Judy’s Blueberry French Toast Casserole/ Bread Pudding

For my new granddaughter’s baby naming party, I wanted to make one more spectacular hot brunch item. I’ve made my french toast bread pudding recipe a few times to rave reviews, but there’s something I don’t like about it, and that’s the syrup that’s on the bottom.  It’s too sweet for me, mostly. I found a recipe on Kitchen Treaty called Cinnamon Blueberry Overnight French Toast that I mixed with my own recipe. So I pretty much kept the custard part of my recipe, added a sprinkling of blueberries, and sprinkled the top with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.  Most importantly, when I took the masterpiece out of the oven, I drizzled the entire top of it with pure maple syrup.  Oh my gosh, I can’t express how delicious this was.  Everyone who ate it loved it and commented on the absolute perfection of the dish.  My daughter called me to tell me that I need to make one entire casserole for her family because she did not get enough of it and because her husband got none.  This is an outstanding recipe, and what makes it even better is that you can prepare it a few hours ahead, or the night before, as I did, and bake it off the next day.

for the custard:

  • 1 challah (I use Zommick’s 15 oz. challah, which I buy at Stop and Shop
  • 8 extra jumbo eggs
  • 2 cups light cream
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 1 1/2  to 2 cups of blueberries (optional, but I used them)

for the topping:

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon 

essential ingredient for serving:

about 4-6 oz. pure maple syrup- medium grade

Directions:

1.  Cut the challah into slices about 1 inch thick.  Then cut the slices into pieces about 1 to 1 1/2 inches big.  Let them sit out to get a little stale.  If I don’t have the time for that, I put them on a cookie sheet and stick them in a 200 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes (I did this for baby naming party).

2.  Grease sides and bottom of large oval or rectangular 9 by 13 pan with butter.

3.  Place the pieces of challah in so they fit like a puzzle.  If you have to squeeze a few in, that’s fine, but use the entire challah.

4.  Sprinkle the blueberries on top of the challah pieces; you can push some of them down a little into some crevices.

5.  Whisk the eggs, light cream, sugar, cinnamon, salt, vanilla in a mixing bowl. Ladle the custard evenly over the bread.

6.  Refrigerate over night or for a few hours till you are ready to bake.

7.  Before you put into the oven, sprinkle the topping evenly over the top, using all of it.

8.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 min. until top is puffed (even the center) and a toothpick comes out clean.

9.  Take out of the oven, and immediately drizzle the maple syrup all over the  top of the casserole.

10.  Serve immediately!

Back to Basics Macaroni and Cheese

When my children were little, I found a recipe for macaroni and cheese on the back of the Creamettes box.  This was the recipe I made for years and years.  I recently made it again instead of the recipe I’ve made for the last 10 years (Judy’s Creamy and Delicious Macaroni and Cheese), and I discovered that I may like it more because it seems a little less rich.  It’s basically the same as my current recipe except that it has much less cheese.

  • 2 cups elbows (I like Creamettes) (about 1/2 of 1 lb. box)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 10 oz. Land o’Lakes yellow American cheese
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk 

Melt butter in saucepan.  Add flour, salt, and pepper.  Whisk over medium heat for about 2 minutes.  Add milk gradually.  Whisk over medium heat for about 10 minutes till starts to thicken a little, but not too much.  Add in the cheese.

Cook pasta in boiling water till just cooked- not overcooked.  Drain in colander.  Butter a casserole dish.  Pour sauce into casserole.  Pour the macaroni noodles in and mix together till noodles are evenly coated with the sauce.

Cook at 375 degrees for about an hour till the cheese starts to rise to top and brown and the edges start to get brown and crusty looking.

Homemade Ranch Dressing/Dip

I made this dressing/dip today to go with some of my fried chicken fingers.  I’m always motivated to make food my daughter, her husband, and especially my grandchildren will love, and chicken fingers are a pretty sure bet.  I made some homemade fried chicken fingers and a big fresh salad.  Tonight we’ll slice up the chicken and add it to the salad and drizzle it with this yummy dressing.  And as for the kids, they’ll undoubtedly opt for no salad and dipping their chicken fingers in ketchup.

***

I’m back home and feeling wonderful about the day I spent with my daughter and my grandkids. When my youngest grandson Ezra was savoring his first chicken tender, I said, “Did you know that Safta (that’s me) made these for you?”  He answered so adorably, “No, Safta, I didn’t know that.”  His cuteness is almost too much for me.

