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.

Whole Wheat Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler

Rhubarb--just pickedI love strawberry-rhubarb anything.  As a Midwesterner, I know that’s a bit of a cliché. My New York City friends used to tease me about my folksy, Midwestern origins when, in an unguarded moment, I’d blurt out something like “Oh, don’t you wish we could eat some strawberry-rhubarb cobbler right now?!” “Oh yeah, gee whiz, that does sound mighty good,” they’d respond in their best Lake Wobegone accent.  But I can’t apologize.  People who live in USDA growing zone 7, don’t own a snow shovel, and take runs in Central Park in April wearing shorts, how can these people truly appreciate summer? As special as Christmas or Thanksgiving, summer for us in the Great Lakes IS A HOLIDAY—all 8 weeks of it; and as with all holidays, our summer has certain traditional, celebratory foods.

Strawberry-rhubarb cobbler is just the first of many in a parade of seasonal classics like corn on the cob, BLT’s, and brats on the grill.  When that sweet berry and the tart stem reach ripe perfection at the precisely the same time, you know summer has arrived.  Because Wisconsin has had a slow, wet and cold start to the season, you can still find plenty of strawberry and rhubarb at the farmers market.  Even if you don’t have time to bake a cobbler this weekend, buy the rhubarb and strawberries before time runs out.  It takes very little time to freeze these fruits, and then you can enjoy them even in the dead of winter.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler--plate

Wholesome, simple, sweet-tooth satisfying, America perfected rustic baked fruit desserts like cobbler.  It remains one of our few positive contributions to the global banquet.

Feel free to substitute other berries or fruits as they come into season; blueberry, peach and apple are classics.  Likewise the strawberry-rhubarb can be baked with a crisp topping with equally delicious results.  Check out Apple Crisp for the crisp topping recipe.Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler--dish

Whole Wheat Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: America
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: about 8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB FILLING
  • 3 pints strawberries (about 2 lbs.)
  • 1 lbs. rhubarb thinly chopped (about 3 cups)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 T corn starch
  • BISCUIT DOUGH COBBLER TOPPING
  • 1 ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1 ½ t baking powder
  • ½ t salt
  • 6 T cold butter cut into small chunks
  • ⅔ cup half & half or cream
  • ½ t vanilla extract
  • BISCUIT DOUGH GLAZE
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 T half & half
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375◦ F.
  2. Butter an 8 or 9 inch glass or ceramic baking dish (2 quart capacity).
  3. Mix the strawberry-rhubarb filling together and place in the bottom of the greased baking dish.
  4. Prepare the biscuit dough by first mixing the dry ingredients—flour, 3 T sugar, baking powder and salt.
  5. Next, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients with a fork or using the food processor until it has a mealy texture.
  6. Combine the half & half with the vanilla and add all at once to the dry ingredients. Stir gently until just combined. DO NOT OVER STIR OR IT WILL BECOME TOUGH.
  7. Liberally flour a counter surface and pat dough out to ¼ inch thick with your hands.
  8. Use a knife or cookie cutters to cut into desired shapes like circles, triangles or stars. To make a lattice, cut into long strips and weave. The dough is sticky and easily breaks. Don’t worry over it; just cobble it together.
  9. Place the dough on top of the fruit filling. Do not completely cover the fruit or steam will not escape.
  10. Brush dough with half & half and sprinkle with sugar.
  11. Bake for about 45 minutes and allow to cool 15 minutes before serving with a side of whip cream or vanilla ice cream.

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Cooking with Kids:  My kids love to cut up produce.  They take this responsibility seriously and they should.  I’ve given them a knife!!  In this recipe,  I put them to work taking the stems off the strawberries.  If your little ones are between 4 – 11 years old, give them un-pointy steak knives and start teaching them very basic knife skills–especially tucking in the fingers that hold the fruit on the left hand (also known as the bear or tiger claw). Check out this video from the Rhyming Chef to see an entertaining demonstration. The steak knives can also cut the more tender stalks of rhubarb.  If you have lots of rhubarb to cut, have the kids do it in the food processor–loud noise, buttons to push, my kids never say no to helping with the food processor.  Un-fussy desserts like cobbler don’t require absolute precision so let the kids measure and teach them about fractions and measuring tools while you work.  They also love to stir the batter but don’t let them stir too much or the cobbler might turn out a bit tough.Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler--the girls eager to eat

Tips and Food Safety: If you have a sunny patch of land available, plant some rhubarb.  This perennial comes back year after year and adds beauty to the landscape with ruby red stems and elephant-ear sized leaves in deep green. Once you do have a patch of rhubarb, DON’T EAT THE LEAVES. They contain oxalic acid and other toxins. The stem, on the other hand, may be enjoyed anytime of the year not just spring—stems never contain toxins.

