Lighter blueberry baked French toast casserole

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This dish could be made gluten-free I’m sure, with the right, hearty gluten-free bread. It could work nicely vegan, if you’re happy with egg substitute. And it could definitely be considered “healthy”–quotes probably needed–or more aptly, “healthier”, as long as the context is in relation to the original model. I haven’t yet made this fitting any but the third criteria, but I have to share the recipe, because I can’t help but say so, this dish is delish. And really, it is much, much lighter than one might expect it to be. Fewer eggs, sweetened with gooey honey, and significantly less overall sweetener  than is standard. 

french-toast
I know I’m making a blanket assumption here, but we all have those things that may not fit into our general philosophy about something, but which get a sentimental pass…don’t we? For me for instance, all kinds of Chinese food. Hand me a plate of dim sum and as long as it’s (mostly) meatless, I am apt to consciously choose not to question a rich, sloppy, greasy bite. Because, so many things. My mom, trips to Chinatown growing up, the splendor of the reds and golds, the dragon scales, and the stimulating buzz of clicking chopsticks and carts overflowing with steaming wares gently colliding. Love, loyalty, and probably a dash of guilt.

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This baked French toast casserole…it isn’t the type of thing I usually make for breakfast. It was such a fun opportunity to create for Madhava , and their fabulous Cinnamon Brown Sugar honey made cutting sweetener back to 1/2 cup for the filling, 9 X 13 inch pan a piece of cake. Two cups of almond or other milk, 6 eggs, a loaf of crusty sourdough bread, cinnamon and blueberries combined blissfully to immediately become a go-to company breakfast/brunch. Something that envelops you with warmth and sweetness, and also happens to be so incredibly easy to prepare! Easy to cut bread up and combine in a pan with whisked eggs, milk, honey and vanilla the night before. Twenty minutes max. Easy to cover with blueberries and sprinkle with pecans, then bake, the next morning. Easy, and delicious, and one pan goes a long way.

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When I made this, I was so reminded of a strikingly similar brunch dish my mom makes that I felt somewhat chagrined to share and reveal it had been a ‘work project’ when my parents visited recently. Love, loyalty, and a little guilt again, I guess.  Yet when it appeared at the kitchen table she exclaimed, “Ooh, this looks nice, what is it?” Which reminded me of a time in Taiwan, when I prepared a lunch of “Chinese food” (I thought) for a group of friends and my family, visiting from the States. While eating, I overheard Chinese friends asking each other, “Have you ever had American food before?” 

It’s funny, how the mind frames moments.  How we search for the beloved and familiar in ways that may not outwardly make sense, or pack a whole bunch of meaning into one nostalgic bite. It’s all down to point of view. But whatever your perspective, chances are good it needn’t be very tough to modify this dish into a go-to company brunch for you, too. ūüôā

 

Baked cinnamon blueberry French toast casserole
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
45 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
45 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 (16 ouce) loaf ‚ÄĮcrusty sourdough bread, cut into cubes
  2. 6 eggs
  3. 2 cups almond milk
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. ¬Ĺ cup Madhava Organic Cinnamon Brown Sugar Honey, plus extra for serving (or use regular honey plus 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  6. 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and drained
  7. ‚Öď cup chopped pecans, toasted
Instructions
  1. 1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. 2. Prepare a 9 X 13-inch baking pan with a light coating of butter or cooking spray. ‚ÄĮEvenly distribute cubed bread in a pan.
  3. 3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs, almond milk, honey and vanilla. Pour over bread, turning cubes to evenly coat.
  4. 4. Cover tightly and store in the fridge several hours or overnight.
  5. 5. Sprinkle blueberries and pecans over egg mixture.
  6. 6. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until set and just crisped on the top. Slice and drizzle with additional honey to serve.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/

Ancient Harvest recipe roundup: April

It’s a busy, busy month with another different but equally busy ahead. I’ve been wanting to write up a vegan sweet potato enchilada recipe we’re loving, but it’s going to have to wait another day or two. In the meantime,¬†here are some of the latest recipes posted on the Ancient Harvest website. They have all already been repeated at least once, either for ourselves or gifted. Hope some of the work for you!

strawberry spin salad (3)

 

 

Quinoa Salad with Spinach and Roasted Strawberries¬†: You don’t need to roast strawberries to marvel at their sweet deliciousness, but something about the roasting, along with nutty quinoa, adds an elevated uniqueness to a simple, reliable standby.

