Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bittman's Pantry Overhaul Part Deux

As I mentioned in a previous post about lemons & limes, I'm obsessing a bit over Mark Bittman's article, "Fresh Start for a New Year? Let’s Begin in the Kitchen," from Tuesday, January 6th's New York Times. And what better to obsess over than his #1 pantry faux pas . . .

OUT Packaged bread crumbs or croutons.

IN Take crumbs, cubes or slices of bread, and either toast evenly in a low oven until dry and lightly browned, tossing occasionally; or cook in olive oil until brown and crisp, stirring frequently. The first keep a long time, and are multipurpose; the second are best used quickly, and are incomparably delicious.
I only have one recipe in my repertoire that calls for breadcrumbs: turkey meatloaf from The Flying Biscuit Cafe Cookbook: Breakfast and Beyond. Scroll to the bottom for my version of this recipe. The recipe as I make it requires one cup of bread crumbs and I make this bad boy about once a week. So that's four cups of bread crumbs a month, easily a can of store bought crumbs a month.

But is it really cheaper to use bread to make bread crumbs? Is the non-olive oiled version all that yummier? So I conducted a little experiment.

Cost Analysis:
In sum, yes, it is less expensive to make bread crumbs than it is to buy packaged bread crumbs.

At the Henry's in Yorba Linda the bread crumb options are limited to two different flavors of Gia Russa Whole Grain Bread Crumbs which both cost $3.19 for a 10 oz. container. A cup of these bread crumbs weighs in at 4 oz. So that's $1.28 worth of breadcrumbs per loaf of meat. Three bread ends weighed in at about 4 oz. So let's call that three slices of bread out of a loaf costing $2.99 containing 17 slices of bread. At $0.18 per slice, that's $0.54 per loaf of meat, for a total savings of $0.74. Huh, that's more cost savings than I expected. If I really make meatloaf once a week, that's an annual savings of $38.48.

Convenience Analysis
In sum: pouring processed breadcrumbs is pretty darned easy, but making them from scratch isn't rocket science.

Saturday, before I started slicing onions for the meatloaf, I placed my three bread ends on a cookie sheet and popped them in a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven and left them there while I did the rest of my prep work on the meatloaf, no more than 30 minutes. First, I tried to grate the toasted bread. I think that resulted in more breadcrumbs on the counter and the floor than in the bowl. Dicing the bread proved both faster and less wasteful. Certainly toasting and dicing bread takes a few more seconds than pouring crumbs out of a container. And there's the cost of the heating the oven to consider, though to be fair I have to preheat the oven to 350 for the meatloaf.

Flavor Analysis:
In sum: as far as breadcrumbs in meatloaf goes, it's six of one half dozen of the other.

My independent taste tester, a.k.a. David, determined that there was no difference in the consistency or flavor of the meatloaf. That might be a function of the recipe.

Can anyone think of a good recipe to taste the quality of breadcrumbs?

Turkey Meatloaf with Homemade Breadcrumbs adapted from The Flying Biscuit Cafe Cookbook: Breakfast and Beyond by April Moon.

The cookbook recommends serving the loaf topped with Creamy Horseradish Sauce. I serve it topped with Sage and Onion Gravy from The Grit Cookbook.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small yellow, onion minced
1 large carrot, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
2 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup or 4 oz. or about three bread ends worth of homemade bread crumbs
1 large egg
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup ketchup
1 pound lean ground turkey

1. Place bread ends on a cookie sheet, pop them into a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven, and ignore them while you do the rest of your prep work on the meatloaf.
2. Lightly grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan (I use a glass one). Then line the bottom and sides of said pan with waxed paper. Then grease the waxed paper and set aside.
3. In a small skillet heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and garlic to the pan and saute until onions are translucent and carrots have softened, about 7 minutes. Add the basil, oregano, rosemary, pepper, and salt to the veggies. Saute briefly to bring out the flavor of the herbs. Remove from heat and cool. In a large bowl combine the contents from the skillet with the bread crumbs, egg, cream, Parmesan, mozzarella, and ketchup. Stir it up until all the yummy bits are evenly distributed.
4. Take the dry, lightly browned bread ends out of the oven, dice them, throw them in the bowl, and mix them in with the rest of the yummy stuff.
5. Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. Add the turkey and mix until all ingredients are incorporated, then mound mixture into prepared loaf pan.
7. Bake 1 hour, or until the internal temperature on an instant-read thermometer reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool slightly, then cut and serve.

Click here to return to Gnomicon home page


Rebecca said...

Stupid web ate my comment. Guess all this talk about food made it hungry.

Gist of what I said - homemade crumbs are worth it when used as a topping on something like baked mac and cheese (or eggplant and peanut casserole which I just tried this weekend). In things where the crumbs are mixed in to something dense like meatloaf or salmon patties I don't think you benefit from the texture of the homemade crumbs. I think that panko works almost as well though and they are a lot less work.

Sarah said...

I've got a couple of baked mac n' cheese recipes that I've been contemplating. Thank you for the advice.

I actually found making the bread crumbs much more easy than I anticipated. Certainly in terms of cost and packaging waste, I think homemade bread crumbs make sense.

I didn't really address Bittman's recommendation to make homemade croutons because I don't really use croutons. But then I saw this Angry Chicken's post about croutons and now I want to make soup just so I can float some homemade croutons in it.