Cheese & Herb Monkey Bread

Growing up, when we were having a special treat or the whole extended family was together, my grandmother would make us her ‘sticky buns.’ Now that she has passed away, my mom thankfully has taken on the responsibility of the sticky bun making! It was only after I was probably in my mid-20s that I realized what we called Grandmom’s sticky buns was what most people call monkey bread. You know what I’m talking about… those sweet, sugary, pull-apart balls of doughy deliciousness that taste of cinnamon and frequently have chopped nuts attached! (This is a point of contention in my family – nuts or no nuts?! The two parties are bitterly divided and therefore Grandmom and Mom make one dish with and one dish without the nuts. I’m on Team Nuts, for the record.) As I was writing this post, I decided to look up the history of monkey bread. Fun facts for your bank of useless knowledge: 

  • Monkey bread was termed such because we eat it using our fingers, pulling apart each chunk, which was thought to mimic the way monkeys eat. 
  • Alternative names include: monkey puzzle bread, sticky bread (I guess this is where we got our sticky buns moniker!), pinch-me cake, bubble bread, and Hungarian coffee cake.
  • The origin of this treat is probably the Hungarian-Jewish arany galuska, brought to this country by Eastern European immigrants in the late 1800s. 
  • American monkey bread differs from arany galuska as each dough ball is dipped in butter, which was not part of the original recipe. 

So there you have it – more knowledge than you ever knew you needed about monkey bread! Now this version is a savory adaptation of the sweet breakfast tradition. The base concept is the same; dough balls, dipped in the butter, stacked haphazardly prior to baking, and eaten pulled apart with fingers. While I love the original, this cheesy, herby version is amazing! It’s an amazing alternative to regular bread to accompany dinner, but it definitely would still work as a breakfast dish. 

Cheese & Herb Monkey Bread

(Adapted from Home Skillet, by Robin Donovan)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted & divided
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp yeast
  • 3 1/4 cups AP flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups Asiago cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 3 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
Instructions:
  1. In a large bowl, combine 2 tbsp of melted butter, milk, and water. Stir in the sugar and yeast. Let the mixture sit for ~10 minutes, until frothy. 
  2. Stir in the flour and salt. As it comes together, switch to kneading the dough with your hands. Once you have a dough ball, place it in a clean bowl and drizzle with the olive oil. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise for 90 minutes. 
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  4. Mix together the two cheese in another bowl. Remove 1/2 cup to another small bowl.
  5. Add the garlic and herbs to the main bowl and toss together. 
  6. Roll out the dough on a floured surface until roughly 1/8th inch thick. Spread the cheese mixture onto half of the dough and then fold the other half over top. 
  7. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into small squares. Roll each square into a ball. 
  8. Using the remaining melted butter, brush butter on all surfaces of your cast iron skillet. Then dunk each ball into the butter prior to placing in the skillet. Layer the balls across the bottom of the skillet and then stack into further layers as needed. 
  9. Sprinkle the dough balls with the reserved cheese.
  10. Bake for 40 minutes in the oven. Allow to cool for a few minutes prior to eating. Run a knife around the edges and then flip the skillet over onto your serving platter. 

Serves 4-6

Mint & Feta Topped Eggplant

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After making Minty Watermelon, Cucumber & Feta Salad last week, we had some leftover mint.  By “some leftover mint,” I really mean, “Did this package of mint grow exponentially more mint?” I feel like it’s pretty much impossible to use all the mint in a package and even more impossible to use all the mint that most people grow. We didn’t want to waste any of the fresh herbs, so I was exploring Pinterest this weekend for a dish that would put these ingredients to good use. After awhile I found this recipe that not only required minimal shopping, using up the mint and feta, but also a mostly hands-off and healthy dinner for tonight! We were really happy with how this turned out. It’s light, but filling and flavorful! Thanks Pinterest (and Live Eat Learn) 🙂

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Mint & Feta Topped Eggplant

(Adapted from Live Eat Learn blog)
Ingredients:
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 heaping tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Slice eggplant in half. Slice through the flesh on the diagonal, creating a cross-hatch pattern. Don’t slice all the way through; stop before reaching the skin.
  3. Brush the eggplant with 1 tbsp of olive oil and top with a few turns of fresh ground black pepper. Roast for 35 minutes in the oven.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining olive oil, mint, garlic, and lemon juice.
  5. After the 35 minutes, slide out the eggplant and brush the mint mixture on top. Return to the oven for just another minute or two to warm.
  6. Serve topped with the chopped feta and sprinkled with Aleppo pepper.
Serves 2

Minty Watermelon, Cucumber & Feta Salad

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I, like most other people I know, love a juicy summer watermelon. It is just so refreshing and delicious! I remember that my grandfather always used to (and probably still does) put salt on his watermelon, which I thought was absolutely crazy. I thought that salt would ruin the sweet taste. Through the years, I’ve come to realize that a lot of people like salty touch with their watermelon. If so many people like salted watermelon, there’s got to be something to it right? And then I realized that the salty watermelon thing was taken to the next step with feta and watermelon salads. This combination is all over Pinterest and summer restaurant menus. And logically, I understand that salt balances sweet and brings out brighter flavors. Yet for some reason, I still never tried it. Well that mistake is over. I didn’t know what I was missing.

