October 27, 2010

A Potato Primer

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Margaret's Morsels | Scalloped Potatoes

Potatoes are the workhorse of the produce world.  They can be baked, boiled, fried, mashed, roasted, sauteed, used in casseroles, soups, salads, breads and even desserts.  Potatoes are available in the produce department as well as in cans, boxes, the freezer section and, of course, as chips.  This versatile vegetable even has a day honoring its greatness. October 27 is National Potato Day.

There are different varieties of potatoes available in the produce section. The moisture level and starch content differs in the potatoes.  This means different varieties are better suited for certain types of cooking.  Potatoes with a high starch content -- baking or Russets -- are best when baked, fried and mashed.  Potatoes with a lower starch content -- boiling, blue, purple and new -- hold their shape better and are best suited for soups, salads and casseroles.

One of my favorite potato recipes is Scalloped Potatoes.  A lot of people use the term scalloped and au gratin interchangeably.  Although both use cheese, there's one big difference.  Scalloped potatoes have a white sauce, but au gratin potatoes do not.

The recipe for Scalloped Potatoes is only one of two in my collection that calls for milk to be scalded.  To scald milk means to bring the milk almost to the boiling point.  Scalding milk isn't hard and it's even easier when you follow these tips:

  • Use a thick bottomed pan for even cooking.
  • Rinse the pan with cold water before adding the milk.  This will help keep the milk from sticking.
  • Cook the milk on medium heat and stir constantly.
  • Heat the milk until small bubbles appear around the surface of the pan.  Don't let the milk come to a boil.  

Margaret's Morsels | Scalloped Potatoes

I like doing as much prep work ahead of time as possible and this recipe is no exception.  Although I don't combine the ingredients ahead of time, I grate the cheese, chop the onion and measure the dry ingredients early in the day.  When it's time to cook, I only have to peel and slice the potatoes and scald the milk.  The potatoes need to be sliced the same thickness -- or as close as possible -- so the potatoes cook evenly.  I slice my potatoes thin like this:

Margaret's Morsels | Scalloped Potatoes

Once the potatoes are sliced, you layer them with the other ingredients, except the milk, in a pan that has sides at least 2-inches deep.  I use a Corning Ware casserole dish that holds approximately 3 quarts.  Once the ingredients are layered, the scalded milk is poured on top.  It takes 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes for the potatoes to cook, but it is worth the wait.

Margaret's Morsels | Scalloped Potatoes
Ready to bake.

I like to serve Scalloped Potatoes with meat loaf, but it's a great side dish with any meat.  Once you've tried this recipe, you'll never want the scalloped potatoes that come in a box!

Margaret's Morsels | Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped Potatoes
4 to 6 Servings

1 (8 oz.) pkg. Cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 lb. boiling potatoes
1 1/2 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into very thin pieces
1 1/2 cups milk

Combine 1 1/2 cups cheese, the onion, flour, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl; set aside.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/8-inch thick slices.  Arrange 1/3 of the potatoes on the bottom of a greased baking dish with sides at least 2-inches deep.  Put half the cheese mixture and 1/2 the butter on top of the potatoes.  Make a second layer using another third of the potatoes and all the remaining cheese mixture and butter.  Cover the top with the remaining potatoes.

Scald the milk and pour over the potatoes; top the potatoes with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese.  Bake at 350° for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

© Margaret's Morsels

October 22, 2010

Eating High on the Hog

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Margaret's Morsels | Marinated Pork Tenderloin

I only cook red meat once a week, something I've been doing for over 20 years.  The rest of the week we eat chicken, pasta, fish, vegetables or, the other white meat, pork.  Although I have a lot of recipes, I have very few for pork other than pork chops.  When I found the recipe for Marinated Pork Tenderloin in a school cookbook, I knew it would be a family favorite.

Pork tenderloin, as the name implies, is from the loin which is the most tender cut of pork.  There is very little fat, no bones and no waste.  Pork tenderloin usually comes two to a package so it's very economical.

Marinate means to soak food in a marinade made from oil, an acid -- such as vinegar or lemon juice -- and flavorings.  Marinating meat serves two purposes.  One, it tenderizes tough cuts of meat.  Two, the meat absorbs the flavor of the marinade.  Since pork tenderloin is already tender, the marinade infuses the meat with a wonderful flavor.

Margaret's Morsels | Marinated Pork Tenderloin
The marinade ingredients.

When you marinate food, there are certain dos and don'ts:

  • Do use a glass or ceramic container or a resealable plastic bag. If I'm cooking the marinade with the food, I use a Pyrex baking dish.  That way, the dish can go from the refrigerator to the oven.  If the marinade is drained before cooking, I use a plastic bag.  If you use a plastic bag, it's a good idea to put the bag in a pan or plate to catch any drips.

