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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Toast the Old-Fashioned Way

Though I have had a toaster in my home all my life, I rarely use this appliance and have it tucked away in a corner cabinet, behind a crockpot and a stack of cake pans. Not too long ago, I had some homemade bread a little less fresh than I wanted for a sandwich. Toasting is a great way to use bread that is still flavorful but just this side of stale, so it seemed time to drag out the toaster.

For one little sandwich? All that cabinet clearing just for one little sandwich? There had to be a better way.

And indeed there is. In fact, now that I have been reminded of this ancient method for making toast, I may never drag out the toaster again.

Almost as long as people have been making bread, they have been making some kind of toast. The earliest method seems to have been to put chunks of bread on a stick and hold them over a fire, much like we might toast marshmallows. Later when pans were hung over a fire area, bread began being toasted there. Only in the late 19th century did the toaster that we know today become a reality, and people continued with the more old-fashioned approach for years after the pop-up toaster became a standard appliance in most western kitchens.

Now, in a step backward in time, I have come to love the more old-fashioned approach, for several reasons:
  • It requires no specialized appliance, a nice thing when one's kitchen storage space is limited
  • All sizes and shapes of bread can be toasted, even the little ones that always seem to fall way down in the slots and need fishing out (dangerously, if you don't unplug the thing) with a fork or knife

  • The final product can be much lower in fat than a slice of toast taken out of the toaster and buttered while hot
  • This method may actually be quicker than a pop-up toaster, especially if you have several slices of bread that you want to toast.
  • This method leads right into grilled sandwiches of all kinds, just by adding fillings of your choice. 

Basics of Old Fashioned Toasting

The best pan for this is a cast iron (of course!) skillet or griddle, large enough to place several slices of bread flat in the bottom. If you don't have cast iron, any heavy, flat pan will do. Because you will be preheating the empty pan, avoid non-stick cookware.
Canola oil or olive oil, flavored if desired, are probably the best fats, but butter can also be used, by itself or mixed with a little oil. If using butter, you will have to be more watchful to be sure the toast doesn't burn.
It will be easier to do this on a gas stove rather than an electric one because of the responsiveness of the flame, but either range will work.

  1. Heat the empty pan over medium high heat, adding only enough oil to barely cover the bottom. Even in a 12 inch skillet, you may not need more than a teaspoon.
  2. To test if the oil is hot enough, drop a few large crumbs into the pan. They should "dance"  and sputter a bit if the pan is hot enough.
  3. Arrange slices of bread flat on the pan. Allow to toast for a few minutes.  Lift a corner now and then to check on the progress; as you become comfortable with the length of time needed, you'll find yourself doing this less and less.
  4. When the first side is browned to your preference, flip the slices and continue toasting until done.
If a second set of slices will be toasted, add a bit more oil as needed. However, you may be surprised at how very little fat is needed with a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.

Other things you can do

Once you become proficient with this method of toasting, you can do all kinds of things, like toasting the bread for your sandwiches and grilling the fillings at the same time or toasting a couple of slices of bread and then, with a few more drops of oil added, frying up an egg or two in the same pan for breakfast with minimal clean up. And, as the photo below shows, you can even slice up slightly stale rolls into rounds that could be a great  base for your favorite bruschetta toppings.

Using up stale bread

And you can even turn dinner rolls, hot dog buns, etc., into garlic bread, mini-pizza bases, or toasts for using with spinach dip, etc. Talk about frugal--no more stale bread that has to be thrown away!

 As shown below, take a sandwich roll and slice it like a mini-loaf of bread, with most rolls able to be cut into four slices. Toast  these slices just as for full bread slices. The rounded part of the top slice of the roll can be pressed gently to be sure that all parts are toasted.

So that's it. Toast without a toaster. How easy is that!

Leftover Salads


Images of warmed over, unappetizing lumps of food kind of plopped on a plate or microwaved in a sad looking take out container. Rarely does the term have any kind of positive image. Still, if you are trying to be a more frugal cook, using up leftovers needs to be part of your "kitchen skills."

Maybe you can revitalize your attitude toward leftovers if you start to think of these ingredients in the refrigerator as "idea starters," "creativity makers" for coming meals.

