Zucchini Parmesan Crisps

We're down to our final days here at the Western Headquarters of the Circle B Kitchen.  We've done our fair share of eating out and have spent a few days traveling, and as a consequence, I've neglected to do much cooking of the blogging variety.  Not having my favorite camera here with me has also been a factor in this situation.  Not that I haven't been thinking of you all and filled with a million ideas of things to cook for you and wishing I had the time and where-with-all to do just that.  I'm actually a little excited to get home and get back to it!

In the meantime, I'll just put out a plate of these scrumptious little zucchini parmesan crisps for you to munch on.  I made them a whole bunch of times before we left for California, and I'm not even kidding about how good and fun and crispy and cheesy and perfect with a glass of wine they are. And they're baked, so no frying or pans of hot oil are required to create their crispy deliciousness.  Oh, and they're zucchini slices so they automatically fulfill the evening's veggie quotient.

So to get them made, we're just going to firstly submerge our little zucchini rounds in egg white and then in a mixture of parmesan and panko breadcrumbs.  Our little crisps then go onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and into the oven until golden, crispy and ever so tasty.  Wish now I'd taken a photo of them coming out of the oven, but more importantly, I wish you could smell them coming out of the oven.  Oh wait, no, I hope you get to taste them coming out of the oven.  Here's the recipe...

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn

These are so good and so easy to make.  No deep frying or messing with pots of oil.  Yay!  I pretty much followed the recipe, but when it came to the parmesan and panko mixture, I put in a little more parmesan cheese than panko breadcrumbs.

2 medium zucchini (yellow or green, or both!)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large egg white
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese (I use a little more)

Preheat the oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  If you don’t have parchment paper, just spray the baking sheet really well with cooking spray.

Using a mandolin slicer or a knife, slice the zucchini into 1/4 inch rounds. Transfer the zucchini coins to a bowl and season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Beat together the olive oil and the egg white and then toss with the zucchini rounds.

Mix the panko crumbs and Parmesan together in a shallow tray. Working with a few coins at a time, dredge the zucchini in the panko-Parmesan mixture and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the zucchini are golden-brown and crispy. Allow them to cool slightly (about 5 minutes) on the baking sheet before transferring to a serving tray. Serve warm or room temp.

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Fish Taco Bowls with Avocado Citrus Dressing

If you've been reading the "What's Cooking" page at all, then you know we've packed up a few things and made our annual migration to the  Circle B Kitchen West.

And when I say we packed up a few things, I'm mostly saying that there may or may not have been a zucchini, a tomato, 2 avocados and a couple of pears stashed in my suitcase among the jeans and sweaters.  I like to imagine how the TSA peeps react to finding produce in one's luggage.  But all arrived safely and no one was harmed in transit. 

So we've settled in to our little place on the Central California Coast, and with some of the finest restaurants a stone's throw from our front door, I've been steadfastly and happily cooking up a storm in our little kitchen here.

One of the first things that must happen when we arrive at our Western Headquarters is my long-awaited and highly anticipated reunion with Cousin Katie and our traditional lunch at our favorite taqueria.  The last few times we've been there, Katie has introduced me to their carne asada salad which we order just for the basil dressing.  We've both been dying to replicate this dressing at home because it's just so dang good, and neither of us can imagine living without it.  So I finally got down to it today.  The folks in the restaurant kitchen had been ever so kind to give us a few hints as to the ingredients but for the most part, I was going to have to wing it.

So, as any great scientist might do, I ordered an extra large container of the stuff to go, and today I pulled it out of the fridge along with about 75 possible other ingredients and started mixing.  For over an hour I blended and tasted and mixed and stirred and finally enlisted the highly sensitive taster attached to The Husband, and in the end I think we created something that might not be an exact replica, but just might stand on its own as a mighty delicious dressing for salads tacos, fish, and for this here fish taco bowl.