Whole Wheat Maple Carrot Bread

From sweet to savory, quick bread recipes—those that use quick-rise leavening agents like baking soda instead of slow-rising yeast—abound. The most popular lean to the sweet side and contain some fruit or veggie along with other goodies like chopped nuts, chocolate chips or spices.  Think zucchini or banana bread.Whole Wheat Maple Carrot Quick Bread--the ingredients

Because March can be a challenge for the Midwestern locavore, this quick bread recipe takes advantage of what fresh produce remains at the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers Market in these dwindling days of winter.  Behold the miracle of the March carrot, which retains its sweet flavor and crisp texture  five months after its harvest.

In my opinion, carrots, walnuts and maple create a perfect trifecta of flavor.  And while whole wheat flour is used, the texture remains light and tender. (If you have reservations  about using  whole grains in a sweet treat, click here for motivation.)   The whole food ingredients make this bread nutrient dense so serve it for a quick, healthy breakfast or an after-school snack.  Beware, however, that it is still calorie dense so don’t eat the whole loaf as you may be tempted to do. (Or is it just me that finds the flavor of maple syrup irresistible?)Whole Wheat Maple Carrot Quick Bread 2

Maple Carrot Bread
Author: 
Recipe type: Baking, Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 2 loaf pans
 
These make great muffins too; just reduce the bake time to about 15 minutes.
Ingredients
  • DRY INGREDIENTS
  • 3 cups of all-purpose or pastry whole wheat flour
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 1 t *cinnamon--optional
  • WET INGREDIENTS
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 cup brown *sugar, packed
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 3 cups grated carrot
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • GLAZE TOPPING
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1 t vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Grease two loaf pans. Place parchment or waxed paper at the bottom for easiest release. Preheat oven to 350◦ F.
  2. In a large bowl combine the “Dry Ingredients” using a whisk to make sure they are thoroughly combined.
  3. Next, beat the “Wet Ingredients” together in a mixing bowl.
  4. Add the dry to the wet ingredients and stir until combined—DO NOT OVER-STIR!
  5. Pour into prepared pans and bake at 350◦ F for about an hour. Insert a skewer in the center to check that the interior is done before removing from the oven. The loaf is baked if the skewer comes out clean or with few crumbs.
  6. Once baked, remove from oven and cool on a rack for 10-20 minutes. Next, remove bread from the pan and cool further on a rack.
  7. Whisk the confectioner's sugar,maple and vanilla until completely smooth. Drizzle maple glaze over the warm bread. It will set once cooled.
Notes
*Cinnamon can sometimes over-power the subtle flavor of maple. For greater maple flavor, leave out the cinnamon altogether and drizzle or sprinkle maple syrup or maple sugar on top of the unbaked loafs. Once baked, follow with the maple glaze.
**This recipe is very flexible, I have left out the sugar altogether and reduced it by half with still great, fluffy less-sweet muffins.

Storage Tip:

Because whole wheat flours include the germ, they contain oils. These oils can go rancid easily and cause a bitter, unpleasant flavor. According to the Whole Grains Council, whole grain flours kept in an air-tight containers should last for 3 months in the pantry and 6-12 months in the fridge or freezer.Whole Wheat Maple Carrot Quick Bread--greasing the pansWhole Wheat Maple Carrot Quick Bread-cracking eggsWhole Wheat Maple Carrot Quick Bread--Mixing

Cooking with Kids:

Because baking requires little-to-no knife work, I always include the kids.  It allows them greater autonomy and participation in the cooking process as I’m not hovering over them making sure they don’t cut their finger. We’ve baked together so often, that the girls know how to properly measure flours by spooning them into the dry measuring cups and leveling them. They know how to crack eggs.  They can essentially do everything…except read, but we’re working on that.  My goal in including them is to not only create healthier eaters but also contributing members of the family that can make me a quick bread sometime in the near future while I relax.Whole Wheat Maple Carrot Quick Bread--eating glazeWhole Wheat Maple Carrot Quick Bread 1

 

Pizza on the Grill (or in the Oven)

Pizza…what a wonderful concept.  It’s a complete meal on a piece of flat bread. While I love ordering out for pizza, there are limitations. A few years ago, our favorite pizza spot burned to the ground (Pizza Man) and we haven’t found the perfect replacement. Moreover, I haven’t found a pizza place in Milwaukee that makes a tasty, thin, whole wheat crust.  White crust made with refined white flour is junk food, and I prefer to save my junk food intake for sweet treats.