When my daughter took her first bite of the chicken dipped in my sauce, she shook her head and said, “Oh, this is so good.”  Her response was worth any effort I expended.

  • 1 cup Fage 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
  • 1 large garlic clove, grated
  • about 7 chives, minced
  • about 20 grinds black pepper
  • about 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • about 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • about 1/2 teaspoon Litehouse brand freeze dried dill
  • about 5 shakes hot sauce, about 1/4 to 1/3 cup buttermilk (I used Friendship 1.5%)
  • rind of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon

Mix all ingredients together in medium bowl; add more buttermilk if it’s too thick; refrigerator.

Amazing, Incredible Irish Soda Bread

This is the most perfect Irish soda bread imaginable.  My son Danny’s friends couldn’t get over how great it was.

Ingredients:

2 cups flour (I use organic unbleached flour, preferably King Arthur or Whole Foods brand)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder (I use aluminum free)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, from the fridge is fine
2 eggs (1 extra large for the bread;  the other can be any size egg to be mixed with 1 tablespoon milk, half and half, or light cream for brushing on top of the bread before baking)
3/4 cup buttermilk (I usually use Friendship, which is 1.5%)
1/3 cup raisins (I try to use the most amazing raisins, which I get at Whole Foods (they are Sunview Organically Grown Black Seedless)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking powder, baking  soda, and salt. Cut butter with a knife into cubes, and add to bowl.  Cut in butter with pastry blender until crumbly.  Then take the raisins (if you are using the ones mentioned above, you’ll want to chop them up just a bit because they are larger than normal raisins) and add them to the flour mixture. In a small bowl, combine the one extra large egg with buttermilk and then pour into flour and butter mixture.  Fold the wet ingredients into the flour mixture just until moistened.  Take a piece of waxed paper and sprinkle a little flour on it.  Dump your dough onto the paper, and sprinkle just about 1 teaspoon of flour on top of it.  Gently knead 1 or 2 times.   Knead on a well-floured surface with just 2 or three motions.  You don’t want to overwork the dough.  Grease a cookie sheet with butter, and take the dough onto the cookie sheet, and shape it into a round loaf about 10 inches in diameter.  With a knife, make a X indentation in the loaf.  Mix the Shape dough into a round loag; place on a greased baking sheet. Cut a 1/4″-deep cross in the top of the loaf. Brush egg wash over loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.  You will know the loaf is done when you put a toothpick in the middle and it comes out clean.

Serve right out of oven with butter.  Or eat later and heat up in microwave or in toaster.

Apple, Strawberry, Lettuce, Peppers, Red Onion, Cucumber Salad

This is a light, fresh, citrusy salad that’s great in any season.

  • a combination of romaine, green leaf, and baby spinach
  • peeled cucumber , cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 sweet red bell pepper, cut into bite sized pieces
  • about 2 slices of red onion, cut into small pieces
  • about 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 5-7 sliced strawberries
  • 1 apple cut into bite sized pieces
  • a handful of broken by hand Whole Foods Sea Salt Pita Chips

citrus vinaigrette

  • 1 lemon juiced  (about 2-3 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons country Dijon mustard
  • pinch salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6-8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Easy Mac and Cheese

I had read a recipe in the NY Times for a Crusty Macaroni and Cheese.  I was having some company, and I decided to give it a try.  It’s very simple to make as you don’t make a white sauce or a roux.

The consensus was that it was very good, but not quite as creamy as my regular recipe.  But I liked it a lot, and I’ll definitely make it again.

Adapted from the New York Times Jan. 4, 2006

(The quantities are slightly changed from original recipe)

 

Recipe: Crusty Macaroni and Cheese

3 tablespoons butter (I used unsalted)

12 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (I used an extra 3 oz. for the top)

16 ounces American cheese coarsely grated (mine was just sliced thin from the deli, and then broken into smallish pieces)

1 pound elbow pasta, boiled in salted water until just tender, drained, and rinsed under cold water
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional) (I used 1 teaspoon black pepper instead)
Salt (I used 2 light teaspoons of kosher salt)
2/3 cup whole milk

 

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Use one tablespoon butter to thickly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Combine grated cheeses and set aside three heaping cups for topping.

