Good Gourd! Pumpkin Pie French Toast!

French toast – it’s something that really takes me back to my childhood. I can vividly remember many a Saturday morning sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter while stacks of it were frying away on the griddle. Of course back then, I wouldn’t have had it any other way than the traditional method. Plain white bread, some eggs, a splash of milk, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. While there’s nothing wrong with that, my taste buds have matured significantly over the years and now I’m ready to experiment with a tried-and-true breakfast food by adding a pumpkin twist.

These days it seems like folks are obsessed with all things pumpkin. There’s pumpkin coffee, beer, pancakes, pie, muffins, cookies, and even toothpaste. Okay, maybe not the last one. Just give it time. Next year we’ll be brushing our pearly whites with a pumpkin pie paste, proven to whiten our smiles in a mere seven days. You get the point. People are seemingly out of their gourds over pumpkin. So I say let’s spread some of this gourd goodness to one of our favorite breakfast items – french toast!

It’s funny how certain dishes come to fruition. One afternoon I was mixing the filling for a pumpkin pie, when a loaf of bread on the counter caught my eye. A light bulb went off above my head and it suddenly dawned on me that if I dunked the bread in the delicious pumpkin pie filling, beautiful things could happen. As a result, the experimental recipe began on a crisp, cool Saturday evening. Here’s how I did it!

Getting ready to cook!

Now that we are ready to indulge in this sweet, rich, delightful breakfast sensation, let’s talk about some of the ingredients you’ll need.

The ingredients you will need

1 can of pumpkin puree (feel free to use fresh pumpkin if you’d like)
1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 loaf of bread
Butter for frying

Since the bread is the star of the show, I opted to use an eggy, sweet, golden Challah bread (pronounced “HAH-lah”). I didn’t just pick this Challah bread for the Challaofit  (pronounced HAH-luv-it). Bad bread puns aside, Challah was simply MADE for french toast! It is dense, slightly sweet, and eggy in texture. It may be a little bit harder to find than your generic white bread, but it’s well worth the search.

The bread

Doesn’t it just look good?! You’ll want to slice it into rather thick pieces that will be capable of soaking up lots of the sweet pumpkin liquid, while holding up during the cooking process. Slice off as many pieces as you think you’ll want to eat.

Preparing the bread for a dip

Look at that rich yellow color. There’s a slight hint of sweetness that will beautifully interact with the flavor of the pumpkin bath that you’re going to give it. Speaking of which, let’s get that going.

In a mixing bowl, combine your can of pumpkin, evaporated milk, sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla extract. Whisk all of the ingredients together until they are combined.

Combining the ingredients

You’ll have a luscious orange liquid that will just be begging for some bread. Don’t leave it waiting. Get ready to dunk your bread in this pumpkin goodness. Take your bread slices and gently place them in your mixing bowl with the pumpkin mixture.

Taking a swim

Swimming together

Let the bread spend a good amount of time in the pumpkin. Cutting the bread into thicker pieces is important because if it’s too thin, it’ll fall apart as it absorbs the liquid. Turn the bread around in the pumpkin until both sides are completely coated. While you’re doing this, get some butter melting in a frying pan or on a griddle.

Butter for frying

Once the butter has melted and is sizzling and bubbling away, get ready to add your bread! As you take the bread out of the bowl, make sure you allow all of the excess pumpkin mixture to drip away. Once the bread slices have dripped dry, add them to your pan. You should immediately hear a sizzle as the bread begins to cook.

Getting golden and beautiful

Leave the bread alone for a good three minutes or so. At that point, give the slices a flip! They should be brown and beautiful, with autumnal aromas wafting around your kitchen. Give them another three or four minutes on the other side and they should be finished!

The color we are looking for!

The final presentation will be enough to get any pumpkin fanatic into a food frenzy! I like to serve these up with a dusting of powdered sugar over the top, along with whipped cream on the side. A drizzle of syrup will complete the dish, with some toasted pecans as an optional crunchy topping. The pumpkin coating will add the perfect autumnal accompaniment to what can be a boring breakfast item.

Time to eat!

Don’t be bashful. Take that fork and DIG IN! Also, don’t think of this meal solely as breakfast food. I’m a big advocate of having breakfast at any time! I probably have breakfast food in the evening far more than I have it in the morning, but this could be a byproduct of me working a second shift job. Regardless, if the craving for pumpkin hits, you now have a new way to satisfy that desire while pleasing your sweet tooth all at the same time. Now that’s what I call killing two birds with one stone – or would it be with one gourd?

Happy eating,

The Taste Bud

Feeling Crabby

Feeling crabby? Hey, it’s Monday. At least you can take some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Mondays have been bringing a crabby feeling to folks all across the world for years, decades, centuries, possibly even millennia. Some scientists even theorize that this crabby feeling on a Monday can be traced all the way back to our dinosaur ancestors in the Jurassic period. Meanwhile in 2012, those in the work force are desperately clinging on to their good memories from the weekend, while deadlines and projects loom on the horizon. I’m reminded of that old saying about making lemonade out of lemons, except I’m going to apply it to crabs. When life gives you crabs, make crab chowder! (Something about that doesn’t sit well with me, but let’s just go with it…)

A nice, hearty chowder that is sure to lift your spirits on a Monday (or any day of the week, for that matter) is just a few simple ingredients away. Technically, it’s a crab AND corn chowder, but the crab really is the star of this show. Here’s what you’ll need to get started!

