Thursday, October 24, 2013

Homemade Seasoned Croutons

Even better than Sizzler!
When my brother and I were young our idea of a sophisticated night on the town began and ended with the South Everett Sizzler. Mom usually opted for a steak entrée, but Todd and I went with the all-you-can-eat salad bar. Always.

I don’t know when the salad bar concept really gained traction, but in the mid-80s we had never seen its like. Bins of chilled greens, peas, beets, hard-boiled eggs, Krab salad (a family favorite; Todd and I could and did regularly clean that sucker out), bacon bits and an endless assortment of gloppy dressings whose ladles identified their type (and all, inevitably, sticky with the dressing that had run down the handle). And then at the end of the row, beckoning you and your piled-high plate across the finish line, the croutons.

Like any child of the ‘80s, I realized only in adulthood that croutons could be made – I thought they arrived fully formed, and I only ate them at restaurants or on sad airplane salads. Yet here is a recipe urging me to slice up some bread, coat it in margarine and toast it for five minutes. Really? That’s all that stood between a crunchy, delicious crouton and me? Well, not anymore.

Delish like this ...
This recipe is simple, sure, but it’s also a great use for that half loaf of “artisan” bread I regularly find myself staring down in the pantry. There are few things that gall me more than paying $5.99 for a loaf of bread that my family only eats a portion of, unless it’s an ingredient list that’s longer than my arm – like, say, the ingredients used to make some boxed croutons. So this DIY version will bring peace of mind to your pocketbook and stomach.

These croutons take minutes to prepare and are divine on top of salad or soup, as the recipe suggests, but also by the handful right after they come out of the oven. In fact, make a double batch.

I’m sorry to report the South Everett Sizzler is long gone, though other branches do exist around the country. A few years ago, while on vacation in California, we stopped in for lunch. Naturally, I ordered the salad bar.

... or like this!
Homemade Seasoned Croutons

8 slices day-old white bread or French bread
1/3 cup melted margarine
½ tsp. garlic salt
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Makes about 2 cups croutons

Slice bread and cut into ½-inch cubes. Lay cubes flat on a cookie sheet.

Melt margarine over low heat; add garlic salt. Drizzle melted margarine over bread cubes. Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Bake in a 400-degree F oven for about 5 minutes, turning cubes over halfway through cooking time. Croutons should be golden brown.

Store croutons in an airtight container and sue when desired on salads and soups.

·      Frequent readers know I have nothing against margarine, per se, but I’m going to insist on real butter here. For a recipe with so few ingredients, the flavor of butter will really be noticed.
·      Sub ½ tsp. each garlic powder and salt for the garlic salt.
·      As evidenced in the pictures, my croutons were not brown or, more to the point, crispy, until almost 10 minutes had passed. Check yours often.
·      “Store in an airtight container?” Please. These will be lucky to last ‘til dinnertime.

Why Don’t You …

·      Stop making fun of Krab salad? It’s still a favorite, although sadly lacking from many salad bars these days.
Must ... stop ...