Columnist Ryan Tatsumoto, October 7, 2016 Issue

Ryan Tatsumoto
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

As you probably know by now, I retired from the day job a little over a year ago. And because the other half is still gainfully employed, I still haven’t touched any of my retirement savings as the purpose of these pre-taxed savings is to withdraw the money when your tax bracket drops due to the loss of your regular income, i.e., when both partners are retired. So, I try to stretch my modest pensions are much as I can and one way is not to waste food. Which goes all the way back to childhood when Obaachan preached mottainai or not being wasteful. Of course, on rare occasions it was unavoidable like when I had 7 to 8 quarts of lamb stew that I consumed for breakfast, lunch and dinner and by the end of the second week, simply buried the last three or four servings in the backyard as compost. Or when bread develops that blue, white or black beard – okay, I’ll admit that if I needed just one more sandwich for lunch, I’d pinch off the moldy parts instead of purchasing a whole loaf of bread for just one sandwich. But now that I’m retired, I can make sure none of the bread goes to waste by refrigerating when appropriate and even using obviously stale bread for other purposes.

Learn to Chill

For starters, I never stick my hand into the bag containing the loaf of bread but rather push the slice (or slices) out of the bag. Even if you wash your hand right before reaching for that bread slice, there are still traces of microorganisms on your skin, including mold spores that facilitate inoculating that bag of bread. And I’ve learned just when various breads need to be refrigerated to prevent or at least slow mold production. While the commercial sliced breads usually contain some type of preservative and can remain at room temperature for a week or so, those bread baked (or thawed) in-house by supermarkets usually need to be refrigerated by the third day. And if I know that I won’t be finishing those refrigerated loaves, I start the process of drying them out by cubing the slices. What?! Purposely creating stale cubes of bread? Exactly, so when those dried cubes of bread are soaked in milk and eggs, create the perfect base for a bread pudding or when they are rehydrated with a vinaigrette and grilled vegetable juices create the perfect bread salad or panzanella.

Recycling Food

Years ago, on those few occasions that I decided to make stuffing, I usually reached for Stove Top as that’s what Mom always used in her meatloaf. She never served stuffing as a side dish even for Thanksgiving as our usual carbs were rice, macaroni or potato salad and noodles. And for accuracy’s sake, Stove Top is actually dressing, not stuffing, as it’s meant to be cooked in a saucepan and not in the poultry cavity. Then after I started living on my own, I started making Stove Top dressing as an actual side dish but later transitioned to using my own seasoning and simply purchased those bags of dried, cubed bread for the base until, DING!! (that’s the sound of the light bulb going on in my head). Why don’t I use bread that’s naturally gone stale on its own? That way I can even use whole wheat or rye bread or whatever I happened to bake the week before.

However, since that epiphany, my favorite bread dressing application is courtesy of Diners, Drive Inns and Dives, where Funk ‘n Waffles in Syracuse, New York, makes dressing (stuffing) waffles. The owner simply places a scoop of dressing in a waffle maker and cooks it as if he were making waffles. Brilliant! They get a crisp, outer texture but are still moist in the center.

Dressing Waffles. (Photos by Ryan Tatsumoto)

Stale cubes of bread also can be used in another classic dish, bread pudding. However, because I don’t really have a sweet tooth, I prefer savory bread puddings. The classic savory dish is known as a strata because it’s supposed to be “stratified” or layered but most recipes mix all the ingredients together. However, telling people you’re making a strata sounds more exotic than making a bread pudding. I first received the original recipe for mushroom bread pudding from a friend who said it was the same recipe that the original Lodge at Koele created. Because it used 2 cups of heavy cream and I didn’t want a premature cardiology referral, I went all the way down to skim milk. But I believe that the flavors of fresh mushrooms and fresh herbs more than makes up for the reduction in dairy fat plus I added fresh leeks, which is always a great pairing with fresh mushrooms. And I’ve been known to also add truffle paste, truffle salt and truffle oil to elevate the flavors.

Mushroom Bread Pudding

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

¼ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

½ cup finely diced onions

2 leeks, washed, quartered and finely sliced

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

4 cups coarsely chopped fresh shiitake mushrooms

4 cups coarsely chopped button mushrooms

4 cups coarsely chopped oyster mushrooms

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

2 cups skim milk

2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoons black pepper

Pinch of ground nutmeg

2 egg yolks

4 whole eggs

1 pound whole wheat bread, cut into ½ inch cubes

2 tablespoon chopped parsley

Truffle paste, salt and/or oil to taste (optional)

Butter bottom and sides of a 14” x 9” baking dish with 1 tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle with panko, ensuring it adheres to the dish. Shake out excess panko; set dish aside.

Mushroom bread pudding.

In a large pot fitted with a lid, melt the other tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Cook onions, leeks and garlic until translucent but do not brown. Stir in mushrooms, cover pot and cook for about five minutes, allowing mushrooms to render their liquid. Remove the lid; add thyme and rosemary. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently until all the liquid has evaporated, about five to eight minutes. Add the milk, poultry seasoning, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Allow to reduce just before boiling and remove from heat; cool. Once the mixture is cool to the touch, add the beaten egg yolks and whole eggs; mix thoroughly. Fold in bread and parsley. Allow bread to absorb custard for about 15 minutes, mixing occasionally. Transfer custard to prepared baking dish; bake uncovered for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. The pudding should be firm and a knife blade inserted into the middle should be clean when removed. Serves 10-12 people.

And if you still have leftover cubes of stale bread in your refrigerator, you can always place them in a food processor to make your own breadcrumbs – again, if you actually bake the bread, you can have whole wheat breadcrumbs or rye breadcrumbs. All without any waste.

Ryan Tatsumoto is a retired clinical pharmacist. However, he and his wife still enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here