Sunday, November 27, 2011

Savory Bread Pudding

Bread pudding was my go-to dessert in college. A small chain of restaurants called The Garden Café had an outpost in my university town, and the bread pudding they served was warm, sweetly comforting and excellent with cream.

This recipe for a different kind of bread pudding, perfect for a weeknight dinner, was shared by my friend and fellow alum Katie, who adapted it from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers. This is also the perfect dish if you are like me and cube and freeze leftover bread for Thanksgiving imagining you are getting ahead and congratulating yourself on being frugal and über organized but then decide you are craving cornbread dressing or elect to make a polenta-based one for your dear friend who is on a gluten-free diet.

The beauty of Savory Bread Pudding, aside from the extreme comfort food factor, is its adaptability. The original recipe and Katie’s version were meatless, but it is delicious with a little bacon or ham. This is a nice way to include kale or other greens in your diet, but you aren’t limited to those. I’ve made it with ham, goat cheese and a greater amount of leeks, and experimented with roasted Brussels sprouts, walnuts and cheddar. The version pictured below incorporated frozen spinach, bacon, leeks and goat cheese.

Savory Bread Pudding
(adapted from Katie Fortney, who adapted it from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers)

1 (12 to 16 oz.) loaf crusty bread, preferably a day old or a bit stale
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 leek, white and light green part only, sliced and thoroughly washed; or 1/2 onion, chopped; or 6 scallions, chopped
1 bunch greens (such as chard, kale, spinach or turnip greens), washed and trimmed; or 1 (16 oz.) bag frozen spinach, thawed and excess moisture removed
3 T. butter
5 to 6 eggs
2 c. milk
Salt and pepper
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 c. shredded cheese, divided; or 5 oz. goat cheese, crumbled and divided

Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Toast the cubes if they're soft.

In a skillet over medium-low heat, cook the bacon with half of the leeks, until the bacon is done and the leeks are starting to brown. Add the greens and sauté until wilted. (If you wish to use frozen spinach, add it to the skillet after the bacon and leeks have cooked; cooking it for a few minutes will help remove more moisture from the spinach and pick up the nice browned bits left on the bottom of the pan.)

Turn on the oven to 375°F. Put the butter in a 9x13-inch pan and place the pan in the oven. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from the oven and tilt it around until coated.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, salt, pepper and mustard. Add half the cheese, and the greens, bacon and cooked leeks. Stir in the bread cubes until they're moist. Transfer to the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining leeks and cheese over top.

Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the egg mixture is set. Remove foil and bake another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the top browns.

Variation: Omit the bacon and add 1 c. cubed cooked ham to the egg mixture with the cheese and greens.

Copyright 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Thanksgiving Menu

My shopping for the Thanksgiving meal is complete! I had the dubious distinction of being the morning's high total for my cashier at Trader Joe's. We do love a good feast around here (and leftovers!).
Friends are bringing the mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes, and we'll also serve Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels (of course!) and Apple Pie Cider. We'll have olives, cornichons, cheeses and crackers, Spinach-Artichoke Dip, carrots, celery and radishes to nibble while we finish cooking. Below is the rest of our menu, complete with links to the recipes should something strike your fancy. 
Roast Turkey: We're going with a simple version this year, roasted with onion, celery, butter and whatever else sounds good.
Polenta and Sausage Dressing:  Most of the work for this favorite from Gourmet can be done the day before. Because of food sensitivities, we'll be using our own pork sausage.
Classic Green Bean Casserole: We love this from-scratch version from the November 2006 issue of Cook's Illustrated, not the least because the components can be made ahead of time. (Note: You need a membership to the Web site to access the recipe.)
Roasted Acorn Squash Salad: We are going to make this with butternut and goat cheese this time. (More on my love for this dish here.)
Cranberry Sauce with Dates and Orange: Another Gourmet recipe that is becoming a new tradition for our house (I really miss that magazine!).
Spiced Apple-Cranberry Pie: Little Man requested this after seeing a photo. He has good taste.
Pumpkin Pie: Miss C has been waiting and waiting for this. I usually make the recipe on the back of the can, but this year I'm going to make the filling according to this recipe from Bon Appétit.
White Chocolate Cranberry-Almond Clusters: I will be making these using the method for the Dark Chocolate Cherry-Pepita Clusters. They would be great with pistachios or pecans, too.
Looking forward to the cooking and the baking and the feasting, and the wonderful day spent with friends and my little family. I love Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Of Apple Cider

One of the many reasons I love autumn is it's finally cool enough to enjoy a mug of sweet, spicy apple cider. On rainy Saturdays at home, we might have a small saucepan of it simmering on the stove. We serve it at our pumpkin carving party, Thanksgiving and any other holiday gathering we host.

When we make cider for a crowd, we use our slow cooker. It works beautifully! It leaves the stove burners free for other cooking, and it keeps the cider warm all day. We like to use mulling spices to season the cider (Penzey's are my favorite!); they add a depth of flavor that we love. To keep the spices from floating in the beverage and an unsuspecting guest from swallowing them, we put them in a stainless-steel tea ball. (And although that is my preferred method, you don't need mulling spices to make great cider. When visiting family one Christmas, we simmered a couple of cinnamon sticks and a few thin strips of orange peel with the apple juice, which made a very appealing drink.)

