May 6, 2016

A Tribute to Mom

Pin It With Mother's Day right around the corner, I've been thinking about my mom and all the wonderful meals she cooked for her family.  I've shared many of her recipes over the years from entrees and side dishes to breakfast, desserts and foods she made only for holidays.

After she died, as I boxed up the contents of her kitchen -- the electric skillet she received as a wedding present; the same measuring cups and spoons she taught me to use as a child; the white plastic mixing bowl she bought at a Tupperware party -- it hit me that I would never eat her cooking again.

It's been almost two decades and I still miss my mom and her cooking. Although there have been birthday cakes, there's never been another one of her made from scratch, three layer coconut cakes with a cooked white icing sprinkled with coconut.  While I'd love to have one more piece of her butterscotch pie, the food I miss the most, though, is her homemade rolls.

Growing up, I can't remember an Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas that there wasn't a basket of icebox rolls on the table.  These rolls also showed up on birthdays, when we had company, or when there were leftover mashed potatoes that needed to be used.  Family and friends weren't the only recipients of these rolls.

A few months after we moved, a repairman was working in the house while a batch of these rolls were baking.  He raved so much about how wonderful they smelled, my mother buttered a couple of rolls while they were hot and gave them to him when he left.  He started eating one as he walked out of the house and said he would be glad to come back any time she was making rolls.

Mom always told me the secret to good rolls was not using too much flour when kneading and cutting out the rolls.  For years, she made the rolls with homemade mashed potatoes, but later on substituted instant mashed potatoes without any discernible difference.  I don't have any pictures to share because I've never made these rolls.  It's also why I didn't elaborate on the directions.  The recipe is exactly as it appears on my mom's recipe card.  

Thanks, mom, for all the wonderful memories, delicious dinners and the strawberry covered recipe box filled with the recipes of my childhood that I can cook for and with your grandchildren who never had the opportunity to know you.

Happy Mother's Day from my mother's kitchen to yours!

Icebox Rolls

2/3 cup butter
3/4 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup cold mashed potatoes 
1 (1/4 oz.) pkg. yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
4 cups or more all-purpose flour

Melt butter; add to scalded milk.  Add the sugar and salt; let cool to lukewarm.  Add beaten eggs, potatoes, yeast and flour.  You've added almost enough flour when the dough is hard to stir and you have to turn it out on a board and knead it with your hands.  Add flour until the dough will not stick to the board; knead until smooth and elastic.  Put dough into a bowl and let rise until double in bulk.  Roll out and shape rolls.  Place on a greased baking sheet; let rise about 1 hour.  Bake at 400° until nicely brown.

© Margaret's Morsels

April 7, 2016

Soup Sunday

Pin It
Easy Crock-Pot Potato Soup | Margaret's Morsels

A few Sundays ago, the youth at our church held a soup luncheon to raise funds for a mission trip.  Each youth family was asked to contribute a pot of soup for the event.  Before I even asked my son what he wanted to take, I knew he would say potato soup.

Given his answer, you might think my son had always liked potato soup. However, he never cared for my tried and true crock-pot potato soup recipe, or my mother's stove top version.  What he did like, though, was the potato soup served at one of his favorite restaurants.  I found a copycat recipe online and, although my son thought the soup tasted good, I didn't think it tasted anything like the restaurant version.  I had to plan ahead of time to make the soup since it required a lot of prep work.  Once the prep work was done, I had to keep a close eye on the soup to ensure it didn't stick while cooking.  In my opinion, the finished dish wasn't worth the amount of effort involved.

Last year, while skimming through my box of untried recipes looking for inspiration, I spotted a potato soup recipe a friend had given me.  Although my friend's recipe used several of the same ingredients as the copycat recipe, it also used some time saving shortcuts.  I decided to make a batch hoping my son would like the soup.  Not only did he think it was good, he thought this soup was better than the copycat recipe!

The soup starts with cans of sliced potatoes, a huge time saver since there's no need to peel and dice a bag of potatoes.  If the potato slices are too large, I take a few minutes and cut them into four or six pieces, depending on the size of the potato.

Easy Crock-Pot Potato Soup | Margaret's Morsels

Easy Crock-Pot Potato Soup | Margaret's Morsels

The potatoes and remaining ingredients -- canned potato soup, water and heavy whipping cream -- are mixed in the pot the soup is cooked in which, for this recipe, is a crock-pot.  Using a crock-pot eliminates the need to keep an eye on the soup and stir it periodically.  While my tried and true crock-pot potato soup recipe made with raw potatoes takes eight hours to cook, this version is ready in two hours.  The short cooking time stems from the fact the canned potatoes are already cooked.  The ingredients just need to be cooked long enough to be heated thoroughly.  When the soup's ready, ladle it into bowls and add your favorite toppings. Around here, that would be cheese and bacon.

