Eat Vegetables


Wandering the produce aisles at my Whole Foods, they always have the list of fruits that are organic, and the number of things that are local. It’s a big number, but most of the time when I look, they’re grown in California, Mexico, or a far off land.

The other day, I was searching for Asparagus. I know it’s the season, but I haven’t seen any local stuff in the store. I know it’s a huge undertaking for the region, with 30 odd stores, to supply fresh locally sourced asparagus to meet the demand, but it’s not impossible.

I saw peaches. I’m pretty sure that they aren’t in season right now, but it’s also difficult to remember, as when I was in Seattle, everything was always in season. Around this time of year, you could get that fresh asparagus, the tulips that grew in the Skagit Valley just north of us, and the beginnings of some berries.

This past week, we went to a Memorial Day pig roast, and I had pickled garlic spears (scapes) for the first time since we moved back to the Midwest. Where did they come from? How does one get them? If we’re otherwise occupied with work during either the 9 to 5, or for me, on weekends during prime market time, where does one go to get those things?

Here’s a list of things I’m looking forward to:

Radishes

Tomatoes

Fresh Herbs

Berries

Asparagus

Greens of any kind

Beets

Maybe a good dozen eggs from somewhere closeby.

I guess in the end, it’s not so difficult. There are farms around here. You just have to find the time to explore your neighborhood markets, or make the effort to venture out just a little further than your everyday grocery store. For the majority of things, my store gets it done. When I want to be inspired by stacks of produce alone, I’m going to the Farmer’s Market.

This week, the Pilsen Local Community Farmers’ Market starts up. As I don’t get a chance to get to my old standby of the Madison market, or even the Green City, I’m excited to at least go and look at what they’ve got available this Sunday. It might not be the widest selection of produce, but at least I can get a good grasp of what I should be eating. I want it to be fresh, and I want it to taste as good as it looks.

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The season’s short, but the rewards are bountiful, if you can find them. If you didnt’ read the first blog post about ramps, it’s right here. It’s more or less about finding ways to preserve the flavor of this delicious little bulb for a few extra weeks out of the year.

Today, it’s cold. I have the day off, and for the most part, I’m staying indoors, which means that I’m planning on experimenting a bit in the kitchen. I’ve had this idea in my head about ramp kimchi for a long time. Although it smells like the inside of an old fishing trawler, I’ve always liked it. After searching out a couple of different recipes, though, I can’t make it today. Still, I have the hankering to make something delicious with the few bunches that I have. So far this year, I’ve sauteed them and served them over pasta, and for the second recipe, I’m going to pickle them with a straightforward brine, along with a couple of bunches of french carrots that are occupying my fridge.

Here’s a quick recipe:

2-3 bunches of Ramps

2 bunches thin french carrots

Kosher salt for blanching

Trim the root end and leaves from the ramps. Reserve the leaves for a second recipe. Remove the greens from the carrots and save for later. Trim carrots into rounds, or on the diagonal for better flavor absorption.
Get a large pot of water on the stove, and bring to a boil. Add Kosher salt, and blanch carrots until half tender, about four to five minutes. Blanch ramps for about 30 seconds. Shock in an ice bath.

 

For the brine:

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon pink peppercorns (white also works

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon red pepper or cayenne

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon salt

Combine the  water, sugar, salt, and vinegar in a pot. Bring to a boil. Add spices, and let simmer for a minute or two.

Now, drain and pat ramps and carrots dry. Put them in a mason jar or airtight container, and pour hot brining liquid over them. Cover, throw in the fridge, and let rest.

Congratulations! You’ve made pickled ramps! The flavor will mature over time, and you’ll have anywhere from two weeks to a couple of months to eat them as they stare at you every time you open the door to the fridge. Use them in salads, with omelettes, or for any brunch related item you happen to want to make (Did somebody say Bloody Mary?). They also make an excellent piquant addition to a duck breast, roasted chicken, or any meat with a little bit of uniqueness to it. Lastly, if you do a charcuterie plate, they go really well with cheese, cured meats, and other delicious nuts and pickles.

