Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Monkey Brains, Yes, Very Good!

It is 1935, Indiana Jones, his orphaned sidekick, Short Round, and nightclub singer, Willie Scott, have just escaped Shanghai via cargo plane.  Being forced to “jump ship” over northern India, the trio make their way to a palace.  They are treated most respectfully and asked to dine with the young Maharajah, wealthy merchants and government officials.  Anyone who has seen this movie knows that the dishes served to the diners are definitely not the usual fare the trio is used to.  Dessert is next, and dessert is always something decadent and sinfully delicious, right?

A lovely white chalice is placed in front of each diner, containing a monkey's head, skull cap lifted off and....

            Merchant: "Ah, dessert! Chilled monkey brains!"

Now for the disclaimer, at no time were any cute monkeys harmed, dismembered or eaten in any way shape or form to obtain the recipe in this article.

Depending on the era you learned to bake in, and location, a common name for the featured recipe could have been: bubble bread, bubble loaf, jumble bread, pull-apart bread, pinch-me cake, pluck-it cake, monkey puzzle bread, monkey brains, and monkey bread.  Basically, it is pieces of yeast bread dough, rolled into balls, dipped in melted butter, and covered with sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, apple bits, nuts or whatever little treat was the baker’s delight.  It is all layered in a pan, preferably a Bundt pan, but an angel food pan (outside well covered in aluminum foil) will do also.  After baking, a slight rest, the “bread” is flipped out onto a platter, and the liquid created by baking cools to a sticky oh-so-delicious glob.  A glob?  Sorry, best way to describe it…ok, maybe glob with perforations?

Anyway, it is eaten by picking and pulling pieces of the baked dough, eating as is, or dipping into icing, or cream cheese mixed with vanilla and confectioner’s sugar.  So, when referred to with the name “monkey” attached is comparing to monkeys when they are picking bugs out of the hair of another monkey.  Not an appetizing sight, unless you are a primate of sorts.

Origin of this baking technique has been traced back, in America, to the 1880s, when cooking was done in a Dutch oven, a covered pot with feet, set over a fire with hot coals underneath and on top.  During World War 2, General Mills promoted “Hungarian Coffee Cake”, a Hungarian treat, arany galuska (“golden dumplings”), consisting of balls of yeast dough dipped in melted butter, then in sugar and mixed with cinnamon and/or chopped nuts. Nancy and Ronald Reagan loved monkey bread, from their local bakery, and served it every Christmas holiday.  Once Ronald became President, it became a tradition to serve it at the White House.  It became so popular among the American people, the Reagan recipe (obtained from their favorite bakery) was included in The White House Family Cookbook by Henry Haller (New York, 1987, p 332-333).

I call my recipe “Apple Pie Monkey Bread”, as it begins with the typical coating of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, but I add diced Granny Smith apple over each layer.  There is always a bit of ingredients left over, so I make sure to coat the remaining apple bits to top it all off.  Eating it, just close the eyes, savor the scent and flavor, and you will swear it is like eating an apple pie.

Sometimes though, the dough pieces in the center do not bake out as firmly as the rest.
  Is this a loss?  Oh heck no it is not!  Take an 8-inch skillet, medium-high heat, and spread out the gooey pieces to the inside bottom edge of the pan.  Let it sizzle for two minutes, flip over, and two minutes on the other side.  The excess butter/caramel moisture firms it all up, creating a crispy on the outside, tender on the inside dessert.  Top with whipped cream or ice cream, and dive right in!


Ah, the bread dough; yes, you can use fresh dough, but thawed frozen will work very well too.  Many recipes use canned bread or biscuit dough, but these completed monkey breads tend to dry out faster than using fresh or thawed bread dough.

Unfortunately for me, someone had borrowed my Bundt pan and never returned it.  No big deal I thought, as I had stopped making Bundt cakes long ago.  Then suddenly I got the bug to make monkey bread, and no Bundt pan!  I called around to several shops, and the closest I could come to was an angel food pan with a center piece that loves to pop out if not careful.  I wrapped up the outside with layers of aluminum foil, as I knew the caramel sauce created would leak all over the place.  I also placed aluminum foil at the bottom of my oven, just in case, and good thing I did too!

