October – Amazing Croutons

October – Amazing Croutons

Ok, I know…croutons are those little crisp squares you buy in bags at the grocery store. Mostly boring, right? What if I told you how to build a better crouton? A crouton that would elevate your salads or stews or soups to an entirely new level. Our house is famous for this crouton. The crouton jar is always the first stop for visiting teenagers, or used to be when there were teenagers in the house. I was forced to make these almost every day, there was not a stale baguette to be seen anywhere that wasn’t turned into croutons. These croutons have crispy peaks, and valleys, yummy extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt. That is all. They have a crisp exterior and a softer interior (not too much though). I once found my son eating the leftover crumbs left in the pan with his fingers. That batch never even made it to the crouton jar.

What is the secret? Tearing, that’s all there is to it. Who knew it could be so simple?

The best ever croutons

Don’t ever cut your croutons again. These are torn, not cut. No bread knife needed.

Take a look at the wonderful crispy crouton pictured above. Can you imagine how it would be in a caesar salad? The dressing would melt itself into all those little cracks and crevices, but the edges would stay crisp. That salad would be memorable. These croutons are not going to get soggy in soup, at least not right away, and are perfect for soaking up a sauce but staying crips on the edges.

You can make them with any kind of leftover stale bread (although any kind you slice yourself is best). Sourdough is very nice. What about rye or walnut bread for pumpkin soup or a salad with cranberries?  Pumpernickel anyone for a salad with goat or blue cheese? Brioche bread makes wonderful croutons to use in your Thanksgiving stuffing. Tear the bread into small pieces or really big pieces, your choice. I once had a caesar salad at a restaurant in Seattle that had one very large crouton, torn not cut. Delicious, different, and inspiration.

Croutons

I don’t really have a recipe. Simply tear your bread, stale is good but not required, into pieces. Place on a large baking pan, coat with a generous slug of olive oil and use your hands to make sure the pieces are coated (but not swimming in oil), sprinkle with sea or kosher salt, and bake. I use 375 degrees F for 10 minutes, take the pan out and turn the pieces, then return them to the oven for another few minutes. How long will depend on the size and type of bread, but not usually more than another 5 minutes. They can burn easily at this point. You don’t want the croutons to be completely dried out, there should be some difference in texture within each crouton.

croutons – before

before baking

After baking

Once they cool, you can put them into an airtight jar and they will keep for a few days, if they last that long.

October – Chicken Liver Mushroom Pate

October – Chicken Liver Mushroom Pate

This is one of the first dishes I served my husband when we were dating; he passed the adventurous eating test on my side to be invited for future dinners. And it must have done the trick for him because he kept coming back for more dates (and dinners).

I think it is worth going into your old recipe files occasionally. Who knows what forgotten memories and fun treasures you will turn up. I haven’t made chicken liver mushroom pate for years and am happy to be reacquainted with it. The recipe was forgotten until I started reading Martin Walker’s excellent detective series (Bruno, Chief of Police). I binge read the entire series while recovering from surgery. The books are placed in Bergerac in the Dordogne region of France. The food and wine of that region are a major part of the books; duck liver being front and center. I’ve only had foie gras once in my life, our French waiter had to strongly recommend it before I tried it accompanied by the traditional glass of sauterne But, its introduction was eye opening! What an amazingly delicious experience! I never would have guessed. This chicken liver and mushroom pate is my poor man’s substitute.  Foie gras (as well as being pricy), is illegal in California. The necessary force feeding of the geese being deemed cruel in our state. Please don’t put the two side-by-side, there will be no comparison with the “real thing”. But this chicken liver and mushroom pate can stand on its own.

Not everyone likes chicken livers but I adore them. This is really more of a smooth spread than an actual pate. It is perfect for serving with crisp bread, melba toast, or crackers as a before dinner snack or on a picnic. A glass of champagne goes beautifully, chardonnay would also be good and would match the creamy richness of the spread.

The original recipe was written in a small book (almost more accurately a pamphlet as there were only a dozen pages), published by the winery Paul Masson. The recipes in the book highlighted their wines, of course. It was published in 1968 but I came across it in the mid 70’s. I don’t remember exactly how I acquired it. The stamp on the front is a liquor store in Burlingame, CA and my first apartment when I moved to California from New York was in Burlingame. Maybe the store was handing them out to encourage wine sales. Burlingame is very near the airport and at the time I was waiting to see if my transfer request with United would go through, something that didn’t happen.

