December 29, 2011

Store Bought or Homemade?

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There are a lot of recipes on the web that are supposed to replicate dishes served in restaurants.  There are also recipes for grocery store products such as Ritz crackers, Bisquick and sweetened condensed milk to name a few.

As someone who loves to cook, I like to think homemade is better than store bought.  However, I'm wondering if recipes for grocery store products are any good and, more importantly, are they worth the time and effort. Has anyone ever made any copycat grocery store recipes?  If so, were they as good as the original?  Would you make them again? 

© Margaret's Morsels

December 23, 2011

A Holiday Tradition

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Margaret's Morsels | Kool-Aid Punch

When I recall Christmas from my childhood, I may not always remember who was at the house a particular year or what presents I received, but I vividly remember three things:  a savory cheese ball coated with chili powder; a platter of German Christmas Cookies decorated with red, green, yellow and white icing; a punch bowl surrounded by a garland of poinsettias and filled with Kool-Aid punch.  My mother only made these goodies at Christmas which made them special.

I don't follow my mother's Christmas tradition -- I only make the cheese ball and punch every few years -- except for the Christmas cookies.  I've made these cookies every Christmas for the last 18 years.  Last Christmas, when my brother and his family visited from Atlanta, for old time's sake, I made all three items just like our mother did every Christmas.

The punch uses a package of cherry Kool-Aid which gives it a beautiful red hue that's perfect for Christmas.  If you prefer a green punch, use a package of lime Kool-Aid instead of cherry.

The easiest way to make the punch is with a clean gallon milk jug.  Pour the contents of the lemonade and cherry Kool-Aid packages in the jug, along with sugar and 2 cups water.  Put the lid on the jug and shake it to combine the ingredients.

Margaret's Morsels | Kool-Aid Punch

Add a large can of pineapple juice.

Margaret's Morsels | Kool-Aid Punch

Add water to completely fill the jug.

Margaret's Morsels | Kool-Aid Punch

Put on the lid, shake the jug to combine the ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.  I make the punch a day or two ahead of time so it gets thoroughly chilled.

If you're not using a gallon jug, stir the ingredients thoroughly whenever the recipe calls for shaking the jug to combine the ingredients.  You'll need to add 7 1/2 cups water after you add the pineapple juice.

When my mother was ready to serve the punch, she poured it into a punch bowl and added a quart of pineapple sherbet.  The sherbet gave the punch a creamy consistency and the small chunks of pineapple added some texture.  I'm not a fan of sherbet or ice cream in punch so I leave it out. However, if you like sherbet, go ahead and add it to the punch bowl.  If you're using lime Kool-Aid, add a quart of lime sherbet instead of pineapple.  After you add the sherbet, stir in a can of chilled 7-Up.

Most punch recipes call for a carbonated beverage such as Sprite, ginger ale or 7-Up.  My mother tried all three beverages over the years, but the best punch was always made with 7-Up.  We only drink diet drinks, but this is one time we'll use the real thing.  You can still make the punch with diet 7-Up, but it's not as good.

To make sure the last glass of punch tastes as good as the first, add a quart of sherbet and a can of chilled 7-Up everytime you replenish the punch bowl.  If you're not using sherbet, just add the can of 7-Up.

Now that I'm a mother, I can appreciate why my mother only made these items at Christmas.  She knew not only was it something to look forward to, but something to look back on with fond memories that last a lifetime.  

Margaret's Morsels | Kool-Aid Punch
I serve the punch in the same punch bowl
my mother always used.

Kool-Aid Punch
18 Servings

1 (2 qt.) size pkg. unsweetened lemonade Kool-Aid
1 (2 qt.) size pkg. unsweetened cherry Kool-Aid
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 (46 oz.) can unsweetened pineapple juice
water (enough to fill the jug or 7 1/2 cups)
pineapple sherbet
12 oz. cans 7-Up, chilled

Put the first four ingredients in a clean gallon jug; shake to combine.  Add pineapple juice.  Finish filling the jug with water; shake well.  Chill in refrigerator until ready to use.  When ready to serve, pour mixture in a punch bowl.  Add 1 quart pineapple sherbet and 1 can 7-Up; stir gently. When replenishing the punch bowl, add another quart of sherbet and can of 7-Up.

© Margaret's Morsels

December 20, 2011

No Bake Snowman Cookies

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Margaret's Morsels | No Bake Snowman Cookies

I love giving gifts from the kitchen.  For years, I made chocolate covered Ritz cracker and peanut butter cookies to give people at Christmas. This year, I wanted to make something different and made the snowman cookies pictured above.  So many people asked me how I made them, I decided it would make a good topic for "Margaret's Morsels."

Previously, I wrote about using Nutter Butter cookies to make ghost cookies.  The snowman cookies start the same way, but with a few additional items added to make them look like a snowman.  The additional items need to be added while the coating is still wet.  Since you need to work quickly, it's a good idea to line up the ingredients in an assembly line.