You may have noticed there's no seasoning added to the soup.  I don't add salt because both canned items -- potatoes and potato soup -- have salt as do the cheese and bacon.  I put salt and pepper shakers on the table and let everyone season their soup to taste.

The luncheon was held on a beautiful, unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon.  All the soups were a hit and I came home with an empty crock-pot.  I made the soup for supper recently on a rainy Friday night.  While just as delicious, this time there were leftovers for Sunday.

Easy Crock-Pot Potato Soup
6 Servings

2 (15 oz.) cans sliced potatoes
2 (10 1/2 oz.) cans cream of potato soup (undiluted)
1 soup can water
2 cups heavy whipping cream
bacon, cheese, chives (optional; for topping)

Cut sliced potatoes into smaller pieces, if necessary.  Combine potatoes, soup, water and whipping cream in a crock-pot.  Cover and cook on low 2 hours.  Ladle into bowls and add desired toppings.

© Margaret's Morsels

March 21, 2016

Hop Into Easter

Pin It

A few years ago, a cousin emailed me pictures of a cake she'd made for Easter.  The cake was so cute, I knew I wanted to make it for Easter, but I didn't know when.  My family was disappointed the year before when I replaced our traditional bunny cake with a carrot cake.  I knew I couldn't replace the bunny cake two years in a row, so I filed the idea away until one Easter when we were having enough company I needed two desserts.

The cake isn't a recipe, but a method.  Start by making a two layer cake, either from scratch or a mix.  Fill and frost the layers with white icing such as buttercream or cream cheese.

I think the cake would also look pretty with pastel pink or yellow icing. Although chocolate icing would be tasty, I don't think the decorations would stand out as well as they do on a lighter color icing.

When the cake is frosted, decorate the sides with marshmallow peep bunnies.  The year I made the cake, the hardest part was finding all the different colored bunnies!  I found pink and blue at Kroger, purple at CVS and green at Rite Aid.  The bunnies aren't quite tall enough to cover both layers.

You can decorate the sides with just the bunnies, or add some pastel color M&M's above or below the bunnies.  I found it easier and faster to put the candy above the bunnies.

The top is decorated with more pastel M&M's.  My cousin piled the candy all over the top, but I used it sparingly.  I also like to turn the candies over so the "m" doesn't show.

This cake is easy to make, quick to assemble and a festive ending to an Easter meal.  Easter is less than a week away, but there's still time to find the bunnies before they hop out of the store.

© Margaret's Morsels

March 7, 2016

Pasta Pleaser

Pin It
Margaret's Morsels | Baked Spaghetti

The transition from winter to spring is never easy for me.  Although days are getting warmer, nights are still chilly.  This makes it challenging for me to know -- not only what to wear each day -- what to cook each night.  The weather's not cold enough for soup, chili or stew, but not warm enough for chicken salad, congealed salad or a chilled soup.  Baked Spaghetti is the perfect compromise for those nights when Mother Nature can't decide if it's winter or spring.  Baked Spaghetti isn't as hearty as my traditional spaghetti, yet it offers warmth on a chilly night via a delectable blend of spices.  Most of my recipes have a story behind them and this one is no exception.

Years ago, we belonged to a church that held a luncheon on the first Sunday of each month.  Members would bring a dish or two to share and the congregation would eat together in the fellowship hall after the church service ended.  The selection varied from month to month, but there were some dishes you could always except to see on the table:  a two layer mandarin orange cake piled high with frosting; a big bowl of banana pudding topped with meringue; a pan of piping hot, perfectly seasoned, baked spaghetti.

After enjoying baked spaghetti on more than one occasion, I found out who made the dish and asked if she would share the recipe.  She graciously did but, like many good cooks, she didn't measure the ingredients.  She gave me a list of what she put in the dish with approximate measurements and the method she used to put it together.  I eagerly bought the ingredients and made the dish a few days later.

Margaret's Morsels | Baked Spaghetti

My first attempt was good, but not as good as what she made.  Over the next few months, I tried unsuccessfully to duplicate the recipe.  My version was either too runny, too dry, too spicy or not spicy enough!  The recipe was too good to throw away, so I filed it complete with notes and revisions in a recipe box with plans to cook it again at a later date.

