Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pudding Things In Perspective (Bread Pudding)

Our neighbor down the street was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. Since we moved here in September, we haven't had a lot of time to build a relationship with him and his wife, but they seem like kind folks, and the community is making an effort to rally and support them as they go through this difficult time. I have been trying to come up with a way to show them that we really care- not preaching at them, but, as the pastor and pastor's wife of their local church, genuinely showing concern for their physical and emotional needs. Food always seems rather comforting to me, so I asked around to see what he could eat. His neighbor informed me that he could hardly keep anything down anymore, but tapioca or bread puddings seemed to be okay.

So, this morning, since I had no tapioca on hand, I set about making a bread pudding (something I have only eaten maybe once or twice, and never made before!). My Better Homes and Gardens cookbook hailed it as the ultimate comfort food, so that bolstered my confidence. So many times, when I cook, it feels wonderful to know that the food is going to please, encourage, comfort or welcome the people who eat it! As a pastor's wife, I seem to be forever bringing food to functions such as potlucks & Bible studies, as well as inviting people to my home for dinner or hosting meetings. I love it! I love knowing that home-prepared food can create a wonderful atmosphere- and convey heartfelt hospitality and love. I feel like there can be such a ministry in thoughtfully prepared meals or gifts of baked goods.

Such were some of my thoughts as I sliced buttermilk white bread into cubes, dried them in the oven, and mixed them with raisins, eggs, milk, sugar and spices. The combinations seemed so yummy! Within minutes of sliding the pudding into the oven, the aroma was so heavenly- a perfect blend of spice and sweetness- that I knew I had to make one for us (besides, having never made one before, I needed a test one to make sure it tasted okay, right?)! So...I did! I pulled all the ingredients back out and retrieved the measuring devices. I thought about making a smaller one, but then decided to make the same amount again and divide it between a slightly smaller portion for us and an even smaller portion for one of our elderly widow neighbors. Soon Papa, Mama, and Baby Pudding were baking away, the pudding beginning to puff a bit in their graduated glass dishes. When the knife finally came out clean, I set them to cool on a few of my colorful, hand-knitted (not by me, although I'm learning!) hot pads, where they proceeded to "deflate," and settle into a lovely looking trio of comfortable, gooey goodness! And when we "tested" ours after lunch it was just that! I think it can be summed up quite nicely with, "Mmmmm!!" :)

Travis and I later walked to the end of our street to visit with our neighbors. The man and woman accepted us in graciously and were grateful for the still-slightly-warm offering, although I knew in a moment, it was meager comfort for someone in such a situation. But, as we visited and prayed with the couple, I hoped that maybe the Lord would use this small gift- something so simple as a comforting dessert- to touch the heart of a sick and dying man with the love of Jesus Christ.

Bread Pudding
(printable version)
"Better Homes and Gardens"

4 cups dried white or cinnamon swirl bread cubes (6-7 slices)*
1/3 cup raisins
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 1 1/2-quart casserole; set aside. In a large bowl, combine bread cubes and raisins.
In a bowl, combine eggs, milk, melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Stir into bread mixture. Pour into the prepared casserole.
Bake, uncovered, for 50-55 min. or until puffed and a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

*BHG tip: For dry bread cubes, cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread on a 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Bake in a 300 F oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until dry, stirring twice. Cool.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Meal Lists and Grocery Trips

Before I got married this last summer, I spent 5 years of my life working in the shipping/packaging industry. Shipping is all about deadlines and accuracy, packaging, all about problem solving and creativity and the whole thing is loaded with multitasking. And I loved it.

So much of what I learned (and enjoyed) about the shipping industry is true about cooking as well. Cooking is replete with deadlines (watch that timer!) and demands accuracy (that's what those measuring utensils and different pan sizes are for!). It also employs problem solving techniques (ever need to figure out what a good substitute would be for cream of tartar?) and thankfully, usually leaves ample room for creativity (be it artistry with colors, flavors, textures or aromas!). And you know cooking is a multi-tasker's heaven (isn't it challenging trying to get all of your dishes done at the same time?)!

