Monday, January 24, 2011

Getting lost both ways

The proud backbone of cookery is to be able to turn something that would be considered wasted at first glance into something not only edible, but delicious. One way this came about involves familiarity with the various preservation methods, and applying those techniques to other non-preserved food items.

For example, take dried foods. This is a preservation method that may well have come about from the need to consume things that had gone dry. Their moisture being gone, it became necessary to put it back so that the softer and more fragile palates (like infants and the elderly) could eat them without breaking their teeth.

I will in later posts deal more with dried foods, but for now, I'll deal mostly with a practical application of otherwise "wasted" food, stale bread.

Bread is such an ancient staple of human life that it is often referred to as "the staff of life." It is a common tread across most cultures, from the nomadic to the most civilized. There are archaeological evidence of primitive bread making dating back thirty thousand years, with more definite evidence turning up with the rise of civilization with the spread of agriculture and grain harvesting about ten thousand years ago. The varieties are mind boggling: Germany is considered to be the top bread culture, with up to five hundred types of basic breads, with one thousand rolls and pastries! Them Krauts sure know their dough.

But what we need to consider is how to make use of bread that's just a little too old to be eaten as-is. If you need to make your bread last, chances are that you're keeping it in the fridge. While this may prevent the growth of molds, it does speed up the staling process (which has nothing to do with moisture evaporation is is more a chemical process involving the starches), which makes the bread a little less enticing. For all intents and purpose, I am using actual bread loaves, not sliced bread; its not that you cant use sliced bread, its just not that great of a base to work with. It is also produced in such a way that the staling process is already slower so that its less likely to be used that way.

So what are we going to do with that stale bread, huh? We're going to learn an old technique that the French call pain perdu that you may know more readily as French toast or bread pudding.

First off, the basic components: stale bread, eggs and milk. That's your basics, regardless of how you want the result to turn out. If you have ethical or health issues with dairy products, it is possible to substitute the milk and egg mix with soy or other milk replacement and some appropriate type of starch, like arrowroot, agar-agar, or corn starch. There is also the possibility of using a mixture of soft and firm tofu, but for the vegans out there, you're on your own to experiment, as I am unable to process soy like others are unable to process lactose. Good hunting!

So what is this two-way thing? We're going to understand the basic technique and look at making it both a sweet and savory preparation. Once that you understand the principle you'll be able to easily play with your ingredients and come up with your own signature variations.

To begin, you need to portion the bread. Whether you cut it in cubes, leave it in slices, or just chunk it up with your bare hands is entirely up to you. Many more refined instructions ask for the removal or the crust, which I never do, as I don't like waste and the crust is the most flavorful part of the bread. In a separate container crack a few eggs and whip them up, to blend white and yolk as much as possible. Pour milk over the bread to soak it up; don't put too much, or the custard is going to take longer to cook. Stir it up once in a while, to make sure that all the bread is nice and wet. Add the eggs and stir it a few times, to spread the mixture all over. There should be some liquid visible, but not so much that your bread is floating in it.

And that's your base right there. You want to make it sweet? There are a variety of ways to do that. You could pour some jam into it: toss in a few handful of raisins and some brown sugar; pour honey, a bit of cinnamon and some nuts; you could even just use sweet pastries or raisin bread. You could also mix it up, combining bread and cake that isn't drowned in icing. Its a pretty flexible platform there.

For the savory angle, you can simply blend in some herbs and spices, if you have them lying around and you're short on supplies. If you add in some vegetables, you need to chop them small and saute them first. A mix of onion and mushrooms could make things interesting indeed. You'll want to stay away from root veges here, as they would not add all that much to the preparation, but feel free to experiment. Another approach could well involve cured meats, such as sausage, ham or bacon (or a combination of awesomeness!); once again, make sure that the meats that are raw, like bacon and sausage are cooked previous to being added in. Non-cooking flavor agents like olives and sun-dried tomatoes are and easy add-on, with a bit of herbs and a touch of olive oil.

Once you've got the mix ready, pour into a baking dish that has been greased to prevent everything sticking to it. This is a great way to make use of your roasting pan there. Personally, I have done the lazy thing and just stuck the mixing bowl (which is oven-proof) straight into the oven for baking. The oven should be preheated at 350f; once you stick your pan in, cook until done. Use a skewer (or a knife) to stick into the center; its done when it comes out fairly clean. Let cool, portion and serve.

The great thing about this technique is that its incredibly flexible and actually pretty fast to prepare. I used to get that going in the morning before going to work. You don't need big fancy gadgets and you can even cook this in your toaster oven if you're making a small preparation.

Prepared ahead of time is large enough quantity and you have either lunches or breakfast for the whole week. Its easy to scale up or down, and will make use of things that would have gone to waste otherwise and that you most likely have lying around already.

Bread pudding: simple can easily be delicious!

1 comment:

  1. I have made plenty of bread puddings, but I never thought about making them savory. Thank you for the tips and these pictures are fantastic!