Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Visit from Shannon and the Best Bread Pudding Ever

Two weeks ago, one of my oldest and dearest friends flew in from Chicago to spend a few days with us. From our first meeting during Freshman Orientation at Bishop Dwenger High School, Miss Shannon McGuine and I have enjoyed a long history together - ridiculous antics in Ms. Jackson's English Class, traveling to Toronto to see the Pope, teaching religious education together at Saint Vincent's, and having long, intense discussions exploring the lasting popularity of the Olsen Twins. She witnessed and encouraged my relationship with my future husband from the beginning and, a few years later, stood by my side on the altar as a bridesmaid on our wedding day. She is like a sister to me and I was so excited for her to come visit!

We picked up a very tired, yet peppy, Shannon from the Cleveland airport. Apparently, she had joined the frenzy surrounding the Hunger Games and stayed up very late for the midnight premiere of the movie the night before her trip. She spent the majority of the drive to Erie trying to convince me that I too should join the bandwagon. Maybe when I feel like being depressed by a story about children killing other children, I will. For now, I will stick with trying to read through the entire Calvin and Hobbes treasury with Matthew.

Matthew was super excited to have a visitor in the house. Unfortunately for poor Shannon, every morning the first thing Matthew wanted to do was go wake her up. It took all my powers of distraction to have him NOT disturb our guest before 7:00 AM. However, Matthew and Shannon got along splendidly. Which was a good thing considering they were car buddies for our drive down to Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh trip began with Paul and I disagreeing about the mapquest directions we had printed out. When we finally found the area we were looking for, we could only find parking in a Jewish Center parking garage that required a deposit of quarters. Neither Paul nor I had quarters, which caused yet another mild disagreement between the two of us. Luckily, Shannon found a bit of change in her purse and saved the day. Then, I tried to use the restrooms at the Jewish Cultural Center but was barred from access because apparently you have to be either Jewish or a member of the Center to enter the lobby. Ridiculous.

After that disaster, we headed over to The Frick, a beautiful park and museum donated by one of the wealthiest families in Pittsburgh. On our hike around the park, Shannon was able to witness the typical abuse to which we subject our cheap little stroller. Up and down some rocky terrain and even through a small creek, the little stroller just keeps on chugging. Two years and counting - it has outlasted the jogging strollers of several of my friends. Shannon has a particular interest in baby gear because she is the assistant manager at a baby boutique in Chicago.

That evening, we enjoyed some lovely sushi at our favorite joint in Pittsburgh. Luckily, the waiter messed up our order and we received a free mega roll for the mix-up. Matthew, plauged with a sinus infection and very tired, nearly exploded at the restaurant. I ended up having to take him outside for a walk where we ended up at a pet store where he could look at some puppies. However, when he began having a meltdown because the Cockatiel was freaking him out, I knew that it was bedtime. Luckily, he did not scream too long and hard on the way home...poor Shannon might have gone deaf if he had.

We spent the next day introducing Shannon to Presque Isle and some of the local wineries in North East. Shannon was a great sport about exercising with me. Despite her tiny stature, she walks quite fast and is able to match me in pace. We both enjoyed the wine tasting, although we probably drank a bit too much. We were both mildly buzzed and sleepy.

The highlight of the trip for Shannon was our trip north into New York State to visit Niagara Falls. It was a freezing cold day and the splashes from the falls doused us in a fine mist that chilled us to the bone. The good news was that after a few minutes, we became so numb that we really could not feel much at all! Shannon donned a pink hood while I wrapped my head in a scarf to shield ourselves from the mist of the falls. Unfortunately, we looked absolutely ridiculous. I thought we looked like polish immigrants. However, a guy from New York had a different take on our funky attire:

"Are you guys Muslim?" he asked, as we gazed out at the falls from an observation tower.
", we're just cold."

Thank you, guy from New York, for pointing out just how stupid we looked.

Anyway, the falls were beautiful and Shannon very much enjoyed seeing them in all their glory. I was very proud of Matthew. As mentioned earlier, running water is his greatest fear and he definitely was not happy when we first approached the falls. However, eventually he calmed down and enjoyed the remainder of the walk along the falls. Perhaps we are making steps towards curing him of his phobia.

And of course...Shannon and I baked. Shannon came up with a recipe that was a complete revelation for me - a Pecan, Bourbon, and Butterscotch Bread Pudding. I enjoyed my first bread pudding on our honeymoon to Mackinac Island. It was light, delicious, and completely enjoyable. However, whenever I have had bread pudding since then, it has been a complete disappointment. Dry, bland, and reminiscent of a bad french toast, I have never quite been able to recapture the deliciousness of that very first bread pudding.

However, Shannon's recipe changed that. It was, hand's down, the best bread pudding I have ever had. In fact, it might be one of the best desserts I have ever tried.

See Shannon cooking away? She may be tiny, but she's a regular beast in the kitchen...

The bread pudding is really easy to make. First, cube up some challah or other good-quality bread. Then, mix together a sinfully rich bourbon custard dotted with poppy seeds. Finally, combine the bread and custard, sprinkle with pecans, and refrigerate overnight. While the bread pudding is baking, you make this delicious butterscotch sauce that complements all the flavors so well. When I tried a piece warm from the oven, it was pure, indulgent heaven. I even had a piece for dinner later that night. Thank you, Shannon, for introducing me to this recipe. I will make it again. SOON.

It was very sad to see Shannon go. Hopefully it will not be too long until we meet again. The morning after Shannon's departure, Matthew ran down the stairs to wake her up, only to find our couch unoccupied. It was very sad. At least we have the leftovers from this bread pudding to console us.

Pecan, Bourbon, and Butterscotch Bread Pudding
adapted slightly from Bon Appetite

For the Pudding:
1 pound day-old, good-quality bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (we used Challah)
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons, plus 1 1/2 cups white sugar
5 large eggs
4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Pinch of kosher Salt
3 tablespoons Bourbon
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups pecan pieces

For the Butterscotch Sauce:
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon bourbon

Toss the bread, melted butter, and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a large bowl and set aside. Using a stand mixer, beat the eggs and remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar until pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add cream, poppy seeds, and salt and beat to combine. Beat in bourbon and vanilla. Pour egg mixture over the bread in bowl and stir to combine. Transfer to a 13x9 glass baking dish and cover with plastic wrap. Chill overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove plastic wrap from pan, and bake the pudding until the top is browned and a tester comes out clean, 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours. While the pudding is baking, make the butterscotch sauce.

To make the sauce, bring brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt to boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Boil until mixture is syrupy and measures approximately 1 1/2 cups, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully add the cream and bourbon. Stir until smooth. Let cool before serving over the warm bread pudding.

1 comment:

  1. I love bread pudding. I am glad you and Shannon had a great visit :)