Now, on to the leaves.

I have a nice olive oil here, and it’s not the best match for doing a confit to preserve it, as it’s extremely grassy, and more of a finishing oil, not meant to be heated. However, I do have butter. Lots of butter.

Into the pot they go. This is what I’ve decided to do. Take your trimmed ramp leaves, throw them in a pan with one stick or more of melted butter over the lowest setting, and let them sweat for 20-30 minutes. In this time, your kitchen will fill with the greatest smell you could ever hope for. When it’s time and the leaves have wilted and achieved maximum butter absorption, remove them, squeegeeing the excess butter back into the pan. If you don’t have a ramp squeegee, don’t worry. Use your fingers. It’s fine.
Take the resulting butter, and skim the milk solids off the top. Reserve the clarified ramp butter for a delicious sauteeing medium for shrimp scampi or chicken. If you don’t eat meat, put it in a plastic container in the fridge, wait for it to set, and use it to add flavor to risottos, as a wash for homemade bruschetta or croutons, or simply eat it out of the jar.

I do have some shrimp. I have some polenta that I can slice and fry, and I have a nice new ceramic nonstick pan that I hope will be the answer to my occasional problems with crusty burned bits on my pan. Every once in a while, stuff like that happens, but that’s a different story for a different day.

 

I am a man of many passions when it comes to food. Over the course of my continuing education in learning about my likes and dislikes, I’ve had some polarizing statements come out of my mouth.

1) I could never date a vegetarian.  Okay, that one was asking to be broken. When I first said it, I think I meant that I could never date someone who so closely affiliated the biggest parts of who they were with vegetarianism. Yes, it shapes your eating habits, but to constantly talk about what you can and can’t, should and shouldn’t, will and won’t eat is too much of a grind if you’re in a relationship with someone whose profession and passion centers around food.

That being said, the woman who has accepted me as her own does not eat the barnyard meats. Nothing with legs, says she, and that’s fine.

We eat fish from time to time, not so much as we used to in Seattle, but it’s part of the menu. I’ve learned to extract flavors from vegetables, and I have an open relationship with my meat, knowing that if she’s out of town, it’s alright to cook a burger or two. Most of the choices I make, however, have evolved into cooking things that we’d normally eat together, anyway. I don’t have cravings for red meat, nor do I go out of my way to get a pork chop or two if I want one, although the option is there at the grill down the street.

Instead, It’s a pasta, some vegetables, a sauce, maybe some shrimp if it’s around. I do like risotto. I find myself looking for more things that are green, and get a bit frustrated if I don’t come up with something a little bit healthier if I’m going to cook a meal.

I can’t eat like I used to. Burgers make me feel gross and lethargic. I really like chicken wings, but if they’re fried, I just don’t care for how they make my stomach do flips when I’m least expecting it. In times of culinary crisis, a salad can be your best friend.

This brings me to point the second.

2) Veganism is a waste of time. I used to say that your body needs animal protein, and that to deny it what it needs causes conflict in your innards. A comfortable solution to fast food and diets high in saturated fats this is not. Anything your body needs that you take out of your diet needs to be replaced with something. Veganism just sounded like so much of a hassle.

Today, though, a friend was looking to drastically change her eating habits, and decided that veganism was the way to go. Admittedly, it’s a tricky road, and one that I probably won’t go down. Still, how does one achieve a good balance of nutrients in a plant-based diet to fully function on a daily basis? Where does the protein come from? What about the energy that you would lack?

What ensued was a conversation on Facebook back and forth between a few different voices, some vegan, some not. One woman had a gluten intolerance. I think it’s fascinating to find out how people deal with certain restrictions of food consumption to come up with a suitable solution to their own dietary needs.

First, the biggest culprit is red meat. I say this working from behind the counter in a meat department, and against my better judgment from the standpoint of wanting it to be a success: We eat too much red meat. Our case would not be as bounteous if we cut everything to portion sizes that the governing bodies recommended. We would lose our porterhouses and our ribeyes. A 20 lb. ham would take a family of four two weeks to polish off. It just wouldn’t be right. Still, we have options for healthy eating where the recipe dictates a ratio of meat to vegetables that allows us to be comfortable in recommending items to people who want to eat healthy.

