This weekend was all about good food and good friends.  It sounds exceptionally cheesy, especially for me, but it couldn’t be more true. Everyone I saw this weekend, I shared a good meal with.  It spanned from a long lunch catching up with a close girlfriend, to an extra special coworker’s birthday dinner, and finished with multiple meals with a great friend who is in town visiting from Singapore.  And as tired as I am, it felt great to get out and do so much.

Before picking up our friend at the airport on Saturday, I put this disaster to good use.  The failed loaf has been sitting in my freezer for weeks and when a craving for french toast struck, it came in perfect use.  I like a french toast you can bake, because it means you’re not standing over the stove flipping slices and trying to keep everything warm until it’s all cooked and ready to serve.  I chose Melissa Clark’s Creme Brulee French Toast recipe not only for its cooking process, but also for the name. How could one resist such a combination?  Suffice it to say, her version is absolutely delicious.  Make no mistake though, this stuff is rich, you certainly don’t need a big batch.  Though, I can’t complain too much about the leftovers.

Creme Brulee French Toast adapted from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite

Serves 3

1 cup packed light brown sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and still warm

2 large eggs, well beaten

1 1/2 cups milk

seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

6-8 small slices

Preheat the oven to 375F. Whisk together the brown sugar and butter until the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour the mixture into a large rimmed baking sheet (9 x 13).

In a pie pan or other shallow dish, combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and salt. Coat both sides of the bread slices in the egg mixture, letting the bread soak up the custard for a minute or two on each side, until saturated but not falling apart. Place the soaked slices on the prepared baking sheet over the brown sugar mixture. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops of the bread are golden brown and the sugar is bubbling. Serve immediately while still hot, with the crunchy brown sugar side up.

I spend an embarrassing amount of time reading food blogs.  I actually have to  actively force myself to pull away from reading them, or else nothing would get done in my life.  From all the time I’ve spent reading them though, I’ve made some pretty excellent discoveries among the thousands that are out there.  While I could highlight a dozen at least, this week a recipe from fresh365 not only caught my eye, but sent me rushing to the grocery to gather up all the items for the featured dish.  fresh365 features vegetarian recipes, and while I am a vegetarian by no means, I appreciate veg blogs because they bring to light ingredients and meals I wouldn’t always naturally consider.  And while we’re on the topic, I can’t help but mention another favorite veg blog- Dana Treat.  More to come on that one soon.

But back to the gnocchi.  Last night I tried my hand at Erin’s recipe and was delightedly impressed by the results.  One thing to note, this dough is particularly sticky and requires liberally floured hands when forming each ball.  I served mine along side sauteed spinach.  My spinach concoction was one of those “use what you have in the fridge” moments, which can either go quite well or horribly.  The results of my impromptu recipe were so good, it has officially changed the way in which I’ll make spinach in the future.  All and all, a successful Thursday evening- made even better by the fact that I kicked off my weekend early and took Friday off.  Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

Spinach and Arugula Gnocchi with Sauteed Spinach adapted from fresh365

Serves 3

1 1/4 cup packed spinach, chopped

1 1/4 cup packed arugula, chopped

1 tsp dried basil

3/4 cup ricotta

1 tsp grated/ minced garlic

1 cup plus 2 T flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup grated parm

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp salt

pepper to taste

Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  Once boiling, drop in the spinach, turn off the heat, let sit for 2 minutes.  After 2 minutes, drain spinach, let cool, and squeeze out as much water as possible.
In a medium size bowl, combine the ricotta, garlic, eggs, flour, parm, dried basil, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Then stir in spinach and arugula.  Liberally flour hands.  Roll dough into one inch balls, place on large tray, set in fridge to firm up for 30 minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Once boiling, drop half the gnocchi in, letting cook until the balls rise to the top of the water. Set aside first batch, cook second bath.  Dress with extra virgin olive oil and extra parm.  Note: first batch can be reheated in microwave quickly so all gnocchi is hot when served.

Sauteed Spinach

Serves 4
1 lb washed fresh spinach

1 T butter

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 cup vegetable broth

Set a large sauce pan to medium low heat.  Melt butter, then add in red pepper flakes and broth.  Whisk together and let cook until slightly bubbling.  Drop in spinach and toss with broth, then let rest so leaves can cook.  Toss occasionally until all leaves are wilted, serve immediately.

