Oh, Crumbs!

It’s one of my resolutions this year to try to get every last ounce of goodness that I can out of the food that I buy, and that means trying not to waste one iota of it if I can help it. Carrots looking a little flaccid? Toss ’em in a soup! Apples a little bruised? Make some applesauce! Bread gone stale? Time for some custom croutons and bread crumbs!

Crumbs! 1

So you take your stale bread and you cut it up into smaller pieces. This is easy or hard depending on how stale your bread is.

Crumbs! 2

Chuck it in your food processor.

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Add some fresh woody herbs like thyme or rosemary. Dried ones are good too.

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Salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Give it a good whaz for a little bit.

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Look at those lovely crumbs!

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I sealed mine in a plastic bag and tossed them into the freezer for a lovely Jamie Oliver dish I have my eye on but haven’t gotten around to yet – stay tuned!

Crumbs! 8

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Sweet Bread Pudding with Squash and Tres Leches Sauce

Bread Puddings

Second bread pudding of the week.  And this one is also made of squash.  But here’s the kicker: this one is a sweet one, a bread pudding you can have for dessert or even breakfast.  A very rich breakfast.  When the Pie and I ate this dish last Sunday morning we had to go and have a nap afterwards.  But it was worth it.

Bread Puddings

There’s a bunch of this that you can do the day before, to save yourself time.

First,  you roast a butternut squash at 400°F until it’s all tender and squishy, about 30-45 minutes.

Bread Puddings

If that doesn’t do the trick you can always put it in the microwave.

Bread Puddings

Cut up a baguette into chunks and leave it overnight to go stale.  If you’ve already got a stale one then you don’t have to wait for it, obviously.

Bread Puddings

Now the tres leches sauce takes about 45 minutes to make so you will probably want to do this the night before.

In a medium saucepan, bring a 12oz can of evaporated milk (I actually used coconut milk because that’s what I had on hand) and 6 tablespoons granulated sugar to a boil.

Bread Puddings

See how it’s all nice and foamy.

Bread Puddings

Dissolve 1/8 teaspoon baking soda in 2 teaspoons warm water and chuck that in as well.  Be wary of the foaming milk.  Keep stirring.

Bread Puddings

Reduce the heat to medium and keep it simmering.  Stir it frequently while it cooks, for about 30 minutes, until it’s significantly reduced and a light caramel in colour.

Bread Puddings

Add in 1 can sweetened condensed milk and 1 cup whipping cream and stir it around until it’s all warm and thoroughly mixed.

Bread Puddings

Now let it cool until it’s just warm and then you can serve it.  Or bung it into the fridge overnight.

Bread Puddings

So onto the bread pudding.  Set your oven at 350°F and butter a large casserole dish.

Take half your squash and plop it in a blender with 1/2 cup granulated sugar.

Bread Puddings

Add in 1 1/2 cups half-and-half milk (or use regular low-fat milk mixed with your preferred amount of cream), some freshly grated nutmeg, a pinch or two of garam masala, and a shake of cinnamon.

Bread Puddings

Give that whirl, then add 5 large eggs and whirl it again until just combined.

Bread Puddings

As for the other half of your squash, use a fork to roughly mash it up with 1/2 cup brown sugar.

Bread Puddings

Plop your stale bread chunks in a large bowl and add in the milk/squash mixture as well as the rest of your half-and-half.  Let that sit for a few minutes.

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Dump in the rest of the squash and stir it around.

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Pour it into the casserole dish and bake it for 30 minutes, until it’s all solid and browned.

Bread Puddings

Serve hot, either as a breakfast or as a dessert.

Bread Puddings

Drizzled with tres leches sauce it’s not a healthy breakfast but it sure is good.

Bread Puddings

O Canada: French Toast

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!French Toast

Wait a second. Are you telling me that French toast is Canadian?

No, not really.  In fact the first reference to a dish resembling French toast is written in Latin and dates back to the 4th or 5th century.  French toast, or pain doré (“golden bread”), can be found in a lot of recipe books from all over the world.

But it does form part of what the Pie and I refer to as a “lumberjack breakfast,” and that makes it part of our Canadian cuisine.

French Toast

Picture this: most of Canada is unpopulated by people, and in many places still there are huge tracts of old-growth forest stretching off past the horizon.  One thing we do got is trees.  A steady supply of timber is one of the reasons Canada was colonized in the first place.  Our capital city was founded in the 1850s as a lumber town, and mills operated there even as late as the 1960s, clogging the Ottawa river with rafts and rafts of logs.

From our old $1 bill, image from Steve Briggs

The timber that flowed downriver to the mills came from logging camps far upstream, and these camps were occupied by big, rough men, mostly immigrants from Poland, Ireland, or the wilds of Québec, working in miserable conditions to earn enough money to send to their families, who often lived hundreds of miles away.

Norris Point

Logging was (and still is) a rather dangerous occupation, and it took a lot of energy just to stay alive and get the job done.  That is why every logging camp worth its salt (and many weren’t) had a reputable camp cook, and this cook was responsible for providing all the loggers with the caloric intake they needed to last out the day.  This meant a breakfast crammed with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats: bacon, biscuits, eggs, pancakes, bread, sausages, steaks — and French toast.

French Toast

The traditional lumberjack French toast would have originally started out as a loaf of stale bread, sliced and left to soak overnight in a mixture of milk and eggs.  It was fried up and served hot, slathered with sugary maple syrup and dusted with more sugar.  Our version is only slightly more refined.  Oh, and if you’d like to read a bit more about logging camps, John Irving produced a great novel recently on the subject called Last Night in Twisted River.  It’s a good read, one of Irving’s best, in my opinion.