I realize it’s not for everyone, and I want to let people who are considering veganism to know that if it isn’t for ethical reasons, it can be a soft veganism. So long as you are doing it for health reasons, there are many options out there for living a plant-based existence.

What has two thumbs and enjoys a plant-based diet? This guy.

Somewhere out in the ether is a nutritionist, John Pierre, who touts ‘going to the source’ as a method of finding optimum nutrition. For example, if you don’t want to eat fish, but you want the benefit of Omega-3 fatty acids, look at what the fish eat: Green sea vegetables. Who says you can’t skip eating the fish and go straight to the source? If you’re not vegan, who says you can’t fortify your eating choices by adding nutrient rich greens to your diet?

I do love nutrient rich greens of the variegated kind. There’s kale, chard, mustard greens, bitter searing greens, etc. These are all excellent choices from which you can derive a large part of your total nutrition, and in conjunction with other nutrient dense plants, seeds, or nuts, you can get a balanced meal. One that comes to mind is Black Beans and seared kale. Add brown rice, a serving of nuts, and you’re on your way. It doesn’t have to be complex, and you don’t have to be constantly substituting things in and out of recipes. A lot of different countries have recipes that are vegan or vegetarian based, from the afforementioned rice and beans with kale to dozens of Indian dishes.

I found a great blog specializing in Indian dishes that stand alone with flavors and health, and they’re vegetarian by design, not because they’re appealing to a niche. That is secondary. The composition and health are the primary driving factors behind these recipes. Check it out. 

From Currylicious- Chickpeas with Grated Coconut. Click the Picture for the Recipe

Nobody says vegetarian food has to be boring. Look at granola. That’s vegan without being called vegan. Put some fresh fruit in there, a splash of alternative milk (make sure there’s no added sugar and that it’s low in added oil-that negates the health benefits), and it’s breakfast.

It doesn’t have to be boring, this food, but it should be healthy. Here’s a helpful hint: If you can’t see the food, or if it’s hidden behind multiple layers of packaging, it’s probably not the best for you. Want to know what is? Vegetables. Fresh Vegetables. Even frozen vegetables are good. Clarence Birdseye patented a food technology long ago that harnesses the nutritive value of rapidly frozen vegetables so that from farm to table they retain almost all of their deliciousness and health. Canned beans are good for you, and I know from experience that they’re cooked equal or better than I can make them at home.

Veggie Burgers are delicious, so long as you don’t close your eyes and hope that it tastes like meat. You’ll be disappointed if you do. If you just want something that tastes like it’s not trying too hard, be satisfied with your patties, or for a more healthful alternative, make a big batch of your own using all the good things that you can think of.

Make a pot of brown rice. Fluff it up, eat some with dinner, and use the rest for burgers. Add some cooked lentils, some finely chopped kale, a bunch of spices like coriander, turmeric, cumin, some onions, maybe some garlic. Mix it by the hand squish method until it becomes something that will hold together as a blob. Patty them, separate them with waxed paper, throw them in the freezer, and pull one out when you need it. Shopping for all this  stuff once and making a big batch is a great way to make it easier on yourself to eat healthier.

***

Even if eating vegan or even strictly vegetarian is not  for me, the conversation taught me a lot about how I think about my food. I don’t want to classify my eating habits as anything. Aside from eating takeout out of convenience once in a while, I know how to eat healthy. I need my greens, and if I choose to eat mostly vegetarian, I know where to get my proteins from: Barley, Quinoa, Rice, Nuts, and Beans. It’s not about ethics for me. It’s about health. I’m not going to shut out specific food groups unless it’s proven that I need to cut down. Moderation, as always, is key. A little cheese is not going to hurt as long as I eat some fruit and maybe some nuts.

There are so many great vegetarian dishes out there that I’ve been meaning to try, and not because they’re vegetarian, but just because they look like they taste good. Aside from eating what’s right for your body, isn’t that what matters most?

