February 28, 2011

Cooking Shortcuts Morselette

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Margaret's Morsels | Potato Salad

As you may have noticed, I haven't posted much the last two weeks. Things have been chaotic with work deadlines, my son's school activities plus his extra curricular and sporting activities.  I've barely had time to cook!

I wanted to make a batch of Potato Salad last week, but didn't have time to peel, dice and cook the potatoes.  I substituted a package of Ore-Ida Steam n' Mash cut Russet potatoes instead.  I cooked them according to the package directions, but used them cubed instead of mashing them. They worked out great in the Potato Salad.  My husband didn't even notice the difference.  What cooking shortcuts do you rely on to get the job done faster?

© Margaret's Morsels

February 22, 2011

Rice: From the Paddies to the Table

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Margaret's Morsels | Mushroom Rice Casserole

For a long time, I only had four rice recipes:  plain white rice, Spanish Rice, Broccoli Rice Casserole and Wild Rice and Mushrooms.  That number grew to five when I found the recipe for Mushroom Rice Casserole.

Rice is a quick and easy dish to prepare.  The only ingredients you need are rice, liquid and seasoning.  The additional ingredients that can be added to rice are limitless.  The most important thing to remember is to use the right type of rice for the dish you're preparing.  Rice is classified by size and each variety is best suited for certain dishes.

Long grain rice is long and slender.  When cooked, it's tender and the grains separate easily.  It's best for main dishes, soups, salads or plain white rice.

Medium grain rice is shorter and plumper.  It's chewier and sticks together more than long grain.  It's good in desserts.

Short grain rice is round and fat.  When cooked, the grains stick together. The Italian short grain rice, Arborio, is used to make risotto.

Brown rice has the hull removed.  It's slightly chewy with a nut like flavor. It takes longer to cook than regular rice.

Wild rice isn't even rice, but an aquatic North American grass with edible grains related to rice.  It's more expensive and is often combined with regular rice when cooked.

Instant rice has already been cooked and dehydrated.  It only takes a few minutes to prepare, but the flavor is bland.

Converted or parboiled rice, such as Uncle Ben's, has been soaked, pressure steamed and dried.  It takes a little longer to cook than regular rice.

The recipe for Mushroom Rice Casserole uses long grain rice and five other ingredients:  butter or margarine, mushrooms, onion, cream of mushroom soup and beef consomme.  Unlike a lot of recipes, the rice doesn't have to be cooked ahead of time.  It's sauteed with the mushrooms and onion, but only long enough for the rice to soften.  All the ingredients are mixed together, put in a casserole dish and baked for an hour.

I always use margarine and 98% fat-free soup.  You can use regular soup if you prefer, but I don't recommend using butter to saute the ingredients. Butter burns easier than margarine, unless you use clarified butter.

Clarified butter is butter that's been melted at a low temperature.  The fat rises and the milk solids sink.  The clear liquid left in the middle is clarified butter.  It has a higher smoking point which makes it better for sauteing food at a high temperature.

I love to serve Mushroom Rice Casserole with Marinated Baked Chicken. Not only do the dishes complement each other, they can be baked at the same temperature and for the same length of time.  The casserole is also good with Baked Salmon Patties.  If you want to serve it with the salmon patties, put the rice in to cook 15 minutes before the salmon.

Margaret's Morsels | Mushroom Rice Casserole
Marinated Baked Chicken, Mushroom Rice Casserole

Many times when I've taken this dish to a potluck dinner, people have mistakingly called it Dirty Rice.  It may look similar, but Dirty Rice has meat in it, usually ground chicken or turkey livers and gizzards.  Regardless of what people call the casserole, I always come home with an empty dish!

Mushroom Rice Casserole
6 Servings

5 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 (8 oz.) can mushroom stems and pieces, drained
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup long grain rice (uncooked)
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup (undiluted)
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can beef consomme

Heat butter or margarine in a large skillet over high heat.  Saute the mushrooms and onion for 3 minutes.  Stir in the rice; saute for 3 more minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove skillet from heat.  Add the soup and consomme; mix well.  Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish. Cover with foil.  Bake at 350° for 60 minutes.