And speaking of fish, there really is nothing like traveling from the Midwest to the California Coast and then finding yourself standing in front of the seafood truck at the farmer's market and having to make a decision between fresh caught (only hours previously) swordfish, halibut, rock cod, lingcod, and salmon.  After some serious agonizing and soul searching, I chose the lingcod (which happens to be a personal all-time favorite), and boy howdy, did we ever score big on that one.  If you've ever grilled fresh lingcod, then you know what I'm talking about.  If not, any one of those other fish will do perfectly splendid in a fish taco bowl.

And Yes, we've now finally arrived at the part of the post where I actually talk about these amazingly scrumptious fish taco bowls, in which we place a good amount of Mexican rice in the bottom of your bowl and then top that with some grilled shrimp and fish.  Then we place a bit of shredded cabbage on the fish and then a good drizzle of the dressing, followed by some grated cheese which is then topped with slices of avocado and maybe a final drizzle of the avocado citrus dressing and perhaps a final sprinkling of cilantro (which didn't make it into that photo up there) and what you have, people, is one heckuva fine taco bowl.  A bit of an understatement right there.

But enough talking here.  Let's wrap this up and get you into the kitchen.  Might I suggest that you make yourself a double batch of this dressing?  After you make these taco bowls, you're going to want to drizzle that stuff on everything... salads, chicken, fish, steaks, scallops, potatoes, veggies, eggs, tacos, and just about anything that will fit on your plate.  Here's the recipe... 

Fish Taco Bowls

Click here for a printable recipe

Serves 4-6

2 cups shredded cabbage
Mexican Rice (here's my recipe)
1 1/2 lbs grilled fish (halibut, cod, lingcod, swordfish or your favorite whitefish)
1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups shredded cheese (1 cup jack cheese and 1 cup cheddar cheese)
1 avocado, sliced
citrus avocado dressing (see recipe below)
chopped fresh cilantro 

1.  Make the dressing:
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    1/4 cup rice vinegar
    1/3 cup orange juice
    1/2 cup tomatillo salsa (like Herdez brand)
    1/3 cup cilantro (leaves and some stem ends OK)
    1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    fresh cracked black pepper (optional)
    1/2 avocado

Place all of the ingredients in a blender or the mixing bowl of an immersion blender.  Blend until the dressing is very smooth and creamy.  Taste for salt and pepper.

2.  Mix the shrimp (thawed, if frozen) with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for about 5-6 minutes, depending on how large they are.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

3.  Baste the fish fillets with a mixture of olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper and grill for about 4 minutes per side, depending on how thick the fillets are.  Let sit for a couple of minutes and then cut into large-ish chunks.

4.  When ready to serve, place some of the Mexican rice in the bottom of each bowl.  Top the rice with some of the fish and shrimp and drizzle with a little of the dressing.  Place some of the shredded cabbage on top of the fish and then sprinkle that with some grated cheese.  Top the cheese with a couple slices of the avocado and then drizzle all with a little more of the dressing. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve immediately.

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The Circle B Kitchen Cheesepie

Well, here's one I'm pretty sure the kids never saw coming.  For the past 40 some-odd years (yes, they actually have been odd), this particular cheesepie (aka cheesecake) has been at the center of just about every birthday and significant family celebration.  And for the past 40 some-odd years I have resolutely refused to share the recipe with anyone.  And not because there was anything exceptionally exotic or special about it, but because at some point I said "it's a secret" and then forever after I just had to mess with them.  There have been numerous attempts to crack the code, but the recipe has remained locked in a vault that only Nancy (yes, it's YOUR recipe) has the key to.

So yeah, this is a cheesepie recipe that's been around since the 60's and may be very familiar to many of you.  There have to be a zillion versions of it still floating around in the back files of many of your recipes boxes (or your Mom's or Grandmother's).  


I really had thought that the recipe would most likely go to the grave with me and the kids would have to sneak out on some dark night and retrieve it from my cold, dead hands.  But no, I've saved them the trouble and here it is. After all of these years, they can see how simple it is and perhaps I should have shared it long ago. But in actuality, I will confess to a bit of ambivalence about sharing it even now.  But it's time to get over that because you guys (if you don't already have your own cheesepie recipe) need to make this and enjoy it and so I do it for the greater good of home cooks everywhere.