***
Hey, you. Leave a comment. Let’s continue this discussion. 

Here I am on another day off from work, with nothing to do but cook. It’s feeling more autumnal here by the day, but I can’t really let go of the fresh flavors of summer. The other day, I wanted to make a quick salad to go along with dinner, but I had no greens. I asked my better half if she was going to stop by the market on the way home, and if she’d be bothered to get some salad makings. I didn’t hear back for a little while, and dinner was fast approaching. I’d made a bread pudding earlier in the day, and I used the rest of the bread to do mini raclette/baguette toasted cheese sandwiches under the broiler.

Still, that’s a lot of bread.

We’re in a new place, and I still haven’t figured out why, even with a smaller fridge, I’m not able to fill it with stuff that I can grab and use to make stuff on the fly. We’ve got a couple of stores close to us, including my home store, so it’s not really a big thing. Being impatient as I am, I hopped on my bike and rode down the street to pick up some arugula from the produce market. I haven’t had arugula in six weeks.

What’s arugula? It’s a veg-e-table.

I hadn’t been to this produce market yet, and when I got in, I was surprised by how much they had to offer. I scoured the greens. Turnip, collard, kale, escarole, bibb, romaine, but no arugula. It’s a sure sign of a first world problem when you get grumpy over the lack of spring mix and microgreens in your local grocer’s produce case. They did, however, have dandelion greens- a little bitter, but for the salad I was making, I thought it would be refreshing. I picked out a bunch, along with a lemon for a fresh dressing, and biked back home.

Dandelion Greens on a sunny afternoon

By the time I got home, I checked my phone, and the lady had said she picked up some herb salad mix, so the dandelions were relocated, temporarily, to the back of the fridge.

On my days off, I get bored. I’ll go exploring, but for the most part, I’ll stay indoors, watch the television, plop around on the internet. Now that it’s about 3 p.m., I’m getting antsy. This is how it usually goes. I think it’s time to make some food.

***

Dandelion Green Pasta Filling:

1 bunch Dandelion greens, triple washed, trimmed of stems

1/2 yellow onion, small dice

4 cloves garlic, sliced thin

1 T. salted butter

salt, pepper, oil

***

Pulled out the dandelion greens from the fridge and tasted them just now. They are unbelievably bitter. For the greens to lose their bitterness, I may have to cook them down considerably.

***

Pan on the stove. Low heat to sweat the onion and garlic. And… into the pan they go. Little salt, little pepper. So far so good. It smells pretty nice in here. After ten minutes they seem to have become tender and fragrant.

***

Spin the greens to get rid of the moisture. I thought of maybe soaking them in milk? Nah. I don’t think that’d be the most productive use of milk.

***

Okay. In the pan with the greens, all chopped up like they are. Let em cook. They’re looking vibrant.

***

Ten more minutes in, and they’ve lost some of that green, but the cooking has taken a lot of bitterness out of them as well. I don’t have any cheese, but I don’t want to mask the comfortable level of bitterness that I still have going for the green mix. If I were to choose a cheese to go inside, it’d be a pecorino. The nutty sheep’s milk and texture would go along nicely. I think I’ll get a small wedge of it tomorrow, and serve it up on top, maybe in curls.

***

Okay. I’m going to need some pasta dough here. Trusty Mario Batali Pasta Recipe, take me away.

***

I have a new cutting board. It’s all wood, of heavy stock, and it sits atop my prep rack, good for cutting stuff and kneading things. I know it’s anti-utilitarian of me, but I don’t really want to get it too dirty just yet. I fabricated the pasta dough using the well method (only way to go) inside a mixing bowl, and then turned out the sloppy mess onto the board for kneading. After about five minutes, I covered it in plastic wrap and now I’m letting it sit for another 30 minutes before taking it for a ride on the pasta bike.

Two eggs and some flour

(For more information about how to make your own fresh pasta, consult this blog entry.)

***

Okay. Pasta dough has rested, now on to the bike!

