I am hopelessly frugal, particularly when it comes to food. My Berkley, California friend theorizes this impulse originates from my past life experiences. “Perhaps you lived through the Great Depression or you toiled through several lifetimes as a feudal peasant.” “Or,” I suggest, “perhaps I was just raised with hard-to-shake, conservative, Midwestern Lutheran values where waste is akin to sin.” Aren’t California people funny?
My frugal impulse compels me to recycle and reinvent leftover foods. Croutons are an example of this impulse in action. About once a week, I make a pot of soup for dinner and serve it with “home baked” (see my note below) whole grain, artisan bread. I can’t bear to see the half-eaten loaf go moldy. And truly, no-one wants to eat it after the first day when it has gone stale. When life gives me stale bread, I make croutons, which we occasionally sprinkle on our salads and soups, but more frequently eat straight up—a crunchy, savory, superior snack alternative to potato chips.
Making croutons couldn’t be easier. Cut the bread into even cubes. (Cutting is easier when it is slightly stale). If you only have a bit of bread, allow the cubes of bread to air-dry for a few hours in a wide, shallow container before storing them covered. (Stale bread rarely molds) Repeat this process—adding more and more bread cubes to the container and allowing them to dry a bit—until you have enough stale bread to justify making a batch of croutons.
Want to be even more frugal? Make the croutons when you are already making something else in the oven. Throw them in at the last 5 minutes, then turn off the oven and allow them to bake with the residual heat. This isn’t a precise baking recipe after all; we are just crisping them up a bit.
The Ingredients; Here I have some stale loaves of Italian bread leftover from an event.
- 3 cups slightly stale bread sliced into ½ inch cubes
- ¼ t fine salt
- 3 - 4 T good olive oil
- ¼ t good garlic powder
- ½ t Italian dried herbs,crumbled and rolled)--sage, oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme are all nice
- Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
- In a large bowl, drizzle olive oil over the croutons and toss.
- Sprinkle salt, garlic powder and herbs over croutons and toss again to distribute seasoning evenly.
- Place on an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 10 - 15 minutes--until crisp and lightly golden.
- Once cooled, store in a sealed container. It will keep for several weeks.
Toss diced bread with herbs and oil in a large bowl.
Get every last bit of seasoning.
Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes.
Cooking with Kids: I cut the larger hunks of bread into thinner manageable slices, which the kids finish off by cutting it into individual cubes. They also measure the oil and spices, and toss them with the bread in giant bowl with a giant spoon or better yet, their little hands.
*How to Make “Homemade Baked” Bread: I posted this on Facebook as one of my Tuesday’s Cooking Tip, so you may have read this if you are a follower. Local Global Kitchen Facebook Post 1/21/14: “If your supermarket has a bakery that sells upscale baked breads, most likely they are buying them from a wholesale bakery. The loaves arrive mostly baked and completely frozen. The supermarket then does the last few minutes of baking in their oven so it seems like hot, fresh baked bread when you buy it. Instead, buy the frozen loaf yourself (just ask the lady behind the counter) and store it in your own freezer. When you want it, pop it in the oven for 20-30 minutes at 350 F. Viola! You have hot “home-baked” bread which can turn even a lowly soup dinner into a gourmet meal. Be sure to buy the whole wheat and keep a couple loaves in the freezer at all times.”
Try the croutons with these other recipes:
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