 

strawberry rhubarb crisp (3)

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Ancient Grain Topping: This is SO easy, and so pure it could be breakfast. You can use honey, coconut sugar, or nothing in the fruit. The topping was simply Ancient Harvest Maple grains hot cereal with a little almond meal, OJ and olive oil, but you could sub in traditional and add a pinch of cinnamon and some sweetener if you wanted. Any fruit combo goes, and it’s highly toddler approved. We’ve enjoyed it with 1 packet of the maple grains and 2 of the plain/unsweetened as well.

spring soup (13)

Spring Vegetable Quinoa Soup with Lemon Basil Pesto: I LOVE the way the pesto makes these spring flavors pop. This soup can be loaded up with vegetables but still feel like, yet satisfying.

quiche (1)

Kale, Asparagus and Leek Quiche with Quinoa Crust: Successful gluten free crusts excite me, and not much is more forgiving than quiche, especially one stacked with green.

 

ricotta rotelle (14)

Red Lentil Rotelle with Lemony Ricotta, Peas and Tomatoes: Quick and easy, versatile and delicious…especially love the vegan variation with cashew cream.

tabbouleh (2)

Spring Quinoa and Cauliflower Tabbouleh: In all honesty, I’m not really a huge fan of cauliflower rice. I’d usually rather just eschew the rice and come up with another option. But in this clean, minty dish, the crispness of the cauliflower rice combined with the quinoa really works. It’s not mimicking bulgar…more like standing its own ground as an alternative.

Healthy pear almond clafoutis

I’m trusting this simple, lightly sweet and nutty, custard-like tart is an example of a clafoutis…or a flognarde…because that’s what the beautiful site where I found it, Gourmande in the Kitchen, says it is. I hadn’t actually heard of either term before. My dishes have much more plain Jane names; they’re not even fashionably rustic. What I do know for certain is, this takes literally minutes to assemble before placing in the oven, and it’s gorgeous. Even better, it doesn’t have to be dessert. It can be breakfast. Or brunch. Or dinner. Whatever you’re comfortable calling pancakes occasionally, and probably better for you, depending on your recipe.

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I originally made this partly out of curiosity and the fun of experimenting, and partly to contribute a tasty touch of added sophistication to the table the next morning. Brunch with two dear friends ¬†Sunday was foremost a chance to get together before everyone’s busy holiday plans; and also there was just a touch of motivation for both challenge and the reassurance that I have now reached the point post-partum where I can successfully create a nice meal for friends without stressing to pieces. It’s funny how formerly simple things like that have morphed into what feel like somewhat daunting, mammoth feats.

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Preparation for this¬†clafoutis¬† was so easy it almost didn’t count. Slice pears, then blend a few ingredients to pour over, and bake. My only changes were that I left out the pear brandy/cognac called for in the original recipe, and I used a combination of almond and coconut milk because that was what I had. Also, I sprinkled unsweetened shredded coconut over the top instead of sliced almonds. Beautiful.

clafoutis_1 (3)

I’m happy to report, everything worked out splendidly. Yes, I had to nurse when everyone ate, but it was a lovely morning. Not only did I get brunch prepared in time independently¬†(with my little monkey), I also fit in a good run beforehand. Sweet success. Objectively, it still seems a little thing, but the milestones are a far cry from figuring out how to use the bathroom while strapped up with the Ergo, baby nestled inside. A feat that is still a regular 20131203_180106_LLSoccurrence, by the way, and no longer an odd sort of milestone but instead, no big deal.

