Archive | November, 2012

Best brunch: Pumpkin monkey bread

20 Nov










I have to apologize for a couple things in advance.  First of all, I am already repeating myself. If this dough recipe looks familiar, that’s because it comes to you from my inaugural post of ancient times (read: three weeks ago, or, ancient, in an online forum).  BUT I had a good excuse.  My roommate and I hosted a potluck brunch over the weekend.  What kind of hostess would I be if I didn’t make the thing that I knew would guarantee me years of future brunch gatherings?  For real, this thing has the power to make and solidify friendships.  You’ll see.  However, once you make monkey bread, you can never un-make it.  You can never go back to the days when you didn’t know how good it was, and you can never again balk at the quantities of butter and sugar that would give pause to the likes of Paula Deen.  In most of my kitchen forays I really do try to go easy on that kind of thing.  I’ll cut back if I think a recipe is too heavy-handed, or I’ll experiment with healthier substitutes to achieve similar results.  This is the one recipe for which I will put my hand on your book of choice and swear that I will never try to make it better or healthier that it is (or isn’t…).  All of that is probably why I only make this about once a year.

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Now, when I describe this brunch dessert to people, the reaction is either that it’s been a much-loved staple in their family for years, or that they’ve never heard of it at all.  My own connection is the former, and in fact for a long time I thought this was some kind of secret family recipe unbeknownst to the rest of the world.   I have many memories of helping my grandma make this when I was little (she would let me carefully cut the dough with kitchen scissors, which I thought was about the most fun use of scissors ever).  My grandma was a great cook, but I think also valued expedience, which is probably why she always used store bought biscuit dough as the base for this.  In the spirit of tradition, the first several times I made this on my own I also used the store-bought dough.  This I felt the need to put my own spin on it by making the dough fresh and incorporating pumpkin.  In doing so I hope to establish my own tradition and encourage others to have fun with it as well.  Adding toasted coconut?  Spiced apples?  Other glazes (cream cheese, maple, chocolate)?   The possibilities are endless.

Pumpkin Monkey Bread

(Why is it called monkey bread?  It is formed with small balls of dough, ideal for pulling apart with your hands, much like a monkey would do.  I’ll also add that, as with monkeys, social decorum goes out the window when this treat starts being devoured)


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%, but 2% or whole would be great, warmed (if you have to yank your finger out when you touch it, let it cool a bit)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (from 1 .25-ounce or 7 gram envelope yeast)
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
½ cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup (packed) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cups pumpkin puree (I used canned)
1 large egg
Oil for coating rising bowl


1/2 cup butter (1 stick) + , melted
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1/2 cup granulated sugar + 1 tsp cinnamon, in separate bowl


Melt your butter. In a separate bowl, combine your warmed milk and yeast and set aside. After five to seven minutes, it should be a bit foamy.

In the bowl of an electric mixer combine flour, sugars, salt and spices. Add the melted butter and stir to combine. Add yeast-milk mixture, pumpkin and egg and mix until combined. Switch mixer to a dough hook and run it for 5 minutes on low.

Scrape mixture into a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for 1 hour in a draft-free place; it should just about double.

After the dough has risen, dump/scoop/smoosh it onto a well-floured surface and flour the top of it well. With a rolling pin, roll the dough as close as you can into a square, it should be about 1/2-3/4 inches thick, but don’t stress too much about it. Now, with a pizza cutter, cut your dough vertically in 1” slices, and then horizontally in 1” slices, so that you have little dough cubes/rectangles.  Don’t worry if they’re not perfectly even or you have tiny corner pieces mixed in, I even prefer them to lack uniformity so that the final product is a hodgepodge of mismatched shapes.

In the next step we need to coat our dough balls in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  You can either do this in batches by shaking the dough and sugar in a large ziplock bag, or you can use a large bowl or pan to toss them until they’re coated. 

Now place the dough balls in a 9 x 13 pan or on a cookie sheet, covered with plastic wrap.  If you’re doing this the night before, you can put them in the refrigerator now and remove them an hour before baking the next day to finish rising (they may be more moist in the morning, but that’s fine). If not doing ahead of time, let dough rise for another 45 minutes.

When the 45 minutes are almost up, heat the oven to 350°F. While preheating, spray a bundt pan with non-stick spray. Melt the ½ cup butter for the glaze, and add brown sugar, stirring vigorously to combine.  Add pumpkin puree and stir.  Now add your dough to the bundt pan and pour the butter/sugar/pumpkin mixture over the top. Bake for 25-28 minutes or until puffed and golden (I used the toothpick test in a few different places to make sure it wasn’t still doughy in the middle).

Let cool for 10 minutes and then turn over onto a plate to serve.  Watch the other monkeys go berzerk.


Save your “dough”: Easy yeast bread

12 Nov










Making yeast bread for the first time will make you feel like you have magical powers. I’m not even kidding, nothing restores my sense of awe like seeing a gross looking blob of dough turn into this warm, pillowy mass of yum.  It requires a little bit of foresight, but is well worth it for the finished product. Plus, you will save a lot of money spent on fancy artisan bread for relatively little hands-on time and effort.

