Green Your Life: How to Make Homemade Breadcrumbs and Croutons

http://www.motherearthliving.com/Food-Matters/green-your-life-how-to-make-homemade-breadcrumbs-and-croutons.aspx

I hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my house this year, which means now I’m also hosting a refrigerator full of leftovers. But because of its impending “use by” date, one of the foods I couldn’t hold on to was the extra bread. I couldn’t stomach seeing it thrown in the trash, so I decided to take yet another lesson from my mother and use it to make homemade breadcrumbs and croutons.

drying bread 
Drying the bread before transforming it into breadcrumbs in a food processor is important because if the bread is too moist, it will clump when blended. When flavoring the breadcrumbs, don’t feel compelled to over-season because you can always add more later. Photo By Dani Hurst. 

How to make breadcrumbs 

bread
salt
pepper
various seasonings (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place slices of bread on an ungreased cookie sheet in a single layer and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until dry. Flip the slices halfway through to ensure they dry evenly and don’t burn.

2. Rip dried bread into smaller pieces and place in a food processor. Pulse a few times, then add salt, pepper and desired seasonings. Continue blending until the bread crumbs are the preferred consistency.

3. Place crumbs in a repurposed container—I used an old plastic parmesan cheese container—and put in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them. (I recommend refrigerating these breadcrumbs because, unlike the store-bought kind, they don't have any preservatives to keep them fresh at room temperature.)

You can use these breadcrumbs to bulk up meatballs or meatloaf, or you can make breaded chicken cutlets by dipping flattened chicken breasts in egg, then coating them in breadcrumbs and frying them on the stove.

making croutons 
Turning your croutons halfway through the baking process is a good way to ensure they cook evenly. I didn’t flip my croutons, so they came out a little burnt. Another live-and-learn situation. Photo By Dani Hurst. 

How to make croutons 

bread
olive oil
salt
pepper
various seasonings (optional)

1. Cut or rip bread into bite-size cubes and place in bowl. Drizzle olive oil, salt, pepper and any other seasonings over the bread and mix well.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place cubes on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes, turning halfway through to make sure they don’t burn.

3. Allow them to cool and enjoy. Store extras in a repurposed container—I used an old French’s fried onions tin—and place in the refrigerator.

Just like the homemade breadcrumbs, these croutons don't have any added preservatives, so I recommend keeping extras in the fridge. Couple these croutons with some homemade salad dressing and you’ve got yourself one fancy salad.

salad with croutons 
A salad topped with homemade croutons and homemade dressing makes an excellent complement to fried chicken cutlets, and using homemade breadcrumbs is a good way to save money and avoid unnecessary chemicals and preservatives in your food. Photo By Dani Hurst.

What’s great about these two recipes is that they are really simple and completely customizable. You can play around with different combinations of seasonings and types of breads. Just be sure not to use bread that’s too stale because stale bread makes for stale-tasting breadcrumbs and croutons. But my favorite thing is that you can turn something that was headed for the trash into something that is headed for the table—which saves you money and keeps your footprint as light as possible.