Stuffed French Toast

Stuffed french toast with hashbrowns

Verdict: Crispy bacon and oozing cheese surprise you in this special stuffed french toast. This is my #1 brunch dish to serve to good friends or guest visiting in town.

This dish is inspired by Dairy Lane Cafe, a small restaurant located in Calgary’s West Hillhurst neighbourhood. Their mission is to use local and organic products to produce high quality meals. I enjoyed my breakfast sandwich, the Hillhurst Sammy, but what really caught my eye was the stuffed french toast my friend ordered. I tried my best to deconstruct (undress) the dish without disturbing my friend. The design seemed simple enough: a large piece of bread that was sliced horizontally but not severed, stuffed with Nutella and sliced bananas.

Cut bread into a book To prepare bread, make a half inch incision, stopping before you severe the bottom. Cut another half inch incision but this time, cut all the way through. Voila! You have a piece of bread that opens up like a book.

I had a great recipe for french toast so it was tested with the stuffed french toast variation. The preparations were easy and the results were awesome! It’s like making french toast but with the following small changes:

  1. Cut the bread so it opens up like a book
  2. Put yummy fillings inside like crispy bacon and Swiss cheese (pictured below)
  3. Cover your skillet with a lid or aluminum foil when cooking (the steam will help heat up your filling)

Add bacon Add cheese

I love making this for guests that are visiting town because it’s so novel and yummy, one of those dishes that looks more complicated than it really is. I taught my friend how to make this last year, and to this day, she still raves about it.

Melty cheese in stuffed french toast Peaking under the lid to look at the melty cheese and bacon stuffed french toast

We’ve had great successes with the savoury (bacon and cheese) and sweet (Nutella and banana) varieties of this recipe but there are many more combinations to try. Perhaps spinach, cooked chicken and Swiss cheese? Or Strawberries and sweetened cream cheese? To be honest, the bacon and cheese is so good, I’m almost reluctant to try new savoury combinations. I hope you try out the recipe and report back; I’d love to hear about your stuffed french toast experiments.

Maple syrup wellMmm. Maple syrup well in the centre of the plate.

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Shrimp Niçoise Pasta

Verdict: A wonderful and easy to make pasta dish that sets itself apart from the rest. The licorice flavoured liqueur compliments the tomato sauce and shrimp, lending depth and a subtle sweetness to the dish.

I planned to write about our Meatless Monday recipes today but my coworkers said they would appreciate some meal ideas for Valentine’s Day. I’m not crazy about celebrating it but I understand if people want to spend this day with someone special and perhaps impress them with a home cooked meal. I went through my recipe trove in search of a recipe with a definitive flair, a certain je ne sais quoi.

I found a pasta dish that is pleasantly different, easy to make,  yet gives the impression that you slaved away in the kitchen. Shrimp Niçoise (French pronunciation: [niˈswaz]) pasta borrows ingredients from the traditional Niçoise salad which consists of various vegetables topped with seafood and finished with Niçoise Cailletier olives.

The shrimp is succulent, the pasta sauce full bodied with the je ne said quoi quality from the licorice flavoured liqueur. You can try using Sambuca, Absinthe or Perdon Ricard for the liqueur. It’ll be between you and I how simple it is to prepare.

A key step added to this recipe was using sea salt to refresh the shrimp before cooking. The salt is rinsed off with cold water and the shrimp is patted dry before sauteeing in the garlic butter. I learned this from a Vietnamese cookbook and have noticed the step refreshes the shrimp by removing the ocean smells and making the meat more tender.

Other Valentine’s Meal Ideas

Bonus: They’re all gluten free recipes.

  • Thai Green Curry with Chicken and Broccoli – exotic, super simple and quick to prepare. Lots of flavour pay off here.
  • Balsamic Foil Packed Chicken – take a quick trip to the Asian aisle of your grocery store for sweet soya sauce and prepare this unique and delicious dish. This could be your new chicken and rice recipe for life.
  • Steak Ssam Lettuce Wraps – marinade flank or skirt steak in apple juice, grill them up and serve with rice, kimchi and the ginger-scallion mixture, all wrapped in a crisp lettuce leaf. You will impress the pants off anyone who eats the dish.

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Balsamic Foil Packed Chicken

Balsamic Foil Packed Chicken

Verdict: This recipe creates chicken that is extremely moist and bursting with the complex flavours of the sweet soya sauce and balsamic vinegar. An easy and elegant weeknight dinner.

This original recipe came together from my sister’s obsession with balsamic glazed asparagus and our obsession with the Singaporean instant fried noodles brand called Mi Goreng. These instant noodles make the perfect late night snack and with a little bit of effort, the perfect quick dinner. In an effort to make these instant noodles healthier (we know, it’s a stretch), we investigated what goes into real Singaporean noodles and how best to incorporate fresh vegetables into the dish. It turns out, the secret ingredient is sweet soya sauce. It is sweeter than regular soya sauce and significantly thicker, like a reduced balsamic vinegar, with some varieties mirroring the viscosity and appearance of molasses.