A couple of years later, a coworker gave me a recipe for a spaghetti casserole.  As I read the recipe, I noticed how similar it was to the recipe for baked spaghetti, except it used additional ingredients and was only seasoned with salt and pepper.  I was able to combine the two recipes, using the measurements from the spaghetti casserole with the assembly instructions from the baked spaghetti.  Figuring out the right proportion of spices was trial and error, but I finally came up with a combination that pleased everyone in my family.  If my version is too mild for your taste, you can add more chili powder and cayenne pepper; too spicy, decrease those two ingredients.

Although the spaghetti is baked, the prep work takes more time than the dish is actually in the oven.  To save time, I chop the vegetables and measure the spices ahead of time.  When I'm ready to cook, I put a pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti while I brown and drain the meat and vegetables.  Once the spaghetti is cooked and drained, I combine the ingredients in the same pot used to cook the spaghetti and let it simmer 10 minutes.  If you want, you can add a drained 8 ounce can of mushrooms to the mixture.

Margaret's Morsels | Baked Spaghetti

The mixture goes in a greased 3-quart pan and into the oven for 20 minutes. To make a cheesy version, add a cup of grated cheese on top before you put the pan in the oven.

Whether you like a little bit or a lot of heat, add the cheese or leave it plain, baked spaghetti is a quick and easy pasta dish sure to please on a cold night.

Baked Spaghetti
6 Servings

1 (7 oz.) pkg. thin spaghetti, cooked and drained
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (8 oz.) can mushroom stems and pieces, drained (optional)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. chili powder or to taste
1 tsp. rosemary, crushed
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
3 tsp. sugar
1 c. shredded cheese (optional)

Cook spaghetti according to directions on the package; drain.  While spaghetti is cooking, saute ground beef, onion and bell pepper in a skillet until meat is no longer pink and onion and green pepper are tender; drain. Combine all ingredients, except cheese, in a large pot and simmer 10 minutes.  Pour into a greased 3-quart casserole dish; sprinkle cheese on top. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes. 

© Margaret's Morsels

February 11, 2016

All in One Valentine

Pin It

Margaret's Morsels | Dum Dum Valentine Flowers

Today I'm doing something I haven't done before.  Instead of sharing a recipe in the traditional sense, I'm sharing a 'recipe' for a cute and easy craft perfect for Valentine's Day.  My son and I used to make these for his classmates when he was young, so this was an opportunity for me to take a sentimental stroll down memory lane.

Let me preface this by saying I am not a crafter.  I don't sew, knit, crochet, embroider, cross stitch, paint, draw, quilt, weave or make jewelry, so you don't need to worry about seeing many -- if any -- posts like this in the future.

Four years ago, I wrote about making heart shaped lollipops out of leftover Christmas candy canes by adding a lollipop stick, melted white chocolate and sprinkles.  This craft uses a lollipop stick too, plus cardstock, adhesive and a hole punch.

Margaret's Morsels | Dum Dum Valentine Flowers

Cardstock is a thicker, more durable paper typically used in scrapbooking. It's available in 8 1/2 x 11-inch and 12 x 12-inch sizes.  You can use either size, but I've found there's a bigger selection of colors and patterns to choose from in the 12 x 12-inch size.  I'm not a fan of red so I tend to pick shades of pink and, although not as heavy as solid color cardstock, patterned papers that have a Valentine's Day look to them.  The total number of sheets depends on what size paper you buy and how large you make the hearts.

You'll need to cut out four hearts for each lollipop.  This can be done in several ways.  My artistic friends can do this freehand, but not me.  I can't even draw a straight line with a ruler!  To solve this dilemma, I bought a heart shaped paper punch that cuts out hearts that are about 2 1/2-inches tall.

Margaret's Morsels | Dum Dum Valentine Flowers

Margaret's Morsels | Dum Dum Valentine Flowers

There are heart shaped templates available on the Internet, but you'd have to print and cut them out which could be time consuming.  Depending on the craft stores in your area, you may be able to find precut hearts, but the sizes and colors might be limited.

Stack four hearts together -- you can use the same color or be creative and mix and match -- and use a small hole punch to make a hole approximately 3/8-inch from the bottom.

Margaret's Morsels | Dum Dum Valentine Flowers

Margaret's Morsels | Dum Dum Valentine Flowers

The first time I ever made these, I used a regular size hole punch.  Not being a crafter, I didn't know hole punches came in different sizes, including 1/8-inch which is what I use now.  If you want to include to/from, conversation heart sentiments, or a message to someone special, now is the time to do that.

Fold the four hearts in half lengthwise to make a crease.  