Happy Holidays! ūüôā

Pear Almond Clafoutis  (very slightly adapted from Gourmande in the Kitchen)

  • Coconut oil or unsalted butter, for baking dish
  • 2-3 large Bosc pears, halved lengthwise, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut or almond milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup unrefined sugar (I used coconut sugar)
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • ¬ľ tsp of fine sea salt
  • ¬ľ cup unsweetened shredded coconut or sliced almonds
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 10-inch cast iron skillet or 10-inch ceramic tart dish or 9 1/2-inch pie plate with butter or coconut oil; set aside.
  2. Fan cut pears over bottom of prepared dish.
  3. Blend coconut/almond milk, eggs, vanilla, coconut sugar, almond flour, and salt in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute. The mixture will be thin, like crêpe batter.
  4. Pour batter over pears. Sprinkle sliced coconut or almonds over batter.
  5. Bake until golden and set, about 35-40 minutes.
  6. Let stand 10-15 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

 

 

Butternut custard bake

Here’s a simple, scrumptious, healthy treat for anyone who, like me, loves homemade pumpkin pie year-round, could eat it any day, and doesn’t feel the need to include crust. I’ll be honest–I always try to be–even if you are like me as just described, this is probably not going to be your favorite dessert. Somewhat pock-marked and unassuming, you’re not likely to serve it to company. But bets are you can happily eat it for breakfast, and it makes a really great snack that lovingly stirs a little Thanksgiving feeling without overindulgence. You can use pumpkin, acorn, or a mix of squashes over the butternut, too.

This started as an adaptation of this delectable looking slow cooker recipe for sugar free, gluten free crock pot pumpkin pie pudding, only it turned out more like soup. I had swapped the flour suggested for almond meal and a little rice flour (which, in the below, you could probably forego and just increase the almond flour). I also used a little molasses and maple syrup over Stevia, simplified the spices, used almond milk for evaporated…and completely¬†¬†forgot about the eggs. The result was a soupy mess, but a tasty, salvageable one at least.

Looking at my liquid mix, it struck me that I hadn’t saved myself any prep time by using the slow cooker versus popping in the oven. I’d just been drawn to the idea of a crock pot dessert, given how the slow cooker has been my culinary salvation over these past two months that have ushered us into the busy, distracted state of absolute devotion that is new–old, and ongoing–parenting. After whisking in two eggs and baking, I pretty much got what I’d hoped for in the end. And then I had to make it again, sans slow cooker, to make sure it still worked without the 8-hours cooking on low the previous attempt had undergone.

In a (butter)nutshell–ugh, how cheesy, but that’s the closest I get to humor after hours of rocking to Raffi everyday–I spent an inordinate time I don’t have on an adequate dessert/yummy snack (that I happen to really, really like) because of a fixation on adding “dessert” to the slow cooker repertoire, and at the end of the day I didn’t officially use the slow cooker. It happens. You may not find this worth the trouble in the season of pumpkin pie aplenty, either. But if you’re tempted, you’ll only be indulging in a satisfying, creamy dose of vitamins A, B6 and C, fiber, potassium, and more, plus flavor that doesn’t lean on sugar for its goodness.

Incidentally, Raffi really does rock! I never before realized how much. Time is passing by so fast, I’m not only grateful for the rock-a-bye moments swaying to Raffi with my Little Monkey, I’m thankful for the time in a bottle that is already each and every track of each CD.

Butternut custard bake

  • 1 3/4 cups butternut squash (or pumpkin/acord/squash mix) puree
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened plain or vanillar almond milk
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup almond flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown rice flour (or incrase almond flour to 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

Instructions

  1. Prepare an 8X8 square baking dish with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Whisk together all ingredients until well mixed.
  3. Pour mixture evenly in pan. Bake at 400 F for 35-40 minutes, or until set. Allow to cool slightly and slice into squares to serve (warm or cold).

 

 

Eat like a Kenyan (for one day)

I’m a little embarrassed to be putting this week’s food focus out there. It was only one day, but I actually rearranged components of my week very specifically in order to make it happen. Not only that, the effort could well come off as gimmicky, rife with contradictions, and even just plain dumb. But, having gone to the trouble with zeal, there’s nothing left to do but share. Besides, if you read this Running Times’ article, you probably felt the allure, if just a little, too.

We’re back in marathon training mode, and I’m loving it. As much fun as multisport is, I’m in it more for the longevity it can offer running than its own sake. That, and the morbid knowledge that at some point not too far away, my body will begin to break down in ways that defy future dreams of run PRs, challenge options, etc, but I’ll still have hopes ¬†of continuing to improve on the bike and in the water. I know this, because there are days when 80-year old women slip by me like dolphins in the pool, and I’ve decided that, since we’re all getting older in spite of ourselves, this is cause for celebration more than irritation, most of the time.

