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Menu planner: French toast casserole a perfect midafternoon snack

Thinking ahead to your next few meals? Here are some main dishes and sides to try.

French toast casserole.
French toast casserole.
America’s Test Kitchen

French toast casserole

Makes 16 servings

Preparation time: 25 minutes; refrigeration time: 8 to 24 hours

Cooking time: 25 minutes for bread; 1 hour for casserole; standing time: 10 minutes

INGREDIENTS

1 pound French or Italian bread, torn into 1-inch pieces

2 1/2 cups whole milk

8 large eggs

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/3 cups packed light brown sugar

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions; heat to 325 degrees. Spread bread over 2 rimmed baking sheets and bake 25 minutes or until dry and light golden, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Let bread cool completely. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray; pack bread into dish. In a large bowl, whisk milk, eggs, cream, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg together. Pour mixture evenly over bread; lightly press on bread to submerge. Wrap dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 8 hours. In another bowl, stir brown sugar, butter and corn syrup until smooth; stir in pecans. Wrap tightly in foil and refrigerate. Assembled casserole and topping can be refrigerated separately for up to 24 hours. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 350 degrees. Unwrap casserole and sprinkle evenly with brown sugar mixture, breaking apart any large clumps. Place casserole on rimmed baking sheet; bake about 1 hour or until puffed and golden. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Per serving: 445 calories, 9 grams protein, 28 grams fat (55% calories from fat), 11.5 grams saturated fat, 41 grams carbohydrate, 139 milligrams cholesterol, 238 milligrams sodium, 2 grams fiber.

Carb count: 2.5.

Savory beef stew

Makes 8 servings

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 7 to 8 hours on low

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds well-trimmed beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes

4 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks

2 (14.5-ounce) cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes, with liquid

1 medium onion, cut into wedges

1 (1.5-ounce) packet slow cooker beef stew seasoning mix

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup dry red wine or low-sodium beef broth

1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)

8 slices toasted Italian bread

In a 4-quart or larger slow cooker, place beef, carrots, tomatoes and onion. In a small bowl, blend seasoning mix, water, wine or broth and rosemary. Pour over beef and vegetables; toss to coat. Cover. Cook 8 hours on low. To serve, place 1 slice toasted bread into each bowl. Spoon stew over bread.

Per serving: 310 calories, 25 grams protein, 9 grams fat (27% calories from fat), 3 grams saturated fat, 27 grams carbohydrate, 71 milligrams cholesterol, 918 milligrams sodium, 3 grams fiber.

Carb count: 2.

Southwest meatloaf

Makes 8 servings

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 75 to 80 minutes; Standing time: 5 minutes

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds 93% to 95% lean ground beef

1 cup soft whole-grain bread crumbs, crusts removed

3/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed

1/2 cup skim or 1% milk

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup thick and chunky salsa

Sliced avocado for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine beef, crumbs, onion, bell pepper, corn, milk, egg, salt, chili powder, cumin and black pepper; mix thoroughly but lightly. Shape mixture into a 10-by-4-inch loaf. Place on rack coated with cooking spray in broiler pan. Bake 75 to 80 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Let stand 5 minutes; top with salsa, cut into slices and serve. Garnish with avocado.

Per serving: 202 calories, 27 grams protein, 7 grams fat (30% calories from fat), 2.5 grams saturated fat, 9 grams carbohydrate, 86 milligrams cholesterol, 348 milligrams sodium, 1 gram fiber.

Carb count: 0.5.

Spicy bean medley

Prepare this meatless dish in a 4-quart or larger slow cooker, stir together 1 3/4 cups unsalted vegetable broth, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 (15-ounce) can reduced-sodium rinsed black beans, 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans and 1/2 cup dry lentils. Cover and cook on low 6 to 7 hours. Stir in 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies. Cover and cook on low 1 hour or until the lentils are tender. Ladle over brown rice and garnish with chopped cilantro.

Beef wraps

Crumble and heat the meatloaf, spoon it onto warm whole-wheat flour tortillas, top with some shredded 50% light cheddar cheese and roll. Garnish with salsa and guacamole. Serve with canned Mexican-style corn (rinsed).