© Margaret's Morsels

February 11, 2011

An Easy Entree

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Margaret's Morsels | Marinated Baked Chicken

Monday is Valentine's Day, a day to celebrate love.  I'm making my husband Chocolate Covered Cherries.  I want to do something special for my son so I'm cooking his favorite entree for supper.

I don't remember where I found the recipe for Marinated Baked Chicken, but it became a family favorite the first time I made it.  Although it's an easy recipe, it does require advance planning because the chicken needs to marinate overnight.

Margaret's Morsels | Marinated Baked Chicken
The recipe only uses three ingredients.

The recipe starts with a marinade made of equal parts soy sauce and Italian dressing.  Part of the marinade is poured over the chicken breasts; the rest is reserved for baking the chicken.  You can cook as many or as few chicken breasts as you need.  Just be sure to increase or decrease the marinade ingredients accordingly.  You'll need to do the same thing with the amount of reserved marinade.  In case you missed them, marinating dos and don'ts are posted here.

Since the chicken is not cooked in the marinade, I marinate it in a resealable plastic bag.  To be on the safe side, I put the bag in a pan to catch any leaks.  The bag needs to be turned over several times during the marinating process to ensure all the chicken is coated with the marinade.

Before cooking the chicken, remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature 30 minutes.  If you put 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.

Margaret's Morsels | Marinated Baked Chicken
The chicken and reserved marinade before it's cooked.

Place the chicken breasts in a baking dish, discarding the marinade left in the bag.  Pour the reserved marinade over the chicken.  Put the baking dish in the oven and bake at 350° for 1 hour.

Marinated Baked Chicken is a great dish to serve any day, but it's especially good when you're having company.  Since the stove does all the work, you can visit with your guests instead of working in the kitchen. Check my blog next week for the rice side dish shown below.  It can be baked at the same time and temperature as the chicken.  Entertaining doesn't get much easier than that!

Margaret's Morsels | Marinated Baked Chicken

Marinated Baked Chicken
4 Servings

1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

In a measuring cup, combine salad dressing and soy sauce.  Pour 3/4 cup into a large resealable plastic bag; add chicken.  Seal the bag and turn to coat; refrigerate overnight, turning several times.  Refrigerate the remaining marinade in a covered bowl.

Drain chicken, discarding marinade left in the bag.  Place chicken in a pan; pour remaining marinade over chicken.  Bake uncovered at 350° for 1 hour.

© Margaret's Morsels

February 7, 2011

Sweets for Your Valentine

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Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Cherries

I love giving gifts from the kitchen.  Unlike Christmas, I only have one recipient on my list for Valentine's Day:  my husband.

A few years ago, I made my husband a batch of Chocolate Covered Cherries for Valentine's Day.  He loved them so I'm making them for him again this year.  If you want to make them for your Valentine, you'll need to get started because they need to be made several days in advance.  The recipe makes approximately 5 dozen, but you can halve the recipe.

The cherries need to be thoroughly drained.  I drain them in a colander for an hour before placing them on a double layer of paper towels.  Make sure to put a piece of waxed paper under the towels.  If you don't, you'll be cleaning stains off the counter.  Let the cherries sit on the paper towels an hour and then dry each cherry individually.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Cherries
The drained and dried cherries.

While the cherries drain on the paper towels, I make a fondant with sweetened condensed milk, corn syrup and powdered sugar.  The recipe calls for 4 1/2 to 5 cups of powdered sugar.  Start with 4 1/2 cups and add more if it's needed.  You can mix the fondant with a spoon until it's too thick to stir.  At that point, you'll have to knead the remaining powdered sugar in with your hands.  Fondant dries out easily so make sure to cover the bowl with a towel when you're not using it.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Cherries
Partially mixed fondant.

Once the cherries are completely dry and the fondant made, you're ready to wrap the cherries with the fondant.  It's imperative the cherries are completely dry before adding the fondant.  Wet cherries plus fondant equals a sticky mess!

