Rule of the Road #2: Toast It!

Getting the most out of every bite of food I put in my mouth helps me fight the urge to graze my way through the kitchen. When I say “the most”, I mean the most flavor, texture, and nutrition bang for the calorie buck. One way to add layers of flavor and texture easily is to toast.

If I am topping my cereal or my salad with nuts or seeds, I toast them in a dry pan over medium heat, shaking them a bit to toast them evenly, just until they are fragrant.

It seems too good to be true, but it takes no more than five minutes to change the flavor of the nuts completely (really, don’t walk away, they can burn before you know it). It also brings out the nuts’/seeds’ oils, which heightens their flavor more. It can even change the texture of the nuts, making them a little crunchier. With this powerful punch of flavor and texture, I can use less nuts and consume fewer calories, while still feeling I am eating something deep and decadent.

Of course, the flavor and texture of bread can be changed by toasting it. Toasted bread is a welcome crunchy companion alongside any salad, or as croutons. I think almost any sandwich is more satisfying when the bread or roll it’s served on has been toasted, grilled, or broiled (all variations on the theme). It also can firm up the bread, so it can stand up to any filling you can think of.

Along the same lines, the browning of meat does so much more than just cook it. The flavors that are created on the outside of browned meat and poultry are rich, earthy, and, well, meaty. Consider the ubiquitous boneless, skinless chicken breast, the protein uniform of “dieters” and “healthy eaters” everywhere. Stripped of its most flavorful parts, steamed or broiled (or microwaved!!?!!) within an inch of its sadly lean life, the only way to rescue b/s chicken breast from culinary doom is to quickly brown it on both sides, and let it finish briefly in the oven to cook through (it could also be sliced into thin cutlets so it cooks through while browning).

So if I told you I was having a chicken breast salad and bread for dinner, you might think of a pile of lettuce with a pale portion of chicken breast atop, with a plain slice of thin, strangely soft bread, so spartan and disciplined, but no! This is dinner:

Featuring CSA lettuce, grated kohlrabi, carrot, and pea salad, and farmers’ market chicken, along with the almonds and toasted local bread. The chicken breast has been coated with a roasted almond/toasted bread crumb breading, and sauteed in a hot pan in olive oil. So that’s like a roasting toasting trifecta right there.

Just drizzled a little lemon vinaigrette over it and called it done. The toast and vinaigrette also feature olive oil. Fat helps the food brown, and the human body needs fat to function. Do not fear the fat. That might be another rule.

That’s it for now. Go on now, start toasting stuff! See you on the Road.

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