns evenly. Remove from oven. Let cool in pan 15 minutes. Remove from pan and let bread finish cooling on a wire rack.

Speckled Banana Bread

Speckled Banana Bread Topping

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Bluebird of Happiness

Bluebird of Happiness

While I was baking this biscotti, my husband called me outside. We have been fortunate this spring to have two different bird nests to watch over, right in the middle of our yard. Western Bluebirds have built a nest in a juniper tree. The bluebirds are very beautiful and very colorful. The little ones have tender voices and it’s been so nice to listen to them as they are being fed. The nest was built in a birdhouse our son built when he was much younger, in the sixth grade. He’s twenty-five now. The birds return each spring, but we are not sure if they’re the same pair, or if we perhaps are just lucky enough to attract new bluebirds each year.

Nic's Birdhouse

We have also been watching a nest with four little bluejays, located in a very large, old pinon tree. The birds are very loud when feeding, sounding almost dinosaur-like, with their loud screeching.

Today was the day they left the nest for the first time. We were wondering how long the nest would hold them, since they’ve grown so large for the size of the nest. They didn’t really fly from the nest, they hopped, from branch to branch. They will be perfecting their wing flapping and soon be gone.

A sight to behold, these little feathered friends, all fluffy and new.

Baby Bluejay1

Shaking its tail feathers.

Shaking its tail feathers.

Blessings come from unexpected places.

Very Vanilla Biscotti

Simple, with lots of vanilla flavor, because simple can be oh, so, delicious.

Besides, sometimes you feel like nuts, sometimes you don’t.

 Vanilla Biscotti

6 tbsp. unsalted butter (3/4 stick)

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract

2 whole vanilla beans, split and scraped

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs, room temperature

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees (375○ high altitude). Lightly grease a large baking sheet (18 x 13), or line with parchment or silicone baking sheets. A pan specifically for baking biscotti may also be used.
  • Measure out the sugar (3/4 cup) and place in a small bowl. Split the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a small, sharp knife. Add to the measured sugar, mixing well.

Vanilla Beans

Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla Biscotti1

  • In a medium bowl, beat the butter, the vanilla sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and baking powder together until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Beat in the eggs. Batter will look curdled. On low speed, add the flour one cup at a time. Mix until smooth. The dough will be soft and sticky, but will hold its shape when dropped from a spoon. You will be able to see the vanilla beans throughout the dough.
Very Vanilla Biscotti Dough

Very Vanilla Biscotti Dough

  • Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet., shaping it into a rough log, about 14″ long, 2 1/2 inches wide, and 3/4″ thick.
  • Bake the dough for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a baking rack to cool for 5 to 25 minutes. Remove from pan. Slice 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick, using a sharp serrated bread knife. To make the biscotti easier to slice, use a clean plant mister filled with fresh water to lightly mist the top and sides of the dough. This will make the dough less likely to crumble when slicing. After misting, let sit for 5 more minutes, then slice, making sure to slice the biscotti evenly from top to bottom.
  • Place slices upright on baking sheet, leaving room between the slices. Bake for another 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool before storing in an airtight container.

 

Adapted from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion cookbook. I prefer to scrape the split vanilla beans instead of using the entire vanilla bean. Experiment to see what you like. For those times when plain just isn’t what you are in the mood for, feel free to add in your choice of nuts or chocolate, etc. Just be sure to chop all extras on the small side to make slicing the biscotti easier.

 

Vanilla Biscotti3

 

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In a saucepan, combine water with tea bags and cinnamon sticks.

Bring to boiling. Remove from heat, cover,  and let stand for 5 minutes. Discard tea bags and cinnamon sticks.

Stir milk, sugar or honey, vanilla, ground ginger, and ground cardamom into hot tea. Cook and stir over medium heat just until mixture is heated through. Do not boil.

To serve, pour hot tea into warmed mugs.

If desired, sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon and add a cinnamon stick to each mug.

A cup of comfort.

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If you like muffins, you’ll love these. If you don’t like muffins, you’ll like these. I love muffins. I love these muffins. Full of banana flavor with texture from the oats and spice from the cinnamon and nutmeg, and topped with more sweet cinnamon goodness – these muffins are just sweet enough and not too sweet.

                          Perfect with a cup of coffee or hot tea. Perfect for breakfast. Perfect for lunch. Perfect for snacking. Perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up. Perfect in a gift basket.

Perfect. Little. Muffin.

 

 

Muffins

1 1/4 cups unbleached flour

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

1/4 cup sugar

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

pinch of salt

1 cup (2-3 med) mashed ripe bananas

1/2 cup buttermilk*

3 tbsp canola oil

2 tsp vanilla

Topping

1 tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp cinnamon

*Exchange 1/2 milk plus 1 tbsp buttermilk powder for fresh buttermilk

Adapted from a recipe by C&H Sugar.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. In a medium bowl, add all dry ingredients and stir with a whisk to combine. In a small bowl, combine and mix thoroughly all of the wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined and dry ingredients are moistened. Stir together the sugar and cinnamon for the topping and set aside.

Fill muffin liners 2/3 full. Sprinkle each muffin with sugar-cinnamon.

Bake for 14-18 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

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Cinnamon Rolls

For the Dough:

3 ½ cups unbleached flour

2 tsp instant yeast

3 tbsp Bakers Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk

4 tbsp sugar

1 ½ tsp salt

4 tbsp soft butter

2/3 cup lukewarm water

½ cup lukewarm milk

Tip: combine cold milk with hot water to get lukewarm liquid

For the Filling:

softened butter, enough to spread evenly over dough

Cinnamon and Sugar mixture (I use Cinnamon Sugar Plus from King Arthur Flour)

 A good ratio is 1/2 sugar to 3 tbsp. cinnamon.

