Three Fabulous Brunch Ideas From the Food Network

At the start of December I was planning what seems to have become an annual Holiday Brunch with a group of friends - 6 couples. It's always so much fun to organize what food to cook.  All my kids are grown and flown, so making a meal for just the 2 of us isn't all that exciting. With a bigger group I can pull out all those wonderful recipes I love making that feed 8 or more, or spread my wings and try some new ones. 

In the beginning I was looking at offering more standard brunch offerings this time around, but I ended up going with a full meal deal buffet instead. I'm not as into sweets, so love offering savoury dishes instead.  But in the process of exploring, I came across some wonderful brunch ideas on the Food Network that really caught my imagination. 

While I try to mostly share recipes here I've made so I know firsthand they're fab, I just couldn't resist creating a blog about these now.  As I get a chance to try them, I'll come back and add notes on what I thought of the final product with better photos.

And if you end up trying one (or all of these) before I do, please write in the comments of this blog what you thought - was it great, did it turn out like the recipe promised, would you change anything? I'd love to know your thoughts. Enjoy!

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Upside-Down Apple French Toast with Cranberries and Pecans
by Tyler Florence

Ingredients -

4                  Eggs
1 C              Whole milk
1 tsp            Pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp           Ground cinnamon
½                 Loaf challah bread, cut into 1"-thick slices
½ stick        Unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 C              Light brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling, divided
4                 Granny Smith apples
¼ C            Heavy cream
½ C            Pecans
½ C            Dried cranberries
Confectioners' sugar, garnish, optional

Directions -
Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a flat dish, crack eggs and add milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon. Whisk until well combined then lay challah slices in mixture to coat and absorb it all, turning occasionally.

Set a 10-inch skillet, seasoned cast iron if you have, over medium heat. Add the butter and 1 cup sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar has melted and caramelized, about 8 minutes. While the sugar is melting, peel apples, core and cut into halves. Remove from heat and gently whisk in the heavy cream. Sprinkle in the pecans, dried cranberries and gently press in the apple halves so there is a flat surface. Lay soaked slices of challah over the top so it is completely covered - you should be able to arrange the large slices and small slices so there are no gaps. Sprinkle the top with some brown sugar and place into the preheated oven. Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is golden and puffy.

When done, allow to cool for 2 to 3 minutes then invert onto a large plate. Dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired, and serve.

Chocolate-Banana Pancake Breakfast Casserole
Food Network Kitchen

Ingredients -

4 T              Unsalted butter, plus more as necessary and for greasing the baking dish
1 ¾ C          All-purpose flour
6 T              Granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp        Baking powder
1 tsp            Baking soda
Kosher salt
1 ¾ C          Buttermilk
7                  Large eggs
2 C              Half-and-half
1 tsp            Pure vanilla extract
2                 Bananas, thinly sliced
1 C             Semisweet chocolate chips
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Directions -

Butter an 8-inch square baking dish; set aside. Microwave 3 tablespoons of the butter in a small microwave-safe bowl or liquid measure to melt, 30 seconds to 1 minute. 

Whisk together the flour, 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk, 2 of the eggs and the melted butter in a small bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined.

Heat a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat; melt a little of the remaining tablespoon butter in the skillet. Working in batches, spoon 1/4 cup of batter per pancake into the skillet, and cook until the bottom is golden brown and small bubbles appear on the top, 2 to 3 minutes; flip and cook until golden brown on the other side, about 2 minutes. If the pancakes brown too quickly, reduce the heat to medium-low. Transfer the cooked pancakes to a plate. Repeat until all the batter is used, adding more butter to the pan as necessary. (You should have at least 12 pancakes.)

Whisk together the half-and-half, vanilla, the remaining 5 eggs and 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Shingle half the pancakes in the prepared baking dish. Scatter half the sliced bananas and chocolate chips over the pancakes. Pour half the egg mixture evenly over the pancakes. Repeat with the remaining pancakes, bananas, chocolate chips and egg mixture. Cover the dish with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to overnight to allow the pancakes to soak in the custard.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Remove the plastic wrap, cover the dish loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until golden brown, the custard is set and the center feels firm but springy, about 30 minutes more. Let cool 15 minutes. Dust with confectioners' sugar.

Healthy Overnight French Toast Bake
Food Network Kitchen

Ingredients -

Nonstick cooking spray, for coating baking dish
1              8 oz whole wheat baguette, cut into 24 (1/4-inch) slices
1              12 oz can evaporated fat-free milk
½ C         Reduced-fat (2%) milk
1 tsp        Pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp       Almond extract
¼ tsp      Ground cinnamon
1             Pinch kosher salt
4             Large eggs Topping
⅓ C        Chopped pecans
¼ cup + 2 Tbsp    Pure maple syrup
⅛ tsp      Ground cinnamon

Directions - 
Coat a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange the bread slices on the diagonal in 3 rows in the dish, slightly overlapping the slices. Whisk together the evaporated milk, milk, vanilla and almond extracts, cinnamon, salt and eggs until well combined. Pour the egg mixture over the bread slices, taking care to evenly coat the bread. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Remove the foil from the baking dish and spoon any remaining egg mixture over the top of the bread pieces to assure they are evenly moistened. Sprinkle the pecans evenly over the bread. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the maple syrup and the cinnamon. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.

Drizzle with the remaining 1/4 cup maple syrup and serve.