Sunday, December 11, 2011


My family makes this ridiculous Caesar salad. It's family tradition. My dad and I have our own special wooden Caesar salad bowls that are used exclusively to make this divine concoction.

Part of what makes our Caesar better than average is that we make our croutons from scratch. In some cases, the croutons have become more popular than the salad. One time, when starving and impatient, I took the warm out of the oven croutons, put them in a bowl and shredded Parmesan cheese over them. They were divine. I then promised that should I ever open my own bar, that would be an available bar snack. I have had more than one friend sit in my kitchen and eat croutons as a snack as opposed to chips or something else. My favorite is when at 3 a.m. during the house party a few years ago, Chuck and the stepsis stood munching on handfuls of croutons, drunk, going "zooohmygod these are SO good nom nom nom." Croutons sort of make the perfect drunk food.

Since I have yet to open a bar with a crouton snack, I give away plastic jars or ziplock bags filled with croutons as gifts to my friends. And that's why I'm sharing this recipe with you now: if you need something a little different as a hostess gift this busy holiday season, might I recommend some homemade croutons? If you want extra bonus points, do that Martha Stewart thing and handwrite the recipe for the salad dressing on a card. Yeah. That's a bit much. But inventive, no? The recipe, as presented in the cookbook from which we derived it, is available here. That's the pared down version, obviously. The family version is as rambling as this post and I'm not ready to share it. Yet. Or likely ever. (Gotta have SOMETHING that makes me special, ya know?)

As with anything I've offered up a recipe to, these are stupid easy to make. The key is in the ingredients and patience.

What you need:
One loaf of sourdough bread
One head (bulb? I'm never sure on proper garlic terminology) of fresh garlic
One cup (or so) of olive oil

That's it. That's the entirety of making croutons.

Now: a diatribe about the bread. You need sourdough. And you need good quality, unsliced sourdough. For those of you not in the Bay Area, your average off the Walmart shelf sliced "sourdough" is not gonna cut it. Your Louisiana French bread is also not gonna work either, it's too airy. You need a dense, crusty sourdough. Seek out a bakery in your town and see what they have to offer.

I tend to use Acme Bread's sourdough batard. But their baguette is also great, as is the rustic sour. If you're in some remote area of the world where they don't make amazing sourdough, well, that sucks. But it's an environmental thing. Apparently the air in San Francisco, salty and damp and foggy, is what makes us have exceptional sourdough so it's understandable that you wouldn't have it available in other places. Boudin Bakery will deliver it to you direct from San Francisco. (Not to be confused with boudin, the Cajun sausage. Two very different things.) Yes, it's a bit pricey that way but worth it. Trust. This is not the place to skimp on bread since the entirety of this really IS the bread. (The La Madeleine's in Louisiana/elsewhere have decent bread if memory serves.)

Alright, you've got your amazing crusty sourdough. Preheat your oven to 200. Slice bread into about half an inch thick slices. Take the slices and cut them into cubes. (This is where the baguette is great, just cut into quarters and you're done. Everything else, you want bite size pieces. The large batard I cut each slice in half across and then in pieces.)

Put your cut up pieces of bread on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven. You want to lightly toast your bread first so that it doesn't absorb all the olive oil in the world. Leave them alone in the oven until they dry out and are firm to the touch. This can take as long as an hour. If you get impatient, turn up the oven to 225 or 250 but keep an eye out, you don't want to have your bread turn brown and crispy yet.

While the croutons are roasting away: pour your olive oil in the bottom of a large bowl. Ideally it is your wooden salad making bowl but I understand if you don't have one. Any large bowl will work. Now peel your entire head of garlic and mash all the little cloves with a garlic press into the olive oil. Let those two hang out together while the bread toasts. Have a glass of wine. Listen to some Sinatra. Dance around the kitchen.

When your croutons are just firm to the touch, take the cookie sheet out of the oven and dump the bread cubes into the olive oil garlic mixture. Toss them to coat. Make sure they are coated evenly. You might need to add a bit more olive oil, as all my measurements are approximate.

Place your coated bread cubes back in the oven and let them chillax there for awhile. Have more wine. Listen to Dean Martin. Dance around the kitchen. You will know your bread cubes are done when your whole house smells like garlic toast. It's kinda awesome. Check on them. Are they brown and golden and crispy delicious looking? They are done. If they are still pale, close the oven, turn up the temp the tiniest bit, continue drinking wine, but be careful not to burn them. Burnt croutons decidedly suck. They should look like this when done:

Nom nom nom nom. Let them cool a bit, which you will be unable to do and will walk by and noisily crunch on them. I forgive you. Once cool, you can put them in a gift receptacle or keep them yourself and eat them drunk at 3 a.m. Whatevs. Enjoy!

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