Coconut Brioche French Toast

Coconut French Toast.

I love baking bread. There’s something so wholesome and Zen about making your own dough and watching it rise. And then there’s the anticipation of that first warm slice. When my daughters were young, I took a baking course at Newbury College. Every Saturday for 6 weeks, my class started off with knot rolls. Did I say every class started out with rolls? Every – single – class. The first class was devoted to learning the basics of yeast dough, and every class thereafter we were expected to get fifteen dozen rolls in the proof box in half an hour. After a while, I was dreaming of knot rolls in my sleep. I didn’t complain – I loved the challenge of getting those rolls done quickly and with their knots all coiled perfectly. Thankfully, the class progressed to making croissants and Danish! Seven hours on a Saturday making Danish is not a bad way to spend a day.

Three years ago, I visited Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands. The first morning I ordered coconut brioche French toast. Amazing. I have been dreaming of it ever since. And so, last week, after sailing around the British Virgin Islands we couldn’t resist stopping there to have breakfast. Yay! The coconut French toast is just the same as ever. I loved it. I devoured it. I may have stabbed my husband a time or two with my fork when he reached to take some.

Since I can’t have the Peter Island French toast whenever I crave it, I created a recipe that comes pretty close. Brioche makes a perfect French toast. It’s similar to Challah, Russian Easter bread, and Portuguese sweet bread; a dense, sweet loaf. The key when baking bread is to make sure it gets a full two rises. For this recipe, I used my 10” loaf pan so I could get even slices, but you can use a traditional brioche mold and cut your slices to suit your style. A traditional brioche mold is round and fluted. The best brioche has an overnight refrigerated rest, but you don’t have to do that to get a nice loaf.

Toasting coconut is very simple, but you have to keep an eye on it. There’s a very fine line between toasting coconut and burning it. To toast coconut start with unsweetened, shredded coconut. I like the large coconut chips that I can get from Bob’s Red Mill. The larger shreds have more coconut flavor. If I want a smaller shredded coconut, I simply put it in my food processor and process for a few pulses. Preheat your oven to 300°. Spread the coconut on a cookie sheet in a fairly thin layer. Bake for about 20 minutes until just toasted. Check on the coconut frequently and give it a stir because it burns very quickly. Toasted coconut is great with Greek yogurt, sprinkled on ice cream, tossed into salads, and snacking. You can also toast coconut on the stovetop.

Brioche Loaf

Brioche
Makes one loaf
Ingredients:

  • ⅓C warm whole milk, 110°F
  • 1 package yeast, NOT rapid rise
  • 4T sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 5T butter, room temp and soft
  • 2¼C flour
  • ¼t salt

Egg Wash
Ingredients:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1t milk

Directions: Put the dough hook on your heavy-duty mixer. In the bowl of the mixer, pour in the warm milk, sugar, and yeast. Stir to combine, and let it sit for about 10 minutes to wake up the yeast. It should bubble a bit. If it doesn’t, the yeast is probably dead. If that happens, get a new packet and start over.

Turn the mixer to medium-low and slowly add the eggs. Use a rubber scraper to scrape down the sides. Beat until combined, about 5 minutes on low. Add the flour and salt in small increments, and beat on medium speed for 5 minutes. Add the butter one tablespoon at a time. Once all the butter is added, turn the mixer to high and beat the dough for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and starting to pull away from the sides of the bowl. It should feel springy to the touch. If the dough is too sticky, add a bit of flour and beat another 5 minutes.

Butter a large stainless steel bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, loosely cover it with plastic wrap, and place in a warm area of your kitchen to rise for up to 2 hours, or until doubled in size. Punch down the dough. Remove it from the bowl, and rolling it with both hands, work the dough into a loaf.

Butter a 10” loaf pan. Place the dough into the loaf pan. Loosely cover the dough again with the plastic wrap, and let it rise until doubled in size, about 1½ – 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Prepare the egg wash by using a fork to blend the egg yolk and milk. Brush the egg wash over the top of your loaf and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden. The loaf should sound hollow if you tap it on the bottom. Let the bread cool for a couple minutes, then remove from the pan and place on a wire rack to continue cooling.

