I got the Smitten Kitchen cookbook for Christmas! I’m so excited. I want to try out almost all the recipes, and last night at dinner was trying to get the whole family in on what I should make for New Year’s Eve dinner– but they both wanted what we were having last night. So, catfish and greens it is for New Year’s Eve! And I remembered hearing about a Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve, so we’re going to have those, too.
I suppose I’ll look up a recipe, but so far I think I’ll slow cook them with some pancetta and bay leaves or something. Or basil. That sounds good, right? I’m not even the slightest bit Southern, unless you count some Greek relatives (I’ve only met them once) who live in North Carolina. I don’t think that counts, though. I’m a California girl, through and through.
I will have to do something from Smitten Kitchen for no occasion at all, it seems. I’ve been reading the introduction, and I’ve come to realize she is so very exact– which I guess she has to be when writing recipes other people are going to use! My recipes all tend to be the sort of thing my grandmother may have scribbled on a piece of paper and then used as a bookmark. Or more often, she never wrote them down at all. My recipes are more for myself than anything, so I remember what I did and can do it again. I do have a binder and I put my scribbled or printed out or bastardized recipes in there, in no order whatsoever, so I have them in book form.
The cookbook I turn to the most (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again!) is the 9th edition of the Fanny Farmer cookbook. It’s the one with the gold cover. It has all the basics. Sometimes I wonder if I should take a gander at The Joy of Cooking or Julia Child– but I never take the plunge at the bookstore. Fanny Farmer is where it’s at. The binding has cracked and fallen off, and I’ve duct-taped it back together, in true Greek form. My mom has been known to duct tape things back onto her car. I think it’s a thing.
But anyway, what I meant to write about was that I bastardized a bread pudding recipe from Fanny Farmer on Christmas Day.
Normally, I don’t like bread pudding, but the week before, a friend had come over and had brought some chorag. She bought it from Nina’s Bakery, here in town. If you aren’t familiar with our neck of the woods, there are lots of Armenians in Fresno! More than Greeks, that’s for sure. In fact, if you see a restaurant that says it has Mediterranean food, it’s probably Armenian, Lebanese, or Palestinian. There’s not a single Greek restaurant in this town, despite a really thriving Greek Orthodox Church and a crazypopular Greek Festival held at the church every summer.
Our house has been inundated with pastries over the past few weeks, and I’m trying to lose five pounds (or at least, I’m trying not to gain five pounds), so we pecked at the chorag that I normally would have devoured without chewing properly (like Pip “doing himself a mischief” in Great Expectations).
I remembered my grandmother telling me how when her father had a diner, the cook used to take all the leftover doughnuts and pastries and make them into bread pudding– so I thought I’d try that. Waste not, want not!
I used Fanny Farmer’s recipe as a base, but of course changed it because the amounts were off anyway. Like I need a reason.
4 large chorag
4 cups milk (I used whole)
3/4 cup white sugar
1 stick salted butter
1 capful vanilla
one or two generous pinches of black cumin (Nigella sativa)*
dark brown sugar, to sprinkle on top
In a pot or large saucepan, heat up the milk, butter, white sugar, vanilla, and black cumin. It doesn’t have to boil– just warm it up so the butter melts. I used a whisk to stir, so the eggs would get mixed in evenly.
Meanwhile, crumble the chorag into a casserole dish or baking pan. I used a 10″ x 13″ x 2″ rectangular pan. Some of the crumbs were rather fine, but I tried to leave it mostly chunky.
Once the milk mixture was melted and evenly mixed together, I poured it over the chorag. The bread soaks up the mixture– kind of like French toast that gets baked instead of fried. It looked like it needed something more, so I sprinkled dark brown sugar over the whole shenanigans, hoping that it would caramelize or something.
Then I baked it for an hour at 350. It was SO good. There isn’t any left. I gave a lot of it to my friend who had brought over the bread in the first place (she recommended a brandy hard sauce, which would be good, I think! but too late now…) and the rest we ate that day and the next.
*Nigella sativa is not your usual sort of spice, but it’s common in Armenian or Middle Eastern groceries, and I found some at Whole Foods. A little goes a long way, kind of like fennel. One time, I even had it in a vegetable curry at an Indian place, so if you are into Indian food, you can use it there, too. There is also an Armenian cheese, rather like mozzarella, that has black cumin embedded in it, and Oh. My. God. So get some and experiment with it!