When everyone else is going out to eat is my favorite time to stay home. Who needs the crowds, the stressed-out waitstaff or the “special” menu, where special is just a euphemism for “overpriced?” That’s why you won’t see me eating out for Valentine’s Day dinner or for Mother’s Day Brunch. I’d rather try that nice restaurant just about any other day of the year.

Going out for brunch is always a tricky business if you ask me. Should I order sweet or savory? Chilaquiles or chocolate chip pancakes? Eggs Benedict or French toast? Asking Mom to chose between these delectable options is like asking her to chose a favorite child. Making brunch at home gives you the freedom to put both sweet and savory options on the table and let everyone just go nuts.

If I were making brunch at home for a special mom, my savory dish would definitely be this Smoked Mozzarella Bread Pudding. This dish has a lot of virtues. Besides being delicious, it’s easy enough for a beginner cook to master and it can be prepared in advance. Nothing stresses out a beginner cook more than trying to work on three dishes at a time. In this case, you can use the bread pudding’s 45-minute baking time to clean up the dishes, set a nice table, and even whip up a fruit salad. Whew! The other virtue of this dish is that it is substantial enough — and even nutritious with the veggies — to fill everyone up and keep them going until dinner.

And did I mention this bread pudding is delicious? By virtue of their soak in the eggy custard, the bread cubes take on a silky texture that melts in your mouth. And the smoked mozzarella and paprika add a hint of spicy smokiness that is hard to resist.

If the sound of this dish intrigues you but you have no plans to host Mother’s Day Brunch, fear not. This savory bread pudding makes a terrific vegetarian dinner. Feel free to play around with the vegetables in the recipe. If my family were not so mushroom-adverse, for example, I would definitely consider adding some sauteed mushrooms to the onion and pepper mixture.

For the bread cubes, I head straight to my freezer, where I stash odd heels of bread for just this kind of dish. Thus, my bread cubes usually end up being a mix of French bread and challah. But any good, not-too-sweet, relatively basic French or Italian bread will do. Feel free to buy a loaf of bread earlier in the week and let it get a bit stale – it won’t hurt the bread pudding any. Aim for 1-inch cubes when cutting the bread. If the cubes are too big, they won’t absorb the custard as well.

Smoked Mozzarella Bread Pudding

7 cups cubed French or Italian bread
2 TB butter plus some for the dish
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 tsp. each dried oregano and basil
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cream
1 cup grated smoked mozzerella
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 tsp. paprika

Butter a 2 quart glass baking dish. Arrange bread cubes in a single layer in the baking dish. In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Saute onion and pepper until translucent but not browned, lowering the heat as necessary. Season well with oregano, basil and salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and cream until frothy. Add sauteed onions and peppers and diced tomato to the egg mixture. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes in the baking dish. Press down on the bread cubes to make sure they are submerged. Allow mixture to stand so the bread can absorb the custard for 30-40 minutes. (If serving the bread pudding early in the morning, the dish can be prepared up to this point the night before.)

Preheat oven to 350. Sprinkle grated cheese over the bread cube mixture. Top with chopped scallions and sprinkle the paprika evenly over the top of the dish. Bake for 45 minutes until puffed and golden and the top is crunchy.

A very happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there – especially my own mother and mother-in-law!

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Emily Paster

Emily Paster is a freelance writer and mother of two living in River Forest. She writes about food and parenting on her website, West of the Loop. Emily's print work appears frequently in Chicago Parent...