Savory Bay Bread Pudding

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One of the best parts about buying a loaf of bread is knowing that whatever doesn’t make the cut for your sandwich or piece of toast has the potential to end up as bread pudding.

Bread pudding has never been the glamorous girl at the dance, but she’s got a heart of gold and can break it down with some funky moves. Perhaps criminally underrated, bread pudding really is an amazing vehicle for flavor.

This holiday season, I decided to make savory bread pudding in lieu of stuffing a bird. This decision was based on economical and food safety reasons; I happened to have stale bread which was moments from molding and, and am also a little wary of stuffing a bready sponge into the cavity of a bacteria-ridden carcass. (Edit: I have heard stuffing successfully crafted this way is unparalleled–maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to face it…)

Maybe you’ve heard of bay leaf ice cream, if you are an adventurous eater. If you have, bay flavored bread pudding might not be too far of a leap. Stick with me. Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb by sticking to tradition. Sometimes we must take bold leaps if we are to forge ahead. Right?

the custard base is flavored with salt, bay leaves, and whole peppercorns.

It’s delightfully simple: chop everything and put it in a bowl, make your custard, and let it soak for at least 15 minutes.

the leek is optional, but I added it for a boost of alum flavor

Throw it all in a pan and bake.

bay pairs great with potatoes, turkey, cranberry sauce…!
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Savory Bay Bread Pudding

Course Side Dish
Cuisine American, traditional
Keyword bay, bay leaf, bread pudding, leftovers, savory, savory bay bread pudding, savory bread pudding, stale bread, stuffing, thanksgiving, thanksgiving sides, use what you have
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 whole peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves dried
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 5 cups bread, chopped into 1" chunks
  • 2 Tbs butter, plus more for pan
  • 1 leek, washed and cut into 1/4" chunks

Instructions

  • Butter a 9×5" bread pan and set aside. Place milk, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves in a saucepan and heat over medium. When the mixture is just beginning to boil, turn off the heat and let it cool to room temperature.
  • While the milk mixture is cooling, cut or rip bread into one inch chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Cut leeks and add to the bowl.
  • When the milk is at room temp, whisk in the beaten eggs. Pour this mixture over the bread chunks and let sit 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour soaked bread chunks into the baking pan. Dot the surface of the bread mixture with small dabs of butter, and bake in the oven 20-30 minutes, until toasty and golden on top. Serve as a Thanksgiving side or with a dollop of creme fraiche.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Boeuf Bourguignon!

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Having made traditional boeuf bourguignon via Julia Child’s recipe, when I encountered this version on the New York Times’ cooking page, I was all in: there’s that slow-cooked beef that you crave with traditional boeuf bourguignon, ample wine added to the roux, mushrooms, and onions–but the recipe is dramatically simplified, and spiced very sparingly. I also found the wine flavor in the traditional version to be overpowering, whereas in this recipe, the positive flavors in the wine come through, but only just. In short, the beef is really taking center stage, as beef is wont to do.

I think all meat-eaters can agree, there’s nothing like slow-cooked meat. When meat is falling-off-the-bone tender, packed full of flavor and juicy, it’s terribly hard to resist. (So why would we? The answer is, we don’t.)

Of course, we can’t eat meat like this for every meal. Aside from being labor- and attention-intensive, meat like this isn’t always the most holistically nutritious thing we can put in our bodies for dinner. I wouldn’t say it’s bad for us, per se. But a head of broccoli probably has a little more to offer in the “nutrients” department…(I’m sure there are some meat fans out there ready to argue with me. Shower me in your meat stats, you carnivores!)

Additionally, and I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, reader, but it’s not the best for the environment. Unless you buy locally-sourced, organic, grass-fed-and-finished beef (costly and often not quite as convenient as the grocery store standard), it’s a little challenging to negate your carbon footprint on some delicious, delicious beef brisket.

I will say I could not find organic brisket at the grocery store. If you really want “guilt free” brisket, this may be an occasion to stop by your local artisan butcher! Support local, eat local, reduce the carbon footprint. Rock on with your bad self. Rock on!!

In summary, a dish like this really calls for an occasion. In this instance, my sister and I ate this together before I take off to move across the country; this, of course, made it taste all the better.

This is one of the most comforting dishes I have prepared in a long, long time. Warming spices, slow-cooked beef, and mashed potatoes–I didn’t even make a vegetable to go along with dinner! It was all meat and potatoes, all dinner long. Who is complaining about this? I ask you!

Of course, if it’s not your bag to eat just meat and potatoes, add some green stuff on a separate plate. The world is your oyster! (Whatever that means.) But tuck in for a cozy, candlelit dinner with someone you love, maybe with a bottle of Beaujolais or maybe with some Amber O’Douls, and feast on the fruits of this 4.5 hour dinner. The wait is definitely worth it. Trust me.

i was really pleased with this beef broth i found at the grocery store–it’s made with grass-fed beef bones and tastes great. i even bought some of their lemongrass and ginger beef bone broth, which makes a great medium for a simple soup. don’t forget to heat low and slow, so the broth doesn’t boil and ruin all that wonderful collagen!