I have tried a couple variations on this recipe before (really just slight changes in ratios), but this one is my new favorite. It yields a very large loaf (no complaining here) with an awesome, sourdough-esque, not-too-dense, texture. It’s also great for simple adaptations. For example I’ve made batches adding cinnamon, as well as rosemary, and they are great. Definitely try the rosemary if you’re a fan.

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I won’t go into too much detail here, since this is one case where I can’t possibly improve much on the originating source of this recipe.  Definitely refer to that (linked in recipe below) for more process photos and step by step explanation. Try it. I can’t imagine you would regret it. It’s a great accompaniment to any meal and looks SO impressive for how easy it is.  I had a piece right from the oven with stew leftovers (perhaps you’ll remember from my last post) and it was crazy delicious. Ready, set, go.
Easy Yeast Bread (replicated exactly from this Frugal Living recipe)
*= my own thoughts on the step, if applicable

6 cups bread flour (recommended) or all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface *I used AP
1/2 t. instant or active-dry yeast *I used active dry
2 1/2 t. salt
2 2/3 c. cool water

In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated; the dough should be wet and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest 12-18 hours on the counter at room temperature. When surface of the risen dough has darkened slightly, smells yeasty, and is dotted with bubbles, it is ready. * My dough was drier than expected after mixing but I left it alone and it was fine. It also didn’t really darken noticeably. Again, fine.

Lightly flour your hands and a work surface. Place dough on work surface and sprinkle with more flour. Fold the dough over on itself once or twice and, using floured fingers, tuck the dough underneath to form a rough ball. *If you haven’t worked with yeast dough before, it’s weird at first, but don’t be too precious about it and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Generously dust a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with enough flour, cornmeal, or wheat bran to prevent the dough from sticking to the towel as it rises; place dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour, cornmeal, or wheat bran. Cover with the edges or a second cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours, until it has doubled in size. *I didn’t want to dirty my towels so I left the dough on its floured surface, sprinkled the top again, and covered with the plastic wrap I’d used on the bowl, then covered that with a towel.

After about 1 1/2 hours, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot, such as a cast-iron Dutch oven, in the oven as it heats. When the dough has fully risen, carefully remove pot from oven. Remove top towel from dough and slide your hand under the bottom towel; flip the dough over into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough looks unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. *This is the trickiest part for me, especially since I didn’t have the towel underneath to help flip.  I basically just picked it up and plopped it over in the pot.  So smart to put seam side up since those will form the pretty golden ridges once baked. Even if you feel like you f*cked up this part, you probably didn’t, it’s pretty forgiving when it bakes.

Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for 10-15 more minutes, until the crust is a deep chestnut brown. The internal temperature of the bread should be around 200 degrees. You can check this with a meat thermometer, if desired. *I’ve never needed to check internally, the time and color have been perfect indicators thus far.

Remove the bread from the pot and let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. *GOOD LUCK. This is the only step I fail utterly at every time.

Hale and hearty: Sausage, kale, and white-bean stew

5 Nov










I’m going to be straight with you.  Of all the soups/stews I’ve made, this is probably my favorite.  It’s been one of my go-to Fall comfort meals since I first tried the recipe several years ago.  It’s a mix of fresh and canned ingredients, and while in general I try to stick to fresh, part of the reason this recipe is a winner is that it is so simple and quick to put together.

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It’s also fun to experiment with adding different ingredients and proportions.  For example, this time around I added a cubed beet (that’s why the color of the broth in these photos is so concentrated, without the beet your broth will be more clear).  This addition didn’t make it to the recipe since the flavor doesn’t really improve on anything (but if you don’t mind, hey, why not add a few more vitamins and minerals).  Now let’s get on with it.

Sausage, kale, and white-bean stew

Adapted from this Food & Wine recipe.

2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 pound hot sausages, casings removed (turkey sausage works well as a lower fat option)
2 medium onions, chopped
1 large carrot, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound kale, tough stems removed, leaves washed well and shredded (I usually just use a whole bunch as it’s sold to me, or about half a large bag of pre-cut kale)
3 1/3 cups canned diced tomatoes with their juice (two 15-ounce cans)
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
4 cups drained and rinsed canned cannellini beans (two 19-ounce cans), or equivalent quantity of other white beans (I like a mix of cannellini and butter beans)


In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over moderate heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking the meat up with a fork, until the it loses its pink color, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan (if needed, but sometimes the remaining oil is sufficient) and then stir in the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to soften, about 3 minutes. Add crated carrots and stir.

Add the garlic and kale to the pot and cook, stirring, until the kale wilts, about 2 minutes (the amount of kale will look overwhelming at first, but it definitely wilts down significantly when cooking). Stir in the tomatoes (with juices), and pepper; bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the kale is tender, about 15 minutes.  Sometimes I add an extra can-full of water and simmer a little longer (for example if I’ve used even more kale and it needs more moisture).

Stir the beans into the stew and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes. If you like, mash some of the beans with a fork to thicken the sauce.  Eat and enjoy!  This stew also freezes pretty well, so I recommend saving some for a rainy day.

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