Thursday, June 30, 2016

How to Make Homemade Croutons

I will be the first to declare you a big, fat liar if you say this has never happened to you: you buy (or bake!) a delicious loaf of Italian/French/rye/whatever bread to top off your yummy homemade dinner—only to be left with a hunk of quickly staling bread the next day...

If you are like me, the thought of throwing it away makes you partially wither inside. Bread, considering it is basically flour and water, is SO HARD to throw away. Those memories of last night's dinner, when it was warm and soft...

And now? Huh. You could make French toast, but it's the middle of the week, and who has time for that except on weekends? You could freeze it, but frozen bread always gets weird.

Soooooo.... What do you do?

Make homemade croutons, baby! It takes five minutes to prep while the oven is warming, and in 45 minutes you can have toasty, crispity, delicious croutons for FREE. Who wants croutons out of a box when you can have these???

How to make homemade croutons from stale bread

I know, right???

And they are ridiculously easy to make. Here's how I do it, BUT (everyone say it with me) you can do it however the hell you want. It's not going to make a life-changing difference. Swears.


  • hunk or slices of bread of any sort
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • dried herbs, fresh ground black pepper, spices (optional)

Tools You Will Need:
  • a large-ish bowl, a large cookie sheet, a serrated (the one with teeth) knife, a cutting board, a metal spatula

Steps to Make:

1.  Preheat your oven to 275° F.

2.  As your oven is heating up, cut your bread into slices. I do mine about an inch thick. If you like smaller croutons, slice thinner. Then take each piece, lay it flat, and slice lengthwise and then across so that you now have bread cubes. Try to make them all relatively the same size.

3.  Dump the bread cubes in the bowl. Pour several really good glugs of olive oil into the bowl over the bread cubes. Sprinkle on the kosher salt and any additional flavors you want to add, then get in there with your hands and toss, toss, toss! You really want to make sure that all the cubes are really well-coated.

(NOTE: The amount of oil used is going to depend on the amount of bread cubes you have and how much you personally want to coat your cubes. I like to really coat mine well. I find the flavor to be better if the cubes have a good soaking of oil. You may feel differently. Try it out and see what you think. No matter what you do, they are going to taste great.)

4.  Pour the cubes out onto the baking sheet, and spread them out into an even layer with some space between them. Pop them in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes (for smaller croutons, set it for 10). When the timer goes off, give them a toss with the metal spatula to flip them over. Shake them back into an even layer, then toast them for another 20 minutes. Larger croutons are probably going to be done at this point. If you are doing smaller croutons in 10-minute intervals, you are probably going to want to do three (3) 10-minute intervals. Just test them with a good ol' bite-test to see if they are as crispy as you desire.

Let them cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack, then seal them up in a Ziploc bag with the air squeezed out. They will remain nice and crunchy for quite awhile...

Hope you enjoy them! Store-bought ones don't even compare...

Monday, June 27, 2016

Ginger-Lime Shrimp (and a Lesson in "Deveining")

There are so many things I love about living on the ocean, but I have to say that one of the best things is the insanely fresh seafood that I can get at a seafood shop that is on the way home from picking up Captain Reiton at the airport.

The first time I went into this restaurant/shop—Belle Isle Seafood—I (somehow? There are only signs EVERYWHERE) didn't notice that they only take cash. When I went to pay with my CREDIT CARD, the girl very graciously explained that she was unable to accept it as a form of payment—this being after a five minute conversation about how much I loved living here after being in the Midwest for so long, and blah blah blah....

So, being embarrassed but being me, I made fun of myself and then asked her if she could just keep my salmon in the case and I would run back later with cash to pick it up. To this she responded (and I quote):
"Oh, no, just take it with you. You can just pay later."

Am I serious??? Yes, I'm serious.  This is the kind of town I live in. It's small. People trust you, or they will kick your ass. And I love it.

So. As I was saying: I also love the seafood, so the other night I bought a pound of fresh shrimp at Belle Isle to sauté up for dinner.  Being fresh, the shrimp weren't processed like they are when you buy them frozen or from the seafood case at the grocery store. That meant they simply had their heads cut off, and that was it. They still had their little legs. Their full, unsplit shells. Their little poopy intestine down the center of their back...

So I shelled them. Ripped off their little legs. And then—I discovered the BEST way to "devein" the shrimp!!! 

