Tag Archives: bread

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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World’s Best Grilled Cheese (Sharp Cheddar & Caramelized Onions on Beer Bread)

You’ve been shipwrecked on a desserted — ahem, I mean deserted — island. Your food options are limited to a sandwich (minus the “wich” part) and a very peevish looking saltwater crocodile who doesn’t seem to want you gnawing on him. After awhile your beard begins to rival that of Tom Hanks’s in Castaway, only there’s no Wilson to keep you company.

You’re hungry. You’re alone.

You’re gonna die.

Okay, sorry; that was an unpleasant beginning for a post, wasn’t it? And there’s that big knife up there underscoring the point.

I promise it gets better. Well, not too much better — you’re still gonna die. But something amazing happens first!

One day you’re wasting away on the beach entertaining fond memories of pizza while chewing on a piece of driftwood. Suddenly, a tiny Tiki Fairy appears. You know this is probably a brief hallucination indicating that an agonizing death is imminent, but you indulge your brain and greet her.

What do you know, she has a surprise for you! Drifters who find themselves starving to death on her island get to choose one last meal. Filet mignon? Truffle burger? Mom’s macaroni and cheese? You name it, you get it.

Ah, the question! It’s been posed to everyone from 50 famous chefs to death row inmates: what would you want your last meal to be?

Photographer Melanie Dunea is the one who had the brilliant idea to email 50 great chefs this question and compile their responses in her book, My Last Supper. Some of the chefs go fancy: caviar and spit-roasted pigs would be in Gary Danko’s final spread. Others prefer simple, comforting food from their childhood: Marcus Samuelsson wants gravlax with a dill mustard sauce in his last hours.

Funnily enough, the death row inmates seem to divide along similar lines. There are cost (and other) limitations to ensure the inmates’ meals don’t become extravagant, but some still think big! One, for instance, asks for two steaks, two burgers, a sliced turkey breast, bacon, two baked potatoes, one chef’s salad, one ear of corn, one pint of ice cream, and four sodas. Others cling to small pleasures; one asks only for cool whip and cherries.

Personally, I’m torn. I want comfort food. I want my mom’s chocolate sheet cake, macaroni and cheese, and yeast rolls for sure. I want a pimiento cheese sandwich on white bread, Dad’s chicken and dumplings, and at least a dozen Coke Zeros.

But I also want luxury! I could go for some fresh lobster tail and fried softshell crab. I want a thick Wagyu rib eye. I want this cheeseburger. I want this ice cream sundae.

Can I also have some Chinese pork buns?

Oh, and one more thing. A grilled cheese sandwich wouldn’t ordinarily make my list, but this isn’t your average grilled cheese — it’s the World’s Best Grilled Cheese.

In fact, Sommer from Mama With Flavor (have you seen her blog? hilarious.) started all of my “last meal” daydreams when she responded to my tweet about this sandwich. She proclaimed it “last meal worthy.” And worthy it is: sharp cheddar cheese and sweet caramelized onions are piled high and toasted between two slabs of buttery, freshly baked beer bread.

Trust me, this sandwich would be a far better companion on your deserted island than any anthropomorphized volleyball. With the very first bite I took, I knew I’d struck genius. Lunch (or dinner, or midnight snack, or breakfast, or even dessert) just doesn’t get much better than this. And with a recipe for fresh bread that consists of only four ingredients, it doesn’t get much simpler than this either.

You know what I have to ask for my parting question — and I can’t wait to read your answers! What would your last meal be?

Sharp Cheddar, Caramelized Onions, and Beer Bread Grilled Cheese


Recipe by: Adapted from Catherine Bienik (beer bread) and Simply Recipes (caramelized onions)
Yields: one loaf of beer bread (up to about 4-5 sandwiches)

Bread Ingredients:
3 cups self-rising flour
scant 1/2 cup sugar
12 ounces beer (I used Guinness)*
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Caramelized Onion Ingredients:
4 onions, sliced thinly
salt to taste
olive oil

Other Sandwich Ingredients:
about two tablespoon of butter per sandwich desired
sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:
Make bread: Preheat oven to 375. Grease a loaf pan or line it with greased parchment paper. Mix flour, sugar, and beer until combined and pour batter into pan. Cook for 40-45 minutes, or until top is well browned and loaf feels firm (you can also stick a toothpick in; if it comes out clean, the loaf is ready). When the loaf is close to done, brush the top thoroughly with melted butter and let the loaf bake for 3 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack to cool for about 20 minutes before removing it from the pan and cooling completely.

