Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bread Pudding -- Better Than It Looks

Looking at these photos now, I think this is a dessert my friend Craig would love. It's not fussy. It's homey. It involves ice cream. However, this bread pudding was initially greeted with suspicion. It doesn't look pretty. It's a sloppy mess of stale bread, chocolate chips and dried fruit drowning in a soup of eggs, sugar, half & half and cinnamon. Dan called it peasant food. I'd say that's about right. It seems like the sort of thing that poor Irish immigrants to London would make for New Year's dinner, or at that's how I romanticize it.

But once tried, it was conceded that, indeed, bread pudding tastes better than it looks, however rustic. Megan said it reminded her of French toast, a childhood favorite of mine, which gave me permission to eat dessert for breakfast for the first time in my entire life. Ice cream included. I've lost my appetite for breakfast lately. Maybe it's the overall gloom. Maybe I'm sick of eating cereal every day. I am such a creature of routine.

Bread Pudding: from Cake and Cup
1 loaf ciabatta bread, or 12 to 16 pieces stale bread
handful semi-sweet chocolate chips
big handful dried fruit
6 eggs
4 cups half & half
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch by 13-inch pan. Rip apart bread into bite-size pieces and arrange on the pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and dried fruit.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, half & half, cinnamon, vanilla and brown sugar, whisking until smooth. Pour over bread. Make sure every piece of bread is sufficiently emersed in liquid. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve plain, a la mode or with whipped cream.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Soup Is All I Want

I'm about up to my ears in words. At this point in the magazine's cycle, I'm going over I couldn't even tell you how many stories per day. You would think I'd nothing left to say.

Squash-Apple Soup: from Back to Basics by Ina Garten
1 pound butternut squash
2 apples
1/2 cup onion
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon curry powder
dash cayenne pepper
2 to 4 cups chicken stock

squash seeds
olive oil
salt and pepper

Peel the squash and apples, chop them along with the onion. Mince the garlic. Ina suggests roasting the vegetables with olive oil and salt and pepper for 30 to 45 minutes at 450 degrees, but I didn't have time so I just sauteed them for 10 to 15 minutes until browned and softened. In retrospect, it probably would have worked out better to roast, but sometimes you sacrifice quality for sanity. Puree the sauteed vegetables with some chicken stock until smooth. Put the pureed vegetables back in the pot, add enough chicken stock to thin out the soup to a desired consistency. On medium-low heat, bring soup to a simmer. Add curry and cayenne pepper, along with the salt, adjusting to taste. Let simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute the seeds and almonds on medium-high heat with olive oil, salt and pepper until the seeds are crunchy (8 to 10 minutes). I also added some garlic powder given to me for Christmas by my friend Lindsey. Serve soup topped with seeds and almonds.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fool Proof

I've been attempting decent yeast bread for years, and all it takes is one expensive pot to finally accomplish this baking feat. My freshman year roommate (someone who's coolness I didn't appreciate until we were a little older) heard via Facebook that I had procured a Dutch oven. She recommended I try out this recipe from the Sullivan Street Bakery, printed in the New York Times. I had heard of the recipe before by its promise to be pretty-much foolproof. No kneading involved, just lots and lots of waiting. And I think we can easily deduce that if I can do it, then it is fool proof.
No-knead Bread:
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cups hot water

Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir in the water with a wooden spoon until blended. (The water should be pretty hot if you don't have instant yeast.) Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 12 to 18 hours (yeah, long time). After 12 to 18 hours the dough should have some small holes in it, this means it's ready to be turned out on a well-floured surface and folded on itself twice. Form dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 15 minutes. Generously sprinkle two cotton towels with flour (or cornmeal or bran). Work dough in a ball and cover it with the towels. Let rise for two hours. Preheat oven to 450. About 30 minutes before baking the bread, put your cast iron or other fireproof pot in the oven. Remove pot from oven just before baking. Turn risen dough into the pot (being careful not to burn yourself), bake it for 30 minutes with the lid on. Take the dough out of the oven and remove the lid. Replace in oven and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes. Bread is finished when it is golden brown.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