2. In a large bowl, toss together the cooked pasta, cheeses, pepper, and salt to taste. Place in prepared pan and evenly pour milk over surface. Sprinkle reserved cheese on top, dot with remaining butter and bake, uncovered, 45 minutes. Raise heat to 400 degrees and bake 15 to 20 minutes more, until crusty on top and bottom.

Yield: 8 to 12 servings.

Greek Pasta Salad

I took my homemade dressing which has a Greek vinaigrette taste, and I added some pasta, and some veggies to create a pasta salad that tastes similar to a Greek salad.

It’s a little heartier than just a salad, and it makes a great leftover lunch.

For the dressing:

  • juice from 1 large lemon (about ¼ cup)
  • ½ cup olive oil (I use a combination of light and extra virgin)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sun dried tomatoes (in oil) minced (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, grated

In a mixing bowl, whisk the lemon juice, the oregano, the salt, the pepper, the red pepper flakes, the optional sun-dried tomatoes, the lemon zest, and the garlic. Then add the oil slowly as you continue to whisk. You can make this earlier in the day, and put it in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Then when you are ready to use it, give it a few good shakes, and pour it over the salad right before you serve the salad.

for the pasta salad:

12 oz. rotelle or penne

1 1/2 greenhouse cucumbers, cut into 1/2 in. chunks

about 12 kalamata pitted olives, cut in half

a few slices of red onion, diced

1-2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/2 in. chunks

1 pint of grape tomatoes, cut in half

about 1 lb. of good feta, cut into 1/2 in. chunks

Cook the pasta till al dente.  Run under cool water.  Place in large serving bowl, and add all the veggies.  Then pour vinaigrette over salad and mix.  Put in fridge until ready to serve.

New Blueberry Muffins

I’ve been wanting  a muffin that’s bigger and tastes more like a bakery muffin.  This is what I came up with. They are fluffy, perfectly sweet, and a little lemony.  These take a little more effort than my original blueberry muffins, and although I do like these, I’m still stuck on my originals.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 heavy cups blueberries dusted with flour
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (I use Fage)
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 scant cup sugar
  • about 1 teaspoon lemon zest (zest from maybe 1/2 to 3/4 of one lemon)
  • optional sugar for sprinkling on muffins

Directions:

Preheat oven to 385 degrees.  Put paper muffin cups in standard 12 muffin tin.  (This makes about 16 muffins though, so you’ll need 2 muffin tins.)

In large mixing bowl, put flour, powder, soda, and salt, and mix gently.  In second bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, yogurt, orange juice, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla.

Pour wet ingredients into dry.  Gently fold dry into wet.  When about 1/2 way folded in, add the blueberries, and continue to fold flour and berries in just until you don’t see any more flour.  Use an ice cream scoop to scoop the batter into muffin cups.  Cups will be filled almost to the top.

Bake at 385 degrees for about 15 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 350.  Bake about 30-40 minutes until tops are nicely browned but not burnt, and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on wire racks.  Sprinkle with sugar after muffins come out of muffin for that professional look.

THE MOST FLUFFY BUTTERMILK PANCAKES IN THE WORLD WITH THE TASTIEST BACON!

My son Danny’s best friend Stephanie stayed with us over the weekend, and I had the best time trying to spoil her with some of my cooking.  Saturday morning was a rare day for me with no work, so I made homemade buttermilk pancakes and bacon. Oh my god! The pancakes were the fluffiest, most tender, perfect buttermilk pancakes I’ve ever made or eaten. I have so many recipes for pancakes, but this one came from America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook.

for the pancakes:

  • 2 cups King Arthur Flour unbleached organic flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 2 cups buttermilk (I used Friendship 1 1/2 percent milkfat)
  • 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons corn oil for the frying

In large mixing bowl, put dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt) and mix with fork to blend.  In large measuring cup, measure buttermilk and break egg in and mix with fork, add slightly cooled melted butter and mix with fork to blend.  Pour wet ingredients into dry and whisk by hand for just a bit till there are still a few lumps in there.  If you feel the batter is too thick- which I did- add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of buttermilk and whisk again.