The watermelon is still the star of this salad, but it doesn’t taste like just a fruit salad with some feta on top. It’s a little more savory than expected. The mint flavor is strong and makes it nice and herbaceous. Don’t worry about the vinegar on the cucumbers either – it’s not overwhelming at all. Overall a great salad for summer! 😎

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Minty Watermelon, Cucumber & Feta Salad

Ingredients:
  • 1 cucumber
  • ~1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 5 cups watermelon, chopped
  • 3/4 cups feta cheese, diced
  • ~10 leaves fresh mint, chopped
  • Black pepper
Instructions:
  1. Peel the cucumber, then slice it length-wise. Scoop out the seeds. Slice into half-moons.
  2. Marinate the cucumbers in the white wine vinegar, topped with a few turns of fresh ground black pepper, for at least an hour.
  3. Chop the watermelon into bite-sized chunks. Chop the feta a little smaller, more of a dice (can you dice something that’s not a vegetable??). Tear or chop the mint leaves. Combine all of these in a large bowl.
  4. Drain the vinegar from the cucumbers. Add the cucumbers in with the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine.
  5. Add a little more black pepper to taste.
  6. Best served immediately.
Serves 6-8

Peach & Burrata Salad

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As promised, here’s the recipe for the gorgeous salad hidden in the corner of one of our pictures from Saturday night’s Patatas Bravas with Super Garlic Aioli! Ally’s cousin Emily is responsible for this dish, and we’re hoping this is the first of many of her creations we’ll share on here (you should see some of the incredible desserts she makes). This salad is beautiful for your eyes and your taste buds – I mean, you can’t really go wrong with cheese, summer peaches, and prosciutto! The ingredient amounts are easily adjustable for different numbers or preferences of diners. Basically framework for a beautiful summer dish! Emily mentally combined a few recipes she’d come across to yield the final result of this one – inspiration from herehere, and here.

This salad came together, in part because of the THREE MASSIVE BAGS of fresh, juicy summer peaches that my aunt/Emily’s mom brought home from Saunders Brothers. August is National Peach Month, and we definitely know why! ❤ ❤

emilysalad

Peach & Burrata Salad

Ingredients: 
  • Mixed greens
  • 3-5 peaches, peeled & sliced
  • 2-4 balls of burrata, cut into chunks
  • 6-8 slices of prosciutto, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • Fresh mint, chopped
  • Balsamic glaze (homemade or store-bought*)
Instructions: 
  1. *If making your own balsamic glaze, reduce balsamic vinegar with brown sugar in a 4:1 ratio (ie: 1 cup vinegar to a 1/4 cup sugar) at a simmer until thickened and syrupy.
  2. Assemble salad by placing mixed greens on a platter or in a large bowl. Top with the remaining ingredients.
  3. Oooh & aahh at your pretty salad!

Roasted Patatas Bravas

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If you’re anything like me, when eating at a Spanish tapas restaurant you can’t pass up the quintessential tapas dish – patatas bravas. These little potatoes are a little spicy and a little tomato-y and just perfect dipped into a classic garlic aioli! We made a super garlicky aioli to go with ours, and it was delicious! Traditionally, these potatoes are fried and then topped with a spicy tomato sauce. But tonight we roasted our potatoes, after they had been tossed in the tomato sauce. The results were crispy and flavorful, with a soft interior to each bite. This is a great side dish for a group and is a pretty convenient dish to have to make when entertaining guests. So much can be done in advance – the potatoes can be chopped and tossed in the sauce well before cooking, and if you want to make an aioli (hint: you do!) that can also be done in advance.

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We had ours tonight with a less traditional accompaniment – steamed Chesapeake Bay blue crabs! Don’t be skeptical… they worked perfectly together! We ate this delicious summer smorgasbord with Ally’s aunt, uncle, and cousin. Up next we may just share the gorgeous summer salad you see in the corner of the picture below, courtesy of Ally’s cousin Emily!