***

Just got done cranking the pasta dough and filling them up. Filled pasta is a lot of work if you don’t have practice. Out of a half batch of dough, I had enough filling for 22 tortellini, approximately 4 servings by Euro Standards, maybe 2 by American standards. Perhaps tomorrow night, I’ll make them for diner, with a light butter sauce with basil and crushed pecans.

A bunch of tortellini

***

A final thought: An afternoon project is something very fulfilling, especially if it’s something that I can eat and share later on. I’m glad I had the opportunity to share the process with…the…internet. I’m even happier that I get to share something that I’ve made with my lady for dinner.

If you work at a Grocery store, or if you shop at one, you know how difficult it can be to find healthy options for your family at affordable prices. All the time, you hear about how places like Whole Foods are referred to as “Whole Paycheck”, (a daily occurrence for me), but in reality, it’s not that way at all.
Yes, the prices may seem somewhat exorbitant on one scale, being that you can get some products, exactly the same, for much cheaper at the local Kroger or Safeway. However, it still pales to how much we spend when we eat our lunches out.
I’m guilty of it, too. During the lunch period, I’ll wander over to Panera, get myself a half sandwich and cup of soup, and usually something to drink. A regular lunch, if only because I don’t want to be taken by too many choices in the grocery store. I want something off a menu that I don’t have to think about, and that I can order, eat, relax with, and be back to work with a decent amount of nourishment in 30 minutes or less.
The total price of a lunch? About 10 to 11 dollars, depending on the size of drink I’d like and whether I want my sandwich toasted.
Breaking it down, though, there are certain questions that begin to mount. The cup of soup is 12 ounces. I have half a sandwich. And even with a small drink, soda, iced tea, whatever it may be, the price of that drink is $1.85. Why so expensive for so little food?
Now, flip it over to Whole Foods, where the prices are allegedly high and there’s allegedly an attitude that comes with the meal. I can get a big salad for $5. I can get a whole sandwich, roast beef, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, trimmings, etc. for $4. Either that, or a 16 ounce soup full of goodness for $4. I can get a soda for 69 cents. Total price of a meal? Under ten dollars. It’ll probably fill me up. When I have the patience, that’s what I do.
When I don’t, though, it’s off to Panera I go. It’s the American way.

***

Let’s look at some of the ways that supermarkets are designed to assist your shopping experience. First, in almost any store you visit, the eye catching display as you walk in the door is Produce. It sets the tone of freshness throughout the store. Stop and look at things that are on sale. You can usually find at least one fruit or vegetable staple that is of reasonable price, and when you do, you should put it in your cart. This may be because the store has a good supplier in Mexico, or it may also be that they’re running a sale on something fresh, local, and in season. We eat with our eyes, but we needn’t forget to smell certain foods.
Tomatoes should smell like tomatoes. Basil should smell fresh and green. You should be able to get a whiff of orange oil if you lightly zest it with your thumb.
If you’re on a budget, and you are able to afford the Roma tomatoes that are hard and bland, don’t worry. Take them home, toss them with a little oil, salt and pepper, and roast them at 300 degrees until they turn to mush and their flavors bloom.
Next, look for the private label brands. Many stores have private label brands that are contracted through well-reputed companies at a lower markup. What this means is that good economic practices can work, by giving a wider audience to a company such as a Stonyfield Organic, or simply just by promoting the private label brand itself, getting the store’s name out more. Every time you open your fridge, there’s Safeway Organic Milk. There’s President’s Choice pickles. If you slapped the regular label on them, you’d end up paying a buck more for Vlasic and Horizon products. Private Label isn’t bad.
Third, the bulk section. More stores have a bulk section, where you can scoop granola, get almonds and raisins, and even pick up some treats for the kids. Bulk items are less expensive because they have a much lower packaging cost, among other factors. You can stack a pallet 8 high with 50# bags of rice, and if you buy either a whole bag, or merely a few scoops, you’re only using a fraction of the materials it takes to pack a canister of Planters’ peanuts with the foil inside and the razor sharp rim of death.
Last, buy what you know, but check the labels. If you know a Campbell’s soup is good, but you see another one on sale for half the price, try it. Try it once. You might not like it, and if you don’t, you have that knowledge moving forward, but you also have equal sustenance in your belly from your one less than flavorful interim meal. It’s not so bad. Now you know. You saved a buck and you fed yourself for a meal. This checking the labels thing? Try to use it for good things. You can’t taste the difference between a $4 can of Organic free range garbanzo beans and a $.99 can of store brand. Not after you add your garlic, cheese, salt, herbs, or anything else people put with it. Don’t sit in the aisles, poring over the labels on two competing brands of pizza, looking for the one with higher fiber. That’s not what healthy eating is about.

