Sweet Little Friands: Something New for Easter Brunch

Meet my sweet little friend, the Friand. I first discovered friands (free-onds) last spring when I was searching Pinterest for some new baking recipes, and was immediately attracted to their lovely presentation and unique oval shape. I knew that this was a specialty I had to make for Tony and Gio, who are now happily on the friand bandwagon.

Wildly popular in Australia and New Zealand but little known elsewhere, friands are charming almond tea cakes similar to the French financier. I confess, I loved discovering a darling new treat that no one else I knew was making. Even better:  In spite of their elegant, refined appearance, friands are surprisingly easy to make and the batter can be prepared up to two days in advance. Seriously, what’s not to love?

I have adapted our recipe from the Australian blog, “What Katie Ate.” While her recipe uses measurements in grams, I’ve converted our version to the American measuring system in case you don’t have a scale to use at home.

Their unusual oval shape makes them the perfect choice for an Easter brunch, but finding the correct pan can be difficult here in the States. After a bit of searching online last year, I found several silicone options available at Amazon.com for under $25. I’ve also used a mini-muffin pan with great results – the friands won’t have their signature oval shape, but they’ll be bite-size darling and just as delicious.

What makes these cakes so special isn’t just their shape. Friands are made with almond flour, which creates a wonderful flavor and texture. Almond flour is easily found in our local grocery stores and can be stored for up to one year in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

The cakes may look like some version of a muffin, but the similarity stops there. Friands have a crispy top with a moist, almost-gooey inside, similar to a Petit Four. They are typically made with egg whites, and this fuss-free recipe only requires you to mix them for a few seconds until they are just combined. I usually count to ten, but (very) recently I felt like mixing them longer, which resulted in all of my berries sinking to the bottom of the cake. Lesson learned – they still tasted great, but weren’t as eye-catching as the ones with fruit on top (see pic below).

Melted butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and a small amount of all-purpose flour round out the rest of the ingredients. This past weekend I attempted to make gluten-free friands by using a gluten-free version of all-purpose flour, but the results were less than thrilling. I’ll keep working on this recipe and will post an update on our blog once I’ve found the right balance.

I love the versatility of friands. You can play around with a wide variety of flavors and are limited only by your imagination. Today’s photos feature raspberry, blueberry and vanilla friands, but we’ve also made them with sliced apple, blackberries, strawberries, citrus zest, chopped up chocolate pieces, and even crushed Oreo cookies (a bit of genius from Gio, as they were delicious).

Friands can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days. I’ve read that they freeze well for up to three months, but honestly, I’ll have to take their word for it: ours have never hung around long enough to find out.

CLICK HERE for the RECIPE for Raspberry Friands

Strata, Schmata: this is one delicious Eggbake!

Welcome to part two in our Easter Menu Series. Last week we found our inspiration in a new recipe from Down Under, but this week we’re hearkening back to an old family favorite with a recipe for Easter egg strata.

My mother has served this egg bake on Easter Sunday many times, and she often pairs it with fresh fruit, homemade cinnamon rolls and an apple sausage breakfast ring. This year we’ll be adding the Australian friands from last week’s column to round out our brunch menu.

Our family’s recipe comes from the cookbook “Entertaining with Imagination,” which was produced locally in 1978 by the Lake Agassiz Arts Council (now known as The Arts Partnership). The cookbook features hundreds of interesting recipes, all contributed by area residents to benefit local arts programs. To my surprise and delight, a quick online search revealed that used copies are currently available online for purchase via Amazon.com.

Today’s recipe was contributed by Mrs. J. Robert (Lois) Hanson, whose husband was the much-beloved conductor of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra from 1974 to 1990. The recipe appears in the cookbook under the title “Breakfast Brunch Dish,” but my family has always called it “Easter Egg Strata.”

A strata is similar to a frittata or quiche, and was originally made by layering the bread and filling to create layers, or strata, in the dish. However, this recipe follows the simpler technique of a bread pudding by mixing everything together in one dish.

We love this recipe for several reasons. Mrs. Hanson’s egg strata is visually appealing, moist, cheesy and delicious. But, perhaps best of all, it is extremely easy to make. The recipe calls for eight slices of bread, and we recommend using Breadsmith’s Rustic Italian or French bread as their thicker texture helps to better absorb the liquid. However, day-old or even stale bread will also work great.

After removing the crust from the bread, I cut it into cubes and set it aside. Next, I beat 8 eggs together – a special gift for this occasion from our friend Renee Clasen, whose chickens produce gorgeous, farm-fresh eggs in a delightful variety of natural colors.