Egg Wash Brioche Loaf
Coconut Brioche French Toast

Ingredients:

  • 2C coconut, toasted
  • 8 eggs
  • ½C low-fat coconut milk
  • 1C whole milk
  • 1T vanilla or dark rum
  • 1T superfine sugar
  • 1 day old (stale works best) loaf of brioche, sliced into generous 1“ slices
  • 4T+ butter
  • 4T+ coconut oil

For serving:
real maple syrup
fresh berries, bananas, or other fruit of choice

Directions: In a shallow bowl, whisk the eggs, coconut milk, whole milk, vanilla, and sugar until combined. The coconut milk will be lump. Whisk it hard. Dip the bread slices into the mixture and let the bread soak for at least a minute each side.

Press each side of the bread into the toasted coconut. You may have to turn them a couple times to make sure that the coconut sticks to the sides.

Brioche in Coconut

Heat a skillet on medium high heat and add the butter and coconut oil in equal amounts. Cook the bread until it’s golden on all sides. Watch out, that coconut crust can burn! Add more butter and coconut oil as needed to cook the French toast (this is not the time to skimp on the fat). Transfer to a platter and keep warm in the oven tented with foil until all slices are ready.

Serve with fresh fruit and real maple syrup.

 

Winter Broccoli and Squash Gratin

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I love the crispy and savory crust on top of the sweet broccoli and squash. This dish is gluten-free, thanks to Ian’s Gluten-Free Panko Breadcrumbs.  Any vegetable or combination of vegetables will work well with this recipe, but choose your vegetables with similar densities or you’ll end up with mushy broccoli and hard carrots.

Winter Broccoli and Squash Gratin

Serves 4 as a vegetarian main dish or 6 as a side dish

Ingredients:

  • 1# butternut squash, chopped into 1″ chunks
  • 3 C gluten-free panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 heads of broccoli (about 1 ½ pounds) chopped into florets the same size as the squash
  • ¾ C grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ C EVOO
  • ¼ C sour cream, whisked with 1T of cream or milk
  • 3T capers
  • 3 garlic cloves

Directions: Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly butter a 3-quart casserole dish. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs,  Parmesan cheese, capers, and EVOO. Over the top, grate the three cloves of garlic, using a fine grater, over the crumbs. Stir all ingredients and combine thoroughly.

Steam the butternut squash for 5 minutes or until just tender. Drain, and place in the casserole dish. Steam the broccoli for 5 minutes or until crisp tender, give them a cold water rinse, drain again, and add the broccoli to the squash in the casserole dish. Evenly spread the sour cream & cream mixture on top of the broccoli and squash. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top.

Bake (using the convection option if you have it) for 15 minutes or until golden brown. If your gratin is not brown after 15 minutes, broil on high for 3-5 minutes. Do not over bake.

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Farro with Brussels Sprouts and Pistachios

Lately, Friday nights have gone retro – back to our early years of marriage when we used to spend Friday night date nights at home. We’d put our babies to bed, I’d cook a quick meal or we’d get takeout, and we’d watch a movie curled up together on the sofa. Date night at home has evolved. We don’t do take-out anymore and I like to create new cocktails and try out new recipes. Tonight, I recreated a favorite restaurant cocktail and made this farro dish. It has a nutty, heartiness that’s perfect for a chilly, fall night. The farro is served hot, but I think it could be just as tasty if it was served cold as a salad.

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Farro with Brussels Sprouts and Pistachios, adapted from Food and Style NY

Ingredients for the farro:

  • 6C water
  • 1t sea salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and whole
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1C farro (pearled barley is a good substitute)

Ingredients for the Brussels sprouts:

  • 3T EVOO
  • 1T butter
  • 12oz. Brussels sprout, trimmed and sliced lengthwise in ⅛” slices
  • 1 large shallot or 3 small shallots, sliced into ⅛” slices
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ⅓C shelled and salted pistachios
  • ¼-½C reserved cooking liquid from farro
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Farro directions: Bring the 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the salt, garlic, bay leaf and farro. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until tender but al denté. Drain well, remove the garlic and bay leaf, and reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid.

Brussels sprouts directions: Heat a large non-stick skilled to medium-high heat. Add the butter. As soon as the butter is melted, add the olive oil. Stir well and add the Brussels sprouts and shallots. Sauté for about 7 minutes until golden-brown, stirring only from time to time. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute or two, until the garlic has released its flavor but has not browned.

In a large serving bowl, combine the farro, Brussels sprouts, and pistachios. Season to taste. Serve as a vegetarian main dish or as a side dish.

