Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Foodie

Even though Andrew and I spent Thanksgiving day sleeping in, reading, and mostly keeping to ourselves, I had the opportunity to try some new tricks in the kitchen. I realized I have never made the same recipe twice just for Andrew and I, so why start with a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal? I roasted a chicken, rubbed with sage and rosemary, and baked in an oven bag. I also roasted green beans with onions and garlic, sage, rosemary and thyme. I made an awesome recipe for mushroom stuffing, finally using old bread heels I'd accumulated in the freezer over the last couple years.

Mushroom and Fennel Bread Pudding


Total: 1 hr 10 mins

Active: 20 mins

Servings: 8 to 10 servings

By Aïda Mollenkamp

Stuffing is essential on the Thanksgiving table, loaded as it is with bread and just enough vegetables to sop up gravy while feigning healthiness. To switch things up, and to offer the noncarnivores a chance at a real meal, turn to this bread pudding. Filled with sautéed mushrooms, fennel, pecorino cheese, and a light custard that holds it all together, it’s sure to be a hit among meat eaters and vegetarians alike.

What to buy: Pecorino is a sheep’s milk cheese from Italy. Here we used Gran Pecorino, an aged cheese that can be found at high-end groceries and cheese stores. Do not use Pecorino Romano for this recipe, as it will be too salty. If you can’t find Gran Pecorino, aged Asiago is a good substitute.

Game plan: Bread pudding can be made 1 day ahead and brought to room temperature or warmed in a 350°F oven prior to serving.

Level of difficulty: Medium.

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped white onion
  • 12 ounces coarsely chopped cremini mushrooms (about 4 cups)
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fennel (1 medium bulb)
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped celery (2 medium stalks)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 large eggs
  • 12 ounces ciabatta or other country-style bread, medium dice (about 8 cups)
  • 1 cup coarsely grated aged pecorino (about 3 ounces), such as Gran Pecorino (not Pecorino Romano)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
  1. Melt butter in a large frying pan over medium heat until foaming. To prevent overcrowding, cook vegetables in batches: Add onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then mix in mushrooms, fennel, and celery. Cook until softened and mushroom juices have reduced, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, at least 10 minutes.
  2. Heat the oven to 375°F and arrange the rack in the middle. Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and set aside. Whisk together cream, chicken broth, and eggs in a medium bowl until well combined.
  3. Add bread, cooled vegetables, cheese, and herbs to cream mixture, and stir until bread is well coated. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then turn into the prepared baking dish. Allow bread to soak until well saturated, at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring about 10 cups water to a simmer over medium-high heat in a large pot.
  4. Once bread has soaked and water is simmering, set the baking dish in a large roasting pan and add enough hot water to reach 2/3 of the way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake until custard is set and top is lightly browned, about 50 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I used cremini (or baby portobello) and a mix of shiitake, oyster, and other semi-exotic mushrooms. Yummy!

I made fresh cranberry sauce using the recipe on the back of the Ocean Spray bag, plus I added some whole cloves, allspice, and a cinnamon stick, and a strip of orange peel. It was fun to watch the berries pop! I just had to find all those spices once it was time to eat it. Didn't think about that when I started throwing things in. Finally, I added some mulling spices to apple cider for a spicy, warm, fall drink. More cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and orange peel, plus anise, ginger, and lightly crushed black peppercorns. We enjoyed some Trader Joe's 2-buck Chardonnay, and for dessert, some European sipping chocolate. I spent about 5 hours in the kitchen, but it never feels like work to me. Here's a picture of the bounty.

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