How To Make Your Own Croutons

crouton

Stop buying croutons! Seriously, just stop it. It makes as much sense as printing out an article you found online and faxing it to someone. You can make your own croutons for less than half the cost, they’ll taste better and you’ll know exactly what’s in them. No extreme salt content, no preservatives. Just crispy, crunchy, delicious accompaniments to your soups and salads. 

I used to buy boxed croutons at the supermarket that were so packed with “Italian seasonings” that they had the flavor-punch of a Dorito. I may as well have crumbled Bugles over my food. (I’ve just given someone a terrible idea.) You don’t have to put your body and wallet through all that. It’s time to become the master of your crouton domain and it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

You will need:

  • bread, preferably day old
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • dried rosemary and thyme (optional)

bread

1. Begin by cubing your bread, making the pieces as small or large as you like. 

2. Place in a large bowl and drizzle enough olive oil on the bread to very lightly coat the pieces. Add a generous pinch of salt and a sprinkling of your herbs. 

3. Place under the broiler of your oven or toaster oven until brown, turning once. 

I prefer to make my croutons with sourdough bread. Also, you don’t have to limit yourself to thyme or rosemary. Try a spicy crouton with cajun seasoning. Try using seasoned salts. Experiment a bit. It’s your crouton, after all! 

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General Tso’s Spicy Tofu

chinesetofu

I love it when recipes enter our culinary zeitgeist under a shroud of mystery. The Indian dish Chicken 65 is one example - was it #65 on the menu of a now closed restaurant? Does it have 65 ingredients? General Tso’s Chicken is another example. The theories on its origin vary. Some say it’s a traditional Hunan dish, while two competing restaurants in New York City claim to be the first to serve it. 

We may never know the truth. It’ll remain as much of a mystery as what lies beyond the event horizon of a black hole, or why cats are the way that they are, or how magnets work. What we do know is that the dish is comprised of crispy chicken coated in a sweet and spicy sauce. So here’s my version of General Tso’s Chicken with a twist - it’s made with tofu (though you could substitute chicken if you like). 

garlic

You will need:

  • 1 14 oz package firm tofu
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup broccoli or 1/2 cup peas and/or carrots
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1” piece ginger, grated
  • 1 stalk green onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • sesame seeds, for serving 

For the sauce:

  • 3 tbsp ketchup
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Vietnamese chili garlic sauce (This one is my favorite. You can also use 1 tbsp Sriracha or 2 whole dried red chilies.)
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cornstarch

tofuflour

Start by cubing the tofu into 1” pieces and laying on paper towels to dry. Coat the tofu pieces lightly in flour and fry in the vegetable oil over medium heat until light brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside. 

friedtofu

Next, cook your vegetables in a small pot of boiling water and set aside. I used frozen peas and carrots for convenience sake.

In a separate bowl, combine the sauce ingredients and whisk until smooth. 

sauce

Heat the sesame oil in a wok or large pan over medium heat and add the garlic, ginger and green onions. Stir for about a minute. (Here’s a tip - ginger keeps very well frozen. When I need fresh ginger, I pull it out of the ziploc bag I keep in my freezer and grate what I need over a microplane. I end up with what looks like ginger snow, and it works beautifully.) 

ginger

Add the vegetables and stir for 2 minutes. 

peas

Next add the sauce. Once it bubbles, gently add the tofu and toss to coat. Serve on rice with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. As you eat it, try to imagine your own version of this recipe’s origin. 

inpot

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A Hot ‘N Sour Soup For Sniffles

hotnsoursoup

It could be a cold. Maybe allergies. Maybe H1N1. (Don’t watch Contagion when you’re sick.) Maybe my body was mercifully waiting until my World Cup excitement ended before unleashing an army of congestion upon me. Whatever it is, I’m feeling under the weather and generally bummed out.

Plus, I can’t taste anything. Noooooo

Times like this, I need something with a crisp, bright, sour flavor that I can actually taste. I require serious spice, something to make me sweat and clear me up. I crave hot chicken broth. I feel like I should eat some vegetables, so hey, let’s throw those in, too. Sounds like we’re making a classic hot ‘n sour soup. Quick, let’s do it before my generic brand antihistamine kicks in and things get weird! 

You will need:

  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp (or more) Sriracha / hot sauce of your choice 
  • 1 tsp cornstarch, stirred into 2 tbsp water
  • handful sliced scallions, for serving

Plus vegetables and/or protein of your choice. I used:

  • handful spinach, chopped
  • 1/4 cup peas
  • 1 carrot, julienned 
  • cubed tofu

This is an easy one. Start by heating the sesame oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and let it sizzle for a minute. Add the chicken broth, soy sauce, vinegar and hot sauce. Bring to a gentle boil. 

Throw in your vegetables, stir and reduce heat to low. Allow the soup to gently simmer until the vegetables are cooked to your liking. (If you’re using tofu, you can add this when you add the vegetables. For chicken or beef, pre-cook the meat before adding to the soup. For shrimp, add this last and let cook for 3-5 minutes until done.)

