Snappy Lemon Cheesepie

We've made the trek back home from the Circle B Kitchen West where spring was in full swing and our senses were bombarded with the scents and colors of rolling green hills, wild flowers in bloom and fresh blue skies that stretched out over the ocean for what seemed like forever.  And we returned home to a mostly still-brown midwest landscape that is beginning to give way to just enough green to reassure us that spring is most definitely on the way.

And somehow, in transit from there to here, one of those airport/airplane bugs hopped a ride and found its way home with me.  It has laid me low for the past few days, which, as you know, means that I haven't been in the kitchen much, which also means that I haven't been able to work on any of the recipes I'm dying to share with you.

But as consolation to us all, I decided to post this incredibly delicious version of the Circle B Kitchen Cheesepie that my cousin Katie and I worked on a few months back, and, I would say, possibly perfected.  I've been saving it for just the right moment, which just so happens to feel like now.  It's a pie perfectly suited to spring and would perhaps be an excellent addition to your Easter feast.

If you've made and sampled our cheesepie, then you already know how delicious it is.  This version just tweaks the flavors a bit by adding lemon to every layer and swapping out the graham cracker crust for one made with gingersnaps.  If you have a Trader Joe's nearby, then I heartily encourage you to use their gingersnaps, but absent that, any good gingery-snap will do. 

Sweet and creamy, crunchy, and oh so lemon-y; happy spring, everyone!  Here's the recipe...

Snappy Lemon Cheesepie

Click here for a printable recipe

This is a deliciously lemon version of the Circle B Kitchen cheesepie in which we swap out the graham crackers in the crust for some spicy little gingersnaps.  Feel free to use store-bought lemon curd if you like, but we've also provided a recipe for our favorite homemade (you will want to make extra, it's so good).  Also, you will need to plan ahead a little to make this as it thickens and gets better the longer you refrigerate it.  Give it at least 5 hours in the fridge before serving.  And please use a high quality cream cheese (Philadelphia is fine).  Some store brand cream cheeses include additives that do not cook up well, i.e., lumps, not creamy.  And make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature before using it.  You will need 2-3 lemons for the pie.

P.S.  If using a store-bought lemon curd that seems a little loose or runny, just beat in 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch into the pie mixture to make sure that the pie firms up properly.

Gingersnap Crust:  
1 ½ cups ground gingersnaps (about 40 cookies)
1/4 cup butter
¼ cup sugar

For the Pie:
12 oz good quality cream cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup lemon curd
1 tsp vanilla

For the topping:
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup lemon curd (store-bought or homemade - see below)
zest of 1 lemon

Lemon Curd:
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice (I sometimes add another ¼ cup for extra lemony-ness)
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Make the Crust:
Spray a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick cooking spray.  

Place the gingersnaps in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until ground.  Add the sugar and continue pulsing until combined.

Melt butter (it’s best if it’s really really soft and not all the way melted) and mix with sugar and crumbs (I do this in the pie plate or a separate bowl).  Press into the bottom and sides of the pie plate.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the pie:
Beat eggs and then add the remaining pie ingredients.  Beat till smooth and pour into gingersnap crust.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Let cool 5 min.  

Make the topping:
Beat sour cream with the lemon curd and then spread on top of the pie.  Bake 10 more minutes. Let cool and sprinkle the top with the reserved lemon zest.  Refrigerate at least 5 hours before serving.

Homemade Lemon Curd:
In a heavy, medium saucepan whisk the eggs and egg yolks until well blended and then add the sugar and lemon juice and stir to combine.  Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, for about 8-10 minutes or until the mixture is fairly thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. 

Stir in the cold butter pieces and once the butter has melted, add the grated zest and stir to combine.  

You won't need all of the curd for this recipe so you can transfer the leftover curd to a tightly covered storage container and refrigerate it (it will last for 2-3 weeks) or you can freeze it for much longer. 

Cinnamon Raisin Almond Flour Muffins

(Disclaimer... Good camera at home, so all photos courtesy of my iphone.  Forgiveness would be appreciated.)