There's two ways to put the fondant on the cherries.  One, you can pinch off some fondant and wrap it around the cherries.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Cherries

Two, you can roll the fondant on a cutting board with a fondant rolling pin.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Cherries
Fondant rolling pin.

You don't need to sprinkle the cutting board, rolling pin or fondant with anything before it's rolled.  I prefer rolling the fondant in small batches and cutting pieces to wrap around the cherries.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Cherries
A small piece of rolled fondant.

Either way, make sure to cover the entire cherry with fondant.  If you don't have enough fondant on the cherry, add some more.  If there's too much fondant on the cherry, remove the excess.  Once the fondant is on the cherry, gently roll the cherry between your palms like you would when shaping a meatball or cookie.  This makes the fondant smoother.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Cherries
A smooth fondant covered cherry.

Put the wrapped cherry, stem side up, on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper.  Once all the cherries are wrapped, put the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes for the fondant to get firm.

While the cherries are in the refrigerator, melt the chocolate coating.  I use a 1 1/2-quart crock-pot to melt the coating.  The crock-pot keeps the temperature consistent so I don't have to remelt the coating.  Like any other chocolate, the coating retains its shape until it's stirred.  Once the chocolate coating is melted and smooth, you're ready to dip the cherries.

Holding onto the stem, dip one cherry at a time in the melted chocolate. This is easy to do when the pot is full of chocolate.  When the chocolate level gets low, dip one side of the cherry into the chocolate at an angle. Lift the cherry up slightly and dip the other side into the chocolate the same way.  Hold the stem and gently spin the cherry in the pot to remove the excess chocolate.  Since this is the first coating, it's ok if the entire cherry isn't covered in chocolate.  Put the cherries back on the waxed paper lined cookie sheet and put them in the refrigerator for another 30 minutes.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Cherries
The first coating of chocolate.

Once the chocolate coating is hard, dip the cherries into the chocolate coating again.  You may find using a spoon the easiest way to cover the cherries with the remaining chocolate.  This is the final coating so make sure the entire cherry is completely covered with chocolate.  Once again, hold the stem and spin the cherry to remove the excess coating.  Put the cherries on a clean piece of waxed paper on a cookie sheet.  Cover the pan loosely with wax paper and put the pan in a cool place overnight.

The next day, remove any excess dried coating from the cherries.  The easiest way to do this is with a table knife.  Using the dull side of the knife, run the blade around the coating, scraping off the excess chocolate.  Put the cherries back on the waxed paper lined cookie sheet and cover loosely with waxed paper.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Cherries
Before the excess coating is removed.

After the excess coating is removed.

Let the cherries sit in a cool place for five more days.  An amazing thing happens during this time.  The fondant softens and liquefies making a sticky, tasty, gooey center.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Cherries
Notice how gooey the fondant is after five days.

I like to think outside the "heart shaped" box when I package the cherries. I like to put the cherries in a martini or wine glass or a champagne flute.   Over the years, I've found Valentine themed glasses that I use, but plain glasses are fine too.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Cherries
Left to Right:  Valentine's martini glass, plain martini glass,
Valentine's wine glass, plain champagne flute.

If you don't want to use a glass, you can put the cherries in paper candy cups and arrange them in a container.  You could always keep it simple and just stack the candy in a bowl.

You may have noticed I didn't say this recipe was easy.  It is the most time consuming recipe in my recipe box.  That's why I don't make Chocolate Covered Cherries except for Valentine's Day every few years.  It is truly a labor of love for the one I love.  

Chocolate Covered Cherries 
5 Dozen

2 (10 oz.) jars maraschino cherries with stems, drained
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
4 tsp. light corn syrup
4 1/2 to 5 cups powdered sugar
2 (16 oz.) pkg. chocolate candy coating

Drain cherries thoroughly.  If necessary, dry each cherry with a paper towel. 

In a medium bowl, combine condensed milk and corn syrup; blend well. Add powdered sugar gradually, stirring until mixture forms a stiff dough. When mixture is too stiff to stir, knead in the remaining powdered sugar with your hands.  Wrap a small amount of fondant around each cherry to cover completely.  Refrigerate 30 minutes or until fondant is firm.