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

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After a day spent cleaning the yard and the house this was just what my husband and I needed. We ate this cheesy, comfort food by the warmth of our fireplace. It was comfort food on a fall evening. You can substitute gluten-free pasta, but I don’t recommend it – the pasta can get too mushy. Stick to regular Prince pasta and you can’t go wrong.

Ingredients for crumb crust:

  • 1 sleeve of low-fat butter crackers (Nabisco, they’re crispier)
  • 3T unsalted butter (Kerrygold), cut into 6 pieces
  • 1t sea salt

Ingredients for cheese sauce and pasta:

  • 1# elbow macaroni (I like the good old standby Prince brand)
  • 5T unsalted butter (Kerrygold)
  • 5T flour
  • 3T dry mustard powder
  • 1t sea salt
  • 1t white pepper
  • ½t cayenne pepper (or more)
  • 5C whole milk
  • 8oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (I like Cabot)
  • 8oz. cheddar cheese, shredded (Kerrygold or Cabot extra sharp)
  • ½ of an organic butternut squash, cubed, about 3-4cups

Directions for crumb topping: Put the crackers in a baggy and using a meat tenderizer mallet, crush the crackers into crumbs. Melt the butter and set aside. In a small bowl, add the cracker crumbs and melted butter. Stir to combine. Set aside.

Directions for the cheese sauce and pasta: Preheat oven to 400°.

Steam the cubed butternut squash for 3-5 minutes until barely tender. It will continue to cook in the oven so don’t overcook it.

Boil the pasta just shy of al denté. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the flour, dry mustard, and cayenne. Whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about one minute. Gradually which in milk; bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Add the salt and pepper. Turn heat off and whisk in the cheeses until melted. Add the cooked pasta and butternut squash. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Pour into a 3-quart casserole dish. Top with the crumbs. Bake on the top rack for 15 minutes until the topping is browned. Garnish with fresh parsley sprinkled on top.

 

Picnic Time! Pimm’s Cup and Pineapple Chicken Salad

I love summer.  It’s MY time. And, my birthday (and CAKE!) is right smack in the middle of it.

I look forward to summer as soon as the days become noticeably shorter in late October. While some people hate the heat and humidity, I actually like it. Don’t get me wrong, I may occasionally complain if it’s truly oppressive, but the fact that I can throw on a sundress, open all the windows, and head to the beach makes me giddy as a schoolgirl. Since my summers are wide open (I’m a teacher) I spend most of my time outdoors.

Summer food means lighter fare and picnicking outdoors! Summer’s bounty is being harvested, the backyard grills are smoking, and the cocktails are lighter and prepared with in-season fruit. Deciding on WHAT to bring on a picnic is always a dilemma. Should it be a selection of cheeses and wine or salads and cocktails? Fried chicken? Or, should we just go pick up lobster rolls and a bag of chips? In the end, the food tastes amazing when you’re outdoors. Here’s what I brought to an outdoor concert at Castle Hill, along with a selection of hard and soft cheeses. Pimm’s Cup is an old English summer cocktail. It’s refreshing and beautiful. Eat the fruit!

Pimm’s Cup 

Makes a pitcher to share with friends

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of Pimms No.1
  • 2 liter bottle of lemon-lime soda or Ginger-Ale
  • 2 navel oranges, peeled, seeded, and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 pint of organic strawberries, chopped into small pieces (they’re on the Dirty Dozen – buy organic)
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled, and chopped into small pieces
  • handful of fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped

Directions: Toss the fruit and mint leaves in the pitcher. Add the Pimms and give it a good stir. Let sit a few minutes and add enough of the lemon-lime soda to your taste. Refrigerate.  Serve in a double old-fashioned glass (or clear, plastic cup) with lots of ice and a spoonful of the fruit mixture.

Cheers!

Pimms Cup

Pineapple Chicken Salad

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3# chicken breast, grilled, cooled, and chopped
  • 2C cooked wild and long grain rice blend (Uncle Ben’s is best)
  • 1C fresh pineapple chunks (use canned if you can’t find fresh; reserve the juice)
  • ⅔C pineapple juice
  • ½C champagne or white wine vinegar
  • ¾C EVOO
  • 1½t sea salt
  • 1t sugar
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • ¼C fresh tarragon, minced
  • ¾C scallions, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1C slivered almonds

Directions: Cook the rice according to package directions. Cool rice completely. Make the pineapple vinaigrette by combing the pineapple juice, vinegar, sugar, salt and fresh grind of pepper in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle the EVOO to create an emulsion. You can use a blender, hand mixer, or a whisk to do this.

