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Learning to Cook: Restrained Creativity

June 30, 2011

When I think about summer foods, savory bread pudding isn’t too high on the list. But really it should be. It is very adaptable and can contain not only a plethora of seasonal vegetables, but it can also hide their less desirable parts. For example, if you’ve made kale chips you probably have thrown away a bunch of perfectly delicious, and very nutritious kale stems. But what the heck do you do with kale stems?

The answer is savory bread pudding.

And it’s not as if you need to slave over a burning hot stove for hours in the sweltering summer heat. Yes, there is a little milk scalding. However most of the cooking happens in a pretty low (300 degree) oven for about forty minutes. Plus the dish doesn’t need to be served hot. It could be cold or room temperature. And it makes a substantial pairing with a large summer salad for a hearty and satisfying meal.

Did I mention it’s super easy? Even a cooking novice can pull this off. If you are a cooking expert, you can bang this out with ease, and have a new staple in your rotation of regular recipes. The version I make is a bit on the healthier side, but you can also make this a super-decadent treat.

Here’s how to do it.

This recipe is adapted from Marion Cunningham’s version (the thirteenth edition) of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. There it was called Cheese-Bread Pudding.

Tools you will need:
An oven
An 8” x 8” Pyrex baking dish

To make my life easy I use:
An oven thermometer
A 3½-quart saucepan
A toaster
A whisk
Liquid measuring cups

Required ingredients:
5 slices of bread
1 ½ cups milk
3 large eggs
Butter to grease the baking dish
Salt to taste

Other ingredients from the original recipe:
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce

Here is my modified technique:
1) Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
2) Grease the baking dish with butter, and set aside.
3) Measure out low-fat milk into a large saucepan and heat on medium-high.
4) Lightly toast, just to dry out, 100% whole wheat bread.
5) Gently beat the eggs.
6) Take milk off heat and whisk in eggs.
7) Tear up lightly toasted bread and mix into the milk and egg mixture.
8) Mix __________________ into the sodden bread, milk and egg mixture.
9) Don’t forget to season with salt, it’s the secret to making food taste good.
10) Dump into the buttered baking dish and even out the top.

In forty minutes, you should have your completed dish. Stick a knife into the middle. If it comes out clean, you are done. If it’s still a bit raw and eggy, you can check it again in five minutes. But don’t forget, it will cook a bit more as it cools, and unless you put in a bunch of wet ingredients it should really be done.

Number 8 is where you get a chance to mix it up. Kale and chard stems go really well with bacon. In fact, I once cooked the stems in the rendered bacon fat, and the pudding was adored by the Fussy Little Children. I’ve also made a dried porcini version of this. But you can use anything you’ve got laying around: sausage and peppers, sautéed bitter greens, peas, asparagus and morels, etc.

You can add cheese into the pudding; you can put cheese on top. You can do both. You can season the milk as it simmers with a half onion and a bay leaf, or maybe even a parm-reg rind. There are lots of ways to build flavor in the dish. Fresh herbs from the garden would also be a welcome addition.

If you find yourself with a lot of bitter greens, you can make a sharp provolone version of the bread pudding, and sauté the greens separately. Then when the pudding is finished, you can unmold it from the baking dish, slice it in half, and stuff it with the sautéed greens. That would be lovely.

I love the flexibility of this dish. It could be breakfast, lunch or dinner. It can be made for a crowd, or just for one (granted, with a good bit of leftovers).

The only drawback is that when making something with so few ingredients, it’s important to make them count. Find good eggs, milk and bread. I use Heidelberg’s four-ingredient 100% whole wheat. But it’s a great way to use up the ends of preservative-free artisan-made loaves.

Now get out there, and start cooking.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2011 9:14 am

    I’m confused. Title of post doesn’t match the content. But I’ll give the bread pudding recipe a go. It’s one of my favorite dishes.

  2. abby permalink
    June 30, 2011 9:35 am

    This is also a great way to use up leftover garlic bread.

  3. June 30, 2011 9:52 am

    Not sure what this post has to do with learning to cook or with restraining creativity, but this sounds like a great recipe for bread pudding!


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