I love french toast, but don’t like making it the regular way because by the time I get to sit down to eat, everyone else is usually already done!  I have made several other overnight baked recipes that have been delicious but are really sweet.  I have also tried a few recipes that end up being a little bit soggy, even after they are baked which I am not a big fan of!  This recipe has a touch of sweetness with the cream cheese and cream topping (which is the most delicious whipped cream I’ve ever tasted!), but it isn’t too rich or sweet (making it easier to eat more)!  I was also very excited to find that the end result was not soggy at all – it bakes perfectly!

Overnight Strawberry Cream Cheese French Toast

Slice a loaf of french bread into 1 inch slices and then spread cream cheese between each set of 2 slices, making little cream cheese sandwiches.  Place the sandwiches in a greased 9X13 pan.

Mix together:
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Beat the mixture for a couple of minutes and then pour it over the bread and let it sit for 5-10 minutes and then turn the sandwiches over.  Cover pan and refrigerate overnight.  The next morning, bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes.

Amaretto Cream Topping

1 pint whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. amaretto or almond flavoring (I used almond and it made the whipping cream sooooo yummy!  I will be adding this every time I make whipped cream in the future!)

Serve french toast with strawberries (sugared if you prefer) and the whipped topping.  Enjoy!

Focaccia with Caramelized Onions and Spinach

I admit it. I have a weakness for fresh bread. And an even more serious weakness for fresh bread with cheese on it. I know that I am not alone in this. I mean, isn’t the love of bread and cheese the one thing that practically every culture in the world has in common? This can actually probably be extended to include not just bread but all white, starchy, non-healthy foods… and cheese haha.

Anyways, point is- I love bread and cheese. And I love this recipe. Which includes both.

This bread isn’t just any kind of bread- it’s focaccia. One of my favorite breads. And it is topped with delicious caramelized onions and sautéed spinach. AND mozzarella. It’s basically a foccacia veggie-pizza. Totally cool with me.

What’s not cool with me? Taking pictures of any kind of pizza-like food. I hate it. Pizza, my camera, and I just don’t get along.

On a very side note, I have a mildly sad story that goes along with this recipe. I made it the day before I was going to Venice while my parents were visiting. We ate as much as we possibly could and then we cut up the rest, bagged it in ziplock bags, and took with us on the car ride the next day. Venice is only 7 hours from where I live in Germany so this was meant to be a means of a snack rather than anything else. It ended up being our only form of sustenance when we got stranded on the side of the autostrada when my car kicked the bucket. It’s a long story that you can read about here, but basically we depended on the remnants of this bread to get us through a very long, tiring day…

AND then when I got home, a leftover red pepper flake from the kitchen counter ended up finding its way into my 4 month-olds eye. I didn’t know that was what it was at the time. All I knew was that he was screaming bloody murder and could not be consoled. I had to flush his eye out repetitively with saline while my Mother held him down until he finally calmed and the thing flushed itself out. Crazy. Try to keep the red pepper flakes away from your kids eyes folks…

