Blueberry Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole

Blueberry Cream Cheese French Toast | Pinky's Pantry
One of the nurses at work gave me her recipe for blueberry french toast several years ago. She loved it because it was very easy to make and could be prepared the night before so it was perfect to take to an office potluck. I had to agree with how easy it was to make, not to mention how delicious it was. I love biting into a little chunk of cream cheese when I’m eating it. The sweet-tart blueberries make the perfect backdrop to each creamy bite. And my blueberry sauce gives it just the right finishing touch.

I love making this casserole with brioche bread which is soft and silky and has a very thin crust. If you can get your hands on some brioche, give it a try. It makes a rich and wonderfully delicious french toast.

BLUEBERRY CREAM CHEESE FRENCH TOAST CASSEROLE

  • 14 slices of white bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 12 ozs. (1½ boxes) cream cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 12 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  1. Spread half the bread cubes in the bottom of a 9 x 13″ baking pan.
  2. Sprinkle with half the cream cheese cubes and half the blueberries.
  3. Cover with the other half of the bread cubes.
  4. Sprinkle with remaining cream cheese and blueberries.
  5. Mix the eggs, milk, and sugar together.
  6. Pour egg mixture over bread cubes in baking pan. Push bread down very lightly with a spatula to make sure top layer gets soaked. Don’t smash it down!
  7. Cover with foil and place in refrigerator overnight.
  8. Next day, remove from refrigerator about half an hour before putting in the oven.
  9. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  10. Bake covered for 30 minutes; then uncover and bake another 30-40 minutes or until firm.

BLUEBERRY SAUCE

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1½ cups blueberries
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • juice of one lemon
  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  1. Combine the water and sugar together in a small saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
  3. Add the blueberries and simmer until most of them have burst, about 10 minutes.
  4. Dissolve the cornstarch in the lemon juice.
  5. Add the cornstarch-lemon mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in the butter.
  7. Serve sauce warm with french toast.

NOTE:  My kids like a lot of sauce so when I make this, I double the sauce recipe. You could also skip it and just serve this with plain syrup if you don’t feel like going the extra step of making the blueberry sauce.

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Eggnog Syrup

Eggnog Syrup | Pinky's PantryI saw Geoffrey Zakarian make this on the TV show, “The Kitchen.” It looked so easy and I thought it would be perfect for my Christmas morning breakfast since I planned to have a waffle station where everyone could make their own belgian waffles on the spot. Good choice! It was delicious and was a hit with the family. Definitely a keeper for future holiday breakfasts.

EGGNOG SYRUP

  • ½ cup eggnog
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  1. Combine eggnog and maple syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by one-quarter, about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and swirl in butter to melt.
  4. Serve warm as a topping for pancakes, French toast, or waffles.

Jellied Cranberry Sauce

Jellied Cranberry Sauce | Pinky's Pantry
My brother-in-law, Anthony, hails from Arkansas. He loves canned cranberry sauce. He grew up eating it as part of their Thanksgiving dinners and looks for it every year so I’ve made it a point to always have a can on hand for him each Thanksgiving. That being said, have you looked at the ingredients list for the canned stuff? It’s not very healthy. It’s made with high fructose corn syrup, for one.

So several years ago, I decided to try making my own jellied cranberry sauce. I even bought a pretty mold to put it in. Now the operative word is “tried.” I tried several times and failed…. miserably. Somehow, the sauce never quite seemed to work. It either didn’t jell, or didn’t taste good, or something was always wrong. But now, by jove, I think I’ve got it! Finally, this one not only tastes good but holds its shape when taken out of the mold! If you really have to have that can shape, you can pour this into an empty can or two and chill them in the fridge until ready to serve.

