(This post was written before we left for our trip. Chris Sparking and Jaime King will be guest authoring the next two posts until we get back.)
Meanwhile, between hikes that is, James and I use the slow period here in Asheville at our Bed and Breakfast to make repairs and deep clean the rooms. I am actually not a huge fan of that type of work (is anyone?), so I usually make myself busy in the kitchen trying out new recipes. Since all of the others get to be my tasters no one seems to complain too much that I am a slacker!
One of the things I felt we needed to add to our repertoire of dishes was another savory breakfast dish. Because we serve our guests at their convenience between 8:30 and 9:30 I am limited to dishes which can be prepared in advance and kept warm or can be prepared in 10 minutes or less. We don’t wish to make our guests wait too long between the first course and the second course so souffles are generally out of the question. I spent a lot of time working on Eggs Benedict earlier this fall but haven’t quite gotten around the difficulty of poaching a number of eggs in small or large batches as needed. I tried cooking them in plastic bags, using a microwave oven and some more traditional methods but it always took too long and was never consistent enough to be reliable. So I’ve kind of tabled that idea for the moment.
I don’t remember where I got the idea for a savory bread pudding but it instantly appealed to me. The Carolina Bed & Breakfast is known for its Mango Upside Down Bread Pudding and the idea of a savory dish along the same line held a lot of promise. So it was down to work.
First I researched bread pudding on the internet and came up with a number of ideas. The most commonly found variation uses caramelized onions and brie as a base. I choose one that seemed like it would taste good and went ahead and made it exactly as written. I always start out this way because sometimes an instruction that seems unimportant turns out to be quite important and also because this gives you a frame to work with. I cooked the recipe in a number of different receptacles as the appearance of the dish is also very important. James and I tasted it and decided we didn’t like the bread which was day old stale french bread. It made the pudding too crunchy. We also decided to take out the bacon so we could use the dish with vegetarians as well.
The next one I made without the bacon and tomatoes and with the same bread I use for our sweet bread pudding. This time the consistency was good but the flavor didn’t pop the way the first batch had. So it was back to the drawing board. I love experimenting with new recipes but it always bothers me to throw the food out so for this trial run I waited until a morning when Sara, our assistant innkeeper, and Kim, one of our housekeepers, would be in. It also helps to have some extra opinions.
I was going to make four different versions to try but first I had to make the onion mixture vegetarian. Out went the bacon and bacon fat, and the chicken stock. But did I keep the
white wine which reduced down with the onions and added a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end. So far so good. Now to my variations:
1)The original version with two crumbled slices of crispy bacon added back but keeping the better bread.
2) One without the bacon but otherwise the same as the original
3) One with some Parmesan cheese added but no bacon
4) And lastly, one with some Gruyere added but no bacon.
We all set to with our forks and it was interesting to watch what people did as well as what they said. We very quickly determined that the bacon wasn’t worth the extra work and that the Parmesan did not hold up to the strong flavors of the onions, tomatoes and brie. But here’s where it got interesting. Everyone said they liked the original best without any added cheese or bacon. It was not too heavy and very flavorful but they kept going back to the bread pudding with the added Gruyere! This was rich and cheesy and difficult to stop nibbling on. So why the preference for the other? When we looked at the dish as a part of a whole breakfast including a fruit first course and sausage or bacon on the side the Gruyere BP became too much. It was overkill. One of the things we try to do at the Carolina is to blend flavors and textures so that at the end of the meal our guests feel satisfied without being stuffed. (And did I mention I hate throwing out food? I would rather have my guests finish their meals than enjoy the food but leave half!)
We tried this out on our guests today and it was a hit! You can looking forward to seeing it on the menu at our Asheville Bed and Breakfast going forward.
SAVORY ONION, TOMATO AND BRIE
FOR THE ONION-TOMATO MIXTURE:
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium sweet onion
2 cups of cherry (or grape) tomatoes cut in half
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup dry white wine
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
Pinch of ground thyme
Salt and pepper
FOR THE BREAD PUDDING
3 cups cubed white bread (see note)
1 1/3 cup Half & Half
2 cups diced Brie cheese
PREPARE THE ONION-TOMATO MIXTURE
1) Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat
2) Thinly slice the onion then cut the slices in quarters
3) Sprinkle onions with sugar and place in skillet along with tomatoes.
4) Sauté onion mixture over medium-low heat taking care not to burn the onions, until the onions are translucent and golden brown (approximately 15-20 minutes).
5) Increase heat to medium and add white wine to the skillet, scraping up the browned bits. Reduce until almost dry.
6) Stir in Balsamic vinegar, herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
7) Let cool. Can be prepared a day ahead.
MAKING THE BREAD PUDDING
1) Spray four ramekins or an 8”x 8” baking dish with oil.
2) Toss bread, brie and onion-tomato mixture together until well mixed. Divide equally among four ramekins (or spread in baking dish).
3) Mix together eggs, Half & Half, and salt and pepper to taste until well blended. Pour over bread mixture and let sit at least four hours or overnight.
4) Bake in a 375^ oven 3035-minutes until puffed and brown.
Note: Unlike traditional Bread Puddings I use a fresh white bread for the cubes. It should be of good quality—I like Pepperidge Farm White Sandwich Bread. I found that stale bread gave the pudding a crunchy quality instead of the smooth finish I was looking for.
The recipe can be doubled or tripled easily:
Use 1 egg , 1/3 cup Half & Half and ¾ cups bread per person.