Thank you, Martha

I still remember the first thing I bought after getting married. My new husband (!) and I were at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport the day after our wedding, getting ready to board a flight to Colorado for our honeymoon. (Incidentally, I had not yet had the opportunity to refer to Josh as “my husband”, but I would get that opportunity at the gate. It was surreal.) We stopped into Hudson News to get something to read on our flight and I was OH SO EXCITED to purchase what I considered quintessential required reading for wives: Martha Stewart Living. What’s more, I subscribed to Martha’s mag upon our return to the real world and each month pored over all the good things in it. (This was 2001, my friends. Before Martha did hard time in a poncho and was still enjoying her pretty pedestal.)

I have a confession to make: I only ever found two recipes of Martha’s that I made/enjoyed/didn’t curse my way through. They were popcorn balls and the salad recipe I am about to share with you. (I might let you in on the popcorn balls someday, but it will be after my kids are done with braces. Because I can’t make popcorn balls again until their mouths are metal free. Because ORTHODONTISTS.)

Now, I am going to give you the “real” version of Martha’s recipe (just click here), but what you need to know is that I have not actually looked at the recipe in years. Because I’ve made this so many times and so much of it is to taste that I just throw it together and VOILA, deliciousness.  My favorite way to serve this is either with a baked whole chicken or grilled chicken. Just depends on what kind of chicken is on sale.  And you are in luck! The baby was napping while I worked on this and as a result… WE HAVE PHOTOS!!!)

If you want to be uber-awesome, you must make your own croutons. If you are crunched for time, you can cheat and get them at the store but I urge you: make them from scratch. You will love them and you will never buy store croutons again. My family loves these croutons so much that I make double what I really  need for the recipe because if my husband or children are around when they come out of the oven, well, they snack on them until there’s only half left for the salad anyway. We’ve been known to bag up leftovers and snack on them the next day as well. We all have garlic breath. Sparkly vampires, keep your distance.

My method for making my own croutons is to use this recipe for quick baguettes. I’ve been using this recipe for several years and I will never go back to the fancy French baguettes I used to make 15 years ago. I always managed to fail to plan it out correctly, or screw something up, and I was undoubtedly faced with disappointment in 4 out of 5 attempts. It was sad. And I don’t like being sad, even though I love a proper French baguette. I like this quick version so much that it’s the cover photo on my “Pinterest Recipes I’ve Made” board and I tell everyone about it, all the time. That’s love, folks. True love.

If you are a menu planner (which you should be or I have serious doubts about our friendship), then you’ll plan to have bread at some point during the week, make the awesome quick recipe, eat a loaf at dinner, and then save one for croutons. And you only have to save half the loaf if you aren’t crazy crouton eaters like we are.

To get started, preheat your oven to 350 and get out a big bowl, preferably one that you can stick a lid on later.  Then mix together your crouton ingredients. We’ve got olive oil, some pressed garlic, some chopped parsley, salt, and pepper. YUM.

Next, cube up that delicious bread with your big ol’ bread knife!

I slice it, then turn it on end and make my cubes. We like them on the larger size. It’s, like, rustic and stuff.

When the bread is all cubed up, toss it into your bowl with the ingredients, put the lid on, and shake it. Shake it real good. (If you don’t have a lid, you can do it the slow way, which is to toss it all together with a spoon. But shaking is MORE FUN.)

Now you want to spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. I’m using my Large Bar Pan from The Pampered Chef. Because stoneware is the most awesome.

Then throw your pan in the oven and bake those croutons until they are crouton-y. Now, crouton-y means different things to different people. Some people like them SUPER crunchy, others like crunch on the outside, and still soft on the inside… it may take some experimentation on your part to figure out the best way for you. At our house, we’ve got one in braces and croutons are on her “do not eat list”. Well, we just can’t have that. Literal tears happened when Carebear heard that we were making croutons because she thought she would not get to eat them. So during this metal mouth season of our life, we are going for not-so-crunchy, and that means I only let them bake for around 15 minutes and then called them done. My personal preference would be more like 25 minutes of bake time to get a really nice crunchy bite, but I love my sweet girl and could not deny her the happiness of croutons, so there you are. The things we do for our children.

Super crunchy or no, you definitely want them to have a nice golden color. Keep an eye on them, because there’s a big difference between golden color and BURNT and burnt is no bueno, trust me.

You’ll want your croutons to be cool before you add them to your salad, so in the meantime you can do other stuff like put together your chicken and your salad.

Hello, Mr. Chicken. How nice of you to join us.

Do you know about whole chicken? If you aren’t buying whole chicken, I need to talk to you about that. Sit down and let’s chat. Whole chicken is cheaper than buying just chicken parts. And what’s more, you can make chicken stock from your leftovers to keep in the freezer for all kinds of things like soups and gravies and etcetera etcetera. Do not be afraid of the guts! Just do like I do: position your trash can on the floor by your sink and your baking dish on the counter by your sink, designate one hand as your “clean hand” and one hand as your “salmonella hand”, sit the grocery bag containing the chicken bag in your sink, cut open the chicken bag with your kitchen shears, bravely stick your arm into that chicken cavity and remove ALL THE THINGS, place them in the bag, then with one hand you can lift the bag of guts and juices into your trash can while you hold Mr. Chicken aloft so as not to completely contaminate your sink, then use your clean hand to turn on the water, rinse Mr. Chicken inside and out and then place him nicely into your Deep Covered Baker (or similar dish that will accommodate a 5 pound chicken). Then season, cover, and bake!

A five pound bird will take about 1.5 hours in your oven at 350 (you want a temperature read of 165 when it’s done). If my microwave had not been out of commission for the past month, I would take the faster route which is 30 minutes on high in the microwave but you can ONLY copy me on that if you have a Deep Covered Baker from The Pampered Chef. Do not attempt a 30 Minute Chicken in your microwave without the DCB. It won’t work.

Here is the cast of characters for your Caesar Dressing. You’ll notice that I do not do this Martha’s way (sardines and raw eggs – ew).

I use three hearts of romaine and slice them like so in an effort to create manageable bites.

Throw the sliced romaine into your salad spinner, rinse it really well, and then spin the heck out of it.

Then get rid of that yucky lettuce water, dry your bowl, and put the clean lettuce in and it’s time to start assembling.

The dressing is very simple: olive oil, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, pressed garlic cloves, salt, pepper, mayo, and spicy brown mustard. Whisk it all up and give it a taste. Adjust your seasoning and lemon juice as you see fit. I usually add a little more lemon juice because I like the flavor. It makes a beautiful, creamy dressing for your salad.

Shave or grate some Parmesan cheese into your salad bowl, and add your croutons. You can serve your dressing on the side, or you can toss it into the salad and dress it before taking it to the table.

It’s delicious. I hope you will try it and tell me what you think!

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