Friday, December 18, 2009

Quick and Easy Bread Pudding

I have a huge backlog of recipes I have cooked, baked, eaten, photographed and just not found the time to blog about yet. In addition to being a bit busy with the holidays coming, I also found myself on an unexpected visit to the hospital for a few days. I am recovered and I am fine now, and actually in quite good health, but I sure haven't been up to much writing and cooking over the past week or so. So what I bring you today is actually something I made fairly recently, but never got a chance to write about, a really quick and tasty version of Bread Pudding with Vanilla Sauce I found on Amy's Kitchen.

Bread pudding is a great credit crunching type recipe, as it uses up stale bread, turning it into a really delicious dessert. The bread gets torn up and soaked in a custard, then baked until puffed and golden. Typically, a sweet, rich, creamy sauce is ladled over the top of the baked pudding, often with brandy or some other liqueur added. However in this version, there is no alcohol used at all, making this very kid friendly. It may not be the fanciest bread pudding you have ever made, but it is a nice simple recipe to turn to when you just want a quick and easy dessert fast.

Amy's Kid Friendly Bread Pudding (adapted from a recipe found here)
(about 4-6 servings)

6 slices stale (but still a little soft) bread, torn into cubes
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon or mixed spice
1 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups milk (I used either skim milk or 2%), divided
1 package instant vanilla pudding mix (4 serving size)*, divided in half

Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a small 9" square glass baking dish. Fill a kettle with some water and set it to boil. Tear up the bread and place into the dish. Measure out just 1 cup of the milk, add the egg, sugar, and spice and whisk together until blended. Measure out just half of the dry pudding mix and add to the milk mixture. Pour over the bread.

Set the filled baking dish inside a 9x13" metal baking dish. Set the nestled pans onto the center rack of your preheated oven (you may want to pull the rack out a bit). Go grab your kettle of recently boiled water and carefully pour enough water into the METAL PAN to surround the glass baking dish with about 1" high water. DO NOT pour any water into the glass baking dish.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the pudding is puffed and golden and is no longer soupy. Remove the glass pan from the water filled metal pan. Allow to cool a few minutes while you prepare the simple sauce, which is just a matter of mixing up the remaining half packet of pudding mix with the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk. You may pour the sauce over the entire casserole or serve on the side to ladle over individual portions. Allow the sauced pudding to rest 15 minutes so the sauce can soak in a bit. This tastes great warm, but also quite good after it has been chilled.

*If you don't live in the US, then I think you can instead try using Bird's custard powder, although a few adjustments may need to be made. I would use enough powder for 2 portions when adding it to baked pudding itself, but for the sauce, I would recommend preparing a small amount of the custard as directed on the package.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Something to be Thankful For: Part 4, Turkey Leftovers

I realize my Thanksgiving posts have all run just a bit is halfway to Christmas already and I am still writing about my turkey. Last post on this for a year, I promise! I had a lot of leftover turkey this year, since I was only serving 2 people but still wanted to make a full roasted bird for the holiday. Since I am always very big on credit crunching, having leftover meat to use throughout the next week is a positive in my mind. I unfortunately did not get all of my creations on film this year, but at least a few of them did manage to get snapped in time.

There are a few specific dishes I try to make every year to use up the seemingly endless supply of leftover turkey meat. Usually, some of my leftovers find their way into a turkey sandwich. This year I made some paninis using my indoor grill. I used some nice hearty bread, layered with slices of turkey breast meat, roasted red peppers, avocado slices, Emeril's NY Style Brown Deli mustard, and Swiss Cheese. They turned out pretty tasty, very cafe-like.

I also made a Lazy Turkey Dinner in a Bowl, which was just some leftover mashed potatoes and corn mixed together and mounded in a bowl, topped with chunks of cooked turkey, with some maple gravy on top and heated all together. Not exactly the fanciest of meals, but I was tired and far more interested in spending time with my best friend than cooking endless meals. On another night, I tried out this version of Turkey Tetrazinni (pictured above), a pasta dish with a creamy white sauce which I topped with panko crumbs and a bit of Parmesan cheese. It turned out fairly well, although not quite as flavorful as some different versions I had made in the past.

