Between pricey prix fixe menus and absurdly long wait times, dining out on Valentine’s Day is never what it’s cracked up to be. If you haven’t yet scored a reservation at that new brasserie people have been raving about, don’t sweat it. Instead, use the night as an opportunity to kick back with your date (or your best friend!) and toast Cupid’s handiwork with some homemade eats and a whole lot of chocolate. It might sound cliche, but this is the one day that we get a pass to indulge in all things sweet and chocolatey — so why wouldn’t we? Maybe you’re trying to avoid a post-meal sugar crash. We get that. But there are clever ways to tailor chocolate cheesecake, mousse and more for a romantic night at home.
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Imagine velvety whisky sauce drizzling down the sides of rich bread pudding. What could be more indulgent? Don’t worry, it’s a healthy indulgence!
In this month for lovers, we are happy to smother our loved ones with the sweetest of sweets. Plus, it’s chilly outside. So this is a good time to turn on the oven and bake something (super easy) to share. Whether you serve this creamy bread pudding on a fancy tray for breakfast in bed or put it on the menu for a cozy brunch with friends, please share this sweet treat that’s made with simple, healthy ingredients.
First on the ingredients list is whole-grain bread. The benefit of using this as the base is twofold: It contains whole grains, which we all need to eat a bit more often, and darker breads actually caramelize better in the oven. And that means the top of this pudding gets a nice caramel crust.
A second healthful ingredient is dates. A 1/4-cup serving of dates (about two large Medjool dates) contains:
• 16 vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, copper and vitamin B6
• 3 grams of fiber
• About 130 calories, mostly carbohydrate/sugar, which can be used to naturally sweeten recipes and decrease the amount of added sugar
Rounding out the simple list of ingredients in this “bressert” (breakfast and dessert!) are cardamom and orange. Both are used in Scandinavian cooking — and our Nordic friends are experts in keeping warm during their long, beautiful winters. If you’ve never tried cardamom, you’re in for a treat; it’s peppery and warm and sweet all at the same time. It’s a complement to the tart, sweet orange flavors (as is cinnamon, if you can’t find cardamom).
But don’t skip the Orange Whiskey Sauce — it’s the crowning glory. Plus, it comes together in only about 10 minutes. The recipe calls for whole milk, but we also tested it with reduced-fat (1 percent) milk and found it was still creamy and delicious. And with that splash of whiskey that’s added at the end, it will warm your insides almost as much as snuggling up with tons of blankets.
So turn on the oven — right now. Someone special would surely like to share a piece or two of healthy indulgence with you.
Bread Pudding with Dates and Orange Whiskey Sauce
Yield: About 8 servings
4 cups whole-grain bread cubes (from about 4 to 5 pieces of sandwich bread)
4 large eggs, beaten
2 1/4 cups reduced-fat (1 percent) milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped dates
Orange Whiskey Sauce
1 1/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
5 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon, divided
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
To dry bread cubes, place on a large baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree F oven for 10 minutes, stirring twice. Cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, orange peel and cardamom. Add dry bread cubes and dates; toss to coat bread with egg mixture.
Pour egg mixture into a greased 2-quart square baking dish and let set for 10 minutes (for bread to soak up egg mixture). Using a flat spatula, press bread down into egg mixture and place in a heated 350 degree F oven. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
For Orange Whiskey Sauce, in a medium saucepan, combine milk and brown sugar. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch, orange juice and 3 tablespoons whiskey; whisk together with a fork until combined. Pour into milk mixture in pan, scraping bowl to get all of the cornstarch. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn down to medium-low and cook until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter, salt and remaining 2 tablespoons of whiskey. Serve over warm bread pudding.
Per serving (1/8th of recipe): Calories 282; Fat 7 g (Saturated 3 g); Sodium 219 mg; Carbohydrate 41 g; Fiber 2 g; Sugars 34 g; Protein 9 g
Serena Ball, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian nutritionist. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com, sharing tips and tricks to help readers find cooking shortcuts for making healthy, homemade meals. Her recipes are created with families in mind.
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