Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ham, Swiss and Green Onion Bread and Butter Pudding

I decided a few years ago that all I want for my birthday is a quiet dinner with my family. Since no one can say no to that, every late September I hold everyone hostage with their cell phones turned off and put away for at least 2 hours at a venue of my choosing. 

This year I chose a seafood restaurant because I had been craving shrimp for a couple of weeks. My special evening was really wonderful. I satisfied my craving for both the attention of my family and shrimp embrochette. We laughed, talked and stuffed ourselves with some really great food, and since the birthday girl always orders dessert, I ended my meal by choosing one of my favorites, a sweet bread pudding. 

In the past my chosen restaurant's desserts have always been excellent.  This time (wouldn't you know it) I was served a big slab of rubbery white matter that was drenched in a flavorless beige sauce topped by a big scoop of melting vanilla ice cream.  I'll stop short of saying that it was horrible, but I will say that the scoop of soupy mediocre ice cream was the star of the show.

"That's why I hate bread pudding.  It is that rubbery texture that I don't like. Yuck!" said my daughter looking up from the text that she was certainly composing for an emergency at the United Nations, otherwise she wouldn't have dared been texting during my birthday dinner. 

I was stunned. I had no idea that she was so deprived of good bread pudding that she HATED it. This coming from a girl who just slurped down half a dozen raw oysters.  If the bread pudding she has eaten tastes worse than snot on the half shell (I HATE oysters if you can't tell), then she's had some pretty bad stuff.

So ever since this experience last Thursday night it has become my mission in life to change her mind about bread pudding, both savory and sweet. Since that terrible sweet pudding is so fresh in our minds I don't think she would even be open to trying it yet, so that is why I am starting with a savory one.

Sometimes referred to as a strata, savory bread puddings are most often served at breakfast or brunch. I also love having them for luncheons or light dinners with a crisp salad or fruit. I've created this recipe today with things I had in my fridge, but I encourage you to make this one your own.  It is delicious made with tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, bell pepper and any combination of cheese or meat that you can come up with. 

Ham, Swiss and Green Onion Bread and Butter Pudding

The beauty of any casserole like this is that if you don't like or have any of the ingredients (with the exception of the eggs, bread and milk) you can leave them out or substitute them for something else you do have.  This is one bread pudding that will turn out light, fluffy and flavorful. Not a slab of rubber in site.

6 thick slices day old bread (I like buying any day old artisan bread that is on sale at my supermarket)
3 tablespoons softened butter
3 tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese
4 ounces grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese
2 green onions, thinly sliced
6 ounces ham, chopped
3 ounces thinly sliced mushrooms
6 large eggs
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk or half and half
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 - 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Spray a medium size casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

Spread equal amounts of butter over one side of each slice of bread. Lay bread side by side on a flat surface.  Sprinkle with equal amounts of the of the cheeses, pressing gently to get the cheese to stick to the bread; set aside.

In a medium size bowl, toss together the green onions, ham and mushrooms, set aside.

In another medium size bowl, whisk together the eggs, garlic, thyme, sage, cream, half and half, pepper, salt and mustard.  Whisk until the mixture is frothy; set aside.

Lay one slice of bread at the end of your prepared casserole dish.  sprinkle with 1/6 of the ham and mushroom mix.  Lay the next slice of bread over the top, overlapping but not completely covering the previous slice of bread.  Repeat with the remaining bread and ham and mushroom mix.

Gently pour the egg mixture over the top of the bread in the casserole dish.  Do not press on bread slices if you want fluffy results.  The bread will absorb the fillings on its own as it sits.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 12 - 24 (recommended) hours.

After the sitting time, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the plastic wrap and place dish in the center of the preheated oven.  Cook uncovered for approximately 45 minutes or until the bread is golden brown on the top and egg is set at the bottom of the dish.  Remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes before serving.  Your pudding should be fluffy yet firm on the bottom and slightly crunchy on the top.

Serves 4 - 6 people

I would like to be able to tell you that I changed my daughter's mind about bread pudding and she loved every bite, but this was gone so fast she didn't have a chance to drive across town and try it. I am proud to say that my dog loved every morsel that he was able to beg off of us.
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