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Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes (using leftover yeast dough!)

While we’re on the subject of getting used to failure and letting yourself take shortcuts, I have a confession to make. Growing up as a perfectionist sometimes meant I was a very, very poor sport.

In 6th grade, I was determined to accumulate every possible accolade available to me. I tore through novels at a frantic pace to be the top Electronic Bookshelf reader. I drew up posters to campaign for a student council position. I left class each day to run the controls for the entire school’s closed circuit news station. I assisted the computer teacher setting up technology for special events. I wrote columns for the 6th grade newsletter, The Leopard’s Roar. I slaved over every assignment as part of my neverending quest for perfect grades. I practiced endlessly to execute the perfect flip over the monkey bars on the playground. Life was juuuust about perfect.

One cool spring morning, though, things changed. I’d been eagerly awaiting an announcement from my teacher, Mrs. McRae. She was looking for a few trustworthy students with integrity and strong academic performance to appoint to the coveted position of safety patrol. Being on the safety patrol would add another shiny pip to my starched, pristine collar, and I was absolutely rabid over it.

The morning was packed with independent work. I was absorbed in completing my math worksheet while folks milled about the room attending to their own tasks. At one point, I realized Mrs. McRae was calling out the answers to the worksheet, but since I wasn’t finished, I tuned her out and continued working without much thought. I didn’t think twice about doing so until one of my classmates piped up with a whine, “Mrs. McRae, Julie’s cheating! She’s writing down answers while we’re checking it!” I looked up, shocked.

Just to bandage my wounded pride a little (15 years later, because you know, that’s normal), I was not cheating. I was calculating the answer to every problem and hadn’t heard or recorded a single answer that was called out. I was just trying to finish my worksheet, y’all! Nevertheless, Mrs. McRae called me out of the classroom.

I explained my situation to her in a panic. Surely she couldn’t possibly think that what that little twerp said about me was true?! Her bespectacled face stared down at me with doubt. You could see the wheels turning in her head: Well, Julie does care an awful lot about grades. Maybe…

Confronted with what felt like the greatest injustice I’d ever suffered, I began to have a full-on anxious meltdown. As I restated my case and pleaded with her to believe me, I started crying tears of frustration. Finally, I stormed into the bathroom beside our mobile classroom to flip out in private. A few minutes later, Mrs. McRae followed me. She told me that she didn’t know if I’d cheated or not, but considering the situation, she did not feel it was appropriate to appoint me to safety patrol.

Oh my goodness, y’all. Oh my goodness.

My little 6th grade life flashed before my eyes. I cried some more in the bathroom. I cried at home that night. I glared daggers at the safety patrol students when I passed them in the hallways in the following weeks. I’d love to say, “And then I got over it!” but here I am writing an entire blog post about it as an adult, so uh. That’s probably kind of unhealthy, right? Whatev. It scarred me, people!

But ultimately, even though it was hard to swallow, I can honestly say I appreciate the lesson in dealing with unfairness and disappointment. Getting used to the fact that things don’t always go your way (and sometimes, aren’t even fair!) is part of being a healthy human being.

Talking about disappointments is an apt opening to a monkey bread post on Willow Bird Baking. Don’t worry; these Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes aren’t disappointing! They’re gorgeous, rich fall treats. Monkey bread in general, though, has always been a total fail for me. It typically falls apart, overflows its pan, or ends up doughy in the middle. Even when I tried straight up convenience monkey bread with canned biscuit dough I managed to use too many cans and create quite the underbaked mess (stop laughing!) I can’t explain this phenomenon — monkey bread should be so darn easy. What’s the matter with me?!

Anyhow, instead of throwing a fit in the bathroom, I’ve kept trying new monkey bread recipes. I love the stuff, so even the “failures” get devoured in short order. And these Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes were quite the little success. With one batch of yeast dough, you can make some Taco Pockets and a quick dessert — two dishes for the effort of one! The “recipe” that follows outlines this simple method for dressing up your leftovers. Next time you’re making some yeast rolls or dinner pockets, save some dough for monkey bread!

What’s an injustice you remember experiencing?

Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes (using leftover yeast dough!)



Recipe by: Bits and pieces adapted from What’s Cookin’, Chicago?, All Recipes
Yield: depends on your leftover dough

This recipe is actually just a method of dolling up leftover dough to make monkey bread sundaes. Using this little technique, you can save some dough from any dinner recipe and create a dessert to enjoy at the end of the meal with no extra fuss. Even if you only have a small amount of leftover dough, you can bake your monkey bread in the wells of a cupcake pan and serve the warm, gooey pieces over vanilla bean ice cream!

