Sir Pickypants and I had a marvelous Valentine's Day dinner at Turkish Meze, which I've reviewed here before. We chose it because it's one of our favorite places, and it's not a real fancypants place. Don't get me wrong. We love fancypants and we do go to fancypants for some occasions, but Valentine's Day is the wrong time to go to places like that. Everyone wants to go out to the classy joints on Valentine's Day. That means you get some mediocre, mass-produced price fixe dinner and are quickly hustled out the door after you eat it so they can turn over the tables. Even good restaurants with food I like do this. I have attempted cooking Valentine's Day dinner in the past, but then I realized that would leave me with the cleanup. For Valentine's Day we go places that are fun and not necessarily romantic (although anything can be romantic when you have the right guy by your side). We're all for even super-casual on Valentine's Day.
It's interesting that this year Valentine's Day is the week before Mardi Gras. We get an entire week to eat decadently before going to the sacrificial and dull season of Lent (if Lent if your kind of thing). Mardi Gras is something I celebrate every year now thanks to my theater group. We always throw a fund raising dinner with entertainment, costumes and traditional foods.
I always like to contribute a dessert or two to our fund raisers. This year I contributed two kind of bread pudding. I wanted my bread pudding to follow a bit of Louisiana tradition (bread pudding is a tradition in and of itself of course). One was flavored with Bananas Foster. The other contained bourbon, pralines, and a little orange flavor (because I love mixing bourbon and orange). Keep reading and you will be rewarded with recipes!
The very next day I hosted a birthday dinner for my mother in law. She is a wonderful woman who always amazes me with how well she continues to enjoy and celebrate life at her age. She never forgets anyone's birthday in the family, so you can bet we had to do something special for hers.
I did a little Justify Your Subscription with this meal. I started with a salad of oranges, cabbage, pepitas, and fennel from Food & Wine. I was a doodyhead and didn't take my own photo, which stinks because it was a beautiful salad - and tasty too! I had my doubts since I don't eat a lot of red cabbage, but it was really good with an excellent combination of flavors.
Next came my hazelnut crusted chicken with port-cherry sauce. I served it over basic risotto Milanese.
Dessert was also from Food & Wine. This was a brown butter cake, filled with milk chocolate mousse and topped with hazelnut frosting. I guess the frosting is considered Swiss meringue buttercream, which I never made before. It was little scary, but it turned out okay. As always, my cake was less than beautiful since I have trouble getting nice even layers and making my frosting look smooth.
Notes on the bread pudding recipes:
I measure my bread by weight rather than by volume. I find that if the recipe calls for cups of bread chunks, then it can become a bit confusing. Are the chunks large or small? Tightly packed or loosely packed? I measure my bread by how it can generously fill a 9" x 13" pan. If it rises over the top a bit when it's dry, then once it has soaked up the liquid, it will fit just right. I used 1 1/2 loaves (one loaf is one pound each) of braided challah from the bakery section of the grocery store.
Also when making the bananas foster, remember that you are not making banana bread. This is not the time to use those old black bananas sitting in the fruit bowl. Your bananas shouldn't be green, but they should be firm and ripe. You want them to be able to hold their shape when you're cooking them.
The recipe states that you prepare the bread mixture after you make the pecans. You can certainly prepare it while the pecans are roasting. A good strategy is to have the bread ready and then give the pecans a few minutes to cool while you bring the oven to the higher temperature. Then mix them in and put the whole thing in the oven.
Bananas Foster Bread Pudding
- 4 ripe bananas, sliced
- 1 stick butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup rum
- 1.5 pounds of challah bread, cut into chunks
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
Beat the eggs and mix in the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and pour the milk mixture over it. Let it really soak in while you prepare the bananas.
Melt butter in a deep skillet over low heat. Whisk in the brown sugar and increase heat to medium, whisking until well blended. Add the bananas to the pan and mix well to coat. Cook until the mixture is bubbly, allowing the bananas to really caramelize. Remove from heat and gently stir in the rum.Gently fold the bananas into the soaked bread. Spead in a buttered 9"x13" pan. Bake 45-55 minutes or until set.
Bourbon Orange Praline Bread Pudding
- 2 cups pecans
- 1 egg white
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1.5 pounds challah bread cut into chunks
- 2.5 cups whole milk
- 2 cups cream
- 2 cups sugar
- Juice of two oranges
- Zest of one orange
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 2 tsp vanilla.
In a small bowl whisk egg white until frothy. Stir in the pecans. Add the brown sugar and stir until nuts are all even coated. Spread the nuts on the prepared sheet and lightly sprinkle with salt. Bake for 1 hour.
Increase oven tem to 325 degrees. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9" x 13" pan.
Place bread chunks in a large bowl. In another large bowl beat the eggs. Stir in the milk, cream, vanilla and orange zest. Finally add the bourgon and orange juice*.
Gently fold in the pralines and spread in the prepared pan. Bake 45-55 minutes or until golden and a bit crispy on top.
*If you haven't already drunk it as a cocktail