(Why is it called "deveining," by the way? It's an intestine, NOT a vein. Are they afraid to call it "de-pooping" a shrimp? Because that is what you are doing, really...)

Now, here's the problem that I've always had about shrimp that I have bought frozen that have been deveined: in the processing of the shrimp, they are practically butterflied. They are sliced open the whole way down their spine so that they flay open when they cook.

I don't want shrimp that look like butterflies on my plate. I want shrimp that look like shrimp on my plate, damn it. Appearance is very much a big deal to me when it comes to cooking, and I have always found it so unattractive to be eating shrimp that look like they've been attacked by the SNL Samurai.

SO. As I was finishing peeling and de-legging my shrimp, I wondered if I really had to slice a shrimp the entire way down it's spine to devein it...

I took a paring knife, inserted the tip blade-up into the middle of the shrimp "neck," so to speak, and sliced upwards, making about a quarter-inch long cut.  Now I could see the poop tract laying right there...

I reached in with my fingertips, grabbed the end of the "vein," and very gently but firmly pulled...

VOILA!!! It slid out! The whole thing! I had an entire shrimp in my left hand and an intestine dangling from my right! No flaying necessary!

Now I had perfectly whole, beautiful shrimp, ready to be marinated and sautéed for dinner. 

And speaking of dinner, wowzers, have I got a shrimp dish that will knock your socks off. I very slightly adapted it from Melissa Joulwan's cookbook, Well Fed. If you are looking for flavorful but easy and fast, this is it. 

If you are in a super rush, make the marinade first before you deal with your shrimp, then toss your shrimp into the marinade bowl as you clean them up. Then, as your shrimp are marinating for 20 minutes or so, you can get the rest of your sides together. Shrimp only take a few minutes to cook completely, so depending on your sides, you could have dinner on the table in about 45 minutes, from start to chow-time.

As I've pointed out with so many recipes lately, use the quantities and ingredients you have. You do NOT need to follow ingredients and measurements here exactly. It will still taste good, I promise. But here's what I used:

Ingredients for 2-3 people:
  • 1 lb. of fresh shrimp, shelled completely and "deveined" (I also give them a rinse)
  • juice from 2 juicy limes (smooth skin, heavy, feel squishy)
  • fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated on a zester or minced up, about 1 1/2-in. worth
  • a jalapeño, seeded and minced, or a tsp. of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 peeled garlic cloves, finely grated on a zester or minced
  • about a quarter cup of minced cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tblsp. olive oil

Steps to Make:

1.  Combine the lime juice, ginger root, jalapeño or flakes, garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk together with a fork. Drizzle in the olive oil and whisk rapidly to blend with the juice mixture. This is your marinade.

2.  Add the shrimp to the marinade and toss really, really well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge for 20-30 minutes but nor really any more than 45 minutes. The lime juice will cook the shrimp. Really.

3. When your sides for dinner are almost done, heat up a large skillet on the stove on medium-high. When it is nice and hot, dump the entire contents of the bowl into the skillet. Shake the skillet to create a single even layer of shrimp. Cook for about two minutes. You will see the shrimp turning pink and starting to curl. Stir the shrimp to blend them with the sauce and to flip them onto their other side (you might need to help some of them a little). Shake the pan to make your even layer again, and cook for another 2 minutes or so.

4. Platter the shrimp and garnish with some cilantro fronds or torn cilantro leaves.

That's it! Super fast. Super easy. Super delicious! You could also skewer the shrimp and grill them, too... YUM.

Word of advice: just don't overcook them. Fresh shrimp are so tender. I had no idea. If you cook them too long, they will get rubbery and weird. Don't panic about the short cooking time. If the shrimp is all pink and curling, it's DONE.

And I promise to make something shrimpy this week and video the whole de-pooping for you...

*UPDATE: I made the video! Click here to read a more descriptive post on how to devein shrimp and to watch the video

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Baldwin & Sons Trading Company — Woburn, MA — A Restaurant Recommendation

NOTE TO READER: The following letter is private. It is addressed to the new bar/love of my life. However, due to the nature of its delivery, I guess I am going to have to let you read it. 

Actually, please DO read it. It just may change your life forever, as well...

~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~

My dearest Baldwin & Sons,

I know we only met last night, but like Romeo and Juliet, one meeting is all it appears to have taken for you to become, in my book—how shall I put it?


As Shakespeare so astutely says, so will I:

How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways...