This pizza crust is 100% whole wheat but doesn’t taste that way, and really, isn’t that the goal?  “Pizza on the Grill” brings zero complaints at mealtime, and it couldn’t be faster or easier to make, even when the kids help.

Grilled Pizza
Author: 
Recipe type: Meals on the Grill
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 1 pizza serves 2 people
 
This no-sauce pizza is a great way to use small portions of vegetables you have left over in your refrigerator. My favorite combination is simply sliced tomatoes topped with olive oil, chopped basil, wilted spinach, and thinly sliced gorgonzola or fresh mozzarella. Don't pile on the ingredients--the crust is too thin to hold up.
Ingredients
  • 650g/5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • ⅓ cup vital wheat gluten (optional)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 t salt (or 3 ½ t kosher salt)
  • 1 ½ t quick-rise yeast
  • 3 T + 6 t extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 + ½ cups luke-warm water
  • 5 t chopped fresh herbs (optional)
Instructions
  1. MAKING THE DOUGH: Using a mixer, food processor, or simply by hand, mix/pulse the flour, (gluten), sugar, salt, (herb) and yeast to combine.
  2. While mixing, slowly add 3 T olive oil and 2 cups water until it forms a course ball—about 4 minutes. Slowly add the ½ cup of water if the dough ball doesn’t readily form.
  3. Allow the dough to rest 15 minutes then mix another 2 – 4 minutes until the dough is smooth, supple and tacky—not sticky.
  4. Transfer the dough to a smooth clean surface and divide into 6 equal pieces. Gently round each piece into a ball and rub each ball with olive oil.
  5. Drizzle each with 1 t olive oil and use immediately. Or store each ball inside a freezer bag and drizzle 1 t olive oil in each bag. Squeeze out excess air and seal.
  6. If freezing, store the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours before placing it in the freezer. Stores frozen for 3 months.
  7. MAKING THE PIZZA:Have all of the topping prepared and ready to go.
  8. Using a large cookie sheet or cutting board, turn the ball of dough in your oiled hands letting gravity slowly stretch the pizza crust thin. Once you reach the near approximate shape and thickness, place on the lightly oiled cutting board and finish shaping with your hands. It will not be perfectly round; it’s artfully rustic. Do not use a rolling pin.
  9. Gently transfer the dough to a heated clean grill--medium high heat. Cook about 2 minutes and then flip using a large spatula and tongs. Immediately place your toppings after flipping. Cook the other side of the crust for another 2 minutes.
  10. With tongs and a spatula, slide the finished pizza back to the cutting board, slice, and serve. You may want to tent with tin foil if you are making a few.
Notes
FAVORITE TOPPINGS: Toppings can be raw, sautéed or grilled. They can be left-over side dishes from the night before or toppings grilled just before the pizza crust was started. Use your imagination. However, it is essential to have them ready to go.

Favorite Toppings:

  • Cheese, grated, sliced or shaved—Parmesan, mozzarella, and goat

  • Fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced

  • Fresh herbs, chopped

  • Fresh red onions, thinly slices

  • Banana peppers, thinly sliced

  • Roasted red peppers

  • Spinach, wilted

  • Arugula, wilted

  • Zucchini, sautéed

  • Garlic, roasted

  • Caramelized onions

  • Cooked sausage

  • Sun dried tomatos, pesto or rehydrated

  • Pesto

Grill Tip: Heat and clean the grill grate completely before cooking.  I use a pair of metal tongs and a wadded up piece of aluminum foil.  Cheap and works like a charm.

Pizza for a Crowd/Pizza made by Kids: You can lightly cook both sides of the crust on the grill with no toppings and place on a cookie sheet.  Add toppings later and heat under a broiler in the oven.  I use this method when cooking for a large crowd or as a safe way to involve the kids in making the pizza.

Oven Alternative: When it’s absolutely too cold or raining outside, just use your oven.  A pizza stone  works nicely.  A cheap one is fine–$10 – $15 is the most you should spend.  In fact for years, I used an untreated $2.50 stone flooring tile leftover from a bathroom renovation project.  Place the pizza stone in the oven and heat for 25 minutes at 450F.  Once the stone is hot, you can cook the crust the same as you did on the grill. If you don’t have a pizza stone, a cookie sheet produces a fine pizza crust.

Preserve it:  Freezing the raw dough and the cooked ingredients can make this a near instant meal.  If you have the freezer space, grill all of the crusts at once and freeze them in freezer storage bags.

Cooking with Kids: I include them in every part of the preparation.  To make the dough, big girl does the measuring and little girl does the adding and mixing.  Once the dough is prepared, we weigh the entire dough ball in grams, divide by 6 and big girl measures them out while little girl rolls them into balls.  The girls add their own toppings only when we finish them in the oven.