Archive for September 2007

Baked French Toast Casserole

September 27, 2007 | Chuck
Baked French Toast Casserole

Do you love French toast? Looking for a different twist on this breakfast classic? Then give this baked French toast casserole recipe a try. It's a great brunch dish that you prepare the night before and bake in the morning.

The baked French toast dish has three distinct layers. The top layer is a crunchy, caramely praline topping. The middle layer tastes like traditional French toast and the bottom layer reminds me of bread pudding. All together, it's a fantastic and decadent dish for breakfast or brunch.

We made the casserole last Friday while visiting our NYC friends, Jeff and Aimee. It was Aimee's turn to bring breakfast in for her co-workers. Typically, her co-workers bring in bagels or donuts, but Jeff raised the bar and made delicious fritattas the last time it was Aimee's turn. To keep the bar high, I suggested making a baked French toast casserole. Jeff, Hungry Bear and I made three casseroles a large one for Aimee's co-workers and two smaller ones for us to enjoy.

The French toast casserole recipe is by Paula Deen, so of course, there's a lot of butter, half-and-half and sugar. The praline topping is made with two sticks of butter and a cup of brown sugar. I would recommend not using the entire amount of praline topping, or the casserole may be too sweet and buttery. We used the topping quantity in the recipe across three casseroles. The sweetness was perfect and didn't require any maple syrup. One last tip is to allow the butter to soften before making the praline topping.

The baked French toast casserole was a big hit with Aimee's co-workers. It's a great dish that's easy to make. Serve it with some fresh fruit and your friends and family will be raving about it for a long time.

[tags]brunch, paula deen, french toast, praline topping, breakfast, baked[/tags]

Chocolate Devil’s Food Cupcakes

September 19, 2007 | Chuck
Chocolate Devil's Food Cupcake

As I mentioned in the last post, our friend Jane made chocolate devil's food cupcakes for dessert last Sunday. She has made these cupcakes for us in the past and we love them. Jane uses a devil's food cupcake recipe from the Food Network. The cocoa powder and chocolate brand used is Valrhona, so the cupcakes are pure chocolate delights.

In the process of making the ganache, Jane overheated her cream and broke it. The chocolate separated and became grainy, then I made it worse by overheating it more. None of us had broken a ganache before, so we were at a loss on how to fix it. Fortunately, we were able to find a remedy from The Secrets of Baking...

If your ganache looks broken or feels grainy, there is still hope for it. To repair a broken ganache, divide it in half. Warm one half over a double boiler to a temperature of 130 degrees F. The fat will melt and pool at this temperature, making the mixture thinner. Cool the remaining ganache to 60 degrees F by stirring it over a bowl of ice. The fat in this portion will begin to solidify, causing the ganache to thicken.

When both halves have reached the desired temperatures, slowly stream the hot ganache into the cold and stir to combine. You can use a food processor for this step by placing the cool ganache into the bowl of the food processor, turning on the machine, and streaming in the warm ganache. The mixture will not fall below 90 degrees F during this procedure, so there is no risk of creating a grainy texture. Combining the two portions of ganache in this way averages the temperature into the optimal working range, and the fat droplets will be suspended evenly in the water.

We followed the directions and were able to save the ganache. It would have been sad to discard the Valrhona chocolate but thankfully we fixed it and topped the devil's food cupcakes with the ganache. The cupcakes were fantastic!

[tags]chocolate, devils food, cupcakes, ganache, valrhona[/tags]

Singapore Rice Noodles

September 11, 2007 | Chuck
Singaporean Noodles

This past Sunday, Jane and Mark hosted Sunday Nite Dinner. For the main dish, Jane made Singapore rice noodles. The recipe can be found in The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young. From the cookbook...

"In Singapore, it is common to catch the intoxicating aroma of curry in the air. Almost every restaurant serves mai fun — rice vermicelli or rice sticks — stir-fried with curry powder, baby shrimp, scallions, celery and Chinese mushrooms, for this is one of Singapore's most famous dishes."

The Singapore rice noodles recipe serves 4 to 6 as a part of a multicourse meal. Since we were having the noodles as the main entrée, Jane doubled the recipe to serve five of us with leftovers to spare. As a side dish, Jane prepared stir-fried amaranth two ways. Amaranth (yeen choy) is a leafy vegetable that looks like red Swiss chard with red and green variegated leaves. The first amaranth side dish was a simple garlic and salt stir-fry. The second amaranth stir-fry can also be found in The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen and used garlic and wet bean curd (fu yu).

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Banh Mi From Picnix Bistro

September 5, 2007 | Chuck
Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

Our favorite bánh mì (Vietnamese baguette sandwich) in San Francisco can be found at Picnix Bistro & Carry Out, which is located in the Presidio Heights district. When someone told us that there was good bánh mì at Picnix, I didn't believe it because of the neighborhood it was in. The first time Hungry Bear and I drove by the cafe it was closed, and it didn't look like a bánh mì shop to us. The second time we stopped by, my doubts of finding good bánh mì was put at ease, because the shop owners are a Vietnamese couple.

It turns out that Picnix is small cafe with an eclectic menu offering several Vietnamese items and other international lunch fare. It's located behind California Pacific Medical Center and caters to the medical personnel at the hospital, which means lunch time is very busy.

Picnix offers two kinds of bánh mì, Vietnamese style grilled chicken and grilled lemongrass tofu. In addition to the protein, both sandwiches are filled with carrots, pickled daikon, cucumbers and cilantro. The quality of the ingredients is by far the best we've had from any bánh mì shop in San Francisco. Between the vegetables, chicken and tofu, the ingredients are fresh and well prepared.

Although both sandwiches are very good, we have to give the nod to the grilled lemongrass tofu as the better bánh mì. The tofu sandwich is a little more flavorful and we love the lemongrass in it. The chicken tastes more like good roast chicken than Vietnamese grilled chicken. The only thing missing in either sandwich is a little pâté and jalapeno. I'll have to ask if they are options the next time we visit.

My only issue with the sandwiches is the baguette. It's a good baguette but it's a little too crusty for use with bánh mì. I would like the bread to be a little more airy and softer. Despite this issue, we think it's the best bánh mì in San Francisco. Compared to other bánh mì shops, the sandwiches are more expensive at $5.75 each, but the ingredients are superior and worth the extra cost.

If you find yourself in the Presidio Heights neighborhood and have a craving for a Vietnamese baguette sandwich, definitely check out Picnix. We've also heard good things about the other items on their menu. I guess we'll have to try something else, in addition to the bánh mì the next time we go.

Location & Hours:
Picnix Bistro & Carry Out
3872 Sacramento Street (between Maple and Cherry)
San Francisco, CA 94118
Monday - Friday: 8:00 am - 7:00 pm
Saturday: 8:30 am - 5:00 pm
(415) 751-2255
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[tags]vietnamese, banh mi, presidio heights, lemongrass, fresh, grilled, tofu, chicken[/tags]

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

September 2, 2007 | Chuck
Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich

As I mentioned in the last post, we had ice cream cookie sandwiches for dessert last Sunday. The cookies for the sandwich are thick and chewy chocolate chunk cookies. The cookies on their own are absolutely delicious with a glass of milk or coffee. Our friends have enjoyed the chocolate chunk cookies many times, so we decided to add a new twist and treat them to ice cream too.

The thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies recipe can be found in Cook's Illustrated's The New Best Recipe cookbook. We really like this recipe because it produces cookies that have a great chewy texture. Another reason why we like the recipe is the butter is melted as opposed to softened, so there's no pre-planning required to make the cookies.

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