There’s something about the basic purity of running that calls to everyone it can in its own way. If it hasn’t worked for you yet, that day is probably still coming, whether on the heels of a pair of shoes, an outing with a group, or whatever. Whether your thing is social, in the mountains, or on the track, it’s all about communion. There’s synergy, ¬†raw honesty, connection with nature, and whole body awareness. I especially love fall running, with crisp air and cooler temps, without being too damp. Although I go through an annual mourning of the loss of summer (exaggerated by back-to-school), autumn runs usher in the turn of the seasons with a breezy contentment.

We marked the return to the run focus this season a little indulgently, with the purchase of our first pair of Hokas…and wow, do I love these shoes! The fact that they’re catching on in fad-like fashion created initial skepticism, but I am ¬†already a true convert. Since it’s looking more and more like we’re going to be increasingly dabbling in the world of ultras, these shoes are going to be an essential, and one more reason I probably won’t be buying any new clothes for myself for even longer stretches than usual. ¬†Of course, no shoe is for everyone, but these shoes are amazing just for the mere fact that they seem expressly designed to tailor to (and develop) both Dave’s and my respective weaknesses. Dave, for the record, is 6’5″ and has to be wary of too much impact. I am 5’2 (and a half) and exercise excessive caution on downhills and trail. Just one week into breaking in our new shoes, Dave’s recovering much better from long runs and road intervals than ever, and I am already leagues more comfortable on trail and descents.

Another semi-commemorative thing I decided we were going to do, as you’ll have gathered from the RT article, is explore the Kenyan diet (naively, but with good intentions). It was originally Dave’s idea, way back in the summer. Until I got so conscientious about planning for it, he went off the whole thing entirely, and I tricked him ¬†we compromised to try out the principles we gleaned from the write-up and research…for just one day. Here’s how it shook out.

Breakfast: boiled egg, fruit, tea.

Tea is a mega staple, it seems, marking the Kenyan diet. Along with lots of greens, and of course ugali, a cornmeal porridge made from maize and water. Apparently the Kenyan runners typically skip breakfast (one item contrary to personal belief), unless they’re training, say, three times a day¬† at the time, when they’ll go for a morning meal of a boiled egg, fruit, and tea.

Needless to say, I did not train three times on my self-proclaimed “Eating Like A Kenyan” day. In fact, I barely trained at all. It was Friday, the day after a medium-long run and the day before the long run which, at 15 miles this week was still pitifully short and easy for your average Kenyan. I had a short swim in the morning, and that’s all for workouts.

Regardless, training low volume or loads, swimming makes me hungry. ¬†It just does. Since the Kenyans are said to rely on lots of chai, with plenty of milk and sugar, I broke another one of my usual rules, and bought a Starbucks chai before work. These are usually too sweet, and I don’t often buy chai out anymore unless it’s real chai (like you can get at Vic’s now!), opposed to a pre-sweetened mix.¬†Nevertheless, on Friday I bought the chai, and it was gorgeous.

The chai may have provided some mental fortitude, but it was the egg that kept me from being hungry on Friday. I forgot how perfect a simple boiled egg can be. In fact, I might start alternating with oatmeal more regularly. In any case, my stomach refrained from rumbling in class (my fear), but I will admit I drank A LOT of tea that day.

Lunch: Whole Foods Kenyan-style Kale and Tomatoes, with polenta

Polenta was the closest thing I thought I’d get to ugali, and I knew I’d like it. This simple dish is a super side, bright and easy, and a quick main dish, too, especially satisfying with the addition of a little meat. I used collard greens (Dave prefers them), no jalapeno…really good.

  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 jalape√Īo, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
  • 3 ripe but firm tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 2 bunches kale or collard greens (about 1 pound total), ribs removed, leaves thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and jalape√Īo (if using) and cook, stirring often, until softened and golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until collapsed and juicy, about 10 minutes more.
  2. Add kale, water, lemon juice, salt and pepper, toss once or twice, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender and flavors have come together, 10 to 15 minutes. Spoon into bowls and serve.