One of the new things I tried out this year was a really great recipe for Turkey Enchiladas. I decided to use my dark meat in this, mixing it with some mild Tequila & Lime flavor salsa, a bit of cheese, some of my leftover corn, and just a tiny bit of diced jalapenos (enough to give it some flavor but not enough to make the enchiladas too hot). These were really good and so very fast and easy to throw together at the last minute. I will likely make these again with chicken leftovers as well.

I usually make some form of a turkey soup. This year, I made some wonderful Turkey Chowder, which was so simple and was perfect for my remaining white meat. I used the rest of my evaporated milk in place of some of the half & half cream called for in the recipe. It came out so luscious, smooth and creamy. This chowder had me wishing I had more leftovers, even after eating turkey all week. It was a great find and will definitely be making a return to my table next year when I am faced with more leftovers.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Something to be Thankful For: Part 3, Holiday Pies

I think pie has to be one of my all time favorite dessert categories. I am a huge fan of desserts in general, but if I had to choose between a cake, ice cream, or pie, I usually will choose the pie hands down. In fact, I'd rather have a pie instead of a birthday cake. Since my birthday always fell very close to (or sometimes on) Thanksgiving, my family birthday "cake" was actually a Thanksgiving pie with a candle stuck in the center, while everyone gathered around the table and sang in harmony. My Grandma Dolores always remembered to make me a special lemon meringue pie for my birthday, which is still one of my favorite pie flavors.

My mom made (and still makes) fabulous pies. Her crust was always so crisp and light and she always managed to make them look so perfect. It took me a long time to get my pie crusts to taste right, and although I can get them to look nice enough, Mom is still the champion when it comes to an artful looking pie crust.

This year, I decided to make Betty's Pecan Pie, which I tried for the first time. I have made quite a few different versions of pecan pie through the years, and while I liked all of them, I hadn't found that special recipe yet, the one that would make me stop seeking new pecan pie recipes. Pretty sure this one will be my new favorite for now. It turned out so moist and nutty, plus it looked beautiful.

I also made my trusty Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie using fresh pumpkin, which I have been making ever since I first obtained the recipe from a friend. She didn't use fresh pumpkin in hers, but for me the fresh pumpkin is what makes this pie so special. It hardly takes any time at all to make fresh pumpkin puree. Simply wash and cut a small pie pumpkin into about 4 wedges, scoop out the seeds, pop into a steamer basket and let steam over boiling water, covered, until tender. The time varies depending on how big your pumpkin is, but generally 15-20 minutes should do the trick. The skin peels off so easily once the pumpkin is cooked, and a simple whirl with a stick blender creates a perfectly smooth, stringless puree.

The pie itself is a snap to throw together once you have your puree cooked and cooled. I actually like it better using skim versions of the milks, as it comes out less heavy, although you can use regular whole milk if you prefer. I have a deep dish pie plate that just barely holds all of the filling, but you could also use two smaller pie plates and just make an extra pastry shell.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Something to be Thankful For: Part 2, The Rolls

Mmmm soft fresh hot rolls. My holiday meal would not ever be complete without some fresh hot homemade bread. I can always remember my mother baking bread, watching the dough rise in pans she set in a sunny windowsill. My Aunt Marg also made a killer bread that she served at Thanksgiving and I can still remember the delicious taste and aroma (hopefully I will someday get my hands on her wonderful recipe). I grew up with zero fear of making bread dough, since from my earliest recollections of any sort of kitchen activity, I can remember someone in my family baking bread, and I often helped out with the kneading process. I always found it soothing and quite fun really to squash the dough between my fingers and push and pull at it until it became a soft, pliable ball of yeasty smelling dough.

