There's a big piece of land for sale up the road from my house.
Costco, are you listening???
I'm an hour away from the nearest location of my favorite warehouse-type store and, while I don't go often, and I don't stockpile huge quantities of things in The Perfect (but kind of small) Pantry, I'd love to have a Costco closer to home.
I love their sides of salmon for $3.99 per pound. I love the soft, puffy bagels (heresy, from a native New Yorker....). I love the oatmeal-raisin cookies, the giant boxes of grape tomatoes, the bags of Empire kosher chicken breasts, the portobello caps and haricot vert at prices I can afford.
Most of all, though, I love the cookbooks.
Incredible bargains, eclectic selection, best sellers, no-sellers — I can't walk past the book aisle without browsing, and there is always something I don't have and, suddenly, cannot live without.
Last week, the brand new Fine Cooking Annual landed in my shopping cart — available at Costco before it's even in the bookstores! Good thing, too, because I was looking for new recipes that call for the dry bread crumbs I found on my pantry shelf.
Dry bread crumbs, made from dry or toasted bread, are a staple in meatloaf and toppings for pasta, which is why most of us have them in the pantry. They're easy to make, but even easier to buy, and they have an incredibly long shelf-life. Generally you find them in the market in two styles: plain, and Italian (with herbs and spices). Both have roughly the same calorie count (110 per 1/4 cup of crumbs), but the Italian ones have twice as much sodium.
To make your own bread crumbs, cut stale bread (white or whole wheat) into large cubes, and place on a baking sheet in a low-medium oven (300-350°F). Bake until very dry and just barely browned. Place the cubes in a food processor or blender and process to a fairly fine consistency. To create your own special seasoned bread crumbs, add dried herbs (garlic or onion powder, thyme leaf, sage, etc.) with the bread cubes, and process together.
Egg noodle, cheese and cauliflower gratin
A comment from fellow food blogger Scott on this post got me thinking. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to get over my fear of cauliflower. Could this be the recipe that turns it around for me? Adapted slightly from Fine Cooking Annual (2007). Serves 8.
3/4 lb (about 1-1/2 cups) farmer's cheese
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 small head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch-long florets
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (I like Swanson's 99%, or homemade), or vegetable broth
9 oz fresh egg fettuccine
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Set a large pot of generously salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Butter a 9x13 baking dish.
In a food processor, combine the cheese and cream and process until well blended. (You can also mix them in a bowl.)
Melt 1 Tbsp of butter in a 12-inch skillet over high heat. Stir in the bread crumbs, thyme, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Sauté, stirring, until the crumbs are light golden brown and crisp, 1-2 minutes. Immediately scrape them into a small bowl and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean.
Melt 1 Tbsp butter in the same skillet over high heat, until it begins to bubble and brown. Add half the cauliflower and cook until well browned, 2-3 minutes, stirring only once about halfway through, then transfer to a bowl. Lower the heat to medium high, add the remaining 1 Tbsp butter, and repeat with remaining cauliflower. When it's well browned, return the first batch of cauliflower to the pan, add the broth, and cook until the cauliflower begins to get tender but is still a bit crunchy, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 tsp pepper.
Cut the fettuccine into 3-inch lengths and cook in the boiling water until tender, 2-3 minutes. Drain. Put the cauliflower with its cooking liquid and the cheese mixture in the empty pasta pot. Stir to combine. Return the fettuccine to the pot and stir it all together. Season to taste with 1/2 tsp kosher salt. Spread the mixture in the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the top. Bake until the top is lightly golden brown and the cheese is bubbling, 20-30 minutes. Let cool briefly before serving.
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.