Category: home cook

Why Homemade Croutons Make Me Want To Sing Songs

Homemade croutons are the best.

I love them so much that I composed little diddies in my head about them as I made a batch to accompany a salad.

Our pastor invited us over for dinner and I had to laugh with surprise when I found out he was preparing Mason City blogger Debbie of Debbie’s Midwestern Kitchen’s copycat recipe for Northwestern Steakhouse’s famous steaks that went viral last week. We’ve lived in Mason City for half a year and still haven’t made it there. They operate similarly to Broders’ Pasta Bar in Minneapolis because they don’t accept reservations as we formally know them, but have a day-of call-in system and there’s typically a line. One of these days. . .

This particular batch of croutons is extra-special because I made them from bread I baked earlier using Liz’s recipe from Carpe Season. Her recipe makes two huge, fluffy loaves so you can freeze the second for later.

I first learned how to make homemade croutons when I volunteered in the kitchen at Spoonriver in Minneapolis, MN many summers ago. Growing up, my family had always bought them by the bags and box and they were always caked in seasoning powders and hydrogenated oils.

Now that I know how simple they are to prepare, I haven’t purchased them since. If you prepare a lot of salads and soups at home, you’ll appreciate having these on hand. 

Here’s how I make my croutons: 

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Grab whatever bread you have lying around your house. Gluten-free bread would work well. If it’s not moldy, it’s fair game. 

Cut the bread into cubes, drizzle them generously with olive oil, and season however you’d you like.

Salt and pepper only will suffice, or go nuts. In culinary school, we tossed them with Italian seasonings and parmesan cheese when we prepared lunch for the students. For this batch, I used salt, white pepper, smoked paprika and garlic powder.

Don’t be afraid to taste a raw crouton to check for seasoning.

Spread them all into a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350℉ until crispy, tossing a couple of times. Store in an airtight container and try not to eat them by the handful. Or do.

Besides flavor, my other favorite thing about homemade croutons is their texture. Store-bought croutons are 100% crunchy with no give. Homemade croutons are crispy on the outside but have the slightest give on the inside if you let them. This is what makes them so delightful.

I hope that if you try making them, you like them and that they also make you want to sing songs, too.

Week(ends) In Review: Heartland, Our First CSA Box & Ribfest

Weekends in the Twin Cities are wonderful, though they leave us scrambling for breath as we return, racing back to work.

Amidst the excitement of last weekend’s TECHmunch and family festivities, our parents collaborated on planning a surprise engagement dinner at Heartland.  If I had been quicker on my feet, I would have arranged my own surprise by ordering our marriage paperwork from the county and a pastor to meet us at dinner.  
Our parents have only met on one occasion and so I was a little anxious about the gathering of our families.  I ordered something green and something strong.  I don’t remember what it contained besides lime juice and gin, but what I do remember is that it was extremely strong.  I coughed my way through the first few sips and resolved to drink it slowly, lest I take down my own engagement dinner.  
One of our servers seemed concerned that it remained so full.  He checked in a few times to ask if I was enjoying the beverage.  I tried to reassure him that although it was delightful, it was incredibly strong for my likes.  
I steadily sipped the the drink and even passed it around for others to enjoy.  Somehow, we hardly made a dent.     
We had a grand time enjoying each others’ company and tasting all of the dishes.  On this evening, chicken reigned supreme.  Those of us who ordered the Fauna tasting menu began with a small piece of moist, crispy-skinned chicken.  
It rested on sweet, beautifully cooked vegetables and vibrant beet broth.  Even the most cautious of eaters declared it the best chicken he had ever eaten.  
Five others ordered the chicken entree.  Again, lots of crispy, seasoned skin and succulent meat.  Even the white meat was buttery tender and flavorful.  
This past Thursday, I picked up our first CSA box from Bluebird Gardens of Fergus Falls, MN.  After months of receiving anticipatory emails updates, I giddily unloaded our first bounty onto our kitchen counter.  I gently examined the delicate lettuce, radishes, spinach, spring onions, a petite kohlrabi, and my favorite; a bag of pea sprouts.  
Processing the vegetables and stuffing them into our fridge took time, but was well worth the effort.  Now, I can easily grab the vegetables and incorporate them into our meals.  We’ve been feasting on giant fattoush salads made with toasted pita bread and everything in our box.  Let me know if you are willing to share any of your favorite uses for CSA vegetables.  Especially kohlrabi.  I didn’t hate my first taste of kohlrabi but am wondering how I will ever fall in love with it. 
I plan to submit bimonthly updates about what I create with my CSA boxes to Simple, Good & Tasty.
Finally, there’s Ribfest at the Fargodome which began on Wednesday and ends this evening.  I’m surprised it’s open during so many weekdays, but I’ve been told that many request time off from work to attend.  Festivities include seven rib vendors, additional food and beverage vendors, a large music stage that features 80’s hair bands and country music, and an expansive array of blow-up jumpy things. 
I think the blow-up jumpy things almost outnumber the rib vendors 2:1. 
Last evening, we visited Ribfest and sampled ribs from two vendors.  Cowboys BBQ & Rib Co. of Forth Worth Texas boasted an extensive array of awards but their ribs were woefully tough and covered in flabby skin.  I hope this can be chalked-up to a bad evening.  Otherwise, I can’t imagine them winning anything. 
On a positive note, I enjoyed their barbecue sauce which seemed well-balanced.  
We also tried ribs from Aussom Aussie’s BBQ of Pittsburgh.  These were much better.  
The meat had a better texture and a smokier flavor, though they were slightly fatty.  The exterior had some bark and the sauce was lovely.  It had a little heat and that vinegary note that I love so much about Ted Cook’s. 
We’re hoping to return for a blooming onion and to sample some more rib vendors.

