Homemade Italian Croutons Featuring Garlic Festival Garlic Ghetti

So you over-proofed your French bread and ended up with a flat loaf of what could have been sliced up and made into biscotti had you known it was going to flop. Note to self, set timer when proofing bread while novel writing. Even if you are sitting in the dining room right outside the kitchen. Seriously. Do it.

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Why yes, that is a Shun bread knife, thanks for noticing. If you’re going to bake bread, get a good bread knife. ‘Nuff said.

Alright, back to our sad little loaf of bread. Do not despair! Bake that sucker, make some Panini, and/or, you could make these, but I warn you, they are addictive! You can also make these with regular, well-formed French bread or pretty much whatever bread you want. This particular batch was made from a partial loaf of flopped home-made French bread that would have been on its way out. No kidding. Instead I made these Italian flavored croutons. Even failures in the kitchen can turn into something wonderfully yummy. Plus I just saved some cash on those store-bought bags of jawbreakers covered in preservatives.

You’ll need:
About 4 cups of bread you have cut into roughly, 1-inch cubes
4 teaspoons melted butter (salted)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Garlic Festival Garlic Ghetti
1 teaspoon dried parsley

Directions:
Preheat oven to 300˚. Chop bread and set aside in a large bowl. Combine butter, olive oil, Garlic Ghetti, and parsley in small bowl and stir until all ingredients are incorporated and there are not lumps. Drizzle the Garlic Ghetti mixture over the bread and toss until thoroughly coated. Spray a cookie sheet with olive oil spray to prevent any sticking and bake for 30 minutes turning once at 15 minutes. Store any croutons you don’t eat warm from the oven and manage to cool, in an airtight container or zipper bag. The hardest part is staying away from them long enough for them to cool so you can store them.

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Ta-da! Crispy little croutons that are going to make your salad very happy!

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Just look at those little cubes of crunchy goodness! (Eats a dozen before you know it.) STEP AWAY FROM THE CROUTONS!

Check out the Garlic Festival website for fun garlic spice blends and other cool stuff including a kick-ass, lemon garlic pepper and something called Garlic Garni that is awesome sprinkled on meat, veggies, and even in salad dressing.

Ode to My Bread Machine

Oh beloved bread machine, where would I be without you. Slaving away half the day making lumps of dough, heating up the entire house with an oven in the summer when heat is the last thing we need. The customized little loaves you yield make my family so happy and I’m happy that their happy and we’re all happy when mom’s happy. <insert sound of record scratching>

Seriously, I think my bread machine is one of the best things since….since…well, since sliced bread. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the traditional way of making bread and I have done my share of it and thoroughly enjoy it, but when you have a full-time job plus a myriad of other activities spinning around in your world, making bread the old-fashioned way becomes a rare treat. Then there’s the satisfaction of controlling the ingredients and knowing you’re making something wholesome for your family (if you choose your ingredients wisely). For me, it also means that I can also control the carbohydrates while still allowing the rest of the family to make yummy sandwiches and without paying $9 a loaf for bread. Just using stevia instead of sugar makes a big difference. However you do need one special ingredient, rapid rise bread machine yeast and on a side note, expect to have to experiment with making decent sourdough bread in a bread machine. Expect to end up buying sourdough starter. Breadtopia.com has a great one. Bread dough is also better to use in a bread machine, but not crucial.

Now a little bit about bread machines. There so many on the market and some are better than others. The biggest loaf you’re probably going to get is a 2lb loaf, but beware, you may not be able to find a bag to put it in as it will be a big loaf with slices approximately 4”w x 8”h or so. My bread machine will make a 1lb, 1.5lb, or 2lb loaf. More often than not I will use the 1lb setting because this makes better sandwich bread slices. Why did I bother to buy a machine that can do a 2lb loaf, do you ask? I’ll tell you; because 1lb machines don’t make loafs, they make unruly cubes. Plus, since I can use my machine to make bread dough and bake it off myself (after a final rise outside of the machine) the larger capacity comes in handy when we have guests.

Now that we have sizes down, let’s think about brands. I am on my third bread machine in a little less than a couple of decades and it is by far the best I’ve ever purchased. Good capacity, lots of versatility (it will even make jams, puddings, batter breads, and of course, pizza dough) and good, sturdy construction. My machine is a Breadman Pro breadmaker (pictured above). I got it in a warehouse sale at CHEFS catalog for an undisclosed amount. I adore it. Some other top rated machine brands include Zojirushi, Cuisinart, De Longhi, and Salton. Expect to pay about $100 to $150 USD for a good machine. Your machine will come with an instruction manual and recipes to get you started. From there, it’s easy to find other recipes on the web.