While bread is baking and cooling, caramelize onions: Put a few tablespoons of olive oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is translucent and shimmering, add onions and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Add salt to taste and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes, for 30 minutes to an hour. The goal is to let the onions sit long enough that they start to cook down and caramelize, but not to let them burn. If they seem to be sticking or burning at any time, you can do any of the following: add some more oil to the pan, turn down the heat slightly, or add some water to the pan. Once the onions are a rich brown, remove them to a container to cool slightly before use. Store extra onions in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Assemble your sandwich: Once the bread has cooled, use a serrated knife to cut it into slices. In a skillet over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of butter. Place a slide of bread into the skillet and pile on sliced cheese and caramelized onions (note: you can brush the underside of the bread all over with melted butter first if you want to ensure even browning). Place another slice of bread on top.

Cook until the bottom slice of bread is well toasted (peek every now and then by lifting a corner) and then gently flip, using your hand to brace the top slice of bread as you do so. You can add more butter if your skillet looks dry, lifting the sandwich to allow the butter to run underneath. When both sides are golden and toasted, remove sandwich to a serving plate and microwave for 30 seconds to insure melty cheese. Repeat these steps to make as many other sandwiches as you want! Serve immediately.

*NOTE: I don’t drink, so I wasn’t sure what sort of beer to use. This recommendation from a friend was outstanding, though! For information about how much of the alcohol cooks out of a given dish, please see this chart. In this particular recipe for beer bread, only about 30% of the alcohol remains in the entire loaf after cooking.

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Mini Doughnuts for Your Coffee Cup (a creative use for yeast dough scraps!)

I baked something so flippin’ fantastic this weekend that I cannot wait to tell you about it. Except that telling you about it involves a video tutorial. And a video tutorial involves hours of editing. So while that’s going on, I’ll share this other flippin’ fantastic idea.

Naturally, you’re planning to make doughnuts, right? Or perhaps you have some other yeast dough plans in the works? After rolling and cutting, you’re bound to have scraps of dough lying about unused.

Personally, I’ve always been a re-roller, piling the dough scraps together and rolling them out again to try to get a few more pastries. The resulting goods will be a little tougher, but it seems like a waste otherwise.

As I was browsing through doughnut recipes, however, I saw these sweet miniature doughnuts used as coffee (or hot chocolate!) cup decorations. They were the perfect use for dough scraps!

After cutting out all of my doughnuts, I used a couple of smaller cookie cutters to cut out these minis. I proofed them with my regular doughnuts, fried them quickly on both sides in 350 degree oil, drained them on a paper towel lined plate, and then rolled them in a mixture cinnamon and sugar. They were hot, fluffy, and as cute as a button on a kitten carrying a cupcake. Translation: adorable.

P.S. – While poking about, I found a fun tip for using yeast dough scraps for savory dishes. Now you have sweet and savory ideas in your tool belt!

P.S. 2 – I wish I could find the site where I originally saw these coffee cup doughnuts; I like to put up a link if something inspires me. If you stumble across it, let me know.

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Soft Pretzel Dogs (an homage to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels)

I have this embarrassing salad bar practice. You’re going to think I’m silly (or else you’re going to leave me a comment saying, “I DO THAT EXACT SAME THING!” and make me feel a little better. No pressure.)

See, I’m a little shy about how much salad dressing I eat. I was never one of those mostly-veggies-with-a-spritz-of-lemon-juice salad people. I was (am!) one of those bacon-cheese-and-crouton salad people, where the dressing has to touch every leaf with its creamy goodness. But I can never quite shake the feeling that the person behind me at the salad bar is watching me pour my bleu cheese dressing with thinly veiled disgust, silently tabulating the calories I’m about to consume.

To deal with this uncomfortable situation, I developed a little pantomime routine in which I dump as much salad dressing as I want on my salad before giving a little gasp and jerking the bottle up as if to say, “Oops! Of COURSE I didn’t mean to pour that much salad dressing — it just came out so fast!” Then I snap up my salad and hastily head to my seat.

I’m sure the lemon-spritzers in line behind me think I’m disappointed that my salad got drenched and that I’m really only eating it because I hate to waste food . . . right?! Okay, maybe I’m not fooling anyone.

The truth is, while I eat reasonably all week, I go all out on the weekends. And I can eat a lot. Like, enough so that more than one waitress has been driven to exclaim over the amount I have consumed (they better be glad I don’t believe in docking tips). Like, enough that I can almost always out-eat any fully grown, healthy, hungry man around me.

In college, the impressive amount I could eat would become glaringly apparent in the dining hall, where most gals were ordering half a grapefruit for breakfast and my plate was overflowing with bacon and eggs. And a waffle. With, like, butter and syrup and stuff. This disparity produced lots of food embarrassment. For some reason, perhaps especially as a woman, I always feel like I should be, um, daintier or something.

