Friday, October 23, 2015

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

Bread pudding is a pretty simple dessert and oh, so comforting especially on a cold night. Best served warm about 15 minutes after removing from the oven. Serve with some bourbon sauce (see below) or vanilla ice cream. Heat leftovers in foil in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Don’t microwave as it tends to toughen bread.
Oven Temp: 350 degrees F. (DO NOT PREHEAT OVEN)
Cooking Time: 50 minutes to 1 hour or more
Serves: 6 (Double recipe to serve 12 and use a 9 by 13 baking dish)
Tools: large mixing bowl, 2-1/2 to 3 quart baking dish

  • 6 cups bread pieces about an inch squarish (see below)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 stick melted butter
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup chopped or broken pecans or walnuts (Don't use nuts that are chopped too small - you want to see them and taste them.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1//4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • (option) 1 cup, 1/2 inch diced apple
THE BREAD: I like to use a bread that has some body - not ordinary white bread. You can use ordinary white bread and many do, but a heartier bread, I think, makes a better pudding. I typically use a French baguette or a some type of ciabatta loaf. Challah bread and brioche (an eggy bread) are also common breads used for a bread pudding and they work well, too. If you can find a whole grain or whole wheat baguette that would be a slightly healthier substitution. I have even seen some recipes that use stale croissants. Never tried it – could be interesting.

The bread typically is day old bread. This comes from the days when you bought your bread fresh for use that day - like they still do in European countries. By the next day the bread was getting hard. Old bread is not the same as bread that has been dried out. I saw a complete scientific explanation of this on America’s Test Kitchen. You want bread that has been dried out in an oven not set out on the counter overnight. It makes a better pudding.

Many recipes tell you to cut the bread in 1 inch cubes. I find this makes for a more dense pudding. I recommend tearing the bread in pieces about 1 inch. Irregular pieces will not mash down as easily and this creates an airier and lighter pudding.

So, start tearing up your bread and put the pieces in a measuring cup. Empty the pieces onto a baking sheet pan until you have 6 cups of pieces. Spread them out evenly. Put them in a 225 degree oven. In about 30 minutes or so they will be nicely dried out. Drying time will depend on the type of bread you use.
In a large bowl mix all the other ingredients together. (Don’t add hot melted butter to the eggs or it will scramble them. Add the butter after you have added the milk. (You can mix all of these ingredients ahead of time and refrigerate - just let it come to room temperature before mixing with bread.)

Place the dried bread in a buttered 9" by 9" baking dish or an equivalent oval or round baking dish. Pour the liquid over the bread. The liquid should almost come to the top of the bread, if not, add some additional milk.

Let it sit about 20 minutes so the bread absorbs the mixture. If you can, weight it down a little so the bread submerges in the liquid. You can put a plate with something heavy on top.

Place the dish oven on the middle oven rack, then turn the oven on to 350 degrees F.
When it has risen and the top is golden, its done. It may take a little longer than the time given above. It depends how wet it is.

BOURBON SAUCE (or use rum)
  • 1/2 stick softened butter
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
Cream the soft butter (not melted) and sugar together. Add the egg yolk and mix. Pour it into a small saucepan and add bourbon. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Let simmer for about 3 minutes stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

It will thicken a little as it cools. Add 1 or 2 Tablespoons of bourbon right before serving. Sauce should be warm and poured over the warm bread pudding.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Party Food, part 1

As the Holidays approach it had me thinking about parties. And parties mean appetizers – small bites. This is a collection of ideas for tasty accompaniments to your holidays potables. It is important to be mindful of dietary restrictions and avoidances that many people have these days, so make sure your bites offer something for everyone.

We’ve all eaten a lot of pigs-in-a-blanket, crudité (raw vegetables and dip), mini-quiches and cheese balls! Boring, right? Well, I still love my pigs in a blanket and am always happy to see them. Not very elegant, but I like them. Let’s talk about some other options for treating your guests to something special and different. These options require no baking. They are simple and easy to put together.

