Thursday, August 23, 2007

stop, chef --

I am enjoying season 3 of Bravo's Top Chef enormously, even though I don't talk about it much -- but I had to write something tonight, because Tre was sent home.


I really had thought that Tre was a contender to take this whole thing. He seemed ultra-competent, imaginative, and above all, he wasn't a jerk. At all. He just was a great guy and really great chef... who totally blew it this evening.

When I heard the description of the dish, raw salmon with pesto, I thought to myself, That's just wrong.

As Colichio said in judging, pesto is basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, parmesan cheese -- why would you put those with salmon? That's just crazy talk. Salmon always needs some acidity to cut the richness; pesto can't provide the flavors that will highlight and complement the fish.

On the basis of that dish alone, Tre deserved to go home. But then he totally blew the bread pudding! Bread pudding is one of the easiest dishes of all time, here's a recipe. Well, not really a recipe; call it a method:

Bread Pudding

Figure out how much you want, and find the pan you want to bake it in. Roughly tear whatever bread you want into chunks (you can dice, but tearing helps the texture smooth out, I think) to fill that container about 3/4s full.

Dump the bread pieces into a large mixing bowl.

Wipe the crumbs out of the baking pan and butter it; set it aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, break 1-2 eggs for about every 2 cups of bread. So if you're using an 8x8 pan, you can use 1 egg, or 2 eggs if you like it more eggy. Don't skip the eggs, they are the glue that's holding this thing together. Beat the eggs, then add them to bread pieces, and stir to combine.

Next, add milk, half-and-half, or cream until you've got a slightly soupy, squishy mixture of bread and liquid. Don't worry about over-mixing, it's not possible. You have to make sure there is enough liquid here; err on the side of too much rather than too little.

Next, add your sweetener of choice to taste. Maple syrup might be nice; Splenda works fine if you're trying to watch carbs (although bread pudding is not the most obvious place to do that), sugar is fine, too. How much depends on how sweet you like it, and the type of bread you used. I do not like mine too sweet, and so would maybe add 1/4 cup sweetener to an 8x8 pan, more for a larger pan.

Last, add your extras if any. Raisins were always traditional in our house. Tre's bread pudding suffered from having crunchy, unpeeled apples -- remember, bread pudding is all about the creamy smoothness. A little chewiness is OK, but if your dried fruit is very dry, you may want to pre-soak it (in rum? mmmm) before you toss it in. If you're going to use fresh fruit, make sure to dice it small enough so it will cook, and for heaven's sake, peel it! (What was Tre thinking? Casey and/or CJ could've peeled those apples!)

You might want to sprinkle the top with some cinnamon, or dust with nutmeg, or flavor with any other herb or spice you like. (I think a savory bread pudding with rosemary could be really awesome as a side dish with something like a pork or lamb chop.)

Pour the whole mess into the buttered pan, and bake it in the 350 degree oven until it's cooked: a knife inserted into the center will come out clean. This is not rocket science, and while I suppose it is possible to overcook a bread pudding, it's not easy. A deep-dish pudding can take up to an hour to cook; even and 8x8 pan is going to take at least a half-hour. Puddings with more liquid will take longer too cook than dryer ones; dryer ones will have a stiffer texture, while more liquidy puddings will be creamier.

When it's cooked, let it cool a bit, but you can definitely eat it while it's still warm. It's great with whipped cream or creme anglaise or just plain cream, It's great just plain. I recommend it for breakfast.

* * *

Bye, Tre. I will really miss you, but given your missteps in this episode, the judges really had no choice. But I'll be keeping an eye out for you -- I expect great things. Best of luck, man.

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