1) Combine all the dough ingredients in a large bowl. Mix together and knead (using your hands, a stand mixer with a dough hook, or a bread machine set on the dough cycle) to make a soft, smooth dough.

2) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and allow the dough to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until it’s doubled in bulk. If using a bread machine, let dough go through first rise, remove the dough and proceed with the rest of the recipe.

 

3) Punch down the dough and transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Pat and roll dough into a large even rectangle. Spread surface with softened butter leaving one long edge dry (to ensure a good seal after rolling). Use a good amount of butter or the cinnamon rolls will be dry. Sprinkle generously with sugar and cinnamon mixture. Roll dough evenly. After rolling, pinch together the edges to seal. Trim ends if very uneven. Slice into 12 equal pieces. Place rolls into a greased pan. Cover rolls with oiled or buttered plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel. Allow to rise for another hour to hour and a half. Keep in warm area free from drafts.

4) After the final rise, bake at 350 degrees for 22 to 26 minutes until golden brown.

5) Frost after cooling.

Frosting: 1 ½ cups powdered sugar, 2 tbsp soft butter, milk (use enough milk for a nice fluffy frosting.)

Beat until fluffy. Beat powdered sugar and butter together and gradually beat in enough milk for a nice creamy and fluffy frosting. Add vanilla and beat for an additional 30 seconds or so.

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Granola – addictive and yummy.

Chewy and crunchy.

Sweet. But not too sweet.

Full of good stuff, for your body and for your mind.

You get to decide what goes in it. What’s not to like?

 It’s quick to mix up and smells heavenly while baking.

 

Granola

2/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

2 tbsp butter, melted

1/2 cup honey

2 tsp vanilla

Pinch of kosher or sea salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

4 cups rolled oats

1 cup whole unsalted almonds

2 cups large-flake unsweetened coconut

1/4 cup wheat germ

 

In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, canola oil, melted butter, honey, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir well. Add the oats, almonds, coconut, and wheat germ.  Stir until combined.

 

Spread evenly onto a nonstick baking sheet. Press down with a spatula.

Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and stir. Spread again. Return to oven and continue baking for another 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Check granola often during the last 5 minutes to ensure the almonds and coconut do not burn.

Remove from oven and let cool. Break up granola.

Stir-ins may be added at this point including: dried fruit, raisins or golden raisins, sweetened cranberries, ground flax seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chopped dates or dried apricots. Any combination you like!

Walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts can be added or exchanged for the almonds.

Store cooled granola in glass jars or other airtight containers.

For a great gift idea, give granola in a glass canning jar, tie on a label and include the recipe.

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Tomatoes and basil from my garden, brought together with creamy ricotta, onion, garlic and an olive oil crust, well let’s just say you won’t be sorry if you spend a summer morning or afternoon making this.

 

TOMATO TART

Savory Press-In Tart Dough

1  1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

3 tbsp ice water

 

Process the flour, sugar and salt together in a food processor until combined. Drizzle the olive oil over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles course sand, about 12 pulses.

Add 2 tbsp of the ice water and continue to process until large clumps of dough form and no powdery bits remain, about 5 seconds. If the dough doesn’t clump, add the remaining tablespoon of ice water, pulsing to incorporate, about 4 pulses. The dough should feel quite sticky.

 

 Form walnut-sized clumps of the tart dough, arrange into tart pan and press the dough evenly into the pan. Since this tart is thin, press the tart dough only 1/2″ – 3/4″ up the sides of the tart pan.  Lay plastic wrap over the dough and smooth the dough in the pan using the palm of your hand.

 

Tomato Tart

1 recipe Savory Press-In Tart Dough

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

3-4 tomatoes, cored, seeded and sliced (1/4″)

Salt

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp chopped onion

1 tbsp minced fresh parsley

1/2 cup light ricotta

1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Pepper

Dash of grated nutmeg

2 tbsp chopped fresh basil

Prepare the tart dough as directed above. Freeze for 30 minutes. Remove from freezer and place on a baking sheet placed on the middle rack of a 375 degree oven. Line with a double layer of foil and add pie weights. A glass pie plate or oven proof dinner plate will also work. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese, return to oven for 5-10 minutes or until golden. Let cool.

Meanwhile, slice tomatoes and place on a dish lined with paper towel. Salt the tomatoes and let sit. This will eliminate excess juices from tomatoes which would cause a soggy tart.

Saute the chopped onion in 1 tbsp olive oil until translucent. Add minced garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the other 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, ricotta, mozzarella cheese, onions, garlic, dash of nutmeg and pepper to taste. Spread over cooled tart crust. Sprinkle with minced parsley.

 

Arrange tomatoes over the ricotta in the tart. Bake 20-25 minutes.

Drizzle with 1 tsp olive oil and garnish with basil.

 

 

 Adapted from:

The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

 

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If you are looking for a muffin recipe that isn’t too sweet, this is it. The sweetness of the muffins will vary depending on the sweetness of your blueberries. Crunchy and tender at the same time and full of blueberries, this muffin would make a great addition to a bread basket. It also makes a healthy afternoon snack.

1 1/4 cups unbleached flour

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp ground vanilla bean (optional)

Dash of Nutmeg

Pinch of salt

1 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups fresh (or frozen) blueberries

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, or 375 degrees for high altitude. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with baking cups.
  2. Mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, ground vanilla bean (if using) and salt in a large bowl.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, oil, and egg and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly without beating. Gently fold in the blueberries.

4.  Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and bake until the muffins spring back when pressed, and the tops are lightly golden, about 25 minutes. Cool enough to handle, then remove from the tin and cool on a rack. Serve warm.

 

Makes 12 muffins.

Recipe adapted from Smith & Hawkin’s Gardener’s Community Cookbook. The original recipe included sage, but I leave it out.

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