Start by coating the Nutter Butters with melted white almond bark.  If you're not sure how to do that, click here to read how it's done.

Margaret's Morsels | No Bake Snowman Cookies

Put the cookies on a piece of wax paper.  While the coating is still wet, add two mini chocolate chips for the eyes,

Margaret's Morsels | No Bake Snowman Cookies

an orange Tic Tac for the nose

Margaret's Morsels | No Bake Snowman Cookies

and two mini M&M's for the buttons.

Margaret's Morsels | No Bake Snowman Cookies

For aesthetic reasons, I turn the pointed side of the chocolate chips down. I also turn the M&M's over so the "m" doesn't show.

Let the cookies dry completely.  If there's excess coating on the edges, you can break it off or, if it's stubborn, scrape it off with the dull side of a table knife.  Store the cookies in an airtight container.

You may be wondering why the scarves aren't on the cookies yet.  The first time I made these, I put the scarves on as soon as the cookies were dry. The next morning, I discovered half the scarves broke overnight.  Since then, I add the scarves when I'm ready to give away or serve the cookies.

The scarves are made from thin string licorice.  The only brand I could find, Twizzlers Peel and Pull, separates into thin strands.

Margaret's Morsels | No Bake Snowman Cookies

Tie a strand around each snowman, trimming any excess licorice with a pair of kitchen shears.

Margaret's Morsels | No Bake Snowman Cookies

If you prefer, you can use tubes of decorator icing to pipe on the eyes, noses, buttons and scarves.  Make sure to let the coating dry completely before you decorate the cookies.

The nice thing about snowman cookies is they're not limited to Christmas. You can make them all winter long.  I doubt many people would complain if you did!

© Margaret's Morsels

December 17, 2011

The Scent of Christmas

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Margaret's Morsels | Molasses Sugar Cookies

Nothing smells like Christmas more than the scent of a live Christmas tree. Unfortunately, we have an artificial tree so the only scent of Christmas at our house comes from the kitchen.  For me, the aroma of the spices in Molasses Sugar Cookies epitomizes Christmas.

One of my pet peeves is when I take molasses cookies to functions and people refer to them as "Gingersnaps."  Both cookies use molasses and ginger, but that is the extent of their similarity.  Gingersnaps are crisp cookies; molasses cookies are soft.  In addition to ginger, molasses cookies also use cinnamon and cloves.

Margaret's Morsels | Molasses Sugar Cookies
Molasses cookies are on the top row.
Gingersnaps are on the bottom row.

Molasses comes in light and dark varieties.  Light molasses is sweeter while dark molasses has more flavor and gives baked goods a darker color.   I prefer light molasses, but the two varieties can be interchanged so use whichever you prefer or have on hand.

If you don't use spices much during the year, it's a good idea to check them before you start baking.  If the spices have little or no aroma, throw them out.  If you can't smell them, you won't be able to taste them either.

The recipe is straightforward, but it does have a step not usually found in most cookie recipes.  The dry ingredients need to be sifted.  Sifting removes any lumps, helps blend ingredients and incorporates air which makes the ingredients lighter.

Over the years, friends have asked me how to tell if flour should be sifted before or after measuring.  If a recipe calls for 2 cups sifted flour, it means to sift the flour before it's measured.  If a recipe calls for 2 cups flour, sifted, it means to measure the flour before it's sifted.

Once the flour has been sifted and measured, I combine the remaining dry ingredients and sift them directly into the flour.  I use a fork or wire whisk to blend all the dry ingredients together.

Margaret's Morsels | Molasses Sugar Cookies

The dough is sticky so chill it in the refrigerator for an hour.  This makes it easier to handle and shape into balls.  Keep the dough refrigerated between batches.

Roll the balls in granulated sugar

Margaret's Morsels | Molasses Sugar Cookies

and place 2-inches apart -- they spread -- on a cookie sheet.

Margaret's Morsels | Molasses Sugar Cookies

When the cookies are done, leave them on the cookie sheet for about a minute and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

The cookies are great for a Christmas cookie swap because the recipe makes four dozen cookies.  I also have it on good authority that Santa Claus likes finding a plate of these cookies and a glass of milk on Christmas Eve.

Molasses Sugar Cookies
4 Dozen

3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
additional granulated sugar

Melt shortening and let cool.  Add sugar, molasses and egg; beat well.  Sift together flour, baking soda, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and salt; add to first mixture.  Mix well.  Chill dough in the refrigerator for an hour.  Form dough in 1-inch balls.  Roll balls in additional granulated sugar and place 2-inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake at 375° for 8 to 10 minutes.

© Margaret's Morsels

December 12, 2011

Cookie Recipe Roundup

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Tis the season for holiday baking, cookie swaps and giving gifts from the kitchen.  Today, I want to share my previous cookie blogs, in case anyone's looking for a tried and true cookie recipe.  Later this week I'll be posting a cookie recipe that makes the house smell like Christmas.