To make Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread with leftover dough, grab:

Leftover yeast dough* that has already completed one rise. Maybe you used the first half for some Taco Pockets? You sly devil, you.
Sauce: You can use 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter mixed with 1 cup brown sugar to form a caramelly sauce. For more apple flavor, you could also try mixing 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar over the stove, removing it from heat, and adding 1/2 cup apple butter.
Cinnamon and sugar mixture: 1/2 cup sugar whisked together with 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon.
Melted butter: about 1/2 cup.
Apples: 1 peeled, cored, and chopped apple (or more if you have lots of leftover dough)
Nuts: about 1 cup of chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts. I chose pecans because I love them.

Then do this:
Set up each of your items in a row to form an assembly line: an apple station, a melted butter station, a cinnamon/sugar station, and then a greased bundt pan (or greased cupcake pan if you only have a bit of leftover dough). Set your sauce and nuts to the side for now.

With floured fingers, take a ping-pong-ball-sized pinch of leftover yeast dough (you can change this to smaller pinches if you’re baking in a cupcake pan). First, place some apples in the middle of the ball of dough and pinch the dough closed around them. Then drop the dough ball in melted butter, tossing gently to coat with a fork. Next, drop it in the cinnamon and sugar mixture and toss gently to coat (use a separate fork in this bowl). Drop your coated dough ball in the greased pan.

Once you have a single layer covering the bottom of the pan you’re using, spoon a layer of sauce over the dough balls and sprinkle on a layer of nuts. Continue pinching, filling, and coating dough balls to form another layer, and then spoon sauce and sprinkle nuts over this, too. Keep going until you’ve used all your dough.

When you’ve used all of your dough, distribute a last bit of sauce and nuts over the top. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour in a draft-free place. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When risen, bake the bread for 20-35 minutes (this can vary depending on the size of your dough balls and the size pan you used, but look for a dark golden brown color on top. If you take it out when it’s just golden brown, it’ll likely still be raw inside, so let it get dark.) Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then invert onto a plate (or pick out the monkey bread pieces with a fork like I did, to serve over vanilla bean ice cream!)

*Note: You can use this technique with canned biscuit dough, too — just cut out the rise time.

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Foodbuzz 24×24: Cheap and Simple Taco Pockets

i sat watching a flower as it was withering;
i was embarrassed by its honesty.

-bright eyes

This is not a diary. I can’t smudge ugly, unfiltered thoughts into this blog and tuck it deep under a virtual mattress. This is a place for tidy stories that have fully played out in my life — or at least enough to have lost the raw, unfinished edge of uncertainty.

Otherwise, things just get sloppy.

But I’m going to get a little sloppy here for a bit: this has been the hardest year of my life.

I feel embarrassed saying that, because I know some of you are dealing with things that are so much harder, things that make my year look like a fairy tale. There are people right now losing their homes and carefully rationing their cash to afford the week’s groceries. So I hope you’ll forgive me my lesser struggle — that we can have the grace of being in different places and loving each other where we are.

For me, this year has been a mountain to climb — the air is thinning, and I’m not sure I ever wanted to reach the top in the first place.

Last November, as you may remember, I broke up with Mike, my boyfriend of almost 12 years. It took me two months to get up the gumption to write to you about it, but the struggle wasn’t over.

Month after month went by and I found I couldn’t get used to my new world, which had turned inside out and taken on a pallor. Daily life felt like stumbling through a thick wall of cotton. My grief became a dressing room in which I tried on all different Julies, searching for who I was without Mike. Everything I put on was too tight, too abrasive, too loose, too heavy.

Recently, though, a couple of you noticed and commented that I’ve been mentioning Mike here and there. It’s true — we’re slowly, carefully spending time together again. Feeling out the next steps. There’s just not time to waste when you love someone, and it feels like we’ve already wasted so much.

So there it is. This isn’t exactly a great time to tell you what’s up. This is not a diary, like I said, and I’m hesitant to share such a new, uncertain development. But first off, I know I’m among friends. Second off, Foodbuzz issued a 24×24 challenge this month that I knew I wanted to dedicate to Mike.

The 24×24 is usually an opportunity to showcase 24 fun dinner party ideas, but this month, Foodbuzz challenged us to create a meal using only pantry staples. Scraping together something passable from the pantry wouldn’t have been too hard; people do it every day for their families. But as I thought about what I usually have available — some ground meat, cheese, salsa, baking supplies — I realized I wanted to create something truly special.

One of Mike’s favorite dishes during our time together was a silly convenience meal. These Taco-Stuffed Crescent Rolls are delicious, but also based on a can of crescent rolls, for goodness’ sake. Nevertheless, I made them for him throughout our relationship as a quick way of saying, “I love you (and I want some carbs.)”

