Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Asparagus and Mushroom Bread Pudding

Asparagus and Mushroom Bread Pudding from Deborah Madison

My husband is generally pleased with whatever I prepare and so any kind of extreme response is unusual. This Asparagus and Mushroom Bread Pudding, however, elicited a strongly positive review.  Something on the order of “the best thing you’ve ever made.”

How can you go wrong with fresh local asparagus, mushrooms, chunks of bread and cheese?

I know the rule is never try out a new recipe on your dinner guests, but part of the fun in trying new recipes is sharing them with others.

As I planned for two visitors last week, I thumbed through one of my Deborah Madison cookbooks looking for her wild mushroom tart. Turns out I was in the wrong cookbook (has that ever happened to you?) but spied this bread pudding. I had fresh asparagus, some wonderful sourdough bread from New Pioneer Food Co-op and the decision was made.

For those who like texture, this bread pudding gets a bit crunchy and chewy around the top, but the insides are nice and creamy.

The original recipe calls for chanterelle or morel mushrooms, but I did not have access to either (though morel season is getting started here in Iowa). Morels are my favorite, but those sweet little things are so precious that I would not use them in a bread pudding where I fear they would get lost. These organic button mushrooms were just fine.

I used fresh marjoram, but you also can substitute tarragon, but don’t use both. These herbs have  pronounced and distinct flavors and would not work together. Marjoram isn’t something I use often, but after making this dish, I went out and added a plant to my herb garden. So there it will be amidst the oregano, thyme and four varieties of mint.

At this time of year, there is no shortage of good asparagus recipes and here’s one to add to your list. Do give it a try. Perhaps your loved ones will say it’s the best ever, too.


Asparagus and Mushroom Bread Pudding
Adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

3 cloves of garlic (Deborah calls for green garlic, but it’s too early in the season here)
3 c. milk
1 (1 lb) loaf sourdough bread (Deborah calls for a white bread but I really liked the sourdough flavor)
1-2 lbs. asparagus, peeled if it’s thick
 salt and freshly ground pepper
3 T. unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely diced
1/2 to 1 pound mushrooms (the recipe calls for chanterelle or morel, but I used white button)
4 large eggs
1/3 c. chopped parsley
3 T. chopped marjoram (or you can use tarragon)
2 c. Gruyere cheese, grated

Preheat to 350 F. Lightly butter or oil a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Add the garlic to the milk and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and set aside to let the garlic steep.

Unless your bread is stale, you will want to let it dry a bit. Slice the bread and put it on a baking sheet until it gets a little golden but not hard. Break it into chunks, put it in a large shallow baking dish, and strain the milk over it. Occasionally turn the bread so that it soaks up as much of the milk as possible.

Slice the asparagus on the diagonal about 1/3 inch thick. Fill a skillet with water and, when it boils, add salt to taste and then asparagus. Simmer until bright green and partially tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

Melt half the butter in a medium skillet. Add the shallot, cook for 1 minute, then add the mushrooms. Cook over high heat until the mushrooms turn brown in places and release their liquids. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Break the eggs into a large bowl and beat until smooth. Add the marjoram and parsley, 1 t. salt, and plenty of pepper. By now the bread should have soaked up most of the milk. Add the bread and any milk that is left to the bowl, along with the asparagus and mushrooms plus any juices, and two thirds of the cheese. Toss well. I found that it was easier to use my hands to toss everything around.

Pour all of this mixture into the prepared baking dish. Dot with the remaining butter. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top and bake until puffy and golden, about 45 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, and then serve.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Springtime Strawberry Torte

Layers of genoise, strawberry puree and créme mousseline for this springtime dessert.
For a recent dinner gathering, I wanted a special dessert to complement the main courses of roasted lamb and chicken. Something pretty but not too sweet or heavy. This strawberry torte, with layers of genoise, créme mousseline and a thick strawberry puree, was perfect.

The cake is not particularly difficult, but does require a bit of time, however, the components can be made in stages and ahead of time, so that gives you some options. I first made the cake layers as a 9 x 9 inch square and cut rectangular pieces from it. The second time round, I used the same size cake layers, but use biscuit cutters and formed several little cakes, which I think are fun. This enabled me to use three layers of genoise instead of two.

A créme mousseline takes pastry cream one step further by adding butter. (I know.) It is nothing but luscious and if you’ve never made it before, you really should add this to your cooking life list.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Arrivals and Departures


The challenge of working in a creative field is finding the time and energy for your own interests. For many years, I've helped others pursue their artistic goals, or I've channeled my own creativity toward an institution's mission. I gave at the office and when I arrived home, there wasn't much time for me.

This blog, for instance. I started it in 2011 when I found myself living in a new state. I wanted to take some time to cook and write and photograph food while I looked for work.

About one year later, I landed a highly creative position and quickly found that there wasn't time for blogging. It was a fast-paced office and by the end of the day, I was tired and didn't want to spend more time in front of a computer. Instead, I wanted/needed to exercise and cook dinner and spend time with my husband.

Not only that, but the good daylight I'd relied on for shooting my pictures was now hard to come by.

I continued blogging at night and on weekends, but after a year, I found myself now leading a department of creatives in an organization with some pretty ambitious goals and expectations. The blog went on standby.

And three years later, here we are.

The corporate world being what it is, I've come out on the other side of a merger and downsizing. While it's not something you expect to happen, I'm truly OK with it. I worked with some great people, built an amazing team and we produced excellent work.

But the last four weeks have been pretty good, too. I've caught up on sleep, given attention to housework long ignored and reconnected with relaxation. It's springtime. This pause could not have happened at a more lovely time of year.

In this season of new beginnings, I'm thinking about what I want to do next, and that's exciting.

I'm also cooking more. There's a calmness that sets in when I'm in front of the stove.

But many of us know it's not enough to cook and eat. There's the conversation. Friends have asked hopefully if this new pause in my career means I'll return to the blog. Yes. Yes, it does. Stay tuned.

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