Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Power of Cheese, Tho

One of my favorite commercial campaigns was the American Dairy Council’s series on The Power of Cheese. Originally the slogan was “Behold the Power of Cheese!” I personally think this was funnier than its replacement, “Ah, the Power of Cheese,” but I supposed the religious nuts claimed such a Biblical-sounding phrase was deifying cheese or something.

cheesefactsActually, if I weren’t a nice, Catholic girl, I could happily accept cheese as my god. I’m not talking about snooty cheese, which I define as anything that reeks or has a French-sounding name (often these two criteria coincide; have you heard of Casa marzu?). Nope. For me, cheese = Cheddar, mozzarella, Colby Jack. I don’t really consider Parmesan a cheese, as I only consume it ground up into a powder. Cheese dust. I am also perfectly content to accept “cheese food,” which I believe is made of petroleum and asbestos or something. Cheese food, as expressed in such wonders of technology as Cheese Whiz and Easy Cheese easycheese(squirtable cheese in a can! Oh, brave new world!) has the most important characteristic of anything claiming to be cheese(like): it melts.

This is important: Cheese is never to be eaten in its natural state. It must always be melted into an ooey-gooey sludge.

Here are two of my favorite sludgy cheese recipes.

Grilled Cheese Flatbread Paninis

Ingredients

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Easy with TS products

Sun-Dried Tomato Flatbread Mix from Tastefully Simple

Roasted Garlic Infused Oil

Cheddar or American cheese, shredded

Pepperonis (regular or mini)

Method

 

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I go easy on the spices included with the flatbread mix. They’re potent!

Prepare the Sun-Dried Tomato Flatbread Mix as directed on package.

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When baked and cooled, turn a flatbread seasoned-side down. Heap a lot of tasty cheese on the bread and top with pepperonis. Place another flatbread seasoned-side up on top. Cook in a panini press or grill until cheese is ooey-gooey and both sides of the flatbread are nicely browned.

 

Crunchy Sesame Pretzel Baked Cheese Sticks

Ingredients

8 individual mozzarella string cheeses, cut in half

1/3 cup flour (whole wheat or all-purpose)

2 egg whites

1 egg

1 tsp. Garlic GarlicTM Seasoning

½-1 cup Crunchy Sesame Pretzel Breading

1 Tbsp. Pizzeria Seasoning

Olive oil cooking spray

Method:

Place cheese sticks in a resealable plastic bag with flour and shake to coat.

Whisk together egg whites, egg and Garlic Garlic Seasoning.

Mix Crunchy Sesame Pretzel Breading and Pizzeria Seasoning.

In their unbaked state, your coated cheese sticks will look startlingly like something you scooped out of a litterbox. Do not be alarmed by this! All will be well.

Dip each flour-coated cheese stick into the egg mixture, then roll in breading mix until thoroughly coated. Then dip the stick into the egg mixture again, and again into the breading. Repeat with all cheese sticks.

Place cheese sticks in a freezer-safe container and freeze for at least 15 minutes (or overnight).

Preheat oven to 475°F. Coat each frozen cheese stick with olive oil cooking spray and place them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Bake 12 minutes or until coating is golden brown and cheese is ooey-gooey inside. Serve with marinara sauce as a dip, if desired.

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I like to eat these tasty cheese foods with tomato soup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Nerd Life


I was 12 years old when the original Star Wars came out. I have a clear memory of sitting on the living room carpet with my then-best-friend Wendy, playing some game, when a commercial preview for it came on TV. “It’s too bad movies like that never get very popular,” I remarked. Shows how much I know about the entertainment industry.

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The Original Gang in their brightly colored jimmies! I wanted to be Yeoman Janice Rand

I’ve been a sci-fi nerd since earliest childhood, as my brother, 10 years older, generally controlled the TV when my Dad wasn’t home to commandeer it. (Dad had a succinct, definitive opinion of science fiction programming and scary TV shows and anything that seemed a little sexy: “Garbage show.” You didn’t watch garbage shows when Dad was in the room.)