Mrs. Hanson’s recipe also includes one pound of grated sharp cheddar cheese, and to further simplify the process I decided to use the grating attachment on my food processor. I’d never tried this before, but I’ll definitely be using it again, because that pound of cheese was grated in about 60 seconds.

To experiment, I decided to make one strata with regular sharp cheddar (I used Cracker Barrel), and one with a good-quality white cheddar. Both were delicious, but Tony and I preferred the creamy, full flavor of the white cheddar version just a bit more.

Whole milk, salt and dry mustard powder make up the remaining ingredients, but you could also use a mixture of lower-fat milk and half-and-half.

The strata needs to be refrigerated for several hours before baking, which enables the bread to fully absorb the egg, milk and cheese mixture, and overnight is even better. The dish will puff up quite a bit as it bakes, but expect it to deflate after removing from the oven. Allow it to stand for about five to ten minutes before serving.

The recipe is perfect as is, but use your imagination to enhance it by changing the type of cheese or adding meat, fresh herbs, veggies, or smoked salmon. We’re sure Mrs. Hanson won’t object.

CLICK HERE for our Easter Egg Strata RECIPE

Today is National Pancake Day!

In honor of National Pancake Day, which happens to be today, we’re offering an encore feature of our Homemade Bacon Pancakes column and recipe from last summer. We shot these photos on a  beautifully bright and sunny July day, which seems almost like another lifetime ago after this long and particularly harsh winter. I think it’s time to break up with Old Man Winter, but until that happens – Enjoy!

“These might be the best pancakes I’ve ever had.” This was the first comment from our Forum photographer, Logan, as he tasted the featured subject of our recent photo shoot for today’s column. With praise like that, we knew we were on the right course with our recipe for a breakfast specialty we call Homemade Bacon Pancakes.

As a “restaurant family,” breakfast is our special time to sit and eat a meal together.   Tony is usually the master of the breakfast menu, and Gio and I have been only too happy to sit back and enjoy the meal. A family favorite has always been pancakes, and up until recently Tony has been a big fan of Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix.

However, our twenty-year-old griddle quit working several months ago and I finally found a good replacement for it just before Father’s Day. Gio and I wanted to make a special breakfast for Tony, and decided that we would depart from our usual box mix pancakes and attempt to make our own from scratch.

Homemade pancakes are surprisingly easy to make, and the result is a pancake that is superior to anything made from a box. What makes these pancakes even more special is a tip I learned from my cousin, Zack Berger, when he was visiting our family last summer.

Zack made Bisquick pancakes for us each morning, which took on a new identity after he cooked them in a bit of bacon grease. Quite simply, they tasted amazing, better and different than any other pancakes I’ve had. I knew I had to make these one day for Tony.

According to Tony, bacon and pancakes were made for each other, and after enjoying his Father’s Day treat he says he will never use box pancakes again. Bacon fat can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three months, but  if you cook the bacon just before the pancakes you’ll have a proper breakfast waiting for you when you finish.

Our recipe makes about ten medium-sized pancakes, and consists of just seven ingredients, all of which are common pantry staples. I often use sea salt when I bake or make sweet foods, and it’s a perfect fit for this recipe. A touch of vanilla added to the mix adds flavor and depth to the pancakes, and enhances the made-from-scratch experience.

We recently started using Dakota Maid all-purpose flour, which seems to be lighter and better-sifted than other brands, and we truly believe it improved the overall quality of our pancakes.

These pancakes are slightly sweet with a texture that is light, fluffy, airy and soft. To achieve this perfect texture, mix the batter until it is just a little bit lumpy – the lumps should be small but still present.

Bubbly little holes will begin to appear as the pancakes start cooking, but wait about two minutes after they surface before flipping the cake.

Cooking the pancakes in bacon grease doesn’t make them taste like bacon, but it does ensure that each cake has a wonderful, golden-brown crust which doesn’t happen when butter, oil or cooking spray is used.

We’re in Delaware this week, celebrating a family reunion dubbed Schmeckfest by my extended Anstett family (of German-from-Russia heritage), and we can’t wait to make our version of Bacon Pancakes for Zack and the gang. We serve our Bacon Pancakes with a pat of butter, pure maple syrup (Tony is Canadian, after all), a simple fresh fruit salad and, of course, bacon.

Homemade Bacon Pancakes

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ Tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 ¼ cup milk or buttermilk (start with 1 cup and add more as needed, up to 1 ¼ cup)
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 Tablespoons butter, melted

Directions:
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the egg, 1 cup of milk and vanilla together, then lightly incorporate 1 cup of the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Once the ingredients have just come together, stir in the melted butter until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mix, and gently stir just until the mixture is somewhat smooth, but still has small lumps. If too thick, add the remaining ¼ cup of milk.