Keep in mind the main difference between baking bread in a machine and baking bread from scratch is that the machine is doing all the work, rising, and baking for you. The best breads start with a good recipe and these are not an exact science due to factors such as humidity, altitude, and quality of ingredients. Also, ingredients should be room temperature and the water should be warm enough to help activate the yeast (about 80˚F). Once you get the hang of it, you can make homemade bread any time you want. A favorite at my house and a big hit as Christmas gifts one year is an Italian herb bread that I got in my first bread machine user guide that I tweaked and kind of made my own. It’s simple enough that a beginner can easily make it. Here’s mine.

Bread Machine Italian Herb Bread – Yield 1-1lb Loaf

¾ cup + 2 tbsp. water

1-1/2 tbsp. Oil

1 tbsp. Sugar

1 tsp. Salt

1 tbsp. Dry Milk

2-1/4 cup bread flour

1-1/2 tsp. Dried Italian Seasoning

2 cloves of garlic (crushed)

1-1/2 tsp. Active Dry Yeast

Select your machine’s French bread course and hit start. Take a peek after a few minutes to make sure the dough is not too dry or wet. If it is, follow the recommendations in your machines user guide.

Do you have a favorite kitchen machine, gadget, or helper? What makes you so fond of it?

Twinkies with Warm Blackberry Compote

Oh yeah, baby. I went there. Scrounging for something for dessert this evening, the only sweets I could find in the house were a couple of packages of Twinkies. Ugh. I needed more. I had a hankering for something fruity and creamy. I found most of a 6oz container of blackberries left in the fridge that needed to be eaten up very soon and I had some heavy whipping cream. Perfect! This is one of the recipes that I really didn’t measure because I just threw it together. So these measurements are approximate. This recipe makes one serving and aside from the time it takes the compote to cook, takes all of about five minutes to prepare.

Twinkies with Warm Blackberry Compote

1 package of Twinkies

Compote                                                                                                                        4oz blackberries                                                                                                                ¼ cup sugar                                                                                                                        2 tbsps water

 Topping                                                                                                                             1/3 cup heavy whipping cream                                                                                          1/8 tsp vanilla                                                                                                                     1 tbsp sugar

Make your compote by combining water sugar and berries in a pot over medium heat. Let the mixture come to a low boil stirring often. Let the mixture simmer until the juices thicken to a syrupy consistency. Set aside to cool a bit. In a small bowl, mix heavy whipping cream, vanilla, and sugar until desired consistency is reached (some people like their whipped cream a little thicker than others but be careful not to over-whip our you’ll have butter pretty quickly with this small amount). Top Twinkies with warm compote then a dollop of whipped cream and enjoy!

I’d like to take a moment to say a word about equipment here. I had the pleasure of working for a high end foodie catalog that sold kitchen appliances, tools, and sometimes food. I can say first hand, that although some products may seem outrageously priced, many have merit. For example, you probably wouldn’t want me to choose between my Scanpan set and, well, anyone or anything up to and including certain humans. The same thing goes for my Kitchenaid mixer, Wusthof and Shun knives, and my Cuisinart 7-speed hand mixer with the swiveling cord (If you’re a lefty, you might understand). In the case of this recipe, my Cuisinart hand mixer made whipping cream into whipped cream in less than 30 seconds. If you have the opportunity check out some of the better brands in kitchen tools and appliances. Like many other jobs, the right tools make all the difference.

And with that, I’ll leave you to your Twinkies and you imaginations! As always, please share your similar culinary adventures and thoughts.

Easy Creamy Lemonade Pie

It’s recipe day! This is a refreshing frozen pie I serve in the late spring/summer months. It’s easy, tangy, sweet, creamy, dense and very rich. I always have to make two because it disappears so fast. This recipe makes one, 9” deep dish pie. I think the original base for this recipe called for a pretzel crust, but I’m really not fond of pretzels so I make mine on a graham cracker crust. Feel free to try the pretzel crust and please tell me what you think if you do. Enjoy!

Easy Creamy Lemonade Pie

1 ½ cup graham cracker crumbs                                                                                      ¼ cup sugar                                                                                                                       ½ cup butter (melted)                                                                                                        ½ gallon vanilla ice cream (softened)                                                                                 1 12oz can frozen lemonade concentrate                                                                  Yellow food coloring (optional for lemony color)                                                                ½ tsp lemon zest

Crust                                                                                                                       Combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and sugar. Press mixture into 9” deep dish pie pan and chill while making the filling.