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Roasted Patatas Bravas 

Ingredients: 
  • 4 Russet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 15 turns fresh ground black pepper
  • 1+ tsp salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Chop potatoes into bite-sized chunks.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together all of the remaining ingredients.
  4. Toss the potatoes in the bowl and coat with the sauce.
  5. Spread the potatoes out on a cookie sheet (or two), avoiding overcrowding. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, flipping them over roughly halfway through.
Serves ~6 as a side

Pickled Red Onions

 

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Pickles again? Didn’t we just do that? Yes, yes we did. I’ve been munching on the Midnight Quick Pickles from last week out of my fridge pretty much every day. Sorry for the repetition, but sometimes I can’t help the order of our culinary diary. This weekend, Selim’s parents came to visit us in Virginia, and we all joined my parents in Amherst for the day. Selim and I made dinner for the group, with a little assistance on the grill from my dad. Instead of brats and hot dogs, we grilled sucuk (a delicious Turkish sausage) and some spicy venison sausage (hunted & made by my cousin’s husband), with a variety of toppings. We quick pickled these onions earlier in the week, with the thought that they’d go well with the sucuk and feta cheese, but I thought they worked even better with the spicy venison sausage! The slightly sweet, very acidic pickled onions give your tastes buds a reprieve from the spiciness of the sausage with each bite.

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My sister recently ranted to us about how “pickles are the cool new thing,” and how “every restaurant is putting pickled vegetables in things that don’t need pickles.” I respect her opinion, but I totally disagree. I think pickles, depending on their variety, could go on just about everything. I think anything spicy or fatty or really rich is improved with some type of pickle on top. I also eat these guys plain, but I’m not sure I’m in the the majority on that one.

Standard Quick Pickle Disclaimer: As we’ve mentioned with previous recipes (see: Midnight Quick Pickles, Red Quick Pickled Cauliflower and Radishes), these are not shelf-safe “real” pickles. They should not be left in pantry or cellar for eternity. They must stay refrigerated. Hence they’re called “quick pickles” or “refrigerator pickles.” We skipped the step of sterilizing the jar and lid that keeps you from getting botulism when canned goods are left on a shelf for months on end.

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Pickled Red Onions

Ingredients:
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
Instructions:
  1. Slice the onion length-wise and place in a jar.
  2. Meanwhile, bring the remaining ingredients to a simmer. As soon as the salt & sugar are dissolved, remove from the heat.
  3. Once the liquid has cooled, pour over the onions. Refrigerate for 48+ hours prior to using.

Midnight Quick Pickles

Every time we visit my cousin and her husband, we always come home with more than when we arrived. They live in a more rural county, have a HUGE backyard garden, and freezers full of hunting spoils. We were there this past weekend to visit with them and their brand new baby 😍😍😍 We cooked dinner for the new parents, so we brought a fair amount of ingredients with us. But still, our bag was more full when we went home! They sent us home with a bounty of cucumbers and squash from the garden, three whole trout, and a package of venison sausage links from last hunting season! Even a cucumber lover like me can’t eat all those cucumbers before they go bad, so I made some pickles!

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If you take a quick glance at this recipe, you’re probably thinking that it’s a pretty standard dill pickle recipe. Vinegar, water, sugar, dill, garlic… they’re standard fair for dill pickles. Why then do ours look dark and why did we call them “midnight” pickles? For that, we have to thank Selim’s devotion to turbinado sugar, which turns liquid darker when dissolved, as compared to refined white sugar.

As we’ve mentioned with previous recipes (see: Red Quick Pickled Cauliflower and Radishes), these are not shelf-safe “real” pickles. They should not be left in pantry or cellar for eternity. They must stay refrigerated. Hence they’re called “quick pickles” or “refrigerator pickles.” We skipped the step of sterilizing the jar and lid that keeps you from getting botulism when canned goods are left on a shelf for months on end.

This recipes follows a 2 part vinegar / 1 part water / 1 part sugar pickling ratio by which we usually abide. Using that ratio, pickles can be infinitely adjusted for more or less produce, different vinegars, alternate sugars, and a variety of herbs & spices!

Midnight Quick Pickles

Ingredients:
  • 5-6 small pickling cucumbers
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp dill
Instructions:
  1. Slice the cucumbers and place in a large mason jar or similar.
  2. Bring the remaining ingredients to a simmer in a saucepan. Stir and simmer until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
  3. Remove from heat. Leave sitting out or refrigerate until cool.
  4. Pour cool pickling liquid over the sliced cucumbers.
  5. Refrigerate for several days. (They’re edible essentially immediately, but will have more flavor if you leave them be for 48+ hours.)