Anyway, I have purchased a new Bundt pan, and I will leave the other pan to the angels.  This was a cooking adventure of “Can I really make this?” to “How in the world can I make this!?!” with the fun far outweighing the frustration.

Now the recipe…


Apple Pie Monkey Bread


10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted (if begins to harden, microwave)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark)

3 tsps. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. salt

2 pounds frozen white bread dough, thawed, but cold

all-purpose flour to dust hands and board

2 cups diced Granny Smith apple


Brush sides and tube of a 12-cup Bundt pan with a very thin layer of the melted butter; or use nonstick butter flavored spray, but real butter is better.  The butter should be in a wide, about 1-inch deep bowl.

In another wide, about 1-inch deep bowl, whisk together the sugars, cinnamon and salt; set aside. 

On a flour dusted board, cut the bread dough into 6 pieces, and work out, into 10-inch strands, with flour dusted hands; cut each strand into 10 pieces to get 60 total.  Roll each piece into a ball, lightly roll in the melted butter, and then the sugar mixture. 

Space out 20 around bottom of pan, wall edges to center stem; sprinkle 3/4 cup of diced apple over the pieces.  Repeat until you have 3 layer of dough balls, however, with last ½ cup of diced apple, mix into remaining melted butter, then into remaining sugar mixture.  Sprinkle over last layer of dough balls.


Note: if melted butter or sugar mixture begins to get too low, simply make a little more.  Depending on amount of dough balls remaining, it could be ¼ to ½ of the initial ingredients.

Now, cover the pan with plastic wrap, place in a warm area, and let rise for 1 and ½ hrs.  20 minutes before rise time is finished, preheat oven to 350F, and set rack in center of oven.  Remove plastic wrap, place pan in oven and bake 30-50 minutes (dependent on altitude), or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Remove pan and place on cooling rack for 5 minutes.  Make sure to have a serving platter, much larger than the diameter of the pan ready.  Be careful, the caramel sauce will be hot and can cause a severe burn!  Carefully flip the pan over onto the platter, and the monkey bread should slide right out.  Or, before flipping, run the flat side of a knife around the wall edges, and center tube wall.  Let the monkey bread cool for 20 minutes, so the caramel can completely harden.

Sampling is a necessary evil.
Makes 12 servings.

To create a cream cheese dipping sauce, mix together 8 oz. softened cream cheese, 1/3 cup milk and 2 tsps. pure vanilla extract until fluffy.  Add 2 cups of confectioner’s (powdered) sugar and mix again until smooth.  Or simply use softened icing as a dip.

The monkey bread can be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic wrap, or in an airtight container for up to 5 days.  Warm up in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, or fry it up in a skillet as I have mentioned previously (but if cold, melt a teaspoon of butter in the skillet first).

Mary Cokenour


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Barbeque - Asian Style.

The first time I had ever experienced Hoisin sauce, or should I say knowingly had it, was at a Chinese restaurant in New York City's Chinatown.  Ever seen a photo of a huge round table, with a, almost as huge, turn table in the center?  The many platters and bowls of food set upon it, and as it is turned, diners take a portion of each delicacy offered. I had been asked to a celebration dinner which consisted of such a set up, and one delicacy served was Peking Duck.  There was a thick, dark sauce served with the duck; smearing just a small amount onto a Chinese pancake, a few slivers of duck and scallion were then wrapped within the pancake.  The first bite was a surprise, but the continuing bites lead to ecstasy; such a rich, heady flavor came from the sauce.

My next conscious experience with Hoisin was having Mhu Shu (also written as Moo Shu or Mu Shu) Pork; a pork and vegetable mixture which is eaten inside, again, a pancake smeared with Hoisin. A most excellent dish and if pork is not to your liking, it can be prepared with shrimp, chicken, beef or a combination.  Be careful though, while these pancakes with filling are small, do not be surprised that you ate several more than you ever intended to.