Heat the griddle or pan to medium-high (approx. 350 degrees). Once the surface is hot, lightly grease with bacon fat. Use a ladle or 1/4 measuring cup to pour the batter onto the hot surface, leaving space between each cake.

As the pancakes cook, bubbly little holes will start to appear, but continue to cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer before flipping. Cook for about 2 to 3 more minutes, until golden brown on both sides. Serve hot with pure maple syrup and enjoy!

Easy Fresh Fruit Salad Recipe

 

Breakfast with Tony, via Lisa Lee

This morning on North Dakota Today, Tony shared one of our favorite breakfast recipes: the easy-to-make but oh, so delicious, One-Pan Fried Egg Sandwich.

This breakfast sandwich was first featured in a post I wrote last December, inspired by the goodies I’d brought home from a recent trip to the (now-closed) Green Market. Tony fell in love with this sandwich, not only for its taste, but also for its simplicity. All of the components for this sandwich can be prepared with one pan and a toaster. What’s not to like?

Originally, this sandwich was made with fennel bread from the Green Market, but we haven’t been able to find any bread close to that since they closed last spring. So we turned to our friend, Lisa Lee Sawyer, for her recommendation.

Lisa Lee is a marvelous cook and baker. When she’s not busy with her other passion as a a Doctor of Music at Concordia College, Lisa Lee bakes all of her own bread, each loaf a treat of its own. We knew she would be able to tell us where to get a good loaf of bread for Tony’s appearance on North Dakota Today..

Turns out, she did us one better. She decided to experiment with fennel, and ended up making us several loaves of her very own fennel bread. Delicious doesn’t even begin to describe this bread – to say that we could taste the love in every bite would be an understatement.

This is what we love about living in the world of food: It’s a world that encourages sharing, and an open-mindedness to try new foods and recipes. Food is a universal language, one that every person speaks in her own way.We feel blessed to have a friend like Lisa Lee in our lives, and thank her for sharing her culinary talent and passion for good food with us.

When we don’t have Lisa Lee’s artisanal breads at home we will usually pay a visit to Breadsmith to see what they have in their daily selection, but any good toasting bread will work.

Everything but the toast is made in one pan, but if you use a large pan or griddle you could cook everything together, including the bread. This sandwich is healthy, delicious, and loaded with the vitamins, protein and nutrients you need to start your day off right. Enjoy!

For just the recipe, CLICK HERE: One-Pan Fried Egg Sandwich

CLICK HERE to watch Tony make our One-Pan Fried Egg Sandwich

The Lost Italian’s One-Pan Fried Egg Sandwich

Ingredients:
2 pieces of good bread, toasted or griddled and buttered (we love to use artisanal fennel, sourdough, rye or whole wheat English muffins)
1 slice Canadian bacon
1 heaping cup fresh spinach leaves, washed
1 slice American cheese (any cheese with good melting properties will work)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Heat the oil in  medium sauté pan over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Crack the egg and tilt the pan to keep the egg from spreading around. Use a rubber spatula to push the edges back toward the center if necessary.

Cook for about a minute and then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for three to four minutes, until the whites are opaque and the yolk is slightly firm. Flip the egg over and add the spinach and Canadian bacon to the pan.

Pop the sliced bread into the toaster at this time, and butter each piece as soon as it is done. Set aside until ready to use.

Continue to cook for two to three minutes, until the yolk has reached your desired consistency (longer for over-hard, shorter for over-medium), keeping an eye on the spinach and Canadian bacon.

Flip the egg right-side up again and season with salt and pepper to taste. Turn the Canadian bacon over and cook for another minute. Place the slice of cheese on top of the egg, turn the Canadian bacon over and allow everything to cook for another minute or two, until the cheese has melted, the spinach has wilted, and both sides of the Canadian bacaon are lightly browned.

Place the fried egg on a piece of buttered toast, add the Canadian bacon, then the spinach, and sit back to enjoy this quick, easy and delicious breakfast sandwich!

You can find Tony online at www.thelostitalian.com, on Twitter at @thelostitalian, on Facebook at Sarello’s & The Lost Italian page, and always at Sarello’s Restaurant in downtown Moorhead!

Sarello’s Restaurant & Wine Lounge
28 Center Mall Avenue
Moorhead, MN 56560
218.287.0238
www.sarellos.com
Just north of the Center Mall Parking Ramp