Throw in the cornstarch mixed with water and allow the soup to simmer for another 2 minutes. The cornstarch will thicken the soup a bit. Top with the sliced scallions just before serving.  

soupy

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5 Tips For Cooking On A Himalayan Salt Block

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If you’re a lover of salt like I am, you’re going to love cooking on a Himalayan salt block. Mined from salt deposits in Pakistan, these gorgeous pink slabs can withstand an enormous amount of heat and are great for grilling. They can also be used at room temperature to serve fruits, cheeses and tartars, and can even be frozen to serve ice cream. 

Himalayan salt blocks impart a subtly salty and mineral-rich flavor to whatever food you place on them. Here’s how I cook on my salt block, in the form of 5 easy tips on purchasing and caring for your own Himalayan salt block! 

saltblock1

# 1 - Finding A Himalayan Salt Block

A quick Google search for Himalayan salt blocks will give you blocks from $15 all the way up to $80. I got mine at Cost Plus/World Market for less than $30, which is a reasonable price for a 8”x12”x1.5” block. You shouldn’t have to spend more than that for a block that size. Himalayan salt blocks will naturally have fine cracks running through them, but make sure your block doesn’t have any deep cracks. The surface should be smooth and resemble pink marble. 

# 2 - Heating Your Salt Block

If you’re using a gas range, you can place the block on the stove top. For an electric range, use a metal ring to raise the block slightly above the heating element. The key word here is patience! Most Himalayan salt blocks will come with a set of instructions. It’s important to heat your salt block according to those instructions so that you don’t damage the block, which is quite fragile. My block is 1.5” thick, so I begin by heating it over a low flame on my gas range for 20 minutes. Then I raise the heat to medium for 20 more minutes. Keeping the flame at medium, I continue heating the block until a few drops of water on the surface sizzle immediately. You may hear some cracking while heating up your block for the first time - this is perfectly normal. 

shrimp-on-block

# 3 - No Salt Needed, But Oil Is A Must! 

Since you’ll be cooking on a giant slab of salt, it goes without saying that you won’t need to salt your food before or after cooking. It’s important to remember that the more moist the food, the more salt it will absorb. When I prepared my shrimp, I patted them dry and did not add any seasoning. The flavor imparted by the salt block is rich enough that you don’t need any! 

Food will invariably stick to the salt block while cooking, and this is normal. However, you will need to oil the block to prevent it from sticking too much. Most salt blocks will be flat, so be very careful that your oil doesn’t run down the sides of the block. (If oil hits the bottom of the block, it could drip onto your burner and start smoking or even cause a fire.) Just pour a small amount of oil in the very center of the block and carefully spread it out. I highly recommend rubbing any seafood with olive oil before placing it on the salt block. 

# 4 - Cooking On Your Salt Block

Whether it be fish, shrimp, scallops or thinly sliced beef, place your meat onto the block and don’t move it. When it’s cooked on one side, gently flip. That’s it - it couldn’t be easier! 

shrimps

# 5 - Cleaning Your Salt Block

Allow your block to cool completely before cleaning. Salt blocks get very hot and can retain heat for hours. I let mine sit for at least 4 hours before handling it. Himalayan salt blocks are naturally antimicrobial, so no soap is needed! Simply wipe gently with a damp sponge. You’re effectively dissolving a thin layer of salt when you clean it, so your block will get thinner with use. You may also notice that your block will become discolored over time - this is part of the normal life of a Himalayan salt block, so no worries.  

There’s so much you can do with a Himalayan salt block, and it definitely provides a “wow” factor at dinner parties. I highly recommend getting one and trying it out for yourself!  

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Roasted Bone Marrow on Toast

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My friend Pancho has a habit of closing his eyes when he eats something he really, really enjoys. When I first witnessed this habit, he was eating uni at an all-you-can-eat sushi place. (How much does Pancho love uni? To quote him, “Uni-quivocably, uni-laterally, uni-nanimously!!!”) The second time I saw him closing his eyes while eating, he was savoring a tripe soup. It was like the whole world needed to be dialed down so he could enjoy that fleeting moment of pleasure. 

I think it’s an awesome habit. Pancho is a cool cat. 

If I had to pick one dish that gives me a Pancho moment, it would be roasted bone marrow on toast. Describing roasted marrow to someone who’s never had it before is difficult. Every description I come up with sounds questionable: It tastes like meat-flavored butter. It’s like jello made out of beef. Think of jam and toast, now imagine that the jam is filet mignon. 

If the taste (which is rich and heavenly, trust me) isn’t selling you, perhaps the nutritional benefits of marrow will. High in iron, phosphorous and vitamin A, marrow also contains high amounts of unsaturated fat - the type of fat that’s actually good for you. 

marrow1

Buying marrow bones from your local supermarket or butcher is easy. Ask for beef bones cut from the center of the legs. The bones should be clean of most meat (a little bit of meat clinging to the bone is okay) and the marrow should be a pinky white. The recipe itself is a simple one.

You will need:

  • Marrow bones
  • salt & pepper
  • toast

Begin by rinsing the bones in cold water and patting dry. You may see some spots of blood, which is fine. 

Place in a nonstick or foil-lined roasting pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the marrow begins to separate from the sides of the bone and puff up a bit, and some of the clear fat starts to drip from the bottom of the bones.

Once cooled, insert a knife to dig out the buttery goodness, spread on toast, sprinkle with a little salt, close your eyes and take it in. 

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Delicious Links for June!

DELICIOUS-LINKS-June

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