Especially if you're a cheesecake fan.  It's everything you want in a cheesecake, only easier to make, creamier, and with a highly elevated degree of deliciousness. Here's the recipe...

Circle B Kitchen Cheesepie

Click here for a printable recipe

In order to ensure a smooth and creamy texture to your pie, it works best if all of your ingredients, especially the cream cheese are at room temperature.  And without sounding like I'm fronting for them, you really must use Philadelphia cream cheese.  I've tried making it with other brands, but it just doesn't work as well.

12 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla

Sour cream topping:
8 oz sour cream
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9-inch pie pan with nonstick cooking spray

Beat the eggs and add sugar and cream cheese and beat until smooth and creamy.  Add vanilla, stir to combine and then pour into prepared graham cracker crust (see below).  Bake for 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile stir together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla for the topping.

After 20 minutes, remove the pie from the oven and let it cool 5 minutes.  Carefully spread the sour cream mixture over the top (this can be a little tricky if the pie is still soft in the center) and then bake for another 10 minutes.  Let the pie cool and then refrigerate for 5 hours.

Graham Cracker Crust

1 sleeve of graham crackers (about 10)
1/3 cup butter, melted
¼ cup sugar

Crush the graham crackers in a ziploc bag with a rolling pin, or the food processor will make quick work of it too.  Place the crumbs in a bowl and add the sugar and melted butter.  Mix really well and then press into the bottom and sides of a pie plate.

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Asian Rice Noodles with Shrimp and Broccolini

In answer to your question... yes, I do seem to be posting quite a few Asian noodle-type recipes lately (like here here here).  And no, I'm not even sorry.  I mean, I did consider apologizing, because I don't want you to think I'm one of those cooks who gets in a rut and doesn't realize how repetitive and boring she's getting.  But then I made this again last night and was immediately convinced that no apologies were needed.  If this is a rut, please let me stay here forever.  And ever.

If truth be told, my palate (LOL!!) is leaning very heavily these days towards Asian flavors, and you know, you gotta cook what inspires you.  Next month it might be Mexican or Indian (I'm in!). But this particular dish has quickly become a regular in our weeknight rotation, not only because of its particular deliciousness, but also because it's just so dang quick and easy to throw together.

It takes only minutes to trim up some broccolini, 3 minutes to cook it and a few minutes to cook some shrimp and soak some rice noodles.  The sauce is just a few easy ingredients. And I promise you, dinner is ready in 20 minutes total.

If you've never cooked with rice noodles before, nothing could be easier and they're gluten free and soak up sauce like nobody's business and that makes them super flavorful, and I hope I've done my job convincing you to get this made.  But one word of advice... double the recipe.  Although the recipe says it will serve 3 or 4, it will easily feed 2, but will leave 4 people sad and hungry for more. Here's the recipe...

Asian Rice Noodles with Shrimp and Broccolini

Click here for a printable recipe

I made a few changes from the original recipe that I got from The Kitchn website, which included reducing the fish sauce and increasing the soy sauce and replacing lemon juice with lime juice.  I made a few other changes as well, but you can see the original recipe here.  As I mentioned in the blog post, if you are feeding 4 people, you will want to double this recipe.  If you do happen to have leftovers, they're ever so great for lunch.  P.S.  The last time I made it I threw in some langostinos that I had in the freezer and that was heavenly!

Adapted from The Kitchn

Serves 3 to 4 (but not really)

1 bunch Broccolini (about 6 ounces), trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
8 ounces thin, flat, dried rice noodles (see Recipe Notes)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 ounces large uncooked shrimp (26/30 count), peeled and cleaned
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 teaspoons (or to taste) Asian chile-garlic paste, such as sambal oelek (I like go-chu-jang)
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Cook/soak the rice noodles according to the package directions, about 8-10 minutes.  Drain and rinse briefly with cold water to keep it from sticking.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the Broccolini and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the Broccolini to a large plate.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick frying pan or wok over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shrimp, season with salt, and sauté until just pink and almost cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the Broccolini. Drain the rice noodles.

