Croutons Are Always an Option

January 12, 2011 § 3 Comments

They are facts of life: milk goes sour, lettuce wilts, and bread gets stale.

There’s only so much you can do with sour milk and wilted lettuce. Actually, the only thing I can think of is to pitch them. Stale bread, on the other hand, has more options. You can take your stale bread to the park and feed the pigeons, I suppose. You can save up a bunch of it and make a stuffing.

Or, my fave—make croutons. In fact, sometimes I make bread just for the crouton possibilities.

That oh-so-yummy loaf of whole wheat bread I baked up yesterday will get a bit dense in a couple of days, I know that. I could exclusively eat sandwiches or snack on toast spread with peanut butter for the next 48 hours to make sure the cursed touch of Stale never approaches. I also don’t want to spend all my time on the treadmill burning off the extra.

Instead, I’m perfectly fine with letting the bread take its natural course to staleness. Croutons are always an option.

Recipe:

Croutons are super simple. Give cubed bread a little oil, add salt and pepper to taste, and toast. All that does is give your salad or soup a bit of crunch – maybe not so much flavor.

Guy Fieri’s recipe for croutons gives the toasted bread a flavorful kick. It calls for (word for word):
* 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
* 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
* 1/2 teaspoon paprika
* 2 teaspoons dried parsley
* 1 teaspoon dried basil
* 2 teaspoons garlic paste, (2 cloves garlic smashed with the flat side of a knife and a sprinkle of salt, to make paste)
* 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 4 cups cubed stale Italian bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

Mixed the oil and herbs together. Add bread and toss, put on baking sheet. Toast at 325F for 20-ish minutes. Toss to expose other sides half way through.

Now, that’s all very fine and good. I riff on this recipe quite a bit. We never seem to have dried basil and parsley – only fresh during the gardening season, or only frozen parsley and pesto at other times. I’ll sub in a generous shake of Italian seasoning if I need to.

Plus, I proportion this down to maybe two cups of stale bread—after all, I’m eating as much of that loaf as possible before it gets stale. Watch the oil amounts—you really don’t need that much.

And, when you’re dealing with smaller amounts of croutons, there’s no reason to heat up an entire oven. Toaster ovens are perfect for this. BUT, since the mini oven heats up so much faster, 20 minutes will get you dark brown nuggets instead of flavorful toasties. DO set the toaster oven to 325F, but DON’T step away from it for too long. After 5 minutes, give ’em a look-see and a quick shake. At 10 minutes, consider taking them out to coast in and cool.

Hmm … I should have a photo. Let me get through this loaf of bread first.

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Fresh, Homegrown Parsley

January 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Fresh garden parsley in January, yo.”

Parsley harvested in November still going strong in January, thanks to some prepping tips.

That’s from my “Linguine with Clam Sauce: The Payoff” post. I had bragged about how our homegrown parsley is like Methuselah—it just keeps on keepin’ on even after being in our fridge for nearly two months. What the hell kinda parsley are we using, after all? Plastic?

No, not plastic. In fact, it’s one of those no-named varieties of flat-leafed parsley seedlings we bought from a pop-up garden center back in May. It’s the most gutsy plant we have in our community garden plot, and we couldn’t kill it if we tried. I planted pretty much every seedling that was broadcast-sown in the 4-in. pot we purchased—and every single plant survived.

Here are the growing instructions: Nothing special; water now and then.

I’m not kidding you. Nothing special. And, as a result, the two rows of parsley grew into a small hedge. In fact, it’ll probably come back from the dead when the soil warms this spring.

Just as the living stuff is indestructible, so too is the harvested parsley. Here’s how we prepared and stored the herb:

  • Gently wash with cold water.
  • Remove stems. Reserve stems for your stash of veggies for making veggie stock.
  • Lay leaves flattish on towel to air dry excess water. Best thing about parsley as a plant is that it’s sturdy—it’ll dry before it begins to wilt.
  • Once dry, store loosely in zip-lock freezer bag. Put in refrigerator. Since the storage bags are a bit thicker, I think that helps prolong the parsley’s life.

We also stashed six or eight of these zip-locks in the freezer, where it forms frozen sheets. When we run out of the fresh stuff, we’ll break off a corner of the frozen parsley sheet and add it to soups, stews, pasta, and so forth.

More importantly, this is what we DON’T do: Store the parsley wet, wrapped in a moist paper towel in a sealed bag. The humidity just seems to build up along the bag’s sides, eventually making the leaves black and slimy. Sure, we’ll do this if we’re in a hurry or we know we’ll use the whole batch quickly. But it’s not something I’d do for long-term storage.

Will our parsley-storage technique work with the store-bought stuff? I don’t know—we haven’t had to buy the fresh stuff in years. But please do give it a try and let Dainty Dot know the results.

And did I mention, we also have fresh dill from the garden still going strong in the fridge, as well? It’s like a magic tomb, that refrigerator of ours.

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