Cuban Picadillo

I have a general rule when researching recipes for the blog... if a recipe shows up on my screen 3 times from different sources in the space of 2 hours, then I must seriously consider it a contender. I don't think I've ever actually employed this rule before, in fact, I'm pretty sure I just made it up. But it felt like kismet or serendipity or some sort of cosmic nudge in my direction when in fact, 3 different versions of picadillo found me in such a short time span.  It became quite apparent that I was supposed to make this.  Truth be told, I was intrigued the very first time it came my way.

Firstly, there was this one from Food and Wine, then this one from Serious Eats and then up popped this one from Sam Sifton of the NY Times.  I also later came across a version of it for the Instant Pot, but I haven't tried that yet.  Mostly I relied on Mr. Sifton for my version and made just a few minor changes, like some crushed red pepper for a little more spice, with maybe the most notable change being the addition of a few fried eggs on top.  That's totally optional on your part but right now I'm putting an egg on just about everything around here.  My chickens are laying like crazy and I'm having a hard time keeping up with production.  I especially love these little colored eggs that my little banties lay...

They're about half the size of a regular egg and are kind've fun and delicious in applications such as this.

So basically what we're talking about with picadillo is Cuban comfort food at its finest and perhaps one of the most beautiful ways to perfume your kitchen with intoxicating aromas ever; with the added bonus that you also get to eat it.  Not even kidding about how good this stuff smells... cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ground beef, chorizo, raisins, olives and a whole lot more.  And as good as it smells as it's cooking, it tastes even better.  

Picadillo is usually described as a traditional Cuban stew, and if you added some diced potatoes, as in the Serious Eats version, you could call it a hash.  It's a little like marinara sauce in Italy... every family has their own version and there's no wrong way to make it.  Except if you left out the olives or the raisins.  Don't do that, OK?  They're pretty much what defines picadillo and if you think you wouldn't like them in there, you must force yourself to try it.  You owe it to yourself.  There is no picadillo without them.

Every now and then we land on a dish that so perfectly balances all of the flavor notes... sweet, salty, sour, savory, that it becomes an instant favorite.  I heartily encourage you to taste for yourself.  Here's the recipe...

Cuban Picadillo

Click here for a printable recipe

This is an amazingly fun and flavorful Cuban dish that's pretty much the epitome of comfort food.  If you can't find dried chorizo (the cured Spanish version), go ahead and use the Mexican fresh sausage kind or whatever chorizo you can get your hands on.  Either crumble it into the dish or dice it, but definitely add more than the 2 oz called for in the recipe.  I used one link of chorizo sausage that was just over 4 oz.  I might even add more next time.  I added crushed red pepper flakes for a little spice, but leave them out or add more as you like.  The fried eggs are totally optional, but we loved them.  You could most definitely squirt some sriracha over the eggs for an even tastier finish.  

Recipe adapted from the NY Times

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and chopped
2 ounces dried chorizo, diced (I used more)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 ½ pounds ground beef (I used ground turkey)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
⅔ cup raisins
⅔ cup pitted stuffed olives
optional:  fried eggs for serving

Put the olive oil in a large, heavy pan set over a medium-high flame, and heat until it begins to shimmer. Add onions, chorizo and garlic, stir to combine and cook until the onions have started to soften, approximately 10 minutes.

Add the ground beef, and allow it to brown, crumbling the meat with a fork as it does. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Add tomatoes, vinegar, cinnamon, cumin, bay leaves, cloves and nutmeg and stir to combine. Lower the heat, and let the stew simmer, covered, for approximately 30 minutes.

Uncover the pan, and add the raisins and the olives. Allow the stew to cook for another 10 or 15 minutes, then serve, topped with fried eggs (optional) and accompanied by white rice (I used jasmine rice).

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

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)
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.