Wednesday, September 23, 2009

All by myse-ee-elf! Don't wanna be...

Everyone who knows me knows what a very social creature I am. I really love people, and in true Myers-Briggs extroverted type, when I am feeling down or tired or frustrated, being around others usually reenergizes me and pulls me out of my funk. So perhaps you can appreciate the gravity of the situation when I tell you that my closest friend and (former) roommate left at the end of August last year for "a month of training" at the home office of her company near Minneapolis, and never came back. I don't blame her, mind you. Two months after she left, they reorganized and eliminated her department back here in Plattsburgh, so she no longer had a job to come back to! And in this economy, a person would be a fool to give up a steady, salaried position. However, that means that I have been living on my own for over a year now. Fall semester (2008) wasn't too bad, as I am always so busy, that I blinked and it was Christmas! But the holidays were tough, and even more so, the long, dark, winter cooped up in the house by myself. And then this past summer, when everyone was out and about, and I am usually taking my little road trips here and there and doing fun things, I had no one to go with me (sniff!).

In short, I am just OVER living alone! I admit, having the big comfy chair and the remote control and/or the computer to myself is nice. And everything is always exactly where I put it, so I can usually find things when I need them. And even though I love cooking, sometimes it's liberating, after a long day at work, to just grab a hodgepodge of odds and ends from the fridge to nibble on (what my friend and officemate, Lee Ann, proclaims "Sampler Night" at her house!) and call that dinner, without feeling the need to prepare a proper meal...or even do the dishes for a day or two (since there aren't that many to pile up)! But using my fabulous new Beatles Rock Band game as a metaphor for life, it can be enjoyable to play by yourself, but it's always more fun to have others play with you in your band!

There are other (culinary) things that are vexing about living alone, too, such as the tiresome redundancy of leftovers in general, and the inability of one person to use an entire loaf of bread before it goes stale in particular. They really should sell half loaves for singletons. I can't tell you how much bread I've thrown out since my roommate moved away! In fact, I buy bread a lot less now, prefering to keep wraps in the fridge for the occasional sandwich. But I was craving toast recently, so I broke down and bought a loaf. Still, I only managed to consume maybe a third of it before it dried out on me. This time, I refused to be wasteful, so I considered what I might make with the leftover bread. Croutons and panzanella (bread salad) were initial contenders, but then I was reminded of an episode of Nigella Feasts where she used a knackered old loaf of bread to make what she called "bread and butter pudding." So that's what I decided to make, bread pudding.

Usually I make a very decadent version with croissants and heavy cream for special occasions, but this was a more workaday version. In fact, so that I didn't end up wasting the leftover bread pudding, I ate it for a few nights for dessert, and then I would split a piece in half and brown it on both sides in a frying pan, eating it like French toast for a few mornings for my breakfast! Clever, eh? It was very tasty, but I made one big mistake. As I usually use croissants or a crusty, hearty loaf of some kind to make bread pudding and not sandwich bread, I ended up cutting the pieces too small, and then I mixed them together with the custard, so that the pieces disintegrated and the pudding compacted too much, with the resulting dessert being tasty, but too dense for my liking (refer to picture at the end of the recipe). I do remember Nigella making hers with alternating half pieces (with every other pointy end sticking up), then pouring the custard over the top, and now I see why. At the very least, I should have toasted the bread a little ahead of time. Oh well, I will correct these problems in the recipe below, and then you folks may learn from my mistakes. I dedicate this bread pudding, as Beyonce' sings (featured prominently on tonight's episode of my new favorite show, "Glee"), to all the single ladies!

Singletons' Bread and Butter Pudding

about 2/3 to 3/4 of a loaf of stale bread, pieces cut in half (you may wish to lightly toast the pieces of bread before cutting if it's a very tender sandwich bread)
1 to 1 1/2 cups sliced almonds, toasted*
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter, cut into very small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, and layer in the pieces of bread, overlapping them to try to eliminate empty spaces. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the bread as evenly as you can.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until light in texture and pale in color. Then whisk in the half-and-half, extracts and salt. Pour the custard evenly over the bread and almonds, and set aside for about ten minutes for the custard to soak in thoroughly. Top the pudding with bits of butter scattered across the top, and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until the pudding is puffed, browned, and just set in the middle. Serve by itself or with a dollop of your favorite jam and/or whipped cream.

*I personally LOATHE those wrinkly little abominations known as raisins, but feel free to swap out raisins for the almonds (or use both!) if you so choose. Though I would nuke the raisins with a little orange juice or rum and let them plump up first before adding them to the pudding. Again, you do as you see fit...


Shellie said...

HI! I love your blog and enjoy your recipes. Just a thought about your bread dilemma, you can freeze it. Just take a slice or 2 out when you need it. It is perfect for toast and if you are taking a sandwich for lunch it will have been de-thawed by lunch. I do it all the time. I have a big family and buy lots of bread. The challenge is to use it too before it is stale. Freezing for us is great. Also bread in the fridge is a no, no, I heard. Not sure why. It makes it taste bad?

Love your recipes Lindsey. Thanks for sharing them.

Joy Bugaloo said...

Great idea, Shellie...if only there were room in my (overstuffed)freezer! LOL!