In a small bowl, jar or measuring cup, combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cooked, drained noodles, the broccolini, shrimp and sauce ingredients. Mix everything together really well and then remove from the heat, cover and let sit for a few minutes to let the noodles absorb the sauce.  Give it all another good stir and serve with a sprinkling of cilantro.

The Easiest No Knead Bread Yet!

We've got a good news/bad news kind of post today.  So let's start with the good news, shall we? OK, the good news is sort of self-evident.  Homemade bread coming out of your very own oven is now easier than it's ever been.  I mean it's as easy as it's ever going to be until such time as they can figure out a dough that will form itself into loaves and hop into the oven on its own.  Most definitely good news.

The bad news?  Well, the bad news is only for those of you who have been ambivalent about making homemade bread and used the difficulty level as the reason to resist.  This excuse will no longer be acceptable.  Sorry.  It looks like you're either going to have to pull out your flour bin or find a new excuse because the difficulty level here is way down in the easy category. Way down. For those who love homemade bread, but have no interest in making it yourself, then find a good friend or relative who likes to bake and maybe share this one with them because not only are we talking easy, but this is some good bread!  Yes, we're calling it delicious.

So how easy it it?  Well, if you can stir or mix a batter, then you can make this bread.  But before we talk about just dumping everything in the bowl and mixing, I thought we'd have a short chat about the best way to measure ingredients (for any kind of baking).  The good news is that the best most precise way to measure is also the easiest and least messy.  Yay!!  I love using a kitchen scale which means I don't have to dirty measuring cups and spoons and there's no wondering if you've measured correctly.  The scale does all of the work for you.  If you haven't used one before, this is how it works...

You're just going to place your bowl on the scale, press the "tare" button and that will zero out the weight.  Now you can add your flour..

After adding the flour (32 oz in this case), just press "tare" again which will zero out the weight, add water (24 oz) and then hit the "tare" button again.  Continue this process adding the salt and the yeast and then you'll have all of your ingredients precisely measured and there will be only one bowl to wash!  Don't you love it?  The problem is that there aren't too many recipes which give you measurements by weight as opposed to volume, but there are lots of apps and websites that will do that for you.  I love the "kitchen scale" app.  It will convert measurements from volume to weight and vice versa - super easy to use!

So once you've got your ingredients all measured, you're just going to get them all mixed and then let your dough rise for an hour or two (or not) and then stick it in the fridge. When you're ready to make a loaf of bread, grab a hunk, plop it on your baking sheet, let it rise and bake.  OK, there are a few more little things to do in there, but that really is pretty much it.

As you can see from that very dull photo there on the left, this is a fairly wet dough.  But no worries, cuz you're not going to have to knead it!  Yay!  

After the dough sits out for an hour or so, it will look like that photo on the left.  That's when you can just stick it in the fridge and leave it.  I mean, really, just leave it.  I've left it for 10 days and made beautiful bread with it. When you remove it from the fridge, it will look like the photo on the right. See those gluten strands?  Cool, huh?  And you didn't even knead.

Depending on how many loaves of bread you would like to make (this recipe makes 3 nice-sized loaves), get some flour on your hands and grab a hunk of dough, about 1/3 if you want to just make 1 loaf.  Then form it into a ball or a baguette shape by rolling or patting or whatever method suits your style.  No need for precision here.  Then sprinkle them with a little flour...

Since this is a rather wet dough, the loaves will tend to spread outward as they rise, which is fine for the loaf on the left.  I sort of wanted my baguette-shaped loaf to rise up rather than out, so here's a nifty little trick to take care of that problem...

no knead bread 2760.jpg

Place a rolled-up towel on each side of the dough under the parchment paper. This will provide a little support on the sides and your loaf won't be quite as eager to flatten as it rises.

For the round loaf, I found that placing a large glass bowl over the loaf as it was rising kept it from drying out and produced a really nice crust after it baked.

Let your dough rise for at least 2 hours, but I found that there are times when it needed close to 3 hours.  This will depend on your room temperature.   The original recipe from King Arthur said to let it rise 1 hour, but my first loaf was way under-proofed at that point.  After your dough has risen, use a very sharp knife or razor blade to slash the dough.  You'll do better than I did here...

