- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Eating healthfully doesn’t have to mean giving up richly flavorful dishes. You don’t need to abandon good intentions to eat wisely. Consider the following updated versions of the classic savory bread pudding, which are still special and festive.These revamped dishes are versatile items to put on the menu for both family and guests for special occasions. The American Institute for Cancer Research has developed recipes that turn the classic into a novel cross between a party souffle and an old-fashioned Southern-style spoon bread.

A few savvy adjustments can turn the savory bread pudding into what Melanie Polk, the cancer institute’s director of nutrition education, calls “a rich and creamy concoction to serve as a crowd-pleasing buffet dish, an elegant side dish for a formal dinner or even a festive one-dish breakfast.”

The adjustments include using whole-grain bread as a base and adding vegetables such as mushrooms that are health-protective, festive and that boost nutrition.

You can also scale back saturated fat by partially replacing whole eggs with egg whites, using reduced-fat milk or substituting fat-free broth for some of the milk.

Much of the assembly of a savory bread pudding can be done in well in advance of a meal. It’s a more convenient dish to serve than pancakes or waffles, and it turns an ordinary breakfast into an extraordinary meal.

Savory bread puddings can make good use of leftovers, too, including stale bread. Leftover pudding, gently rewarmed, 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 the following recipe, adds depth and complexity of flavors. The pudding can easily be baked in individual custard or souffle dishes, if you prefer, to make elegant first-course starters and save baking time.

The individual puddings could also then be slipped out of the baking dishes and served on the plate with colorful garnishes such as sauteed strips of red and green bell peppers.

Mushroom-and-cheese bread pudding

Canola oil spray

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms (such as crimini, button, stemmed shiitake), cleaned, stemmed and thinly sliced

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup dried mushrooms (one variety or a mix of porcini, chanterelle and morel), soaked in warm water until soft, then squeezed dry

2 tablespoons 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 percent) milk

1 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium beef broth

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

12 slices stale, country-style bread (preferably whole wheat), cubed

½ to 3/4 cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese

½ to 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; saute 3 minutes. Add reconstituted dried mushrooms, and saute 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 Gruyere, 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 before 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 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.

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

The next bread pudding makes good use of leftover roasted turkey or other 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 pound, or enough to make 9 to 10 cups bread cubes)

2 to 3 teaspoons canola oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3/4 pound cooked turkey, preferably breast (or other leftover meat), cut into ½-inch cubes

2 large eggs

2 egg whites

3¼ cups reduced-fat milk (2 percent)

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Canola oil spray

6 cups spinach leaves (about 1 bunch), washed, drained until dry and coarsely chopped (or about ½ package of commercially bagged baby spinach leaves)

½ to 3/4 pound Monterey Jack cheese with chili peppers, grated

Diagonally cut baguette crosswise into slices 1- to 13/4-inch thick. Cut slices into bread cubes. (There should be 9 to 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 midway 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 nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, and saute, 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 saute, 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 9- by 13-inch (3 quart) baking dish with canola oil spray. Arrange enough bread cubes in the pan 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 separately chilled at this point, covered, up to overnight, with liquid added just before 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, so as not to disturb 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, 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until pudding is puffed and set in middle, the surface golden and crusty. (Pudding will set slightly more after it is removed from the oven.)

If top of pudding begins to dry out during baking, cover lightly with foil and lower oven temperature 25 to 50 degrees. Or, small amounts of water or additional milk can be added to top, to slightly moisten bread cubes. Toward 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, to speed up this last step.

Remove pudding from oven, place on a wire rack and let cool about 10 minutes before serving. Makes 15 servings.

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

Other recipes and additional information from the American Institute for Cancer Research are available on the Web at www.aicr.org.

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