During my pregnancy with Alex I was the pastry chef at Campagnola restaurant in Evanston, Il. Before that I was known as the 'grill bitch' in the main kitchen. I guess you can't be to nice when working in a male dominated work place AND get what you want! I absolutely LOVE working the line and my favorite position is in fact the grill. The thrill of seeing all the tickets lining up, meat searing on the wood fired grill and servers screaming in pre-orders for the last three tables they just picked up- makes me feel alive. The adrenalin is frightening at times, yet totally intoxicating, especially when you get through the service and no one has sent food back or you've lost a ticket on the line (which we all know happens!).
I didn't give up the grill willingly I have to say and I also didn't give it up to reduce my stress levels (although all good arguments). I had to give it up in the end due to being way to big for the space. Doing a 360 turn from the grill to plating the food when you have a very large baby growing in your tummy doesn't leave a lot of room to move. I'd have to back up to let the other guys out- it was time to change jobs.
For the good part of my 15 years in cooking I have managed to avoid two areas of a professional kitchen I loathed. The pantry (salads) and pastry. I always felt my hands were much to clumsy for the delicate works of a pastry kitchen and I also wasn't happy about being so accurate around food. When the head chef, Vince suggested I try the pastry section I thought he was deranged and told him it properly wasn't a good idea but I'll give it a go because clearly I was not going to fit on the line for much longer!
To cut a long story short I took up the post and was happy to be cooking yet feeling totally out of my depth. I was actually glad to finally pop Alex out. I didn't really learn to LOVE the pastry section until we went to live in Florence Italy for ten months (Alex was 6 weeks old when we left). Being surrounded by delicious cakes and pastries, being able to walk around the corner and buy fresh bread and sweet rolls from our house slowly changed my perspective on the dessert station. In the end I was dying to get back to the kitchen and reproduce the wonderful desserts and cakes we bought in Italy.
After being back at Campagola, full of ideas and recipes I'd picked up from friends in Florance I was raring to go and create. I found with the right passion and enthusiasm I wasn't to bad at the pastry thang and I even got a bit of a following. One of the dishes I made for the Fall/winter menu was bread and butter pudding. Restaurants always seem to have an abundance of stale bread and I thought it a waste to use it all for bread crumbs or throw it out. This recipe is very adaptable. When I made it for the restaurant I wanted it to be creamy and rich without making patrons wish they hadn't had it (for obvious reasons!) so I made it with half & half and a little cream.
I didn't think my family and I needed that much fat in our diet so I made this one with full cream milk and a little cream. Play around and use what you feel most comfortable.
In the restaurant I also served it with a caramel sauce but I wasn't about to make the sauce at home because I had used up all my brownie points with Alex making the pudding, so I served it with Breyers praline ice- cream and I have to say it worked a treat!
Seriously give it a go and change it around a bit. Instead of using banana, throw in some white chocolate and fig (that was another combo I did at work) or raspberry jam and chocolate- the combinations are endless!
Banana Bread and Butter Pudding
Preheat oven to 350-degree and have two ovenproof dishes ready for baking (you need a water bath to cook in so you don't make scramble eggs!)
1 loaf of stale bread (about 9 oz in weight)- crust removed, diced and browned in 350-degree oven until golden in color
Meanwhile in a medium saucepan heat
1-2 tsp. vanilla essence or 1 scraped vanilla pod
700ml Whole milk
300ml heavy whipping cream
Heat but DO NOT BOIL.
Once milk is scorched cut off the heat.
In a separate large bowl combine
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Whisk until well combined and thick (approx 30 seconds)
Gradually pour in your scorched milk mixture with eggs until you have a custard.
Add your toasted diced bread and leave to soak for 30 minutes.
After you have soaked the bread make your banana mix so the flavors can meld.
In a medium bowl ADD
2 bananas- mashed, the older and blacker the better
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. brandy or Bourbon
Mix until combined then leave until your ready to form pudding
Meanwhile in a small oven proof dish go around it with butter giving it a good coating, leaving chunks of butter in for added flavor. Personally I like to use a salted butter (kerrygold being my fave) the salted butter gives it a distinct flavor of salty sweet adding another flavor layer to the dish.
OK, so you have your bead soaking and it is spongy and ready to go, your container is buttered up and the banana mix is all ready to go.
Pull out half the bread and cover the bottom of your dish- don't worry about the custard mix it all ends up in the dish.
Once you have the bottom layer in- pour over the banana mix and finish with covering the banana mix with the remaining bread. Pour remaining custard over bread until all gone or dish is full.
Place dish in a larger dish (water bath) and fill it with water until is comes up about an inch on the sides. Place in 350-degree oven for about an hour.
When all custard is set remove from oven an let stand for 10 minutes before serving.