February 20, 2012

Chocolate Bread Pudding

If ever there were a theme here at the Evening Oven, it would be trying not to let ingredients go to waste. Hence these cookies, this squash dish, and the apple sauce and half-and-half in these muffins. This post is all about stale bread. When you don't go through bread quickly enough it either gets moldy, in which case there is little to do except cut off the moldy bits and keep the rest in the refrigerator, or it gets stale, in which case it can form the basis of a myriad of delicious things: french toast, strata, or, my new favorite, chocolate bread pudding.

This dish combines two of my favorite things (chocolate and bread) into a mess of warm, gooey glop, that is fairly easy to make and can be tailored to your desired level of indulgence. I made it with almond milk, which is slowly replacing regular cow's milk for me in almost every dish. It is especially good in anything with chocolate (almond milk hot chocolate is out of this world). I'm not so keen on regular milk production processes, and given that I'm lactose intolerant anyway, going for a dairy alternative seems logical. Soy is okay, but I prefer the taste of almond milk. It is much better for baking. Plain, unsweetened Almond Breeze is my favorite variety. I find that other brands separate a bit when you heat them up or mix them with coffee. But I have gotten off track. The point with the bread pudding is that if you want to make the dish richer (although, trust me, it is plenty rich with almond milk) you could use whole milk or even some cream (I wouldn't replace all three cups of milk with heavy cream, maybe just one!).

At the other end of the spectrum, it would also be fairly easy to make the dish entirely vegan. Just skip the butter and sub in your favorite egg replacer. Personally, though, I like the mix of some vegan ingredients with some dairy ingredients.

This dish is also easily customizable in other ways. You could toss the bread with the chocolate and then pour the custard over it (rather than melt the chocolate in the custard) for more a of chocolate chip effect. You could skip the peanut butter, or add more it. Or you could sub in nutella. You could also cut the amount of chocolate dramatically (although I don't know why you would). In fact, if you left it out entirely, you would just get a baked french toast! You could add some alcohol. Bourbon would be good. Or maybe rum. Chocolate liqueur. Or maybe something orange flavored?

Next time I make this, I think I might cut all the sugar (the chocolate itself is plenty sweet) and then use the sugar to make a salted caramel glaze to put on top of each serving.

One last note, I didn't take a lot of the pictures of the final product in part because we dug into it before I could get my camera out and in part because chocolate glop, at least to this amateur photographer, is not especially photogenic. So take my word for it, despite how it may look in the pictures, this is a delicious dessert.

- Franklin

Chocolate Bread Pudding
Adapted loosely from Epicurious and The Vegan Workshop
Total Time: 3.5 hours (30 minutes active)
Sweetness Factor: 7; Indulgence Factor: 8; Difficulty Factor: 5; Chance I'll Make it Again: 8.

5-6 cups cubed bread (if your bread is extremely stale and you are having trouble cutting it, try putting it in the microwave for thirty seconds)
3 cups almond milk (plain and unsweetened)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup salted crunchy peanut butter (no additives)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (skip this is you want to go vegan)
10 ounces chocolate, finely chopped (semisweet or bittersweet)
3 eggs (or egg replacer)

Thoroughly butter a 1 3/4 quart casserole dish (you can use canola oil or vegetable shortening spread like Earth Balance if you want to make this a vegan dessert).

Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and turn the heat up to medium low. Add the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and maple syrup. Whisk occasionally until sugar is dissolved, the butter is melted, and the peanut butter is mostly dissolved. Let the mixture get hot and take off the heat just before it boils. Pour in the chocolate. Let sit for several minutes and then stir until smooth.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Slowly pour the eggs into the chocolate mixture, whisking constantly. Empty the bread cubes into the prepared casserole, and pour the chocolate custard over them. Make sure all the bread cubes are completely covered. There should be more than enough of the custard. I had enough custard that I chopped up a bit more bread and ended up with nearly six cups of cubes.

Cover and refrigerate for several hours or over night (minimum two hours, especially if your bread is very stale). Set in a water bath and bake at 350 for 1 hour. Serve warm, perhaps with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

February 19, 2012

Oatmeal Applesauce Muffins

These muffins were the product of too many hours in front of the computer on a Sunday working. I needed a break and a distraction. I wanted to try baking something with apple sauce, and I didn't have any particular occasion in mind. I began absentmindedly experimenting.

My first thought was applesauce oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, but that plan went awry when I decided I wanted to use up some half and half. If I had been thinking more clearly I would have known that if I wanted to add a full half cup of liquid to a cookie dough and still get cookies that I would also need to increase the amount of dry ingredients, but that didn't occur to me until I had everything mixed, and I took a close look at what was in front of me. Oops!

The batter for these muffins is best described as gloppy. Too wet to be cookies; although it held together well enough that I almost tried spooning it on to cookie sheets. I decided not to risk it. I spooned it into the muffin tins instead. And I was glad I did. The final product had much more of a muffiny/cakey consistency than a cookie consistency.