Sometimes, though, a certain food compels me to stop caring about what other people are thinking. Recently, that food was Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Dogs. I first saw them in the Dallas airport on a layover. I was reserved, ordering only one along with a couple of other small snacks.

But my first bite of that buttery, yeasty pretzel wrapped around a juicy hot dog was a surreal experience — and I don’t think it was just the medicine I take for my flight anxiety. I was hooked. I talked about the pretzel dogs throughout my entire weekend trip, and when I found myself flying back home to Charlotte through Dallas, I was prepared.

As soon as we touched down, I hastily disembarked and headed straight for the nearest Auntie Anne’s. There, I immediately threw caution and food embarrassment to the wind, ordering 3 pretzel dogs and a big soft pretzel on the side to, um, balance out my meal. And cheese sauce. I was in pretzel dog heaven.

Clearly, the next step was to figure out how to make pretzel dogs at home in Charlotte. I found the following recipe and, while not perfect, it’s pretty darn close, not to mention pretty darn easy!

The baking soda solution I dipped my pretzels in didn’t seem strong enough to give them a nice deep brown color, so I tweaked it below. I also had a lot of fun with flavors. I made soft pretzels, pretzel dogs, cheddar pretzel dogs, and jalapeno pretzel dogs. And all bashfulness aside, over the course of a weekend, I ate almost every single one of them myself.

Do you ever feel any food embarrassment, or are you an unabashed eater?

Soft Pretzel Dogs



Recipe by: Adapted from CDKitchen
Yields: 8 pretzel dogs and 5-6 pretzels

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup bread flour
3 cups regular flour
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons baking soda
3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
8 Nathan’s all-beef hot dogs (do yourself a favor and don’t use anything but Nathan’s!)

Toppings:
cheddar cheese
jalapeno slices (wear gloves to handle, and don’t touch your eyes!)
coarse salt, to taste
4 tablespoons butter (melted)

Directions:
Place warm water in mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast in, stirring to dissolve. Add the sugar and salt and stir. Add the flour and mix until combined. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (this took a few minutes on high speed with my KitchenAid mixer equipped with a dough hook). Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover it. Place it in a warm area to rise at least 1/2 an hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. When dough’s almost finished rising, prepare a baking soda water bath. I used one that I don’t think was strong enough (from the original recipe) to brown the pretzels appropriately, so I’ve poked around and found a better one for you. Mix the warm water and baking soda and continue to whisk periodically as you work with your dough.

Once your dough is risen, spray cooking spray over a spot on your counter and turn the dough out onto it. Use a sprayed pizza cutter to slice off a strip of dough. Roll it, starting from the middle and working outward with greased hands, into a thin rope — the thinner you get it, the more like Auntie Anne’s pretzels it’ll be. I even gently picked it up and let gravity help me lengthen it every now and then. For inspiration, watch this awesome video from the folks at Auntie Anne’s on shaping, dipping, and baking pretzels.

Form your strand into a pretzel shape OR wrap it around a hot dog OR wrap it around a hot dog and strip of cheese OR wrap it around a hot dog with a strip of cheese and some jalapenos. When you wrap it around the hot dogs, just slightly overlap the dough so there aren’t many gaps. Now dip the pretzel into your soda solution and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter and serve immediately with hot mustard or Cheez Whiz (tastes just like Auntie Anne’s cheddar dip!) for dipping.

P.S. Don’t forget about the Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.

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Dining in The King’s Kitchen (recipe: Southern Pimento Cheese with Lavash Crackers)

I was floored to find out that, because of your votes, I was not only 1 of only 12 blogs to move on to round 9 of Project Food Blog, but was also Readers’ Choice! FLOORED. Thank you times a million for your amazing support! Challenge #9 was to write a restaurant review. After telling you about my head-on collision with the homelessness epidemic in San Francisco, I heard about The King’s Kitchen and its mission to “feed the hungry and heal the brokenhearted.” Please read my review below and consider supporting me in this round! VOTING IS NOW OPEN! Please sign in to your Foodbuzz.com account (or register if you don’t already have one). Then go to my official entry here and vote by clicking the heart next to the words “Vote for this Entry.” I’d be so grateful for your continued support.

Dorothea sat across from me, a child of God in the kitchen of the King, and wore a sweet grin on her face, though she was recounting times in her life that were anything but happy. She described herself as a character, and you could see by the way she lit up her coworkers’ faces that it was true. She’s worked her way up from dishwasher to prep cook at The King’s Kitchen, a new restaurant in uptown Charlotte, but what she was remembering during our conversation were the times before she had this opportunity — darker days of her life.

