Welcome to the Circle B Kitchen! 
We love that you're here and hope you'll browse the site and grab some recipes.  
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/ .




A Few More Moments from Ella's Arrival


Big Brother gets his first glimpse of his new little sister.  Gonna take awhile for this to sink in.

I want this life.

Great Grandpa (91 years old) meets Ella

And then back to our place...

and a sweet moment with her Grampa.


Creamy Tomato Soup with Italian Sausage and Tortellini


It about took me longer to type the name of this post than it'll take you to throw this soup together.  Of course, that's just a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  And since we've been talking lately about getting dinner on the table with as little fuss as possible, I'm happy to report that we've got a winner here. 

As I mentioned in the last post on this page, I always keep cartons of Roasted Red Pepper soup in the pantry because they're maybe one of the most versatile and delicious things to come out of a carton.  To be honest, I just love a plain ol' bowl of this stuff, but in keeping with our theme of quick and easy dinners, I thought I'd see what I could whip up for dinner beginning with a box of soup.

I found some Italian sausage in the freezer and a package of spinach tortellini in the fridge and that was about all the inspiration I needed to get dinner on the table in about 15 minutes.  After thawing out the Italian sausage, I cut it out of the links and browned it in a pan.  While that was cooking, I boiled up the tortellini and drained it.  Then I dumped the soup in with the sausage, added the tortellini and called it dinner.

And man, was this ever good!  I sprinkled a little grated parmesan on top and a little chopped basil, but that's just because I had the time and felt like it.  But if you're in a hurry, just those 3 simple ingredients (soup, sausage, tortellini) make a quick, hearty and delicious meal in minutes.  If you have a little time to spare, you could stir in a little fresh spinach or some zucchini or just about any veggies you might have on hand.  A nice crusty loaf of bread would make this even more awesome.

OK then.  Here are 3 more items to put on your backstock list.  I keep them on hand at all times now and am thusly prepared for a quick and easy dinner throwdown no matter how short on time I am. Game on!  Here's the recipe (although you really don't need one)...

Creamy Tomato Soup with Italian Sausage and Tortellini

Click here for a printable recipe

So here's a quick, easy, nutritious and super scrumptious meal that you can have on the table in minutes.  There are basically only 3 ingredients, so feel free to improvise and add in anything you have the time and energy to do.  A crusty loaf of sourdough bread would really make this complete.

Serves 4

1 box of organic Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Soup (like Pacific)
1 package, about 9 oz, cheese tortellini
1 lb (about 3 large links) Italian sausage

Remove the sausage from the casings if in links

In a medium large soup pan brown the Italian sausage over medium high heat.  If you're using turkey sausage, you may need to add a little olive oil to the pan.  Use a spoon or spatula to break up the meat as it cooks.  You want to leave it in fairly good- sized chunks.

While the meat is cooking, bring about 3 quarts of water to a boil.  Add the totellini and boil for about 7-8 minutes.  It will finish cooking in the soup.  Drain the tortellini.

When the sausage is cooked through, add the entire carton of soup to the pan along with the tortellini and heat through. 

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with grated parmesan and chopped fresh basil, if desired.


Dinnertime Magic (a story of struggle and triumph in the kitchen)  

Very few of us would probably consider what we do each evening in the kitchen between 5 and 6 o'clock magical.  In point of fact it’s probably closer to really bad reality TV, complete with tears, emotional outbursts, profanity and attempted murder.  But magic?  I think not.  However, the kind of magic that I’m talking about might just provide a bit of relief on those evenings when you and/or your people are hungry, time is running out and dinner prep is just not happening.  But what if, on this evening in question, you were able to create a delicious, good for you dinner in minutes from practically nothing?  I guess I’d call that practical magic.  And for the record, it really is possible. 

I think we’re all pretty much in the same boat** when it comes to the challenges associated with getting a healthy, hot and delicious meal on the table each evening.  And by each evening, I mean sometimes.  Life is too crazy and frenetic to imagine that we’re going to be sitting down to a hot, healthy, home-cooked meal at 6:00 every evening, but that doesn’t mean we can’t aim for that.  Right?  Right. 

(**Disclaimer:  We’re probably not actually all in the same boat cuz our lives are different and our schedules are different and how much time I have is probably very different from how much time you have, which means we’re probably in different boats, but we’re all floating in the same water which is a metaphor for living on the edge, no that’s a different metaphor.  But the water that we’re floating on represents the receding tides of time and how our boats might be different, but the water, which is time, or the lack of it, is like the same thing.  Got that?  Good.) 

To that end, I thought it would be a good idea to spend a little time together whining chatting about why this (good, healthy dinner on the table by 6pm) doesn’t happen as often as we’d like and why it’s so hard, and then what works sometimes and how we can make this a little easier on ourselves. 

And before we begin, a big shout out to Cousin Katie, my partner in all manner of culinary criminal behavior, who suggested that maybe I should do less talking about this and more writing. Thank you, my dear.  As usual, you speak wisdom and weirdness and together that always creates magic.

