Crust of Bread

The impetus for so much of my gardening/composting/chicken raising journey began with one simple principle: reduce waste. Throwing out food just crushes me. And unfortunately, I still do it. I’ll find things buried in the fridge that I forgot about or reach into a bag of produce only to find it’s mushy and moldy. Composting (either in your yard or through a city program) is a great way to prevent food from going in the trash and backyard chickens are some of the best food waste digesters out there. But even better? Do what people have been doing for hundreds of years: use up what you have with recipes that are perfectly suited to ingredients that may seem “past their prime.”

On Wednesday’s episode of Minnesota Live, I shared my favorite ways to use up bread. These are less recipes and more methods – as you can switch out ingredients based on what you like and adjust quantities to reflect the amount of bread you have. If you start making your own bread (my favorite no-knead instructions are from Bread in Five and my sourdough guru is Amanda Paa of Heartbeet Kitchen) you’ll definitely want to make use of these (delicious) strategies as you’ll have a ridiculous emotional attachment to the loaves you pull out of the oven.

Use Up Bread Idea #1: Panzanella Salad

Method: Cut your bread (can be fresh or a few days old) into 1.5 to 2 inch chunks. Any country loaf, sourdough, ciabatta, baguette, etcetera will work great for this. In a large skillet, warm some butter and/or olive oil over medium heat. You want the fat to coat the bread pieces but not soak them. Start with less – add more if the bread pieces look dry. Add the bread to the skillet, toss in the oil or butter and season with salt and pepper. Toast over medium heat until the bread is crisp and browned on the edges. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool while you assemble the rest of the salad. **These croutons are great to use atop any green salad or plopped in the center of soup too!** Slice grape tomatoes in half, chop up some cucumber into about 1 inch chunks, drain some kalamata olives, crumble up some feta & chop some herbs (parsley, dill, basil would all be wonderful). In a large bowl, toss all of the ingredients together (including the bread). In a jar, make a simple vinaigrette: I use a ratio of 2/3 olive oil to 1/3 red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, put a lid on the jar and shake to combine. Dress the salad to your liking and toss to combine. Serve right away – this can also sit for a bit as well.

Use Up Bread Idea #2: Toasted Bread Crumbs

Method: Tear bread into chunks and put in your food processor. Blitz until bread is a bread crumb consistency. Drizzle some oil and/or butter in a skillet – add the bread crumbs and toast over medium heat until toasted and crisp. Use in salads, meatballs, meatloaves, on top of pasta – basically anywhere you’d use packaged breadcrumbs.

Use Up Bread Idea #3: Baked French Toast

Before Baking — After Baking!

Method: This is a fabulous way to use up enriched breads like brioche or croissants. Cut the bread into 1.5 to 2 inch chunks. Butter a casserole dish that’s large enough to fit the quantity of bread you have. Spread the bread in the dish in an even layer. Now for the milk/egg mixture ratio: I’ve found that 1 cup milk to 1 egg works beautifully. For this dish, I had about four cups of bread cubes and I mixed 2 cups of milk with two eggs, a pinch of salt and about 1/2 tsp of vanilla. A dash of cinnamon or nutmeg is also delicious. Whisk together – then pour over the bread. Nestle some berries of your choosing in with the bread and, if you’d like, dot with 1/2 tsp drops of cream cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes – until the custard is set and the tops of the bread peeking out are toasted and crisp. Serve with maple syrup.

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