For the Foodbuzz 24×24, I invited Mike over and recreated this meal — this time with a homemade yeast dough. I wanted to turn my quick I love you into an earnest I love you. The things I took for granted, I can’t take for granted anymore, and I think he feels the same. What we’re working on between us is worth more than a can of crescent rolls. It’s worth adding flour bit by bit. It’s worth waiting the hour for the dough to breathe and rise. It’s worth the messy counter, the sticky shaping, the extra step of egg washing. I would slice avocados for years. I would clean my dough hook a million times over.

The beauty of this meal is that it’s homemade from scratch, but still simple and convenient. The recipe made plenty of dough for taco pockets with enough leftover to dress up as Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes (I’ll share how I did this in an upcoming post). Also, since you can prepare both dishes a day in advance, you have enough time to floof your hair and vacuum the apartment the day your long-lost boyfriend is coming over. Nice.

Oh, by the way, your fear of yeast called and told me to tell you it’s not working out. You’re just going to have to get over him. I’m stocking you up with simple yeast dough recipes so you’ll have a good place to start.

Speaking of good places to start, for me and Mike, this is as good a place as any. I don’t know how things will go, but no one ever does. I’m just going to hitch up my skirts and petticoats and keep on climbing.

I told you my secrets, now tell me yours. What new developments are coming your way these days?


Me and Mike via photobooth, a couple of years ago.

Cheap and Simple Taco Pockets


Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking (yeast dough recipe from Our Best Bites)
Yield: about 26 3-inch long crescent pockets, or 5-6 servings (or you can use half for pockets and half for making monkey bread!)

These Taco Pockets are pillowy yeast rolls filled with a creamy, cheesy, spicy Tex-Mex filling. I like to serve them with an array of accoutrements — sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and fresh cilantro. As a time-saver, you can wrap this cheesy filling in premade crescent rolls and bake per the package instructions, but don’t do it just because you’re afraid of yeast! This is a simple yeast dough that’ll help you conquer your fears. If you’d like, make taco pockets with half the dough and use the rest to make simple Monkey Bread Sundaes for dessert — two dishes for the price of one!

Dough Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees – use a candy thermometer to check)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
1/2 teaspoons salt
3-4 1/2 cups flour
1 egg and a splash of water (for egg wash)

Filling Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1 packet McCormick’s cheesy taco seasoning (or taco seasoning of your choice)
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
2-3 heaping tablespoons salsa
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
sprinkle of cheddar cheese for the top of pockets

Directions:
Notes on making this in advance: There are two points at which you can stop this recipe and refrigerate it overnight. The first is just before the first proof. Instead of letting the dough proof, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a clean, damp cloth. Place it in the refrigerator for 1-5 days, keeping the cloth damp. When ready to roll, let it sit out until it comes to room temperature and doubles (about 2 hours). Another point at which you can leave the recipe overnight is after the pockets are filled and shaped. Instead of allowing them to rise another 30 minutes, cover them and refrigerate them overnight. In the morning, allow them to come to room temperature and rise (about 2 hours) before egg washing and baking.

Make dough: Mix the warm water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl (such as in the bowl of your stand mixer, if you have one) and let it sit for 5-10 minutes until it foams. Add the salt and 1.5 cups of flour and mix. While kneading on a low speed, gradually add more flour (I added about 1 1/2 more cups) until the dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl and barely sticks to your finger.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and place dough in the bowl for the first proof. Cover and place the dough in a draft-free place (many use the inside of a turned-off oven) to rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Make filling: While dough rises, brown ground beef, drain, and return to pan. Add packet of taco seasoning with a bit of water and cook until combined. In a separate bowl, combine cream cheese, salsa, and cheddar cheese. Add ground beef mixture to the bowl (which will melt the mixture a bit) and stir to combine.

Shape and Bake: Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray or line it with parchment paper. Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly-floured surface. I placed a damp, clean cloth over some of the dough while I tore off pieces to work with. Tear off golf ball sized portions (or maybe a little larger) and roll each portion out to about 1/4-inch thick (moving it around as you roll to ensure it’s not sticking, and reflouring your surface as needed). Use a large round cookie cutter (or a knife) to cut out circles about 3 or 4 inches in diameter. Spoon about 1-2 tablespoons of ground beef mixture onto each circle. Fold the circle over on itself, wetting and pressing the edges to seal. Poke each pocket with a knife to give it a steam vent, dust the excess flour off of it with a dry pastry brush, and place it on the prepared baking sheet.

Once all pockets are shaped, cover them with a clean dish towel and let them rise for another 30 minutes. When you have about 20 minutes left, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk egg and water together and brush over pockets just before baking. Sprinkle each pocket with a bit of shredded cheddar cheese. Bake pockets for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Let cool on sheet pan for a few minutes and serve warm.

