Revamped Savory Bread Puddings Offer Great Versatility at Holiday Time

American Institute for Cancer Research
Friday, 12 December 2003

Revamped Savory Bread Puddings Offer Great Versatility at Holiday Time

Updated for Better Health and Reduced Calories, Savory Bread Puddings Simplify Any Holiday Meal

Eating healthfully during the holiday season doesn't have to mean giving up richly flavorful dishes, says the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), nor abandoning good intentions to eat wisely. By modernizing the classic savory bread pudding, AICR developed new festive dishes perfect for entertaining, a novel cross between a party soufflé and an old-fashioned, southern-style spoon bread.

"Many traditional holiday dishes can be surprisingly high in fat and calories. And many, like stuffings, aren't especially versatile beyond their primary purpose." says Melanie Polk, R.D., AICR's Director of Nutrition Education. "Savory bread puddings, however, can be served in place of the stuffing that usually accompanies turkey, as an elegant side dish for any formal dinner, a crowd-pleasing buffet dish, or even a festive one-dish breakfast. And a few savvy techniques can turn them into a rich and creamy concoction that is comparatively more healthful. The fat grams and calories may not add up to a dietitian's dream, a savory bread pudding can be more healthful than the classic version, or many traditional stuffings."

One of the techniques used for AICR's savory bread puddings, according to Polk, is using whole-grain bread as a base, to help increase the fiber and phytochemical content as well as flavor and texture. Adding vegetables that are health-protective as well as festive, like mushrooms, also boosts nutrition. Other tricks can help scale back saturated fat, such as partially replacing whole eggs with egg whites, using reduced-fat milk, or substituting fat-free broth for some of the milk.

"AICR's techniques," assures Polk, "help pare back the calories and saturated fat that usually accompany holiday meals without sacrificing the flavor that makes a dish special and festive."

Much of the work assembling a savory bread pudding can be done in well in advance of a meal. It is a more convenient dish to serve than pancakes and waffles, and turns an ordinary breakfast into an extraordinary meal. Savory bread puddings can make good use of leftovers, including stale bread. Leftover pudding, gently re-warmed, makes a good accompaniment to a lunch or light meal of soup and salad. The bread pudding recipes that follow can be used for any of these occasions.

Using a variety of mushrooms, as called for in this bread pudding, maximizes the depth and complexity of flavors. The pudding can easily be baked in individual custard or soufflé dishes, creating elegant first-course starters as well as saving baking time. If desired, the individual puddings can be easily slipped out of baking dishes and plated with colorful garnishes, such as sautéed strips of red and green bell peppers.

Mushroom and Cheese Bread Pudding

Canola oil spray
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 lb. assorted fresh mushrooms (e.g. crimini, button, stemmed shiitake), cleaned, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup dried mushrooms (one variety or a mix of porcini, chanterelle and/or morel), soaked in warm water until soft, then squeezed dry
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon or marjoram
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 large eggs
3 egg whites
1 cup reduced-fat (2%) milk
1 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium beef broth
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
12 slices stale, country-style bread (preferably whole-wheat), cubed
1/2-3/4 cup freshly-grated Gruyère cheese
1/2-3/4 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking dish with canola oil spray and set aside. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fresh mushrooms and onion; sauté 3 minutes. Add reconstituted dried mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Mix in tarragon and garlic; season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to medium bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs and egg whites together until well blended. Gradually whisk in milk, broth, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper, to taste.

Arrange an even layer of bread cubes over bottom of prepared dish. Top with an even layer of first the mushroom mixture, then half the Gruyère, then half the Parmesan cheese. Cover with remaining bread cubes. (If desired, pudding and liquid mixture can be separately chilled at this point, covered, up to overnight, with liquid added just prior to baking. Bring chilled pudding and liquid to room temperature before continuing to the next step. Pudding can also be chilled up to overnight after the liquid mixture has been added, but with somewhat less satisfactory results.)

Using a large spoon, gradually ladle in the egg/milk/broth mixture so that the bread cubes on top are moistened, waiting briefly for milk to start being absorbed by bottom layer of bread cubes before adding remaining liquid. Press gently, if necessary, to submerge bread cubes.

Just before baking, sprinkle remaining cheese evenly over top of bread pudding. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until bread pudding puffs and top is golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Makes 9 servings.

Per serving: 235 calories, 9 g. fat (3 g. saturated fat), 27 g. carbohydrate, 15 g. protein, 5 g. dietary fiber, 421 mg. sodium.

The following bread pudding makes good use of leftover roasted turkey (or other leftover meat), and provides ample servings for a party buffet. Cheese studded with chili peppers creates just enough heat to add extra zest and ward off winter chills.

Turkey, Spinach and Cheese Bread Pudding

1 large whole-wheat baguette or rustic country-style loaf, preferably herbed (about 3/4 lb. or enough to make 9-10 cups bread cubes)
2-3 tsp. canola oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3/4 lb. cooked turkey, preferably breast
(or other leftover meat), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 large eggs
2 egg whites
3 1/4 cups reduced-fat milk (2%)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Canola oil spray
6 cups spinach leaves (about 1 bunch), washed, drained until dry and coarsely chopped (about 1/2 commercially bagged baby spinach leaves, which may be used)
1/2-3/4 lb. Monterey Jack cheese with chili peppers, grated

Diagonally cut baguette crosswise into slices 1/1-3/4-inch thick. Cut slices into bread cubes. (There should be 9-10 cups.) Allow bread to thoroughly dry out at room temperature or, spread on baking sheets, in a preheated 250-degree oven. Turn bread cubes mid-way through the process so both sides are exposed to air. If dried in the oven, set bread cubes aside to cool.

Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden. (Reduce heat if necessary to prevent browning.) With a slotted spoon, transfer onions to a bowl. Add turkey to pan and sauté, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer turkey to bowl of onions and mix in until well blended.

Whisk eggs and egg whites in a large bowl until thoroughly blended. Whisk in milk, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.

Lightly coat a shallow 9x13-inch (3 qt.) baking dish with canola oil spray. Arrange enough bread cubes in the dish to cover the bottom in a single layer. Evenly distribute turkey/onion mixture on top of bread. Evenly arrange spinach on top. Cover with remaining bread cubes so that spinach is not visible from the top. (If desired, pudding and liquid mixture can be chilled separately at this point, covered, up to overnight, with liquid added just prior to baking. Bring chilled pudding and liquid to room temperature before continuing to the next step. Pudding can also be chilled up to overnight after the liquid mixture has been added, but with somewhat less satisfactory results.)

Using a large spoon, add liquid mixture to the pan gradually, as to not disturbed contents, ensuring that bread cubes on top are moistened. Set aside to allow bread to absorb some of the liquid, about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle cheese evenly over top of pudding. Bake pudding in the middle of the oven. Bake pudding 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until puffed, the surface is golden/crusty and pudding seems to be set in middle. (Pudding will set slightly more after it is removed from the oven.) If top of pudding begins to be dry out during baking, over lightly with foil and lower oven temperature 25-50 degrees. Or, small amounts of water or additional milk can be added to top to slightly moisten bread cubes. (Towards the end of the baking period, oven temperature can be raised 50 degrees if pudding seems nearly done but the surface has not become golden and crusty in order to hasten this last step.)

Remove pudding from oven, place on a wire rack and let cool about 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 15 servings.

Per serving: 236 calories, 10 g. fat (5 g. saturated fat), 23 g. carbohydrate, 14 g. protein, 2 g. dietary fiber, 433 mg. sodium.

For more information, or to contact American Institute for Cancer Research, see their website at: www.aicr.org

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