 

The original Star Trek series was my first cult fandom, though I was too young to remember its original run. It used to play in reruns (now called “encore presentations”) every weeknight at 5:00. My bro loved Star Trek, so I became very familiar with it. There was a time when I could answer any trivia question about Trek you might throw at me. Recently, I couldn’t even remember the name of the actor who played Kevin Reilly (Bruce Hyde, BTW). I am ashamed.

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Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor: One Strange Dude

I discovered Doctor Who sometime in the mid-70s. We’re talking Classic Who, of course. I came in on Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor, and Sara Jane Smith was his companion. I remembered loving Sara Jane and wondering how they let somebody with such an obvious drug problem as Tom Baker appear on television. (Of course, I understand now that while Tom has indeed ingested a wide variety of chemicals in his life, in this case he was only playing the part of a very strange alien.) Doctor Who inspired my very first act of protest: when the local affiliate abruptly dropped the series – on a cliffhanger! – I wrote a letter of complaint to the station. When the show came back a few years later, this time on the PBS affiliate, I got into it again. Really, really into it. It used to air at 12:30 am, and I had to stay awake through EastEnders.

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“Four to Doomsday,” featuring Peter Davison’s 5th Doctor (my second-favorite, after Colin Baker’s 6th Doctor – a controversial choice, I know)

This was before we had a VCR, so I used to set my cassette tape recorder next to the TV and record the episodes. Not long ago I found a tape of “Four to Doomsday,” a 5th Doctor episode. Too bad I no longer have a tape recorder to play it on.

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In college, I was all about Star Trek: The Next Generation. While living in off-campus housing, my niece Amy, who was living in the dorms, would come over on Friday nights for pizza and the week’s ST:TNG episode. Good times.

The 90s’ were the X Files years, of course. I shipped Mulder and Scully hard through nine seasons, only to experience a deep sting of betrayal when it was revealed near the end that they’d been sleeping together for years; it just hadn’t come up as a plot point. I won’t forgive you for that, Chris Carter.

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Cheated! Cheated!

Maybe that was what turned me off sci-fi in the first decade of the new millennium. I missed Farscape, Stargate (in all its iterations), Heroes, Battlestar Galactica. I skipped the Star Wars prequels, something that would have been unthinkable to my 11-year-old self. I know nothing of the Matrix movies, or the Star Trek reboot movies or anything involving grown men in tights and masks.

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This series also cheated viewers out of a long-awaited consummation between Connor and Abby. What a rip-off.

I did become briefly obsessed with a British series, “Primeval,” (mostly for my unwholesome lust for the nerdy character Connor; actor Andrew-Lee Potts became my Age-Inappropriate British Celebrity Crush for several years).

So now I’m hearing about an X Files revival, and a fantastic new Star Wars movie and a Star Trek series reboot … and I can’t bring myself to get too excited. Does that mean I’m growing up? God, I hope not.

 

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Passing Fancies

When it comes to creative pursuits, I am an ALL-IN kind of gal. I never develop a mild interest in any new hobby; it’s always a full-on, all-consuming passion. A decade ago I was ALL-IN to cross-stitch, which prompted me to purchase every color of DMC embroidery thread, a bookcase full of patterns and instruction manuals and several different kinds of frames.

Next I was ALL-IN to polymer clay. I have an equally substantial library of books on that subject, along with a toaster oven and pasta maker dedicated to clay, boxes of molds and cutters and, of course, many pounds of little clay packets in a rainbow of colors.

Somewhere along the line I was ALL-IN to painting little plaster Christmas houses. It’s fair to say mine is not a holiday village; it’s a metropolis.

There was my stained-glass mosaic period. Now THAT was a damned expensive hobby, as it involved ordering 25 lb boxes of powdered cement, not to mention plates of glass.

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One of my last stained-glass projects, a series of stepping stones of my dead cats.