Hoisin sauce is the Chinese version of barbecue sauce which, besides grilling, can be used in stir fries, marinades, as a condiment or a thickener. It is a soy based sauce having the components of salty, sweet and spicy due to the additional ingredients of garlic, vinegar, sweeteners and chilies. The texture of the sauce is usually thick, but can be thinned with the addition of sesame oil or water until the desired consistency is achieved.

While Hoisin can be purchased in a store, it can just as easily be made at home. Having a mortar and pestle handy in the kitchen is an asset for creating the paste quality of some of the ingredients. Patience is also necessary as it needs a good amount of mixing to help the ingredients meet and marry together; using a blender is quite useful for this and easier on the wrist.

Hoisin Sauce


6 Tbsps. soy sauce

1 Tbsp. each creamy peanut butter and black bean paste

1 Tbsp. each honey and dark molasses

2 tsps. white vinegar

¼ tsp. each garlic and onion paste

2 tsps. sesame oil

1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Hot sauce – dependent upon how mild, medium or hot is desired, or add pieces of chopped chilies to the garlic and onion when creating the paste.


Add all ingredients into a medium bowl, or into a blender, and mix until smooth. The texture will be thick; if a thinner consistency is desired, add a teaspoon of sesame oil or water until achieved.

Makes ½ cup.

One item I like to use Hoisin on is salmon; giving the fish a rich, smoky flavor from the sauce and a mild sweetness and spice from the glaze it creates. As a side dish, cook up a package of ramen, adding oriental style vegetables such as snow pea pods, bamboo shoots, shitake mushrooms, and red bell peppers for colors; substitute ½ cup soy sauce for the equivalent of the water needed.


The salmon has the skin and bones removed and cut into 4 to 6 ounce portions; depending on how large the side of salmon is. Preheat the oven to 350F and line a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil. Use a pastry brush to spread a half cup of Hoisin sauce over the foil, wherever the salmon will be lying. Place the salmon on the foil and brush it liberally with sauce; sprinkle a little ground ginger over all. Bake the salmon for 20 minutes; test for doneness in the thickest part of the filets. While the salmon is baking, the side dish can be made.

Simple and quite delicious!

But if you would rather have a nice bit o’ beef…

Fresh brisket, a lovely red color to the meat, just a 1/4 inch fat cap on top; and just at the two pound mark.  Too small for the smoker; too pretty to cut up for use in a recipe; what to do is a good question!

I saw the bottle of Hoisin sauce (yes, I keep a bottle on hand) on the refrigerator door shelf.  Hmmm, a smoky sauce with a multitude of flavors on a pretty cut of brisket; and the brain kicked in with an idea.  Have not had good fried rice in a while either, so I knew that would be my side dish; a dash of Hoisin would give it a little smokiness as well.

Hoisin Beef (Brisket)


2 lb. beef brisket, trimmed of fat

3 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar (or white vinegar)

½ tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. white pepper

1 tsp. salt

1 cup Hoisin sauce

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

2 Tbsps. diced red onion


Two hours before roasting the brisket; rub the vinegar over all sides of the meat, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 325F; line roasting pan with aluminum foil.  Score top and bottom of meat with diagonal cuts, creating one inch diamond marks.  Mix together the ginger, white pepper and salt; rub on both sides of meat.  Place meat in pan and roast for 15 minutes.

Mix together sauce, garlic and onion; turn meat over in pan, baste top and sides of meat with sauce mixture making sure to get sauce into score marks.  Return to oven for 30 minutes; turn over meat, baste and roast for another 30 minutes for medium-rare.  For medium; repeat turn and baste process, roast for 30 minutes more.  For medium-well; repeat turn and baste process, roast for 30 minutes more.


Remove meat to cutting board; rest for 5 minutes before slicing; spoon sauce from roasting pan over meat.  Serve with fried rice; when making rice, add one teaspoon of Hoisin sauce for every three servings to boost the flavor.

Makes 6 servings.


Oh, the recipe for fried rice?  Don’t worry, that will be coming soon enough.  If I gave you all the recipes, all at once, whatever else would I write about?

Mary Cokenour





Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Mexican Sweet and Savory Treats.

“Here I sit, broken hearted.

Wanted dip, but out of salsa.

It’s on sale, at the store.

Add beans and cheese, now what more?