I seasoned the brisket with salt and pepper, trimmed a small layer of the fat cap, and cut it into cubes to be browned in vegetable oil in my cast iron.

Meanwhile, I sautéed chopped onions and mushrooms in rendered beef fat in my Le Creuset, then added spices, thyme, wine, broth, and the browned beef…

i’ve really been pushing the le creuset to its maximum volume capacity lately; somehow, this reduced with minimal spillage. thank you, guardian cooking angel

About 3 1/2 hours over low heat later, aaaand:

cue “heart eyes” emoji

Yes. Yes to all of this!! I was stuffed after one serving, but still wanted more…leftovers just got a lot more exciting.

yep, the only green on my plate came from the ceramic itself, and chives. oh, and those are cheesy mashed potatoes, in case you’re wondering

[This recipe adapted from Pierre Franey of the New York Times.]

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Boeuf Bourguignon!

Serves 6-8

  • 4 lbs beef brisket, trimmed to 1/4” fat cap and cut into 1 ½” cubes
  • Reserved brisket fat, for rendering
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 c chopped onions (about two medium onions)
  • 5 heads of garlic, pressed
  • 1 lb fresh mushrooms, preferably bella
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • ¼ c all-purpose flour
  • 1 bottle Beaujolais wine (Beaujolais Villages is a great low-cost bottle)
  • 1 c low-sodium beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 whole allspice

Generously season brisket with salt and pepper, and rub spices into the meat. Heat vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and add the meat cubes in a single layer, with the fat side down first to render the fat. This will take several batches. Drain browned meat cubes on a plate lined with paper towels. (The point here is not to cook the meat all the way through, but to sear it on the outside.) 

While meat is draining, heat reserved beef fat in a heavy bottomed cooking pot, like a Le Creuset or cast iron kettle, until you have several tablespoons of liquid fat in the bottom of the pan. Toss fat chunks or feed to a lucky dog.

Add onions, garlic, and mushrooms to the first cast iron pan used to cook the meat cubes, and sautée about 5 minutes, or until onions become translucent. In the second pan with the rendered beef fat, add the flour and cook over medium heat, stirring well, for about 1 minute.

Add wine, beef stock, bay leaf, cloves, allspice, thyme, sauteed onions, garlic and mushrooms, and beef cubes to the second pan. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat and cook, covered, over very low heat for about 3 and ½ hours, or until the meat is tender and falls apart when gently squeezed with tongs.

Remove bay leaf and serve with mashed potatoes, noodles, or rice. Red wine or dark ales are wonderful compliments to this dish.

Giada de Laurentiis’ Lemony Fettuccini Alfredo

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Sometimes, you just need creamy pasta–especially when the weather demands comfort food.

In spite of the ample amount of cream in this dish, lemon juice and zest brighten the whole thing up–and you can’t help but feel like you’re getting away with something as you dish up another forkful of heavy-cream-coated carbs, without the associated heaviness plastering you to your chair like the lead-filled protective apron the doctor drapes over you when it comes time to get x-rays.

I distinctly remember the first time my mother told me to add freshly grated nutmeg to ricotta cheese. I remember thinking, “Nutmeg? In cheese?” My understanding of the spice up until that point was pretty much exclusive to “pumpkin spice” flavored things. Though I was somewhat aghast at this idea, my mother informed me that this was, in fact, the traditional way to make lasagna–and my trust in her knowledge had handsome returns when it came time to eat. Needless to say, I’ve never looked back when it comes to adding nutmeg to savory dishes. A warming spice with an almost menthol-y personality, a little nutmeg goes a long way; but if you skip it, it’s often the “missing link” at the flavor party. The point is, don’t skip the nutmeg. Freshly ground is best. (That goes for all spices, all of the time, by the way. But that might be another blog post.)

I will say this is another recipe that truly is at its best when prepared right before dinner. The leftovers are, well, not a prime example of what the original dish can be–I’ll put it that way.

But if you’re having company, or even if you want to spruce up date night with your partner, this recipe has an element of indulgence, and the romance that pasta brings. (Why do I think pasta’s romantic? It might have something to do with this iconic scene, not gonna lie.)

this recipe tastes complex, but relies on a few “big player” ingredients–lemon, parmesan, and nutmeg…and of course, butter!

One of my favorite aspects of this recipe is, there’s no thickening agent to make the sauce coat the pasta, like cornstarch or flour. The sauce relies on the cream curdling slightly with the addition of lemon juice; then the flavor is softened slightly with the addition of a few pats of butter. What could be bad about that?

i even drizzled some sauce over my panfried chicken…because you can never have too much cream, right?