Focaccia with Caramelized Onions and Spinach
Author: Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito
  • For the Focaccia Dough:
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 2¼ cups bread flour
  • 2¾ tsp instant dry yeast
  • 2¾ tsp salt
  • 2 cups lukewarm water (100 to 110 degrees F)
  • ⅓ cup good-quality olive oil, plus more for oiling
  • cornmeal for dusting
  • For the Topping:
  • ¼ cup good-quality olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3½ cups loosely packed baby spinach
  • 2 Tb chopped, fresh rosemary
  • 2 Tb chopped, fresh thyme
  • salt, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • dried oregano, to taste
  • 2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella or other cheese of your choosing
  • ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or other hard cheese or your choosing, plus more for sprinkling
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  1. Make the Focaccia Dough: Place the flours, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed until combined. Add the water and ⅓ cup olive oil and mix on low speed until the dough just begins to come together. Turn off the mixer, switch to the dough hook attachment, and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth and tarts to release from the sides of the bowl (it is okay if the dough still sticks to the bottom of the mixing bowl). If the dough feels too wet and is not releasing, add additional all-purpose four, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough releases.
  2. Dust a work surface with flour and stretch the dough into a rectangle (about 9 by 20 inches). Fold each side onto itself, creating a letterfold. Tuck the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm-ish place (at least 72 degrees F) for 20 to 30 minutes. Repeat this process (stretching the dough into a rectangle, letterfolding, tucking into a ball shape, and placing in covered bowl). Wait another 30 minutes and repeat a third time.
  3. Lightly spray a 13-by-18-inch light-colored metal half-sheet pan or two 9-by-13-inch glass or light-colored metal baking pans with non-stick cooking spray and line with parchment paper. Use your fingers to smear a little olive oil (no more than a tablespoon) evenly across the parchment and sprinkle it with an even dusting of cornmeal. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan(s) and stretch it into a rectangle (don’t try to stretch the dough into corners of the pan just yet). Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest (still at room temperature) for about 20 minutes. Uncover the dough and stretch it into the corners. (If the doughs feels resistant to stretching into the pan corners at this time, cover with plastic wrap and wait 10 more minutes.)
  4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and position the rack in the center. Place a baking pan filled with water on the rack below where you will be baking the focaccia. The steam from the pan will give the crust a nice crunchy exterior while keeping the interior moist and chewy.
  5. Make the Topping: In a medium skillet or sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté for 20 to 25 minutes, or until it is soft and translucent. Set the onion aside. Add the spinach to the skillet, cover, and cook until the spinach is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside until cool. Squeeze the spinach dry and set it aside.
  6. Poke the dough in the pan. If your fingers leave a dent, it is ready; if not, wait 5 minutes and test again. Toss the rosemary with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Brush the oil onto the top of the dough. Sprinkle with thyme, salt, pepper, and oregano.
  7. Place the focaccia in the oven, on rack above the pan filled with (now boiling) water, and bake for 1- minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until the dough starts to brown on top. Then remove the pan from the oven and, leaving a small border of crust, top the dough with the onion, spinach, cheeses, and red pepper flakes. Continue baking the focaccia until the cheese is bubbly and browned.
  8. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with more Pecorino Romano and salt to taste, and brush the edges with a little bit more olive oil. Serve immediately.
  9. Focaccia tastes best directly from the oven, though leftover focaccia can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 2 days. Reheat at 275 degrees F for about 10 minutes or until warm to the touch before serving.

Adapted from “Baked Elements: Our Ten Favorite Ingredients” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

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The Ultimate Veggie Burger

If you’re a reader of this blog you might know that I’ve been on a life long quest for the perfect veggie burger.  I thought I had found it it in my Hal’s Soy Burger, which I learned to make when I worked one summer in a natural food restaurant in college, but the problem is that soy beans are very hard to find, and so, sadly, I’ve had to move on to a recipe that’s more convenient to use.  As I said in my last veggie burger post, I’m not a fan of vegetarian food that pretends to be anything other than what it is.  I love veggies, and I don’t see why they should need to disguise themselves.  But I make a small exception in the case of veggie burgers.  The burger is the all American summer treat, and, to be honest, half of the fun is the bun and all the toppings.  Switching out a healthy veggie burger for the meat just makes so much sense.  You can make a big batch of these and freeze them for easy healthy eating all summer long.

Veggie burgers can be made a million different ways, but take it from someone who routinely orders them whenever I can, they usually aren’t that good.   They can be mushy, tasteless, and almost always too thick. Sometimes you can barely distinguish them from the bun.  Sometimes, gasp, they’re even artificially colored to look more meat-like, or to give them grill marks.  Sometimes they’re made from engineered protein that’s supposed to imitate the taste and texture of meat.  Yuck.  No wonder they have a bad reputation.

Veggie burger recipes are fun to play with because they’re not an
exact science, and you can fiddle with the ingredients here and there, just as long
as you get enough flavor, and a texture that more or less resembles a
raw meat burger or meatloaf mix.  It should be moist and sticky, but not
overly wet.  It should be smooth enough to form into a patty, but
retain some texture.  Rices, grains, and beans make good starting points.  You can add finely chopped or shredded vegetables, and then it all gets bound together with a little beaten egg and bread crumbs.  Within that general framework there’s a lot of wiggle room.