For a while I was ALL-IN to rubber stamping. You’ll find a section of my basement occupied by plastic boxes of stamps, neatly organized by theme. Also inks, embossing tinsels, rollers, stencils, embossers and papers of various weights and textures.

More recently I got ALL-IN to cake decorating. You should see my vast collection of pans, decorating tips and bags, spatulas (spatulae?), boxes of fondant and a cupboard full of flavorings.

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Lamb cake. Just one of the many cake molds I’ve collected and allowed to gather dust.

You will have noticed the pattern here. I have spent an absurd amount of money on craft supplies. I also have a regrettably short attention span. After a few months (or sometimes even less; I fell out of love with knitting the very day I got my deluxe knitting machine in the mail), I stow all my new gear in some crowded corner and embrace the Next!Big!Thing!

About a year ago now I took my first acrylic painting class, one of those community ed things where you paint the same thing as the instructor at the front of the room. LANDSCAPEAlthough I found the surrealistic landscape we created a bit bizarre, I was instantly ALL IN to painting. There following the customary shopping spree: canvases, easels, brushes of every size and shape, instruction books, color-matching reference guides and paints, paints, paints!

I began to specialize in painting pets – mostly dead ones. (Not their corpses; memorial photos of them in their prime.) I painted a couple of the dogs I pet-sat while they were alive; a coworker’s friend’s cat; a few more canines.

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Actress Barbara Niven with my painting of her recently deceased pet, Bammer. Despite her pained expression, she declared herself pleased with my gift.

My artistic frenzy reached its peak when I painted the cat of a celebrity I’d been following on Twitter. I actually got a nice thank-you video from her in response.

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I took a brief, ill-considered detour into landscapes and portraiture (this is a picture of the Beldons from the TV show “Cedar Cove,” outside their bed and breakfast.

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Neighbor dog Cody, the project that finally broke me of my painting obsession.

This past weekend I completed a painting of Cody, the dog next door. It was like pulling teeth. I would have thrown the canvas in a snowbank if my mother hadn’t goaded me to finish it (the neighbor was expecting it). By the time I made the last tiny brush stroke of his fur, I knew my painting period was over. Don’t bother trying to commission me for your dead animal; as is my custom, I’ve moved from ALL IN to ALL DONE.

What’s next? Well, I’ve been teaching myself to make animated .gif sets of celebrity crushes. That seems like a worthwhile use of my time. Trouble is, my old laptop has a hard time running the high-end graphics programs I need to use. Guess I’d better head on over to Amazon to see what they’ve got available in super-fast laptops. My tax refund will be coming through any day now …

 

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I’ve Got Some (Meat)Balls!

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Big Balls, Little Balls

hilariousmeatballsIn the 1979 film “Meatballs,” Bill Murray plays a wacky camp counselor who leads a ragtag band of misfit campers on a series of zany adventures. This is not their story.

It is, however, a meatball story. As in, chunks of meat formed into roughly ball-like shapes and cooked in some way. Our always-helpful friends at Wikipedia tell me that meatballs were invented by the Chinese (naturally; they invented everything) and date back to the Quin Dynasty (221 BC – 207 BC).

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Wikipedia also lists 22 European variations on the meatball, four from the Americas, four from the Middle East and five from the East and SE Asia. Apparently they don’t eat meatballs in Africa?

rubberyballsGiven their ubiquity across most of the world, it’s surprising that I have had only a passing acquaintance with this particular edible. As a child my only exposure to meatballs was in Chef Boyardee’s Spaghettios; these meatballs were about the same size as a rubber Super Ball and roughly the same consistency. I loved them intensely. (But don’t get me started on Spaghettios with Sliced Franks – an abomination!)

Some time later I was introduced to cocktail meatballs, ping-pong-ball-sized spheres made in a crockpot with a jar each of chili sauce and grape jelly. I assumed this was the ultimate expression of meatballdom. Like David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, the chili/grape cocktail meatball was surely the Platonic Ideal Form of its species.