Filling                                                                                                                              Mix soft ice cream, lemonade concentrate, lemon zest, and 4-6 drops of yellow food coloring (optional) until smooth. Pour filling into crust and freeze for at least 4-6 hours. Let the pie stand at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before serving. Garnish for presentation with anything from lemon slices, lemon curls, or lemon candies to sliced or whole berries and a sprig of mint.

Try making the pink lemonade version for a baby girl shower, or any kind of ladies meeting. Just substitute pink lemonade and pink food coloring (optional).

What’s your favorite spring/summer dessert recipe?

Baby Italian Greens with Salmon

Sometimes I throw something together in the kitchen and it ends up looking so good I just have to take a picture and post it on Facebook. Last night I was craving a big, fresh, salad so I put together this plateful of baby Italian greens simply dressed with raspberry vinaigrette, feta cheese, strawberries, and a salmon fillet. The response to my photo was extremely favorable. I think it’s a testament to how important presentation is in cooking.

I was just making myself a simple salad for dinner, but I still took the time to honor where my food came from by giving it a good presentation. I believe it’s part of putting the love in the meal and I believe that the love is an essential ingredient in any dish even if your cooking for one or two. Good meals don’t have to be complicated or take a long time to cook. Sometimes all it takes is a few simple, fresh ingredients to make a really good thing that nourishes not only the body, but the soul.

Recipe for baby Italian greens with Salmon

1 Fresh-as-you-can-get Salmon Fillet (about 3oz, I spring for the boneless/skinless since hubby doesn’t eat fish)                                                                                              1 small pinch of sea salt                                                                                                  1/4 tsp lemon pepper                                                                                                       1/2 tbsp butter                                                                                                                  10 strawberries                                                                                                                  1 plate-full pre-packaged baby Italian greens                                                                     2 tbsp your favorite bottled raspberry vinaigarette (I use Ken’s Steakhouse brand)         ¼ cup feta cheese

While heating a small nonstick skillet over medium low heat, prep salmon fillet, sprinkling each side with salt and lemon pepper. When skillet is heated, melt butter in pan and add salmon fillet. Cook about 5 minutes on each side, depending on thickness, until fish is done enough to flake, but still tender (I have a serious aversion to overcooked salmon).

While the salmon is cooking rinse strawberries and arrange greens on a dinner plate. Don’t be shy, pile them up and use the whole surface area. Place whole strawberries in a ring around the edge of the salad. Sprinkle salad with feta cheese and salad dressing. Add salmon to the center of the salad and voila! Light, bright, delicious and nutritious. Nom, nom, nom, nom (sorry, sometimes I get a little carried away).

Do you have a favorite healthy, go-to, quickie recipe? How do you put the love in your cooking?

Mom’s Basic Crustless Quiche

It’s recipe day!

My mom is a phenomenal cook! She makes the best of everything, cookies, pies, cakes, candies, soups, breads, main dishes, you name it. If I were forced to, I would have to say her style is traditional. She uses real butter, no nasty fake margarine stuff, real sugar, no low fat, no fat, fat free stuff will be found in her cookbook (Oh yeah, she has a self-published cookbook…and it’s goooood). That means that as a diabetic I have to take much of mom’s food in small quantities (assuming I can muster the willpower to do so). Today I wanted to share one of her more diabetes friendly recipes, but you don’t have to be a diabetic to appreciate how yummy it is. This quiche is easy to make and perfect for a spring brunch!

Basic Crustless Quiche                                                                                            From My Kitchen to Yours, Tana Archuletta

½ cup butter                                                                                                                       10 eggs                                                                                                                             ½ cup flour                                                                                                                     1tsp. baking powder                                                                                                         ¼ tsp. Salt                                                                                                                          1 lb small-curd cottage cheese                                                                                          1 lb Monterey Jack cheese (shredded)                                                                              2 green onions (tops only)                                                                                                 1 4oz can of diced green chilies                                                                                        or                                                                                                                                       3-4 fresh roasted green chilies

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9×13 baking glass baking dish. Melt butter and cool. Whip eggs until light and fluffy; add the flour, baking powder, salt, cottage cheese, green chilies, melted butter, and half of the Monterey Jack cheese. Place the mixture into the baking dish; top with the remaining cheese and decorate the top with the green onion tops set in a wheel pattern (or chop up and sprinkle like I do). Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake for about 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Cool and cut into cubes for appetizer tray. I usually serve this with salsa and sour cream.

Note: This also makes a great breakfast meal served warm. You may add other ingredients such as bacon, fried onion, etc. It also reheats well in the microwave for the next few days.

What’s your favorite springtime recipe? Did you get it from a family member or friend?

This is what happened before I was even able to get a picture of mom's crustless quiche!