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The Circle B Kitchen has been blogging since September, 2009.  We have loads of recipes and thoughts on food to share in the coming weeks and months, so come back and check in often!  We love hearing from you and hope you'll leave a comment or shoot an email our way.  Whether you have questions about a recipe or the site in general, please let us know...    Contact me at      pberry@circle-B-kitchen.com

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Our oldest daughter, Erin, has been riding, training and showing horses since she was a teenager.  She graduated from Colorado St. University with a degree in Equine Science and is now Financial and Administrative Manager for HETRA (Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Association), which provides therapy through horseback riding for children and adults with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, brain tumors, head injuries, blindness, autism, and strokes.  For more information or to donate to this amazing cause, please visit http://www.hetra.org/ .

 

 

Saturday
Jul232016

How To Store Stuff

The reality of my life is that in order to get to the nearest grocery store, I have to drive past a few cornfields, a sod farm, cross two rivers and and a highway and that will get me to Target in just under 20 minutes.  To get to Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and other vendors that I frequent, I have to gear up for an all-day adventure.  Needless to say, I try to do this only once a week and even less if I can manage.  So I'm a pretty organized shopper and list-maker (The Any List app is awesome!), and I am very careful how I store things, especially produce, to get the maximum life expectancy from everything.

Over the years, I've acquired a few tricks and tips that I recently thought might be a fine thing to share with you all.  Because whether the store is down the street or a long-distance trek, none of us want to be wasting our money by allowing food to go bad before it needs to.

To that end, here are a few things I do to extend the life of some of my groceries...

And let's start with AVOCADOS.  

I always have at least 4-5 avocados on hand and usually more.  I always buy them rock hard and when I bring them home from the store, most of them go into the veggie bin in the fridge.  I always have 2 or 3 ripening in a basket on the counter.  As soon as one gets perfectly ripe, into the fridge it goes and I pull another one out of the veggie bin to replace it.  I have a constant revolving supply of avocados, from rock hard, sitting in the fridge, waiting their turn for the basket, to a few in the basket ripening, to a few in the fridge, ready to use.  Oh, did I mention we eat a lot of avocados?  

And then what happens when you only eat 1/2 of an avocado and need to store the rest of it? This actually doesn't occur too often, but when it does, I've found an awesome way to keep that half an avocado in good shape until you can use it, preferably in the next day or two...

Place your half an avocado (leave in the pit) in a lidded container along with a few slices of onion.  Cover tightly and keep in the fridge.  The next day your avocado will look like this...

Not too bad, huh?  It tastes perfectly fresh too.  By the second day, it's going to look a little sadder, but still quite edible.  You can scrape off any brown spots that might offend you.

By the 3rd day, your avocado isn't going to look too appealing, so I wouldn't recommend taking it this far...

but relatively speaking, that's pretty good for 3 days.  Don't you think?  So that's the 411 on storing and saving your avocados.

The other pesky thing to store for very long is herbs!  There's nothing more frustrating than spending good money on herbs that go all blechy on you in two days.  Here's how I fix that problem...

CILANTRO AND PARSLEY can be treated the same way.  When I get them home from the store I give them a wash and spin in my salad spinner and then another good dry off on some paper towels.  Getting them dry is super important.  Then, I put a little water in the bottom of a deep canning jar (with a wide mouth) and then place my herbs in there.  And then depending on how long the stems are, I either place a lid on the jar or cover the top with a plastic bag thusly...

These go into the fridge and I'm not kidding you, people, they last for at least 2 weeks like this. I've had them last even longer than that.  I try to pick off all of the leaves that would be sitting under water, but that didn't happen in that bottom photo.  Those leaves would get grungie faster than the rest of the bunch.

Storing BASIL is the same in that you'll want to trim the ends of the stems, put them in a jar with the stems in a little water...

Then cover it with a plastic bag and set it on the counter or a window sill, but never, ever in the refrigerator. The refrigerator turns the leaves black in a matter of days.  

The basil you see up there is over a week old and it's just been sitting on the window sill in the laundry room.  Happy basil.

And if you do much Asian cooking you've probably got a knob of GINGER languishing in your fridge.  I like to buy a large piece and have it on hand at all times.  Just stick it in a ziploc bag and stash it in your vegetable drawer in the fridge and it will last for a very long time.  I use mine up before it ever goes bad.