My mother was a creative cook, and she always found ways to u leftovers so they were appetizing and never dull. Probably one of the biggest disappointments with her leftover cooking was the problem of duplication. I remember often having a main dish that was so wonderful, we all asked her to make it again and, if there were guests, there would be requests for the recipe. Her answer would have to be, sorry, but I just stirred some leftovers together and then tasted for seasoning. Since there would never again be quite this same combination of ingredients to work with, that very appealing "casserole" or stew or soup couldn't be exactly re-created.

I was reminded of this today as I stirred up a main dish salad. After a potluck this weekend, a friend shared a wonderful pasta salad, enough for several servings. Yesterday I had some of this with turkey breast and squash, but today I wanted to lighten it up, and have enough to share with several guests. There was also just a tiny smidge--about 2 to 3 tablespoons--of the coleslaw I had made last weekend (posted here Though the weather has turned cold again, it still was a day for a main dish salad with warm homemade rolls on the side, so it was time to make a Leftover Salad.

Salads like this are great for this time of the year, when I try very much to avoid the hard imported tomatoes that are the only fresh ones available. Some of the other summer salad ingredients are also harder to find. I haven't gone completely to local foods, but I do like to stay at least somewhat with the seasons as I choose salad ingredients. There were radishes and green onions on special this week, both very springlike tastes for me, and Aldi's was featuring cucumbers and mixed color bell peppers at very reasonable prices. (Yes, I know they aren't local, but the price was such that I could splurge a little here.) There is still cabbage in the crisper and some nice fresh spinach for color, so a salad could be pulled together quickly. The pasta salad and coleslaw each brought some dressing into the bowl, so I just tasted and added a little more (ranch dressing for this combination) as needed to dress the salad well.

The final salad proved to be just right for a hearty lunch. Some fresh strawberries (also on sale this week) and orange wedges made a great finale, and everyone had at least four servings of vegetables and fruit all in one colorful package.

Following is what I used in this salad, along with some suggestions for other additions that might be made. Note that the amounts given are very approximate and should definitely be varied, depending on what you have on hand.  When using something like a pasta or chicken salad, the key is to add this in small portions to the greens and then tossing the mixture well so that the thicker salads don't remain as big unmixed lumps in the overall dish.

Today's Leftover Salad

6 to 7 romaine lettuce leaves, coarsely chopped
about 1 to 2 c fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
2 to 4 large radishes, sliced
about 1/3 large cucumber, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, coarsely diced
1 to 2 t finely chopped onion, to taste
1 to 2 T sliced black olives
2 c coarsely shredded cabbage
about 1 to 1 1/2 c pasta salad
about 1/2 c cole slaw, including dressing
ranch dressing (or dip) to taste

Toss all ingredients together and taste for seasoning, adding dressing as needed to moisten appropriately.

Other possible add-ins:
diced or shredded cheese, any variety
crumbled bacon or artificial bacon bits
diced turkey, chicken, ham, or roast beef
chopped hard-boiled egg
other lettuces or greens
broccoli, peas, corn, or other leftover cooked vegetables
shredded red cabbage
grated carrot
diced celery
broccoli or cauliflower
sliced mushrooms
nuts, sunflower seeds, etc.

Dressing choices:
The nice thing about including some "pre-made" salad leftovers is that you will be able to take advantage of the dressing already on that part of your ingredients. What is already included in your mix may well guide you in the rest of your dressing. For today's salad, the pasta had a mayonnaise dressing that had many of the same herbs as ranch dressing, so that was my choice for finishing the salad. Had the pasta salad been made with a basil flavored vinaigrette, I might have mixed up a little more oil and vinegar dressing or pulled a bottle of similar dressing from the refrigerator. The cole slaw's sweet and tangy vinegar dressing went well with the ranch dressing but would have also blended well with many others as well.

...or Fruits and a sweeter salad:
You can also take your salad in an entirely different direction by adding in fresh (diced apple, pear, banana, pineapple, strawberries, etc.) or dried (cranberries, raisins, diced dried apricot) fruits. My preference is to keep these sweeter elements out of salads that are more savory or vegetable-oriented, but feel free to expand your horizons with these leftovers as well. Who knows when you might come up with your own special, never to be quite duplicated recipe too!