Recipe: Herbed Croutons

Salad Toppings From Bread Heels: A Story of Seagull Deprivation

Have you ever been to one of those really ritzy home decor stores? You know, the kind that're usually privately-owned and tucked into some secluded corner of a city? They sell dishware and tablecloths, as well as beautiful, unique pieces like bronze chandeliers, abstract art, and tablecloths made of the Golden Fleece. The few times I've been in one of these places (wondering what it's like to drop a couple hundred dollars on an ugly horse sculpture without being intoxicated beyond intelligent thought), GF has pointed out objects so ridiculously silly and expensive that neither of us can wrap our heads around them. For example, one Christmastime we saw a silver bonsai tree in a store window downtown I would call "the minimalist style of today's high-class urbanite" in that it was all branches and sparkled something fierce. We were struck both by how pretty and how audacious it was to be asking $200 for something we could make with a walk in the woods and a can of glitter paint. A few months later GF saw spindly silver (it's the "in" colour) decorations that were equally pretty and equally expensive, and was so enraptured with them that she went to the Dollar Store, bought foam and paint, and made duplicates for a fraction of the price. We now have six sparkling silver carbon atoms hanging from our living room ceiling.

I love grocery shopping. I take to it like some girls do to shopping for clothes or makeup. Be it at the local supermarket, farm market, or convenience store, I get a huge thrill out of picking out food. I love trying to figure out what my most cost-efficient option is. I love filling up carts and baskets. I even love paying for it (gives me that accomplished feeling). I get the warm fuzzies from shopping for necessities. I am totally for hire if somebody wants me to grocery shop for them. Dream job, I'm telling you.

What I don't especially love when I'm shopping is finding pre-fab food I could make myself. I get that convenience is king for most people, but who doesn't have time to make mashed potatoes? It's just silly and a little bit frustrating, in a way. Why would I pay three dollars more for something that would take three minutes to do myself? (That would be an excellent job, too. A dollar a minute? Talk about rolling in the dough - pun intended.) There are some things I absolutely refuse to buy just because the Average Joe could make it in under ten minutes. Ready-for-baking tinfoil-wrapped potatoes, pre-layered salsa chip dips, pre-cut vegetables of any kind, salad kits, and pre-seasoned meats top the list.

Also, croutons.

Like with her ingenious crafting, GF has become a pro at mimicking recipes on cookbook pages, meal boxes, and sample tables. I'd like to say she's the art girl and I'm the inventive chef, but this is real life and I've long since accepted that the only things I'm especially good at cooking are pasta (which is bad for me in large quantities) and quiche (which I should really make more of, but responsible eggs are expensive). Still, I'm quick to learn, so when GF showed me how to make real croutons from scratch, well... I actually promptly forgot, and will probably get the finer details wrong the next eight or so times I make them. But I promise I got her to double-check this recipe before I posted it.

Croutons (and for that matter, stuffing, but I'll pick on Stove Top another day) are stupid easy to make. In the same way I can't fathom spending $400 on carbon atoms for my ceiling, I likewise can't reason why anyone would spend $3 on a salad topping. Croutons are entirely made of stale bread. Birds don't pay to eat your hot dog bun ends - why are you paying to eat overcooked bread heels? Croutons sit in the same boat soup stock does; they're made of scraps.

To make croutons, stop feeding birds. It's bad for them anyway. Hoard your bread heels, broken toast pieces, freezer-burnt slider buns, and the cheesebread logs your cousin brought for tea. Pop them in the freezer in a Ziploc bag next to your stock chunks. When you need them, yank'm out of the cold, preheat your over to 325F (so they can witness their impending doom), cube/rip them up, dump them in a bowl, add enough vegetable oil to coat them, douse them in spices (we usually use garlic powder and Italian seasoning), then sprawl the oily nibs on a cookie sheet ("Draw me like one of your French breads!") and cook them for about fifteen minutes, until they're toasty and brown.

Or, if you're me, put them in the oven, forget about them, cook them for too long, eat the black ones, and save the nice bits for your girlfriend.

 Summing it up:

- Save up bread scraps and freeze until needed
- Preheat oven to 325F
- Rip or cut bread chunks into bite-sized pieces
- Place breadcrumbs in a bowl and coat with vegetable oil
- Add seasoning (garlic powder/Italian spices/whatever)
- Spread on cookie sheet
- Bake for 15 minutes, give or take, until they're golden brown
- Eat

 2) We have sparkley silver carbon atoms on our ceiling and GF is very proud.

 Cheaply crunching,
 - Leah

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