And what about citrus?  LEMONS AND LIMES!  If you have lemons or limes that you're not going to use right away, you can freeze them!  Whole!!  No, really, it works great!  Just place them in a ziploc bag and then into the freezer and they'll keep for a couple of months.  When they thaw, they'll be nice and juicy.  If you're going to store them in the fridge for a few days, keep them in a plastic ziploc bag.  The thing that kills citrus is when the rind starts to dry out.

I also buy SALMON AND COD in large quantities.  I get a discount at Whole Foods if I buy more than 2 pounds, so I usually buy a large filet (2-3lbs) and when I get it home, I slice it into 6-8 oz filets and then use my vacuum sealer to seal up each filet before placing them in the freezer.  

This way I always have fish on hand and it tastes as good as fresh when thawed.  If you don't have a vacuum sealer, I highly recommend it!

And then there's CHEESE.  After awhile, cheese is gonna go off pretty much no matter what we do.  But it is possible to prolong it's life if it's stored properly.  And here's the thing, cheese is a living thing.  It really is, so let's not smother it in plastic wrap.  The best way to store cheese is to wrap it in wax paper, which gives it a little breathing room, and then you can place it in a ziploc bag.  But best to keep the plastic away from the cheese itself, especially if we're talking about Parmesan.  There are lots of cheese storage bags that you can buy, and I've tried a few of them, but I always go back to my wax paper.  It seems to keep my cheese as happy as anything else.

ASPARAGUS is another one that will go bad on you in a hurry.  But it doesn't have to happen to you.  Cut a bit off the bottom of the spears and just like the herbs, place them in a container with a little water in the bottom.  

Place a plastic bag over the top and keep this in the refrigerator.  I swear I've kept asparagus fresh like this for a couple of weeks.

And storing FRAGILE LETTUCES can be tricky too, no?  Yes.  So to get the most out of my salad greens, the first thing I do is remove them from their plastic tub.  It seems that if there is the least bit of moisture trapped somewhere in there, the lettuce will go south in like a nano second.

So I grab a good length of paper towels and dump out the lettuce on it...

...then I roll them up very gently

and place the whole shebang in a ziploc bag.  Your lettuce will stay fresh and tasty for much longer.  I promise.

I know there are probably more nifty storage tricks that I've forgotten, but I'll add them to this post as I think of them.  And if you've got some great storage tips to add to the conversation, just leave us a comment.  We'd love to hear from you!

CLICK HERE FOR A PRINTABLE VERSION 

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Wednesday
Jul132016

Chocolate Thunder Pudding

 

You may have noticed that compared to other dessert franchises, chocolate isn't very well represented in the Circle B Kitchen recipe index.  And why is that, you ask?  Well, it all started a few years back when The Husband mentioned in what I guess must have been a rather off-handed way that if eaten late at night, chocolate sometimes might on occasion keep him awake when he'd rather be sleeping.  Well, not wanting to contribute to a possible insomnia-ish sort of situation, I took these words to heart and since then, chocolate desserts have been rather rare occurrences around here.

And then recently, I made chocolate pudding for my grandson and his parents and the little guy said it was the best Chocolate Thunder pudding he'd ever had and it just reminded me how much I love it and so I thought I would share it with you all.  But firstly I had to make it at home and that's when The Husband said that he, too, loved it and suggested that perhaps I may have over-reacted just a bit to his comment of several years ago and he was not in the least worried about losing sleep and could he please have more.

Alrighty then.  We're back in the chocolate business.  And then there's the question of why "Chocolate Thunder Pudding"?  Very good question.  The simple answer is that Chocolate Thunder is what my grandkids call me.  Actually, my complete name is Bumpa Chocolate Thunder, so Chocolate Thunder is the shortenend version which was bestowed on me by my son-in-law when the grandkids were just learning to talk and is a possible vague reference to Thing #2's nickname in everyone's favorite Dr. Suess book.  Seems totally logical to give me a name that takes 3 or 4 minutes to say when you're only 2, right?  Well, they've all learned to say it as soon as they could string more than a few letters and phrases together and that's how we got to Chocolate Thunder Pudding.  Well, sort of.  

