Recipe: Blueberry Pecan Overnight Baked French Toast Casserole

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That title may be a mouthful, but I feel like each word is important. Not only is the recipe baked instead of fried, but it can be made the night before in casserole form (as opposed to each individual piece of french toast), and can be popped into the oven in the morning. Which means one very important thing: less fuss all around!

In the past, my mom would wake up at 5am on Christmas morning to make us julekake, which is a Norwegian Christmas bread dotted with dried fruits. This year, however, I felt like we needed to take it easy. So after late night mass on Christmas eve, I whipped up this casserole. Instead of waking up at 5, I was able to wake up at 9:30 and have it ready to serve it for our traditional pre-present-opening brunch by 10:30. It may not be Norwegian, but it was easy to make, and it got rave reviews! Not to mention, the blueberry syrup that’s paired with it is so versatile, I can see myself making it for tons of other dishes.

Sadly, I have yet to think of a vegan version for this recipe. If anyone has any tips for veganizing it somehow, let me know!

Tweaked from this recipe.

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Serves 6-7.

Ingredients

For casserole

  • a 12-inch loaf of french bread (thick kind) or a 24-inch baguette
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2.5 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup pecans (I had to sub in some walnuts and it was still great)
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups blueberries

For syrup

  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

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Directions

Night before:

1. Butter a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Cut 1-inch slices of bread and lay them in baking dish. In a bowl whisk together eggs, milk, nutmeg, vanilla, and 1/4 cup brown sugar and pour evenly over bread.

2. Chill mixture, covered, until all liquid is absorbed by bread, at least 8 hours, and up to 1 day. Halfway through the chilling or an hour or 2 before baking (whichever is more feasible for you), flip the bread layers so that all the sides are able to absorb liquid equally.

Morning of: 

3. Preheat oven to 400°F. Toast pecans in a pan over medium heat. After they’ve toasted slightly, add 1/2 stick butter to the pan along with the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar. Stir until butter is melted and pecans are coated.

4. Sprinkle casserole with the butter-pecan mixture and 2 cups blueberries. Bake for about 30-45 minutes, or until the blueberries are purple or burst and the top layer of bread is slightly browned. (Cooking times will vary based on the type of bread you use, and how thick your layers are.)

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Make syrup while French toast is baking:
5. In a small saucepan cook blueberries and maple syrup over moderate heat until berries have burst, about 3 minutes. Pour syrup through a sieve into a heatproof pitcher, pressing on solids, and stir in lemon juice. Syrup may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Reheat syrup before serving.

6. Serve alone or with sides. (I served it with a pear-blackberry fruit salad.)

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And enjoy your fuss-free breakfast or brunch!

Happy holidays,

Michelle

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Recipe: Pumpkin Banana Breakfast Smoothie [Vegan]

I’m a bit of a pumpkin fiend. Around this time of year, I can’t help but crave it when I least expect to. All too often, I find myself opening a can of pumpkin puree, using half of it in a baking recipe, and leaving the rest in the fridge for a week until I get that next craving for baked things.

By that point, however, my poor puree has usually become inedible. So I had to get creative as to how to use it up quickly without completely destroying my diet plan. I’ve recently been on a breakfast smoothie kick, so I decided I had to incorporate it somehow!

I’d previously  been having my daily mashed sweet potatoes for breakfast, but realized I wasn’t getting quite as much fruit as I’d like to. I switched to breakfast smoothies, and ended up loving how they somehow squashed my cravings for the rest of the morning and afternoon! (I still have my sweet potatoes once or twice a week though as a treat, of course!) And now, this pumpkin banana combo is probably one of my favorite breakfasts. I’d never considered the combination of pumpkin and  banana until I decided to throw it in this smoothie, simply because frozen bananas add such a wonderful creaminess; I’ve discovered that the flavor combo is actually delicious!

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Serves 1

Ingredients

  • 1/2-3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 banana, sliced and frozen
  • About 1/3 cup oats**
  • 1-2 pinches cinnamon
  • Pinch ginger
  • Pinch cloves
  • 1/3 cup vegan yogurt
  • Splash of soy, coconut, or almond milk
  • Maple syrup to taste

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Directions

**I like to soak my oats first by adding equal parts water and oats in a jar and putting that into the fridge overnight. Using dry oats is fine too though, depending on what texture you prefer!

1. Combine all ingredients but maple syrup and milk in your blender and blend until smooth.

2. Add the milk until the smoothie is at your desired consistency (I didn’t put a specific amount since I like my smoothies thicker than most people!), and maple syrup to desired sweetness.