We're winding down our stay here at the Western Headquarters of the Circle B Kitchen.  It's been an absolutely lovely 2 weeks, but home beckons and we will oblige.  I've done a decent amount of cooking while here; it's mostly been about throwing a beautiful piece of fresh-from-the-sea Alaskan cod or king salmon on the grill along with some fresh veggies or whatever.  All that to say that I haven't been doing much recipe testing.  

But I did make these precious little almond flour muffins and we really did love them, so I thought perhaps you might too.  The inspiration actually came from an old muffin tin that belonged to my Mother-in-law who passed away a few months ago.

You can't really tell from the photo, but this is a muffin tin size that I've never seen before (not sure they make it anymore).  It looks to me like it's from from the 40's.

That's it up top.  This one at the bottom is a standard-sized muffin tin and the one to the left is a mini muffin pan (they're all well-used and well-loved so no judginess on their condition, thank you).  But I was so excited to have an in-between sized muffin that I just had to get these made...they're from Food and Wine magazine some time back.

I adore anything made with almond flour and these muffins have that signature squooshy texture that almond flour lends to baked goods.  Sort of moist and dense without being heavy. The only change that I made to the recipe was to swap out the veg oil for coconut oil.  Oh, and I may have added the cinnamon sugar drizzle.  My bad.

These are super cinchy to make and don't take long to bake so I've put them in the category of weekend morning muffins.  It's not easy to make it onto that list so I suggest you give em a go next weekend.  Save some for the freezer if at all possible so you can pull one out whenever you find yourself with a cup of hot coffee and an empty plate.  Here's the recipe...

Cinnamon Raisin Almond Flour Muffins

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe Adapted from Food and Wine

Makes 12 standard sized muffins

Muffins:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup almond flour (not almond meal)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil (I used coconut oil)
1 large egg
1/2 cup raisins (I added more)

Streusel Topping:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (really soft)
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
Kosher salt

Cinnamon-Sugar Drizzle
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a standard-sized muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the 1 1/2 cups of flour, almond flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together the milk, oil (or melted coconut oil) and egg, then whisk the wet ingredients into the dry mixture along with the raisins. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.

In a medium bowl, work together the 4 tablespoons of butter, oats, 1/4 cup of flour, brown sugar and a pinch of salt, then crumble the topping over the muffin batter. Bake the muffins 20 to 25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let the muffins cool, then remove them from the pan and let cool.

Stir together the powdered sugar, cinnamon and milk.  Add a touch more milk if need to make a sort of thickish consistency.  If it’s too runny, stir in a little more powdered sugar.

Drizzle the glaze over the muffins and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Pasta with Mushrooms, Lemon and Kale

I'm pretty stoked to tell you that we've managed to trade in the brown and gray of the still-winter midwest landscape for the vibrant colors of California spring!  Yes, that can only mean one thing... we're hanging out at the Western Headquarters of the Circle B Kitchen and breathing the ocean air of the Central Coast for a couple of weeks.  And when I say vibrant colors, I'm not even kidding.  Because of the torrential winter rains here, the wildflowers are partying as they haven't done in years.  It's taken a while for the eyes to adjust, but we're back to enjoying it all in technicolor.  

But Before we left home, I spent no small amount of time trying to put together a recipe to satisfy a certain wintertime craving I was having for mushroom pasta.   This is not an unfamiliar craving. Of course, pasta is always at the forefront of most of my cravings, and sometimes I need a mushroom.  This time I needed both; something vibrant and healthy and really mushroomy.  

Initially I made a couple of versions that included a creamy component, but I found them a bit too heavy which sort of muddled the mushroom experience.  And after a few more attempts, and some trial and error, this is what I came up with.

Turns out that when you combine just a few ingredients to maximize their effect on each other, you end up with some dang good eats.  And this, my friends, is definitely some very fine eats. And it's actually pretty easy to throw together.

While your pasta is cooking, (I used cellantani, which is sort of a corkscrew shape and very fun), you're just going to quickly saute some shallots, garlic, mushrooms and kale and then toss in the pasta with the lemon and parmesan and enough of the pasta cooking water to create a nice little sauce.

And then serve it up with a little more parmesan and wonder how you possibly got along without it all this time.  Here's the recipe...

