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

Southern Fried Chicken

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Holy *^%$ yall! We made fried chicken! We took advantage of this gorgeous summer day and went on ahead and conquered another culinary fear… homemade fried chicken. Prior to making this tonight, I typed out: “I’m 99.999% certain that we can’t best KFC or any southern back road gas station’s fried chicken, but we’re going to try!” Well, we succeeded! I’m a little shocked actually… It even looks like the gorgeous, crispy-skinned chicken you might see when you’re out picking up a bucket!

After we decided to do this, I thought, who better to help us than Paula Deen…? If you google “southern fried chicken,” her recipe is the first recipe that shows up. I’m not going to lie… I don’t know that I’ve ever cooked Paula Deen before… her devotion to butter is slightly overwhelming. But it just seemed to be the right thing to do when learning to fry chicken. (Confirming our decision to try the Queen of Southern Cooking’s recipe was an article from Food52, where they tested the recipe.) We did tweak her recipe in a few places, which luckily worked out well. The main difference between our recipe and hers is the brine. We’ve been convinced by our reading to brine chicken prior to frying. I definitely think it helped to keep our chicken moist and flavorful!

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Southern Fried Chicken

(Adapted from Paula Deen/The Food Network)
Ingredients:
  • ~2 lb bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces
  • Brine
    • 1 gallon water
    • 1 cup salt
    • 1 cup brown sugar
    • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • Dredging
    • 3 eggs
    • 1/3 cup water
    • 2/3 cup hot sauce (we like Frank’s Red Hot)
    • 2 cups self-rising flour (or 2 cups AP flour + 1 tbsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt)
    • 1 tbsp garlic powder
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 15+ turns fresh ground black pepper
  • Oil, for frying (we used peanut oil)
Instructions:
  1. Bring the ingredients for the brine to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Then remove from heat and let cool – all the way!
  2. Once the brining liquid is cool, submerge the chicken pieces and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. (We did a full 24h).
  3. Once ready to cook, remove chicken from brining liquid and pat dry. Let sit out until room temperature.
  4. Meanwhile, make two dishes of wet and dry dredging ingredients. Whisk together eggs, water, and hot sauce. In another bowl, sift together the flour, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
  5. Pour oil into the pot you’ll use for frying. Don’t fill the pot more than 1/2 full of oil, but add enough to cover the chicken pieces. Heat to 350 degrees.
  6. Dredge the individual chicken pieces first in the wet bowl, then in the dry bowl. Repeat, dipping again in the wet, then dry bowls.
  7. Fry in batches until brown and crispy. [Paula says it should take 8-10 minutes for white meat and 13-14 minutes for dark meat.] Don’t crowd the pot!
Feeds 3-5

Southern Pimento Cheese

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A ways back, in our first year of the blog, we made pimento cheese as Christmas gifts in honor of our new home in South Carolina. We made two varieties – Selim created Garlic & Truffle Pimento Cheese, and Ally made a more traditional version. For some reason, we didn’t share the traditional recipe at the time, probably because we were so wowed by the dressed up variety. We’ll remedy that here today!

Some of our very favorite Clevelanders are passing through town today ❤ When we were trying to pick a restaurant for dinner, Sarah wanted to “go back to that place we went last time” they were in Columbia, “the one with the pimento cheese.” [Shout out to DiPrato’s – their pimento cheese really is legendary, as are their inexplicable warm and fluffy pita chips!] So we thought today would be the perfect day to whip up another homemade batch – some for them and some for us! Ally could live off of pimento cheese and crackers, probably for the rest of her life, so it’s really a win-win!

We stuck with the basics for this pimento cheese recipe – cheddar, pimentos, and mayo… well, homemade mayonnaise for us! Selim is the king of whipping up aioli or mayo by hand. We added a pinch of extras, just because we can’t help ourselves, but there’s not too much to distract from the cheese. We prefer our pimento cheese to be lighter on the mayonnaise, attempting not to over-blend the shredded cheese. Our ratio of cheese to pimentos definitely favors the cheese. Hand-shredded cheese is preferable to pre-shredded. And heaven forbid – we do not add cream cheese to ours!