In this post I will explain how to create a cheese board and a charcuterie board – a board of cured meats. Sometimes these are combined - cheese and meats on a single board or a couple of boards with the addition of some fruits, nuts, olives, etc. I will also make a suggestion for how to make a better raw vegetable platter – crudité. These 3 items make for a well-rounded spread offering a variety protein, vitamins, complex carbs and fiber as well as something for everyone who may have dietary restrictions. I also give some links to videos and articles related to the topics.

* Be sure to have some small plates so guests can create a plate rather than just stand and “graze” at the food table.

Cheese Board

Forget the cheeseball! Put together a cheese board. Cheese is a protein and that’s good to have with alcohol. The protein balances the sugar in alcoholic beverages and brings down your glycemic index. The classic cheese plate usually has 3 to 5 types of cheese – hard cheeses, soft cheeses and pungent cheeses like a blue cheese or goat cheese. The amount of cheese obviously depends on how many people you are serving. If you don’t know much about cheese go to a shop that specializes in cheeses where someone can give you advice. Just tell them you are making a cheese board - what cheeses would they recommend. If it’s a good cheese shop they will let you sample the cheese before you buy. Always buy the cheese is a block, wedge or round, not sliced or crumbled. If a cheese shop isn’t available to you then here are some sure-fire cheeses you should be able to find anywhere:

Hard Cheeses: smoked gouda, havarti, white cheddar, muenster
Pungent Cheeses: blue cheese, goat cheese (chevre) with herbs
Soft Cheeses: camembert or brie (I will have a recipe for baked a Brie in my next post.)

Fondue has come back into “style.” Hot, melty cheese … yum! A fondue pot could be a nice centerpiece to a cheese board.

To create a cheese board you will need:
  • A large board or plate or 2. Try to use something flat like a large wood cutting board or a large, shallow serving plate used for a turkey.
  • Cheese knives. Cheese knives are short and wide, similar to a butter knife. You can buy some cheap ones at a store if you don’t have any.
  • A variety of crackers and/or bread. Stay away from highly seasoned crackers - you want the cheese to shine, not the cracker. Buy a baguette and slice it in small rounds.
  • Some red and green grapes. These are a typical addition to a cheese plate. They are good with cheese and also offer some color when you arrange the board.
  • A small bowl of honey which goes really well with camembert and brie
  • Some people like to add some dried fruits like apricots to the plate or slices of apple or pear. If you use apples or pears you need to toss them in some water with lemon juice first so they do not turn brown while on the plate.
  • You could also add some pitted olives, like kalamata, in a small bowl.
  • Walnut or pecan halves or cashews are a nice addition as well sprinkled around the plate.
Arrange the cheese board:
Prepare the board about 1/2 hour before the party so the cheese can come to room temperature. Leave the cheeses in blocks, don’t pre-cut them up in squares. The cheese will dry out. Let your guests slice what they want.

You want to spread out the blocks of cheese and intersperse them with the crackers/bread, grapes and other items you might add. Often the grapes are left in a bunch and people pick off the grapes they want, but this means there are a lot of hands touching the grapes. Instead, pick them off the branch and put them in mounds on the board or in small bowls.

It’s always a nice touch to cut one slice from the cheese and set it at the block of cheese so guests are not intimidated by being the first one to cut into it.

It’s also nice to place a small card next to the cheese with its name so guests know what they are tasting.

Do pre-slice the bread if you use it.

Don’t overload the board – leave space for guests to slice the cheese.

You can always add crackers and bread as needed.