This sauce uses a lot of cranberries because you only use the liquid that you get from straining them. That leaves a lot of cranberries to discard. If you don’t want to waste the cranberry solids, don’t throw them away. Use them to make a second batch of cranberry sauce so your guests will have 2 kinds to choose from. Just stir in 1/2 cup or so of orange juice, or water, or even wine like cabernet or merlot into the solids. Transfer to a bowl and serve. You can even jazz it up by adding the zest from 1 large orange, a little cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, chopped pecans, etc.
Jellied Cranberry Sauce | Pinky's Pantry

JELLIED CRANBERRY SAUCE
(Makes about 6 cups)

  • 4 (12-oz.) bags fresh cranberries
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3 cups cold water
  • 2 envelopes Knox unflavored gelatin
  • ⅓ cup cold water
  1. Place cranberries in a colander and rinse them under cold running water, picking out and discarding any wrinkly or mushy ones, or any stems you might find.
  2. In a large saucepan, bring cranberries, sugar, and 3 cups water to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until all the berries have burst, about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Pour into a large fine-mesh sieve set over a 2-quart glass measure or bowl, pressing on the solids to extract all the juices. If you want your jelly to be more “clear” with less of an applesauce consistency, don’t press on the solids. Just pour the sauce into the sieve and let stand about 30 minutes or until all juices have drained through. Note that you will get less liquid this way.
  5. While cranberries are draining, place the ⅓ cup water and gelatin into a small sauce pot and stir together with a wire whisk. Let stand about a minute to soften.
  6. Add 1 cup of the drained cranberry liquid to the gelatin mixture and bring to a simmer over low heat, gently stirring with the whisk till gelatin is completely dissolved.
  7. Pour gelatin mixture back into remaining cranberry liquid and stir well.
  8. Pour cranberry sauce into lightly oiled decorative mold or small individual molds.
  9. Cover with plastic wrap, lightly pressing the plastic wrap against the cranberry sauce to prevent a skin from forming, and set aside to cool.
  10. Place in refrigerator to chill until firmly set, preferably overnight.

TO UNMOLD:  Run tip of a thin knife between edge of mold and cranberry jelly. Tilt mold sideways and tap side of mold against a padded work surface, turning and tapping to break the seal and loosen cranberry jelly. Keeping mold tilted, invert a plate over the mold, then invert cranberry jelly onto the plate.

NOTE:  Jellied cranberry sauce can be chilled in the mold for up to 3 days.
It can also be unmolded 1 hour ahead and kept chilled or at room temperature before serving.

Velveeta Cheese Sauce

Velveeta Cheese Sauce | Pinky's PantryI know, I know…. you can say it….. Velveeta is NOT cheese. Even the box says it’s “Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product.” (When I was a kid I remember it used to say, “Pasteurized Process Cheese Food.”) But don’t dis Velveeta. Whatever it is, it’s delicious. Smooth, creamy, and meltable (is that a word?), it made the best grilled cheese sandwiches ever….. the grilled cheese sandwiches of my youth that spelled comfort food. It’s what we grew up with in the Philippines. It was introduced by the Americans during World War II and stayed a big part of Filipino cuisine ever since. It’s all I knew of cheese until I moved to the United States.

Velveeta makes the easiest and creamiest of cheese sauces as far as I’m concerned. You can cook it in a small saucepan over medium heat on the stove, or if you’re pressed for time, you can make it in the microwave. If you use a microwave, be sure to stop and stir in 30-second intervals so you don’t get hot spots that turn into burned spots. The sauce will thicken and firm up as it cools. Just reheat it a bit if you need to make it pourable again. If it’s too thick, whisk in some more milk until it reaches the consistency you want.

VELVEETA CHEESE SAUCE

  • 1 cup cubed Velveeta cheese
  • ¼ cup evaporated milk or fresh milk (add more if you want the sauce thinner)
  1. Microwave Velveeta and milk in a microwaveable bowl on high for 2-3 minutes, stopping to stir every 30-seconds or so, until completely melted and well-combined.
  2. Serve immediately as a dipping sauce; pour over cooked veggies like broccoli or cauliflower; or pour over nachos.

NOTE:  ¼ cup is just a starting point for the milk. If you feel it’s too thick, add as much milk as you need to get it to the consistency you’re looking for.