Giada de Laurentiis’ Fettucine Alfredo

Serves 6

  • 18 oz fettucine (fresh is yummy but dried is great too)
  • 2 ½ c heavy cream
  • ½ c lemon juice, fresh squeezed
  • 12 Tbs butter 
  • 2 c grated parmesan
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 1-2 pinches freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil (garnish)

Juice and zest lemons, and grate parmesan and nutmeg.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add fettucine and cook until al dente, 6-8 minutes, and drain in a colander in the sink. Do not rinse the pasta.

Stir 2 cups of cream and lemon juice into a heavy-bottomed sauce pot. Add butter and cook over medium heat until butter melts, about 3 minutes. 

Remove from the heat, add pasta, remaining ½ cup of cream, parmesan, lemon zest, nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and toss until cheese is melted and pasta is coated. Taste for seasonings and add more salt and pepper as needed, bearing in mind the parmesan contains a lot of salt.

Return pot to burner and warm over low heat, about one minute, or until sauce thickens to desired consistency. Plate with fresh basil and serve immediately. Simple steamed greens, salad, and meat are great compliments, as is a glass of white wine.

Chicken Cordon Bleu with Creamy Mustard Sauce

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With the arrival of the weekend came another opportunity to cook a classic dish and scratch it off the list. Perhaps even better, I was able to throw some ingredients around it which sorely needed to be used up from the fridge, so the chicken really got to be the star of the show. Plus, any time you can eat meat wrapped in more meat, the feeling of indulgence is pretty inescapable. Not a bad way to end the week!

Chicken cordon bleu is credited to Switzerland but seems to have a rather mysterious, folklore-ish background. The only common “facts” I could find in my internet trolling about this infamous creation was that it did, in fact, originate in Switzerland, and “cordon bleu” can refer to any meat stuffed with cheese and panfried, deep fried, or baked.

Though I only used two chicken breasts, the addition of ham, Swiss cheese, and bread crumbs made it so that I could only comfortably eat half of one. This was by no means a bad thing (helloooo fancy leftovers!) but I think it is safe to say two breasts could easily feed four people, especially if there are other dishes on the table.

Simple starch is a good sidekick here, as it acts as another medium for the delicious mustard sauce which is drizzled over the top of the chicken. But hey, use your imagination and pair anything with it that you think won’t upstage your efforts!

before
after (note: this is just one of two chicken breasts)

After the chicken was seasoned and then pounded to about 1/2″ thick, I rolled it up with ham slices and Swiss cheese. Next, it was breaded!

beaten egg, seasoned breadcrumbs, flour, oiled pan–note: a cast iron or heavy bottomed skillet could easily be substituted

I panfried the chicken in a little olive oil then transitioned the whole business to the oven to finish. Meanwhile, I prepared the sauce and made some side dishes. Turns out the fancy name doesn’t mean this dish is any harder to make.

baked chicken
thanks, Switzerland

Chicken Cordon Bleu with Creamy Mustard Sauce

Serves 2-4

Chicken

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning, to taste
  • 6 thin slices of high-quality deli ham
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese
  • 1 c breadcrumbs
  • 1 heaping Tbs dried parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly cracked pepper
  • ½ c flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 Tbs + 2 Tbs olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Lightly season and pepper both sides of the chicken breast. Using either a plastic bag or two sheets of plastic wrap to contain the meat, use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound the chicken to ¼”-1/2” thickness. Lay three slices of ham over each breast, followed by two slices of cheese. If there is a longer end to your chicken, roll it into a tight spiral, keeping the ham and cheese tucked carefully within it. If you need to, use toothpicks to hold it together (mine stayed together just fine without them).

In a wide bowl, mix together breadcrumbs, parsley, salt, and pepper. Spread flour on one plate and beaten eggs on another. Roll the meat wrap in flour, completely coating all surfaces. Roll the floured meat in egg, then dredge in breadcrumbs, coating evenly both times.

Heat first measurement of oil in an oven-safe heavy bottomed skillet or cast iron. When hot, add both chicken breasts and cook over medium heat until browned, about five minutes. When the breadcrumbs are beautifully browned, add second measurement of olive oil and flip the chicken over using tongs. 

After five minutes on the second side, place the skillet in the oven and bake 20-25 minutes, or until meat thermometer inserted into the chicken breast reads 155°F or higher. While the chicken is baking, prepare the mustard sauce. 

Creamy Mustard Sauce

  • ½ c butter
  • ¼ c flour
  • 1 c whole milk
  • 1/3 c-1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1 Tbs whole grain mustard
  • 2 Tbs Dijon mustard, plus more to taste
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • Fresh squeezed lemon juice (optional)
  • Fresh parsley (garnish)

Heat butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until melted, but not browned. Add flour and cook 1-3 minutes, or until the flour has foamed and absorbed the flavor of the butter, stirring constantly.

Lower heat to medium and gradually add milk, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens. Add cream until sauce is of desired consistency. Add both mustards, salt, and pepper, stirring after each addition and tasting for seasonings. Add lemon juice, if using. 

Spoon sauce over sliced chicken cordon bleu. Finish with fresh parsley and serve with greens, simple starch like fingerling potatoes or rice, and a glass of white wine.