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.

 

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

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Get every last bit of seasoning.

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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.

Peanut Butter & Jam Breakfast Bars

If it weren’t for peanut butter, I might not have made it past 5 feet.  As a notorious fussy eater, I engaged in a 15 year eating jag consuming a daily peanut butter-jam sandwich for lunch from toddlerhood until college. I found most other healthy foods revolting.  My mother looks for audiences to share the stories which best illustrate my former fussy self, but only if I am also a member of the audience—like the time I made a spectacle of gagging on ham at a formal dinner or the time I scraped half-eaten stew back into the pot at our pastor’s home before anyone could stop me.

She must find it particularly galling that I later became not only an adventurous eater but also a nutrition and culinary educator who teaches parents how to raise healthy eaters.  So I  submit to her small revenge, and not a Mother’s Day passes when I don’t sincerely apologize for these childhood transgressions.  She says she forgives but clearly she doesn’t forget.

Peanut butter spared me a lifetime of short jokes and step-stool fetching.  Perhaps because of this, my love affair with this supreme legume continues. So when I began thinking of a DIY breakfast bar to avoid buying the exorbitantly priced “all-natural” ones at the supermarket, my thoughts turned to peanut butter. Jam made the short list too not only for the classic taste combination but also to clear my pantry of it’s jam surplus.  (Jam making season is around the corner though in Wisconsin it doesn’t feel like it.)

Peanut Butter & Jam Breakfast BarsThis recipe is dead simple, contains wholesome and nutritious ingredients (mind you, I didn’t say low-calorie) including, of course, peanut butter–that protein-rich legume chock-full of heart healthy fats.  So enjoy! You just saved 5 bucks as you passed the breakfast bar aisle at the supermarket, and now it’s… peanut butter jelly time, peanut butter jelly time.

Peanut Butter & Jam Breakfast Bars
Author: 
Recipe type: Baked Treats
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 20 bars
 
This makes a tasty breakfast bar or mid-day snack. Each square is about 90 calories, the same as store-bought varieties but at a fraction of the cost and multiple times better. Soy butter makes a fine substitute for the peanut allergic.
Ingredients
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¾ cup quick oats
  • ¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ¼ t kosher salt
  • 1 t baking powder
  • ¼ cup quick oats
  • ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ¼ cup 100% all natural peanut butter (no palm oil)
  • 1 large egg
  • ⅓ cup jam or jelly
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350◦F. Lightly grease an 8” x 8” pan.
  2. In an up-right mixer or using a fork, mix the first 5 ingredients together (butter, sugar, oats, flour, salt).
  3. Remove 1 cup (loosely packed) of the combined ingredients and set aside—this will be the crumble topping.
  4. Now add the remaining 5 ingredients (baking powder, oats, flour, peanut butter, and egg) and thoroughly mix together.
  5. Pat the dough into the 8 x8 pan.
  6. Spread the jam evenly on top of the dough, careful not to touch the edge of the pan with the jam as it will burn.
  7. Evenly sprinkle the reserve crumble topping over the jam.
  8. Bake for about 25 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Cut into 20 even pieces.

Cooking with Kids:  Simple baking projects like this can and should be entirely executed by the kids.  Have them do the measuring and mixing.  Take the time to teach them about fractions while you work.

Storing:  Double or even triple the recipe, bake it, and store the surplus in the freezer.  It doesn’t take much more time, and now you have a supply of wholesome breakfast bars to last the next couple of weeks.

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