Line cookie sheet with waxed paper.  Melt candy coating.  Holding the stem, dip chilled cherries into candy coating.  Place on waxed paper lined cookie sheet; refrigerate until coating is hard, about 30 minutes.

Dip chilled candies into melted coating again, making sure to coat completely.  Place on waxed paper lined cookie sheet; cover loosely with waxed paper.  Let stand several days in a cool place to allow fondant to liquefy.  DO NOT REFRIGERATE.

© Margaret's Morsels

February 4, 2011

Soup for Supper

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Margaret's Morsels | Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Punxsutawney Phil may not have seen his shadow, but I don't think Mother Nature got the message.  Parts of America are blanketed with snow and ice and more winter weather is on the way.  My neck of the woods doesn't have snow or ice right now, but it's cold outside.  It's the perfect day to fix a pot of soup for supper.

I never was a fan of chicken and rice soup until I tried a bowl of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup at a restaurant a few years ago.  I absolutely loved it and immediately started searching for a recipe so I could make the soup at home.  The recipe I found isn't a "copycat," but it's similar.

The recipe calls for cooked and chopped chicken breasts.  Since no other directions were given, I cook the chicken in a pot of saltwater.  I use bone-in chicken breasts with the skin since they have more flavor than boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  However, you could substitute grilled chicken breasts instead.

The cooking time can be greatly reduced if you prepare some of the ingredients ahead of time.  I cook the chicken the day before I make the soup.  Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, I remove the skin and bones.  I chop the breasts into bite size pieces and store them in a resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Margaret's Morsels | Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Two cooked and diced chicken breasts.

The next morning, I cook the long grain and wild rice using the directions on the box, omitting the butter or olive oil.  Once the rice is cooked, I let it cool before storing it in a covered container in the refrigerator.

While the rice is cooking, I dice the onion and grate the carrot.  Since I buy baby carrots, I grate three since that's about the equivalent of 1/2 a regular sized carrot.  I store the onion and carrots together in a resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Margaret's Morsels | Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Three grated baby carrots.

You'll need chicken broth for the soup, either homemade or canned.  My chicken broth isn't flavorful enough and pales in comparison -- literally and figuratively -- so I use two 14.5 ounce cans of chicken broth.  If you want a thicker soup, use less; a thinner soup, use more.

Margaret's Morsels | Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Can you guess which broth is mine?  
It's the pale one on the left.

When it's time to cook supper, there's very little work left to be done.  The onion and carrots need to cooked in oil until tender, the remaining ingredients added and everything simmered until heated through.

This recipe makes six servings.  If you want soup for a group, the recipe can easily be doubled.  No matter which size batch you make, you'll need to add more liquid when you reheat the leftover soup.  You can add water, but I highly recommend adding chicken broth.  Water dilutes the wonderful flavor of the soup.

Margaret's Morsels | Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
You'll need to add liquid -- preferably chicken broth --
before you reheat the leftover soup.

I serve the soup with a French bread baguette which is how it's served at the restaurant.  Although this soup is delicious, I still wouldn't mind having the recipe from the restaurant!

Margaret's Morsels | Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
6 Servings

1/2 large onion, chopped
1/2 carrot, grated
1 Tbsp. oil
2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can cream of chicken soup (undiluted)
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup (undiluted)
1 (6 oz.) box Uncle Ben's long grain and wild rice, cooked 
2 (14.5 oz.) cans chicken broth or equivalent amount of homemade 
salt and pepper to taste

Cook onion and carrot in oil until tender.  Add remaining ingredients.  Heat thoroughly over low heat.  

Note:  Add more broth for a thinner soup; less for a thicker soup.

© Margaret's Morsels

February 1, 2011

Super Bowl Edition Morselette

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This Sunday, millions of people will be glued to their televisions watching the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers battle it out on the gridiron at Super Bowl XLV.  Whether you're hosting a party or just fixing food to munch on during the big game, you might want to check out these awesome appetizers from previous blogs.

Margaret's Morsels | Little Corn Dogs

You're sure to score points with any of these recipes!

© Margaret's Morsels