In a large bowl, combine the cooled rice, grilled chicken, tarragon, scallions, celery, and almonds in a large serving bowl. Add three-quarters of the vinaigrette and toss. Season to taste. If you like a drier salad, leave it as is. If you are refrigerating the salad overnight and the rice absorbs all the dressing you should add the remainder of the dressing.

Rice Salad

 

Spicy Puttanesca Sauce

I just love this sauce. It’s simple. It has immense flavor. It has heat. AND! it has olives and capers. Another bonus? I can make it fairly quickly. This sauce is delicious with Valicenti Organico’s pasta.

My spicy Puttanesca sauce on fresh ancient grain & flax spaghetti

I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Michelle Valicenti at the Newburyport Farmer’s Market on Sundays. She and her husband have been making gourmet pastas, red gravy, and pestos in their Hollis, NH Farm Kitchen since 2008. Pastry Chef Michelle and Chef David use locally sourced or home grown ingredients in all their pastas and sauces. They sell to local restaurants and to the home cook. I stock up at the Copley Farmer’s Market in the Back Bay and the Newburyport Farmer’s Market whenever I can. Last week, I walked up to her table and saw that my favorite gluten-free pasta was sold out! She saw and heard how disappointed my husband and I were. Michelle simply smiled back at me and took out her notepad and wrote down an order for me. Crisis averted – I’ll have three containers waiting for me on Sunday. Fresh pasta is always best, but their pastas freeze really well. I couldn’t tell the difference in texture between when I cooked the pasta fresh from the market and when I pulled my golden stash out of the freezer.

Valicenti Organics are at many local farmer’s markets. Click HERE for a list.

Spicy Puttanesca Sauce

Serves  4 

Ingredients:

  • 4T EVOO
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1t dried red pepper flakes (or more if you like it really HOT)
  • 1 – 24oz jar of crushed tomatoes or strained tomatoes
  • 1/2 C pitted Kalamata olives, rough chopped (or other black Greek olives, NOT canned)
  • 1 fresh tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 small red onion, minced
  • 2T drained capers
  • 1T each fresh oregano and basil, chopped
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 package of fresh pasta

Directions:

In a large skillet, add the EVOO and heat until fragrant. Turn down the heat to medium low and add the garlic, red onion, red pepper flakes, olives, and capers. Sauté until the garlic and onions are translucent and soft. Do not overheat or you can accidentally burn the garlic and it will become bitter. Add the chopped fresh tomato and the jar of crushed tomatoes. Season to taste. The sauce will taste best if it is allowed to simmer for at least 30 minutes, covered. It will be even better the following day.

Serve over your favorite al denté pasta. Hopefully, it will be Valicenti Organico.

Quinoa Chicken Salad

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My goal this school year is to spend Sundays preparing fresh, healthy lunches and snacks for the work week. I met my goal this Sunday and spent five hours making a pot of turkey chili, a large container of this quinoa salad, a large bowl of fruit salad, a pot of tomato soup, orange scented granola, a small pot of honey/coconut oil/butter for my husband’s toast, and a crustless quiche.

But back to this recipe! My lovely, new assistant teacher brought in quinoa salad for both of us during the work week before opening day. I loved it instantly! and her. This salad is light, full of protein and crunchy vegetables, and combines the sweet with the salty. I adapted this recipe from the Clean Eating recipe she shared with me.

Quinoa Salad with Chicken

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

4C cooked and cooled quinoa

1# chicken breast

½C currants or dried cranberries

½C pumpkin seeds

1C chopped carrots

½C chopped, fresh mint

½C chopped, fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

½C chopped scallions

1 red pepper, chopped

Dressing:

½C fresh lime juice (3 limes)

¾C EVOO

3t honey

1t ground cumin

2t sea salt

Directions:

Prepare the quinoa according to package directions. It’s generally a 2:1 ratio – water:quinoa. Allow to cool. While the quinoa is cooking, grill or steam the chicken breasts. Remove from steamer and let cool, then chop into bite-sized dice and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and whisk until combined.

In a large bowl, add the cooked quinoa, chicken, vegetables and dressing. Stir to combine. Adjust seasonings.

Serve chilled.