My First Attempts At Making Miso Soup

For months, Jake has begged me to make miso soup.

He finally admitted that he is not crazy about sushi or sake, but looks forward to sipping miso soup while dining at Japanese restaurants. So much so, that he longs for a large bowl of miso soup. I like miso soup, I don’t particularly crave it, so I procrastinated on his request.

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite blogs, Chow Times, published an article about making Miso Soup at home and it was the perfect inspiration I needed to begin.

First things first. . . finding specialty Asian ingredients in Fargo.  I visited the Asian & American Market on Main Street.

At the market, I easily find tofu, substituting firm for soft. I forget green onions. Bonito flakes are no where to be found, so I grab the Hondoshi brand bonito soup bouillon as seen in the Chow Times article.

Finding this ingredient feels like a minor victory and I save dashi making for another occasion. I pause at the seaweed. There are so many varieties and I don’t know what I’m looking for. The cash registers are backed up and so I grab a package that mentions “dashi.”

I find a small selection of miso paste and am immediately annoyed each package costs about 10 dollars. I resolve to use the year-old tub I bought in the Twin Cities and hope we don’t die.

The First Soup-Making Attempt
When I begun to make the soup at home, I realized that I bought the wrong kind of seaweed. The sheets were so tough I could hardly cut them with a knife and when I tried to soften them, their texture became like wet linen. The flavor was so salty and oceanic that I realized I’d made a mistake.

Instead of seaweed, I substituted a lot of shredded cabbage which was rendered silky and tender after simmering. I busted out my year-old tub of white miso paste. Having no green onions, I substituted thin shaves of red onion, adding a little to the soup and saving some as garnish.

My soup was simple but satisfying. The flavor was as good if not better than versions we’ve tried at restaurants (except for Obento-Ya), and the soup lacked any unappealing graininess. I’d love to try making miso soup with real bonito flakes, but the powdered stock was good enough and added a hint of their smokey flavor.

This afternoon, my Spoonriver Cookbook arrived in the mail.  I smiled when I noticed the recipe for Tim’s Miso Soup which also incorporates fresh cabbage, among other vegetables. I love that miso soup can be hearty enough to be a meal.

I tried again and filled my second batch with many more vegetables.

Ingredients
6 cups of water
2 teaspoons of dashi flavoring
Tofu, cut into cubes (I used firm)
Your choice of vegetables: Cabbage, carrots, onions, greens, etc.
Miso paste, starting with 5-6 teaspoons (I used white)

The Method
Bring the water to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and add the bonito soup stock.  Stir.

Gently add the tofu cubes and your choice of veggies.  I prefer a lot of each for a heartier soup.  Do not return to a boil.  Gradually dissolve in the miso paste.  You can try adding some of the hot water to your miso paste and dissolving before adding to the soup pot.  If it tastes to salty, add more water and if it tastes too bland, add more miso.

My understanding is that one should not boil the soup, in order to preserve the probiotic benefits of miso, as it is a fermented product.

Garnish with more raw onion or scallion.

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