Custard Bread Pudding

DSCF3252.jpg

I don't want to brag (yes I do), but I have figured out why people always talk about buying bread and milk when bad weather rolls in, and the answer is simple: bread pudding.

I know it's technically March and we all thought spring was on the way, but if you're stuck under a blanket of snow dealing with the Beast from the East, then this is the perfect thing for you to make today. I mean, I literally got out of bed this morning with no intention of making it, and half an hour later I had a heaping serving for breakfast with a cup of tea, and 10 minutes after that, I'm here telling you about it. If you did any kind of prep for this snow storm, you have the ingredients for this bread pudding. It makes as good of a dessert as it does a luxurious breakfast, and why are you even still here when you could be in your (ahem, warm) kitchen whipping this up?

This is a custard-heavy bread pudding, meaning that the finished product is basically a crisped, toasty layer of bread atop a thick, sweet custard you can sink your spoon into, which is why it doesn't require much bread. If you prefer a 'breadier', more rustic pudding similar to a baked french toast, you can amp up the bread by cutting it into chunks and filling your pan.

DSCF3248.jpg
DSCF3247.jpg
DSCF3250.jpg

If your cupboard is not bare, you can dress this up with a spoonful of vanilla, almond extract, or orange blossom water. Add texture with ½ of an orange's worth of zest, or a small handful of dried cherries or even some toasted chopped pecans for crunch. Sprinkle the finished dish with cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom for a hint of spice, or just go for broke and have it plain- you won't regret it.

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. Nothing this easy to make on a frigid day should receive anything less.

DSCF3251.jpg

One year ago: Mocha Cake with Caramel Frosting
two years ago: Western Swiss Steak
three years ago (new!): Crepes

the recipe:

Custard Bread Pudding

the directions:

Preheat the oven to 175C/350F.
Butter your baking dish.
Toast the bread until just crisp but not yet browned.
Butter the toast, then brush with the 3 tbsp of milk and press into the bottom of your baking dish, slicing to fit if necessary.
Meanwhile beat eggs until foamy, then add sugar and beat until smooth and uniform.
Add milk and beat until well-blended.
If using vanilla or any other extracts, add them now.
Pour egg mixture over toast in baking dish and press bread back down, making sure it's fully saturated (it will float, but as long as it's saturated, you're good to go).
Bake 20-25 minutes until centre of dish just jiggles when you nudge it.
Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired, and serve warm.

the ingredients:

Butter
2-3 slices of bread (3 slices of standard sandwich bread will neatly fill a 9-inch square baking dish, use less according to your plate size)
2 c + 3 tbsp milk, divided
3 eggs
1 c sugar
Optional garnishes according to your taste (see above for suggestions)

Chicken Casserole

Recently a friend asked me if there were any recipes I had discovered in the Recipe Box so far that I've made more than once. I thought hard about it- there aren't a lot of recipes I've made more than once (always new things to try, you know?), so it's not really a question of whether I've found any good recipes. After considering, I realised that yes, I now have a chocolate fudge cake I adore, a pound cake I've accidentally made twice (ha!) and a banana caramel cake I can't get enough of.

DSCF0848.jpg
DSCF0858.jpg

And now I also have this chicken recipe, which I've already made three times (and haven't even told you about it until now! I know!). The first time, I made this for myself when Judson was out of town for work and loved it so much I re-made it the day he got back so he could enjoy it too. The third time was this week when, suffering from the jetlag that comes from visiting Southeast Asia and then returning to Europe, and the culture shock that comes from hanging out in 38 degree-Celsius weather drinking out of coconuts for two weeks and then returning to a city in the throes of Christmas preparations, I couldn't think of a better way to warm our freezing-cold flat up.

DSCF0845.jpg
DSCF0846.jpg

I really thought I was in for another 'chicken in chicken sauce' type of event when I started this (which is why I made it when poor Judson was out of town), but it hasn't let me down yet, and I daresay you'll have the same results.* This recipe lends itself to the simple: you can make it with only the three required ingredients and it will be amazing, or you can add in whatever you have to hand, like half an onion, a leek or two, a rib of celery, some chopped bacon lardons or even a handful of roasted chestnuts. I think you could even swap the rice for quinoa for a whole-grain improvement, but I haven't tried it yet.

DSCF0850.jpg

*Read the original recipe and you'll see why- it was written on a torn-off piece of receipt paper and it looks like a haiku written by someone who doesn't understand syllables:

cream celery or chicken SOUP
water & extra
brown on 1 sine
on top of rice
pipert 1 hr
salt

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. No matter how you make it, this is a cosy, one-pan dish that will warm up your kitchen and have your entire house smelling like a home in no time. The best part? The leftovers heat up like a dream, so you're off dinner duty tomorrow night, too. It's not a classy recipe, but when you're jetlagged, cold, or just ready for an easy, warming dinner, this will definitely do the trick.