Margaret's Morsels | Marinated Pork Tenderloin
This is how I marinate the tenderloins.

  • Don't marinate food in aluminum.  The acid in the marinade can ruin the container and give the food an odd taste.
  • Do turn the food periodically if the marinade doesn't cover the food completely.  That way all the food gets coated with the marinade.

Margaret's Morsels | Marinated Pork Tenderloin
Refrigerated overnight and turned several times.

  • Do refrigerate meat while it marinates.  If you marinate meat at room temperature, bacteria starts to grow.

Before marinating the pork tenderloin, it is wrapped in bacon.  I use four pieces of bacon on each tenderloin so I get eight servings from one package.  If you have more people or want smaller servings, you can use five pieces of bacon instead.  The bacon adds extra flavor to the dish plus it serves as a handy guide when it comes time to cut the tenderloin.

Before cooking the tenderloin or any meat that's been refrigerated, you need to let the meat sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before it goes in the oven.  If you put a piece of cold meat in a hot oven, you run the risk of the outside of the meat drying out before the inside is cooked.  The meat cooks more evenly when it's not ice cold.

I serve the tenderloins with Loaded Mashed Potato Casserole and green beans.

Margaret's Morsels | Marinated Pork Tenderloin

When I have leftover tenderloins, I reheat them and serve them on a bed of baby spring mix salad.  I like bottled roasted red pepper vinaigrette dressing on the salad, but you could use another flavor or skip the dressing entirely.

I always reheat meat in the oven.  Even though a microwave is faster, I think meat dries out when reheated in the microwave regardless of the power level used.  I put the tenderloins in a baking pan with any leftover marinade, cover the pan with foil and heat at 350° for 30 minutes.  The leftovers come out of the oven as tasty and juicy as the day they were prepared.

Marinated Pork Tenderloin is a recipe you'll reach for whether you want an elegant entree or an everyday dinner.  It's delicious, easy to prepare and makes a beautiful presentation.

Marinated Pork Tenderloin
8 to 10 Servings

8 to 10 slices uncooked bacon
2 large pork tenderloins
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp. onion salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Wrap bacon around tenderloins and secure with toothpicks; place in a baking dish.  Combine remaining ingredients and pour over tenderloins. Place in refrigerator and let stand overnight, turning often.

Bake at 300° for 45 minutes; turn oven to 350° and bake an additional 45 minutes.

© Margaret's Morsels

October 19, 2010

Halloween Treats for Little Ghouls

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Margaret's Morsels | Halloween

When my son was young, he would host a Halloween party for his friends. The kids were more interested in playing games and having fun than they were about the food being served.  I wanted the parties to be festive so I gave everyday food a Halloween makeover.  Since Halloween is right around the corner, I thought I'd share three of these makeovers geared for young kids or the young at heart.

For the entree, I made two kinds of sandwiches -- using two kinds of bread -- so the kids could choose their favorite filling and bread.  Instead of cutting the sandwiches diagonally, I used large Halloween cookie cutters to cut the sandwiches into pumpkin, ghost and bat shapes.

Margaret's Morsels | Halloween

I also gave my Fruit Kabob recipe a Halloween twist.  I put the pineapple chunks, maraschino cherries and mini marshmallows on Halloween party picks.  The kids loved these.  One guest wanted to collect one of each different party pick and ate kabobs until his collection was complete!  If you don't have party picks, you can use regular toothpicks.  Make sure you drain the fruit thoroughly so the kabobs aren't soggy.  I drain the fruit on a double layer of paper towels to make sure it gets dry.

Margaret's Morsels | Halloween

Halloween party picks.

For dessert, I made ghost cookies.  The cookies start with a package of Nutter Butter cookies.  You dip the cookies in melted white almond bark and add mini chocolate chips for the eyes and mouth.  You can make as many or as few as you need.

Whenever I melt almond bark -- also known as candy coating or bark coating -- I use a 1 1/2-quart crock-pot.  It takes longer to melt, but it remains smooth and you don't have to remelt it like you do when you use a microwave.  A crock-pot keeps the temperature consistent, something that can be tricky if you melt the coating in a saucepan on the stove.  No matter which method you use -- crock-pot, microwave or stove top -- do not cover the container.  If you do, the condensations falls into the almond bark which hinders melting.

Margaret's Morsels | Halloween
The melted almond bark.

To make the dipping process easier, I bought this Wilton candy dipping set:

Margaret's Morsels | Halloween
I use the tool on the left.

The set is inexpensive and a good investment, especially if you make dipped candies or cookies.  However, you can use a dinner fork instead.

To make the cookies, push one cookie at a time under the melted almond bark for a few seconds.  Turn the cookie over a time or two to make sure the entire surface gets covered.  Lift the cookie out of the almond bark and tap the fork against the container.  This helps the excess coating fall off plus it pops any bubbles that are on the surface of the coating.  Put the cookie on wax paper and, while the coating is still soft, add two mini chocolate chips for the eyes and one for the mouth.  Once the cookies are dry, store them at room temperature in an airtight container.

Margaret's Morsels | Halloween

I hope my son will host a Halloween party next year so I can prepare bloodshot eyeballs, severed finger sandwiches and a brain gelatin mold. This year, I think I'll serve Halloween sandwiches, fruit kabobs and ghost cookies for a walk down memory lane.

© Margaret's Morsels

October 14, 2010


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October is National Cookbook Month.  I have a lot of cookbooks, but my favorite is the Taste of Home Annual Recipes.  I'm not saying that because I'm a Field Editor for the magazine.  I have every edition and started buying them long before I became a Field Editor.  The recipes aren't difficult, don't use exotic ingredients and, most of all, taste great!  If you're reading this blog, you probably enjoy cooking so what's your favorite cookbook?  

© Margaret's Morsels

October 10, 2010

From Ordinary to Extraordinary

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Margaret's Morsels | No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

I don't make dessert unless it's a special occasion or we have company. Sometimes, though, we want something sweet and -- more often than not -- chocolate.  When this mood hits, I pull out a recipe my mother gave me for Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies.

Chances are you've had these cookies or even have a version of the recipe.  These cookies are sometimes called "No Bake Cookies," "No Bake Oatmeal Cookies" and "Boiled Cookies."  I've also seen them called "Preacher's Coming" cookies.  This is an apt description because the cookies can be made and ready to serve to unexpected company in a very short amount of time.  Most of the recipes are similar, although some versions don't use peanut butter and some add additional ingredients such as nuts and raisins.

My recipe only uses seven ingredients.  All seven are staples at my house so I can make the cookies on a moments notice.  Although butter makes everything better, I use margarine.  I also use 1% milk, but you could substitute 2% instead.

Margaret's Morsels | No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

You need to work quickly when you make these cookies so it's imperative to have your ingredients measured before you start cooking.  It's also very important that you stir the mixture, especially when it's boiling.  If you don't, the mixture will scorch.  Not only will you have to throw it away, you might ruin a pan in the process.

Over the years, through trial and error, I've learned an important trick when it comes time to add the peanut butter.  Stir the peanut butter in the hot mixture until it melts.  Add the oats only after the peanut butter is melted.  If you add the peanut butter and oats at the same time, it's hard to blend the ingredients.

Margaret's Morsels | No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
This is what it looks like after the peanut butter is melted.

If you're in a hurry, you can drop the cookies on waxed paper with a spoon or cookie scoop.  I usually use a medium size cookie scoop.  When I do, I get 21 cookies out of one batch.

If you want fancier cookies, you can spread the cookies in a greased pan, refrigerate them and then cut them into the desired shape.  A quarter sheet pan is the perfect size for this recipe.  If you don't have one, you can use an 8 or 9-inch square pan.

Margaret's Morsels | No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
The quarter sheet pan is the one on the bottom.

Once the cookies are in the pan, put them in the refrigerator until firm.  It takes about 45 minutes for the quarter sheet pan.  If you're using a deeper pan, you'll need to allow more time for the cookies to firm up.  Don't leave them in the refrigerator too long or they'll be hard to cut.  The cookies have to be refrigerated if you're going to cut them into shapes.  If you let them firm up at room temperature, they crumble when cut.

From start to finish, the cookies can be made and the kitchen cleaned up in less than half an hour.  The next time you want a dessert that's quick, easy and oh so good, try making a batch of Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. Your family will thank you.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

1 stick butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups oats (uncooked)

Melt butter; add sugar and cocoa.  Stir in milk; bring mixture to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Add vanilla and peanut butter; stir the mixture until the peanut butter is melted.  Stir in oats. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto wax paper.  Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

© Margaret's Morsels

October 3, 2010


Pin It Sorry I haven't posted anything lately.  I had a relapse and ended up back at the hospital on Friday.  Fortunately, I wasn't admitted, but sent home with two antibiotics, pain medicine and nausea medicine.  Before this setback, I was working on a potato primer, a no bake dessert, Halloween party food, an elegant entree and, per a request from an anonymous nurse, a coconut cake.  Check back soon for these and other morsels. Bon Appetit!

© Margaret's Morsels