Then a few years ago my niece, a gifted chef, had a recipe published in a magazine. It was a single meatball, big as a teacup poodle. What’s this? Is it possible there is a wider diversity of meatballs than I imagined? Yes.

I recently discovered a quite delicious recipe for cocktail meatballs that are highly exotic in the sense that they aren’t made of hamburger and don’t swim in tasty chili/jelly sauce. Madness, you say! If you doubt me, try them yourself. As usual, I’ve morphed the original recipe into something slightly different by using my inventory of Tastefully Simple products.

Cheesy Chicken Pizza Bites

Ingredients

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A few simple ingredients, none of which are chili sauce, grape jelly or hamburger

1 lb. ground chicken
1 T Tastefully Simple Pizzeria Seasoning
¼ cup Tastefully Simple Crunchy Sesame Pretzel Breading
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
Sriracha Ranch Dip Mix, prepared, for dipping (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine ground chicken, Pizzeria Seasoning, Crunchy Sesame Pretzel Breading and half the cheese until well combined.

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These balls are naked and afraid

Shape into 1-inch balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper

Bake 15 minutes; top with remaining cheese and bake another 2-3 minutes until cheese is melted.

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Serve warm with Sriracha Ranch Dip Mix or your favorite dip.

IDEA: It occurs to me that you might take these little fellas right over the top by wrapping each one in a little piece of bacon, secured with a toothpick, before baking.

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The big balls are featured in a previous posting.

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Walkin’ (It Out) on Sunshine

Years ago, in an effort to better relate to my then-adolescent nephew, I purchased a used Playstation and a simple game: Shrek’s Treasure Hunt. I grew up in the put-a-quarter-in-it arcade era, with games like Pac-Man, Centipede and Frogger, and while I was never very good at any of them, I could at least figure out what I was supposed to do. Mostly it involved pushing a joy stick around and punching a button to shoot stuff.

Thus I embarked on my Playstation adventure with at least a modest expectation of success. The Shrek game was rated for ages 3 and up – a toddler game. Indeed, the object of the exercise was baby simple: guide Shrek along a forest path and pick up items for his picnic basket along the way.

shrektreasurehuntUnfortunately, my attempt to inhabit the ogre’s hulking form and help him reach his goals was a disaster. No matter what buttons I pushed or how I manipulated the tiny joy stick on the controller, all Shrek did was stand there and twitch like some poor soul afflicted with an advanced case of palsy. Finally I gave up in disgust, leaving Shrek to starve to death with an empty picnic basket, assuming he didn’t die of his neuro-muscular disorder first.

I was reminded of this painful chapter in my past when I obtained a new exercise program for my (dust-covered) Wii system. It’s called “Walk It Out!” and it is supposed to make getting fit F-U-N! Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. The dorky dad in the trailer certainly seems to enjoy it, though (I wonder who that actor is, and whether he lists this credit on his resume.)happydad

Like Shrek’s Treasure Hunt, the concept here is simple: walk around Rhythm Island in time to upbeat music, collecting points for stepping in time (or almost in time; the game is fairly generous) to the beat. You use these points to open up new areas of territory to explore, construct buildings, trees and other environmental features, and unlock additional music. Katrina & the Waves, the Go-Gos and the sort of Japanese techno-pop that you get with Dance! Dance! Revolution feature prominently in the start-up rotation.

rhythmislandI set up my account and selected my Avatar, which turned out to be a fairly butch-looking “feminine” variation on the basic androgynous template. I am guided by a cartoon fitness coach whose name I didn’t bother to learn (I don’t need to know her that well). She speaks in a childlike, “Dora the Explorer” voice, so let’s just call her Coach Dora.

