Bear with me; I might sound smitten. I admire Bill Bracken and know that my affection is well deserved. He is an old friend and someone I deeply respect for his kind heart and bravery.
Almost 10 years ago he changed the focus of his career and transitioned from being a much-respected executive chef to founding a community food program. Bracken is the culinary director and originator of Bracken’s Kitchen, feeding those in need using a food recovery program and providing culinary training. Now 25 full-time Bracken’s Kitchen employees work in two spacious buildings, a total of 17,000 square feet in Garden Grove. Volunteers play a big role, too. In 2022 they will have served 1.5 million tasty and nutritious meals using 300 tons of rescued food.
Palates of donated ingredients—everything from broccoli stalks to thin-sliced scallopini—come from growers and restaurants. Donated cans of high-quality San Marzano tomatoes, dented in passage from Italy, find their way into pasta dishes. Culinary students, employees, and volunteers use the ingredients to their best advantage.
In my kitchen, Bracken shared the secrets to his savory bread pudding. It’s mouth-watering comfort food that would be a scrumptious addition to any meal, including Christmas dinner alongside roasted beef or turkey. He developed the recipe long ago when he reigned over the kitchen at the prestigious Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. He designed it to substitute for stuffing.
He explained that the fancy version used in our video would include wild mushrooms, shrimp, and truffles; cooked in molds, they would be inverted for elegant presentations. At Bracken’s Kitchen, a simpler version will be prepared in roasting pans for holiday dinners to feed more than 1,000 families in need. Delectable even without the fancy add-ons, the bread pudding will be distributed in 2-pound pans designed to feed 10.
Especially at this time of year, it’s heartwarming to think about the work at Bracken’s Kitchen. Learn more about it at brackenskitchen.org.
Few know: As a teenager, I once fell off a train, and I have a scare on my elbow to prove it.
Best Advice: Be patient and let things work out as they should.
Collections: I’m a sentimental fool. I have a peppermill collection, as well as collections of two-dollar bills and seashells stored in canning jars.
Fan Favorite: Lasagna is one of the most popular entrées cooked up at Bracken’s Kitchen. It’s traditional for the most part but is made with a juicy Bolognese. Raw pasta cooks in the sauce when baked.
Luxury Appreciation: We heat our backyard hot tub one week a month.
Early Influencers: My mom and Grandma Bracken, inspired with their honest, wholesome dishes made from scratch
Root Vegetable Royale: I appreciate onions—without them there often isn’t great flavor in savory dishes.
Savory Shrimp and Truffle Bread Pudding
Yield: about 10 servings
- 10 three-quarter to one-cup molds
- Nonstick spray or soft butter for greasing molds
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
- 10 ounces mushrooms, some white button mushrooms plus reconstituted dried wild mushrooms or fresh wild mushrooms such as porcini, hen of the woods, chanterelle, or lobster mushrooms, all sliced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 shallot (if small use 1 whole shallot, if large use half), sliced crosswise
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
- 6 ounces heavy whipping cream and 6 ounces milk (or 12 ounces half and half)
- 4 ounces chicken broth
- Optional: 2 tablespoons (crushed with the back of a knife) truffles
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
- 2 tablespoons sliced fresh chives
- 1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 pound loaf brioche bread, cut into slices and cut into 3/4-inch cubes with crust
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 pounds medium shrimp, shelled, deveined (reserve some with tail shells attached to use as garnish)
- Optional Garnish: Chardonnay Sauce
- Garnish: fresh basil leaves
Cook’s notes: Chef Bracken spooned a little Chardonnay Sauce over the top of each unmolded serving of savory bread pudding but explained that it isn’t mandatory. The ingredient list for the sauce: 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 pound chopping chicken bones if available, 1 cup diced yellow onion, 1 cup sliced white mushrooms, 1/2 cup diced celery, 3 peeled garlic cloves, 1 pint Chardonnay, 3 cup heavy whipping cream, 1 1/2 cups chicken broth, 12 whole white peppercorns, 2 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf. For the procedure, in a hot pan, add the olive oil and chicken bones. Let the bones caramelize to a golden brown. Do not move them around too much or they will not brown well. When caramelized remove from pan and set aside. Add onion, mushrooms, celery, and garlic; caramelize well. When golden brown, add the bones back in. Add the wine and reduce until dry. Add the cream and remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for about 45 minutes while the sauce reduces. Strain. Chill or hold warm until ready to serve. Just before serving you can adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper and finish with a touch of butter if desired.
- Spray or butter molds and set in single layer in roasting pan; set aside. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add sliced white button mushrooms and sauté until softened and liquid evaporates. Add sliced wild mushrooms and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add shallot and garlic; cook on medium heat until shallot is softened.
- Add cream, milk, and broth; bring to simmer on medium-high heat. Add herbs and truffle (if using); taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Simmer for 5 minutes but don’t reduce in volume, lowering temperature if needed just to maintain a simmer.
- Place brioche cubes in large bowl. Pour in cream mixture and toss.
- Cut shrimp into 1/2-inch pieces (except the tail-on shrimp used for garnish). In a clean skillet, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil on medium-high heat. Add cut-up shrimp and cook until just barely cooked through, tossing occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add to bread mixture and mix well. Let mixture sit a few minutes to cool down and then, mix in the beaten eggs.
- Divide into ten prepared molds, tapping mixture down gently with the back of a spoon. Pour enough hot water in the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the molds. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 20 to 30 minutes, or until set and firm. Meanwhile, cook the shrimp with the tail shells intact that will be used as garnish in a little hot olive oil in a skillet on medium-high heat, tossing occasionally, until cooked through.
- Unmold onto individual salad plates. If using, spoon Chardonnay sauce over the top of the bread pudding. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and whole shrimp with tail shells attached. Serve.
Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.” For more than 30 years, she has written about cooking, chefs, and food trends for newspapers. She was the first newspaper food journalist to pioneer taping how-to culinary videos for the Web. CathyThomasCooks.com