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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