By Shan O'Connor:
Welcome back everyone to my virtual kitchen! Returning guests will remember from my introduction that here we serve up delicious food with a heaping helping of ecologically friendly ingredients, ecological information, and kitchen tips, and even various grocery products or gadgets that are big on practicality and sustainability but easy on the pocketbook. To those who are new, now you are in the know as to what this is all about. So pull up a seat at the table and let’s dish over some strong coffee or tea (both are always in stock here).
Despite all the chaos going on in our world today, I am thrilled to welcome my favorite time of the year, autumn. The weather starts to become cooler as the leaves change from green to hues of gold, red, and orange. Hoodies and sweaters come out of hiding from the back of the closet, excited whispers of Halloween begin as costume choices are discussed, and horror-movie marathons in front of the TV with big bowls of sweet treats or popcorn are planned.
In addition to all the fun activities the fall brings—such as hiking, gardening in preparation for spring, decorating for the season indoors and out—it’s my favorite culinary time of year, too. The milder weather allows for the use of the stove and oven again, and chilly nights are prefect for hearty bowls of filling soups, chili, and stews, all of which will be the star of my next few segments, so stay tuned!
For this edition, however, I’m going to turn the focus from the savory to the sweet. Our featured recipe will be a slightly healthier version of a classic Southern comfort food and dessert: Rum Raisin Bread Pudding Served with a Warm Golden Caramel Sauce!
I say “slightly” because no matter how you slice it, this is still a comfort food. Given these difficult times, though, I won’t begrudge anyone for indulgence in moderation. This easy dessert utilizes two foods that can tend to go to waste or expire in the dark corner of a pantry: store-bought croissants and raisins (you may use regular, golden, or a mixture).
Before I get to the recipe, this is an excellent opportunity to discuss food waste. All of us have been guilty at some point of buying more food than we really need (especially bulk buying during these times) or buying fresh foods with the best of intentions, only to toss them in the trash because we never got around to using them before they went bad. There are some easy and practical tips and tricks we can all start using at home today to reduce the amount of food we waste and make a difference.
Tip 1: Learning what vegetables and fruits can be stored and where to store them will help keep fresh foods fresher for longer. Potatoes, garlic, and onions can be stored in a cool, dry, dark ventilated area, but be sure to keep them apart as the gases from the onion and garlic can cause the potatoes to spoil. Stone fruits (peaches, plums, mango) will continue to ripen if left on the counter, while bell pepper, grapes, and citrus fruits deteriorate and should be placed in the refrigerator in the crisper drawer. There are even now innovative eco-friendly produce bags made to store your perishables so that they keep longer.
Tip 2: Organization and storage of dry or frozen goods are a winning combination in this home cook’s book. These BPA-free, dishwasher safe airtight containers come in various sizes to meet any need and even come with labels and a marker for labeling.
Tip 3: My personal favorite: be mindful of old ingredients and any leftovers that need to be eaten or used up. Go shopping at home right in your cabinets, pantry, and refrigerator. There are multiple uses for produce that’s a bit past its prime (for example, in those soups and stews I mentioned, as well as in sauces, frittatas, casseroles, and stir fry). Stale breads make desserts, such as our featured one today, or can be made into crostini or croutons. With a bit of creativity, you can keep more food out of the trash bin and on your plate. Learn more about foods that are good past the “sell-by,” “use-by,” and “expiration” dates here.
Now, without further ado, I hope all of you enjoy this luscious taste of fall in every single bite of this rum raisin bread pudding!
Rum Raisin Bread Pudding With Caramel Sauce
4 or 5 large, stale croissants (mine are purchased at Costco, aged approx. one week) torn into bite-sized chunks or cubed
3 cups unsweetened organic almond milk (your favorite can be used)
3 tbsp organic unsalted butter (vegan butter may be used)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp ground organic cinnamon
¾ cup packed Splenda light brown sugar (you may use coconut, monk fruit, or turbinado sugar)
½ cup raisins of your choice
3 tbsp spiced rum
4 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large saucepan, combine milk, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, rum, and raisins. Heat until just warm. Raise heat to a low simmer and stir until sugar dissolves.
In a large bowl, add croissant pieces and milk mixture from the previous step. Gently fold to combine and let sit for 30 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the liquid mixture.
Add beaten eggs to the bread mixture and stir gently. Pour bread pudding into a buttered 4.5-quart baking dish. Bake 50 minutes. While you bake, begin preparing your caramel sauce.
1/3 cup salted butter
3 tbsp monk fruit sweetener
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 pinch kosher salt
In a small or medium saucepan, melt butter and sweetener on low heat for no more than five minutes, stirring occasionally. Caramel can burn easily, so the heat may need to be adjusted and the pot watched until it becomes a golden brown.
Add heavy cream and bring to a slight rolling boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer while still stirring occasionally until a rich caramel color is achieved and the mixture coats the spoon.
A personal tip from your conscientious cook: if you are not feeling ambitious, or just are not savvy at making homemade caramel sauce or candy, you can use a store-bought, sugar-free caramel sauce. I recommend Smuckers or Walden Farms, which can be found at any store. Remove the metal lid and heat for one minute in the microwave when you are ready to serve your freshly baked bread pudding.
I hope you love this dessert as much as my family and I do, and until next time, I wish you all the best this wonderful season brings. To your good health!
Shan O'Connor is an American freelance writer hailing from southern Louisiana and currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona. She is an environmental and political activist who enjoys sustainable cooking, H.E.M.A. combat and sword training, and all things literary with a passion for fantasy/horror fiction.