Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Or am I the only one with end bits of whatever that have been pushed aside by kitchen tidal action and go unattended until it’s conveniently too late?
At my house it’s usually bread and cheese that have been marginalized for any number of reasons. Not so pretty and fresh anymore, oddly shaped and sometimes poorly wrapped. Displaced by younger bolder versions of themselves, they sit around, I try to ignore, eventually they turn green and that’s the end of it. Whoa. Not so fast. I read the other day how much food we waste each year.
There’s another approach. Croutons and breadcrumbs, bread pudding. Humble, but honestly croutons, crumbs and cheese are ingredients that make or break a number of favorite foods. Where would a Ceasar be without the croutons, Mac & Cheese without its breadcrumb topping, not to mention the cheese? And if you want fancy, Tom Douglas’ halibut with lentils and toasted bread-crumb salad topping is breadcrumb heaven (a future post), and bread pudding has to be the king of day-old bread innovation.
Breadcrumbs and croutons come in nice packages at the grocery store for umpteen dollars an ounce, or you can do a little kitchen beachcombing and come up with the resources for making your own. It takes a few moments or minutes, depending, and they last, croutons for a week or two in a sealed bag, breadcrumbs the same, or store them in the freezer.
Croutons. One of my favorite foods. I could eat them by the handful like potato chips and usually do pop in a couple before they hit storage. Don’t they make anything taste more interesting and crunchy? Here’s one way to make croutons with about 4 cups of cubed day-old (or more) bread:
Preheat oven to 300º. Smash one clove of garlic and heat until just sizzling in an oven-proof frying pan along with 3 T olive oil & 1 T butter. Or, skip the butter and use only olive oil. Turn the heat off and let it sit and flavorize for a few minutes. In the meantime, cut any leftover bread into cube-like shapes. Reheat the oil and butter, add the bread and toss thoroughly so that every bite has a little of that oily coating. Sprinkle with salt, toss a bit more, spread evenly in the pan and put into the oven. I often retoss the mix after about ten minutes in the oven. Fifteen – twenty minutes will brown and crisp the bread, five minutes more for super crispy.
Use more butter if you like and any dried herbs that you favor. A sprinkling of parmesan just as they come out of the oven doesn’t hurt.
Spring greens from the Farmers Market (or the backyard), dressed lightly with vinegar and oil, topped with garlicky croutons. Num.
Breadcrumbs. You could simply crush or process a bag full of croutons to make crumbs. Or, put small odds and ends of bread – saved in the freezer until there’s enough to work with – into a food processor or blender, process for a few moments. Spread evenly on a baking pan and toast in a 300º oven for 10 minutes if you like a nuttier flavored bread crumb, or store without toasting. That’s it. No seasoning necessary. That can be done later when you’re ready to use a spoon or a cup full. Freeze them and they’re ready when you are. Even a half cup will be prized at just the right moment.
Same approach with odds and ends of leftover cheese. Process small pieces together and create a unique mix to stir into a pile of steaming pasta or scrambled eggs. Mix a handful into a cup of breadcrumbs for an amazing Mac & Cheese topping (dotted with bits of butter). Make a toasted cheese san with it. Store in the fridge for a few more days, or freeze it and use whenever.
A Bread Pudding. Not my forte, I don’t make it often, truthfully, maybe once, but consider it to be a classic comfort food, something from the recipe files of grand and great grandmothers that shouldn’t be forgotten. At a family reunion a few years ago there were many mouths to feed at every meal and we did it by committee which was both hilarious and delicious. On our last day we had piles of leftover bread and cousin Connie offered to make savory bread pudding. I wish I knew exactly how she did it – it was fabulous. I do know she used the flotsam and jetsam of our reunion pantry: bread, cheese, eggs and milk. Other stuff too, but that remains a mystery. After I’ve made more bread puddings maybe I’ll be able to do what my cousin did and throw it together, but not yet. So this savory version is a recipe from a favorite local eatery, Macrina Bakery.
I broke a couple of my steadfast cooking habits in making this bread pudding – a weeknight meal, it took more than 20 minutes to prep, more like an hour; secondly, I followed the recipe almost exactly. The next round will be more efficient, and I’m almost ready to concoct a freestyle bread pudding. The cooking process is important, and the basic bread/egg/milk ratio creates a palette waiting to be embellished.
Savory Bread Pudding with Cranberries, Sausage & Chèvr (page 96-97) Macrina Bakery & Café Cookbook
This recipe serves 9 – 12. To begin, Macrina suggests an important bread pudding procedure: remove crusts, cut bread into 1-inch cubes and toast in a 350º oven for about 10 minutes to dry them out. This allows the bread to absorb the custard more readily and produce a lightly textured pudding.
2 C whole milk
2 C half-and-half
1/2 C light brown sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
2 T freshly grated orange zest
1 T coarsely chopped fresh sage
3 egg yolks
4 C oven-dried white bread cubes
4 C oven-dried dark bread cubes
2 C fresh or frozen cranberries
6 oz. (4 links) pork sausage, fully cooked and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 T unsalted butter, melted
6 oz. goat cheese
Preheat oven to 325º and butter a 9-inch square baking pan. (I used a 9-inch oval)/ Combine the first 8 ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk until thoroughly blended/ Set aside/ Place toasted bread cubes in a large bowl and add cranberries, cooked sausage, and melted butter/ Mix thoroughly and then transfer bread mix to the prepared baking pan/ Pour milk mixture over, stir lightly with a spoon and top with crumbled goat cheese/ Place a plate on top of the mix to weigh it down and aid absorption of liquid/ Set aside for 20 minutes.
Remove plate and wrap tightly with aluminum foil/ Poke 2 small vent holes in opposite corners of the foil/ Place the pan in the center of a large roasting pan at least 2 inches deep, place the whole thing on the center rack of the oven, pour hot water into the roasting pan to reach about halfway up the sides of the bread pudding pan/ Water bath helps the bread pudding to cook evenly/ Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, carefully remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes/ Lift the bread pudding out of the roasting pan and let cool on a wire rack/ Completely cool before storing in the fridge where it will keep well for a couple of days.
I used my flotsam and jetsam cheese mix instead of chevre, fewer cranberries and sweetened ones because that’s what I had. I cut the sugar in half and should have omitted it entirely because the dried cranberries were already sweetened. Lesson learned.
But the hour spent preparing this dish was WORTH it. Beautifully textured, fluffy and moist, it’s good for supper, lunch or brunch. Leftovers keep well – just reheat in a 350º oven for a few minutes.
Day old bread may be my new best friend and making use of it another small action toward sustainability.
Always organically oriented, the newest Macrina, located in SODO, is an even greener version of itself. They hired a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified architect and incorporated green solutions throughout construction. When we finally get around to it, Macrina’s another local business we’ll put on our list of green businesses in and around Seattle.