THE RECIPE BOX - Indulge in friendship with a simple, spring brunch

THE RECIPE BOX - Indulge in friendship with a simple, spring brunch

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Now that it’s spring, what better way to fit in a visit with an old friend than by getting together for brunch, leaving plenty of time for another spring activity later that afternoon.

The seasons zip by quickly when you fill your free time on the weekends with obligations. Once the weather turns warmer, weddings, bridal and baby showers, graduations and family vacations all begin to take a chunk out of that precious free time. And so do outdoor chores: grass mowing, painting, weeding gardens, watering – and the list goes on.

When you work full-time, have a house and a family, sometimes you need to be a little more creative to enjoy the most out of the downtime you’ve got coming. Planning is often the key to success in the culinary department, but don’t rule out a spontaneous occurrence.

Did you ever just get up on a weekend day and decide, “I feel like having company over?” Now, I know people who write lists and shop once a week and I’m not one of them. My husband and I usually shop together and we like to buy meats fresh, so a trip to the market is a daily event. We then factor in what’s on sale, what looks fresh and what we feel like having.

While a planned brunch is easy enough, cost effective and won’t take all day, an impromptu meal is easy, if you have the basic kitchen staples, a little time and the desire to have fun.

This recipe for French Toast Casserole was originally provided by Donna Amalfitano in 2009. She said she likes to use it for special occasions. She received it from her coworker Susan, when she used to work for the Rhode Island Department of Health as a secretary.

Donna has been serving it ever since and enjoys the ease with which it goes together, as well as the fact that she can assemble it all the night before, store the baking dish prepped in the fridge and just pop it into the oven the day of her brunch.

She passed it along at her cousin’s bridal shower in a favorite recipe box for the bride-to-be. This recipe has been family taste-tested.

There are blackberry bushes in Donna’s yard and she loves the seasonal fruits and vegetables that are such a part of the season. One of her serving suggestions is to accompany the French Toast Casserole dish with fresh strawberries or blueberries.

“Experiment with fruit fillings if you like,” she said. Typically she will also serve fruit juice, home fries, bacon – to which she adds maple syrup – and eggs, along with fresh fruits or berries at a brunch.

Donna prefers to use Pepperidge Farm Cinnamon Bread, which she finds doesn’t need to have additional vanilla or cinnamon added. It smells wonderful as it bakes too!

Once cooked, this dish looks nice with the cinnamon swirls in the bread creating an attractive visual design. The aroma is even more appealing.

So don’t wait for the perfect time, or day. Plan a brunch get-together now to relax and chat with an old friend, or a group of them. Who knows? There may even be a chilled mimosa in the mix.

Most importantly, remember to savor all of the tastes, smells and feelings of spring. Decorate your front door, cut fresh lilacs, run your toes through the green grass and notice every little gift. Even a rain shower can be a beautiful thing if you have the right attitude.

French Toast Casserole
Ingredients for French Toast:
8 large eggs
2 cups half & half
1 cup milk
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 thick loaf of French Bread

1. Slice the loaf of French bread into 1-inch thick slices.
2. Arrange the bread in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
3. Combine the eggs, half & half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg together.
4. Pour the above mixture over the bread

Ingredients for Topping for Casserole
2 sticks butter (melted)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup walnuts
2 Tbsp. corn syrup
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1. Mix butter, brown sugar, pecans, walnuts, corn syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg all together.
2. Pour over the bread mixture.

Directions for Baking:
1. Cover the casserole with foil and place in refrigerator overnight.
2. Bake at 350 degrees covered in foil for 40 minutes.
3. Serve and Enjoy!

French Toast Casserole