For these particular rolls, the kneading is actually done in my bread machine, which is a huge time-saver on busy holidays, especially when you have guests and about a million other things to be doing besides taking up an entire counter for kneading and rolling out dough. So for those of you who did not have quite such an idyllic bread baking childhood experience, you might want to give this recipe for Whole Wheat Honey Rolls a try. The flavor and texture of these rolls is so tender and delicious, I have yet to find a usually-a-wheat-bread-hater type who has refused to eat them. You still get the pleasure of rolling the dough into balls for the rolls, but the mess and the work of the mixing and kneading is all neatly handled inside the bread machine. They bake very quickly, so you can pop these into your oven right before serving and have a delicious basket of freshly made rolls on your holiday table by the time your gravy is ready and the turkey carved.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Something to be Thankful For: Part 1, the Turkey

I had a really great Thanksgiving holiday and I hope you all had just as enjoyable a time as I did. My best friend, Josh, came to visit and I cooked a nice big Thanksgiving dinner, even though it was just the two of us eating. I think I am pretty much incapable of making a tiny holiday meal. As a kid, my family holiday meals were true feasts, always plentiful with an array of delicious side dishes and desserts, homemade bread, and of course a huge juicy turkey and gravy. Since we couldn't possibly eat everything, I did cut out a few of the usual dishes I might typically make, but it was still a pretty hearty table of food once it was all prepared.

I was very happy that for once in my life the turkey was actually almost fully thawed by the time I was ready to prepare it for the oven. I can't even count how many times I have stood around in the past changing out water in a metal sink every 30 minutes, trying to quick thaw a bird at the last minute. Luckily, this year I had remembered to allow for an extra thawing day and it made all the difference in the world. 4 full nights for my nearly 13 pound turkey did the trick.

As luck would have it, despite having a very accomodating thawed bird ready to go, my turkey preparation was still heavily delayed by two rather unfortunate events. The first was forgetting to make the special maple butter in advance, which I use to rub all over the turkey, giving it a a gorgeous shiny skin and a delicious flavor. I was supposed to prepare the butter mixture the night before, so that it could be chilled and spreadable the next day. But...I...forgot.

So...early in the morning I had to stand around reducing apple cider and maple syrup for what always seems like ages, and then mix it with the herbs and butter... and then once that rather time consuming step is finished, let the butter mixture chill enough to be able to gob it all over the skin of the bird and rub some under the skin too. Pant pant gasp gasp. Every year while making this butter I have sworn I will have to find another recipe next year that does not make me slave away just to make a butter rub... and every year after tasting my turkey and its wonderful herbally, slightly sweet and buttery gravy I remember exactly why I keep returning to this recipe year after year after year.

The second issue arose from the same procedure. While I was waiting for the cider-syrup mixture to reduce, I got some phone calls and well... talking on the phone while I am cooking always seems to get me into trouble. I do it all the time and really should have learned my lesson by now, but alas, such was not the case this time. While chattering away, I failed to notice the mixture boiling and oozing over the edges of the saucepan, leaving a bubbling sticky caramelized :cough: burnt mess all over my stovetop. I was actually able to salvage what remained in the pan, which had remarkably not burned at all and was finally at the exact 1/2 cup mark I had been waiting for so anxiously. I cleaned up the mess, buttered up my Tom Turkey and finally Thanksgiving dinner was underway.

Now wouldn't you know it, my silly turkey was done early this year. I stared at my digital thermometer with great distrust when my timer went off at the 2 hour mark. I glared at the pop up turkey button that had also decided to point out to me that, yes, somehow my turkey was already done before I had even peeled a single potato or heated up my freshly cut corn. I gave the legs a wiggle and poked at a thigh with a knife, using a spoon to catch the drippings to detect any hint of pink juices. I wasn't quite sure the juices were clear enough, and so I let Tom roast another 30 minutes longer while I quickly threw my side dishes together. I felt much better after the extra 30 minutes of cooking time and at this point, the legs were not just wiggly, they pried free easily. I covered the whole bird in foil and let it rest for another 30 minutes while I made some gravy from the pan drippings and a small amount of the maple butter mixture I had set aside before rubbing the skin earlier.

To accompany the Maple Roast Turkey and Gravy, I served corn scraped fresh from the cob and sauteed in butter and some cornstarch, freshly boiled and mashed potatoes, crock pot stuffing, and some chunks of butternut squash tossed in a little butter, oil and cinnamon and roasted for about 30 minutes while the turkey was resting and the gravy was bubbling away. I also made some delicious whole wheat honey rolls (more about those later). Everything turned out very tasty and we had a great time.