To my credit, almost a week into playing this game I have mastered the most fundamental task: walking. Take THAT, Shrek! But using my accrued points to construct stuff involves “shooting” capsules along the path (I’m having flashbacks to that damned picnic basket). Sadly, simultaneously walking and shooting demands a level of physical dexterity I do not possess, so I am forced to stop moving, then shoot – kind of like the athletes of the biathlon at the Olympics. But you don’t get medals for stopping in Walk It Out. No, sir. You don’t earn any points unless your feet are moving to the beat, and an angry black cloud, like the tornado of debris that surrounds PigPen in the Charlie Brown comics, appears over your head. Moreover, if you miss your target, you LOSE points. What the hell, Coach Cora. This is no way to build morale.

Unlocking anything interesting (like a suspension bridge or a video arcade) requires you to save up a hella lot of points. But if you go too long without shooting at something, Coach Dora pops up like a tiny devil on your shoulder to urge you to “build the island by unlocking capsules!” Since I am programmed to obey orders, I usually cave and squander my points on potted plants and trash bins. As a result, after walking several miles around Rhythm Island, I am still wandering a largely barren landscape. It’s like a post-apocalyptic no-man’s land; I keep expecting zombies to lurch out of the shadows and take me down.

When you’ve reached your goal for the session (or, more likely, have listened to “Walking on Sunshine” as many times as you can tolerate), Coach Dora will review your progress with you. You get medals for exceeding the previous session’s distance walked, calories you burned and the number of “Greats!” and “Perfects!” you compiled for stepping on the beat. She then shows you how many few elements of the island you’ve uncovered so far. She always ends with the same cheerful, if bewilderingly contradictory advice: “You did great! Just don’t push yourself too hard, okay? Try to do better next time!”

I live in fear of disappointing Dora – I’m pretty sure her eyes glow red and she starts speaking in James Earl Jones’ voice if you fail to do great, so I am pushing myself too hard and trying to do better next time. If you don’t hear from me again, it’s because I will have walked off the cliffs of Rhythm Island in despair.

 

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Game On! (not really)

footballguyHey, it’s Big Game season! This is important to my life not at all. Here’s the thing: I don’t like sports. Any kind of sports. In fact, vigorous physical movement or any kind is just not something I can endorse. I attribute my unsportsmanlike attitude to three things

  1. I possess neither athletic prowess nor physical dexterity. I am that person you do NOT want on your team. In fact, not only will I not help you win, I am likely to inadvertently increase your odds of losing (an unwilling member of a junior high basketball team, I once scored a basket for the other team).
  2. My sensitive amygdala and overactive empathy gland (I’m pretty sure that’s a real thing) mean that I experience more anguish for the guy who misses the field goal, the ice skater who falls on her butt and the center fielder who drops the pop fly than the competitors do themselves.
  3. Sports are BORING. OMG. So, so boring.

There is one aspect of the sporting life that I support unreservedly, however: tasty finger foods. I adapted the following recipe from here. My version features Tastefully Simple products, which make it even more awesome. While the rest of the world is watching the Big Game or the Final Four or whatever damned game is coming up next, I will be binge-watching Remington Steele and eating these. Perhaps if I eat enough of these I’ll finally qualify for a sport in which I could excel: sumo wrestling.

Mozzarella Pretzel Blossoms

Ingredients

Salted Pretzel Roll Mix (get it, and the other Tastefully Simple products used in this recipe here)

1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

½ c. mini pepperoni

2 T. chopped black olives

¼ c. butter, melted

1 tsp. Tastefully Simple Spinach & Herb Seasoning

1 tsp. Garlic GarlicTM Seasoning

Method:

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Prepare the pretzel rolls according to the package instructions, except make four large rolls instead of 12 small ones. (I used the “everything pretzel roll” variation on the box, topping each roll with Garlic Garlic Seasoning, Onion OnionTM Seasoning, sesame seeds and poppy seeds.)

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Tasty pretzel rolls, ready to be eviscerated.

 

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Once the rolls are baked and cooled, cut deep slits into each in a cross-wise pattern. Then pull each sliced roll slightly open to gain access to the deep innards.