I passed this recipe to my mother, and it became a favorite of hers. Along the way we made some modifications. The original recipe called for dill and I just couldn’t see it with chicken livers! Not to mention I am not a big fan, although I like fennel. Taste is strange isn’t it? Anyway, I substituted herbs de Provence, one of my favorite blends. You could also use thyme, it would be a classic combination with the rosemary.

Paul Masson published 1968

Over the years there have been other adaptations and alterations. My recipe calls for a little less butter (hard to imagine!), less wine and the addition of a spot of brandy as well as the switch of herbs.

The pate freezes beautifully, I freeze portions in 4 oz wide mouth canning jars. It will keep at least 3 months in the freezer, maybe longer, with no loss of flavor. The recipe makes enough for 4 small jars. Glaze the surface with a slick of melted butter after you fill them. It will protect the pate from freezer burn. Simply remove a jar from the freezer a day before you want to serve it, defrost in the refrigerator overnight. This is a perfect snack to have on hand for guests; add some crisp bread, cheese, maybe some salad and wine. You have an instant mini meal.

Chicken Liver Mushroom Pate

Chicken Liver Mushroom Pate (makes about 1 1/2 pints)

Chicken Liver Mushroom Pate

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus 1/2 a stick for finishing
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb. of chicken livers
  • 1/2 lb. of mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup of thinly sliced green onions plus some of the green tops
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 small or 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of herbs de Provence
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard, I use Coleman’s
  • 1/4 cup of dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons of brandy
  • kosher or sea salt as needed

For finishing:

  • About 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Method:

  1. Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat
  2. Add the chicken livers, mushrooms, onions, and salt; saute for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally
  3. Add the wine, garlic, mustard, herbs, rosemary, and brandy. Bring to a simmer and turn down the heat.
  4. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until livers and mushrooms are tender.
  5. Uncover and continue to cook on higher heat until almost all of the liquid has disappeared.
  6. Whirl in a blender until almost smooth, add the 1/2 stick of butter and continue to blend until smooth.
  7. Taste and add salt if necessary.
  8. Pack in small crocks or canning jars, wipe the edges and coat the top with melted butter.
  9. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours or more.

The pate is best served with crisp warm sourdough bread or large sesame crackers.

Chicken Liver Mushroom Pate

Chicken Liver Mushroom Pate

Bon appetit!

I am taking this to share on Fiesta Friday #194 hosted by Angie. Please stop by to see all the goodies our friends have brought to the party and add your own link if you are a food blogger. The cohosts this week are Petra @ Food Eat Love and Vanitha @ Curry and Vanilla.

August – Gluten Free Oat, Nut and Seed Bread

August – Gluten Free Oat, Nut and Seed Bread

This gluten free, dense, healthy, and flavorful bread is very like a Scandinavian black bread. Cut it thinly to serve with cheese, toast it for avocado toast, or pop a poached egg on top. It will delightfully satisfy your hunger and hold you over until your next meal.

There are many versions of this bread on the internet but they are all similar. David Lebovitz calls his Adventure Bread (his inspiration was from Josey Baker and his book Josey Baker Bread), My New Roots calls it The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread, and Deliciously Ella calls it Superfood Bread.

What they all have in common are sunflower seeds, chia seeds, almonds, and psyllium husk. Are you familiar with psyllium husk? I had to look it up myself, here is a short tutorial:

“Psyllium /ˈsɪliəm/, or ispaghula /ˌɪspəˈɡlə/, is the common name used for several members of the plant genus Plantago whose seeds are used commercially for the production of mucilage.

Psyllium is mainly used as a dietary fiber to relieve symptoms of both constipation and mild diarrhea and occasionally as a food thickener. Research has also shown benefits in reducing blood cholesterol levels.

As a thickener, it has been used in ice cream and frozen desserts. A 1.5% weight/volume ratio of psyllium mucilage exhibits binding properties that are superior to a 10% weight/volume ratio of starch mucilage.” Here is the link to Wikipedia if you want to learn more.

In this bread the binding power of psyllium replaces the gluten in flour. It has the added benefit of being a powerhouse of fiber. I am anticipating surgery at the end of this month and know how all those antibiotics and pain killers effect my intestinal health. Food is medicine, right? This bread will find a place in my freezer, ready for me when I come home from the hospital.