You can also add flavorings to your cheese sauce like a teaspoon or so of mustard powder, a splash of beer or white wine, a tablespoon or two of diced pimientos, a dash of Tabasco or Sriracha sauce, a half teaspoon of onion powder, or whatever else you think might taste good with cheese.

Copycat La Bou Creamy Dill Dressing

Dill Dressing | Pinky's Pantry
La Bou is a local bakery cafe chain. They opened their first store in 1981 and it was a huge success with people lined up outside to buy their delicious handmade croissants. Since then, they’ve expanded to open several stores in the greater Sacramento area serving wonderful salads, sandwiches, soups, pastries and espresso drinks. But what they’ve really become famous for is something that’s not even listed as a choice on their menu. I’m talking about their baguette bread that they serve with a creamy dill dipping sauce. I know it sounds weird to dip slices of bread in what is essentially a salad dressing, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. It is so addictive that every time you go there, you’ll find yourself ordering a full or half baguette with dill sauce to take home.

Anyway, it’s with extreme sadness that I report that our local La Bou in town has just closed its doors. Everyone at work was so dismayed to hear the news. They were right down the street from the office and were a favorite lunch time spot. I can’t understand why they closed. To mark this sad occasion, I’m making a copycat version of their dill dressing for the family to eat with some baguette bread this evening. I don’t know how La Bou makes their actual dressing, but this tastes just like it and will hit the spot whenever you need a La Bou fix.

COPYCAT LA BOU CREAMY DILL DRESSING

  • 1½ cups mayonnaise
  • 1 pkg. Hidden Valley buttermilk ranch dressing mix
  • ¼ cup fresh dill, minced
  • 1¼ cups water
  1. Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl.
    (If you don’t want to mince the dill by hand, you could place all the ingredients into a food processor and process until dill is finely minced.)
  2. Refrigerate until ready to use.

NOTE:  If you make this in a food processor, the dip will seem frothy and bubbly immediately after mixing, but don’t worry. The bubbles will settle down and disappear after the dip has sat for a while. It will also seem very watery at first, but will thicken a bit in the refrigerator. La Bou’s dipping sauce is really pretty thin but if you want yours to be thicker, feel free to cut down on the amount of water you add.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Sauce

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta | Pinky's Pantry
Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert that’s become very popular all over the United States. It’s a custard-like confection made of cream sweetened with sugar and thickened with gelatin. Though it’s made with rich cream, it’s surprisingly light, and the ease of making it belies how fancy it looks.

To serve, I like to loosen the panna cottas from the ramekins and turn them out onto dessert plates, then pour some sauce carefully around each panna cotta. You could also just pour the sauce on top of the panna cottas in their ramekins and serve them that way. Mint leaves and fresh raspberries make a pretty garnish.

VANILLA BEAN PANNA COTTA WITH MIXED BERRY SAUCE

  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped (can substitute 1 tsp. vanilla extract)
  1. In a small bowl, soften gelatin in cold water; set aside.
  2. Place whipping cream, sugar and vanilla bean in a saucepan.
  3. Cook over medium heat, stirring until mixture comes to a simmer.
  4. Simmer gently for 5 minutes, then remove from heat.
  5. Pick out and discard the vanilla bean pod.
  6. Add gelatin to hot cream mixture, stirring until gelatin dissolves completely.
  7. Pour into 6 lightly oiled 1/2-cup ramekins or other small cylindrical molds and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.

MIXED BERRY SAUCE

  • 1 bag (10 ozs.) frozen mixed berries, thawed (can substitute fresh berries)
  • 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar (taste and add more if you want it sweeter)
  • 2 Tbsp. brandy
  1. Combine berries and sugar in bowl of a food processor or blender.
  2. Blend until berries are completely crushed.
  3. Pour through a strainer into a bowl, pushing mixture back and forth with a rubber spatula. Discard the solids.
  4. Stir the brandy into the sauce.

