Man can practically live by breadcrumbs alone

Last week I made one of the best meatloaves I’ve ever made.

And it was all because of the breadcrumbs.

But those crumbs didn’t come from bread.  It was the end of a box of Wheat Thins.  Which bring us to the very best thing about breadcrumbs.

They don’t have to contain bread.

What?

No, really.

You know, I was gonna say I’d rather have the bread crumbs, but now…not so much.  He’s awful purty.

Japanese panko is the super trendy man-bun of the breadcrumbs world.  A few years ago, to get some you could only procure them by mail order.  Now, they carry them at Big Lots.  You can pick some up at the dollar store.  They even use panko on fish sticks, for the love of Mike.

But panko comes from bread in the same way that jelly beans come from the farmers market.

To produce those Japanese breadcrumbs, they make a slurry of wheat and a few other ingredients.  They then spray it onto canvas sheets, dry them, and flake them off.  That’s pretty much it, but panko was never, in its life cycle, bread.

In my freezer, I have a bag.  Whenever we have a bag or box of crackers that is almost empty, or has gone a little stale, I toss them into that bag. When I make a casserole that needs a crispy breadcrumb topping, I grind up enough to make a cup or so.  Then I season it, add herbs or spices that fit the flavor of the casserole, and pour in a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, or melted butter and stir it through.  After baking, there is a beautiful, golden, crispy crust on top.

When I want shake and bake-style pork chops, I throw all the orphan crackers into a food processor.  Then I throw in some olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs and spices.  Cheese is also mighty tasty in the mix.  Dryer cheeses like Parmesan and Spanish manchego are really good, and easier to work with, but I’ve used things like provolone and cheddar as well.And nuts are a breadcrumbs best friend.

Whole Foods has a collection of breadcrumbs that have been enhanced with different nut and herb combinations.  But they are pretty dear, with a couple of cups coming in at more than ten dollars.

But think about the combos you could make in your own kitchen.

For an Asian twist, what about Chinese five spice powder and cashews?  Feeling Italian?  What about hazelnuts, Parmesan, lemon zest and basil?  For a taste of Spain mix Marcona almonds, pimiento powder, and some delicious Manchego into your breadcrumbs.

Hey!  What if I tossed the pasta tonight with some stale, gound up bread?

You can even dress pasta with breadcrumbs.  In the days before freezers, frugal Italian peasants came up with a way to use stale bread.  This recipe is a take on one from the lovely mind of Nigella Lawson.

Pasta with lemon & garlic breadcrumbs

Ingredients (serves 2)breadcrumb-pasta8 ounces pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Zest & juice of 1 lemon

¼-½ cup shredded Parmesan

½ cup breadcrumbs

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and pepper, to taste

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

Bring heavily salted water to a boil.  Add pasta, and cook until al dente. Before draining, remove a cupful of cooking water.

While pasta’s cooking add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a non-stick skillet and add lemon zest; it’ll sizzle.  Add breadcrumbs, lightly season, and toast until golden.  Set aside.

After draining pasta, pour it back into pot, then add second tablespoon of olive oil and half the lemon juice.  Toss to combine in hot pan until much of the liquid’s absorbed.  Add garlic and cheese.  Toss again, while adding enough pasta-cooking liquid to emulsify it into sauce consistency.  Season then taste, and add more lemon juice if desired. Right before serving, gently fold in parsley and breadcrumbs.Here’s something else nifty about breadcrumbs.  There doesn’t have to be any kind of bread/cracker product in them.

Don’t believe me?

Next time you need breadcrumbs, break out the potato chips, corn chips, or leftover rice that has dried out in the fridge and you’ve ground up in a food processor.

Now you never need to buy a pre-made can of saw dust…I mean breadcrumbs again.Thanks for your time.

An almost free lunch

You know, I’m really proud of The Kid.At work, my child is within walking distance of at least twenty really outstanding restaurants.  It would take no effort at all to spend $200 a week on lunches.

But The Kid only goes out for lunch two or three times a month.  My frugal, sensible, little worker bee is a charter member of the brown bag club.

Actually, it’s a box–this box, in fact.  Ain’t my child special?

Sunday is spent preparing large batches of grub which are split up and frozen.  The newest addition is a dish using a spaghetti squash.

So here, in The Kid’s own words is that recipe, along with a little lunch box advice.

Spaghetti Squash bake

spag-squash2 Spaghetti squashes

3Tbs Capers

1C Spaghetti Sauce

2 cans canellini beans, rinsed.

1lb mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 onion, small diced

¼ c Parmesan cheese, grated

¼ c white wine

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Slice squashes into rings, remove seeds and center. Put onto lined baking sheets and brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. When oven is up to temp, bake squash for 40 minutes, or until a knife can easily pierce the rings.Let the squash until it is cool until it is able to be handled. Then remove the peel, and delicately break into strands. It will want to break apart on its own, so just follow how it wants to fall. Put the strands into a mixing bowl, and set aside.

Heat a pan to medium. When hot, add a splash of canola oil and add onion to pan. Season with salt and stir occasionally. When it gets soft and translucent, add garlic, and season. When the garlic gets fragrant, add mushrooms, and heavily season with salt. Stir occasionally, and cook until mushrooms are caramelized. Add wine, and cook until pan is dry. 

When mushrooms are done, add to bowl with the squash with beans, capers, and sauce.

Transfer mixture to a 8X8 baking pan and top with cheese. Bake for twenty minutes, and then put under the high broiler until cheese has color.Throw it in the fridge. Once cool, slice into servings, and put into separate containers. Freeze all portions not to be eaten in the next couple days.

*Biggest thing about lunches; have lots of options in the freezer. That way it’s super easy and you don’t have to eat the same thing until it’s gone.

While my child may be an expert on the art of carrying meals to work, I’ve become pretty proficient in healthy snacks, either at home or on the road.

I always keep a bag of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit in the fridge.  I love the salty/sweet and crunchy/chewy contrast.  It’s also great to sprinkle in salads or hot cereal.  Right now my mix is mainly cherries, strawberries, cashews, and almonds.I’m also fond of raw veggies and dip.  Buy whole and cut them to your own desired shape.  For dips, try hummus, whipped low-fat cream cheese with herbs or hot sauce mixed in, or nut butters.  I love carrots dipped into peanut butter.  But for the love of all that’s delicious, please don’t use those bagged “baby” carrots.  They’re just whittled-down regular carrots sprayed with chemicals.

The weather’s getting cooler every day.  Take some tuneage, a book, and your homemade lunch outside and enjoy your break.  At home, grab the kids, some snacks, and go for a walk or climb a tree.

There will be no rescue squad to save you.

*Any injuries sustained during aforementioned tree climbing are solely the responsibility of the climber and in no way the fault of the well-meaning food columnist.

Thanks for your time.