Soul Searching Twenty-Something Seeks Food Love: Settles For Food Like Most Days

Soul Searching Twenty-Something Seeks Food Love: Settles For Food Like Most Days

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Vegan Brunch: Take 2 or How I became Food-Addicted. . .

What makes for a better brunch than stacks of dense, rich stuffed french toast, oozing cream cheese, apples, walnuts, and REAL maple syrup, lightly dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar???

Stacks of dense, rich stuffed french toast, oozing cream cheese, apples, walnuts, and REAL maple syrup, lightly dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar that just happen to be vegan!

And if there is something that screams "HEAVENLY BRUNCH" more than this, I'm not sure that I've discovered it yet.

As a child, I was used to french toast meaning white bread, dipped in eggs and vanilla, fried and doused in Mrs. Butterworth.  I'm sure that while my eight year old self sat pouring high fructose corn syrup over my WonderBread and talking to the syrup bottle, I didn't believe that life got any better than this.

But it did!

I would venture to say that I did not go into the kitchen until I was in college, or, if I went into the kitchen before than, it was to pour a bowl of cereal or maybe toast a Pop-tart.  I was not food-obsessed from birth.  I was raised in an average suburb of a very small city, where throwing stuff in a pot and calling it casserole was dinner three nights a week (and let me say, to this day, sometimes dinner consists of Hodge-Podge in a Pot meals).

When I went away to school, I desparately needed a job my sophomore year of college.  My experience around food consisted of working over the summer in a soft serve ice cream shop for one year and waiting tables at a Friendly's (and if anything is the opposite of gourmet. . .). . .

I applied to be a bar cook at the red-neck-iest of dive bars.  I got the job and learned how to operate a fryer very quickly.  But I also was responsible for cooking the weekend specials, which included things like crab cakes (from scratch) and prime rib.  I would spend slower nights peeling potatoes for mashed potatoes and preparing pizza dough.  I learned alot of kitchen basics in the little bar, from food prep safety to how to work a meat grinder to mixing up a lovely barbeque sauce.

My aunt encouraged me to apply to wait tables at a lovely little BYOB in Chambersburg for a little bit of extra money.  I found out in the interview that there was a little barrier.  The catch was, no one was allowed to work the dining room until they had become familiar with the kitchen and menu, by working as a prep cook in the kitchen on Sunday.  My meager bar experience, although quickly developing my cooking skills, was not quite on par with the menu challenges and pace of a real restaurant kitchen. 

The chef/proprieter Deb had faith in me, for some reason, and I was there, the next Sunday, making tray after tray of stuffed french toast, grilling huge salmon filets, and whipping up hollandaise for eggs benedict, en masse.  I learned to make crepes, perfect lemon pancakes with fresh fruit, and whip up tasty omelettes.  Before too long, I had sharpened my teeth on the basics of cooking and had earned a spot working the front of house, where I really came into my stride.  It was the mentorship of Chef Deb, the faith that she had in me, and the patience that she provided for my learning curve that helped to expose me to the love of food that was innate in me. 

Recently, the restaurant has closed down.  When I found out, I cried.  It was a pivotal place for me.  And to think no one would be eating Deb's stuffed french toast on Sunday mornings--it was a tragedy!

For some reason, I have had a hankering for french toast lately.  Fortunately, a big excuse to make it has come up.  My "day" job consists of managing a Starbucks (come visit me in West Chester, PA), where I am a district coffee specialist, with a real passion for pairing food and coffee together to create lovely taste combinations.  I was invited to provide a coffee tasting for several of the upper management for our division (which covers the whole northeastern quadrant of our country) this morning. 

My parameters:  use Komodo Dragon, and earthy, herbaly, spicy, intense blend with complex and subtle flavors and a hint of acidity.  What does it say on the bag?  Enjoy with cinnamon dusted french toast!

FINALLY, I thought!  Deb, I will ressurrect the flavors of your stuffed french toast (to the best of my memory) in a vegan treat that is simple to make and impressive to even the meatiest of eaters.

Feeling adventurous?  Make your own loaf of bread!  I love baking bread, and guarantee that sooner or later, you will have some great breads on this site to try.  Unfortunately, It was nine o'clock last night when I got started and I needed to be in professional dress at the regional office at 7 o'clock this morning--not a recipe for baking homemade bread.

Always use the best ingredients that you can, but know when and how you can substitute.  This recipe is trained-monkey-easy as I'm about to present it to you, but if time and resources aren't an issue for you, step it up a notch ;)  I'm throwing in parenthesis some upgrades for you to try!

When I bake, I measure.  The truth is, when i cook, I tend to chuck things in a pot and see how it goes.  Forgive my flubby measurements.

You'll need:
1 Stick of Earth Balance
1/2 c (ish) of Soy Milk
(Vanilla or regular will work)
1 Tbsp (ish) of GOOD QUALITY Vanilla Extract
Generous sprinklings of Cinnamon
Blops of Nutmeg and Cloves
Some crushed Walnuts
(for a real treat, melt a little Earth Balance, whisk in some flavorful dark rum, toss walnuts in the "buttah" mixture, then toss them in a brown sugar and cinnamon mixture & toast--YUM!!!)
An Apple, diced (hours to prep?  try a vanilla poached pear instead:  Peel & Half an organic pear, sprinkle it with cinnamon, place it in a saucepan with  1/2 cup apple juice & 2 tsp Vanilla extract.  Simmer it for 20-25 minutes until tender--what an upgrade!)
1/2 c (ish) confectioner's sugar
1 small tub of Vegan Cream Cheese
(I like Tofutti best)
A loaf of long skinny bread (got time, make your own!)
REAL maple syrup
1. Slice your bread into approx. 1 inch pieces, with a deep cut through the middle (almost sliced entirely in half, but no quite, almost like a little tiny slider bun)
2. Whisk the confectioner's sugar into the cream cheese.  Fold in apple bits and walnuts, leaving behind enough nuts for a lovely garnish.
3.  Melt down your Earth Balance and whisk in soy milk and vanilla extract.  Pour in a bit of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.  Place mixture in a shallow bowl.
4. Mist (lightly) a non-stick skillet with a cooking oil and heat it on medium heat.
5. Stuff each bread bit with a spoonful of the cream cheese mixture, dip both sides in the "buttah" mixture, and place it in the skillet until the first side in a nice medium brown.  Flip it and brown the other side.
6. Present each piece (or two) on a plate with a fan of thin apple (or pear) slices, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and a light drizzle of REAL maple syrup.  Garnish with a few walnuts. 
7. ENJOY!!!!!! 


Oh, and my coffee presentation today. . . it was a big hit!  One of the Regional Vice Presidents actually went for seconds of my french toast.  And the cincher. . . I NEVER once mentioned that it was VEGAN. . . None of them knew any better that they had just had a tasty, ETHICAL breakfast. 

Let's add one point to the Guerilla Veganist!

If you are lucky, you have a great Indonesian coffee and a drizzly morning to pair perfectly with your french toast.  I can't wait to make the proper homemade bread, poached pears, and candied walnuts version of this recipe on my next lazy day off.  The cheater's version was so good, I am sure the "proper" verson of stuffed french toast a la chef Deb will be an astronomical improvement.

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