Monday, June 13, 2011

Food and Friends

Janet here: My friend, Susan, and I have had many adventures, including a memorable book club meeting in a snow storm involving a tree limb and a car caught in a snow drift, a story that I and the others involved have promised to bring up at Susan's funeral, assuming one of us is left to tell the tale. Trust me; it's a good one.

But one of the ways we have shared life together is through food: wonderful meals in each other's homes, a fateful night involving a microwave and a can of beefaroni, and the unexpected meal dropped off in various times of duress. When Susan's mother was in the hospital, I dropped off a dinner; when I was larger than any pregnant woman should ever be with our last child who was also two weeks overdue, ie I was insane (he came out 11 pounds, 3 ounces and 23.5 inches long, completely vindicating my bitchiness the entire last trimester), she stopped by with a wonderful crabmeat casserole; and most recently this past week, when she and her family were in the throes of the kind of stuff that happens to every family from time to time.

Providing an instant dinner for someone who is struggling is one of life's great gifts. There is something so wonderful about coming home from wherever — hospital, funeral, fill-in-the-blank — and realizing all you have to do to put a meal on the table is heat up whatever wonderful thing arrived in your absence. Life may suck, but someone cared enough to make it suck just a teeny bit less.

I dropped off a casserole and cookies — who doesn't feel better after a homemade cookie? — and this wonderful summer fruit bread pudding inspired by the Barefoot Contessa. Fresh fruit, sugar and bread — what could be easier?

Summer Fruit Bread Pudding

serves 8

1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 pints fresh raspberries
1 pint fresh blueberries
1 loaf brioche or egg bread or challah bread

Combine the strawberries, sugar and 1/4 cup water in a pot. Cook uncovered over medium low heat for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of the raspberries and all the blueberries and cook, stirring occasionally, until simmering. Simmer for about one minute. Remove from heat and add the remaining raspberries.

Slice the bread into 1/2-inch thick slices. Remove the crust. In the bottom of a circular dish that is about 7 inches in diameter and about 3 inches high (or you could probably improvise in a square dish that's about 8 inches square), ladle about 1/3 third of the berry mixture. Then arrange the slices of bread to fill out the square. Pour more berry mixture over this row. Add another row of bread. (You can cut the bread into whatever size to better have it fit the pan you're using.) Add more berry mixture, the last row of bread and the rest of the berry mixture.

Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the top. Find a plate about the size of the dish. Place on top. Place a can on top to weight it down and refrigerate. Remove the weight after 6 to 8 hours. Keep covered in the fridge overnight.

Just before serving, run a knife around the edge of the pudding. Put a plate on top and turn the whole thing upside down so the pudding lands on the plate. Serve with homemade whipped cream.

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