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Southern Pimento Cheese

Ingredients: 
  • 1 cup neutral oil
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 16oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 heaping tbsp chopped pimentos
  • 1 tsp worcestershire
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • Salt to taste
Instructions:
  1. Prepare the mayo. (You can do this by hand or with a stand mixer. The process is essentially the same.)
    • By hand: Separate out the egg yolk from the whites and discard the whites. Whisk the yolk. Add minced garlic and then slowly drizzle in the oil. Whisk vigorously and continuously. Once the mixture has combined well, add the lemon juice and whisk until that has been absorbed.
    • With the mixer: Separate out the egg yolk from the whites. Place in stand mixer and turn on medium. Add minced garlic and then slowly drizzle in the oil, while the mixer remains on. Again, once the mixture is well-combined, then add the lemon juice.
  2. By hand, mix together the aioli with the rest of the ingredients except for salt. Once combined, add salt to taste at the end.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to serving.
Makes a little more than 2 cups

Hearty Hoppin’ John

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Technically this is our second New Year’s Eve living in South Carolina, but the first one barely counts. We had just moved here, in a whirlwind month that not only included moving to a new state, but also getting married, honeymooning in Puerto Rico, and spending Christmas with Ally’s family. I’m pretty sure there were boxes strewn about, half unpacked, while we watched the ball drop to close out 2015.

This year we decided to put a little bit of effort in and make a New Year’s Eve dinner. I strongly considered going Asian and honoring their traditional New Year’s noodle dishes, representing longevity for the next year. But instead, I decided to pay homage to our not-so-new-anymore home with southern Hoppin’ John.

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In researching Hoppin’ John recipes, I learned that like pimento cheese (see similar ravings in that post), everyone’s own grandma prepares it the correct way, while everyone else’s grandma is doing it incorrectly. Here are the facts regarding Hoppin’ John as best I can tell: It contains black eyed peas, although certain specific areas substitute field peas or red cowpeas. The peas are what makes Hoppin’ John one of the lucky New Years dishes of the American South – the peas represent coins and thus, wealth in the new year to come. The dish also must contain rice and some form of pork product. The dish almost certainly originated with slaves brought to the US from Western Africa. And most agree that the dish’s American origins began in the Carolinas, more specifically in the South Carolina Low Country. Now for the controversies: Which pork product to use – bacon, ham, pork sausage? Which spices, if any, to use? Where did the name originate? Does the rice have to be cooked in the same dish?

Therefore, I make absolutely zero claims to the authenticity of this Hoppin’ John. In fact, I guarantee you that it is not authentic. I skimmed probably 20-25 different recipes for inspiration, but did not follow any one in particular. With the base of the aforementioned black eyed peas + rice + pork, people toss in all sorts of different additions. I certainly did. This is quite a stretch from the plain, historic version that only contained the three base ingredients. But to be honest with you, I doubt I’d really enjoy plain rice, peas, and bacon.

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Happy New Year! We’re looking forward to 2017 and hope everyone else is too!

Hearty Hoppin’ John

Ingredients: 
  • 2 slices of bacon
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepped, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups of dry rice
  • 6 cups of stock (chicken, turkey, vegetable)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 15 turns fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 large spicy sausages, sliced
  • 4 cups of cooked black eyed peas*
  • 2 tbsp hot sauce (we like Frank’s)
Instructions: 
  1. Slice bacon into lardons. Toss into a large pan with tall edges. Cover and cook over medium heat until the bacon begins to release its fat, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the onions and carrots to the pan and stir to coat in the bacon fat. Re-cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  3. Now add the garlic. Cook uncovered for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the next 10 ingredients to the pan (peppers through sausages). Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover the pan. You want the liquid to be just slightly simmering while the lid is on.
  5. Uncover and stir briefly every 15 minutes. At the 30 minute mark, add the black eyed peas.
  6. The dish is done when the rice is fully cooked. This took us ~45 minutes. You may require slightly more or less time, and/or slightly more or less liquid.
  7. Before serving, stir in the hot sauce.

*You may choose whether or not to use canned black eyed peas or soak/prepare dried peas yourself.

Serves ~10 people.

Post dinner notes: We soaked our own beans, instead of using canned ones. We overdid it in the preparation phase, and the beans were fairly mushy. Next time, we need to be a little more attentive when preparing dried beans.