Croutons…when life gives you stale bread

Croutons

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.

Croutons--sliced stale breadMaking 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.

Croutons--Ingredients

The Ingredients;  Here I have some stale loaves of Italian bread leftover from an event.

Croutons--what to do when life gives you stale bread
Author: 
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6
 
I like to use whole wheat but I will transform any unwanted leftover bread to croutons and do so weekly.
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, drizzle olive oil over the croutons and toss.
  3. Sprinkle salt, garlic powder and herbs over croutons and toss again to distribute seasoning evenly.
  4. Place on an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 10 - 15 minutes--until crisp and lightly golden.
  5. Once cooled, store in a sealed container. It will keep for several weeks.

 

2014-02-28 14.34.27

Toss diced bread with herbs and oil in a large bowl.

2014-02-28 14.37.25

Get every last bit of seasoning.

2014-02-28 14.39.19

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:

Copyright Notice: Local Global Kitchen images and original content are copyright protected.  Please do not publish these materials without prior consent.

Homemade French Dressing

I was never a fan of the tossed salad and French dressing was among my least favorite dressings, but that all changed in my late 30’s.  I had a June cooking demo to do at the farmers market and salad greens were among the few ingredients readily available.   I apologetically passed this recipe development project onto my dietetic intern, Becky.  A week later she returned with 4 dressing recipes and samples for taste testing.  Granted my expectations were low, but I swear that upon my first bite, a choir of angel began singing.  I tasted a subtle, creamy, tangy dressing without a trace of cloying artificial sweetness and chemical emulsifier mouth-feel—homemade French dressing.  Life changing discoveries happen so infrequently as we grow older; I do not exaggerate when I say that this student forever changed the way I and my family eat…

Because I now can add greens quickly to the menu for any meal!  Besides obviously keeping salad greens on hand, the key to instant greens is having at least one dressing in the fridge ready to go.  With ingredients that have a long shelf-life, homemade French dressing has become a staple in our fridge, and no-one’s complaining.   The kiddos and the sour-adverse like this one and a little goes a long way—just a tablespoon on 6 cups of salad ingredients.

French Dressing

Storing & Food Safety:

Use a good quality fine garlic powder not salt.  I like Penzey’s or The Spice House.   If you use fresh garlic, crush the whole clove, emulsify all the other ingredients, then add the crushed clove allowing it to marinate and impart its flavor in the dressing for a few days before removing.  Do not mince the garlic, and allow it to remain in the dressing unless you plan on eating all the dressing within a few days!!!  Minced garlic immersed in oil can be a breeding ground for botulism spores.  Enough said.

Squeeze Bottle for Dressings and SaucesFood poisoning aside and on a much more insignificant note, the chopped garlic spoils the creamy texture and clogs the squeeze bottles in which I store homemade dressings. Go get some of these.  You can find them at the restaurant supply store.  Clean and convenient, squeeze bottle are the best 2 bucks you’ll spend.French Dressing in the squeeze bottle

 

Best French Dressing
Author: 
Recipe type: Dressing
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 2 cups
 
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ cup canola oil
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 T paprika
  • 2 t kosher salt
  • ¼ t quality garlic powders or 1 large clove of garlic, crushed (SEE “STORING”)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 t dry mustard
  • ½ t Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 - 2 t mayonnaise (optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients (except fresh garlic if using) and blend for about 1 minute. Transfer to a squeeze bottle for ease of serving and store in the fridge. It will keep for 3 months.
  2. Alternatively, you can add the ingredients to a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously for 1 minute though it won’t stay emulsified—just shake each time before serving.
  3. FRESH GARLIC USERS: After emulsifying, add the fresh garlic to marinate for 24 hours shaking occasionally, then remove and discard the clove.
Notes
Mayonnaise keeps the dressing emulsified for longer. It does not impact the flavor.

 

French Dressing Served by Big GirlFrench Dressing--Big Girl taste tests

Cooking (and Eating) with Kids:

As a dietitian, I have long advised everyone to include a daily serving, either raw or cooked, of the most nutrient-dense super-food available—greens.  This can be a challenge when you think that you don’t like salad (like the old me) or greens in any form (like most children.)  To the defense of the little food neo-phobes, they taste the bitterness in greens more keenly than those of us with well-worn taste buds.  Moreover, cooked greens can pose a texture problem in the form of mushiness. On the other hand, crisp, raw veggies are more readily accepted in the under-18 community. Dips are particularly popular.  So start there. Serve crisp leaves from hearts of romaine with a small dish of dressing.  The kids love dipping and eating the individual leaves just like they would carrot sticks.   Bingo!  We have our gateway green and the kids will be on to requesting side salads for dinner before you know it.

Check out the pictures of the kids below (mine plus the neighbors’) who kept begging to eat my food props during the photo shoot.  I love to see kids eating veggies, but begging…that brings a matchless joy to my heart.IMG_4919