While my chocolate pudding has been enjoyed by the Grandkids for many years, I have recently adapted it for grown-ups, and in this version, the real Thunder comes from...

Oh yeah.  I added a little Kahlua thunder which takes this pudding places it probably was never meant to go, but is just what one wants in a grown-up pudding experience.  Am I right?  I'm pretty sure I am, and I'm also pretty sure you're going to have a hard time just eating one little pot of this stuff.  My sage advice to you is... make extra.  And lots.

Ok then.  Perhaps it's time to get your pudding cups out and prepare yourself for a little Chocolate Thunda! Here's the recipe...

Chocolate Thunder Pudding

Click here for a printable recipe

Just a quick word about the importance of using a good quality cocoa powder here.  I use a dark belgian cocoa powder that makes this luxuriously rich.  I have not had good luck with Chatfields cocoa powder from Whole Foods.  It cooks up sort of grainy, which is definitely not good eats.  If you're making this for the kiddos, just omit the Kahlua and add vanilla.  If you're making this for both adults and kids, you can divide the pudding in half and add your kahlua to half and vanilla to the other half.  If you'd like to make this into a chocolate pie, which I heartily recommend, you can easily spread it into a pre-baked pie crust and top with whipped cream before refrigerating.  If you'd like to make it into a sort of chocolate mousse pie, fold your whipped cream into the pudding mixture before adding it to your pie shell.

Makes 8 4-6 oz servings

Ingredients
6 ounces chocolate chips (semisweet or dark chocolate)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
2 1/2 cups milk*
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup Kahlua (coffee liqueur) or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Depending on how thick you like your pudding or if you're putting this in a pie shell, if you're using the 1/3 cup Kahlua, you might want to cut back on the milk by 1/4 cup.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Slowly whisk in the cream, a little at a time, until you have a smooth mixture and then whisk in the egg yolks. 

Pour the milk into a 3-quart saucepan. Add the sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Slowly pour most of the hot milk into the bowl of cream and egg yolks. whisking until well-combined, then pour everything back into the pan.

Bring the pudding mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.  After the pudding starts boiling, cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. 

After 2 minutes, remove the pudding from the heat and stir in the chocolate chips.  Whisk until the chocolate is fully melted and blended and then stir in the vanilla or the Kahlua, if using.

Divide the pudding into small ramekins or dessert cups, cover each with plastic wrap (to avoid creating a skin on top) and chill for at least 2 hours.  Serve with whipped cream if desired.

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment

Wednesday
Jul062016

Sausage Bread


 

If you love playing in the kitchen as much as I do, then you probably know that one of our best friends for pulling together creative, fun meals has got to be a ball of pizza dough.  Of course, fresh, homemade pizza is its number one responsibility, but it doesn't end there.  Not by a long shot.  We've used our pizza dough to make little buns for sliders; and these amazing breadsticks; this incredible monkey bread;  these scrumptious sausage roll bites; and even crackers.  And when I saw Jeff Mauro making his childhood favorite sausage bread with his Grandmother (which he turned into a brunch sandwich), I immediately saw a chance to give my pizza dough another job.  She made hers with frozen bread dough, which you could totally do, but pizza dough gives this bread something of the charm of a calzone. 

And before I go much further, I want to clarify that although our aforementioned sausage roll bites, look suspiciously similar to this sausage bread, they are totally and completely different. Sure, they're both a version of pizza dough stuffed with sausage, but with distinctly divergent outcomes.  Our sausage roll bites have a decidedly British lineage, while sausage bread is a much beloved Italian-American treat.

... which will most assuredly become a regular around here.  Oh, how we loved this warm and soft from the oven.  Then we loved it re-heated and sliced for lunch, and even cold straight from the fridge.  It really is a wonder of heavenly deliciousness.

Here's how to make my version of the much beloved sausage bread...

Roll your pizza dough into a squarish rectangle.  You will quickly get the idea that this is sort of a free-form kind of thing.  Improvisation and creativity are highly encouraged.

Then you're going to want to sprinkle your dough with lots of shredded mozzarella cheese, leaving a one-inch border on the edges.

Then you're going to top that cheese with lots of cooked Italian sausage and then some chopped pepperoni.