Margaret's Morsels | Quick and Easy Lemon Bars

Quick and Easy Lemon Bars:  My most viewed blog to date.  The recipe definitely lives up to its name.  The cookies start with a package of lemon supreme cake mix.

German Christmas Cookies:  My mother made these cookies every year at Christmas.  I've carried on the tradition and make the cookies for my family.  I'm not sure what makes them German; they're more of a teacake.

Margaret's Morsels | Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

Award Winning Peanut Butter Cookies:  This recipe only uses three ingredients and it's gluten free!  The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Covered Ritz Cracker Cookies

Chocolate Covered Ritz Crackers and Peanut Butter:  What's better with peanut butter than chocolate?  These cookies may be simple, but people absolutely love them.  They make great gifts for the holidays.

Margaret's Morsels | Mexican Sugar Cookies

Mexican Sugar Cookies:  If you like cinnamon, you'll love these delicate, melt in your mouth cookies.  They're similar to Snickerdoodles, but with a double dose of cinnamon.

Margaret's Morsels | Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies:  Another cookie with the wonderful combination of chocolate and peanut butter.  The cookies can be dropped onto wax paper with a spoon or cut into squares.

© Margaret's Morsels

December 5, 2011

Soup's On

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Margaret's Morsels | Vegetable Soup

According to the recently retired food pyramid, we should eat 3 to 5 servings of vegetables a day.  A bowl of vegetable soup is a tasty way to get your vegetables.

I've tried several recipes for vegetable soup, but my favorite is my mother's recipe.  It's easy to prepare and can be adjusted to use ingredients you have on hand.

Unlike recipes that rely on beef or chicken broth, the liquid in this recipe comes from a can of crushed tomatoes.  The only other liquid added is water.  An easy way to get all the tomato juice out of the can is fill the can with water and add the contents to the pot.  Make sure to add enough water to cover the ingredients.

The recipe uses two whole potatoes diced into cubes.  If you want to speed up the cooking process, substitute canned potatoes.  Canned potatoes have already been cooked so adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Margaret's Morsels | Vegetable Soup
Two potatoes diced into cubes.

My mother insisted the secret to her vegetable soup was using a lot of chopped onion.  I'm not a big fan of onion so I only use half an onion -- more if the onion is small -- and the soup has always been delicious.  The original recipe called for two or three chopped onions so, if you like onions, add more or, like me, use less.

Margaret's Morsels | Vegetable Soup

My mother always added okra to her soup.  My husband doesn't like okra so I leave it out.  He doesn't like lima beans either, but I still add them, reducing the amount called for in the recipe.

Margaret's Morsels | Vegetable Soup

My mother always added a can of drained whole kernel corn, but I prefer a bag of frozen corn.  I think frozen corn tastes fresher.  Instead of adding the frozen corn at the beginning of the cooking process, I add it the last 30 minutes of cooking.  I add the whole 12 ounce bag, but you can add less, or like the okra, leave it out entirely.

Other vegetables -- canned, fresh or frozen -- can be added to suit your taste.  If the vegetables have already been cooked, they only need to be reheated so add them towards the end of the cooking time.

My mother added basil and salt to her soup.  I add salt and, when I remember it, freshly ground pepper.  Canned vegetables have a lot of salt so you may not need to add any additional salt.  Make sure whatever seasonings you choose aren't overpowering and go well with the vegetables you're using.

For reasons unknown to me, my mother always added one tablespoon of shortening.  Shortening has no flavor so I know she didn't add it to improve the taste of the soup.  Fat, such as shortening, is important in baking because it makes the finished product tender.  I don't know if that theory applies to vegetables in the soup.  I've made the soup with and without the shortening and, for whatever reason, it's definitely better with the shortening.

Margaret's Morsels | Vegetable Soup

If you want a heartier soup or want to stretch the number of servings, add some cooked meat.  My mother sometimes added leftover pot roast.  A friend adds browned ground beef to her vegetable soup.  Macaroni is another good filler.  Add the uncooked macaroni the last 20 minutes and cook until done.

Whether you follow the recipe or tweak it to use ingredients you like or have on hand, vegetable soup is a good start on your 3 to 5 servings of vegetables a day.

Vegetable Soup
6 to 8 Servings

1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 potatoes, diced into cubes
diced onion to taste
okra to taste
1 (10 oz.) pkg. frozen baby lima beans
water (enough to cover the ingredients)
1 Tbsp. shortening
salt to taste
1 (12 oz.) pkg. frozen whole kernel corn
cooked meat (optional)
uncooked macaroni (optional)

Combine the first eight ingredients in a large pot.  Cook uncovered on medium heat for 1 hour 20 minutes.  Thirty minutes before the end of cooking time, add the frozen corn.  Add meat and macaroni, if desired, the last  20 minutes of cooking.  Cook until the meat is heated and the macaroni cooked.

© Margaret's Morsels