They were very moist and light. These muffins have a lot going on. The whole wheat flour lends a bit of seriousness: they taste healthy (not in a bad way). The applesauce lends complexity. The oatmeal lends texture. The chocolate chips make what would otherwise be a perfectly good and reasonably healthy breakfast a great afternoon snack. Almost dessert but not quite.

-Franklin

Oatmeal Applesauce Muffins
Loosely adapted from Joy the Baker and Martha Stewart
Total Time: 35 minutes
Makes about 1.5 dozen muffins
Sweetness Factor: 4; Indulgence Factor: 4; Difficulty factor: 2; Chance I'll Make them Again: 8.

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup half & half
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chocolate chips or blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350. Line (or butter and flour) muffin tins.

Whisk together the first five ingredients until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until thoroughly combined. Add the chocolate chips or blueberries and stir in until evenly distributed.

Spoon the batter in the muffin tins, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake for 22 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

These will keep for about a week in an airtight container.

February 8, 2012

Roasted Sweet Potato and Eggplant Hash with Toasted Fennel Seeds

After last night, when I revisited a meal I haven't had since law school, which a law school classmate dubbed indian hamburger helper (trader joes frozen biryani rice, with a mashed up veggie burger and some cheddar cheese), tonight I felt compelled to step it up a bit. Of course, I also didn't want to go buy any new ingredients, and I definitely didn't want it to take more than an hour. And so, lone sweet potato (whose mate rotted last week), meet lone eggplant. You should be friends.

Sweet potatoes and eggplants have one important thing in common: they both taste delicious when roasted with a touch of salt and olive oil. That alone would satisfy me for dinner. But it isn't exactly a dish you want to brag to your friends about. Enter garlic, onions, fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper. Chick peas, you're invited too.

According the New York Times, roasting eggplant (as compared to frying or sauteing) is the healthy way to go. Apparently, eggplant will soak up however much oil you cook it with, so roasting is better because it requires less oil. Health aside, roasted eggplant is yummy, and ridiculously easy, so I'm going to stick with it. If you want your eggplant to retain some shape, however, you should roast it until it is about 3/4 done and then do the remainder of your cooking on the stove top.

Also on the subject of eggplants, according to my dad, the smaller the spot of the base of the eggplant, the fewer seeds it has, and the better it is for the eating. He learned this from an old friend he ran into in the veggie aisle at the local market, and then did a controlled experiment, so it must be true! And check out how few seeds this one has!

Like most of the dinners I cook, this one starts with caramelizing an onion. The trick to getting an onion to caramelize (if you don't have an hour and a half to make it happen) is to slice the onion very very thinly, and to cook it for five or ten minutes (on low, stirring occasionally) until the onion starts to wilt before adding any oil. The onion ups the sweetness factor of this meal. I'm a sucker for sweet and hearty savories, but if you want to go in a spicier direction, you could cook the onions for a shorter time or leave them out all together. Or you could sub in sauteed fennel bulb.

Because I only had one relatively small sweet potato, the recipe below only made about three portions. But it could easily be scaled up. Just stick to about 1/4 teaspoon of fennel seed per vegetable you include.

And there you have it, in only an hour, you could be eating this too! The difficulty factor rating below is relatively high only because of the number of steps involved and not because any of the steps are actually difficult!

- Franklin

Roasted Sweet Potato and Eggplant Hash with Toasted Fennel Seeds
Total Time: 1 hour
Sweetness factor: 3; Indulgence factor: 2; Difficulty Factor: 4; Chance I'll Make it Again: 10

1 small sweet potato
8 cloves garlic, whole and peeled
2 tablespoon of olive oil (one for potatoes, one for onions)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 small eggplant
1 sweet onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 (or more) teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 of a can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Preheat the oven to 400. Scrub the sweet potato. Cut off the ends, slice it into four long spears, and then chop the spears into 1/2-wide pieces. Toss the sweet potato in a bowl with the garlic, one tablespoon of olive oil, and sea salt. Spread out on a cookie sheet and baking for about twenty-five minutes. Flip the pieces over about half-way through. Note: how fast they cook depends on how small you cut them. Keep an eye on them as they go.

Get the onion going. Let it saute about ten minutes on low heat with the lid on before adding oil. Add the second tablespoon of olive oil. Start on the eggplant. Cut off the ends of the eggplant. Slice it in half. Rub each half with the oil left over in the bowl from the sweet potatoes. Lay the two halves face down on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven. Let them bake 20-25 minutes (longer if you have a larger eggplant) until the a fork pushes through very easily but the eggplant hasn't yet turned to mush.

Add red pepper flakes to the onions. Toast the fennel seeds. I like to do this is a small saute pan with a little bit of oil, but you could also do this in a toaster oven. Just watch them like a hawk!

Peel the eggplant. The peel should pull off very easily. Just be careful not to burn your fingers! Chop the eggplant into small cubes and add to the onions. Add the fennel. Stir. Let cook for five more minutes. Then add the sweet potatoes, garlic, and chickpeas. Let it all cook together for a few minutes.