Oh wait, bakery has ginger pigs.

Well now, don’t they hit the spot?”

There are times I am a very sincere and deep meaning poet, and then the comedian just cannot keep silent.  For several months, Blue Mountain Foods sold, and I have recently seen them selling at City Market in Cortez, ginger pig cookies in the bakery section.  Ginger pigs?  Why pigs, why not cows, sheep, horses?  Pigs are not a popular stock on local farms and ranches, so what is the attraction?

Research led me to Mexico, and a popular sweet treat sold in every bakery.
  A pan dulce, or sweet bread, Cochinitos de piloncillo, also known as marranitos, cochinitos and puerquitos (all meaning “pig” or “little pigs" in Spanish) are often referred to as “ginger pigs” or “gingerbread pigs”.  However, they typically do not contain ginger or cinnamon and a traditional recipe uses unsulfured molasses, giving the cookies their dark brown coloring.  Origin of the cookie dates back to the 16th century, but the explorers and colonists of Spain introduced the Mesoamerican people to the addition of other ingredients such as honey and cinnamon.

In later centuries, as Mexicans traveled to the United States, and brought their recipes with them, they were further introduced to baking soda, baking powder, and the addition of eggs to create puffy cookies.  Brushing with egg wash (mixture of egg with milk or water) produced a sheen on the little piggys

While, in Mexican culture, these cookies are often enjoyed for breakfast, with milk or coffee, I find them to be a tasty treat for any reason.  As with gingerbread cookies, a smear of lemon curd gives the taste buds a zing!  Want the zing to be all cookie, then additions of ground ginger and cinnamon will give the desired effect.

I found a food blog, Isabel Eats, written by a first-generation Mexican American who loves to cook favorite authentic Mexican recipes, sometimes with a twist. It is her recipe I will share with you.


Marranitos (Mexican Gingerbread Pigs)



1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

2 large eggs

3/4 cup unsulfured molasses

1/4 cup milk

1 and 1/2 tsps. vanilla extract

5 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp ground ginger

1 and 1/2 tsps. baking soda

1 and 1/2 tsps. ground cinnamon


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter until smooth. Add the dark brown sugar and mix until well combined. Add in one egg, molasses, milk and vanilla extract. Mix together until smooth.

In a separate large bowl, add flour, ground ginger, baking soda and cinnamon. Mix together to combine.  Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients 1 cup at a time and mix until well combined. The dough should cleanly pull away from the mixing bowl.

Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to 3/8 inch thickness (or a little less than 1/2 inch). Use a pig shaped cookie cutter to cut into pigs. Place pigs 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.  In a small bowl, crack open the remaining egg and whisk. Brush the beaten egg over the tops of the pigs using a pastry brush.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.

Makes approx. 2 dozen, dependent on size of cookie cutter used.

(Note: Want more “bite” to the cookies?  Add an extra ½ tsp. of ginger and cinnamon to the recipe.)

Now back to my little poem at the beginning.  Did you ever see the commercial for Velveeta cheese which adds in a jar of salsa?  Easy, cheesy salsa dip, right?  I developed my own recipe that I served at Dungeons and Dragons games, and it was always a huge hit (without rolling a D20!)

 Mexican Dip


1 (15.5 oz.) jar mild or medium salsa

1 (16 oz.) can refried beans

Cheese – this is the “your choice” part

         #1 – 16 oz. cubed Velveeta

         #2 – 1 (15.5 oz.) jar of queso dip (yes, it has some salsa in it, but more is always better)

         #3 – 1 (8 oz.) bag of shredded Mexican cheese mix

Chips for dipping (Tostitos scoops are great for this!)


In a microwaveable safe, medium sized bowl, mix salsa, beans and cheese.  Cover bowl and microwave, on high, for 3 minutes; stir well; repeat microwaving and stirring.  Enjoy and do not be surprised to find yourself making another bowl of this. 

Mary Cokenour



Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Food Wars Challenge Accepted!

I do not believe in coincidence.  I do believe that happenings occur, at a specific time for a specific reason, and it is our life task to figure it all out.

