Monday, January 27, 2014

Savory Bread Pudding

Day 58

My husband, daughter, and I had the opportunity to start 2014 with a mini-adventure. Although he had been skiing for years, Doug was excited to introduce Tate and I to the wonders of the slopes. Thus began our plan for a visit to spend time with some dear friends who had recently moved from the East Coast to the mountains of Utah.

The weekend before the Sundance Film Festival, we traveled to Park City, Utah. Our friends met us at the airport late on the night of our arrival, and after a good night’s sleep at 6000 feet and lots of bottled water for adequate high-altitude hydration, we embarked on a day of local tourism. From impressive ice castles, to mountain views, to monuments commemorating the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, to quaint shops in Park City, and finally to the Mormon Temple and downtown Salt Lake, we toured our hearts out.

At the end of our second day, we stopped by the ski resort to procure our ski accoutrements and to prepare for the next morning’s adventure.  Tate and I were apprehensive, so my husband treated us to ski lessons designed strictly for those of us who have never even been near a ski resort. The lessons were aptly named Never, Ever. With preparations complete, the morning for skiing arrived before we knew it, and the five of us spent the day on very different parts of the slopes—Doug and his friends on advanced trails and Tate and I on the bunny hill.
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2014

     As an aside, if you’re interested in learning more about our frustrating and somewhat laughable introduction to “fresh powder”, you might want to check out the full story from my personal memoir and essay collection. Just click here to read it. 

After a day of skis and cushy lodge chairs, our friends escorted us home, where they had prepared a delectable dinner of pulled chicken barbeque on fresh yeast slider rolls, homemade cole slaw, and an enticingly rich pineapple bread pudding. The meal was comforting after a day in the cold, and it offered an element of nostalgia for our friend whose mother used to make the casserole for her when she was a child. For me, it was also a bit nostalgic because it reminded me of my grandmother’s bread pudding, made from a recipe handed-down from my great-grandmother. In fact, I spent a great deal of time that night, lying in bed with achy legs and arms, remembering how much my father enjoyed that bread pudding whenever Grandma made it. 

The next morning, for breakfast, we awoke to another incredible bread pudding; this time, with pecans and brown sugar. It was perfectly delightful with piping hot coffee and butter. The flavor was part cinnamon bun and part egg custard, and the texture was similar to moist sponge cake, which made for an almost Southern-comfort breakfast, of sorts. 

After two bread puddings and many memories of childhood, I began to think about the similarities between bread pudding and Thanksgiving stuffing. The key difference is, of course, that one is sweet and one is savory. Another difference is that bread puddings have custard bases rather than broth and butter. Once we returned home from our wonderful visit with our Utah friends, pondering the idea of savory bread puddings became a temporary obsession.  I searched through recipes to find one that had very similar custard ingredients to Grandma’s, but without the sweetness. After some trial and error dishes, I found one on the Bon Appétit website. I adjusted some of the dry ingredients to suit my tastes, and you can definitely do the same to your own recipe as long as the bread to wet ingredient ratio stays the same. 

Our clan liked this dish so much that we agreed it might have to replace our traditional Thanksgiving stuffing this year. It makes a nice side dish for poultry, served aside dark leafy greens and carrots. I think you’ll agree that it’s a winning combination of flavors and textures. 

So, thanks to Bon Appétit magazine, and I wish you a bon appétit whenever you try it! 

Savory Bread Pudding*

1 lb. crusty country-style French loaf (about 10 loosely packed cups), cubed and left to stale for a day or two
¼ cup good olive oil
4 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
3 large cloves garlic, minced

¾ stick of butter
1 lb. baby Portobello mushrooms, chopped (or an assorted mix of mushrooms)
1 ½ cups finely chopped onion
1 cup finely diced red pepper
½ cup finely diced celery
½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

3 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
8 large eggs
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9x13 glass baking dish. Place bread cubes in a very large bowl. Add oil, thyme, and garlic. Toss to coat. Spread cubes on large rimmed sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and slightly crunchy, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Return toasted bread cubes to large bowl.

Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees. 

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, red pepper, and celery. Sauté until soft and juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add sautéed vegetables and chopped parsley to bread cubes. 

Whisk eggs in large bowl. Add heavy cream, salt, and ground pepper, continuing to whisk.  Mix custard into bread and vegetable medley. Transfer bread pudding to prepared dish. Sprinkle cheese over. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. 
Bake uncovered until set and top is golden, about 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting into squares or scooping into mini-ramekins for easy serving or reheating. 

Note: This bread pudding can be prepared and refrigerated, before baking, up to a day ahead.

*Recipe originally named Savory Bread Pudding with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese and was slightly modified here. Courtesy of Bon Appétit website. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Weeknight Chicken Pasta

Day 57

For your next weeknight dinner dilemma, consider this recipe. It’s a very simple one-plate meal that can be made in under an hour. It was a hit in our house tonight—creamy, full of bold flavors, and very pretty in presentation!

Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2014
Weeknight Chicken Pasta

1 ½ lbs. chopped, cooked chicken breast 
2- 10 ¾ oz. cans cream of celery soup
16 oz. sour cream
2 cups French fried onions (such as Durkee)
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. black pepper

1- 8 oz. box campanelle pasta, cooked al dente and drained
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups baby kale, coarsely chopped
¼ cup good extra virgin olive oil 
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

(For chicken, bake breasts at 350 degrees just until done. Chop in bite sized pieces.)

Combine the cooked chicken, soups, sour cream, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl, then transfer the mixture to a greased baking dish. Bake 35 minutes until bubbly. Add fried onions and bake an additional 5 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven on the stovetop, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic until tender. Add the kale and sauté just until wilted. Salt and pepper the pasta mixture to taste. 

Plate the pasta, then top with the baked chicken mixture. Serve immediately. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Chipped Beef Cheeseball

Day 56

We’ve all enjoyed the ultimate comfort breakfast of cream chipped beef over toast or biscuits. Who doesn’t love that? My stepson, Nick, tells me that his grandmother makes the best he has ever eaten, hands-down. I might just have to pay this lady a visit in 2014, begging for a taste. I’ve certainly made it often over the years, and I can’t say that mine is particularly extraordinary since I just use a standard recipe of flour, cream, black pepper, and a glass jar of dried beef. I like to serve it as a makeshift Eggs Benedict, pouring it over an egg and cheese English muffin.

Photo by Maggie Kapustin
 At any rate, I am fond of using dried beef in other recipes too. For example, it’s delightful with smoked Gouda cheese, stuffed inside chicken breasts, to offer a twist to Chicken Cordon Bleu. Another fun way to serve dried beef is in a cheeseball—a deliciously salty appetizer with crackers and beer, and an excellent idea for the upcoming Super Bowl. My good friend, Lori, shared her family recipe for a variation of this cheeseball, and I liked it so much that I used it as a base to tweak the perfect combination of cheeses and flavors for my own version. Here’s my end result, and I think you’ll agree that these ingredients— in the amounts listed—are the perfect marriage of flavors. If you don’t like my version, try your own additions and make your own changes to see what you prefer. It’s really difficult to ruin a cheeseball by changing ingredients, as long as the amounts of each flavor are balanced. Have fun with this one!

You can find dried beef in the supermarket, usually near the canned meats and fish. In every grocery store I’ve visited, it is always on the very top shelf, so maybe we customers need to find more uses for it.

Try this cheeseball with your favorite crackers (I use salt-free croissant crackers to balance the saltiness of the dried beef) for your next appetizer event! 