Shallots and garlic Shallots, the sweet cousin of onions.

I decided to use sweet soya sauce to create a recipe for balsamic glazed chicken. The foil packets cooking method ensures the chicken will be cooked to tender perfection.

Sweating shallots and garlic in butter Cooking the shallots and garlic over low heat until they’re soft and translucent.

This is the kind of dish that immediately makes it into your cooking rotation. The flavours are complex and full bodied, the chicken tender and moist. The shallots and sweet soya sauce impart sweetness, while the twang from balsamic vinegar keeps the sweetness from being overpowering. The sauce is so incredible on rice, this will be your new chicken and rice dish standard.

Balsamic chicken with rice and asparagus

The toughest ingredient to find will be the sweet soya sauce, found at Asian supermarkets or the ethnic aisle of your grocery store. We’ve tried three to four different brands and found the Lee Kum Kee Sweet Soy Sauce to be the best performer: mellow kind of sweetness with right consistency: thicker than regular soya sauce but not as thick as honey or molasses. Regardless of the brand you find, please ensure you use sweet soya sauce. I’ve tried this with regular soya sauce and the flavour combination simply did not work; the resulting sauce was too tart.

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How to Fold Foil Food Packets

Foil packet balsamic chicken

Summary: Learn to fold foil food packets that make quick and easy meals.

Food that is wrapped in foil can be cooked in the oven, on the grill, or over an open camp fire. This cooking method prevents loss of moisture and produces very tender meat. Plus, there’s minimal clean up.

Equipment:

  • Aluminum foil
  • Food items – usual food packet combination includes: meat, veggies and 2 – 3 tablespoons of sauce or broth

Note: you can substitute the foil with parchment paper if placing the food packets in the oven. This is not recommended if cooking over a bbq or camp fire as it will just add to the fire.

1. Select a piece of foil that is approximately 15” long. (My aluminum foil was 15” in length and default width of 12”.) Place food items in the center of foil  and drizzle with sauce or broth.

15" by 12" piece of foil

2. Bring up the lengths of the foil sides like a tent and roll down towards center, stopping about an 1” before you reach the meat – this leaves room for heat circulation.

Food tent with foil

3. Fold the foil ends toward center to seal pack.

Roll bottom toward centre

4. Cook packet in oven, on grill or over a camp stove.

Foil food packet bliss

Meal Ideas

  • Balsamic Chicken – 4 breasts will cook in about 30 minutes at 425 F
  • Salmon with lemon, garlic and dill, with 2 tablespoons of butter or white wine – 4 fillets will cook in 20 minutes at 350 F

“Healthy” Instant Fried Noodles

Healthy Mi Goreng fried noodles with egg

Verdict: These simple addition of veggies and protein to instant noodles makes it a meal so good, you’ll crave it, whether you are a penniless student or you are just looking for a quick, rounded meal.

Healthy instant noodles? It sounds impossible, given a package of noodles provides not much more than a bunch of empty carbs, and some fat. However, adding a dose of fresh vegetables and a protein source such as a fried egg will turn this empty junk food dish into something much more well rounded.

Mi Goreng fried noodles

If you haven’t eaten Mi Goreng’s instant fried noodles before, you are in for a treat! It’s a different kind of instant noodle, one that does not produce broth. Instead, it is coated in sweet soya sauce, chili oil and topped with fried onions. When you’re strapped for time and/or cash, this dish is a great alternative to fast food or take out. It’s quick, easy and there’s only a pot and a skillet to clean at the end.

The healthy part Large pieces of broccoli and large match stick sized carrots and red pepper.

My cousin introduced this to me a few years ago when we were recovering from hangovers. Instead of veggies, she added cooked chicken and a lot of hot sauce. The dried onions coated in the sweet and spicy sauce with the crispy fried onions won me over instantly; I’ve been hooked ever since. The craving was so deeply seated that, for a time, my mission was to introduce these instant noodle to as many people as possible.

Instant noodle tipTip: Use scissors to open up the sauce packages, otherwise, you’ll be fumbling to open them with greasy fingers.

Flash boiled carrots and broccoli

Times when Mi Goreng is most helpful:

  • quick dinner, minimal clean up
  • snack for a friend that’s dropping by to catch up
  • after the bar food (you don’t have to be functioning at full capacity to make it)
  • it’s cheap and doesn’t go bad, very good for students and those living away from home

Stir veggies into noodle

You can find Mi Goreng at Asian Supermarkets or the ethnic aisle of your grocery store. You will find the sweet soya sauce near by. We’ve tried three to four different brands and found the Lee Kum Kee Sweet Soy Sauce brand to be the best performer. It has a mellow kind of sweetness and the right consistency: thicker than regular soya sauce but not as thick as honey or molasses.

Instant fried noodles with a fried egg

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