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Cheap and Good: Stale bread 4 ways plus a trifling dessert

I know, I know..I promised something on stale bread all the way back probably before Christmas, and as usual, got distracted (it’s Michelle Obama’s arms, doncha know?). What Aunt Toby wants you to do is to think about stuff that we usually just throw away; or give to the birds; or throw on the compost heap, as food that we can recycle into something else. So, you say you don’t like the stems of broccoli – cook ‘em up in chicken broth, run it all through a blender and you’ve got yummy broccoli soup (jazz it up with some cheddar and you are good to go). We’ve covered left-over mashed potatoes already. Today’s topic (as you can see above) is left over bread.

A lot depends on what sort of bread you’ve got – garlic bread, cheese bread, breads with herbs in them are prime candidates for stratas (the main dish version of bread puddings); raisin bread or plain white bread can be used in desserts. We’re all familiar with French Toast (the French do not call this dish “French Toast” just as they do not call the musical instrument we know and perhaps love as the “French Horn” – in France, this dish is referred to as ‘pain perdu’ which means ‘lost bread’–which is rather ironic, since it is really bread that has been found and turned into something rather nice), and something to think about is using left over raisin bread as a nice change.

But back to basics. If you want to recycle bread into bread pudding, strata, or French toast, the basic thing that you are doing is…soaking the bread (either in slices or cubes or just mushed up) in eggs beaten up with milk and either spices and cheese (for the strata) or sugar and spices for bread puddings and their dessert-y ilk. What you are doing, frankly, is whipping up a basic baked egg custard which you are changing with sugar and spices for dessert or cheese and other spices for the main dish meal.

Basic recipe for baked egg custardy stuff: ½ C. of milk for every egg you use. So, if you use 2 C. of milk, you use 4 eggs.

For bread pudding/desserty type of stuff: add to that 2 c. of milk and four eggs: ½ stick of butter, ½ c. of sugar, ½ tsp of vanilla, ¼ tsp nutmeg, 1 C. of raisins (or other dried fruit – if you don’t like this you can leave it out) and enough cubed, stale bread to fill a really big mixing bowl. Mix the butter and sugar in with the milk and heat until it boils, turn off, stir in the eggs, vanilla, etc. and pour over bread in a greased baking pan. Cook at 375 for 45 min.

For strata/main dish sort of bread pudding, add to the 2 C. milk and 4 eggs things such as: 1 tsp dried mustard, ¼ c. of minced onion, a little cayenne pepper, or ¼ tsp of curry powder, ¼ c. butter(half a stick), and at least 8 ounces of shredded cheddar or other hard cheese. Put the bread and cheese into a big greased baking pan, pour heated milk, spices and stirred in eggs over it and bake at 350 for an hour or 375 for 45 min. You can mix in things like sausage, or cooked broccoli or spinach before you bake.

And now for something (ahem) completely different: the soup course (courtesy of Carol Field, “The Italian Baker”, Harper and Row, 1985 – this book has two complete chapters on stuff to do with left over bread including Corn Bread):

Panada di Milano (Rich Easter Soup)
Makes servings for 6
½ C. plus 2 Tblspoons bread crumbs
6-7 C. beef broth
3 eggs
3 Tbs. Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Place ½ C. bread crumbs in a small bowl and pour ¼ C. of the broth over the bread. Heat the remaining broth in a large saucepan to a rolling boil.

About 10 min. before serving, heat the butter in a small skillet over low. Add the moistened bread crumbs and sauté until golden, about 5 min.

Place the 2 table spoons dry bread crumbs in a soup tureen and break the eggs into the bottom of the tureen. Add the cheese and beat with a fork or whisk until well blended. Pour the boiling broth into the tureen and add the sautéed bread crumbs. Beat vigorously for one to two min. and serve immediately.

Here is something totally different in terms of use of stale bread: Salad course: Bread and Tomato Salad

1/4 Loaf Italian Bread — Cubed
1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 Cucumber, Seeded, Sliced — Peeled
5 Green Onion Tops — Thinly Sliced
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1 pound Tomatoes — Seeded, Chunked
6 basil leaves — chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

In large bowl, moisten bread with broth; squeeze out excess liquid and discard. Sprinkle bread with 1 tablespoon vinegar; toss to distribute vinegar flavor. Mix lightly with cucumber, green and red onions, tomatoes and basil. Add olive oil and remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar. Season to taste with salt ad pepper. Toss gently; refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Can be made a day ahead. Season to taste.

Finally, we’re going to go off into the next dimension – think of something sort of like bread..only better…think of (cue scary music) CAKE. Regular, not terribly exciting, not frosted..cake. Cake like: pound cake, yellow cake, angel food cake….heck, let’s go off the deep end and think about: sugar cookies, Vienna fingers, chocolate cookies — any cookie that is not filled. During WWII, in the UK, my mom and her nurse friends used to treat themselves to a dish whenever they could pull together leftover cookies, a tin of evaporated milk and some other things. We have better things to work with however. With this sort of stuff, milk eggs and sugar, we can make: Trifle. Trifle is NOT bread pudding – it’s pastry cream….and bread pudding.

• Pastry cream:
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 5 tablespoons cornstarch
• 2 1/2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Plus enough broken up plain cookies or cake that will fill a big veggie bowl – one whole pound cake’s worth.

Plus some sort of fruit, fresh or frozen, ½ c. of sugar, ¾ c. of fresh orange or other juice, (and if this is being eaten by adults, ¼ c. of some sort of fruit based liqueur – Grand Marnier, Chambourd, etc.)

To prepare fruit, combine 3/4 cup sugar, orange juice, and liqueur in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; cook 3 minutes until sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Add fruit to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 8 minutes. Spoon mixture into a bowl; cover and chill.

To prepare pastry cream, combine 1/2 cup sugar and cornstarch in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Gradually add milk to pan, stirring with a whisk until blended; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Gradually add half of hot milk mixture to eggs, stirring constantly with a whisk. Return milk mixture to pan; cook over medium heat 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and salt. Place pan in a large ice-filled bowl until custard cools to room temperature (about 25 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Arrange half of cake cubes (or broken up cookies) in the bottom of a 2-quart dish (if you have a fancy glass trifle dish, use that – any clear glass bowl will do – it’s just so you see the layers of stuff in it). Spoon 1 1/2 cups fruit mixture over cake/cookies; top with 1 1/2 cups pastry cream. Repeat layers. Garnish with grated orange rind, slivered almonds or whatever neat sweet thing you’ve got (hey, jimmies!! Chocolate chips!). Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and chill at least 4 hours.

So, don’t throw away the last two pieces of bread or those half a dozen tired cookies. Put them in a plastic bag, put that in the freezer and collect them so that you can recycle them into something nummy later!!

This post can also be found at Oxdown Gazette.

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