Friday, April 27, 2012

Homemade Croutons and Some Thoughts on Cooking With My Kids

I love to make things from scratch.
A couple of years ago, my son told me I was a "home cooker, not a store cooker".
He meant it as a sincere compliment.
And I took it as one.

My kids know my attitude about home cooking.
My cooking philosophy is: if I can make it at home, I want to.
I've made sure to indoctrinate them.
Store bought frosting?
Homemade whipped cream?
It takes minutes and there is no comparison to whipped cream from a can.
Homemade whipped cream tastes amazing.
We make homemade hummus.
Pinto beans.
James asked me recently when we were going to make homemade croissants.
Obviously he has a lot of confidence in my abilities.

But I appreciate that they know that we can make most anything at home.
It's important to me that I pass on kitchen knowledge to my kiddos.
So when I'm flipping pancakes at breakfast, I point out to them the bubbles forming around the edge of the cakes.
"That's when you know it's time to flip them, "I tell the kids.
And when I'm chopping vegetables for ratatouille, I explain how the veggies need to be cut the same size so that they cook evenly.
Sometimes my cooking lessons are just one liners.
Other times, they're learning several different things, all in the context of one recipe.
Enter croutons.

If cooking is not how you like to spend your time, dirtying extra dishes and making the kitchen messy, stinking up your hands with garlic, and adding one more step to your dinner prep, then go right ahead and buy yourself a box of croutons from the store.
But you'll be missing out.
Trust me.
Make them at home.
They're worth the effort.

Preheat your oven to 400.
Now's the time to tell the kids about pre-heating and why you do it.
Can you tell I'm a teacher?
I never miss an opportunity to tell them something.

You'll need a baguette.
It can be a day or 2 old.
But much more than that and you aren't going to be able to cut it.
I cut the baguette in half lengthwise, so that you have two, long, open, pieces of bread.
There is some cutting I won't let my kids do.
This is one of those times.
But I did teach them long ago how to use the knife to peel garlic.
I feel this is a very valuable piece of kitchen knowledge to pass on, don't you?
The boys were especially into it since it involved me telling them to hit something hard with their fist.
(Just in case you have no idea what I am talking about, here is a nice tutorial for you on peeling garlic.  Read it.  And, you're welcome.  I just made your life easier.)

Using that garlic you just peeled, you rub it all over the cut sides of the baguette.
Rub hard and really get the garlic "juice" into that bread.
After that, cut the bread into bite sized pieces.
I let my oldest do this cutting. (He just turned 8, in case you were wondering.)
Put all the pieces in a big bowl and pour in some olive oil.
I don't measure this at all.

Don't get them sopping wet with olive oil, just enough to turn them all a bit golden.
Hit them with some coarse, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
And yes, I've also schooled my kids on the superiority of coarse, kosher salt to regular, ol salt.
Use the kosher stuff, please.
Give the bread, oil, salt and pepper some good stirs with a wooden spoon.
The kids can do that for you.

Then pour the bread out on a cookie sheet and pop it into the oven.
I think we left them in there for about 15 minutes.
Long enough for them to get golden and crunchy.
They should come out of the oven looking like this.

Let them cool on the cookie sheet so they stay crispy.
This is when my kids eat them by the handful, saying things like, "homemade croutons are the best!"
Think of how impressed some future girlfriends are going to be when my boys whip up a batch of homemade croutons to go with the salad.
They will thank me someday.
I know it.
When you're ready to serve the salad, add the croutons and enjoy!

I really only make croutons when we're having a Caesar salad.
I think you pretty much have to have croutons with a Caesar salad.
And since Caesar salads don't have a lot going on, ingredient wise, you better make sure your ingredients are stellar.
I like to use fresh, crisp Romaine lettuce.
Cherry tomatoes.
Parmesan cheese, shaved right from the hunk.
Coarse, kosher salt.
Freshly ground pepper.
Homemade croutons.

And, a really good dressing.
Here's where the confession comes in.
I use bottled Caesar dressing.
And it's not that great.
I know I could make a much better one myself.

But I've always been afraid of the anchovies.
Since I've conquered that fear, I guess I have no excuses left.
Who has a fabulous Caesar dressing recipe for me?
After all, I have a reputation to keep up around here.
Love from,
Greta, the home cooker


Naomi said...

Here's my hubby's "ceasar please her" recipe you've gotta try:
1 clove garlic minced
5 capers mashed
1/2 tsp anchovy paste or fresh anchovy filets (even those who hate anchovy won't mind this, they add good flavor)
Couple squirts Worcestershire or soy sauce
Couple more squirts of red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon
Salt & pepper
Mix above into paste
Slowly whisk in a few tbsp of olive oil
Add Realemon a capful at a time (or omit and squeeze fresh lemons over salad)
Taste and make adjustments as needed
Sprinkle freshly shredded parmesan over mixed salad

It's worth a try!

Cailan said...

Wondering if you would lend me a bit of your teacher's heart? I do try, but goodness, I miss so many opportunities. Thanks for the encouragement, friend. And yes, homemade crouton are completely worth the effort. : )

Betsi* said...

I love that you're a "home cooker". I didn't start out my married life as a home cooker but I have since become one, not only because the flavor of things is so amazing but because I vowed to only feed my family "real" food and that means "home cooking".
I was afraid of anchovies too until Anthony Bourdain told me how delicious they are and how to make them. ;)
Next project: becoming a "home gardener".

Katie M. said...

I agree on the homemade crutons! I try to make all my dressings but the ceasar I don't I use I love it. For a strawberry spinach salad I make a dressing from the peach white balsamic the the olive oil guy sells at the farmers market. I could drink the stuff straight. Ditch your TJ ceasar you could do better.:)