But before you can cook, you must pre-cook! And pre-cooking involves many of those elements I just mentioned! As I talked about in my last blog post (the one about the moose...), I live in a rural area, so my pre-cooking might be a bit more complicated than yours needs to be, but basically, this is what I do...

Step 1: Recipe Wrangling
This is a continuous process. I often leaf through my current cookbooks, or grab a couple from the library, just to get ideas. Sometimes I browse the web (my preference is or pull out the wonderful box of recipes my sisters compiled for me when I got married. But the point is to immerse yourself in possibilities. There are so many things to try!! As I come across things that look interesting, I fold the corner of the page or mark down the number in my notebook. If they are tried and found successful, these later go into a file on my computer where repeat "winner dinners" are cataloged according to main ingredient.

Step 2: Making the List
I do this at the beginning of every month. I make a list of about 20 dinners for that month (the extra 10 days leave room for leftovers, dates, spontaneous decisions, invitations, alien invasions, etc.), drawing from my "winner dinner" file, or new recipes I want to try. I try to keep a well rounded list consisting of fairly equal parts of beef, chicken and "other" (which may include pork, turkey, moose, fish, breakfast foods, soup- you get the idea).

Step 3: The List's List
This step is the actual grocery list making step, and it involves 4 rounds.
Round 1: I go back through my recipes for the meals that are on the Dinner List and jot down the ingredients I will need to purchase in order to make them.
Round 2: I contemplate side dishes that are nice to have on hand and make trips to the various locations side dishes usually reside, and report any missing ones to my grocery list.
Round 3: I make a thorough inspection of cupboards, refrigerator and freezer to add needed breakfast foods, condiments, snacks, and any other misc. ingredients to my now quite lengthy grocery list.
Round 4: This is a rather passive round, as it consists of merely leaving my list on the counter in a visible location for 2-3 days. It seems simple enough, but it serves as a reminder for things that may need to surface in my memory before we set out for the store (and they usually do)!

Step 4: The Shopping Trip
Now this is serious business. Once a month, Travis and I make a shopping trip to Spokane, which is about 50 mi away. We are a team, with me making decisions between brands and prices, and he keeping track of the total (to keep us to our budget!) and pushing the cart (which gets rather heavy when you do a whole month's shopping in one fell swoop!). I prefer WinCo for our main grocery shopping, as it is one of the few places where I can leave spending less than I expected to when I bought more than I expected to! I always try to have a little of our budgeted grocery money leftover for other misc. items we pick up during the remainder of the month. I don't really love grocery shopping, but it does make me excited. Somehow, all that "ingredient gathering," as I like to call it, makes me excited to cook all over again! And, though it is tiring (and takes a good 2 hrs), with Travis beside me (and stopping to kiss me almost every aisle!), we have a lot of fun. There is something very satisfying about a full refrigerator and stocked cupboards!

Step 5: Weekly Lists
The last step in the pre-cooking regimen is to make up weekly dinner lists. I find that I love having my dinners for the week planned in advance. I don't always stick to them, but it is nice to know that there is something planned for dinner tonight. Usually I pull out my calendar and try to figure out what days we will have dinner at home or what nights we'll be out, as well as which nights we'll need to eat quick or afternoons I'll be gone and need to fix something easy when I get home. That done, I make up my weekly lists using the Dinner List from Step 2, and hang it on the fridge.

Now, maybe all that planning frightens you, because you're more the spontaneous type, but I really enjoy strategizing and figuring out what I need to do to make it work. It gets me excited for what's coming next and gets my creative juices start flowing. We just finished this whole process yesterday, so my cupboards are bare no longer and the lists are ready on the refrigerator. I can hardly waiting to get cooking!
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