From a Box

And sometimes I make frozen pizza. Do you?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Boeuf Bourguignon

I am completely intimidated by the butchers at Wohlner's. One of them is a large man who looks like he would be the Irish pounder in the Corleone family. The other is actually pretty small, but they both weald knives, wear aprons smattered with blood and know how to break down a carcass. I am equal parts in awe and afraid to speak to them--though I do think they are quite nice. They know what they are doing, but when it comes to meat and poultry, I am almost completely clueless. But to make beouf bourguignon for a potluck on Friday, I had to face my fears and get 6 pounds of (already-cubed, God bless them) stew meat. I am so ignorant about meat that I didn't realize how much meat 6 pounds is. The small butcher weighed all the stew meat in the display case and then said he usually doesn't keep that much meat up there, so he had to cut some more. I walked away with a pile of meat the size of a cement building block. And that wasn't even the worst of it--I had to actually cook it.

You could call it a resolution to be less lazy in 2010, but I'm trying to follow directions more and not take shortcuts. Julia Child is making that very difficult for me. Mastering the Art of French Cooking talks about the importance of reading the thoroughly recipe before starting and following each step with precision at least for the first run-through. Which meant on Thursday night, I spent the better part of the night hunched over my *beautiful* Dutch oven searing just the outside of 6 pounds of meat in order to seal in all the juices. I boiled the bacon beforehand to rid it of its smokey flavor. I even bought the exact wine Julia recommended for boeuf bourguignon. My efforts did not disappoint. Julia Child et al say that the stew is done when it can be pierced easily with a fork. So after only the minimum two-and-a-half hours in the oven, I crossed my fingers and stabbed a piece of meat. It broke apart instantly. Who knew meat could be that tender or that I, Lainey Renee Seyler, could be the one to bring said tenderness about.

The following night for the potluck, I was so busy having fun and the stew was so good that I didn't have time to snap a picture until it was gone. I have never made something quite like the boeuf bourguignon. Nothing I do has that much meat, firstly, or shows it off so well. And secondly, sheesh, it was just good.

Boeuf Bourguignon:
3 ounces bacon, sliced and chopped into two-inch strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds stewing beef, cubed
1 carrot
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, sliced
2 tablespoons flour
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf, crushed
1/4 teaspoon thyme
salt and pepper to taste

For mushrooms:
1 pound mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil

For onions:
18 pearl onions
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil

To start, bring a quart of water to a boil and boil the bacon for 10 minutes. Pour off water and reserve bacon.

Preheat oven to 450. Using a fire-proof pot, heat the oil to medium on the stovetop. Cook the bacon until it is browned, though not overdone. Remove and set aside. Leaving the fat in the pot, begin browning the outside of the already-cubed stew beef. Set each piece aside once the outsides have been browned, this seals in all the juices. Once finished, saute the diced carrots and sliced onions in the same fat until the onions are translucent, which takes about 5 minutes. Remove the vegetables and pour off any excess fat. Throw the bacon, beef, carrots and onions back into the pot. Dust with flour, stirring to coat. Place in preheated oven for 4 minutes, remove, stir and place back into the oven for another 4 minutes. The flour gives a crust to the meat.

Reduce oven temperature to 325. Pour in the wine and beef stock so that the beef is just barely covered/submerged. Season with crushed bay leaf and thyme and a little salt and pepper. Add the tomato paste and the crushed garlic. Bring the entire mixture to a soft boil, cover and place in oven for two-and-a-half to three hours. The stew is done when the meat pierces easily with a fork.

Meanwhile, work on the mushrooms and onions. In a saute pan, melt the butter and heat the oil. Saute the mushrooms until they are browned, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Peal the onions. Julia recommends blanching them in boiling water and the shocking them with cold water. The skin and first layer should peal off easily. However, at this point I threw the whole follow-the-directions-precisely thing out the window and just cut of the ends and pealed them with my fingers (less cleanup). Again, melt the butter and heat the oil to medium. Toss in the onions and roll them around until they are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Pour the onions and the cooking fat into a cassarole or fire-proof pot, place in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes until onions are softened.