Dinner: Ethiopian Spiced Chicken and Lentil Stew from Eating Well

I’ve made this before, and it’s great, especially since it’s perfect for the luxurious ease of the slow cooker capping off the work week. In my version (below) I added a bunch of vegetables and greens, plus some potatoes. I also used the spices I had on hand instead of specified berbere spice blend. And finally, I lazily put everything straight in the crockpot, no pre-cooking. It was hearty and delicious. Yeah, it’s Ethiopian, not Kenyan, and I’m over-reaching, but by now you’ll have probably laughed at me more than once for the fallibility of the day’s nutritional “project”.

  • 1 1/2 cups lentils
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
  • 4 cups chopped red onions
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 5 tablespoons berbere spice blend
  • 3 cups spinach leaves
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground allspice
  • 2 cups cored, diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups water or reduced-sodium chicken broth
  1. Put all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover and cook until the chicken is falling-apart tender,  8 hours on Low. Stir the stew to combine.

Obviously there are too many holes in my indulgent experiment to even really know where to start. For one thing, modeling off a Kenyan runner’s diet was just a very small aspect of the equation that embodies the role model. As Dave pointed out, you’d be insane to simply jump into a day in the life of Kenyan training, so why would you expect to fly high on a foreign diet like that? ¬†I may be reveling in “marathon mode”, but I hope I’ll never be so self-deluded as to think I’m worthy of comparing my training regimen to that of the Kenyans.

So was it worth it? The long run was going to be a key test, and deep down, I really hoped I’d have a magical burst of African energy, though even deeper down, I didn’t expect it.

The run was just fine.

It’s human nature to decide our choices were worthwhile no matter what, and unsurprisingly, that’s what I’ve decided with this. What did I really learn? Not a ton, but it was good reflection. From what I gather, the Kenyan diet is characterized by lots of cooked, dark greens, small amounts of meat, and ugali, altogether being high in carbohydrate and low in fat. This is in contract to some current trends of prioritizing healthy fats and protein, which also have a lot of merit. Carbs are so vilified today, however, ¬†I think we’ve forgotten how crucial and beautiful they can be, and tend to associate the word foremost with sugary doughnuts, cakes and pies, when actually vegetables and whole grains fit here, too.

One thing that stood out, in the RT article and elsewhere, was the healthy attitude towards food as fuel. Other cultures enjoy their food fully, thrive on it, and are ever conscious of it as a means to fuel their bodies. They savor it and don’t shy away from eating a lot when they need to replenish. On the other hand, they don’t “eat like there’s no tomorrow”. Not saying we are a bunch of gluttons, but we do attach so much guilt and emotion to food as a culture, we may forget to listen to our bodies when it comes to nourishing them. Finding means of becoming as attune to our bodies as we can, therefore, seems like a solid step to achieving your individual perfect health.

The best part of evaluating the weak-willed, one-day Kenyan eating experiment? The biggest hypocrisy, in the form of a big old excuse. Our post-run lunch was butternut pancakes, and they were soooo good. I used leftover puree from a weekday casserole; pumpkin would work just as well. Key tenets to pull from the Kenyan diet ¬†(after the dark leafy greens and the tea, were: a) fueling with what your body needed, and b) all things in moderation. These seemed good enough justification for these pancakes (which, incidentally, are sweetened purely with the butternut and a tablespoon of healthful blackstrap molasses). They really were awesome, too. I don’t feel guilty about them at all. ¬†ūüôā

Butternut pancakes 

  • 1 1/4 cups¬†whole wheat pastry or white whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons¬†baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin-pie spice
  • dash salt
  • 1 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
  • 1 tablespoon¬†olive or canola oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 egg white
  • 3/4 cup roasted butternut squash puree (or pumpkin puree)

 

  1. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, pumpkin-pie spice, and salt in a large bowl. Combine milk and remaining ingredients; add to flour mixture, stirring until smooth.
  2. Spoon about 1/4 cup batter onto a hot nonstick griddle or large nonstick skillet. Turn pancakes when tops are bubbling  and edges look cooked.

 

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