Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Holiday Simplicity, With or Without Snow

Savory Bread Pudding of Local Ingredients

As a chef, I don’t have much time to cook at home during the holidays. Unfortunately, I’m always compelled to provide my best – I mean, what would people say? I can’t tell you how many times I have labored over a holiday meal, 8-9 courses serving up to 12 people.

I don’t let them see all the work, most of which is preparation and takes place late at night or early in the morning. So my friends think I can whip up a feast without much effort, but I end up a little tired of food by the time everything hits the table.

Years of holidays like this, and I finally decided it was time to simplify. What could I make that looks and tastes impressive but takes minutes instead of hours?

That’s how I came up with this simple preparation for bread pudding. This version draws on the best ingredients available locally over the holidays, including leeks and onions, and some of our eggs, milk, butter, blue cheese, and bread.

The best part – you can make it in advance and reheat – serve it at home or take it to a party as a covered dish.

But don’t tell your friends how easy it is to make (really, it’s a lot easier than the recipe looks). Let them think you were up early building the layers of flavor.



Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Put aside 2-3 quart baking or casserole dish

Yield: 8 side dish portions


3 yellow onions: peel, cut in half, and julienne
4 leeks: cut in half lengthwise, slice into ½ inch moons
1 head garlic: peel and slice thin

2 tbsp olive oil or butter or a combination of the two
1 tsp oil or butter to grease the baking dish
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
A few pinches of ground nutmeg
6 oz or more (as much as you like for your cheesy friends) blue cheese
5 slices of bread: ¾ inches thick slices, cut or torn into non-uniform pieces. Bread pudding is traditionally made with brioche or other egg bread, but you can also use a country bread that is “chewy” or airy and not dense so that it will absorb the liquid.
4 cups of whole milk
2 eggs

Over medium high heat, warm a heavy sauté pan or Dutch oven. Add oil. When oil is heated, add onions and salt. Cook or “sweat” the onions for 5 minutes or until nearly translucent, stirring a few times. Next, add the leeks and continue to sweat for another 3-4 minutes. Last, add the garlic and continue to sweat for another 3 minutes. The leeks, onions, and garlic should not brown to much, just slightly caramelize. Total 11-12 minutes cooking time. Remove from heat.

Whisk the eggs and milk together in a large bowl with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Grease the baking dish or casserole with a teaspoon of butter or oil.

Assembly: start with a layer of the onion and leeks on the bottom. Add bread, then over the bread crumble about a third of the cheese. Repeat until all the ingredients are added. Ladle the egg and milk custard over the vegetable mixture. Cover with foil like a tent – not a tarp! You don’t want the cheese sticking.

Bake on a cookie sheet for 30-45 minutes or until it looks set with no bubbles. Remove the foil and let brown for about 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and impress!

Friday, December 8, 2006

A Whisper from the Kingdom....

Sustainable Hardwick

People are starting to talk. At the center of a growing community of organic farms, dairies, local milk processing, soy-based products, and artisan cheese makers, Hardwick is taking the lead in Vermont agriculture. But with all the "growing" and "producing," there has been relatively little change in cooking outside the home since the Buffalo Mountain Co-op opened its second floor cafe.

That is about to change. New restaurants and cafes are looking to Hardwick and neighboring towns because of the proximity to farms, new business, and outdoor activities, as well as the cultural programming at the Hardwick Town House.

Among the new ventures is our project, Claire's. Named for local artist and legendary host Claire Fern, our cafe is inspired by the sense of community and the commitment to the land we all share in Hardwick. We call that New Vermont Cooking. It is not just a flavor or a fad. It is a way of life - how we live in a community and build opportunity for all of us, our responsibility to farmers, guests, our staff, and our neighbors. We believe in the self-reliance for which Vermont is famous, as well as our open and welcoming hospitality. New Vermont Cooking is a way of life as well as a way of cooking.

Our Community
This blog is not a commercial endeavor, but a forum for discussing New Vermont Cooking, local and sustainable agriculture, artisan products, and the rural economy. We will post items about our project - how we are making Claire's come about and the challenges of opening a restaurant. We welcome others in the community to post on their own experiences and ideas as a forum to promote our community and the values we live by.

Recipes and Cooking
Of course, we will include recipes inspired by local ingredients, and encourage others to do so also.

(Photo: Chef Steven Obranovich and Claire's partner as well as Galaxy Bookshop owner Linda Ramsdell. Photo, by Mike Bosia, originally published in the "Side Dishes" column of Seven Days)