I baked David Lebovitz’s recipe and intend to try the others as well. I will let you know which I prefer.

Note: Start this bread the day before you plan to bake it. Most of the “didn’t work” comments are from those who ignored either this step or the one to let it rest for 2 hours after baking. 

Gluten Free Bread

Gluten Free Nut and Seed Bread

Ingredients – Dry:

  • 2 1/4 rolled oats, gluten free
  • 1 cup of sunflower seeds, hulled
  • 1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds, hulled
  • 3/4 cup of almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup of flax seeds
  • 1/3 cup of psyllium seed husks
  • 3 tablespoons of chia seeds
  • 2 teaspoons of sea salt

Ingredients – Wet:

  • 2 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup of olive or other neutral oil
  • 2 1/2 cups of water

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C. Spread the sunflower and pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and toast until they start to brown. This took about 10 minutes in my oven, stir them around half way through. This is also a good time to toast the almonds on another sheet.
  2. When brown, remove from the oven and cool, coarsely chop the almonds.
  3. While they are cooling, prepare your 8 or 9-inch by 4-inch loaf pan. Line it with baking paper so the bread is easy to remove when baked. David recommends greasing the pan but I didn’t find that adequate and the bottom stuck. The bread was good but not so pretty.
  4. Measure out your ingredients and place all the dry in one large bowl. Mix them up and then pour in the wet stuff. Mix everything very well with your hands or a large spoon. You need to really mush it up.
  5. Scoop it into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Cover and stick it in the fridge overnight and up to a whole day. You want the psyllium to completely absorb all the liquid.
  6. When you are ready, take the bread out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature.
  7. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F or 200 degrees C.
  8. Bake the bread for an hour on the middle shelf.
  9. When done, remove the bread from the pan and cool for at least 2 hours on a rack. This is very important, don’t hurry this step.
  10. Slice thinly to serve.

Avocado Toast

You can slice this bread and pop it in the freezer.

August – Corn Cob Pasta Salad

August – Corn Cob Pasta Salad

Did your neighborhood participate in National Night Out on August 1st? National Night Out happens across the U.S. and is intended to bring neighbors together and promote relationships with local fire and police. Our own had a block party, it was easy to block the street since we live on a cul-de-sac. We roped off the street at 6 pm and let the kids roller skate and play basketball. It was a wonderful party, a chance to catch up with our neighbors, share some good food and wine. Our elected officials, local police and firemen took the opportunity to come around to introduce themselves and update us on civic events and trainings.

My contribution to the party was this vegetarian pasta salad. This is a perfect make ahead salad for warm days, I was able to make it in the cool of the morning and let the flavors mingle. Leftovers were even better for lunch the next day. There is no mayonnaise so you don’t have to worry about spoilage. It would be a great side for a summer BBQ.

Why do I call it corn cob pasta salad? Because the first step is to make a “broth” from the leftover cobs. I’ve read about this technique when making corn chowders, the cobs (once the kernels are removed) flavor the stock and give an extra flavor boost to the soup. Start by cooking the ears of corn in boiling water, then remove them after 4 or 5 minutes (when the corn is cooked to your liking), cut the kernels from the cobs, and return the ’empty’ cobs to the boiling water for another 30 minutes. The result is a mild corn flavored broth in which you cook the pasta. A corny stock.

You could use any shape of pasta, I used rotelle (wagon wheels) because I thought it would be fun for the kids and easy to eat off a paper plate.

Once the pasta is cooked and drained, I mixed it with the corn kernels, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped red onion, black beans, halved pitted black olives, shredded mozzarella, and lots of chopped parsley. The seasonings are light and simple, some red pepper, salt, vinegar, and olive oil. Since there is no mayonnaise, you don’t have to worry about food poisoning if it sits out for a couple of hours on a picnic table.

