I turned 37 today. The hubby, in all of his sweetness, surprised me with a birthday dinner last Saturday night. He invited a few friends to meet us at a Top Chef alum Jen Carroll’s new pop-up restaurant, Requin (which auto-corrects on my computer to Sequin, by the way, making me squeal every time I type it). We had a rare grownups only evening among friends where the majority of our socializing is now done through play dates and pre-nap/early bedtime gatherings. I’m still so delighted and touched that everyone made the time and space to come, especially because I know that many of our littles don’t exactly give us the gift of sleeping in the next morning (ours “generously” wake us up around 7:30am).
The next morning, the hubby generously let me sleep in, like really sleep in. I lazed in bed while the kids swirled around him downstairs. I heard dishes clatter and coffee gurgling, and it reminded me of that morning a few weeks ago, during our Snow-tastrophe, when I’d made French toast with balsamic strawberries for the family. We didn’t have any strawberries in the house (because SNOW), but I’d had a bag of frozen berries because sometimes we just get irrational cravings for strawberries around here.
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This French toast with balsamic strawberries is based on Ina Garten’s challah bread French toast recipe, is our family’s favorite. I soak thick slices of challah bread (my favorite one to use is a glossy, dense sponge-like version made by Whole Foods) in half-and-half and beaten eggs scented with vanilla and orange zest. If the challah is at least a day old, the bread soaks up a good amount of the egg mixture. These weighty slices of bread then hit a hot buttered skillet, caramelizing and forming a little browned crust on the exterior. The real goodness is in that eggy middle part, though. It turns custardy and creamy and just OH MY GOD go make it already.
The Ina Garten recipe recommends that you serve her French toast with maple syrup, raspberry preserves and/or powdered sugar, all of which are excellent accoutrements. As for us, on this particularly snowy day, we really wanted strawberries. I love swirling some balsamic vinegar into the strawberries and simmering both in a saucepan with some honey. The end result is so much magic — the strawberries end up all syrupy and sweet and tart and wonderful, all at the same time.
But back to my morning-after my beautiful surprise birthday dinner. As I lay in bed like a queenly housecat, I knew there would be no French toast with balsamic strawberries served to me in bed. I knew that my poor husband was mainlining coffee downstairs and soldiering through our daily routine on very, very little sleep. Even now, nearly a week later, I’m still so, so grateful to him.
Plus, he was the guy who made this photo happen. See me there? That’s me with Chef Jen Carroll. Squee!
Who needs French toast when you have that memory forever?!
- 1 loaf challah bread (preferably stale)
- 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup almond milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- freshly grated zest of 1 orange
- ½ teaspoon plus ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 16-ounce bag frozen whole strawberries
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons raw honey (or brown sugar)
- ⅛th teaspoon lemon zest
- 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Pull out a large baking sheet and set aside) this is where you'll place your French toast after cooking it in a skillet).
- In a 9x13 dish, mix together the eggs, heavy whipping cream, almond milk, vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon salt, and zest of 1 orange. Slice the challah into ½-inch to ¾-inch slices and arrange in the 9x13 pan, making sure to soak the challah completely. Let the challah soak for a few minutes (note: if your challah is fresh, you can't soak it for as long because it will start to fall apart on you, and you may need to do this step AFTER the next step, which is making the balsamic strawberry sauce).
- Make the balsamic strawberries: Pour ½ cup balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat until the vinegar is reduced by half and somewhat syrupy. Add the strawberries, honey (or brown sugar), ¼ teaspoon salt and lemon zest and simmer, allowing strawberries to thaw. Once the strawberries are thawed, press the strawberries against the sides of the saucepan using a wooden spoon. Continue to simmer the strawberries until reduced and thick and syrupy. Remove from heat and transfer to a heatproof bowl; set aside.
- In a large non-stick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the challah and fry in batches, 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the challah bread from the pan and place on the baking sheet, then transfer it to the oven covered with aluminum foil until ready to serve.
- When ready to eat, serve with balsamic strawberries for topping. Enjoy!