Chipped Beef Cheeseball

2- 8oz. pkgs. cream cheese, softened
1- 5 oz. jar dried beef, chopped coarsely in food processor (I use Hormel)
½ small Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. hot sauce 
1- 8oz. bag shredded Pepper Jack cheese (or 2 cups shredded from block cheese)
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. onion powder

Pecans, chopped dried beef, or dried chives and paprika for garnish


Combine all ingredients by hand or in a mixing bowl with the paddle attachment. Roll into ball and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove from fridge and roll in ONE of the following mixtures: 1. chopped pecans and paprika, OR 2. chopped dried beef pieces and paprika, OR 3. dried chives and paprika. (I use the chives and paprika.) Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2+ hours until ready to serve. Serve with crackers. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Deviled Eggs

Day 55

Happy 2014, and thanks for continuing to read my blog. Most of us spent at least a few minutes last night reflecting on the year that has passed and the year ahead, no doubt. We probably also made a New Year’s resolution or two, feeling optimistic and brave. One of my resolutions is to take the time to truly embrace the moment. Too often, I have my sights on the bigger picture
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013
ahead, thereby missing 

the small things that really are the essence of life. I don’t want to miss the small things anymore because they help me to be fully appreciative and present in the here and now. 

In keeping with that, as a gal who loves to cook and who really loves to eat (funny how those two pair so nicely), an important lesson in the kitchen is to spend a good bit of time focusing on the small details of a meal or dish. After all, creating a perfect plate or even a perfect bite requires more than the main character on the entrée stage. A prime example of how the small additions can truly make the plate is our Christmas morning breakfast. I prepared Virginia country ham biscuits with a grainy mustard remoulade and Ina Garten’s cinnamon buns. More on the buns later, I promise.  When deciding on the menu, I knew that the ham biscuits and cinnamon buns were must-haves, but alone, they didn’t finish the plate in the way I wanted. I wanted something small with big flavor; something creamy and hearty, sans bread, to create a balanced flavor for the plate. After a few minutes of pondering the options, I knew exactly what the meal needed.

Enter Deviled Eggs. They’re perfect, actually—bite-size, tangy and creamy, and definitely hearty. I began to sift through my favorite cooks’ websites and my own trusted cookbooks, but none of the interesting or nouveau deviled egg recipes I found were any more appealing for Christmas morning than the traditional recipe I’ve known my whole life. So that’s what I used. And they were delightful. 

When making a small plate for breakfast or any light meal, one of my rules is to keep it simple. I like to stick with the Rule of Three, actually. That is to say, three companionable items to enjoy are perfect. The plate is full but not crowded, the flavors don’t fight for the spotlight, and the palate isn’t over-whelmed. And, the very best part is that everyone remembers the distinct flavors and ingredients. The Rule of Three never fails. 

Our Christmas morning breakfast was delicious. We savored the saltiness of the ham and the sweetness of the cinnamon buns, tempered by the creaminess of the deviled eggs. Try these three together for your next company or family breakfast; you’ll be glad you did. 

Now back to those cinnamon buns, courtesy of Ina Garten. It’s no secret that I love each and every one of her recipes, all trustworthy and “foolproof”, for sure. Her cinnamon bun recipe uses puff pastry (!!), making every single bite just like that perfect center part of your favorite cinnamon bun. They are easy to prepare and even easier to eat. Check out the recipe at the link below. Thank me—or curse me if you become addicted—later.

Happy New Year to you and yours! 

Deviled Eggs

15 extra large eggs, hard-boiled, cooled, and peeled
½ cup plus 1 tbs. good mayonnaise (I use Hellman’s)
3 tbs. dill pickle relish (sweet relish works too) 
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup finely diced white onion
Salt and white pepper to taste
Chives and paprika for garnish

Halve 15 eggs lengthwise, and carefully remove yolks into mixing bowl. Place empty egg whites on a plate for filling. 

Mash yolks with a fork, stirring in mayonnaise, relish, Dijon mustard, and onion. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Place a generous dollop of yolk mixture into each egg white cup. 

Arrange deviled eggs on a serving platter, then sprinkle with chives and paprika. Refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours, covered until ready to serve.