“I was wild, a troublemaker,” she said, and “it was a hard struggle to get back. People do make mistakes, and when you want to do what’s right, it’s hard because [jobs] look at your background, not realizing that we all make mistakes.” But The King’s Kitchen, a restaurant that donates 100% of its profits to help feed the hungry and employs workers others might consider “unemployable,” recognized that all she needed was an opportunity.


After my first anonymous visit to the restaurant, I returned to get to know some of its amazing staff. From L to R: Dorothea, Sous Chef Sam Stachon, and my fantastic server, Charity.

When we got up so that I could take a photograph of Dorothea, she pulled Sous Chef Sam Stachon along with her, saying affectionately, “I want a picture with my chef, my chef.” Her words seemed to communicate a particular emotion to me, but I reflected on them all night before finally recognizing what it was: acceptance. The King’s Kitchen is a family, and Dorothea is — as she deserves to be — a beloved member.

* * * *

Restaurants are part of the broader hospitality industry — but what does hospitality mean in the world today? In America? In my city, in my neighborhood, in my heart? Does it mean good food, attentive service, a comfortable seat, a cordial smile? Maybe all of those things, but even more than that, hospitality carries with it a deeper sense of welcome. It’s an opening of one’s space and talents, an expression of love, and a willingness to serve. As Dorothea’s story illustrates, both the staff and the customers have found hospitality in The King’s Kitchen.


The King’s Kitchen

The ninth (!) challenge of Project Food Blog is to write a restaurant review — something that’s never happened on Willow Bird Baking! Especially after listening to the judges talk about exploring the “folklore of the meal,” I felt inspired to resist the traditional tone of restaurant reviews. The point of this blog is not to write to you from an expert standpoint — it’s to talk to you, one home cook to another, and to tell you my stories.

A WBB style restaurant review will tell you, first off, about a place that touched my heart — and I hope you’re already seeing how The King’s Kitchen did just that. Second off, a review here will tell you about my honest, individual experience with the food a restaurant served and the atmosphere they created. Finally, it just wouldn’t be a Willow Bird Baking post without a recipe. Sous Chef Sam Stachon gave me one of my favorite King’s Kitchen recipes to make at home and share with you: Southern Pimento Cheese with Lavash Crackers.

The Food:


One of my favorite dishes: Fried Flounder with Butter Beans, Macaroni and Cheese, and Coleslaw

The King’s Kitchen serves comfort food that amplified, for me, the feeling of hospitality. Every dish became an allusion to something in my past, some memory of home or family. I sampled biscuits, cornbread, one appetizer, three entrées, six side dishes, and two desserts in all. And apart from feeling a little humiliated to have just admitted that on the internet, I had a fantastic experience.

The Fried Flounder, for instance, had a light and flavorful breading and was served with a tangy, house-made tartar sauce with capers. Another entrée, Aunt Beaut’s Fried Chicken, transported me to the Fridays in high school when my dad would bring fried chicken by my summer job as a special lunch. It was juicy, crisp, and nestled next to a bank of corn and perfectly flavored collard greens.


Aunt Beaut’s Fried Chicken with Collard Greens, Macaroni and Cheese, and Corn

The Shrimp and Grits were unexpected. They had a more intense tomato flavor and were lighter than a typical spicy andouille sausage incarnation. As Mike and I ate this dish, I remembered Charleston and cobblestones, buying a bouquet of flowers from a peddler in the night — flowers I still have tucked away somewhere. Mike enjoyed the dish more than I did, but we both agreed that there didn’t seem to be a way to go too wrong when choosing anything on the menu. Everything felt like home.


Shrimp and Grits

Other odds and ends at our table were also impressive. The biscuits were fluffy and make-your-knees-buckle good when slathered with the housemade strawberry jam. The veggie side items were all fresh and perfectly seasoned. And one of my favorites, the pimento cheese on housemade lavash crackers, reminded me of many a fond moment spent devouring pimento cheese from a spoon over my sink — except it was handmade and had a much better flavor than the sort from a plastic tub.


Odds and Ends (from top L, going clockwise): Pimento Cheese and Lavash Crackers, Biscuits with fresh housemade Jam, Butter Beans and Macaroni and Cheese, and Aunt Beaut’s Chicken and Collard Greens

Finally, the dessert options at The King’s Kitchen are exciting and varied. My pet peeve about some restaurant dining is that many a restaurant neglects the dessert menu, offering pedestrian dishes that are meant to appease rather than delight. Dessert is important, y’all, and The King’s Kitchen boasted plenty of it: Banana Pudding with housemade vanilla wafers, Coconut Chess Pie, Deep Dish Apple Pie, Pecan Pie, Chocolate Pie, and Aunt Esther’s Brown Sugar Pound Cake.