Remember- the more packaging something has, the less incentive it has to stay fresh. Simple packaging generally equals better food. If you can see the food without picking it up, or if you know that the food doesn’t have five layers of protective packaging or an airpuffed bag surrounding it, it might be a little better for you than a Kraft Macaroni and cheese. Case in point- the Macaroni. It’s alright. It can touch the cardboard, and it’s fine. However, the ‘cheese’? It’s in the airtight, foil lined, childproof pouch. We can easily see or hear the macaroni as it shuffles around in the box when we shake it. What we can’t do is even imagine what is in the Neon pouch of doom. That’s why I stay away from the box macaroni dinners. Colors like that don’t occur in nature.
You know what color does occur in nature? Green. If you have something green with dinner, you’re already on your way to better health. You can get a whole bag of spring mix, herbs, bitter greens, spinach, etc. for 2 bucks at my store. You can’t even get an egg mcmuffin for that, can you?
Buy some apples. Buy some bananas. If they go brown, make banana bread. Freeze them. Make morning smoothies with frozen fruit and orange juice. Find ways to utilize all the fresh food you get. It’s your money. Make healthy and sound choices for your dollar.
As a side question, when did coupons become such a bad thing? Look for the coupons. Clip ’em if you got ’em. Stock up on nonperishables when they go on sale. We have such a love for things like Groupon and Livingsocial, always scouting out things that are marketed to look like they are a great deal (some of them are!), but why not take that approach with your food? It’s a great deal in Atlanta to get a Facial and salt scrubbed body peel for 50% off today, but it seems too much to want to get 20% off of your groceries by clipping coupons or simply figuring out what is the best value for your dollar. Get your Preferred rewards card. Pick up the coupon booklet when you first walk in the store. You won’t be taken by impulse buys, most of the time. As long as you keep your head on right, and shop with purpose, you’ll be able to shop smart.

Shop S-Mart.


***

One last thing- Most people shop in terms of total dollar amounts. What many fail to realize is that packaging is perceived value. It may cost $4.99 for one container of shredded parmesan cheese, but it will cost $3.00 for a hunk of parmesan of equal or greater weight. It is increasingly popular (and I don’t know if it is mandated yet) to put unit cost on the shelf tags by the products. Next time you’re in the store, check out Unit prices, and see which items, not necessarily by sheer dollar amount alone, will give you the lowest price per ounce.

In my own little world for the past few weeks, I’ve thought that I could just get to writing whenever I felt like it. Unfortunately, that has left most people who inquire about this blog wondering and (hopefully) wanting some more from my brain. Sadly, I just haven’t had it. I haven’t been on my critical thinking tack for a while now.

In the meantime, I’ve been working diligently at making high quality meats and recipes to share with harried customers in need of a quick meal at my meat shop. Sometimes, it’s a little tedious, but I had a nice discussion with a woman the other day about how her kids are quite adventurous with what they eat.

“They’ll eat anything. My husband and I took them down to Chinatown for dinner one night, and my eight year old was the one who ordered and finished a plate of jellyfish.”

Kids WILL eat these.

More power to you, mom. There’s a strange idea that kids won’t eat stuff, so many parents feed their kids boring, bland flavors that come out of a box until they’re ready to make their own decisions about their food and how they like it. Here’s my bit of information regarding that: If you feed them bland food, when the time comes to decide what they want to eat, whether it be from the first moment they can pick up a saute pan or when they head off to college, it’s going to be the same garbage.