One year ago: Crazy Crust Apple Pie
two years ago: Chocolate Chiffon Cake

 

the recipe:

Chicken Casserole

the directions:

Preheat oven to 190C/375F.
Heat oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium heat.
Add chicken thighs, face down, and brown for 5 minutes until golden (more browning will occur in oven).
Flip over and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Check one thigh for doneness by poking into thickest part and checking the colour of the juices. If juice is still red, continue browning for an additional 3-5 minutes (chicken should be JUST done when you remove it).
Remove chicken from pan, drain all but 1 tbsp of liquid and spoon rice evenly into the pan.
Pour soup over rice, then any additional ingredients you're adding, finishing by adding chicken to the pan last.
Pop into preheated oven and bake 15-20 minutes or until heated through and well-browned.

the ingredients:

2 tbsp oil
1 package chicken thighs (as many as will fit in your pan)
3 cups rice, cooked
1 can or 2 cups homemade cream of chicken or cream of celery soup
optional: lardons, leeks, onion, chestnuts, celery, garlic cloves, or anything else in your fridge that needs to be used up.

Magic Bars

You know how occasionally you come across a recipe where every single ingredient is delicious, totally on its own? This is one of those recipes. No baking soda or raw eggs here. No flour or water or boring leavening agents. Just pure decadence, from start to finish.* It's one of those recipes that would be hard to pass up when you read it... but since it came from the inside of a box of butter, I'm not really sure how Eleanor found it to begin with.

Growing up, I remember friends making these for potluck dinners and to bring to parties, and we always called them Seven Layer Bars, but we must have been terrible at counting, because these only have 6 ingredients. So good are these bars that I used up my precious stash of chocolate chips in order to make them. As an aside, you can't get chocolate chips in Scotland-- at least not the kind needed for baking. So every time I go to the States, I pick up a couple bags and stash them in the back of the pantry for emergency use only. Judson doesn't understand the concept of an emergency baking stash, so I'm appealing to you for compassion on this. I've tried cooking with a bar of chocolate hacked to pieces, and although it sometimes works, mostly it makes your baked goods look kind of muddy from the tiny shavings of chocolate it leaves behind, instead of clean and studded with pockets of melty chocolate.**

These are the perfect party snack, and practically foolproof. Eleanor's copy was dogeared and worn, but absent any of the notations that most of her go-to recipes have, so trust me when I say: neither she nor I have found any way to improve upon this perfection. It's truly embarrassing how good these are-- the type of thing that you could bring to a party and, despite dirtying only one pan and spending less than 30 minutes on the entire dish, start to finish, they'll be polished off within an hour, even as the plate of petit fours languishes next to it.

Nobody is gonna want to admit how delicious these are, but no one could ever say no to one of them. Oh, and if you live stateside and have the option of shredded or flaked coconut instead of desiccated, so much the better for the texture. These are the best friend of the person who no one trusts to make a decent baked good-- easy, delicious, and so decadent you'll have to cut them into small pieces, which just means more to go around.

Take it from me and Eleanor: make these tonight, take them to work tomorrow, and then count the hours til you get called into the boss's office for a promotion

*Admittedly, part of the reason for this is that the recipe relies on a crust made of pre-made cookies, but nevertheless, I stand by my argument.

**If you're looking for things to mail us, chocolate chips are way at the top of the list, along with maple syrup, Tabasco sauce, hot pepper vinegar, and most flavours of Jell-o, which, embarrassingly, I need for a lot of upcoming recipes from the box. (Oh, also something called canned grapes, which I can't even fathom, really.)

The verdict: 4 spoons out of five, if you make them with the amount of chocolate I recommend below. I knocked off a spoon because nothing this easy should really get 5 spoons, it's just awkward.

The recipe:

Magic Bars

the ingredients:

½ c butter
1 ½ c Rich Tea crumbs (UK) or graham cracker crumbs (US)
14 oz condensed milk
10 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 c flaked or shredded coconut, or 1 c desiccated coconut
1 c chopped nuts (I used pecans and hazelnuts)

THE DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 176C/350F.
Melt butter by placing it in a 13x9 baking dish in the oven.
Sprinkle crumbs over butter evenly, pressing down to ensure good contact.
Pour condensed milk over crumbs as evenly as possible.
Top with chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts, pressing down firmly.
Bake 20-25 minutes until lightly browned and nuts are toasted.
Cool and cut into bars. Store at room temperature, or cold for a chewier treat.

Yields 18-24 bars.