I use a griddle pan that has a nonstick finish.  Heat the pan up for a couple of minutes- medium flame.  Then brush griddle pan with a small bit of oil.  Take a 1/4 cup measuring cup and use it as your spoon.  I use a scant 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake.  Gently scoop batter into measuring cup and then pour it onto griddle.  Since griddle is already hot, it will only take a minute or two to cook the batter.  You will start to see a few bubbles form on your pancakes.  Turn when beautifully browned on bottom.  Take a peek before you flip- if the underside is not browned, do not turn yet! Let cook till browned before you flip.  Flip and then cook on other side till browned.  For next batch, brush pan again with oil and repeat above instructions.

Serve with butter and the best syrup- Whole Foods brand Organic maple syrup!

for the bacon:

Best bacon:  Stop n Shop’s brand- Nature’s Promise  (no nitrates or nitrites) bacon- it comes in a 12 oz. package

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Place bacon on half sheet pan or slightly smaller pan.  Try not to overlap slices.  Bake for about 20-30 minutes.  We like ours well- done, so that might take a little more time.  Drain on paper towels and keep covered with paper towels to keep warm till pancakes are ready.

Amazing Chocolate Cake

It was my daughter’s anniversary today, so I decided to make a yummy dinner for her and her husband (and kids).  For dessert, I decided last night that I’d make a chocolate cake that I’d been eying the recipe for.  It is known as “That Chocolate Cake” and I found it on the Scharffen Berger web site and on Tastespotting. This cake was everything I was looking for, and it was super simple to make.  I believe this recipe is almost exactly the same as the recipe I’ve made for chocolate cupcakes (Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake recipe) except that it calls for no vanilla. I followed it pretty much exactly as it appears on the web site listed above, except that I added vanilla.  The finished product was magnificent.  The cake was really dark, moist, but light at the same time.  The icing was bittersweet and creamy, but I prefer to use my own recipe you will find on this site under “Judy’s Famous Birthday Cake.”

Recipe is adapted from the Scharffen Berger recipe – “That Chocolate Cake.”


for the cake:

  • unsalted butter (for greasing pans)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup SCHARFFEN BERGER Unsweetened Natural Cocoa Powder (I used this brand of cocoa and after tasting the cake, I’m a huge fan of it! But I also use Ghiradelli unsweetened cocoa and it’s great)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (I used aluminum free- Rumsford)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 extra large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup  oil (I used light olive oil or canola)
  • 1 cup whole milk (I used organic)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

 This is one recipe, but I prefer the chocolate icing from Judy’s Famous Birthday Cake  for the frosting which can also be found on this site:

  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar (I used a heavy 1 1/4 cups since I did not use the 99% unsweetened chocolate the original recipe calls for, but totally unsweetened chocolate)
  • 1 cup heavy cream (I used organic)
  • 5 ounces  (squares) Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter (I used organic)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon, but I feel that is too much)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon  kosher salt (the original recipe does not call for salt)

make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter the bottom of  a 9 by 13 inch rectangular pan or two 9-inch round cake pans. My cake pans are amazing- they have a bottom that comes off the sides so I never have to worry about getting my layers out of the pans.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or using a hand held mixer or with a whisk, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda, mixing on low speed just to combine. Mix in the eggs, oil, and milk and vanilla.

Increase the speed to medium and beat for a minute or two, scraping the bottom a few times. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the boiling water. The batter will be soupy, but if you mix it on low for a minute, it will thicken up a little.

Pour into greased rectangular pan or divide the batter evenly between the 2 round cake pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the cake starts to separate from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for 15-30 minutes.  Then you can frost.  If using round pans, then run a knife around the edges of the pans turn the layers out onto the rack and cool completely. I just take the sides off my pans to finish the cooling, because the cake is a little fragile at this point.

 Start making the frosting while cake is baking or at end of baking, because it will require about 15 or 20 min. to firm up enough to use.

see Judy’s famous birthday cake recipe for favorite chocolate frosting.

make the frosting:

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and cream and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Reduce the heat and simmer for 6 minutes, stirring almost constantly.  Turn flame off and add the chocolate.  When almost completely melted, add the butter and stir until melted. Pour into a large bowl and stir in the vanilla. Immediately place in the fridge to start firming up.  Every 15 min. or so, mix the frosting with a rubber spatula and place back in fridge.


to frost the cake:

Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Spread the frosting with a palette knife or icing spatula. Spread about 3/4 cup of the frosting over the top of the first layer. Top with the second layer. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake.  Cover with a good quality of plastic wrap that won’t stick to the icing and take any off the cake, and refrigerate cake until you serve it.