Cranberry Orange Sauce

Cranberry Orange Sauce | Pinky's Pantry
This is a super easy cranberry sauce made with fresh squeezed orange juice. The citrus juice gives it a nice bright flavor. You can cut the recipe in half if you don’t want to make so much sauce. I have a big family so two bags of cranberries suits us just fine. Cranberries have a natural pectin that is released when they burst and which thickens the sauce naturally. If the sauce becomes too thick as it cools, just stir in a little more orange juice or water till it reaches the consistency you like.

CRANBERRY ORANGE SAUCE

  • 2 bags (12 ozs. each) fresh cranberries
  • 2 cups sugar (you can add more or less sugar to your taste)
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • juice from 2 oranges (about 1 cup)
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  1. Combine cranberries, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and salt in a medium saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and cranberries have burst, about 15 minutes.
  3. Pour the cranberry sauce into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap against the sauce. This will prevent a skin from forming on top.
  4. Let cool to room temperature; then refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to overnight.

NOTE:  If you prefer a sauce with a smoother texture, transfer the cranberry mixture to a food processor or blender after cooking, and pulse until sauce is to desired texture.

Tzatziki Sauce

Tzatziki | Pinky's Pantry
Have you ever tried Tzatziki sauce? Tzatziki is a yogurt based sauce that is very popular in Greece. Rich and creamy, Tzatziki sauce is typically served cold with grilled meat. It is also often served as a dipping sauce.

Tzatziki is best made with Greek yogurt, but if you can’t get Greek yogurt, you can use regular yogurt. It will have a runnier consistency but as long as you don’t mind that, it’s fine. Alternatively, you could make your own “greek” yogurt by taking a piece of cheesecloth, folding it in half, and then in half again so you have 4 layers. Lay the cheesecloth in a bowl, pour the yogurt into the center of the cheesecloth, then pick up the 4 corners and tie them together. Hang the cheesecloth bag over the bowl for about 2 hours or so. This will drain the water out and thicken the yogurt giving it a more “greek yogurt” consistency.

TZATZIKI SAUCE

  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ English cucumber, about 5-7 inches
  • 3-5 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh dill (or 1 Tbsp. dried)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Place the greek yogurt into a medium bowl.
  2. Finely chop the cucumber. You could also grate it, if you prefer.
  3. Add the cucumber to the yogurt.
  4. Smash, then finely mince the garlic and add to the yogurt. Start with 3 cloves first, then add more if you want it more garlicky.
  5. Add the lemon juice, dill, salt, and pepper, and stir all together well.
  6. Cover with sarap wrap and chill in refrigerator until ready to use.

NOTE:   This recipe is very versatile. I’ve given you a base to start from but you could really make it to suit your own tastes. If you like lots of cucumber, you could add more; if not, add less. If you want it more lemony, add more lemon juice; or less. Same with the garlic and dill. Just play around with the amounts till the sauce is to your liking. Otherwise, the base recipe is great as is.

Tzatziki will keep for a few days in the refrigerator, but as it sits, water from the yogurt and the cucumbers will separate. Just stir it well before serving. Or for a thicker consistency, you could pour out the water and then stir the sauce.

Coffee Cream Sauce

Coffee Cream Sauce | Pinky's Pantry
I created this sauce to serve with my Coffee Panna Cotta but it could be used as a sauce for ice cream, chocolate soufflé, pound cake, or anything else you might want to serve with a dessert sauce. I cook it just until it’s heated through and the cream cheese is completely melted. If it comes to a boil, take it off the heat. I wouldn’t let it cook for too long or it might become too thick to pour.

COFFEE CREAM SAUCE

  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 8-oz. box cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp. instant espresso or coffee granules
  • 1 tbsp. butter or margarine
  1. Place all ingredients except the butter into a small saucepan.
  2. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously with a wire whisk, until mixture is smooth and well blended. You don’t need to bring it to a boil.
  3. Remove from heat and whisk in butter.
  4. Cool completely before serving.

NOTE:  You can store this sauce for up to a week in the refrigerator but it will thicken when it’s chilled. To use, warm it for 30 seconds or so in the microwave. If it’s still too thick, stir in a little cream or milk until it reaches a pourable consistency.