Monthly Archives: February 2011

Have you ever eaten a cloud?

Butternut Squash Bread Pudding

Bread pudding has been a staple in our dessert case since we opened Bistro-to-Go three plus years ago. The sweet version made with chocolate croissants and bananas has been the most popular. Bread puddings are incredibly satisfying to make; it’s something about the process of transforming humble day old bread or croissants into something really special that I love. I never tire of making them!

For sometime now I’ve been contemplating a savoury bread pudding recipe. I’ve wanted to create a dish that would work not only here in our store but also for our catering menus – something for late summer and fall would be the best. A couple of weeks ago I made a butternut squash soup with caramelized onions, sage and Parmesan cheese and as I was making it I said to myself, “this is it –  this would make a great bread pudding”.

Start by peeling several butternut squash, then remove the seeds and cut into 3/4” cubes. Season with salt, pepper, chopped fresh sage and enough olive oil to coat. Put the squash cubes onto a cookie sheet and roast in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until tender. While the squash is cooking, caramelize several finely sliced Spanish onions with fresh sage until soft, sweet and deep brown and set aside.

The next step is making the custard and soaking the bread. Place whole slices of bread in a buttered baking dish, then soak the bread with plain milk and cover lightly with grated Parmesan. If you have an old baguette (we freeze them when they’re day old and save them just for this purpose) cube it as if you were making croutons and put in a mixing bowl. Then in a separate bowl whisk together 4 whole eggs, two egg yolks, 1/2 cup ricotta and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan with a pinch of salt, pepper, nutmeg, and several cloves of roasted garlic for each quart of milk you are using. Pour this mixture over the cubed bread and let stand for at least 30 minutes.

Now it’s time to assemble the dish. Spread the caramelized onions on the bread layer in the baking dish, then add the roasted squash. Finish by pouring the soaked bread custard mix over everything. Adjustments in quantities of each element may need to be made to suit your size baking dish. The most important thing is that the bread is well soaked (wet) – a bit soupy even – otherwise your bread pudding will be dry.  This “recipe” is the kind I like best – one that give you the reader a chance to have fun and experiment! Consider adding some apples or pumpkin puree in the fall, or a different kind of cheese like Fontina….. you get the idea. Have fun and enjoy eating the cloud!

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Great Salad Greens!

I consider myself a salad green snob! For many years I had a very large home garden and a good portion of it was devoted to growing every variety of salad green I could find. (This was “back in the day” when you couldn’t just go into a grocery store and find interesting greens!) I studied various ways of planting and ended up loving the French intensive method, where you scatter seeds in sections and begin thinning when they’re young. I planted swaths of each variety which made such a gorgeous display as the seedlings emerged: “greens” of every color, taste, and shape!

When we moved to our new home, which is located in a very rocky and wooded area, I realized it was just too much to put in a big vegetable garden. Maybe when I’m retired!! And after all, in recent years the commercial mesclun mixes have become as standard as the ol’ iceberg lettuce used to be. So no real need to grow all those exotic greens anymore, right? Actually wrong!

There is absolutely no comparison between the mesclun mixes of today and the savory, tangy, and often spicy greens I used to grow. These mixes used to be “special” and now they’ve become “standard”. So how delighted I was to find that Richard had ordered this wonderful new product for our store: Tanimura and Antle “Get in Shape” artisan lettuce. http://www.taproduce.com/consumer/artisan-lettuce.php

It’s a delightful package that contains four actual heads of lettuce: Petite Oak, Petite Tango and Petite Gem, that are packaged in the fields when they’re picked and not pre-washed (a ritual that I used to love!) And what’s even more wonderful – they taste delicious – they actually have diverse flavors – something I used to take for granted with greens.

I admit this is not a local product, they’re grown in California – but in the dead of winter in the Northeast, I love being able to eat a beautiful and flavorful salad grown with care.

Award-winning Chicken Wings

 

As the owners of a food business that’s committed to sustainability, the idea of specializing in chicken wings, can bring one’s ideals into conflict!! This is the type of gray area we all come up against at various points in our life where the choice is to “give the people what they want” or take the higher road. We have caved on this one!

It all started a few years ago when we were invited to participate in the Ulster County Wing Fling – a new event that was being planned by the Chamber of Commerce, that had the potential to rival the now famous Garlic Festival held at Cantine Field in Saugerties. How could we say “no”? At this point, we made chicken wings occasionally for a special party order, or of course if people requested them for a big weekend like this one: Super Bowl Sunday! But that was the extent of it. Our talented chef Jonathan Sheridan had worked at several restaurants where he put out his own version of spicy wings, so we turned the big competition over to him, giving him free reign to create a great recipe. Which he did – and how! Sweet Thai Chili Wings!

And lo and behold, the 10,000 or so attendees at the festival agreed that Jonathan’s wings were the best – we won first place in the popular vote! Ever since that day, we have featured these delicious chicken wings in our store, as we do now, along with the more traditional Jalapeno Wings, served with blue cheese and celery.

Pick some up today or tomorrow for your Super Bowl party!  Your guests will love you for it!

Food Manifesto for the Future

Amazing!!  Mark Bittman’s Food Manifesto for the Future shot to the # 1
Most Popular Shared article on the web edition of the NY Times last weekend.  While there is nothing new in what he calls for, it is radical that such an article would garner so much attention. Granted, people who read the NY Times are not the most representative cross-section of our society, but it does show that more and more people care about where our food comes from.

Essentially, he calls for a more sustainable culture of producing and consuming food, putting government subsidies where they can make a positive difference rather than using our tax dollars to support highly processed and manufactured products. As he points out, it is not just our personal health that’s at stake when we purchase, prepare and consume food – the health of our country and planet are also impacted.

Here at Bistro-to-Go we like to feel that we are a part of this process, preparing and serving food that is inherently fresh and good for us, our neighbors, and the planet. How did it come to pass that fresh foods are costlier than processed foods? It seems crazy that our political and economic systems are set up to encourage this but that’s how things have evolved. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. If the people of Egypt can demand a new government the least we can do is demand fresh food.  Support your local farmers, producers, and makers of food and remember that  Brillat Savarin’s words are just as true now as when he first spoke them in the 1700’s, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are”.