If the flavored contents of a Quaker Oats pouch represent oatmeal to you, you are sorely missing out. There’s a whole world of oatmeal out there that contains so much more complexity than could ever be stuffed into that pouch. Complexity of oatmeal?  I know, I sound like a crazy person.  Just bear with me!

You may are may not know this, but there are two different types of oats- rolled and steal cut. Rolled oats are what we typically think of as oatmeal, little round flat grains eaten for breakfast or mixed into cookie batter.  There is a second type though, steel cut, which are formed by cutting the oat kernel into pieces (by steel) rather than being rolled.  Steel cut oats pack a much richer and nuttier flavor than regular oats, as well as many more nutrients.  If you’ve been eating rolled oats all your life, steel cut will be an adjustment in texture.  But I am completely confident that if you follow the recipe below, you will become an oatmeal convert.

I can take no credit for my steel cut oats recipe, it is all my mother.  Her steel cut oats will change your outlook on oatmeal.  It will make you want oatmeal every day in winter, even on Christmas morning.  Enjoy!

Steel Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries by Mom

Serves 3

2 cups water

1 cup milk

1 cup steel cut oats

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup frozen blueberries

3 T ground flax seed

3 pats of butter

maple syrup and cinnamon for serving

Bring water, milk, and salt to a boil.  Once boiling, drop in oats, stir, and bring down to a simmer.  Simmer oatmeal, stirring occasionally, for 25- 30 minutes.

Meanwhile divide blueberries between 3 serving bowls. Once the oatmeal is cooked (it should be creamy and slightly crunchy in texture), divide it into the three dishes, covering the blueberries.  Top with 1 teaspoon butter and 1 tablespoon ground flax seed each.  Stir each gently to combine the oatmeal with the blueberries.  Serve immediately with cinnamon and maple syrup.

To me, eggs are total comfort food.  If you are an egg person, specifically a runny egg person, it all comes down to buttery toast dipped in peppery salty yolks.

Achieving the perfectly cooked egg can be somewhat of a challenge, and I am by no means an expert.  But I do think I’ve come up with a fool proof trick for achieving the exact yolk you like, so I decided to share. 

If you’re cooking two eggs, begin with an 7 or 8 inch frying pan. Three eggs- begin with a 9 or 10 inch frying pan. Place 1/2 T butter in the pan, set to medium heat.  Let heat for 4 minutes.

While pan is heating, crack your eggs into a bowl.  As opposed to cracking my eggs into the pan, I crack them into a bowl, and then pour the eggs into the pan.  This allows you to place all the eggs in the pan at the same time, which ensures even cooking times.  Not mention, it also provides a key opportunity to fish out any shells.

Next, pour the eggs into the pan and season with salt and pepper.  Place a lid on the pan and let cook, covered, for 3 minutes.  By covering the eggs, the heat is trapped in and the eggs cook completely- no need to flip!  After 3 minutes check eggs consistently until they are cooked to your liking.  I find a runny yolk takes approximately 4 minutes to cook.  Serve immediately with toast.

Granola bars. I’m always confused as to how one could pack so many ingredients into one little bar.  To complicate matters even further, I don’t always know what those ingredients actually are, which leaves me quite perplexed. Aren’t granola bars just supposed to consist of oats, nuts, and perhaps fruit?

So this weekend I set out to make my own.  While they do contain more than just three ingredients, they’re all easy to identify and something I’m glad to eat.   I particularly like the recipe the I followed (the Contessa’s, naturally) because it strikes the perfect salty sweet balance, and tastes far better than anything I’ve purchased in the store.  I anticipate many more at home variations to come.

Cranberry Walnut Granola Bars adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Makes 8 Bars

1 1/3 cups old fashion oats

3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped

4/3 cup shredded cocounut

1/4 cup wheat bran or wheat germ

3 T ground flax seeds

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1 1/2 T salted butter

1/3 cup honey

2 T light brown sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 x8 inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

Toss the oatmeal, walnuts, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat bran.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the cranberries and stir well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.