Margaret's Morsels | Dum Dum Valentine Flowers

Line up the holes and insert a Dum Dums lollipop.  If you're not familiar with Dum Dums, they're lollipops that are available in numerous flavors including classics like grape, orange and cherry, plus fan favorites like blueberry, cotton candy and bubblegum.  Dum Dums are gluten free making them a treat almost everyone can enjoy.  If you can't find Dum Dums, you can substitute other lollipops, but don't use any that are too big or heavy for the size hearts you made.

Fan the hearts into a flower shape.

Margaret's Morsels | Dum Dum Valentine Flowers
This isn't a flower shape, but I had to do it
this way in order to take a picture.

Put a small bit of adhesive -- glue, double sided tape or clear mounting squares -- on the top or bottom of each heart.  I use mounting squares which are a scrapbookers version of double sided tape.  Mounting squares are smooth and thin with a sticky bottom and a removable strip on the top.  

Margaret's Morsels | Dum Dum Valentine Flowers
The removable strip on the top 
of the mounting square.

Margaret's Morsels | Dum Dum Lollipop Flowers
It's hard to see, but the upper right heart shows
the adhesive that remains after the strip is peeled off.

Peel the strips off, press the hearts together and you're done.  If you use glue, allow plenty of time for the glue to dry.  

These are fun to give out on Valentine's Day to young kids, the young at heart and everyone in between.  It's a card; it's a flower; it's candy.  On Valentine's Day, what more do you need?

© Margaret's Morsels

January 30, 2016

Cook it Slow

Pin It

Margaret's Morsels | Swiss Steak

January is cold; a month to make and break resolutions; the month bills from Christmas start arriving.  It's also National Slow Cooking Month, something I'm slow writing about this year!

I love cooking with a slow cooker -- or what my family refers to by the trademark name -- crock-pot.  I use a crock-pot for appetizers, chili, sauces, stews, entrees, entire meals and even a sandwich.  Some of the recipes were specifically for the crock-pot but others, like the one I'm sharing today, I adapted from the oven to the crock-pot.

My husband loved eating at my mother's house.  One of the entrees she cooked that he really enjoyed was round steak smothered with onions, tomatoes and seasonings and baked a couple of hours until tender.  That entree -- Swiss Steak -- was never one of my favorites.  My mother used a lot more tomatoes and onions than I liked, plus she only added water to the ingredients which made for a flavorless gravy.  Shortly after we got married, my husband asked if I would make Swiss Steak for supper sometime.  I told him I would, but I'd need to find a recipe first.

I don't remember where I found it, but my husband deemed the first Swiss Steak recipe I tried a keeper and I've been cooking it ever since.  The recipe was actually very similar to my mother's recipe.  The round steak was pounded, coated with flour and browned in a skillet, but it used fewer tomatoes and onions and, instead of water, a jar of beef gravy.  For years, I cooked it in the oven but, on a particularly hectic day, discovered it was equally delicious cooked in a crock-pot.

One day in the late 1990s, I realized I had a late afternoon appointment the same day I'd planned to cook Swiss Steak for supper.  The meat had been thawing in the refrigerator for two days so it had to be cooked that day.  I could fix the Swiss Steak according to the recipe which would make for a very late supper, or I could try cooking it in the crock-pot.  Suppertime is always a stressful time of day for me even under the best of circumstances, so I opted for the latter.

Since crock-pot cooking is different from cooking in an oven, I had to make a few changes to the recipe.

  • I don't pound the meat because low and slow cooking in the crock-pot tenderizes even the toughest cut of meat.

Margaret's Morsels | Swiss Steak

  • The first couple of years, I skipped browning the meat because I'd read it was an unnecessary step in crock-pot cooking.  One day, on a whim, I decided to see what would happen if I browned the meat first.  I don't think browning the meat improved the flavor, but I think it made the finished product prettier.  If I have time to brown the meat, I do; if not, I don't.  It's delicious either way.

Margaret's Morsels | Swiss Steak

  • When I cook Swiss Steak in the oven, my baking pan is big enough to hold the ingredients in one layer.  Due to the size and shape of my crock-pot, I have to layer the ingredients.  To compensate for that, I put some tomatoes, onions and gravy over each layer, instead of putting everything on the top layer.

Margaret's Morsels | Swiss Steak
Two layers of ingredients.

Margaret's Morsels | Swiss Steak
Layered and ready to cook.

Cooking Swiss Steak in the crock-pot takes longer, but it makes suppertime so much easier for me.  All that's left for me to do is fix a couple of sides -- baked potatoes and steamed broccoli in the winter and fresh corn-on-the-cob and a salad in the summer -- and supper is ready.

January might be National Slow Cooking Month, but crock-pots are wonderful to use all year long.  After all, what's better than coming home to a hot cooked meal any month of the year?

