I can’t believe I’m writing this, but a trip down the aisle of a megamart has left me no choice. There were dozens of varieties of croutons. All nicely boxed up, all manufactured with enough “additives” to let them last for years. They tend to be rock hard with distinctively chemical tastes. For example, if they are “onion” or “garlic” those boxy scents simply do not ring true to your palette.
The solution? Just make your own. It’s wonderfully simple and you have the benefit of controlling flavor and texture. The basic flavoring here is garlic, but you can add onion, chili powder, or herbs. For texture, it’s really a matter of your preference and what uses you have in mind. Do you like your croutons soft in your Caesar Salad, then bake until you finger begins to feel some resistance. Want them crispy for a soup, then bake away until they are fully browned.
Seriously, those boxes on the shelves may say croutons, but they are not these are.
When making these, try to get fresh French bread. That megamart probably comes with a bakery that does turn out fresh bread. Look for a loaf still warm from the oven.
Or, go the next step. I make my own sourdough bread and I will modestly say it is wonderful. My bread is an expected contribution to any dinner party we attend, and I am delighted that so many people enjoy it. Like Carnegie Hall, good bread is achieve with practice. With that practice and perhaps a class or two, you can make your own bread and relish in the flavors that truly reflect your home. Talk about terroir!
Really Simple Homemade Croutons
Yield: 3 cups
1 clove of garlic, smashed
Onions, chili powder, or herbs, optionally
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 cups of diced French bread, about ¼ by ¼ by ½ inches
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Cover a half sheet pan with aluminum foil.
Place the garlic, butter, and any optional ingredients in a 5-cup glass bowl and microwave until the butter is almost fully melted, about 45 to 75 seconds. Stir to complete the melting of the butter and to make sure the garlic flavor is thoroughly infused.
Add the French bread to the bowl and gentle stir with a spoon to completely coat each piece of bread. Spread the croutons on the foil. Bake until you achieve the level of doneness you desire.
Source: Brian O’Rourke
I don’t work at Barnes and Noble but I do shop there. When you first enter the store, there is often a rack of “special” books that you may overlook. They always have modest prices. They always have a distinct size or cover. You might pass right by, but if you see The Complete Mexican by Jane Milton, Jenni Fleetwood, and Marina Filippelli, grab a copy. It’s filled with recipes that simply don’t “look” like the ones you are used to. You’ll gain a very new perspective on Mexican fare.
For example, salsa. Salsa? Most of the time we make our salsa with some — but not necessarily all — of a core set of ingredients: tomatoes, chilies, onion, cilantro.
Here’s a twist. Keep the tomato, but ditch the other stuff. Use oranges and chives instead! Yes, it sounds almost bizarrely different. But, it’s delicious. I had this as a side dish with a Mexican trout — blog to come! — and it was brightly flavorful.
One note here. You dice up the tomato and oranges. There’s a lot of fluid running around. This dish is best made just before the meal. And, no, it really does not last overnight in the fridge. In that sense, it seems to be a very authentic “make it now and eat it now” dish.
Orange, Tomato and Chive Salsa
Yield: Serves 4 as a side dish
- 2 large, sweet oranges
- 1 beefsteak tomato, or 2 plum tomatoes
- Bunch of fresh chives [mine were right of the garden!]
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
Slice the base off each orange so they will stand firmly on a chopping board. Using a large sharp knife, remove the peel by slicing from the top to the bottom of each orange.
Working over a bowl, segment each orange in turn. Slice toward the middle of the fruit, and slightly tone side of a segment, and then gently twist the knife to release the orange segment. Squeeze any juice form the remaining membrane.
Roughly chop the orange segments and them to the bowl of collected orange juice. Halve the tomato, and scoop the meat into the bowl. Dice the remaining flesh of each tomato half and add to the bowl.
Hold the bunch of chives over the bowl, and use scissors to snip them in short pieces over the bowl.
Thinly slice the garlic and stir into the mixture. Pour in the olive oil, then season with salt. Stir, taste, and adjust to meet your needs.
Source: The Complete Mexican by Jane Milton, Jenni Fleetwood, and Marina Filippelli