For something a little bit more elaborate, try the variation. Long before Starbucks was known to us, my mom was making Apple Pie Cider during the holidays. I'm not sure where the idea or recipe came from perhaps a magazine or perhaps Mom's own ingenuity and taste for good food. Topped with freshly whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg (or both!), it may be the coziest thing you drink all season.

Apple Cider for a Crowd
Scant 1 T. mulling spices
2 cinnamon sticks
2 (48 oz) bottles apple juice, preferably unfiltered

Place mulling spices in a stainless-steel tea ball, or tie up in a bit of cheesecloth. Add the mulling spices and cinnamon sticks to a 4-quart slow cooker. Pour in apple juice. Heat on HIGH until it reaches the desired temperature*, then set to "Keep Warm," if available, or LOW.

Variation: Apple Pie Cider
Prepare cider as above. To each mug of cider, add 1/2 oz. (or to taste) caramel drink syrup, such as Torani. Top with whipped cream. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon and/or ground nutmeg, if desired.

*We've never timed it, but I would estimate 30 minutes to an hour.

Thanks to my husband for taking today's photo!

Copyright 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Acorn Squash, Revisited

I confess, I’ve never understood the allure of acorn squash. It lacks the depth of flavor of butternut; it's not quite as versatile as a pumpkin; it's difficult to peel. I do, at times, appreciate the subtle tea-like flavor of the fruit, but I’ve always wished for something more, something greater.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband picked up a large acorn squash at the market. It sat in the bread box*, briefly considered and then rejected every time I reached in for an onion. For a side dish, our usual mode of cooking has been to fill the cavity with butter, brown sugar, maybe some cinnamon and nutmeg, and bake. The label even calls this out as the perfect way to enjoy it. Well, my friends, the label-writer, acorn squash–promoter types are wrong.

A few nights ago, I decided the thing must be cooked before I was led down the road of produce spoilage–induced guilt. A quick search on uncovered Lidia Bastianich's Roasted Acorn Squash Salad. I had the dish’s few ingredients on hand, and it seemed simple enough to create while the meatloaf baked. And thus, a convert was born.

Roasting the squash in thick slices brought out its sweetness, and the vegetable was elevated when combined with the tangy, slightly sweet, almost nutty flavor of a balsamic vinegar glaze. Toasted almonds accompanied it perfectly, providing texture and a nice layer of flavor. The salad is wonderful without cheese, although I do think it would be divine with some goat cheese crumbled on top. 

I used olive oil (not extra-virgin) for roasting, and next time I would use a bit less, perhaps 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons. For drizzling over top, I used a good-quality extra-virgin olive oil. I did slice my squash a bit thinner than instructed; I wanted to have it in the oven with the meatloaf, which was baking at 375°F, and fully cooked when the main course was.

Balsamic vinegar can be pricey, but you needn't feel compelled to make a full batch of the glaze. I had ¾ cup in the house and reduced that with ½ tablespoon of honey and a bay leaf. It made enough glaze for at least 3 batches of the salad. Lidia claims the glaze keeps indefinitely; with that part of the prep completed, I believe this new favorite might make the cut for our Thanksgiving menu.

*We keep the bread in the refrigerator and the squash, onions and garlic in the bread box. Makes perfect sense. And it has not, as of yet, led to human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, or mass hysteria.

Copyright 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels from Trader Joe's
Copyright 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tom Valenti's Butternut Squash Soup with Crisp Pancetta

I love autumn. Once the calendar turns to September, I'm at the store, in search of pumpkin, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, butternut squash. I'm ready to bake cinnamon rolls, to stand over a pot of risotto, to roast whatever is at hand.

Even though the weather hardly ever cooperates and is usually warm and sunny, we try to squeeze a little bit of autumn into the menu for our annual pumpkin carving party. We always serve a lunch of soup and maybe sandwiches, maybe cornbread, before the carving commences. For a big crowd, my husband's chili will be simmering in the slow cooker. But the one thing that must be on the menu is Butternut Squash Soup with Crisp Pancetta, a recipe I discovered in Food & Wine a few years ago. One year we cooked a different butternut soup, and our guests nearly mutinied. And, being a party where jack-o-lanterns are born, the guests have sharp things, so we don't change up the main course anymore.

It is hard to improve upon a soup that begins by roasting squash swathed in pancetta (or bacon, in a pinch). We have noticed, in fact, that most of the vegetable soups we make begin with some form of cured pork. We love the extra layer of flavor it adds. And here it also is the perfect garnish, although it was all consumed by the time I took my photo. Sometimes we add a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar, sometimes olive oil. This year, a friend spooned in a dollop of bacon-leek-goat cheese dip and declared it a successful pairing.

This recipe is ideal for entertaining this time of year because the soup can be made ahead and reheated the day of your gathering. When we do so, we wait to add the cream until the soup is heated through and we are ready to serve. We've never found it necessary to add sugar.

Welcome, November!

Copyright 2011