Swiss Steak
4 to 6 Servings

1 (2 lb.) round steak, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil*
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (12 oz.) jar beef gravy

Mix flour, salt and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag.  Add meat, two pieces at a time, tossing to coat thoroughly.  Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add meat and cook one minute; turn meat over and cook the other side for one minute.  Put a layer of meat in the crock-pot; put some onion, tomatoes and gravy over meat.  Continue layering until all ingredients are used, ending with gravy.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.  

*If you don't brown the meat first, omit the oil and proceed as directed.

© Margaret's Morsels 

January 19, 2016

A Taste of Germany

Pin It
Margaret's Morsels | Schnitzel

At the beginning of the year, I always like to share a healthier alternative for a traditional food.  Over the last few years, I've shared recipes for salmon patties; broccoli; pork chops; Mozzarella cheese sticks.  I want to share a recipe this January too, but we're going to have to take a little detour.

During the 2014-15 school year, my family hosted a foreign exchange student from Germany named Simon.  We enjoyed getting to know this fine young man and learning about his country's customs and culture.  In exchange, he was able to experience life in an American family, attend an American high school and try American food.  He was a good sport about trying and eating new foods, but after a few months he started missing the food from home.  When he arrived, he'd given me a German cookbook as a present.  At the time, I had him mark the recipes he liked with sticky notes and told him at some point during his stay I'd fix a German meal. When that day arrived, the first thing he wanted me to fix was schnitzel.

Schnitzel -- a thin slice of meat dipped in eggs, coated with bread crumbs and fried -- is the German equivalent of American chicken fried steak or country fried steak.  Although I'd never eaten German food before, I had heard of wiener schnitzel which is made with veal, a meat we don't eat. Simon told me schnitzel could be made with other meats, including pork which is what his family used.

Not long after that, Simon helped me interpret the recipe in the cookbook, putting it together with the way he remembered his grandmother fixing schnitzel.  We coated boneless pork chops in flour, dipped them in eggs and then coated them in plain bread crumbs.  Staying true to the recipe, we fried -- not my preferred cooking method -- the pork chops in canola oil. Unfortunately, they didn't taste like the schnitzel he ate in Germany, but like pork chops cooked in an American home.

A few weeks later, I decided to surprise Simon with schnitzel, but I changed a couple of things.  Instead of using pork chops, I sliced a pork tenderloin into pieces and pounded them flat.

Margaret's Morsels | Schnitzel

Margaret's Morsels | Schnitzel

Margaret's Morsels | Schnitzel

I coated the pieces with flour, dipped them in eggs and coated them with bread crumbs, just like I did the first time.  Instead of frying them, though, I baked them in the oven.  Simon said the schnitzel was much better than my first attempt, but it needed more seasoning.  He looked through my spice rack, smelling some of the spices, until he found what he was looking for: garlic powder and Italian seasoning.  When he showed me those spices, I knew exactly how I was going to make the schnitzel.

One cold winter night, Simon burst through the kitchen door, stopped and exclaimed, "It smells good in here!"  What he smelled was my American version of schnitzel.  Since he liked the schnitzel made with pork tenderloin, I used it again, but decided to coat it with the same ingredients I use when I make Chicken Parmesan.  I omitted the flour completely and dipped the pork in eggs and then a mixture of Italian bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning and garlic powder before baking it in the oven.  Simon loved it and ate with gusto that night!

I don't know if my version could really be called schnitzel since some of the ingredients and the baking method are different.  Regardless of what you'd call it, two things are certain.  One, it's delicious.  Two, it's a healthy entree since it's baked not fried.

I look forward to trying German cuisine -- including schnitzel -- when we go to Germany later this year.  The thing I look forward to the most, though, is seeing Simon again.  I can't wait to see how much he's grown and give him something he hasn't had since he left last June:  a hug from his American mother!

Update:  After this was posted, our student texted me and said he didn't mind me using his name in the article.  I've revised the copy, replacing "our student" with "Simon."  I also included his name in the recipe title.  The rest of the entry remains unchanged.

Simon's Schnitzel
6 to 8 Servings

1 (1 1/4 lb.) pork tenderloin, cut into eight pieces and pounded 1/4-inch thick
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup dry Italian bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Beat the eggs in a bowl; set aside.  In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning and garlic powder.  Dip each piece of meat in the eggs and then coat both sides thoroughly with the bread crumb mixture.  Place meat on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 375° for 10 minutes.  Turn meat over; bake 12 minutes more, or until thoroughly cooked. 

© Margaret's Morsels