Sprinkle that with a liberal amount of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese,

and then roll up your dough until you've got it in a neat little roll,

and then pinch the edges of the dough to seal it up tightly and then brush the top and sides with olive oil.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Let it cool for a few minutes, slice, and well, you can take it from there.  We debated the possibility of marinara sauce for dipping, but we concluded that it just doesn't need it.  But that doesn't mean you couldn't do that if you wished to.  Mostly you're just going to want to get this made and on your table. Here's the recipe...

Sausage Bread

Click here for a printable recipe

This has quickly become a favorite in the Circle B Kitchen and one of the most requested dishes.  It really is good stuff that makes a fabulous appetizer, awesome party fare, great with soups or wonderful on a brunch table.  If you're using spicy Italian sausage, you can leave out the crushed red pepper flakes.

Ingredients
One ball of pizza dough, about 1 1/2 lbs (here's my recipe)
1 lb of cooked Italian sausage
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
lots of chopped pepperoni
8 oz of shredded mozzarella cheese
plenty of grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper

Roll the pizza dough out into a large-ish rectangle.

Top the dough with the grated mozzarella and then sprinkle that with the crushed red pepper. 

Top that with the cooked Italian sausage and then the chopped pepperoni.  Sprinkle the pepperoni with the grated parmesan and then roll the dough to enclose the toppings.

Pinch the edges to seal tightly and then place on the prepared baking sheet.  Brush the dough with the olive oil and the place in the preheated oven. 

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the dough is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool 10-15 minutes before slicing.  Best served warm.

 Click here to ask a question or leave a comment

Sunday
Jun262016

Pepperoni Pizza Pasta Salad

It looks like Europe is coming apart at the seams (well, maybe just the Brits), the western half of the US is on fire, the eastern half is flooding, the experts are predicting a global stock market crash, the Presidential race and U.S. politics in general get weirder by the day, and apparently the Independence Day sequel sucks pretty badly. I believe we’re in desperate need of some good news, people  And I know you’re probably thinking I’m just the one to provide such a thing, but all I’ve got is some super delicious pasta salad.  But in desperate times, you take what you can get.

So in case you’re seeking the perfect side dish to serve alongside whatever you might be thinking of grilling this 4th of July, look no further.  The good news is that this salad is specifically designed to make you and your guests happy, and it may even be good enough to help you forget the craziness that is the world at the moment.

And really, what could be more American than pepperoni pizza?  Morphed into a pasta salad? Just American enough for a 4th of July barbecue in need of a delicious side show. And with that I wish you all a very happy and scrumptious 4th of July!  Here's the recipe...

P.S.  And then I inexplicably left the basil out of the photo, but don't forget to add it to your salad cuz it really is supposed to be in there.  Happy 4th!!

Pepperoni Pizza Pasta Salad

Click here for a printable recipe

1 lb pasta (rotini, corkscrew, cavatappi, etc.)
1/2 cup Italian dressing
1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (not grated crumbles or powder)
1 (5 oz) bag mini pepperoni slices (I chopped up some turkey pepperoni)
1 (3.8 oz) can sliced black olives
12 oz fresh mozzarella balls, cut in half
1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes or to taste
2 Tablespoons finely sliced fresh basil

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Once cooked, pour pasta into a colander and rinse with cold water. Cool and transfer to a large bowl and gently toss pasta with Italian dressing. Add Parmesan cheese, pepperoni, olives, mozzarella, red pepper flakes and basil. Toss until all ingredients are fully combined.

Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to serve.   Before serving, taste and toss with more Italian dressing if you think it needs it. 

Click Here to Ask a Question or Leave a Comment

Monday
Jun202016

Cheddar Onion Yeast Rolls

Holy cow, it's actually been 3 weeks since my last real life blog post, which seems like an eternity in the blogging world. And in spite of being embroiled in the all-consuming kitchen renovation and a week off to celebrate a very special 45th wedding anniversary, I couldn't help but sneak into the kitchen and make these yeast rolls.  A grand total of 5 times.  But they were worth every pound of flour and brick of cheddar cheese offered up in the cause.  Allow me to explain...

At some point in the midst of deciding on some stain colors for the kitchen paneling, I was sent to Lowe's to pick up a few more samples, and while I was waiting for the paint clerks to get everything mixed up (not even kidding about that), I found out just how much I missed cooking when I found myself unable to resist the cover photo of this Cast Iron Baking book.  

