Wednesday, 19 April 2017 | 12 comments

Savory bread pudding with mushrooms & bacon

The commuter train comes in all the way from West Virginia. Some of the people who ride it spend three hours, each way, commuting. That’s more time spent with your fellow train riders during the week than with your significant other or family. DC is a crazy commuting city, with long-suffering government servants slogging in and out for 25 years so they’re eligible for their federal pensions. In the mornings, people count down the days until they retire, and sometimes, you’ll hear the pop of a champagne cork: friends celebrating someone’s last schlep into work.

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Yes, you’re allowed to drink on the train. The Union Station liquor store does brisk business in the afternoon, tanking people up with mini-Chardonnays, beers, and airplane Dewar’s bottles for the train ride home. Every once in awhile there’s an exposé on the local news about a “party car” on the commuter train, usually an overblown account of some wildness that goes on while people are under the influence. At one stop outside DC, there’s a guy who will take pizza orders and deliver them into the arms of waiting passengers.

But I switched jobs, and the new job is in a different part of the District. I take a bus now instead of a train. It’s a quieter, more subdued crowd. They come from the ‘burbs instead of farms, little-ticky-tacky-box types of folks. We do not drink, at least not alcohol, and probably not coffee because everyone is off of caffeine and gluten. We aren’t allowed to eat. I no longer have a cute, cocky young conductor friend who lets me ride for free because I baked him cookies one time.

The changed commute reflects a changed schedule: I go into the city less often now; but for much longer days. Dinner is a real chore on those long days; I am usually ravenous and a little blinded by low blood sugar when I get home.
. . .

Two of my favorite food people on the Internet are Amelia Morris and Tim Mazurek. Amelia interviewed Tim here recently and it was entertaining and thought-provoking, as they both are. But it was a quick little parenthetical that Tim slipped in that I’ve been thinking about a lot: “…am I the only 9-5 food blogger?”, he asked. And he’s probably not, but I think he’s one of the few successful ones. How odd, really, that the people who we trust to help us find ways to eat and cook realistically for our families and friends are those who make their living writing about cooking. It’s probably why I value Tim’s voice so much, because I know that he gets up in the morning and goes to kick ass at his full-time, non-food job and then makes time to share his writing and critical eye on recipes that work.

Food media rewards making really good food look effortless and accessible. I kind of think that really good food is the opposite of effortless and accessible. Like a lot of people, I’ve been digging into the highly anticipated Liz Prueitt‘s Tartine All Day: Modern Recipes for the Home Cook, but approached it with some trepidation. Prueitt and her husband, Chad Robertson, are at the helm of the San Francisco cult-Tartine empire, professional cooks who make Cali-cool, naturally leavened bread and café fare. Billed as a “hardworking cookbook that will guide and inspire home cooks”, you have to wonder if it actually will, considering the source.

Prueitt’s intro to the book is reassuringly grounded, though. “You see, there’s no way around it: cooking is work. Work in that it requires forethought, a modicum of skill, and time. Work in that you must use your hands, stand on your feet, and wash the dishes. (And, full disclosure: for my husband, Chad, and me, cooking is work. It is how we earn our living.)”

. . .

I’ve been baking a lot of bread so I’ve been eating a lot of bread. I’ve written before that I think bread is a workhorse that can turn little scraps from the fridge into a meal very quickly, which is invaluable lately as I adjust to new rhythms. There’s no recipe for that kind of meal, though, it’s just foraging in your own kitchen for something that satisfies your hunger. It does feel like foraging, too, digging past Tupperware containers and shaking up old jars of vinaigrette and smelling leftovers to see if it’s still good to smash onto a piece of toast. In the end, I have not actually cooked, but I do have what feels like kind of a decent meal, and more importantly, I am fed.

. . .

The types of train folks who eat Domino’s pizza, who drink Dixie cups of red wine, and who are bribe-able with homemade cookies are my people. You can’t cook on a commuter train, they won’t get home until 8 PM, and they are hungry. I like hungry people. Maybe, like me, they’re foraging around in their fridge when they walk in the door, smashing stuff onto toast, standing at the kitchen table to eat before they take off their coat. So here’s a recipe from Tartine All Day that is not a weeknight dinner by any means, but is still really good, and importantly, makes excellent leftovers. It is a bit of work, but as Prueitt writes, “Your simple hope is that while sitting around the table to share the fruits of your labor, the effort fades to memory.” We won’t always be, but all we can do is keep on cooking and feeding our hungry selves, and we might sometimes be that lucky.

Savory bread pudding with wild mushrooms & bacon

Several notes here:
1) I tried very hard to get a hold of Liz Prueitt/her people to get permission to share this recipe, which is essentially hers as written, but never heard back. This is what I normally do when basically reprinting a recipe, especially when a new book is out. So I’m sorry, Liz Prueitt! Before your lawyers send me a cease and desist, you can just kindly ask me to take it down, and I will.
2) I did not use wild mushrooms, and it was still very good.
3) It might seem like there’s not too much that’s special about this recipe from a first glance – technique is pretty normal, we’ve all had egg bakes before – but the flavor combination is great and the recipe is excellent if you follow it. I will be making it again, and to me, having those types of recipes in my back pocket is more and more important.