Corn Cob Pasta Salad

This makes a lot of salad, suitable for sharing at a large gathering for a 8 – 12. You could add fresh spinach to stretch it even further.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ears of fresh corn, cleaned
  • 1 lb box of dried pasta, your choice of shape
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 large red onion, chopped
  • 12 black olives, halved or sliced
  • 2 cups of shredded mozzarella
  • 1 bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar depending on strength
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper

Method:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Add the corn to the pot, turn down the heat when it comes back to a boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes until it is cooked to your liking.
  3. Use tongs or another utensil to remove the corn from the pot.
  4. Cool the corn until you can handle it and cut the kernels from the cob, reserve.
  5. Salt the boiling water well and add the cobs back to the pot, simmer for 30 minutes on low heat.
  6. Remove the cobs from the water and skim any silk that might be floating in your corn broth. Bring the water back to the boil.
  7. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook as per the package directions.
  8. Meanwhile combine the corn kernels, tomatoes, drained black beans, red onion, and olives in a large bowl.
  9. Drain the cooked pasta, cool slightly (don’t rinse, I add a tablespoon of olive oil to keep it from sticking together) and add to the bowl with the other ingredients and add the pinch of red pepper.
  10. Add the olive oil and vinegar, toss together, taste for salt.
  11. Mix in the chopped parsley and mozzarella once completely cool.
  12. Taste again and add any additional seasonings that might be needed.

Also nice in the salad would be chopped red or orange pepper, I actually forgot to add them but think the pepper would be a flavorful and colorful addition. Finely minced garlic would also be good if you are serving only adults. What about hominy? Then it would be a triple corn salad…broth, fresh kernels, and hominy. This recipe is only a basic template for a world of flavors and your imagination.

This is a great dish to share at Fiesta Friday #185. You can add your own link or stay to read about all the wonderful party food. The buffet is hosted by Angie and cohosted by Suzanne @ apuginthekitchen and Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes.

July – Easy Graham Bread

July – Easy Graham Bread

Cleaning out old files of recipes can be a treasure trove of food memories. This time it was one for Graham Bread, found on a stained 3 x 5 card written by someone named Lynn (I regretfully don’t remember her but I remember her bread).

Graham Bread

I used to bake this quick dark loaf almost weekly. It is super easy, there are only 6 ingredients and zero fat. With a smear of cream cheese or labne (yogurt cheese), and a piece of fresh fruit it was a healthy and quick breakfast. It still is. Although this recipe doesn’t call for any added butter or oil, it is still moist. It contains a 1/2 cup of honey for the entire loaf, no sugar! You could substitute another form of sweetener such as maple syrup or molasses, both would add some interesting flavors. I haven’t tried it, let me know if you do.

Graham bread keeps well and provides a walloping 2.5 g of fiber and 3.8 g of protein in a single slice. I used sprouted wheat flour so the fiber and protein content is probably even higher.

Graham Bread

This bread is very satisfying but doesn’t sit like a lump in your stomach, it will fill you up and prepare you to meet the challenges of the day. It’s equally good as a snack at the end of the day.

Please note that the flavor of the flour is crucial here, use the freshest and best you can find. My local store did not stock graham flour, I was able to easily find and purchase it on line.

Graham Bread

This bread is not very sweet and goes well with savory dishes as chili or soup.

If you are not familiar with it, graham flour is a very coarsely ground whole wheat flour, usually made from dark northern hard red wheat. It contains all the germ, oil and fiber from the whole wheat kernel. It is very flavorful and commonly used in rustic breads and classic graham crackers.

You will recognize the flavor of graham crackers in the bread. Add chopped nuts and/or dried fruit for extra crunch and sweetness if you want. But it doesn’t need it.

Graham Bread

  • 2 cups of buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup of flour (I used sprouted wheat flour)
  • 2 cups of graham flour

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)
  2. Whisk together the buttermilk and baking soda in a large bowl until bubbly
  3. Add the salt and flours to the buttermilk mixture, mix well.
  4. Pour into a large loaf pan.
  5. Bake for 60 minutes.
  6. Cool on a rack before slicing.

Graham Bread

This is the first time I’ve used this nutritional analysis, please bear with me while I get the hang of it. The loaf could easily be sliced thinner than 14 slices, it holds together well.

I am taking this to share on this week’s Fiesta Friday #182. Fiesta Friday is a virtual party hosted by Angie and co-hosted by none other than myself and Jenny @ Jenny Is Baking.

Please stop by to read all the fantastic recipes from all over the world.

A single serving of this recipe has 140 calories.

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 14
Per Serving % Daily Value*
Calories 140
Total Fat 0.7g 1%
Saturated Fat 0.2g 1%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 1mg 1%
Sodium 37mg 2%
Potassium 69mg 1%
Total Carb 31g 10%
Dietary Fiber 2.5g 9%
Sugars 11.6g
Protein 3.8g
Vitamin A 0% · Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 3% · Iron 6%
*Based on a 2,000 calorie diet
Recipe analyzed by