My partner left the garage freezer open just a scooch earlier this week. He has been distracted by the sudden loss of a dear friend which meant he had to fly back to Virginia, on a moment’s notice, for a very sad funeral. After I got him organized and off to Virginia, I decided it was a good time to tackle a few projects around the house. But instead of some fun DYI projects I’d been meaning to do, I found a thick layer of ice coating in the garage freezer. Sigh. Time to defrost. The good news is, the weather is warm that after piling everything into coolers for a few hours, the task was done. As I organized everything back into the newly defrosted freezer, I was fully prepared to give my partner one of my better holier than thou lectures about how much meat he had accumulated and needed to use up. Instead, I found myself confronted with WAY too much bread scraps and leftovers. Whoops. I have been meaning to use the leftovers up and before he gets back from Virginia, I figured now is as good a time as any to clear the freezer of my addition and love of bread.
Below are ways I frugally use up bread that are both delicious and cost conscious:
Most Obvious. Make breadcrumbs. So easy and you can store them in the freezer. I make plain and savory breadcrumbs by tossing smallish chunks of bread in a warm oven to crisp. I then buzz them in the food processor. For the savory crumbs, I toss in garlic powder, salt, oregano, pepper, and other seasonings that strike my fancy. I keep the crumbs in my kitchen freezer and use them frequently for everything from coating chicken or pork to creating a delicious crumbly topping for Potatoes Anna, recipe below. Everyone has bread crumbs in their pantry but frugal cooks keep them in the freezer so they don’t go stale. Nothing worse than discovering stale breadcrumbs when you are trying to coat those pork chops and get them into a hot oven.
Not So Obvious. I love a good bread salad, also called panzanella, and very popular in Italy with frugal Italian cooks. Cut leftover bread into bite sized chunks and drizzle with olive oil. Crisp in a 350-F deg oven for about 10 minutes, season with sea salt and toss in a bowl with a good vinaigrette, tomato slices, olives, slivers of red onion, and small chunks of whatever cheese you hpapen to have lying around (I like mozzarella, goat or even feta). Scatter freshly torn basil leaves over top. Perfect summer dinner along with a glass of crisp white wine and the protein of your choice.
Even Less Obvious. Bread pudding is a staple in many cultures so simply tear up bread and soak in a mixture of milk and eggs until quite wet but not squishy. For sweet bread pudding, add in cinnamon and a tablespoon of sugar. Bake in a buttered dish in a 350-F deg oven for about 45 minutes or until the top is crunchy and browned. I often take the same bread and cut the milk in half, using leftover chicken stock and eggs to make a savory pudding. My dogs adore it. Tell no one, they are determined to cut back on the puppy carbs. Some day.
Perhaps as Obvious as Less Obvious. Crisp up chunks of bread very briefly in a warm oven and use to dip in your favorite cheese sauce. I make this as a night time snack for my grandbabies when they are hungry but have had too much sugar already. This is pure comfort food and a wintertime favorite in our house.
Obvious but Often Overlooked. I buy Texas Toast, a large loaf, at the 99 cent store and it truly costs only 99 cents. I buy this bread because my partner loves his SOS and the bread of choice for this meal is always Texas Toast. The bread is square, white and thick, something I would not normally buy were it just me. So, French toast it is. This bread holds up incredibly well to baked French Toast in the oven. I simply soak the slices in a mix of eggs and milk and then bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes until crisp. I then layer the baked and cooled slices in a zipper type freezer bag. When my grandchildren visit, I cut the slices into sticks and briefly reheat in the over or air fryer. Quick and perfect French toast sticks every single time.
Obviously. Slice a leftover baguette into half-inch slices and rub with a raw garlic clove. The garlic makes all the difference. Toast lightly and top with fresh tomatoes and ricotta topped with lots of cracked pepper. You can also top with strained yogurt and caramelized onions and fresh thyme or a smear of goat cheese and slices of roasted figs or peaches. A dollop of fig jam will do as well.
Most obviously obvious. Old bread makes the perfect thickener. I use it to thicken soups, stews and for my partner’s favorite ‘fancy’ sauce, romesco. This Spanish sauce is extremely versatile; equally delicious on vegetables as it is on pasta or drizzled over the cooked protein of your choice. Everyone will think it is super fancy when you just made it in the blender and used ingredients you had on hand. I’ve even used a few spoonfuls in an otherwise ordinary dip. It brightens up most anything but is particularly delicious on steamed broccoli, broiled chicken and leftover pasta.
6 potatoes, the type should be whatever you have on hand, sliced very thin
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
fresh bread crumbs, about a cup
1/4 olive oil
garlic salt, pepper, thyme and oregano to taste
Method: First make the bread crumb topping by heating the olive oil in a medium hot pan. Toast the bread crumbs with some salt and pepper until browned. Set aside. Layer the potatoes in a buttered dish and dot with butter. Pour the heavy cream over top and season to taste. Bake in a 350-F deg oven for 30 minutes. Top with breadcrumbs and bake for 30 minutes longer.
2 large roasted red bell peppers from a jar
2 slices old bread, torn into small pieces
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup almonds, slice or whole, whatever you have on hand
A fistful of flat leaf parsley, about 1/4 cup
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons smoked or regular paprika
3/4 or so cup of good olive oil
salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
Optional: squeeze of lemon juice, depends on how ‘bright’ the sauce is once you make it
Method: Stuff everything into a blender except the olive oil. Blitz the ingredients for a minute or two before drizzling in the olive oil until a smooth paste forms. Keeps well in the fridge for a few days. Be sure and pour a thin layer of oil over the sauce when stored in the fridge.