Monkey bread. Monkey bread. I dare you to say it and not giggle.
I didn’t even know this wonderful food existed until recently. Our friend Eric brought a loaf to a potluck party, and it was an enormous hit. The bread itself was a humble and unassuming thing: bite-sized balls of yeasted dough, nestled together in a loaf and baked. It was perfect stand-around-and-chat food, made for idly pulling apart with one hand while holding a glass of wine with the other. Even on a table crowded with homemade treats, that monkey bread was a clear winner–it disappeared in record time. And I was smitten.
I’ve since seen recipes for monkey bread all over the internet, in a dizzying variety of forms and flavors. The most common version seems to be a sweet breakfast bread, where the dough is soaked in syrup or caramel and the bread itself is baked in a bundt pan and inverted onto a plate. But the monkey bread I fell in love with was savory, as is the recipe that intrigued me the most in my internet ramblings. This is a richer, more sophisticated version of Eric’s simple monkey bread, made from scratch with a springy egg dough, fresh dill, and a whole lot of melted butter.
This is the quickest and simplest yeast bread I’ve ever made. From start to finish, the whole process took just over two hours–and that was on the coldest day of the year, so that the dough took twice as long to rise as it usually should. The dough requires very little kneading, rises for only a brief period of time, and bakes surprisingly quickly. The messiest–and yet most satisfying–step involves dunking the individual balls of dough in dill-spiked melted butter, then layering them in a loaf pan. By the end of the process, my hands were slicked with butter and fragrant with dill, which was almost as fun as eating the finished bread itself.
Then all it takes is a sprinkle of flaky salt and a quick trip into the oven, and you’ve got fresh, buttery bread that can be eaten without a knife. For a sit-down dinner or a stand-up party, this is a treat worth making.
I have been swimming in plums recently. My friend Sarah’s tree started dropping ripe plums right before she went on vacation, so Sam and I went over and helped her clear out the branches. We were allowed to keep whatever we picked; within a few minutes we’d collected a paper grocery bag full of tiny red-fleshed fruit. The past couple weeks have been all about putting them to use.
A fair number of the plums got eaten straight from the bag, standing over the sink to catch the juices. I set a few aside for a cooking experiment I’ll write about later; a few more went into a riff on my favorite nectarine tart (verdict: plums need way more sugar than nectarines). That left me with about two pounds of quickly softening plums, a small canning pot, and–thanks to the BART shutdown–a lazy work-from-home afternoon. So I ignored the heat outside, turned on the oven, and made plum butter.
Fruit butters are a slightly different animal than jam–pureed smooth, softer and less jelly-like than jam, made for spreading rather than dolloping. Think applesauce, but richer, darker, thicker, in every way more so. The recipe I found calls for roasting, rather than boiling, the fruit; after an overnight soak in sugar and spices, the plums went into a heavy pot and then into the oven, where they slumped and wrinkled and filled my little apartment with hot syrupy perfume. From there, it was just a matter of pureeing the fruit to baby-food smoothness, and ladling it into hot prepared jars for the water bath.
In the jars, the plum butter is inky purple-black, the color of the blended-in skins; when I scraped up the dregs from the pot onto a spoon, it glowed translucent red. The flavor is concentrated plum, sweet from the flesh and tart from the skins, brightened with orange zest and prickly with cinnamon and cloves. I will be spreading it on popovers the first chance I get; I could easily imagine filling a cake or topping a scone with it, and even possibly using it as a sweet plum sauce on poultry. Well done, little plums. Well done.
Jet lag is a cruel mistress. After two weeks on Eastern Standard Time, I’m having serious trouble clicking back over. For the past three days I’ve been crawling through the early evening, passing out as soon as it’s seemly, then bolting wide awake in the wee hours. It’s a grinding adjustment, as always, and I’ve been alternating between manic bursts of energy and limb-dragging bouts of inertia.
I missed my little kitchen terribly, but I haven’t had the follow-through to do more than the simplest of cooking projects. Like this one, borrowed from Bon Appetit: shrimp sauteed in Sriracha-spiked butter, with a splash of lemon and a shower of basil and mint. It’s spicy, but not overly so; the butter rounds out the rough edges of the hot sauce, and the herbs give it an unexpected sniff of sophistication. The whole thing comes together in a whopping 10 minutes–15, if you peel your own shrimp.
This is a dish that sauces itself. The shrimp as they cook give off a burst of liquid that mixes with the chili-infused butter and the lemon juice to form a rich lipstick-red slick in the bottom of the pan. I served the shrimp over soba noodles, to catch all of those wonderful fatty-spicy juices; the original recipe suggests a mound of steamed artichokes. I’m convinced this would be just as great over rice, quinoa, couscous, spaghetti squash, or any sauteed vegetable you like–just make sure you catch every last bit of sauce. I wished I had bread to swab out the pan.
Oh, and a confession: despite my overwhelming love of Sriracha, I had none on hand when I made this. So I used the dregs from a jar of chili garlic sauce, and the shrimp came out terrific. Darned pretty, too.
You know what? It’s spring. The air is soft and downy, shot through with veins of light and blossom scent. The sky is bottomless blue, the kind of super-saturated color that makes my teeth ache (no, really). The market stalls are overflowing with bright clamoring produce, so fresh and blink-you’ll-miss-it-seasonal that it’s tempting to bring home bagfuls and just eat it, unadorned.
This is the season when I start to lose patience with fuss. In the winter, I’m perfectly content to hone my kitchen-sink cooking and practice all manner of fancy flourishes. But when the clouds break and the temperatures climb, I want something different altogether. I want fresh, and simple, and clean. I want to really taste spring in my food.
Okay, yes, I disappeared for another week. But I have an excuse. A really damn good excuse. An outrageously decadent, completely indulgent, fussy-fussy fancy-fancy excuse. An I-stayed-up-until-one-in-the-morning-on-a-Thursday-night-up-to-my-elbows-in-butter excuse.
I made you a tart. But I eated it.