So firstly, we’ll just take a moment to reflect on how hectic our lives are and why it’s just impossible to make a healthy, awesome meal each evening and why we’d rather hang out on Pinterest and Facebook and Instragram and see what everyone else says they’re cooking and then contemplate our own inadequacies and wail to the heavens cuz  we just don’t have enough TIME!!!  So true, so true.  

BUT instead of taking our usual fetal position in that dark corner of the kitchen, we’re going to grab a whisk or a grater or that knife over there and slay this TIME dragon once and for all!  And instead of lamenting how we don’t have enough time to get dinner together, we’re going to notice what we DO have time for and we’re going to be prepared and we’re going to be like.. oh look!  I have just enough time to do THIS!  Magic. 

And that leads me to our next topic, which might be titled “creativity”, but more appropriately, we’ll call it “a well-stocked pantry” (and fridge). 

Yes, people, our major weapon against the evil beast who sucks the living time out of our lives is to be prepared and have stuff on hand in the pantry and fridge that you know in a pinch will pull together a great meal when sometimes you only have minutes to cook or sometimes only enough energy or stamina to spend 10 or 15 minutes getting dinner together. 

<<and let’s just interject for a moment here and talk about expectations, OK?  I mean, it’s so cool that there are like 375,000 food blogs out there (a conservative estimate) and Pinterest and professional cooking websites, so that at any given moment of the day or night we can log on to one of these sites and get the latest recipe for whatever.  I mean, that’s totally awesome.  But this process is also a very direct invitation to guilt… as in, why aren’t I cooking all of this stuff every night?  What’s wrong with me?  And why do I love Pinterest so much when it makes me want to kill myself, etc., etc.  Am I really that lame?  You get the point.  So on nights when you get home from work and still have to run the kids to 6 different sporting venues, throw in a load of laundry, the dog just threw up on the kitchen floor and time and energy are at a premium, give yourself a freakin break already.  This is a great time to pull out some of the almost-dead veggies in the fridge, throw them in the pan with a little onion and some eggs and make a healthy veggie scramble and throw some cheese on top. If you have it, throw in some chopped, cooked sausage. Five minutes.  Good meal.  Add bread and a salad or fruit, even better meal.  Done.  This is not the night to think we have to make chicken cordon bleu.>> 

So back to the topic at hand, which is How to Stock Your Pantry and Fridge for Optimal Weeknight Cooking.  And we’re not going to stock our pantry and fridge (and by fridge, I also mean freezer), with some arbitrary list of standard pantry items, although this can also be helpful.  We’re going to start with 3 or 4 recipes that require very little time or energy that we know we can pull together without any hassle.  These recipes will be our failsafe, go-to meals when we're uninspired, exhausted, out of time, overwhelmed or all of the above.  This is a MUST in every cook’s life.  Only you can say what those meals/recipes are for you and your family, but I will give you my list.  Here it is… 

1.  Gnocchi Skillet with Sausage and Tomatoes

     This is a one-pan meal that comes together in moments, especially if you use canned tomatoes.  When I’m in a hurry, I ditch the fresh basil.  Sprinkle in some dried herbs if you like.
    >I always have a package (or two) of gnocchi in the pantry, along with a can of diced tomatoes and a package of sausages in the freezer.  There’s always grated parmesan cheese in my fridge.  I can have this meal on the table in 15 minutes any night of the week. 

2.  Enchilada stacks

     Another super easy, quick and delicious meal that only takes a few minutes to make.  A favorite here at the Circle B Kitchen.
    >I always have corn tortillas in the fridge.  I always have jack and cheddar cheese in the cheese drawer and I always have enchilada sauce on hand.  The update at the bottom of the recipe on the blog post describes how I usually make these, which is with ground taco meat between the tortilla layers.  It’s a great way to use up leftover taco meat, but I always have ground turkey in the freezer to make some up, if needed.  If you don’t have ground meat, it’s super yummy with a fried egg on top.  And I always have eggs in the fridge. 

3.  One-Pan Chicken and Sausage Roast

     This is an incredibly delicious meal that finds itself on my quick and speedy list because I can throw all of the ingredients into a Ziploc bag on Sunday and into the fridge and then throw it all in a roasting pan on Tuesday and have dinner ready in a snap.  Did I mention how good this stuff is??? 

4.  Porkypine Meatballs

     I wrote about our updated version of porcupine meatballs in a Matters and Musings post years ago.  It takes a bit of time for these to cook (30 minutes), but honestly, it doesn’t get any easier than this.  Just 3 ingredients… rice, ground meat and soup.
>I always keep at least 1 box of roasted red pepper tomato soup in the pantry; I always have rice in the pantry; I always have ground meat in the freezer.  And I always love this stuff. 

5.  Pasta

     Pasta is the unsung hero of the quick and easy, down and dirty meal brigade.  While your pasta cooks, you can make a quick pesto sauce (like this one or this one or this one or this one) or pull some marinara sauce out of the freezer or pantry, slice up some Italian sausage to flavor the sauce.  Or empty out your veggie drawer into a pan, throw it with the pasta and some cheese and you’ve got a quick and healthy meal.
<I always have at least 4 kinds of pasta in the pantry and marinara sauce on hand and Italian sausage in the freezer.  As I mentioned before, I always have parmesan in the fridge and there are usually 1 or 2 kinds of veggies in the fridge that need to be used. 