HELPFUL VIDEOS: CHEESE BOARDS        video 1    video 2    video 3

Charcuterie (shar-koo-terr-ee) Board

You might also have a board of thinly sliced cured meats – again, protein. Wikipedia defines charcuterie as “the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, ballotines, pâtés, and confit, primarily from pork.” There are a host of cured meats that you may have never tried. Again, if you know very little about cured meats, go to a place that specializes in them and talk to the butcher. They will give you samples. Always have the meats sliced very thinly so you can fold them when arranging the board. If seeking out a butcher is too daunting or not available here are some cured meats you can find most places:
  • Sausages: salami, pepperoni (not the small kind typically used on pizza), capicola, mortadella, soppressata, andouille and chorizo.
  • Meats: Black Forest ham, country ham, prosciutto (an Italian ham)
  • Paté: a mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste; liver paté is perhaps the most common.
You may see pre-made packages of cured meats at your market in the Deli section which might include 2 or 3 types of cured meats. 
Arrange the charcuterie board:
You will create “piles” of the meats. Larger sliced meats like proscuitto, salamis and ham can be loosely folded in half and then in half again. The type of meat and it’s flexibility will determine how you arrange the board.
  • Avoid laying out the meats in rows of slices. Intersperse the meats with small slices of french bread and crackers if you have a paté.
  • Add a bowl of a spicy mustard or a fig jam
  • A bowl of small pickles and/or olives and/or pepperoncini (mild/hot peppers)
  • Include a small fork for people to pick up the meats or toothpicks for slices of small round sausages like andouille

Crudité - vegetable platter
This is not your usual crudité platter – so please read on ...
Considering that your guests will be imbibing it’s nice to serve something healthy! Raw veggies are an easy solution. One problem with raw vegetables is that they can be pretty bland - hence the fattening dips we use to enhance them. Try this instead. Don’t buy a vegetable tray at the market! The veggies are old. You will buy fresh veggies and blanche them so they are just slightly soft and marinate them in a vinaigrette. Then there is no need for a fattening dip just toothpicks. Veggies that work well this way: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus and a couple you don’t need to blanche: cucumber, zucchini, grape tomatoes and olives.

Cut the broccoli and cauliflower into bite-sized florets.

Asparagus: you will need spears that are at least 1/2 inch in diameter, not those pencil-thin kind. Place your fingers in the middle of a spear and the fingers of your other hand at the end of the spear. Bend the spear until it snaps. Discard the end piece. This guarantees you will not be eating a woody, fibrous piece of asparagus. Cut the remaining piece into1-1/2 inch pieces.

Carrots: please don’t buy those prepared “baby” carrots. They are tasteless and god knows how long they have been in that bag! Better to buy fresh ones, peel them and cut them diagonally into bite-sized pieces about 1 inch long depending on thickness.

Cut the cucumber and zucchini into 1 inch rounds then cut the rounds in half or fourths depending on the size so the pieces are bite-sized.

Prepare an ice bath: a large bowl filled with cold water and some ice.

Steam the veggies: Add a little water to a large pot and salt it. If you have a steamer, use that. Steam the broccoli and cauliflower for about 2 minutes. Don’t let it get soft – it needs to remain a little firm. Test with a sharp knife. Remove the veggies to the ice bath to stop the cooking. Steam the asparagus for about 1 minute and remove to the ice bath.

After 5 minutes in the ice bath you can drain the veggies. Put them and any other veggies into a large bowl. GENTLY toss with a vinaigrette dressing. You can make your own or use a bottle variety. Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours tossing occasionally. Just before serving drizzle with a little fresh lemon juice and give them one final toss. Spread them out on a plate lined with Romaine lettuce leaves and have some toothpicks nearby.


