I’m an optimist by nature. I assume that people will do the right thing most of the time. Setbacks become opportunities to find and try out new ways of engaging.

Recently, I wrote about the large amount of leftover bread that’s been circulating around the neighborhood since the Simchat Torah barbeque. It’s moved from Dolores Park to Jen’s and then my freezer. I was going to make it all into apple walnut bread pudding for a Shabbat morning kiddush which I did. The three large pans served some forty happy people who didn’t seem to mind that it wasn’t warm. No one noticed that the sesame seeds peeking out here and there had once topped a couple of dozen hamburger rolls either.

Mission accomplished! Well, sort of. Twelve pounds of bread pudding later, there were still two full shelves of twice-frozen hot dogs buns in my refrigerator. Someone I mentioned this to suggested that I donate them to a food pantry or soup kitchen. Even if one would take them off my hands, I couldn’t do it. Giving food to others in a condition that I wouldn’t eat runs counter to the most fundamental teaching of Jewish ethics: “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a).

croutons-_3.jpgI also didn’t want to be wasteful. So this evening I made parve croutons, hundreds of them. Tomorrow night, Jen is going to come by and take two large and nine small bags. She’ll redistribute them to people who do the critical volunteer work that keeps the Minyan running. I’ll keep one bag to incorporate into the meal I’ll be preparing later this week for Shabbat lunch.

Croutons are easy to make and offer a great way to use stale bread. Often, they’re sautéed in oil with garlic. I prefer to bake them. The preparation is quite simple. Cut the bread into cubes of the desired size. Place the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. At this point, they can be drizzled with oil and fresh or dried herbs. Then they go in a 375º F oven for 15 minutes or until they’re fully dry and slightly golden. Cool and store in airtight containers.

Unless I have a specific use in mind, I make plain croutons which are the most versatile. Here are a few ways to use them:

1. Tossed in a salad.
2. As a featured ingredient in a rustic soup.
3. As a main ingredient in a bread stuffing.
4. Ground into crumbs for breading vegetables, fish or meat.

From time to time, we all have leftover bread. Give crouton making at home a try. They’re much better than store-bought and can add a bit to the value of our grocery purchases. You don’t have to bake ten trays of them at once like I did. Unless, of course, you’ve got more than three dozen twice-frozen hot dog buns in your fridge.

Speaking of value, in the next few days, I’m going to be adding a new recipe section on the Baking page. It will be called Recession Remedies. This is where you’ll find budget-stretching desserts, such as Cheap Sponge Cake, and baking instructions for other inexpensive goodies like these croutons indexed for easy linking. I’ll be adding new ones from time to time. Hopefully, this economic downturn will be short-lived. I’m an optimist, remember.