Pasta with Mushrooms, Lemon and Kale

Click here for a printable recipe

I created this pasta in response to an overwhelming craving for mushrooms and it has turned into one of our favorite pasta meals and a regular in the Circle B Kitchen meal rotation.  The flavors and textures were just lovely together, but I encourage you to play with the ingredients and make it your own... more heat from the pepper, or less, more lemony if you like, and substitute zucchini or spinach for the kale.  Dried thyme can be substituted for the fresh, or leave it out altogether.  

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
16 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 small shallot, minced
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested, juice of 1/2 of the lemon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
2 cups thinly sliced kale (I used dinosaur or Tuscan kale)
1 lb pasta (I used cellantani)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed
1/2 cup or more of the pasta cooking water

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil and cook the pasta about one minute less than the package directions.  Reserve a large cup of the cooking water before draining the pasta.

While the pasta cooks, Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium high heat and add the crushed red pepper and shallots. Saute for a couple of minutes until the shallots are softened and then add the minced garlic and mushrooms.  Saute the mushrooms for about 5 minutes or until softened and cooked a bit.

Add the sliced kale to the pan, along with the salt and pepper and continue to cook until the kale is just wilted.

Stir the cooked pasta into the pan along with 1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese, lemon zest and juice and the thyme leaves.  Taste for salt and pepper and add the reserved pasta water as needed to create a little sauce.  Keep warm until ready to serve and then drizzle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle the top with a little more grated parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper.

Corned Beef Reuben Sandwich

Now that we've all had our fill of St. Patrick's Day corned beef, there's the question of what to do with leftovers.  If there are any.  The sum total of all of our leftovers are right up there in that reuben, and had I known that leftovers could taste this good, I would have cooked twice as much corned beef.  Maybe more.   Because a corned beef reuben on rye with sauerkraut, swiss cheese and Russian dressing is what life is all about.

The Reuben has absolutely nothing to do with St. Patrick's Day but was invented right here in Omaha by the chef of the Blackstone Hotel in the 1930's.  It is a much-beloved and iconic sandwich in these parts.  And for good reason.  It's simply delicious and my favorite sandwich ever.

So let's just get right to it.  Up there in that photo are your necessary ingredients.  There are lots of different kinds of rye bread out there, so choose your favorite.  But just to be clear.... there is no reuben without rye.  On the other hand, if you don't happen to have any leftover corned beef, pastrami, which is cured very similarly to corned beef, is a very, very acceptable substitute.  You'll also need a few slices of swiss cheese, some sauerkraut and some homemade Russian dressing to get things set up to make a delicious, if not legendary sandwich.  

And to make it, we're firstly going to spread some softened butter on one side of each piece of rye bread. Then we're not going to do what I did in those photos up there.  I would much prefer you to place the cheese slices on the bread before you slather them with the Russian dressing.  This prevents the bread from getting soggy from the dressing.  I really don't know what I was thinking, but more than likely my judgement was clouded by the impending joy of having this reuben sandwich for lunch. My apologies.

At any rate, you're then going to top one of the halves with your corned beef and then some sauerkraut,

and then place the meatless slice on top and then put it on a hot griddle or skillet.  When the first side is grilled to golden brown perfection, flip it over and turn down the heat.  I like to dome the sandwich with a metal bowl which encourages the cheese to get super melty and delicious.  It also hides the sandwich from potential interlopers. 

Then remove it to a plate, slice it in half and serve it with a cold one and maybe a big pile of fries.  

That's how we roll with corned beef leftovers around here.  And just in case you're into it, here's the recipe...

Reuben Sandwich

Click here for a printable recipe

For each sandwich you will need...

2 slices of rye bread
Several slices of corned beef
2 -6 slices of swiss cheese, depending on the thickness of each slice
Russian dressing (see recipe below)
sauerkraut
softened butter 

To assemble your sandwiches, spread one side of each piece of rye bread with softened butter.  Flip them over and top with the swiss cheese slices.  Spread both pieces with a good amount of Russian dressing.

Place the corned beef on one piece of bread and top that with some sauerkraut.  Place the meatless slice of bread on top of the sauerkraut.