This means that when I watched a favorite anime show, Food Wars, on Cartoon Network, and the main ingredient was bear, it was foreshadowing.  As it so happens, that very evening, Roy received a bear roast from BLM buddy, T.W. Carr.  Excitedly, we watched a rerun of the show, when it aired on another Cartoon Network channel (Dish has 2); the ideas practically jumped on me!  A week later, Food Wars featured the actual challenge, and both contestants, Soma and Akira, made their own versions of country fried steak using bear meat.  Oh, oh, I have made country fried steak, using beef…I could take on this challenge!

Country Fried Bear with Red Onion Gravy

Bear meat tastes and smells gamey; the closer the cut to the bone, the more pungent it gets. The roast (1 and ¾ lbs.) had a noticeable, but not aggressive smell; two ways to cure this though; marinate in plain yogurt or red wine vinegar.  I chose red wine vinegar, since it is a tried and true technique for beef.  Slicing the roast up into 9-1/2 steaks, placed in an airtight container with the vinegar, they sat overnight in the fridge.  Next day, it was time to make those steaks into cubed, aka tenderized, steaks.

What exactly is "cubed" steak?  The term "cubed" refers to the indentations left in the meat after the tenderizing process.  Using a meat mallet, the ½ inch steaks are pounded out to ¼ inch thickness; breaking up any fat or ligaments deep inside the meat.  The steaks were then seasoned, both sides, with a mixture of salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder and cayenne pepper (enough to know there is heat, but no raging fire).  A dredging station of flour, eggs whisked with milk, flour again was waiting…light coat of flour, both sides; dip into egg wash; coat both sides and edges thoroughly with flour.


Dredging Station

Bear Steaks

Cubed Bear Steaks

Dredging the Steaks

Bear Steaks Complete and Ready to Fry

At the same time I was dredging the first four steaks, a large skillet, medium-high heat, was heating up 1 and ½ inches of peanut oil.  Yes, canola or vegetable oil can be used; I simply find peanut oil to be less absorbing by fried foods.  Normally cubed steaks are rather on the large size, just I only do two at a time; the bear steaks were smaller, so four, then five later, fit without crowding.

After three minutes, the steaks will float up and blood will be visible; do not touch them!  Let them fry for a complete five minutes before turning over.  Fry the other side for five minutes also, then remove to a plate layered with paper towels for draining.  Repeat with the next batch of dredged steaks.

After 3 Mins., Steaks will float up and leak blood.  Don't touch them!

Fried 5 Mins. on each side.

Country Fried Bear Steaks

On another burner, a saucepan of red onion gravy was simmering away; while a skillet was sizzling up hash browned potatoes containing diced onion and green bell pepper.  All sounds like the perfect making for a countrified dinner.

Slicing into the bear meat, it was perfectly cooked; a faint scent and taste of gaminess very much resembling aged beef.  The meat was tender, flavorful from the mixture of spices; the gravy only enhancing the taste and texture of both fried coating and cooked meat.  The hash browns slightly crisp, yet tender themselves which all lead to a perfect meat and potato meal.

Country Fried Bear, Red Onion Gravy, Hash Browns

A Look Inside the Bear Steak

Presenting it to Roy for Fathers’ Day, I could only utter the words of Soma Yukihira (main character of Food Wars), “Order up, and you’re welcome!”

Roy tasted, he swooned; no, his clothing did not explode off his body as it does on characters of the anime show.  His decision was, “Yes, you have won this challenge and may commence to the next level.”

Yeah, no, I did not bow, just said thank you and smiled a very big smile.


Red Onion Gravy


3 Tbsp. oil (oil from the skillet the steaks were browned in)

1 large onion cut into 1/4 inch slivers

3 Tbsp. flour

1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce

1 (14.5 oz.) can beef broth

1 tsp. ground black pepper

1 tsp. minced garlic


In a deep, 12 inch skillet, heat the oil on medium-high and sauté' the onions until they just begin to soften. Stir in the flour thoroughly before adding the tomato sauce, beef broth, black pepper and garlic. Bring to a boil and immerse the steaks into the liquid. Turn the heat down to low, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes before serving.

Hint: Make a double batch and freeze half; it defrosts and reheats well.

Mary Cokenour