Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Easter Ham Makover

Before delving into what I have been cooking lately, I want to take time to note that I added a new tab above. I created a page for a Recipe Index to have all the recipes I have on my blog very easy to access. I have been at this (blogging) since October of 2012, and while I had been mainly placing recipes on  my website, I have now switched over entirely to my blog. There were already quite a lot of recipes present here, some duplicates from the website. They just would not be found unless reading through all the 1 1/2 years of blogging. I would not want to subject anyone to that much slogging through my adventures. I will add a list of article links also. Some blogs have been very 1-subject oriented and could have interest on their own merit. Haven't quite gotten there yet, but soon. So, please peruse my list of recipes under Recipe Index!
Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes with Ham

A few days ago I created a recipe out of desperation for something different to do with leftover ham. Every single time we have ham in the house I make my Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes with Ham. My husband absolutely loves this as it has his main food groups in it: meat, potatoes and cheese. To be honest, I absolutely love this casserole also, so I cannot in truthfulness place all the credit on my husband. His sister also loves this casserole, so almost every time I make it she is over for dinner. It's a great casserole. And I will likely be making it very soon. Again.

But meanwhile, I was just casting about in my head, trying to think of some other application for leftover ham, and I thought, "how about a savory bread pudding? My husband will eat a dessert bread pudding, but he is in no way as excited about the whole bread pudding concept as I. I love bread pudding. It sits far higher in my list of dessert loves than anything chocolate ever could. When my husband and I lived in Mandeville, Louisiana, just a mile up from the Lake Ponchartrain bridge, he was still out entertaining prospective doctors for the current practice he was managing and so we ate out often in this capacity. We also ate out with some really fantastic friends quite often in many different venues. And we sometimes went down to New Orleans and ate there. I had never been in Louisiana, or in New Orleans, and was not sure what kind of food they ate there, the blanket of Creole or Cajun just covered everything. And then I discovered Gumbo. OMG! Love at first bite. Later I found that there are two kinds of Gumbo, either okra gumbo, or file gumbo. I prefer the file gumbo by a long shot. Okra has never caught my foodie attention. 

Anyway, to get to the point, the other thing I discovered in Louisiana is that bread pudding is on almost every, single dessert menu. I was in heaven! I love bread pudding. I really, really love bread pudding. I ate it everywhere while living there. 

Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding
Bread Pudding

Makes about 6 servings

½ cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons bourbon, rum or brandy
5 eggs
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch salt
3 cups heavy cream
8 ounces stale bread, in 1-inch pieces, with crusts
Bourbon (or Rum or Brandy) Sauce, recipe below

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the raisins and bourbon and heat gently until the liquid is evaporated and the raisins are plump, about 7 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, spices and salt. Stir in the cream until well blended. Toss in the torn bread and plumped raisins and stir together. Let the mixture set for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the bread to soak up the liquid. The pudding may be made ahead until this point and refrigerated for 4 hours until you are ready to bake.

Heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter eight 6-oz. custard cups or ramekins or one larger baking dish. Divide the bread mixture among the cups and pour any remaining custard over the top of each. Set the cups in a baking pan and add enough water to the pan to come halfway up the sides of the cups. This is more easily accomplished if the larger pan is placed in the oven first. Trying to move a large pan full of boiling water is unsafe! Bake until the puddings are browned on top and a knife inserted between the center and the edge of the pan comes out clean, about 50 minutes, or 60 for the larger casserole.

BOURBON (or Rum or Brandy) SAUCE
1½ cups heavy cream
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon
1/8 teaspoon gound cnnamon

In a wide saucepan, combine the cream and sugar. Dissolve the sugar over medium heat and let the mixture come slowly to a boil. Cook, boiling gently, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, (235º on a candy thermometer). Remove from heat and stir in the bourbon and cinnamon. Serve warm, poured over the individual puddings, or servings.
NOTES: I have found that the extra work of the hot water bath seems not to matter! I totally forgot to do it once, and it still turned out perfect! Just watch for doneness by inserting a knife between center and edge of pan; the knife should come out clean.

If you don't like raisins - omit them. If fat-conscious this can be made with plain milk, half & half or some of both. Still great!

VARIATION: I have added in a cup of grated good quality white chocolate (with actual cocoa butter content) to the mixture, with heavenly results. If you love bread pudding, and white chocolate, this is a match made in heaven.

And that brings me back to the ham dilemma. I had never made a savory bread pudding, though I  have seen them in magazines or on TV. So I started to think about this. What would I like to taste in a savory - ham - bread pudding? Obviously there would be bread, eggs and milk with the ham. I had some blue cheese crumbles in the fridge, so I added that to the list. Some nutmeg. I thought I would try using pink peppercorns, for their very different flavor. And then I tossed in some currants. I originally was thinking of sultanas, or white raisins, but switched to currants. Now I think I might have liked the raisins more, but I will try that next time. The bread I used is some of the artisanal style bread I had made, and it gives a nice chewy bite to the casserole. I would really not recommend a plain white sandwich bread, as it would be pasty. 

Thinking about this particular casserole I realize it would also be a wonderful brunch or a breakfast casserole with a side of fruit. Here is what I did:

Ham & Blue Cheese Bread Pudding with a side salad

Ham & Blue Cheese Bread Pudding

Ham & Blue Cheese Bread Pudding

Serves 6

2 1/2 cups cubed day-old bread, preferably artisanal style
2 cups milk
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns, crushed
1 1/2 cups cubed ham
3/4 - 1 cup blue cheese, crumbled
3 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup currants
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon melted butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray an oven safe casserole either 9 x 1 1/2-inches round or 8 x 8-inches square. 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Add the bread cubes, salt, pink peppercorns, nutmeg and ham to combine. Mix in the blue cheese, scallions and currants and then pour this mixture into the prepared casserole. In another mixing bowl, combine the fresh grated Parmesan with the panko crumbs. Add in the melted butter and toss well with fork or fingers to combine and moisten. Pour crumbs over the bread pudding and bake the casserole until a knife inserted between the center and the edge comes out clean. This could take 45 minutes or much longer. I set my casserole onto a pizza pan and I believe this may have inhibited the oven's heat from properly heating the bottom of the casserole. It took mine just a little over ah hour to bake. 

To make this for breakfast, to save time, prepare the milk, bread, eggs, salt, nutmeg, peppercorns and currants or raisins the night before. Combine and cover tightly and keep refrigerated. In the morning, add in the ham and blue cheese, with the scallions, combine and pour into the casserole. The crumb topping could also be made the night before. Allow enough time for baking when getting it into the oven.

The reason I set my casserole onto a pizza pan was because recently I have had to clean my oven three times due to spills from baking foods. I was playing it safe, but am pretty sure this altered the timing needed to bake the Ham Bread Pudding. Be careful to check between the center of the casserole and the edge, because this is a custard. If you over bake the casserole, the eggs will become mealy. The consistency should be smooth and creamy. The center of a custard should still be a little wet when it is done. Allow the casserole to set at room temperature for about 10 or 15 minutes before cutting and serving, to allow the temperature to come up and set the center. I really loved this casserole. My husband said he did also, though I am sure he is still waiting for me to get around to the Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes and Ham.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.