French Toast

Anyway, French toast.  Here we go.  This recipe will give you six to eight slices of eggy toast, depending on the size and absorbency of your bread.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup milk (or half milk and half cream) and 4 eggs.

French Toast

Add in as well 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  If you want to go very traditional, try a teaspoon of rum instead and replace the sugar with maple syrup.

French Toast

One at a time, soak your pieces of bread in the egg mixture.  Here we used raisin bread because we love it.

French Toast

Traditionally you would use a thick hearth loaf, but if you want to get fancy, it’s also good with brioche, or pannetone, or even biscuits.  Experiment. Make sure to get both sides good and eggy.

French Toast

Slip the bread into a hot buttered skillet.

French Toast

Brown both sides (this takes about three minutes a side if you use medium heat).

French Toast

Serve hot, sprinkled with icing sugar and fresh fruit, if available.

French Toast

You can add a sprinkle of cinnamon, too, if the mood strikes you.

French Toast

Canadian-style means, of course, lots and lots of maple syrup. Lumberjacks need their caffeine, too, so have it with a hot cup of coffee.

French Toast

Makes a great start (or end) to any day.

French Toast

Sausage Stuffed Turkey with Gravy

For years, my health-food nazi, roughage-eating parents bought only free-range organic turkeys.  And I hated them: so dry, tasteless, and without any juices with which to make gravy.  Turkey without gravy is a travesty in my family, so my parents gave up about three years ago and started buying the unstuffed Butterball turkeys.  Shocking, I know.  But the difference has been night and day.  I actually kind of like turkey now.  Which is good, seeing as I always seem to be the one who stuffs it, roasts it, and then makes the gravy.

So let’s do that today, shall we?

First we’re going to do some gravy pre-preparation.  Take the neck and giblets from your turkey and plop them in a pot with some garlic and enough chicken broth to mostly cover them.  Simmer that for an hour or so, then take out the giblets and neck (feed the giblets to your dog if you have one, or purée them and add them back to your broth), and set the broth aside.

Now for the stuffing.  Take three sausages of your choice (I prefer a spicy Italian), remove the casings, and squish the contents into a pan with some olive oil and garlic.

Add in a diced onion.

Pour in a generous amount of savoury.  I love my Newfoundland savoury.  The Pie brought this along specially for this stuffing when he came to Ottawa for his Thanksgiving visit.

Add in two chopped apples as well.

Sauté that stuff until the sausage is broken up and cooked through and all the other ingredients have had a chance to get to know each other.

Plop it in a bowl and allow it to cool a bit.  Add in some large dried bread crumbs.  

You can make these yourself by cubing bread slices and baking them at 200°F until stale, but we had enough to do so we bought them pre-made (I can’t do everything by myself, now, can I?).

Stir that mess up and shove as much of it as you can into the cavity of your turkey.  You can make removal easier later by lining the inside of the cavity with cheesecloth, but I didn’t have any on this day.

Close the opening with a slice of bread.  This will keep the stuffing near the opening from drying out and burning.  It’s a bread shield.

Put the remaining stuffing in a greased casserole dish and douse liberally with chicken stock.

Drape your turkey lovingly with a few strips of bacon.  This will keep the skin from drying out and it will save you from having to baste the darned thing while you’re entertaining, as the fat from the bacon will drip down gradually and keep everything moist.  You can truss your turkey if you wish, but with big poultry I prefer to leave it all hanging out there to ensure even cooking.  I don’t cover it with foil either.  Well, not until much later.  You’ll see.

Chuck your turkey into the oven at 325°F and roast the sucker.  Your cooking time will vary with the size of your bird, but for some reason I find no matter the size, mine always cooks in between three and four hours.  Keep a close eye on your thermometer.  The turkey is cooked when the thigh temperature is 180°F.  Check the stuffing inside the turkey, as well — it should be around 165°F for safety’s sake.

If you plan it right your turkey should probably be done about an hour or so before it’s ready to serve.  Clear a space on your counter and lay out two or three old towels.  In the centre overlap a couple of pieces of aluminum foil.  Once the turkey is done, remove it (with the aid of a poultry lifter) to your improvised platform.  Pull up the edges of aluminum foil and add more to cover it all around tightly.

Pull up the towels and add more on top, wrapping it with care and tucking under the edges.  Resting the turkey like this will keep it hot for a couple of hours, and will ensure that none of the juices get lost.

Now that you have your turkey pan free, carefully scrape all the juices and bits of stuff into a fat separator.  Let the liquid settle and drain off as much fat as you can.

Pour whatever juices and solid pieces you get into the pot with your reserved chicken broth from the giblet boiling.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.  Scoop out a little bit of broth and make a slurry with some flour, then whisk it back into the gravy and keep stirring until the mixture thickens.  You can remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it cool while you do other things.  You can always heat it up again later.

Your extra stuffing can be roasted, covered with aluminum foil, at 350°F (or higher, depending on whatever else you are cooking at the time) for about half an hour, until the bread crumbs are crusty and brown.  Everything in it is pre-cooked so you needn’t worry about temperature in your casserole dish.  Just cook it until it looks good.

You can unwrap and carve your turkey at any point that’s convenient to you.

Reheat your gravy, pour it into gravy boats and serve over your hot stuffing and turkey!