By that afternoon I had these rolls rising on the counter, but that's not even close to the end of this saga. Settle in and get comfy.  I'll do my best to be brief, but these rolls have a story to tell.

So, of course a few little red flags started waving as I assembled the dough.  The recipe called for 4 1/2 cups of flour, no small amount for a pan of dinner rolls, but trusting soul that I am, I soldiered on.  But when they then asked you to divide the dough into 13 (?) portions and place them in a 10-inch cast iron pan, I knew we had problems.  Firstly, the dough balls were the size of baseballs and trying to fit even half of them into a 10-inch pan was the height of ridiculousness.  And THEN it said to bake these giant balls for 10-12 minutes!  OK, then.  Houston, we have a problem.  Well, several actually.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that for these cheddar onions rolls there was a mere 1 cup of cheese, but get this... 1/2 cup of sugar.  

The resulting rolls had no cheddar presence, a bit of onion flavor and were quite sweet.  The Husband loved them, but I think he mostly loved the dough-y texture and the sweetness, but cheddar-onion rolls these were not.

A few days later I made them again, eliminating the sugar, dividing them into 24 rolls and upping the cheddar cheese a bit.  Better, but without the sugar, the dough was a bit dry.

Attempts #3 and 4 were all about getting the dough back to that pillowy softness without sugar, getting some cheddar flavor in there, adding some chives for even more oniony fun, and just generally trying to create the cheddar-onion roll that I was longing for.  Well, by this time it was the cheddar-onion roll that I was determined to make.

Somewhere between attempts 3 and 4, I emailed the publisher of the book and relayed my struggles with the recipe and I received a very nice email in return thanking me for the feedback and stating that they were going to take the recipe back into the kitchen and see what was going on.  

I don't know what they would then do about it as their version had already been published, but it was good to hear nonetheless.  And then she sent me some more of their books to review and they all look incredibly fun and promising.  There will be more about those in the future, I'm sure.

My 5th attempt at perfection created the cheddar onion rolls of my dreams.  The rolls that didn't want to be, but got made anyway.  A basket of these with a glass of wine, well... here's the recipe... 

Cheddar - Onion Yeast Rolls

Click here for a printable recipe

These are pretty special little dinner rolls.  Feel free to double the recipe - the leftovers make amazing little sandwich buns!  A word about salt, though.  If you'll be using a standard table salt, you will want to keep this to 1 teaspoon in the recipe.  If using a fine sea salt or Morton's Kosher salt, you can push it up to 1 1/2 teaspoons.  I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt which is less salty, so I used 2 teaspoons.  

Recipe Adapted from Cast Iron Baking

Makes 1 dozen rolls
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1/2 cup minced onion
1 cup warm milk (105 - 110 degrees), divided
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast (1/2 pkg)
1/2 large egg
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (I like to use the large grater hole)
1 1/2  teaspoons salt (see headnote)
2 cups bread flour
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat.  Add onions; cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely.  No knead to clean the cast iron pan yet.

Place 1/2 cup of the warm milk in the bowl of a standing mixer and whisk in the yeast and sugar.  Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Beat an egg and add half of it to the yeast mixture along with the cheese, salt, cooked onion, chives, 1 tablespoon of oil and the remaining 1/2 cup of warm milk.  Mix until thoroughly combined and then slowly add the flour until a soft dough forms.  If the dough seems too wet, add a little more flour; if it's a little stiff, add a bit more milk.  The dough should feel heavy, be more on the tacky side, but not sticky.  Continue to knead for about 5 minutes.  Alternately, you can mix this in a large bowl and knead by hand.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray.  Place the dough in the bowl, turning to grease the top.  Cover and let stand in a draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch down the dough and divide into 12 pieces (each piece should weigh between 2 and 2.5 oz).  You can form these into smaller rolls and get 16 out of this dough easily.  Just use a larger cast iron pan.  Spray the cast iron pan with cooking spray, roll each piece into a ball and place it into the pan.  Cover and let stand until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grate some fresh Parmesan over the top of the rolls and bake until they are lightly browned, about 18-25 minutes, depending on the size of your rolls and the peculiarities of your oven.  Serve warm.

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment