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

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

Summer Turkey Kofte

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We’ve chatted about köfte here before (see our post for Sultan Selim Kofte). Usually they are made from lamb and/or beef, but really köfte can be anything. The origin of the word is from the classic Persian, meaning “to pound” or “to grind.” This obviously describes the ground meat, but really works for many other ingredients. We’re having steaks tomorrow night (a new attempt – in the cast iron skillet, on the grill!) and didn’t want red meat two nights in a row, so we thought we’d try our hand at some white meat köftes.

With the lighter turkey and the addition of the cilantro, these were a perfect summer dinner. They’re so flavorful, that when I was eating them it actually took me a minute to remember that they were turkey instead of a heartier meat. We grilled ours for ultimate summer-ness, but they would work well in a pan or under a broiler I suspect. There is a lot of delicious juice, so you want something to soak it all up. We had ours with flatbread, which was perfect for mopping up the plate, but rice or couscous would be great too.

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Side note: You may notice in our pictures that we skewered ours on the grill. This is definitely unnecessary and probably hurt us a little bit. Next time I’ll put them directly on the grill. 

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Blue Ridge Mountain sunsets just make dinner that much better!

Summer Turkey Kofte

Ingredients: 
  • 1 lb ground turkey (85/15)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp sumac
  • 1 tbsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 turns fresh ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Combine all of the ingredients together. Can be done ahead of time and refrigerated for enhanced flavor melding.
  2. Get you grill ready or place a grill pan over medium-high heat.
  3. Form oblong köftes. Grill over medium-high heat for just 3-4 minutes on each side.
  4. Serve with rice or flatbread. Hummus, veggies, feta, and/or tzatziki would go well too!
Serves 3-4

Hummus Egg Salad

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Did you know that there is a week every year devoted to egg salad?? National Egg Salad Week is celebrated on different dates every year, starting on the Monday following Easter. (It all makes sense.) Both Christians and Jews use eggs in their traditional celebrations of Easter and Passover, with the eggs symbolizing new life. A beautiful and logical sentiment to be sure, but practically, it does result in an abundance of left-over eggs. In a CNN article from 2013, Americans were predicted to purchase 180 million eggs for decorating in that year. I can’t imagine that’s gone down a whole lot this year… So I’m assuming a few people might be looking for left-over egg recipes this week!

With that in mind, this seems as good a time as any to share my accidental new egg salad creation! I know egg salad is one of those divisive substances that you either love or hate, but I love it! (Selim isn’t really a fan…) My mom used to make delicious egg salad sandwiches for me growing up, and as per usual, I’ve never been able to make mine as good as hers. Awhile back, I craved egg salad and so I got up and hard-boiled a few eggs to make a batch for the week, only to open the fridge to see we were out of mayonnaise! What was a girl to do?? Run to the store or whip up some homemade mayo? Nah, I was feeling lazy per usual.

I looked around the house, trying to think what I could substitute for the mayonnaise and my eyes landed on the hummus. Hmm… I like hummus, it’s spread-able, and would probably hold the eggs together, I thought to myself. Then I thought, that’s weird Ally, hummus and eggs don’t go together… But I tried it and it’s actually good! You can’t mentally compare it to standard egg salad, because it just isn’t the same. But it works as its own new identity! And since the hummus itself is so flavorful, you really don’t need any extra ingredients (although you certainly could doctor it up some more if you wanted – I like a drizzle of hot sauce on top of mine!) So without further ado…

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Hummus Egg Salad

Ingredients:
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • 2 tbsp hummus
  • Few turns of fresh ground black pepper
Instructions:
  1. Take those left-over hard boiled eggs (or cook some up) and chop them up.
  2. Mix together with the hummus and pepper.
  3. That’s it!
Makes enough for ~3 sandwiches.

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Esquites Americano

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Have you heard of elote, the beloved Mexican street food? Mexican street vendors sell you a char-grilled cob of corn, slathered with crema or mayonnaise or sour cream, cilantro, chili powder, cheese, lime juice, and maybe a few other ingredients. People rave about it! I’ve never had it, mostly because I haven’t spent much time in Mexico, and also because I don’t live in a big city with tons of street vendors. Also… because I haven’t ever been able to wrap my head around mayonnaise on my corn on the cob. I’m sure it’s amazing, because everyone says it’s amazing, but I haven’t quite made that mental leap yet.

But here’s the thing. Turns out, Mexicans also make a delicious dish called esquites, which as best I can tell, is basically elote in a bowl. For some reason, combining all those exact same ingredients in a bowl makes way more sense to my crazy brain. So I thought I’d dip my toe in and try esquites, hopefully as a gateway. My concoction is adapted from this one. We call our version Esquites Americano, solely based on the addition of the American favorite – bacon. We ate this as a dip with tortilla chips, but it works as a side as well. It’s as delicious as people say!

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Esquites Americano

(Adapated from Serious Eats)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 strips of bacon, chopped into small lardons
  • 4 ears of corn
  • 1 jalapeño, finely diced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp ancho chili powder
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 3oz cojito (or feta) cheese
Instructions: 
  1. Place the bacon in a large pan, over medium heat. Cook until the bacon is crispy, and then remove to the side.
  2. Remove corns from its ears. Add the corn, jalapeño, and garlic to the pan. Increase heat slightly to medium-high. Stir to coat in the bacon fat.
  3. Cook, stirring every 2 minutes, until corn begins to brown.
  4. Combine ingredients from the pan in a large bowl with the cilantro, ancho chili powder, lime juice, and mayonnaise. Stir to combine well.
  5. Refrigerate until dip has sufficiently cooled.
  6. Then add cheese, crumbled or roughly chopped to the dish. Stir and enjoy!
Serves 4. I would double or triple if using as a party appetizer.

Balsamic Basil Blackberry Pizza

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You’ve heard of fruit pizzas right? They’re shaped liked pizzas, but that’s really where the similarities end. To the best of my knowledge, fruit pizzas are essentially entirely sweet, with a base more like cookie dough, topped with fruits and sugar. You eat them for dessert, not dinner. That is not what we’re doing here tonight. This blackberry pizza is mostly savory, with the addition of the sweet and tangy blackberries.

How did I come up with this crazy idea? I didn’t. This was a Pinterest find, from a blog called A Whisk and Two Wands. The pictures caught my eye – gorgeous contrast of the dark berries and white cheese! Furthermore, Selim loves pizza, we’re trying to eat more fruit, we had blackberries and basil in the fridge, and I had the time to make some dough today. All good reasons to give this unique idea a whirl tonight!

We really enjoyed this as an alternative to a “normal” pizza for dinner tonight. However, I think it would really be perfect as an appetizer in smaller portions for your next dinner party!

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Balsamic Basil Blackberry Pizza

(Adapted from A Whisk and Two Wands blog)
Ingredients:
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup hot water, divided
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Olive oil
  • 12oz blackberries
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 8 turns of fresh ground black pepper
  • Just a pinch of salt
  • 10 large leaves of fresh basil, roughly chopped, reserving 2-3 leaves
  • 16oz log of mozzarella
Instructions: 
  1. First, prepare the dough. (You also could skip this step entirely and buy prepared pizza dough.) In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, and 1/4 cup of warm water. Let sit for ~10 minutes until frothy.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Pour the yeast mixture over-top. Add the remaining water slowly, stopping and stirring frequently. Mix with a spoon in the bowl until you have a well-combined ball of dough. (You may need slightly more or slightly less water to form a nice ball of dough. If it ends up too wet – add additional flour.)
  3. Then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured, clean, dry counter-top. Knead the dough for 10+ minutes. The dough should be firm and elastic.
  4. Pour just a tiny bit of olive oil onto a paper towel and swipe around the bottom and side of a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to sit for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the blackberry sauce. Pour blackberries into a saucepan over low-medium heat. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, pepper, and chopped fresh basil. Cover and cook for ~5 minutes so the berries soften.
  6. Uncover and mash the blackberries with your stirring spoon or the back of a fork.
  7. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens. This should take ~10 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  9. Once dough has risen, turn it out on a lightly flowered surface. Divide in half. Roll out the dough into two large circles.
  10. Bake the pizza dough without topping for 5 minutes and then remove from the oven.
  11. Spoon the blackberry sauce onto the dough as you would a normal pizza, leaving a bit of the edge uncovered for a crust.
  12. Slice mozzarella and place chunks all over the pizza. (May not use the whole 16oz log of mozzarella.)
  13. Bake for an additional 8-10 minutes, watching the edges of the crusts to make sure it’s not over-browning.
  14. Top with the remaining fresh basil before serving.

Basil Guacamole

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In our relationship, Selim is definitely the one with the imagination. When you tell me we’re having guacamole, I think – avocados, lime, cilantro, onion, salt… Why would you do anything else, when the original is so delicious? Luckily, I have him to push me outside of my box every now and then. Just because the original is amazing doesn’t mean that a variation isn’t delicious in its own right. [Just wait until we share Selim’s Bacon & Blue Cheese Guacamole – people rave about it!]

This unique guacamole has great herbaceous flavor from the fresh basil. The basics are essentially the same as traditional guacamole, but the substitution of that one herb is fairly dramatic in my opinion. The Pecorino adds a depth of flavor, but it does not taste overtly cheesy. We enjoyed this just as we would your standard guac – with tortilla chips and bell pepper slices.

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Basil Guacamole

Ingredients: 
  • 4 small, ripe avocados
  • 1/8 of a small onion, finely diced
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced (depending on how much you like garlic)
  • Juice of 1/4 of a lime
  • 6 large fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 oz finely grated Pecorino cheese
  • Salt to taste
Instructions: 
  1. Chop the avocados into chunks. Using the back of a large spoon, smush the avocado – we like the consistency to remain a little bit chunky.
  2. Combine the avocados with the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine well.
  3. Refrigerate if not eating immediately.