 

 

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The soon-to-be guts of the pretzel roll blossoms

Mix the melted butter, Spinach & Herb Seasoning and Garlic Garlic Seasoning and pour it into the crevices of each roll. NOTE: In retrospect, it might be more effective to use a pastry brush to distribute the mixture more evenly inside the roll “blossom.”

 

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Next, stuff the mozzarella, mini pepperonis, black olives and/or any other pizza toppings you like into the crevices. Be sure to get the cheese deep into each slice.

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Seriously, how could this not be delicious?

Wrap each roll in its own little aluminum foil package and bake at 350° F for 15 minutes.

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For me? You shouldn’t have!

Unwrap and pull apart the warm, gooey-cheesy bread blossom. Consume it greedily. Experience remorse for your gluttony. Eat another.

TIP: Although I didn’t think of this until after the gluttony had been accomplished, these might benefit even more with a side of Mama Mia Marinara Sauce for dipping. I’ll try that next time.

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Mozzarella Pretzel Blossoms, the biggest winner of SportBall season.

 

 

 

 

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Citrus-Kissed Baked French Toast

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Citrus-Kissed Baked French Toast

NOTE: I have a LOT of Tastefully Simple products on hand. Occasionally on this blog I will share recipes and dishes I develop to deplete the inventory in my pantry. Featured product this time: Bountiful Beer Bread!

pirateDuring the 18th century, scurvy killed more English sailors than enemy action. That’s saying something, because during the 1700s, the Royal Navy was almost constantly fighting somebody or other, including a nine-year war with Spain over some British pirate’s ear getting cut off. Seriously, don’t mess with an Englishman’s ears; they’ll take you down hard.

We don’t hear much about scurvy these days, because most people are able to get sufficient Vitamin C (the lack of this nutrient is what causes the disease) in their diets to keep from developing weeping sores while their teeth fall out and skin turns yellow. Yay, 21st century!

That said, if anybody is a candidate for modern-day scurvy, it’s me. Fruits and vegetables aren’t really part of my regular diet because … um … I just don’t like them. However, I can occasionally be induced to ingest something almost healthy if it’s cleverly hidden in something delicious. Thus, I developed the following recipe under the pretense of “getting more citrus” in my system. True, the amount of actual ascorbic acid in this is almost negligible. But it tastes citrusy, and that’s almost the same thing as nutritious, right?

Citrus-Kissed Baked French Toast

INGREDIENTS

Tastefully Simple Bountiful Beer Bread Mix (Get it here.)
12 oz. orange soda
1 ¼ cup whole milk
¾ cup whipping cream
3 egg yolks
3 eggs
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. each fresh orange and lemon zest
1 cup orange marmalade
Lemony syrup (see recipe below)

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Ingredients for beer bread: Bountiful Beer Bread Mix, 12 oz. orange soda, 3 T melted butter

METHOD

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare Bountiful Beer Bread as directed on package, substituting 12 oz. orange soda for beer.

Bake bread 50 minutes or until lightly browned.
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Cubed beer bread. It’s a pretty light orange color!

Allow bread to cool completely; cut into 1-inch cubes.

Place cubes in an 8×8 baking dish or similar.

Gently warm 1 cup orange marmalade.

 

 

 

 

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Dollop warmed marmalade over bread cubes.

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In a large bowl, mix custard ingredients: whole milk, whipping cream, eggs, sugar and citrus zest.

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Pour custard mixture over bread cubes and marmalade. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to serve, preheat oven to 350 F. Bake bread mixture, uncovered, for 50-55 minutes or until toasty and browned.

 

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Fresh from the oven!

Remove from oven and allow to set up a few minutes.

While bread dish is baking, prepare the lemony syrup.

Lemony Syrup

INGREDIENTS

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1 ½ cups white corn syrup
3 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 T grated orange peel
1 T grated lemon peel

Mix together ingredients until sugar is dissolved; allow to stand for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend.

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Just before serving, sprinkle baked French  bread with powdered sugar and drizzle with lemony syrup.

 

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