- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

January is the longest month of the year. At least it seems that way. Although it’s not the only 31-day month, January is the only one that seems like twice the length, with each day more blustery than the one before.

If I had my druthers, I’d skip the month and burrow under the covers until February. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury, and I’ll bet you don’t either. That’s why I plan to pamper myself with foods that give me some incentive to get out of bed.

As much as I advocate cold high-fiber breakfast cereals for their health value, I’ll save those for later in the year. What I want now are hot, comforting meals that warm my body and soul for the days ahead.

French toast fits the need perfectly. It’s the culinary equivalent of a down comforter. The nutty aroma of butter sizzling in a skillet awakens my senses. The texture of well-made french toast is crisp on the outside and tender in the center. The flavor is rich and creamy, like that of custard.

To achieve this perfection doesn’t require much skill, but it does demand quality ingredients. Here are my five rules for making french toast worth setting my feet on the floor for:

1. Skip any bread fresher than the most recent snowfall (or rainfall, if you’re in a sunny clime). Bread should be firm so it doesn’t turn to mush.

2. Sliced bread should be thinner than the snow piled up next to the driveway. If bread is too thick, it won’t soak up the batter.

3. Don’t use fat-free substitutes, although low-fat products are acceptable. A little extra fat provides fuel for getting through the day.

4. More is always better; don’t stint. Add a luscious filling of ricotta and cream cheese to french toast to enhance the flavor.

5. Invite the other half of Two’s Company to join you. January is too long to be spent eating french toast alone.

Stuffed french toast with rum-glazed apple

Rum-glazed apple (recipe follows)

½ cup low-fat ricotta cheese

1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese

2 teaspoons sugar

1 to 2 teaspoons milk, plus ½ cup milk, divided

4 ½-inch thick slices French bread

1 tablespoon butter

2 eggs

Prepare rum-glazed apples and set aside. Cream ricotta cheese, cream cheese and sugar together in a bowl. Stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons milk, if necessary, to make an easy-to-spread filling. Spread on 2 slices of bread. Top with the remaining two bread slices.

Melt butter in large skillet. Beat together remaining ½ cup milk and eggs in a shallow bowl. Holding sandwich, dip into egg mixture, coating both sides. Add sandwiches to skillet. Brown over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes per side. Remove from heat, cut sandwiches in half, and serve with rum-glazed apples. Makes 2 servings.

RUM-GLAZED APPLE:

1 tablespoon butter

1 large apple, unpeeled, cored and cut in ¼-inch thick slices

2 tablespoons dark rum

¼ cup maple syrup

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Melt butter in medium skillet. Add apple slices, and saute 2 minutes or until golden. Add rum, and cook over high heat 1 minute or until liquid evaporates by half. Add maple syrup, cinnamon, salt and walnuts. Heat through.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES INTERNATIONAL

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