Just over a year ago, the PF and I began our adventure. Prior to that we spend a year talking about homesteading, wasteful consumerism, self-reliance, and ways to make due with what we had. Coming to Polaris Drive gave us the opportunity to try many of the things we were hoping to do. While some things didn’t work out so well–our garden was a fair first try, given the freakishly long winter–other things became so much a part of our lives, that I can’t believe I hadn’t always done them.
Today I’m talking specifically about bread. I imagine back in my great grandmothers time, you didn’t go to the store and buy croutons and bread crumbs. I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet my 1964 Buick that she didn’t even buy bread.
So how is it that now, a loaf of bread (with a painfully low amount of fiber and whole grains–even the best brands) costs $4-$5. Sure, its ready, its sliced, and doesn’t require timing, but its literally 4 times the cost of making it yourself. Now having tried bread making, I know this is not for everyone, and definitely not for those with little time on their hands. It could replace your upperbody workout at the gym though…
Bread making aside, we also pay a fortune for the waste products of the bread making companies. Ever slice a french loaf from the grocery store. What happens? Crumbs everywhere. Makes a terrible mess. What do most folks do with the crumbs? They wipe them off the cutting board and into the garbage. Then the next time they need breadcrumbs for a recipe? They go to the store and pay $3.00 for crumbs that the bread company DIDN’T throw away. AMAZING!
Do yourself a favor. Next time you are faced with copious amounts of crumbs, spread them on a plate, let them sit overnight to dry out, then pop them into a container and put them where the store brought crumbs used to be in your cupboard. Don’t worry about the shape and size of the crumbs. Leave them chunky for meatloaf, and put them in the food processor (or crush them with a spoon in a shallow bowl) for a finer breadcrumb. VOILA! They work great, and are technically FREE.
What about that loaf of bread that’s going stale? DON’T THROW IT AWAY. If its hard around the edges, but soft in the middle, you can make my mothers famous french toast. Beat some eggs, dip the crusty bread in and let it soak in a bit, then fry in about 1/4 inch of oil. French/Dutch type loaf breads work best for this, just slice them about 1 inch think. Pre-sliced sandwich bread works too, just use less oil.
Is your loaf more like a baseball bat than bread? DO NOT THROW IT AWAY. In fact for croutons, you want the bread to be as dried out as possible. It makes them light and crunchy. Croutons do take a bit more of an effort, but will reward you not only with the best croutons you ever had, but also with tons if breadcrumbs. If using a loaf type bread slice into 1/2 slices (you may get a workout doing this), then take each slice, cut it into strips long ways, then cut into cubes side ways. If you are using pre-sliced sandwich bread, cut into cubes the same way. Put the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with Olive Oil, then sprinkle with kosher salt, and dried herbs (I use oregano, basil, and parsley). Toss to coat. You can use a wooden spoon, but I like to use my hands. Now is the most important part: taste one. It should already be something you want to eat by the handful. Adjust the seasoning to your taste, then bake in the oven at 325 F for 12 minutes, mix it around again and swap to the other rack if baking two at a time, and bake for 12 minutes more. Let cool and put in an airtight container.
Caution: our kids eat them as their preferred snack (over chips), so you may have to hide them if you want to actually use them on a salad. And guess what? They were essentially FREE. You would have thrown that bread out. You can make croutons from fresh bread, but its best to cut it into slices and let it dry out for a day. If you bake moist croutons they become very hard and dense, not the light fluffy creations of their stale cousins.
So try it people. Don’t waste. Think about earlier times and how people used what they had. You’ll feel accomplished and satisfied guaranteed.