16 ounces of crab meat (I used claw meat)
3-4 slices of bacon
A few stalks of celery
1 onion
3-4 Yukon gold potatoes
Frozen corn kernels (yellow or white)
2 cups of seafood stock
1 cup of heavy cream
1 1/2 cups of whole milk
4-5 bay leaves
1 tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning
2-3 tablespoons of flour

Gathering the goods

As with all good things in life, this crab and corn chowder starts with BACON! That crabby feeling is already starting to disappear, isn’t it? Take a few slices of bacon and give them a rough chop while your big pot heats up on the stove.

Bacon gets ready to fry!

When your pot is nice and hot, throw that hunk of meat in there and listen to it sizzle!

Bacon getting crispy

After a few minutes in the pot, the fat will render out and the bacon will get crispy and brown. When it’s completely cooked, take a slotted spoon and lift your bacon out of the pot, being sure to leave as much bacon grease behind as possible. This bacon grease will eventually be used to cook your vegetables, allowing the bacon flavor to perfume its way all throughout the chowder. Set your cooked bacon on a plate, lined with some paper towels to soak up any excess grease. The bacon will be used to garnish your chowder at the end.

Crispy, crunchy, salty goodness!

Now that we have the bacon all crisped up, it’s time to turn our attention to the vegetables. Take a few celery stalks and an onion, giving both vegetables a fine dice. You don’t want the pieces too large, so it’s important to remain aware of the size of your vegetables here. Take your Yukon gold potatoes and cut them into cubes, which should be larger in size. If you cut the potatoes too small, they’ll turn to mush in the chowder and ultimately lose their shape and texture. I like using Yukon gold potatoes for this recipe because of their beautiful yellow color and their creamy texture. Be honest, did you nibble on some of that bacon while you were chopping? That’s all right. So did I.

Organization is key!

Remember all of your bacon drippings back in your big pot? They should be beckoning at this point and pleading for some company. That company would be your diced onion and celery. Add those two ingredients to the pot and let them cook over medium heat for a few minutes until they soften and get a light golden brown color.

Cooking the onions and celery

Once the onions and celery have softened, it’s time to get some spuds into the mix. Add your cubed Yukon gold potatoes and give everything a big stir.

Yukon gold potatoes

Let the potatoes cook with the onion and celery for 7 or 8 minutes. The potatoes won’t be cooked completely at this point, but that’s all right. There will be plenty of time for them to simmer once the liquid is added. At this point we need to think ahead. We are about to add a lot of liquid, but we don’t want our final product to be too runny. It’s time to add a thickener. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour on top of your celery, onion, potato mixture and stir. Leave this on the heat for about 2 minutes, to help cook out some of that raw flour taste. Now that we have added the flour, when the liquids get added to the party, everything will begin to thicken slightly to the consistency we want.

Flour will thicken things up

Now it’s time to get some liquid into this chowder, in what will begin the final stages of our meal! First, add in 2 cups of seafood stock. Luckily these days, you can find seafood stock readily available at most larger grocery stores. The stock gives a nice depth of flavor to your chowder and will give the impression that it has been bubbling away on the stove all day long. After adding the seafood stock, add several bay leaves, and a heaping tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning. The bay leaves have a nice floral aroma and the Old Bay will make you feel like you’re out on the beach at a crab boil.

Ingredients mix and mingle

So at this point you might be wondering when the crab makes its glorious appearance. That time would be right now! I used claw meat from the grocery store, but you could certainly boil and pick your own crabs, if you’re feeling ambitious. I opted to take a little bit of help from the grocery store and make things a bit easier on myself. Even if taking the simpler route, be sure to pick over the crab meat because stray shells can sneak their way in and ruin your chowder, bringing that crabby feeling back. Not good. Once you’ve looked over your crab meat get ready to dump it into the pot.

Sweet, delicious crab

The crab meat is sweet, tender, and carries a briny flavor that will make your chowder taste like the sea. Corn is a perfect addition because it mirrors some of the same sweetness that can be found in the crab. I used a few cups of frozen white corn, which is typically a bit sweeter than yellow corn kernels. Add your corn into the pot right behind your crab. When you thought this couldn’t get any better, it’s time for the addition of some dairy. We need a cup of heavy cream plus 1 1/2 cups of whole milk. This isn’t the place to skimp. Don’t think about the fat and calories. Think about the crabby feeling that prompted this whole cooking endeavor and how satisfying it’s going to be when the first spoonful passes through your lips. After all, that’s why exercise was invented, right?

Time to simmer

At this point, everything is in the pot and now it’s time to be patient and let it simmer. Partially cover your pot, lower the heat, and let the chowder simmer for about an hour or so, stirring occasionally to keep things from sticking. After about an hour, the chowder will have thickened, all of the flavors will have had a chance to marry, and the potatoes will be perfectly tender. It will be a nice creamy color, with a hint of pink from your Old Bay seasoning. Now all you need is a big bowl, a big spoon, and a BIG appetite. The big appetite won’t be a problem, because after you’ve smelled this chowder bubbling away for the past hour, you will be ravenous. Ladle out a generous portion into your bowl and don’t forget to top the chowder with a few pieces of your crispy bacon from earlier. That will be the perfect salty, crunchy finish to such a sweet and creamy chowder. The first bite is pure perfection. You get a nice hunk of hearty potato, the celery and onion singing slightly in the background, while the sweet crab and corn step up to be the stars of the show. All of those ingredients swimming in a sea of cream, milk, and stock, infused with bacon, bay leaves, and Old Bay. As a grin of total satisfaction washes over your face, the crabby feeling you had just a bit more than an hour ago will be replaced by a nicer crabby feeling. That feeling will only intensify, as each bite you take will be better than the last. So the next time Monday gives you crabs, get into the kitchen and make some chowder!

Chowder is finished!

Happy Monday and happy eating,

The Taste Bud