(I also cut out a step here, but we won't talk about that) Stir the mushrooms and onions into the beef. You can stop here to refrigerate and serve later or continue on by bringing the stew to a boil and then reducing the heat to a simmer. Season to taste with parsely and salt and pepper. If you're serving this later, also bring to a boil and then reduce heat so that it simmers for 15 to 20 minutes, until the stew is of a uniform and desireable temperature.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I realize Omaha isn't an isolated locale receiving the brunt of Mother Nature's fury. I know it's -30 other places and that we are not the only ones who have had two blizzard and like 30-plus inches of snow, but it sure feels like it. I'm beginning to lose track of how many times I've shoveled, and there literally is no where to put the snow. Dumps trucks are hauling it off as if it were debris to snow burial grounds that are beginning to resemble not-so-miniature models of the Himalayan mountain range.

My dad obsessed about proper shoveling when I was in grade school. My sister and I had to get out there and push the snow early, which we did with much complaining. Like everything else, it took years for me to see my dad's wisdom. I now see that complaining only makes things worse and that there is a benefit to hitting the drifts as soon as possible. And if that isn't inspiration enough, I'm not averse to bribing myself--even the best of parents must resort to incentives at one time or another. My motivation for swift and steady work outdoors was a birthday gift: (cue the heavenly voices) a Le Creuset Dutch oven.

I told my mom I wanted one without really expecting to get it. She told me no way but then found some on sale at Williams' Sonoma. I actually exchanged the one she got me for a bigger one. Megan could not believe I would spend that much on a pot, and truly, neither can I, but I fully expect the investment to be worth it. I tell you, I had better still be making soups in this pot when I'm 95, and after I die, it will be passed down to my children. I shall henceforth consider it an heirloom. One that makes perfect poached eggs.

Never before have my eggs turned out looking exactly as they are supposed to. I credit the Dutch oven (and blame myself for over-cooking the yolk). The Dutch oven also sauteed my kale nicely. Kale is yet another new vegetable for me, and I quite like it. It's like a warm salad, a category of food which I am fond of. Runny eggs take to buttery, crunchy kale nicely.

Sauteed Kale: inspired (once again) by Orangette
Two bunches kale, coarsely chopped
tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in your Dutch oven (!) or regular pot on medium heat. Toss in the chopped kale, stirring with a wooden spoon. Saute until the kale has turned a brighter green and the stalks are softened a bit. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve between a piece of toast and a runny poached egg.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Goodbye 25

I have no such high hopes for 2010. I may have held the bar a bit too high during for 2009 and my 25th year of life.To make myself feel better about getting old, last year I would tell myself (and everybody else) that I had decided 25 would be the best year of life yet because it's the age everybody wants to be. It seems one very very unfortunate experience and few other mishaps marred the year just when things were starting to get good. But I'd hate to call the entire year a loss. Two-thousand nine took me to Africa. I fell in love with Neko Case, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Decembrists and Joanna Newsome. I made new friends and spent time with old ones. I realized how truly content I have become. I stopped worrying so much about where I was and where I am heading. I learned about prayer and vegetable canning. I tried a lot of new things and failed at nearly all of them. I laughed a lot. I read even more. And boy did I cook.

If anything, I'd say this year was typical to my life. Dramatic at moments, yet surprisingly simple at others. Incredibly flawed but equally exuberant.

I don't typically make resolutions because yes, they are the sort of thing I won't keep, but mostly because I like to think that my life is in a constant state of transformation. It seems I am teetering back and forth between crisis and recovery--but maybe that's more the way I analyze things versus the way things really are. My current "crisis" state has me wanting to find a balence between caring too much what others think of me and being a bitch. I'm afraid my actions are dictated too often by what I think people want from me. For example, I speak my mind only if I know I won't offend somebody. I go along with things because I don't want to rock the boat. But then it all wells up to a certain point at which I've put up with too much and I go into bitch mode, usually directed only at the people I love most--which is a good thing because then I wouldn't have any friends.