And most importantly, enjoy your quick, easy, and healthy breakfast!

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Happy holidays!

Michelle

A Churros ‘n’ Chai 2014 Food Photography Calendar

I’ve been selling snail calendars for years in various places, but I realized I needed to find a way to incorporate my more recent passion–yes, you guessed it, food–into my print-selling endeavors. I finally decided I wanted to put to use photos of various baked things I’ve made throughout the year, so I organized them into a calendar for my fellow foodies out there!

Whether it’s for yourself, a chef friend, or for someone who just has a sweet tooth, it’ll make a perfect addition to anyone’s kitchen. Order your copy from my etsy shop!

And, I made a coupon code just for you guys! If you decide to buy it, type in “CHAI123” for 10% off.

Cover collageThe Preview photo (above)

Front Cover 2014

The cover (above)

And I thought I’d give you guys a sneak peek of some of my favorite pages from it:

December January July October

Happy holidays everyone! Hope you bake and cook up a storm for your loved ones. (Or just enjoy the food made by others!)

Recipe: Vegan Avocado Mac n Cheese

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I’ve been trying hard to stick to my 90% vegan plan, which means I’ll only eat animal products in a social setting: in restaurants where they’re hard to avoid, and when I bake/cook for other people (which is going to change once I get some more vegan recipes under my belt!). So, when I cook for myself, I satisfy all my cheesy cravings with cow-friendly alternatives.

One day, I had an intense desire for mac n cheese. After spending my week eating mostly vegetables, tofu, and beans–despite how delicious they are–I was in the mood for some serious creamy goodness. I also have a bit of an avocado addiction, so of course I had to incorporate them.

What resulted was better than most mac n cheese I’ve been served throughout the years. It was creamy, gluten-free, and featured some good fats as opposed to just cheese. And, best of all, no animal products to feel guilty about!

Veganized from this recipe.

Serves 4-6.

Ingredients:

  • 10 ounces dry elbow macaroni (I used gluten free, and I couldn’t tell the difference!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 avocados, peeled and pitted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vegan margarine
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup soymilk
  • 2 cups shredded Daiya Pepper Jack cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh avocado chunks, for garnish, if desired
  • Add-in options: I used some roasted broccoli florets for a crunch, but I’d imagine that cherry tomato halves, corn, bell peppers, or other vegetables would also taste good in it!

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Directions:

1. Cook your macaroni according to the instructions on the package; it differs by type.

2. While the pasta is cooking, make the avocado sauce by placing the garlic, avocados, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper into a food processor or blender. Blend until the sauce is smooth and creamy; add more liquid if it looks too thick to pour.

3. To make the cheese sauce, place margarine in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. Once it’s melted, whisk in flour to create a paste. Whisk in milk until smooth. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sauce starts to thicken. Add in Pepper Jack cheese and stir until cheese is melted and sauce is creamy.

4. Place macaroni in a large bowl. Pour the avocado sauce  and cheese sauce over the macaroni, and stir until evenly coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm. Garnish with fresh avocado chunks, if desired.

And, it keeps well for a few days! (The lime juice helps keep it looking and tasting fresh.)

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Enjoy!

Michelle

Recipe: Vegan Gourmet Grilled Cheese

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I’ll be the first to say it: vegan cheese on it’s own isn’t very good. Even when melted on bread it doesn’t quite pass the test, in my mind at least. The industry still has a ways to go in terms of coming up with a standalone product.

Vegan cheese artfully paired with other flavors and textures, however, can work out wonderfully. And I’m a firm believer that that is precisely what most dairy and egg replacements are intended for.

Therefore, us vegan cooks have to get creative. That’s why, when I was craving grilled cheese on a rainy day last week,  I decided I’d have to go beyond just melting cheese on some bread. And what I ended up coming up with was better than most grilled cheese I’ve had, and was healthier!

Ingredients:

  • Your favorite bread (I used Italian)
  • Vegan gourmet or Daiya cheddar cheese
  • Green apple slices
  • White onion slices
  • Dijon mustard
  • Vegan margarine for cooking

Directions:

You can do this in any order you prefer, but I chose to toast the bread first on a pan with vegan margarine at medium heat, then I melted the cheese in the microwave (as vegan cheese can be finicky with melting), then assembled the sandwich.

It has a wonderful tang, and was surprisingly filling!

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(Sadly I was so ravenous that I started eating before I remembered to take a photo; so it looks less appetizing than before I started!)

Enjoy!

Michelle