When I was working at Pike Place Market, I gave a mother some creative ideas about how to hide vegetables in meals, so that her kids would eat it. Taking a trick from one of my aunts, I suggested that she should either puree or chop her vegetables, and tuck them safely away where her young kids could not process what they were eating as something they didn’t like.

“Oh, that’s not a problem for my kids,” she responded. “Two don’t eat vegetables, and the third, my oldest, loves them.”

How interesting. When pressed to figure out why the younger kids wouldn’t eat them, I was given a simple response:

“If it’s a pile of peas, carrots, or brussels sprouts, I tell the kids that they’re off-limits. Vegetables are for adults only. I still give them healthy, nutritious things, and they eat salads, but by the time they’re ready to make their own decisions regarding food, they’re practically begging to find out what they’re missing with the green mass on the adults’ plates.”

Good thinking. You can dress up the vegetables, hide them, or do whatever you want to them to make sure the kids will eat them, or you can simply say that your kids aren’t ready for them. In the meantime, they see you eat them, enjoy them, and they wait, patiently at first, but then more and more anxious as they yearn to find out what all the fuss is about.

Back to the mom the other day at the store. In our discussion, she revealed that she, unlike her husband, grew up with a less adventurous palate. Box dinners, burgers, potatoes, basically bland food. Now, as her kids are getting older and seeing her eating habits stacked up versus those of her more adventurous other half, they wonder as they make the decisions that will shape the way they approach eating for the rest of their lives- If mommy doesn’t eat this, why should I?”

Why should you, indeed? With friends out there who have newborns, I imagine that bad habits from years without children start to take a backseat to raising a young one properly. Drinking, smoking, swearing, and all the other things that peppered their pre-baby existence all start to fade away. One thing, however, and this is important, is that as kids internalize things like shouting as commonplace, so too do they interpret the eating habits of their parents. Even though I am not a parent myself, my advice from a culinary standpoint is to eat smart, eat healthy, and enjoy what you make and order at restaurants, because your kids are watching.

And if I have to hear one more person ask for the frozen corn on the cob or a box of croutons in the company of their seven year old, I’m going to be very put out.

There’s nothing wrong with either one of these things. I’m glad you’re eating vegetables, and I’m even more glad that you’re hopefully putting croutons on your salad, because hey, more vegetables, right?

Still, everyone has a heel of bread left in their fridge, and most of us throw it out. What to do, what to do?

I’ll tell you. Here’s a quick recipe for croutons that you can make in fifteen minutes, furthering your culinary expertise, making your dinners new and different, and utilizing bits of things in your fridge that you may think you have no use for.

 

Croutons

Ingredients:

Bread

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Garlic Salt

Rosemary or Thyme

I usually get a baguette at work if we’re having something with sauce, or something that necessitates the addition of a crust of something for mopping or dipping. However, most baguettes don’t last longer than two days. It’s hard to extend the shelf life of a bread whose only ingredients are flour, water, and salt.

We’ll usually go through half a baguette in a meal. Here’s where the fun begins:

Preheat your oven to 375. Slice the leftover bread into thin slices, about 1/2″. Toss in a bowl with olive oil. Lay slices flat on a baking pan, and sprinkle with fresh chopped herbs, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Most everyone has garlic powder, but if you have leftover garlic cloves that are beginning to sprout, slice them in half and give each piece of bread a good rubdown.

When your croutons are seasoned up, throw them in the oven for about ten minutes. The underside will brown before the topside, so check them out and see if they need flipping. If they do, flip them, and let them go for a few minutes more.

When you pull them out of the oven, they should have a crisp outer layer with an inside that maintains a relatively chewy consistency. Put them in a ziploc bag and store them for a week or so in your cupboard.

Note: If you just have regular bread, cube it. Toss with the olive oil and all the herbs, as that will give the croutons a more even coating, and a more even degree of crisp.

Congratulations! You’ve just saved yourself at least three dollars. Don’t you feel French? Pour yourself a glass of wine to celebrate.