You’ll need

  1. Unsalted butter, for the baking dish
  2. 8 oz/225g country-style bread, preferably day-old
  3. 8 oz/225g thick cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  4. 2 small or 1 large/110g leek, white and light green parts sliced 1.2 inch/12mm thick and rinsed (I used green onions)
  5. 2 Tbsp olive oil, as needed
  6. 1 lb/455g mixed wild mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick (I used a mix of shiitake and cremini)
  7. 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  8. 1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  9. 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  10. 1/2 tsp sea salt
  11. 6 large eggs
  12. 2 cups/480 ml whole milk
  13. 1 cup/240 ml heavy cream
  14. 1/4 cup/25 g grated Gruyere, Comte, or other firm cheese
  15. Ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/108 degrees C. Butter inside surfaces of a 9-inch/23 cm square baking dish with at least 2-inch/5cm sides.
  2. Cut the bread into 1-inch/2.5 cm cubes. Spread them out on a baking sheet and place in the oven to toast for a few minutes, until lightly toasted. Set aside.
  3. In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until slightly crisped but not yet bully browned. Transfer to a large bowl and pour off all but 2 Tbsp of fat from the skillet. Add the leeks to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the bacon.
  4. If the pan looks dry, swirl in 1 Tbsp of the olive oil. Add about half of the mushrooms and saute, stirring occasionally, until crisp and lightly browned in a few places, 3 to 5 minutes Transfer the mushrooms to the bowl and cook the remaining mushrooms, adding as much of the remaining 1 Tbsp of oil to the skillet as needed. Transfer to the bowl and let cool.
  5. Add the cheese, parsley, thyme, and salt to the cooked mushroom mixture and mix well.
  6. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and cream until well blended. Pour over the mushroom mixture and stir to combine. Gently mix in the toasted bread cubes.
  7. Carefully pour the bread mixture into the prepared baking dish. The custard should come right up to the top but not cover the highest cubes of bread. (If you have extra, fill a buttered ramekin and make an additional, smaller bread pudding (note from Sarah: I had extra)). Scatter the additional cheese evenly over the pudding and grind a light dusting of pepper on top. Bake until the custard is no longer runny but still a bit wobbly in the center, 40 minutes to 1 hour (and about 25 minutes for a smaller ramekin). It will continue to cook as it sits before serving. Serve the bread pudding hot or at room temperature.
  8. Any leftovers can be stored, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and reheated, covered with aluminum foil, in a 350 degree F/180 degree C oven.

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§ 12 responses to Savory bread pudding with mushrooms & bacon

  • This reminded me of Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal. I know you know it, but that’s a great book on what cooking is actually like. In a sense recipes are just encoded notes for one way of transforming raw materials into cooked food. So no matter what you’re doing, it’s still cooking. It’s either Bittman or Pollan who says cooking is the combining of two things. Sometimes I even take premade foods and just add one thing — like frozen peas. That’s still cooking. Love your effort to break down the elitism in the community. Although I must say, I (mostly) quit caffeine this year. Ha! It’s for migraines…

  • Amy

    So glad to see your thoughtful post and a delicious recipe. And for those with long commutes, I salute you!

  • Just for the record, YOU are my favorite food blogger, 9-5 or otherwise, and have been for a long time! I am a bit of a reluctant cook (don’t like the work, but love the food) but you always inspire me to work harder. And I love so much how you weave every day life into your cooking stories, or vice versa. I hope one day you’ll publish your blogposts as a book. xo

  • Hello!! Again I wish we were neighbors – in a certain patch of Virginia or on a bus into DC. (And again I’m reminded you don’t live SO far away!!)

    Loved this so much. I also thought of Tamar Adler. And I thought of Molly Wizenbergs panade, which she wrote about in 2005 and which I have not made in years. Maybe I can have a savory bread pudding week around here!

    I remember the drinking car on probably that very same train. When I was living at Wheatland I’d sometimes go into DC on my day off, or a day a week in winters when farm work slowed, to help out in the national office of the organization I’d worked with in DC. I discovered and delighted in those relaxed evening commuters on the way back home. Happy memories.

    I want to say more but I have children clamoring for French toast and a brain clamoring for more coffee.

  • Sarah, reading your words is always such a pleasure. This might sound odd, but I used to cook more when I was working 9 to 6 and commuting one hour each way than now that I work from home. Work was work, and then there was home, and home meant making dinner (as simple as this may be) and relaxing. Now, freelance life means that 8pm arrives in a whirlwind and more often than not I’m so tired of being at home that the thought of making dinner and sitting at the table (again!) feels almost repulsive…I just want to get out. Which leads me to think that cooking (for those who generally can cook and enjoy doing it) can be a matter of mood as much as a matter of time…More investigation needed. PS – your turmeric bread sounds incredible, as does this recipe!

  • Wonderful post, love hearing about your commute. Can’t wait to try this recipe, and enjoyed the links to the other blogs!

  • i love when you post. I’ll say it a million times, but you are such a good writer. I too have been sucked into the message that everyone wants amazing food but for it to be fast and easy and affordable. My people pleasing self has been trying to be a magician but you are so right! Sorry pals, but you don’t usually get to have it all. Fast/easy comes with a sacrifice of amazing sometimes. Anyway, cheers to food being work and that being ok. I appreciate your permission to just own that fact. xo

  • Carys

    I just wanted to say that this is truly lovely writing, and it really moved me. Thank you very much.

  • Susan has been hauling her tuchas from our house to her job in NYC for fourteen years: 2.5 hours. Each way. She comes home, I say hello, I feed her, she goes to sleep. We live in Connecticut, on the Danbury line, which becomes diesel north of Norwalk. No bar cars. Darien? Bar cars. Greenwich? Bar cars. Very often, when I did this heinous commute, I would stop at the Grand Central Market and pick up some charcuterie, some cheese, a bottle of something red, and we would eat dinner on the train. Nowadays, it’s all about sleeping. 5 hours round trip. I should be making better food for my wife-the-commuter.
    Also, Tamar Adler. Like the person above said.
    Write the damn book already, Sarah. ❤️

  • Thanks for acknowledging that cooking is work (and with it, comes dishes that need to be cleaned)!

    In our hyper-stylized world, where the end product is all we see, it can’t be said enough.

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