I’m the sort of person who looks at a single pan of anything in the middle rack of the oven, and thinks, “wasted space.” I mean, not for fancy-schmancy dinners and perfecting soufflés – I’m not an animal!
But definitely when making lunches. Because, for-the-love-of-food-processors, I’m already sacrificing my perfectly-manicured fingertips to give up a morning that everybody knows I otherwise would have spent sipping champagne on my private jet to my private island for a private ballet screening (“No, no, Misty Copeland, that’s sweet of you to say, but I think YOU are far lovelier and more influential than I!”). It had better damn well count for something, amiright?
So! Six baking pans in the oven, it is (and if I had any self respect, I really would try to convince you to try six, too … as it is, I’m just gonna leave this recipe for four dishes right here). Because all it is, is just freaking stacking bread and fruit. I’m not going to make you tear it or toast it to make croutons first – I won’t even make slice the damn bread yourself, or butter any dishes (like I said, I’m not an animal!). Just layer the pre-sliced bread. And I don’t care who you are … that’s not that hard, is it?
And remember when you make this fabulous French Toast Casserole that the heart of the recipe is in the quality of bread you choose. We barely use any sugar, considering that we’re making 60 servings – the taste and goodness comes mostly from the bananas and the bread itself, so here’s where you need to make it count. Skip the traditional French Bread and go ahead and get the seediest/heartiest/nuttiest/grainiest/rustic-iest/whatever-floats-your-boatiest bread you think you can tolerate (or take advantage of the flexibility of this recipe, and make it gluten-free if you need to, you have complete control). And don’t forget to send a mini-dipper container with a couple spoonfuls of honey or maple syrup. You’re filling the container, so again, you get total control … and this is what total control looks like …
And who wouldn’t give up a manicure and a morning with Misty for a little more of that in their life, right?
- 48 slices of the yummiest bread out there (about 3-4 loaves of a regular pre-sliced brand)
- 24 bananas
- 3 quarts (96 oz/12 cups) of whole milk
- 2 dozen eggs
- 2 Tb vanilla paste (vanilla extract works fine if you don't have paste)
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 2 Tb ground cinnamon
- (don't forget maple syrup/honey/other yumminess for dipping when served)
- Set up your four 9x13 pans side-by-side, and line them each with a sheet of parchment paper. Crease it into the edges and make sure the walls of your pans are covered by the parchment paper - that's the whole reason why you don't even have to grease the pan, so make sure it's good.
- Spread out slices of bread as a bottom layer in your pan. You will probably fit four easily, then one more torn in half, and then use your last slice to fill in any holes anywhere.
- Slice your bananas lengthwise, and lay them across the width of the pan as a second layer to the casserole. You will probably use 5-6 bananas. Fill in holes with extra slices.
- Cover with one more layer of bread, filling in holes like you did the first time.
- Mix your milk, eggs, vanilla paste, sugar, and cinnamon (easy to do in your blender).
- Pour or ladle your milk-egg mixture over your bread layers.
- Cover pans with tin foil and stick'em in the fridge (not the freezer!) for an hour or two (pre-sliced bread will probably have to soak less than any bread you - *gasp!* - sliced yourself).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Throw your covered dishes in the oven for 35 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 15 minutes.
- Let casseroles cool enough to handle (after a few minutes, you can even fish the the whole thing out by lifting the parchment paper lining clean out of your pans, and it will cool more quickly).
- Slice into 15 equal rectangles (approximately 3x2.5 inches), and transfer the whole parchment paper onto a jelly roll pan to Flash Freeze in the freezer for a couple of hours so your slices don't stick.
- Pack into a heavy duty freezer bag and remove all air, or pack with vacuum sealer, and freeze.
- Yields 4 - 9x13 pans, 60 servings total.