6.  Paninis

     Leftover chicken, roast beef , meatloaf, deli meat and roasted veggies and are all awesome candidates for creating a great grilled sandwich for dinner.  Add in some sliced cheese, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, spicy mustard, etc., and dinner’s on!  A bowl of soup or a salad or sautéed veggies are great accompaniments and dinner’s ready in minutes.
  >I always have sliced sourdough in the fridge or freezer.  I keep sliced turkey (Costco sells a great turkey breast that I keep on hand at all times) and sliced cheese in the fridge.  My pantry always has roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts on the shelf. 

7.  Eggs

Most of us keep eggs on hand in the fridge, and if you don't, you should.  In a pinch, making a veggie scramble (as mentioned above) or an omelet or fried eggs in tomato sauce or fried eggs on toast or any number of egg dishes can make an easy, nutritious meal in minutes.  If you've got some flour tortillas, you can make a breakfast burrito for dinner or toast an English muffin, top it with ham or bacon, scrambled eggs,and cheese and you've got an easy, quick meal that the kids will love.

So there are my top quick and easy meals for which I always have the ingredients on hand.  When I use one or more of those ingredients, they go immediately onto the grocery list to be replaced at the next shopping trip.  So that’s one of the ways I keep my sanity in the kitchen… I know there are always emergency rations, if needed, at the ready.  Here's the list of my "always there" fridge and pantry items from the above recipes...

In the Fridge...
parmesan cheese (I always have a container of Trader Joe's pre-grated parmesan-romano blend in the fridge and a block of parmesan reggiano in the cheese drawer)  
jack and cheddar cheese
goat cheese (great for creating quick pasta sauces)
sliced cheese (cheddar, swiss, provolone)
sliced turkey (or deli meats)
corn tortillas 
 sliced bread for paninis

In the Freezer...
chopped frozen spinach
sausage (Italian sausage and other cooked sausages)
turkey bacon
ground turkey
boneless chicken breasts and thighs
pesto sauces

In the Pantry...
gnocchi (found on the pasta aisle in most grocery stores)
canned diced tomatoes (especially organic fire roasted) 
refried beans
artichoke hearts
roasted red peppers
several different varieties of rice
cartons of organic roasted red pepper and tomato soup
enchilada sauce
marainara sauce
onions and garlic 
pasta (several different kinds and shapes)

I hope this is in some small measure helpful to you, and by all means, if you have some healthy quick and easy meals that you rely on in a pinch, I’d love to hear from you.  In my next post we’ll explore some more ideas for getting our back stock in order and more nifty meal planning ideas and shortcuts to getting dinner on the table with the least amount of dread, angst and panic.  No one has time for that sh*#t.


Homemade Hand Cream


We're all about recipes here at the Circle B Kitchen and this here is one of our favorites.  I've been making this hand cream for about 2 years now and it's a lifesaver in those cold, dry months of winter.  I can't imagine being without it and thought it might be nice to share.  

It's awesome stuff.  Unlike most hand creams, it keeps moisturizing for a really long time, which is crucial when you have your hands in water as much as I do in the kitchen.  I call it hand cream, but it's a great all-over moisturizer.  Winter's a comin'!  Time to moisturize!  Here's the recipe...

Homemade Hand Cream

Click here for a printable recipe

I’ve found the Fruit of the Earth Vitamin E cream at both Walmart and Target for about $2 a jar, or you can order it online.

16 oz Baby Lotion (any brand you like)
8 oz Vaseline (or coconut oil in solid form)
8 oz Vitamin E Cream (like Fruit of the Earth) 

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. I use a wire whisk, but if you make a large batch, you can also use an electric mixer.  Make sure everything’s mixed really well.


A Spring Walkabout

We're pretty tired of talking about the drought that's had a chokehold on our part of the country for the better part of the last 3 years .  It's been just a bit frightening to hear that our rainfall is setting all kinds of records for its nonexistence.  I think we may have gotten snow twice all winter while "enjoying" some of the coldest temperatures in recent memory.  The river all but dried up and so many of the pine trees are now dead or dying.  Sigh.  The only upside to a 3-year drought is the absence of bugs and mosquitos. One must always look for the upside of these things.

Spring arrived and with it our renewed hopes for some Midwest spring storms.  Well, the storms came, but our hopes were dashed as we watched them take their now typical detour north of us and then sometimes, just for fun, they'd go south of us. And just when we began to settle in for another long, dry summer...

Mother Nature had a change of heart, the skies opened and the rains came.  One storm alone brought 2 1/4 inches and in the past couple of weeks, we've gotten over five inches of rain and more is forecast for tonight and tomorrow.  The river is once again up and flowing, the trees and grasses are impossibly green and lush, and so this morning I had to take my camera out for a little walk around our place...




It's rather stunning how after almost 3 years of drought, it only takes a few inches of rain to restore the flora and fauna to its previous glory.  And yes, along with the lush vegetation, the rains have not only given us back a beautiful, full river and lush, green vistas, but it has also invited back the humidity and the mosquitos.  We'll take it.