Mike and I come from families with legendary banana pudding recipes, so we were a bit biased. We found the Banana Pudding with toasted marshmallow topping a little too sweet and would’ve loved more wafers. The Coconut Chess Pie, however — which was made by Dorothea herself! — was a work of art with a flaky crust and a dense, coconut filling.


Banana Pudding (top row) and Coconut Chess Pie (bottom)

The Atmosphere:

The food was matched by the exceptional, warm service and comfortable atmosphere. Matt, our first server, was always ready with recommendations or a refill of the best fountain soda everrr (side note: hurray for fantastic fountain drinks). When I returned alone to meet some of the staff, Charity was equally attentive and kind.

More than just the servers’ personalities, though, the mission of the restaurant creates its environment. Even as you sit in the beautifully appointed dining room with lovely upholstered booths, a glossy bar, and, now, a shining Christmas tree, there’s a sense that you’re not the center of the universe, but part of a broader community — a web of people who have and have not, people of all races and classes, and people who are necessarily interdependent. In addition to enjoying the nostalgic food, I so appreciated the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself.

Pocket-Sized Review:


  • Location: 129 W Trade St #100, Charlotte, NC 28202-5305; on the web; or by phone: (704) 375-1990 ‎
  • Hours: Lunch is served Monday through Friday, 11 am-2:30 pm; Dinner is served Monday through Saturday, 5 pm until
  • Cuisine: Southern soul food (lunch menu; dinner menu)
  • Price Range: Dinner appetizers: $4-13, Dinner sandwiches: $8-13, Dinner entrées: $12-24, Desserts: $7.5
  • Favorite Picks: Aunt Beaut’s Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Fried Flounder, and Coconut Chess Pie
  • Cool Notes: The King’s Kitchen donates 100% of its profits to feed the homeless, and also employs and trains members of society who others may consider “unemployable.”
  • Dress: Casual
  • Parking: Parking is relatively easy to find. We parked in a lot just behind the restaurant on Trade Street that was $6-7 for evening parking. There are also metered spaces nearby.
  • Overall Willow Bird Baking Rating: 4.5 out of 5 spoons

If you’d like to enjoy a little bit of The King’s Kitchen in your own home, whip up some homemade pimento cheese and lavash crackers. The recipe below is simple and satisfying.

What small choice could you make to show hospitality to someone today?


The King’s Kitchen Pimento Cheese and Lavash Crackers — this time made in my own kitchen!

Southern Pimento Cheese with Lavash Crackers



Recipe by: Adapted from The King’s Kitchen
Yield: about 4 servings of crackers, about 2 cups of pimento cheese

Lavash Cracker Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry active yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
1/3 to 1/2 cup room temperature water
water for misting

Southern Pimento Cheese:
2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup gouda, shredded
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, diced (I used half pimentos)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions:
Make the lavash crackers: Sprinkle yeast into 1/3 cup room temperature water to dissolve for 5 minutes. It should start to foam a bit. Combine this yeast mixture, flour, salt, honey, and melted butter in a medium mixing bowl and stir to combine into a ball. You can add up to 1/4 cup more water if needed, but add the smallest amount needed.

Flour your counter and knead the dough on the counter for 10 minutes until it has medium firmness, is not tacky at all, and is supple enough to stretch if you pull it. Place the kneaded dough into an oiled bowl, cover it, and place it in a draft-free area for around 90 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray the counter with cooking spray and transfer the dough onto it. Roll it out until it’s paper thin, stretching the corners periodically, and about 15 x 12 inches, so it’ll fit on a sheet pan. Stop every now and then to allow the gluten to relax if needed. Let it relax for 5 minutes once finished rolling, then transfer it carefully onto a baking sheet. Trim any excess that falls over the side of the pan with scissors.

At this point, you can mist your sheet of dough with water and coat it with sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, cayenne pepper (go easy!), cumin, poppy seeds, or scores of other fun things.

Bake for 13-20 minutes, watching carefully to ensure your crackers don’t burn (full disclosure: I was distracted and some of mine did!), before pulling them out and letting them cool on the pan for 10 minutes. Break them into shards.

Make the pimento cheese: Mix everything together in a bowl. Allow to chill for at least 20 minutes or so for the flavors to meld before serving. Sprinkle with fresh cheddar shreds to serve (and serving on lettuce is a nice touch).


Lavash Crackers with various toppings

P.S. One blog I love is Evangitality, where Kamille charges herself to share the love of Christ (with her family and others) through hospitality. Go see and be inspired!

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