Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Olivia's Croutons

You may have recently seen the soup round-up of some of my favorite soups in honor of National Soup Month and January has certainly proved soup-worthy just about everywhere around the country.  I say this even as I sit here now on our coldest night yet this season, with my Snoozies on my feet and my Snuggie on my body trying to stay warm, sipping hot cocoa. I kid you not! Well, one thing you may not have considered as a fantastic garnish for the soups you indulge in this month, are croutons!

I recently had the opportunity to try Olivia's Croutons and received packages of Multi Grain & Garlic and Certified Organic Garlic & Herb croutons.

Along with Butter & Garlic, Parmesan Pepper, and Vermont Cheddar & Dill croutons.

Olivia’s Croutons are made in small batches, on a working farm in Northern Vermont. The company was born in 1991, in the home kitchen of Francie, the young mother of then 3 year old Olivia, and 2 year old David. Within four months, demand for the croutons grew from an initial order of 20 bags, to selling them in stores, signing their first big store and doing a demo that resulted in 200 bags being sold in just three days.  Within two years the operation moved into a basement commercial kitchen of its own and continued growing until Olivia's moved into their own building in the next town. After the purchase and extensive renovations to a 1912 dairy barn, Olivia’s moved into it’s current home on a 50 acre homestead, where the owners grow the wheat for their croutons and produce their products in the cleverly concealed insides of the historic barn.

All of Olivia's products are baked with fresh, made from scratch, Vermont breads baked right on the property, many from wheat grown right on the property. The bread for the croutons is then rested overnight and cut the very next day.  Special seasonings are applied, the croutons are spread on trays and baked in small batches, cooled and packaged. There are no preservatives or artificial anything used in Olivia's products. It's really a pretty cool process, not much different than if you and I were making these fresh, right in our own homes, but on a slightly larger scale. Check it out!

Olivia's carries all of the products shown above, and recently added two flavors of Stuffing. The traditional stuffing is made from a combination of their French and Multi Grain breads and seasoned with lots of traditional, all natural, poultry seasonings. The cornbread stuffing is made with old fashioned unsweetened cornbread and a combination of traditional poultry herbs and spices, plus a bit of marjoram and nutmeg to give it a classic flavor with a twist.

Croutons are a classic topper for salads, of course, and this salad below features the multi-grain croutons. It's a great way to add in a bit of extra fiber with your salad. And, of course they are perfect for a panzanella salad.

But what else can you do with croutons?

Well, since it is National Soup Month, why not top your favorite soups with them? You may recall seeing them on this Greens and Black-eyed Pea Soup that I served up on New Years Day. I used the Butter & Garlic croutons - an award winner - with this soup. Fantastic crunch, nicely seasoned, buttery garlic flavor, these were just delicious.

And, I used the Parmesan Pepper croutons - another award winner - on this soup. Loved these! Made from freshly baked French bread, coated in quality olive and canola oils, and tossed with just enough cracked black pepper to give it a nice bite, plus fresh garlic and imported Parmesan, I don't mind telling y'all these are an awesome snack too.   Can you tell what soup this is the makings of?

Yep - that'd be French Onion Soup, topped with Olivia's Parmesan Pepper croutons and lawdy mercy is it ever good!

Got this Sausage and Sweet Potato Soup coming to you next - this one is topped with Olivia's Multi Grain. Oh my gosh is it good!

Throw some of the Vermont Cheddar and Dill croutons into a bowl of tomato soup, or in a spinach salad

But, croutons can also be used in other ways - ways that you may not have thought of before.

You can also use them as a stuffing base in squash and other vegetables, or in chops, chicken, stuffed steak or fish. Crushed croutons can also be used as a topping on a casserole, a coating for virtually any protein, or to stir into soups and pastas to add texture and body.

Try the Vermont Cheddar and Dill croutons crushed and coated on baked fish, or use crushed Multi Grain and Garlic croutons to stuff pork, or chicken.  And, being the bread lover that I am, I found that they all were perfect for snacking too.  Those Parmesan Pepper ones made an awesome snack.

Just think outside of the salad plate!

Check out the recipes at Olivia's site, but if you follow them on their blog, you'll find even more recipes and some interesting facts. Like, did you know some crouton manufacturers spray flavoring on their croutons? Olivia's doesn't do that. Their croutons are made by hand-seasoning freshly baked bread with delicious oils and butter and plenty of fresh garlic, grated cheeses, herbs and spices baked into the crouton.

Olivia's Croutons are widely available in supermarkets, specialty food shops, and on the web. Next time you're in your store, look for them!

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Disclosure: Olivia's provided me with their crouton products to try.