It doesn't actually matter what your loaves look like before they go in the oven because they will come out looking delicious.

And they'll taste even better...

I love it when my bread produces large holes like that.  It means that it had plenty of time to rise and baked all the way through in the oven.  Don't be tempted to take your bread out of the oven too soon.  Let it go until the crust is as dark as you can stand it.  

So there you have it, a perfectly lovely loaf of bread just waiting for you to slather it with butter or make yourself the perfect sandwich.  But just don't say it's too difficult.  That train's left the station.  Here's the recipe...

The Easiest No-Knead Bread Yet!

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

Click here for a printable recipe

This really is perhaps the easiest way to make beautiful homemade bread yet.  Make a batch of dough and stick it in the fridge for a few days.  When you're ready to make a loaf or two, just grab as much dough as you want and leave the rest to continue to ferment in the refrigerator.  The longer it sits, the more flavor it develops!  I haven't taken this any longer than 10 days, so beyond that, I'm not sure how the dough will hold up.  I suggest you use a scale to measure your ingredients which makes the measuring much more precise (and easier too!).

If measuring by volume:
3 cups water (see note below)
7 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons instant or active dry yeast

If using a scale:
24 ounces water (see note below)
32 ounces all-purpose flour
1/2 ounce salt
1/2 ounce instant or active dry yeast

Note:  If using active dry yeast, use lukewarm water; if using instant yeast, use room temperature water

Directions (they might seem lengthy, but every step is super easy!)

Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix and stir everything together to make a very sticky, rough dough. If you have a stand mixer, beat at medium speed with the beater blade for 30 to 60 seconds. If you don't have a mixer, just stir-stir-stir with a big spoon or dough whisk until everything is combined.

Cover the bowl, and let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 hours. Then refrigerate it for at least 2 hours, or for up to about 7 days. (If you're pressed for time, skip the room-temperature rise, and stick it right into the fridge). The longer you keep it in the fridge, the tangier it'll get; if you chill it for 7 days, it will taste like sourdough. Over the course of the first day or so, it'll rise, then fall. That's OK; that's what it's supposed to do.

When you're ready to make bread, sprinkle the top of the dough with flour; this will make it easier to grab a hunk. Grease your hands, and pull off about 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough — a 14-ounce to 19-ounce piece, if you have a scale. It'll be about the size of a softball, or a large grapefruit.

Plop the sticky dough onto a floured work surface, and round it into a ball, or a longer log. Don't fuss around trying to make it perfect; just do the best you can. (see note below)

Place the loaf on a piece of parchment (if you're going to use a baking stone); or onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Sift a light coating of flour over the top; this will help keep the bread moist as it rests before baking.

Let the loaf warm to room temperature and rise; this should take at least 60 minutes (or longer, up to a couple of hours, if your house is cool - it took a full 2 hours for mine to come to room temperature and then I let it go another 30 minutes to finish rising). It won't appear to rise upwards that much; rather, it'll seem to settle and expand (see note below). 

Preheat your oven to 450°F while the loaf rests. If you're using a baking stone, position it on a middle rack while the oven preheats. Place a shallow metal or cast iron pan (not glass, Pyrex, or ceramic) on the lowest oven rack, and have 1 cup of hot water ready to go.  (If I'm just baking one loaf, I turn my cast iron pan upside down in the oven and bake on that._

When you're ready to bake, take a sharp knife and slash the bread 2 or 3 times, making a cut about 1/2" deep. The bread may deflate a bit; that's OK, it'll pick right up in the hot oven.

Place the bread in the oven — onto the baking stone, if you're using one, or simply onto a middle rack, if it's on a pan — and carefully pour the 1 cup hot water into the shallow pan on the rack beneath. It'll bubble and steam; close the oven door quickly.

Bake the bread for 25 to 35 minutes, until it's a deep, golden brown. (It took mine closer to 45 minutes to cook in my conventional oven)

Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a rack. Store leftover bread in a plastic bag at room temperature.

Note:  If making a baguette, you can help it keep its shape while rising by placing a rolled towel under the parchment paper on each side of the baguette.  You can refer to the blog post for a pictorial description of this.