- Fall-Flavored Carrot Cake Pancakes
- Banana French Toast Casserole
- Crustless Spinach Mini Quiches
- BONUS snack: I-Swear-It’s-A-Cookie-And-Bad-For-You Breakfast Cookies
- BONUS snack: Take-Your-Damn-Hands-Off-My-Mushroom Chips
Here’s the list of equipment you’ll need, and a list of equipment that makes life easier.
- Large griddle OR several pans OR one pan and way more patience than I.
- Parchment paper
- 9×13 baking dishes – should have at least two to be efficient, could use up to four, so beg borrow or steal if you have to! Here are some great and versatile options: a Nordic Ware covered option, a Pyrex basic dish, a Fat Daddio’s aluminum option and my favorite option, a Calphalon pan.
- Muffin tins, size of your choosing – popover tins for big kids/adults (remember there are only six cups per tin, so get at least two! You’ll use them for other lunch recipes!), regular muffin tins for smaller kiddos, mini muffin tins for toddlers.
- Paper muffin liners (don’t get the foil wrappers for these! Foil muffin liners + Microwave = bad words in comments on my blog) – Popover “Tulip Cup” liners, Regular Liners, mini baking cups
- Big Tupperware Bowl
- Gallon Freezer Ziplocks
Strongly suggested, but not absolutely needed:
- Stand-up mixer (it was mentioned in a comment thread earlier this week that some of these lunch batches really won’t fit in a standard 5QT mixing bowl – if you don’t have one already, but are thinking of taking the plunge, consider purchasing a 7QT mixer like mine; I can throw an entire birthday party in there, and everything fits.)
- Food Processor – can’t emphasize this one enough (see? I wasn’t lying in Round 1 when I said we’d be using it!)
A WORD ON FREEZER SPACE
I admit, I have a lot of freezer space. I live with four adult-sized appetites, and one healthy child-sized one, and I tend to freeze and pack 20 weeks’ worth of food for all the kids at a time. Plus, once upon a time, I used to do this regularly for dinners as well as lunches.
So, I have a freezer upstairs for regularly-used items, then a downstairs freezer for frozen lunches, and a separate chest freezer for when I’m feeling particularly go-getter-y (or for when I make Thanksgiving meals ahead of time because I have the stupid schedule). I call the chest freezer my Sexy Beast, and I make my hubby apologize to it if he doesn’t treat it with an appropriate level of tenderness.
The FDA does specifically say that a closed, full freezer will maintain its temperature for 48 hrs without power (a half-full one will maintain it for 24 hrs), so food does not need to be thawed or refrigerate or transferred anywhere, as long as you kee the doors closed. So even if your power goes out Saturday, your lovingly-prepared lunches should be safe till Monday when the repair guy comes! Just sayin’ …
Now, you certainly don’t have to have this. We’re going to work on how to maximize your packing strategies in order to best use your space, and we’re going to use flash freezing and labeling techniques that make my heart skip more than Ryan Gosling (who, for the record, has NOTHING on vacuum sealing). But you should plan on being able to fit two jelly roll pans or large cookie sheets into your freezer at once at any given time during your prepping. If you can’t do that, it may be worth it for you to take a look at getting yourself a separate freezer – not necessarily your own Sexy Beast, but maybe something a bit smaller and inconspicuous, that can still guard your hard work (and only cost you an extra $0.75 or so per lunch if you hold 4 months’ worth of meals for one person in it, right?).
Sometimes, I come across good deals and want to share them, but I don’t want to send you unwanted emails. If you’d like me to email you when I find something really good (like the Instant Pot that went on sale last week for $69.99) you can sign up for those emails here. These would probably be once or twice a month.
I’M ON INSTAGRAM & TWITTER:
I succumbed to Social Peer Pressure (I’m so weak – it’s Aubrey’s fault) and signed up for an Instagram Account. So you can follow me on Instagram @emiponcedesouza. You can also follow me on Twitter @poncedesouza. If you share your photos, use the hashtag #EmisLunches, and please tag me!