Place the sandwich on a well-heated cast iron griddle or nonstick skillet.  When the first side is golden brown, flip the sandwich, reduce the heat a bit and place a metal bowl over the sandwich. This will create a heated dome which will trap heat and help the cheese to melt more quickly.

When the bottom half is browned nicely and the cheese has melted, remove the sandwich from the pan, slice in half and serve while still warm.

Simple Russian Dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup catsup
3 tablespoons sweet pick relish

Combine the mayonnaise, catsup and relish.  This is also great on burgers and patty melts.

Colcannon

We've got one last Irish-y sort of thing for you to add to your St. Patrick's Day menu, the idea being that instead of making the cabbage and potatoes in our scrumptious Corned Beef and Cabbage recipe, you could opt for this delicious mix of the two.  Colcannon is an age-old Irish tradition and we've become believers.  This is lovely stuff... creamy mashed potatoes mixed with tender, cooked, shredded cabbage, which, when put together, if you close your eyes, tastes an awful lot like cauliflower.  Even with your eyes open, for that matter.

And if you're not real big on cabbage, this might be the perfect way to enjoy it... sort of melted into some buttery mashed potatoes.

We really were surprised by how good this was and could imagine adding in some bacon for extra deliciousness, but it surely doesn't need it.

On a side note, I just have to tell you that putting this recipe together was made even easier by using my Instant Pot to pressure cook the potatoes. This thing is a true wonder in the kitchen, and I've given it a place of honor on the kitchen counter so it's handy for anything that I can save time by pressure cooking.  Like potatoes...

8 minutes total in the Instant Pot and I had perfectly cooked potatoes that mashed up like a dream...  

And the cool thing is that it steams the potatoes.  Since they're not sitting in water (as in boiling), the potatoes absorb less water which makes for fluffier potatoes.  I've added Instant Pot instructions for this to the recipe in case you have one. (Of course, you can always steam your potatoes on the stove top instead of boiling them.)

In any case, Colcannon is lusciously delish and is going to show up around here a little more often. Here's the recipe...

Colcannon

Click here for a printable recipe

This makes a delicious side dish for your corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s also great with roast chicken, meatloaf, salmon or pot roast.  I’ve given you some directions for making mashed potatoes, but use your own favorite recipe if you prefer.  I used an Instant Pot pressure cooker to cook my potatoes and have given you instructions for that at the bottomof the recipe.

2 pounds potatoes (any combination of red, yukon gold and russets), peeled and cut into 2-inch wedges
1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided (more or less to taste)
6 tablespoons butter
1 pound cabbage, cored and shredded (or chopped)
1/4 cup chicken broth
4 medium scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced and separated
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup whole milk, warmed

Place the potatoes and a teaspoon of the salt in a medium pot and cover with cool water. Bring to a simmer over high heat; this will take about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, 12 to 15 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the 1/4 cup chicken broth, the shredded cabbage and another teaspoon of salt.  Stir with tongs to mix the cabbage in the butter and broth, cover the skillet and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Cook the cabbage for 6-8 minutes or until tender and then remove from the heat.  Stir in most of the scallions, reserving some for serving.  Cover the pan and let it sit until the potatoes are done.

Drain the potatoes and return them to the cooking pot. Add the warm milk, 2 tablespoons of butter, 2 teaspoons of salt and a little pepper.  Mash with a potato masher, retaining a few small lumps for texture.  Taste for salt and pepper.

Stir the mashed potatoes into the warm cabbage and fold to combine. Adjust the seasonings, if needed and then heat through.  

When ready to serve, spoon the colcannon into a large serving bowl and make a little well in the middle of the potatoes. Place a little pat of butter in the well and then sprinkle with the remaining scallions and black pepper.  Serve immediately.

Note:  I used an Instant Pot to cook the potatoes.  Just place 1 cup of water in the bottom of the instant pot and place the rack in the water.  Place your peeled potato wedges on the rack, secure the lid and make sure the valve is set to “sealing”.  Cook on high pressure for 8 minutes with a quick release.  The potatoes will be perfectly ready to mash.