Sunday, May 23, 2010

tale of the three french toast casseroles

Once upon a time, in search of a fabulous, tasty, easy and vegetarian entree for Easter brunch, I came upon this recipe for Apple Raisin French Toast Casserole on You make it the night before, stick it in the fridge, and then pop it in the oven the next morning. Not only did it sound yummy and easy, but it got great reviews - a no-brainer. I made it. I ate it. I died. It was that good. No joke.

Then I made it again the next weekend. And the weekend after that. And that's when I realized that the debilitating food coma I had been suffering through for three Sundays in a row might have something to do with the butter, eggs, whole milk and white bread content of the dish coupled with my inability to stop at one serving. Or two. I desperately needed a lighter version.

A little googling brought me to this recipe for a Blueberry Almond French Toast Bake from Ellie Krieger on I love my tweaked version of Krieger’s recipe for Oven Fried Chicken Parm, so I know the girl can make healthy food taste great, but it was all the positive reviews and their suggested “tweaks” that gave me the confidence to trust a favorite indulgence to the hands of a health food chef.

EK blueberry almond french toast casserole

Boy am I glad I did. Ellie's french toast casserole was fabulous, even better than the original AND my whole family was able to function normally after eating their fill! If something this rich and indulgent could taste better than the original and also be good for me, then what other miraculous recipes were out there? Could there be hope for a reasonable waistline post-baby after all?!

I came home from the library with a tall stack of ‘healthy AND tasty!” style cookbooks and a whole lot of desperate hope and got to work. Unfortunately, it was to be two weeks of disappointment; a fortnight of frustrations, if you will.

Either the recipes were tasty but fussy and expensive (Best Light Recipe, you remember), cheap and easy but bland and not really my definition of healthy (low cal but also low in nutrients), or the most frustrating of all: almost delicious but just bland enough to not be worth the effort (most recipes we tried from Krieger’s The Food You Crave).

We all know that making healthy food to please unaccustomed palates is hard, but I was bummed to end those two weeks with so little to show for it (other than a few new grays) and so little to share with you. I was extra-bummed with Krieger, whose fabulous blueberry bake had sent me into this new recipe fervor in the first place.

So in an effort to clear her name, end the episode on a good note and soothe my sulking palate with another bowl of hardy and healthful soul food, I decided to give Krieger another chance with her Peach French Toast Bake – the cookbook cousin of the fabulous online blueberry version.

EK peach french toast casserole

And? Looks good, right? Bland City.

I googled the recipe to see if anyone else had the same experience, and lo and behold, they had. Right there on was the exact recipe from Krieger’s cookbook listed along with 97 reviews – many with the with same complaints I had (dry peaches, overly wet bread, general blandness) BUT with their recommendations for fixing these problems!!!

This is the moment when I remembered my favorite advice from my Mom (a very smart lady):

Life is too short to make all your own mistakes.

If you have limited time and patience to put together a week’s worth of dinners that are healthy, tasty, quick, cheap and drama free, the combined experience and advice from online reviewers is invaluable.

I will still browse the cookbook shelves at the library, bookstore and home for new recipe ideas and inspiration. But until I am either a woman of leisure or retired, when it comes to putting the time, money and risk of dashed hopes into a new recipe, I am relying on the tried, tested and pre-tweaked recipes of friends, fellow bloggers and the treasury of combined experience that can be found on my favorite reviewer-rated recipe sites:

Food Network

All Recipes

Tasty Kitchen

What are your favorite recipe sites?

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Monday, May 10, 2010

new orleans style shrimp

This is not a cookbook review. I read through some recent posts and decided that I am still too angry with Cooks Illustrated to give them a fair shake, and I haven't made any actual entrees from Ellie Krieger's cookbook.

So I decided to spend a week cooking out of The Food You Crave, then try a few more Best Light Recipe things, and then you'll get your review. Girl Scout's honor.

But FIRST, I had to make this shrimp recipe. Because shrimp was on sale. And because we had a french loaf going unused. And because it is heaven.

It will change your life.


Here it is:

New Orleans Style Shrimp
serves 4 (I've halved the recipe in photos)
prep/cook time: 1 hour

3 T. Worchestershire sauce
2 T. fresh Lemon Juice
1 T. Olive Oil
2 tsp. chopped fresh Rosemary
2 tsp. chopped Garlic
1/2 tsp. Hot Sauce
1/4 tsp. Black Pepper
pinch Red Pepper Flakes
2 lb. large peeled and de-veined Shrimp
2 Lemons, 1/4" slices
4 tsp. Butter, divided
French Baguette

Combine everything but last three ingredients in a large zip-top back, squish ingredients around in bag until well mixed, refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425F.

shrimp prep

Make little cups out of four (12" x 12" ish) squares of aluminum foil. Place in baking dish/pan.

shrimp in foil

Add 1/4 of shrimp mixture (about 2.5 c.), 1/4 of Lemon slices and 1 tsp. Butter to each foil cup.

shrimp in foil

Fold and pinch top of each foil cup to seal. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes.

finished shrimp

Unfold packets carefully. Swoon.

reasonable shrimp

Place in bowl and serve immediately with a reasonable amount of french bread. Make SURE to get every drop of liquid out of the foil cup

honest shrimp

because once you've eaten the shrimp and discover the delicious, savory cooking liquid in the bottom of the bowl, you'll need about this much french bread.


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Sunday, May 9, 2010

happy mother's day!

mother's day making

I love homemade cards made with tiny hands. And I love the love and effort that goes into them. These cards and our little ones' smiles, hugs, kisses, snuggles and I-love-yous all serve to buoy us as mommies when our reserve energy and patience are exhausted and there are still hours until daddy comes home.

I am completely convinced that some moment when our kids are 28 or so, they will turn around, look us in the eye, and say "Thank you for being my Mom."

If they become parents themselves, we might even get an exhausted phone call early some morning thanking us for cleaning up all the poo and sick and mess through their early years.

And if they and their children survive all the way through graduation, we might even get thanked for our sacrifices of time, love, money, sleep and hope of a flat stomach so that they could grow into the well-rounded, well-adjusted, confident happy adults I'm just sure they're all going to be.

But until your children get around to those big thank-yous (beyond the macaroni necklaces and hand-colored cards of Mother's Day), let me take a moment to thank you, fellow mommies.

Thank you for having the guts and optimism to bring new life into this world. You give me hope.

Thank you for the mental energy and time you spend trying to raise your kids in an intentional, loving way. You inspire me every day.

Thank you for the obvious things you sacrifice for your children (I might never go to the pool if I wasn't sure there was going to be another mommy there with as much tummy wiggle as me) and for the personal sacrifices that your children, spouse and friends may never realize. They make a huge difference in our world and in your children's lives.

Thank for the unseen hours of hard work teaching your children how to love themselves and others, how to show kindness and have empathy, how to share and make others feel welcome. Your children will grow up to be peace-makers.

Thank you for being committed to creating a community (whether you are a local friend or blogosphere friend) where our kids feel safe and loved, and that supports, inspires and encourages brave parenting. Our community of mommies keeps me both afloat and anchored.

Thank you for doing what you do, doing it with such grace and humor and for loving and accepting me (tummy wiggle and all) into your ranks.

Happy Mother's Day!

mother's day card

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

coming soon!

The results of The Battle of the Healthy Cookbooks are in!

When the luxurious laziness of Mother's Day Weekend is over and the shock of real life hits on Monday, I'll need a moment to escape (so soon? sad, right?) and you can reap the benefits of my recent cooking flops (and successes!! there have been some!).

Look for a full review (or something like it) on Monday or Tuesday of these cookbooks:

Picture 1
The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger

Picture 2
The Best Light Recipe from the editors of Cook's Illustrated

Consider it my Mother's Day present to you.

There. Now you can't say I never gave you anything.

(My mom loves to say that. I am her. It happens.)

See you then!

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Monday, May 3, 2010

flop update

The only thing worse than a flop, is having it happen again.

The very next day.

Cooks Illustrated and I are in a fight.

Home, fresh from the grocery, all required ingredients assembled and accounted for, I was so ready to take on the Chicken Enchilada recipe from the new Cooks Illustrated cookbook I mentioned yesterday.


I dutifully mise-en-placed. I read the recipe all the way through. Twice. I tallied up the cook times and counted back from Brad's 6:00 eta and set to work.


At 6:45, the enchiladas were still no where near being done. Either the Cooks Illustrated authors grossly underestimated the time required for simmering chicken to reach 160F, the chicken breasts were abnormally large, or user error was somehow involved (however unlikely that seems, considering the cook).

With the Bean's bed time looming ever closer and our tummies grumbling ever louder, Brad interrupted my inept-cookbook-author/elephantine-chicken defense, took the spatula out of my hands and drove us to Chik-fil-a.

We can have the enchiladas another night.

When I'm done being mad at them.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

flop, near-flop, flop again

It was just that kind of weekend.

Saturday started with the absolutely fabulous third birthday party of our friend Little Man. There were friends, fun, fire trucks (the Bean was in heaven), fire men (mommy was in heaven), pizza and cake: a perfect recipe for fun. But mommy and daddy forgot to combine our sugar-intake-tallies for the Bean as the party progressed, and the day ended in a massive sugar-induced meltdown. Parenting flop.

We regrouped Sunday morning and made it to and home from church with little event, and even managed to have a pretty good time.

This gave me just enough false confidence to take on a long-neglected sewing project: the Bean's dust ruffle for her big girl bed.

I took measurements, I made charts, graphs and diagrams, I cut, I sewed, I pressed, I repeated. And sure enough, in about an hour, I had a rather simple, but perfect little dust ruffle with box pleats. See?


What is that you say? It's not perfect? Oh I see. The box pleats aren't equidistant apart.


And there are seven inches missing up here.


And there are seven extra inches over here. What just happened? But, but, but I made a diagram, see?


There are no misplaced inches or wonky-pleat-distances on my diagram for heaven's sake!

[heavy sigh]



[unsew, re-cut, re-sew, re-press, repeat]


There. That's better.


That too.


Only a sewing near-flop. And when you put the bookcase back, the wonky-pleat-distances aren't so obvious. Unless you're me. Then the asymmetry makes you twitch every time you walk in the room. But that's my own issue. I'll deal. Moving on.

So no matter how emotionally traumatized by dust ruffle asymmetry a mommy is, her family still needs to eat. And when the recipe is from this fabulous new cookbook from Cook's Illustrated, that is alright with me.


And when the recipe is for Chicken Enchiladas, even better! And since I meal-plan


and make exhaustively researched grocery lists


everything is right here and ready to go!!!!


Except the onions. And chili powder. And cilantro.

And part of my soul.


Thank you Brad. And Dominos.

I'm going to bed now.

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