Monday, December 8, 2008

Are We Still Calling it "Freedom Toast"?

Oh, the silliness...

If it weren't for holidays I wouldn't know what a hot breakfast was. To me, it's a decadent, indulgent thing to eat something for breakfast that's not poured into a to-go cup (smoothie) or doused with milk (cereal).

So when Cutie's parents offered to help me cook on Thanksgiving Day, what better way was there to thank them than by giving them a hot, delicious breakfast? I'll tell you - by giving them a hot, delicious, EASY breakfast.

This Orange-Pecan French Toast Casserole is assembled the night before, refrigerated, and popped in the oven the day you serve it. The recipe is a keeper from Cooking Light - yes, it's French toast and it's Cooking Light. We've all heard someone order a rum and Diet Coke or a large pizza with pepperoni and ham and sausage and hamburger and NO CHEESE. This isn't quite like that - they really did lower the fat and calories from the original, but don't tell yourself this is some kind of health food. It's a treat that is more healthful than it might otherwise be, while still tasting terrific.

And this is indeed fabulous. Know how you can tell you're among good friends? They help themselves to seconds, knowing that's what it's there for and that you're glad they've enjoyed their meal that much.

You've got some liberties to take here. Someone's allergic to nuts? Leave them out. No time/patience/oranges to squeeze juice? Buy a small bottle of OJ; I used half for this recipe and half for Orange-Chipotle Marinade, which I used for pork chops.

This is great for Christmas or New Year's morning. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! We fed 5 people (one child, four adults - one of whom had just run 13.1 miles) and it was the right amount of food. If I were feeding more than 5, I'd make two casseroles.

Orange-Pecan French Toast Casserole
Cooking Light - June, 2004

1 cup packed brown sugar (I used dark brown, but light brown will work just fine)
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 Tablespoons light-colored corn syrup (I don't have any - I used sugar-free maple syrup)
Cooking spray
1/3 chopped pecans (leave them out if you wish; walnuts would be a good substitution if you don't have pecans)
1 teaspoon grated orange rind (adds a lot to the dish, but isn't critical - you'll just have a less pronounced orange flavor if it's omitted)
1 cup fresh orange juice (I used bottled)
1/2 cup skim milk
3 Tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large egg whites
2 large eggs
12 1-inch-thick slices French bread (I used the "take and bake" whole grain baguette from Kroger's - I baked & sliced, and it was fine)

1. Combine brown sugar, butter, and corn (or maple) syrup. Pour into a 13x9-inch baking pan coated with cooking spray. The mixture will be sticky; I pressed mine into place with the back of a spoon.

2. Sprinkle chopped pecans over butter-sugar mixture.

3. Combine rind, juice, milk, white sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, egg whites, and eggs; stir with a whisk or fork.

4. Arrange bread slices over pecans in dish - when I did it, it looked pretty sparse. Fortunately, the bread absorbs the egg mixture and really fills out; here's what it looked like initially:

5. Pour egg mixture over bread. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or up to overnight.

When you're ready to bake...

6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

7. Carefully turn bread slices over so that the "naked" side can absorb the egg mixture - this also makes sure you get a little brown sugar mixture on each side. If you have cut the bread too thin, this will be a nightmare; if you can't turn it, just leave it.

Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes.

8. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until lightly browned.

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