I used red rice for its amazing texture and flavor, black beans, some zucchini, mushroom, and bright bell peppers.  One of the secrets is not to over process the ingredients so that the burgers have a nice, nutty… ok, I’ll say it… ‘meaty’ texture.  The red rice and black beans give a pleasing rich deep color, and the veggies give it even more visual interest.


I used an ice cream scoop to portion out the mixture, and then pressed it flat in between pieces of waxed paper.  I used my tortilla press, but you can do it with your hand or a plate.  Use your fingers to form it into a perfect round if you need to.  I like them on the thin side. 

The patties get chilled for an hour or so which helps them firm up and become easier to handle. You can make them a day ahead of time, too, which is nice. 

The Ultimate Veggie Burger
makes 4 burgers
1 cup cooked red rice
1 cup cooked black beans
1/2 cup rough chopped colorful bell peppers
1/2 cup rough chopped portobello mushroom
1/2 cup shredded zucchini (about 1 small)
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (substitute soy sauce if vegetarian)
1/2 tsp smoked salt
1/4 tsp cumin
fresh cracked black pepper to taste
sliced cheese, if desired

  • Put the rice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Pulse the machine until the rice has broken down but still has some texture.  Don’t process into a paste, but break down the rice so there are no big pieces. 
  • Remove the rice to a bowl, and then put the black beans in and do the same thing.  Measure out 1/2 cup of the processed beans and add to the bowl.
  • Put the bell peppers and mushrooms into the processor and pulse until finely chopped.  Add them to the bowl (I used 1/2 cup measured after processing)
  • Add the shredded zucchini, bread crumbs, beaten egg, Worcestershire sauce and spices.  Add lots of fresh cracked black pepper, and mix everything together until completely combined.  
  • At this point your mixture should resemble a meatloaf or meatball mixture: moist and sticky but not too wet.  If it seems overly wet, add a bit more bread crumbs.
  • Using an ice cream scoop or spoon, take a fourth of the mixture and form it into a ball.  Place on a square of waxed paper and cover with another square.  Press down to flatten slightly and then flatten with a tortilla press or a plate, using gentle even pressure to press the burger into a round. Use your fingers to even it out.  
  • Stack the burgers on a plate, in their waxed paper, and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow them to firm up.
  • Grease your pan with olive oil and cook the burgers for about 4 or 5 minutes on each side, until they are hot through and crisp on the outside.  Be careful when flipping them because they are delicate.  Homemade veggie burgers probably won’t work on a grill because of their delicate texture, but you could try if you have a special pan.
  • Add a slice of cheese at the end of the cooking time, if using.
  •  Serve right away in a bun with all your favorite fixin’s!

Tips for veggie burger success:

  • Use flavorful whole grains as your base.  The Wehani red rice I used has got a great rust color and wonderful flavor and texture.  It’s my new favorite rice around here.
  • Cook your beans from dried.  It’s not that much effort, and you can double or triple the recipe and freeze extra burgers for later.  Canned beans will make a mushy burger with a ‘canned’ taste.
  • Slightly under cook your rice and beans until they are just barely tender.  They should have a nutty bite to them.
  • Be gentle with them, they are delicate like a crab cake would be.  Transfer them from their paper onto the pan carefully, and flip them carefully.  Their delicate texture when raw is what makes them delicious after they are cooked.
  • Veggie burgers are on the thin side, so don’t overwhelm them with huge buns.  
  • Treat veggie burgers just like you would a meat burger— use all your favorite burger toppings!
  • If you freeze them, first freeze them flat, in their waxed paper, then you can stack them in freezer baggies. 

Here’s a question, why haven’t the big fast food chains embraced the veggie burger?  It’s a huge mystery to me.  McDonald’s has 13 different beef burgers, 8 chicken burgers, a fish filet, and countless wraps, yet none of them are vegetarian.  It makes no sense. 
By the way, that’s one of my Quick and Spicy Refrigerator Pickles alongside the burger. 

Enjoy your weekend!

One year ago today—

Spicy Lasagna with Sausage Meatballs

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