Note: I received a stipend from Foodbuzz for creating this meal.

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Pretty Italian Pressed Sandwiches

Pressed —

— the air on East Bay Street was the wing of a pinned insect: dry and crisp, humming with vibrations (sound? wind?) as if still animate. The man approached us on the sidewalk with a swagger a few degrees too severe to be confidence, two hooks for hands, a face that blended into the darkness. Did we want to buy some flowers? My instinct was no-thank-you, but you uncrumpled a few dollar bills and suddenly we had a little bouquet: a peach rose haloed in anonymous blue blooms and holly berries, with the stems wrapped in tin foil.

We were still cynical in the darkness — were the hooks real? a ploy for sympathy? Later I unwrapped the bouquet to put the flowers in a plastic soda bottle filled with water from the hotel sink, and we saw the tears from the hooks in the tinfoil. Eight years later, the flowers are pressed in a bag in the back of my closet somewhere I won’t happen upon them and be injured.

Pressed —

— a late September night when I was five, when summer hadn’t yet given up the ghost. Both my mother and father were both at work. My sisters and I knew that the weather was growing more sinister. What warned us? Was it the lightning? A phone call from my halo-haired mother at the hospital? A screeching report on the news? I don’t remember, but I remember the odd mix of fear and excitement as we realized a hurricane was coming.

I had vague notions about what to do in severe weather — something about getting on your knees in a school hallway, building a fortress for your vital organs with your spine, your little hands crossed over your head. Or something about being in a basement, which we didn’t have, or in a room without windows, or was it mirrors, or was it both? The hall closet in the center of the first floor housed a hot water heater I felt sure would burst and boil us all in the middle of the storm.

My sisters conferred and decided we would take shelter under the daybed in their room, nevermind that it was upstairs and nevermind that my scrawny five-year-old arms could’ve probably lifted it. Suddenly, their clutches were on me and I was being pushed, prodded, pressed under the bed — the first one under, destined to be pinned in by the wall in front of me and both of their bodies behind me.

As I felt myself being entombed by the bed frame, a bag of bricks settled on my lungs and thick claustrophobia blanketed my esophagus — suddenly I was clawing, kicking, screeching. After a few moments of intense struggle, my battered sisters gave me up for lost and climbed under the bed themselves, probably vowing to kill me themselves if the hurricane left me unscathed. I ran into the living room with a rebellious heart, opened the blinds, and stood in front of the window as if it were a movie screen, watching the weather bend the city.

Pressed —

— the crush as I fell off the end of the slide into the dirt, the crunch as the boy behind me brought his heavy shoe down on my nose, the splatter of blood on the hopscotch court and on my pink nylon windbreaker —

Pressed —

— full body weight on bone, a long night of pain, the eventual sling, the osteal memory: an ache along a marrow corridor.

— the pressure of “using the body to eliminate the body,” the weight of no weight, the bottomless glass of chocolate milk that was the road out.

— my hands pressed under the tiny basil plant, ensuring his baby roots made contact with the new soil beneath.

— freshly made ricotta cheese unceremoniously hanged in cheesecloth, mass and gravity pressing the extra water out toward the center of the Earth,

— a new cast-iron skillet placed on top of the wrapped sandwich and then, when the weight still seemed too slight, a cast iron grill pan added as well. The mass of cast-iron compressing the thick, crusty ciabatta down into a rainbow of provolone, salami, roasted peppers. The pesto negotiating a seductive path through the bread’s caverns.

What are your memories of pressure?

Pretty Italian Pressed Sandwiches



Recipe by: adapted from The Cilantropist
Yields: about 5 servings

Ingredients:
1 loaf ciabatta bread
roasted red peppers or tomatoes
sliced hot salamis
sliced provolone cheese
fresh or deli pesto
fresh basil leaves

Directions:
Note: Make this sandwich a day in advance so it has time to press, but don’t leave it for much longer or it will get soggy. When adding each ingredient layer to the sandwich, your goal should be to ensure there’s complete coverage of the previous layer so that when you cut your sandwiches, the colors will be distinct and complete, with no gaps.

Use a long serrated knife to slice the loaf of ciabatta lengthwise. Spread on a thin layer of pesto (don’t saturate the bread) and then lay out a layer of roasted peppers or tomatoes. Next, add about 3 layers of salami (overlapping slices) and a thick layer of cheese on top of that. Top with a layer of fresh basil leaves. Spread more pesto on the top slice of ciabatta and settle it on top of the sandwich. Wrap the sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate with a weight on top — I used a cast-iron skillet and a cast-iron grill pan. When ready to serve, use a serrated knife to slice into pretty squares.

P.S. This recipe was part of my elementary school throwback picnic! Visit that post to see more picnicky fun.

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