Is bread pudding really a salad? Strawberry Rhubarb Bread Pudding

By Michael Elmore

Sadly, the answer is no. At least, not a healthy salad. But fear not, methods abound to lighten up this Southern classical dessert and spruce it up for summer as well. As strawberry season nears its end here in Virginia, what better way to pair up the classic combination of strawberry and rhubarb than a bread pudding?

While not healthy, this dish makes some critical substitutions from most recipes. First, you’ll notice there’s not as much sugar. We are going to rely on some overripe strawberries rather than sugar to make up the difference. You’ll also note that we don’t use whole milk or heavy cream – both of which would make this dish richer, more decadent, and delicious, but we sacraficed some of this to make the dish lighter.

Also, we didn’t have ice cream, but certainly feel free to make any of these substitutions back (the cook’s note beneath the recipe will list how to make the heavier version substitutes).

So let’s grab some strawberries, and make this (non-)salad!

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart strawberries, stemmed and quartered
  • 3 stalks rhubarb (warning: discard any leaves and the ends – the leaves are toxic)
  • 6 cups of day old bread of preference, cubed or torn into thick chunks
  • 1 ½ cups 1% milk
  • 1 ½ cups half and half
  • 6 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Slice the rhubarb into small pieces, add to the strawberries, and toss with the two tablespoons of sugar and the vanilla. Set aside in the fridge, covered.
  2. Place the cubed bread in a large bowl and set aside. In a small cooking pot, add the milk and half and half, along with the pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, being careful not to scald the mixture. While waiting for the mixture to heat in another large bowl, add the egg yolks and remaining sugar. Beat together until light and fluffy. Once the mixture is simmering (but not scalded), turn off heat. One ladle at a time, whisk the hot mixture into the eggs while whisking to temper the eggs. Repeat until 1/3 of the mixture has been added to the eggs in this fashion, continuing to whisk the entire time to avoid the eggs scrambling. (Tip: if your eggs do scramble at any point, use a fine mesh sieve to retain as much of the custard mixture as you can). Slowly add the remaining mixture to the egg mixture, continuing to whisk until fully incorporated.
  3. Add the mixture back to the sauce pot and put heat back to medium high. Stir frequently until the mixture thickens and holds on a spoon (approximately 160 degrees Fahrenheit).
  4. Pour the mixture over the bread. Let soak at least 15 minutes up to an hour (if waiting more than 15 minutes, put in the fridge after it cools).
  5. Add the strawberry and rhubarb mixture to the bread mixture and gently toss to incorporate thoroughly. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with non-stick spray and then add the mixture evenly to the dish. Let sit in the fridge at least one hour, covered, up to overnight.
  6. When ready to back, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Put in the oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes – 55 minutes, or until set. Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Cook’s Notes:

If you want to use the more decadent recipe for a special occasion, bump up the sugar in the egg mixture to 1 cup, and replace the milk and half and half with whole milk and heavy cream, respectively. The custard mixture will be thicker at this point because of the increased fat content, just keep stirring so the eggs do not scramble!

First Watch: A Refresher Course in Breakfast

By Michael Araj

In my recent business trip to Omaha, Nebraska, where I previously lived for three years, the changes to the city cannot adequately be enumerated in one post. Omaha, a barren and spread out city eight years ago, has exploded and continued on the culinary journey it had begun when I left it.

Enter: First Watch. A farm to table, breakfast and brunch focused restaurant that puts a healthy spin on some classical dishes, an uphill battle when dealing with southern comfort food like pancakes and biscuits.

For the first day, we had a leisurely breakfast, and the eclectic, modern vibe with current pop music caught my attention first. The place started out leisurely enough, but became more crowded towards the tail end of our meal.

Our very friendly wait staff started us out with hot coffee for me and cold brew for my friend. The coffee tasted well roasted, but the cold brew left much to be desired with an overtly bitter taste. One person opined that it may have been burnt; in the alternative, perhaps the proportions to the water were just off.

While not a great way to start the meal, First Watch soon redeemed itself, and in spectacular fashion. The Farmhouse Skillet Molly had looked amazing and expertly executed; my lemon ricotta pancakes left no complaints. The fluffiness and delicateness of the pancake with the richness of the ricotta proved to be delectable. The homemade lemon curd and fresh strawberries became streams of sunshine in the pillows of delight below, necessitating no syrup (this, too, was expertly provided, warmed up).

I returned two days later to explore the menu further. This time, I opted for one of the juice blends they promote, seasonally named “Summer Blush.” Light, refreshing and crisp, the apple flavor proved to be the main melody in a balanced harmony of watermelon and lemon and a light percussion of mint. It would be difficult to find a complaint with this drink; if it has any faults, it may hint towards being too sweet. However, overall, it is well balanced and the herbal earthiness cuts through the natural sweetness of the fruits perfectly.

I also opted to try two Southern staples: cheesy grits and biscuits and gravy. Don’t order the grits – they are nothing special. Do they taste good? Yes, though slightly bland, they are executed well texture-wise and the butteriness is nice. Save the room for something more special like the bacon, which is singularly excellent.

The biscuits and gravy are a revelation. The use of turkey sausage lightens up this classic dish enough to prevent you from going into an immediate food coma. A Southern grandmother could not make better biscuits. I do not say this lightly being a Southerner, but they are fluffy, buttery and flaky as all good biscuits should be. The lift on the biscuits is just right.

The over medium eggs were ever slightly overcooked, but the main complaint is the presentation of this dish. The biscuits and gravy come in their own vessel, necessitating lifting the eggs into the vessel (because what’s better than a runny yolk adding another dimension to your biscuits and gravy?). The potato hash that came on the side came also expertly cooked with the crispy exterior masking tender bites of love.

Overall, this is a great place for breakfast or brunch in Omaha, living up to the high standards set by Dixie Quicks before it. Next time I return to Omaha, this will certainly be on the short list for revisits.