So, here we go:

Reason #1 - You are beautiful.  I know that sounds incredibly shallow, but let's be honest: no one ever is immediately struck in a GOOD way with how ugly something is. Unless it is cute-ugly. Which you are not. You are striking. Well-kempt. Hip but classy. Well-balanced. Golden. Shall I keep going?...

The Baldwin & Sons Trading Company in Woburn, MA

Reason #2 - You are kind.  See? I'm not all about the looks. In fact, I believe I have to say that your kindness is more attractive than your beauty. (It's just that I didn't know it at first, and I'm going in order of occurrence.) Your genuine interest in my husband and I upon our meeting was rare in an establishment. We weren't just clients last night; we were friends. (Am I making you blush, yet?)

Reason #3 - You serve wickedly outstanding Sichuan dishes.  And as we all know, Sichuan is hot.  Enough said.

Reason #4 - Nika.  She corresponds about reservations and other such related matters at all hours of the day or night. Who ever heard of a bar hostess doing such a thing??? I actually forwarded her notes to my husband before we even met and said, "I love these people already..." See? It was a premonition.

Reason #5 - Van.  He made me my first cocktail (see below) and then proceeded to steer the rest of my dinner-time into an experience I will not forget in a long, long time...

Reason #6 - The Trader Vic.  What an opener! A Mai Tai that shook my notion of Mai Tais to its very foundations!

Reason #7 - The Southern Belle.  Can I just say that this was a revelation as to why I need to make cinnamon syrup TODAY??? She is a cocktail that is exactly as Van designed her to be: soft and demurely sweet but who can most certainly hold her own.

Reason #8 - Mick.  He quotes The Princess Bride.  Instant soul-attraction.

Reason #9 - You are generous. 

The Baldwin & Sons Trading Company menu, Woburn, Massachusetts

Reason #10 - The Prescription Sour.  Oh, glory be... Rum and scotch together? Who knew? (Sigh.)

Reason #11 - Patrick.  He, like Van, is a master. Truly, truly a master.  I could just watch and watch and watch...

Pouring a masterpiece at The Baldwin & Sons Trading Company in Woburn, MA

Reason #12 - The Baldwin Apple Revised.  Everything about her was so sweetly irresistable: the foam. The little egg cup. The apple chips.  [asideThe frosting.

The Baldwin Apple Revised at The Baldwin & Sons Trading Company in Woburn, Massachusetts

Reason #13 - You are unlike any other bar I've ever met.  And I've been to a lot.  A LOT.

Reason #14 -  Tyler.  How do you not love chatting about cocktails with someone who has a beard that rivals the finest of all beards? How?

Reason #15 - Ran.  The giant behind it all is THE one to thank, I know. I mean, you all run like the finest piece of clockwork. It's amazing to behold. And to enjoy...

Reason #16 - You are perfection.  So don't change. Ever. Unless you want to add some more life-altering cocktails. Then I'm okay with that.

I hope that the evening was as enjoyable for you... When we awoke this morning, the first thing Derrick and I said to each other was, "Last night was awesome." And we were talking about YOU.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With many happy thoughts and fond memories, until we meet again,

Yours truly,


Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Strawberry Tequila Shrub: A Refreshing Change of a Cocktail

Well, folks, summer is finally upon us. I've been spending a lot of it with friends and family so far, hence the temporary disappearance and lack of CAF-related writing (although I've done a little freshening up—like the new header...).

It's been fun, but the burn to write never leaves me. This morning's to-do list of house-cleaning and laundry is being ditched.  I concocted the most delicious summer cocktail the other day, and I have to write about it. I can fold laundry later, damn it—while sipping a strawberry tequila shrub.

Remember when I wrote about making a strawberry shrub last summer? (If not, you will find the post HERE, then click the link that connects to the Bon Appétit recipe and make one! It's easy!) Well, I made a batch for a spring party we went to, and the leftover bit has been staring me in the face every time I open the fridge.

The other afternoon I couldn't take it anymore, and I mixed up 1 oz. reposado tequila and 1 1/2 oz. strawberry shrub over ice in a Collins glass (use a highball if you don't have a Collins), then topped it off with 6 oz. ginger ale and garnished it with half a strawberry.

Oh, happy day, it worked! Fruity and zingy with that tequila bite. Delightful. Refreshing. A perfect drink for a hot summer day.

Even the dog was happy with it.

Strawberry Tequila Shrub cocktail

Give it a try. I think you will be happy you did.

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