Sunday, October 4, 2015


You might think quesadillas are just an appetizer, but you can easily make a meal of them. And they are so easy to make. A basic quesadilla might contain just 2 ingredients, but you can, of course, add all kinds of stuff. Typically quesadillas have some kind of shredded or thinly sliced cheese and then a few other ingredients. Quesadillas are great way to use up leftovers of this and that in the fridge. Be creative with what you put in them – use combinations of things you like.
You don’t want too many items as the quesadilla should not be more than 1/2 inch thick. Cheese plus 2 additions and maybe some herbs is all you really need. You'll need about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of cheese per tortilla and only about 2 or 3 tablespoons of other ingredients. Don’t overload them! Keep them simple. 
You will use 8- or 10-inch flour tortillas. You can use the whole wheat variety as well or the flavored ones like spinach or tomato, etc. 
As you would do if doing a stir-fry, get your mise en place going – that fancy French expression which means have all of your ingredients ready – shredded, chopped, julienned, etc., before you begin assembly. 
There are 2 methods for cooking the quesadillas - in an oven or in a large fry pan. Use the oven if you are making a lot of them. If you are only making 2 or 4 use a fry pan.
  1. Place the pan on medium heat. When warmed place a tortilla in the pan. After 15 seconds flip it. After 15 more seconds remove it to a plate. This makes it more pliable for folding. 
  2. Once you have warmed the tortillas spray the pan with some cooking spray. Now assemble your quesadillas. 
  3. You will spread your ingredients on one side of the tortilla – sprinkle some cheese over the bottom, then your other ingredients and top with a little more cheese. Fold it over, press it down. 
  4. Now place 2 folded quesadillas in the pan. Keep an eye on them. Once they brown (in 2 to 3 minutes) gently flip them over with a wide spatula and fry until brown on the second side. 
  5. Remove to a plate and let cool slightly before you cut them up. Give the cheese a chance to set up. Use a pizza cutter to cut the half-moon into 3 or 4 pieces.
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with some foil (non-stick foil if you have it). Place the tortillas on the sheet and put them in the oven for 1 minute to “relax” them. Remove from the oven. 
  2. Spread your ingredients on one side of the tortilla – sprinkle some cheese over the bottom, then your other ingredients and top with a little more cheese. Fold it over, press it down and return to the oven for 5 to 8 minutes. 
  3. Remove to a plate and let cool slightly before you cut them up. Give the cheese a chance to set up. Use a pizza cutter to cut the half-moon into 3 or 4 pieces. 
Toppings: quesadillas often have a topping or a dipping sauce. You can drizzle a little over the top after you cut them up or serve on the side for dipping. 

Some quesadilla combinations:
The Cheese: use 3 different cheeses - cheddar, jack, feta / cheddar, swiss, jack / cheddar, parmesan, provolone, / american, swiss, havarti ... etc. 
Add one of the following options:
  • thinly sliced green onion or diced green chiles (canned) or diced jalapeños
  • diced tomatoes or dollops of salsa
  • thinly sliced roasted red peppers
Toppings: sour cream or salsa or salsa verde or guacamole.
The Cheese: Shredded cheddar or shredded Mexican blend, Shredded Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack
Add of few of the following options:
  • thinly sliced green onion or diced green chiles (canned) or diced jalapeños
  • diced tomatoes or dollops of salsa
  • corn
  • black beans or refried beans
  • frozen chopped spinach thawed and water squeezed out
  • thinly sliced roasted red peppers
  • shredded chicken
  • chopped crispy bacon
Toppings: sour cream or salsa or salsa verde or guacamole. 
The Cheese: goat cheese
Add of few of the following options:
  • thinly sliced green onion
  • roasted garlic
  • chopped fresh chives or chopped basil or fresh parsley or dill
  • chopped sun-dried tomato
  • chopped crispy bacon
  • salami
Toppings: salsa or salsa verde or garlic oil
The Cheese: crumbled Feta cheese
Add of few of the following options:
  • thinly sliced green onion
  • chopped sun-dried tomato
  • thinly sliced mushrooms (raw or sautéed)
  • sliced olives - green or black or Kalamata or an olive tapenade
  • drizzles of olive oil 
  • salami 
Toppings: sour cream or salsa or salsa verde or marinara or garlic oil
The Cheese: Shredded mozzarella or provolone
Add of few of the following options:
  • thinly sliced green onion
  • diced tomato or dollops of marinara 
  • thin slices of bell pepper
  • chopped pepperoni or salami or thin slices of prosciutto
  • thinly sliced mushrooms (raw or sautéed)
  • thinly sliced basil
  • drizzles of olive oil
Toppings: marinara or garlic oil
The Cheese: Thin slices of Brie or Camembert or crumbled Blue Cheese 
Add of few of the following options:
  • dollops of apricot jam
  • thinly sliced green onion
  • thin slices of prosciutto chopped
The Cheese: shredded Swiss or Gruyère 
Add of few of the following options:
  • thinly sliced green onion
  • diced tomatoes
  • thin slices of bell pepper
  • frozen chopped spinach thawed and water squeezed out
  • thin slices of diced prosciutto or ham or country ham chopped