I used to own a George Foreman Grill, the lean, mean “fat-reducing” grilling machine marketed by the former world heavyweight champ. With more than 100 million sold, it certainly is one of the most popular alternative cooking appliances on the market today.
My use of this little grilling wonder was a bit unorthodox. For a few months shortly after college, I traveled around the U.S. working as a software installer and trainer. I’d spend two weeks in some middle-of-nowhere city (don’t get me wrong … I can find the coolest stuff to do in those kinds of places!) training people at newspapers on how to use circulation software.
Employees got a per diem, meaning a certain amount of money to spend on food each day. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the less I spent on eating out, the more I’d take home. So my first stop once we landed in town would be to get groceries … and a George Foreman Grill.
In an effort to save money, I cooked meals in my hotel room. Don’t judge. I’ve heard tell of people who have actually lived in their offices for the same reason—and I was just making a meal. I can think of 100 easier ways to eat on the cheap while traveling now (PB&J, anyone?), but back then, this was my answer.
I’d buy packages of chicken breasts, hamburgers or steak and throw them in individually portioned Ziploc bags with different marinades. Each night, I’d fire up the electric “grill” and cook myself dinner. Sadly, the windows in a hotel rarely open, so the smell of cooking meat and a slight greasy haze would linger — but it got the job done.
Okay, NO. I do not** have some bizarre George Foreman collection: I’d donate them at the end of each trip. For space’s sake, I had knocked the Foreman at home out of my kitchen long ago. But I started thinking about that little clam shell of a cooking machine as we got talking about spring cleaning and reinventing appliances for this month. I pondered what in the world could it be used for, aside from meat and maybe grilled veggies?
A lot, as it turns out. And stuff that had me wishing it was still tucked in a corner. Like bacon. That crispy pork treat is such a conundrum for me: adore eating it, freaking hate cooking it. There is nothing fun about grease splatters. In fact, one bestie gave this sound advice when sending her R.S.V.P. for my wedding: Never cook bacon naked.
That said, bacon is still meat, and thus, kinda what you’d expect. That idea isn’t up to the standards set by other Eaters this month. I mean, bread in a slow cooker? Falafel made in a meat grinder? These ideas are out of the box. I needed something sweeter.
Oh, yes. Sweeter.
Maple-Pecan Encrusted French Toast With Grilled Bananas
This is an original We The Eaters recipe, but we loved the tips in this article! If you have a George Foreman, feel free to use it to make this dish. If not, any old pan will do — and in my humble opinion, French toast tastes best cooked in butter.
We tested two kinds of bread to get a sense of what worked best. Both of the choices suggested here were delicious, but the slightly sweeter, eggy flavor of the brioche paired best with the pecans and banana. If you prefer a different topping, like a berry compote, the milder challah flavor would work well — with or without pecans.
1 loaf challah or brioche bread
2/3 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 to 2 cups pecans
About 2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Cut bread into 3/4 or 1-inch slices (less will be too soggy, more won’t properly soak up the egg custard.) Leave out on cutting board covered with a towel overnight. Stale bread makes the best French toast!
Pulse pecans in a blender or food processor (you can use a coffee grinder in a pinch) until coarsely ground, small pieces no bigger than a pencil eraser. We really coated ours with pecans, but you can just “dust” the slices as well. You’ll need about a half-cup or more for every four slices to moderately coat. Set aside.
Beat eggs thoroughly until all whites are combined. Mix in remaining ingredients. Transfer a cup or so at a time into a shallow glass dish. Set up another plate or shallow dish next to this and spread about a 1/2 cup pecans on it. You’ll need to wipe the plate clean and put fresh pecans on it for each dipping (the eggs mix in with the pecans and they become more like part of the batter than a crust.)
Working two or four slices at a time (depending on your kitchen dexterity … the bread can get soggy fast, so you need to work fast), place bread in the dish, turning once the mixture soaks in and before the bread gets soggy (about 1 minute or so per side, depending on how dense the bread is. Leave it too long and it gets mushy, too little and it is just bread in the middle. Practice makes perfect—and my first batch wasn’t!) Repeat on other side. Pull bread out of egg mixture and allow excess to thoroughly drip off.
Make sure your cooking surface is pre-heated. If you are using a George Foreman, you can place directly on the grill. If you are using a pan, spray with cooking spray, then put a small dab of butter on before placing French toast in the hot pan. Cook until golden brown on each side. Place in a warm oven.
If using a George Foreman, remove bananas from the peel and cut in half length-wise. It can be easier to cut them while still in the peel. Mix cinnamon and sugar together. Brush cut side of bananas with honey and sprinkle on sugar mixture. Place face down on grill and cook until grill marks. Remove before they get too mushy by sliding off grill with a spatula (I found they didn’t caramelize as well as I would have liked).
(You can also make these on a regular grill — just leave in skins and cook fruit-side down for 2 to 3 minutes before flipping and cooking on the peel for 3 to 5 minutes, until the peel pulls away from the fruit.)
Arrange French toast on plate with caramelized bananas on top. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with maple syrup, or for a really sweet treat, drizzle with homemade caramel sauce.
** Many of you may be wondering how I made this delicious recipe without owning one of these magic machines. The irony is — I had to buy one for this post. Yes, really. I have since donated it. Again. I sincerely believe I am actually keeping this company in business.