December 24, 2012

Pressed for Time

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Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies

For the first time in almost 20 years, I won't be making German Christmas Cookies this year.  My mother made these delectable, melt in your mouth cookies flavored with nutmeg and frosted in icing tinted red, green and yellow every year at Christmas.  They were a holiday tradition just like her cheeseball and Kool-Aid Punch.  Although they epitomize Christmas to me, they have to be rolled, cut out and frosted, something I don't have time to do this year.  I'll still make cookies -- they'll even be shaped like trees and wreaths -- but the designs will come not from a cookie cutter but from a cookie press.

I remember the first time I ever saw a cookie press.  I was a teenager visiting my next door neighbor.  She was using a cookie press to make spritz cookies.  I remember thinking how much faster it was to use a cookie press to shape cookies rather than rolling them out and cutting them with cookie cutters.  It made an indelible impression on me and, when I was living on my own in my first apartment, I bought my very own cookie press. Although a cookie press makes things faster, you don't have to use one to make the recipe I'm sharing today.

Cookie presses come in two sizes:  regular and bite size.  I have one of each, but prefer the bite size cookie press.  I like serving miniature desserts, especially at the holidays when there's a wide variety of food -- including desserts -- available.

A cookie press consists of two parts:  a hollow tube and templates with various designs.

Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies


The tube is filled with cookie dough

Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies

and the template is screwed on the bottom of the tube.


Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies

The cookie dough is pressed through the template by pressing a trigger mechanism on the cookie press.  As the trigger is pressed, a plunger pushes the dough through the template.  Changing the template is as easy as unscrewing the template and screwing on a different one.  I don't recommend using a cookie press with nonstick cookie sheets.  Nonstick pans keep things from sticking which also includes the cookie dough from the cookie press!

The cinnamon cookie recipe is fairly straightforward.  The butter -- I use unsalted -- and sugar are creamed until light and fluffy.

Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies

Add the egg yolks and vanilla

Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies

and beat well.

Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies

Stir the dry ingredients together and add to the creamed mixture in three additions.

Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies

Fill the cookie press with dough and make the desired shapes directly on the cookie sheet.  You'll need to press the mechanism a couple of times before the dough starts coming out of the template.

Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies

Brush the cookies with the reserved egg whites; this helps the cinnamon sugar mixture adhere to the cookies.

Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies

Sprinkle the tops with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes and immediately remove them to a cooling rack.

Margaret's Morsels  | Cinnamon Cookies

You'll need to wash the cookie sheet between batches to remove the egg white residue and leftover cinnamon sugar.

If you don't have a cookie press, make the cookies as directed, but refrigerate the dough until it's firm enough to roll into balls.  Omit the egg whites and roll the cookies in the cinnamon sugar mixture like you would for Snickerdoodles.  Proceed as directed.  You may need to increase the baking time for regular size cookies.

These cookies will never replace the Christmas cookies from my childhood, but they're a nice alternative this year since I'm pressed for time.


Cinnamon Cookies
150 Bite Size

1 cup butter (no substitutes), softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg yolks and vanilla; beat well.  Stir the flour, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and salt together; add to creamed mixture in three additions.  Place cookie dough in cookie press; make desired shapes on ungreased cookie sheet.  Brush cookies with the reserved egg whites.  Combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon; sprinkle over cookies.  Bake at 400° for 8 to 10 minutes.

© Margaret's Morsels

December 20, 2012

Beating the Holiday Hustle

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Margaret's Morsels | Goulash

Life gets busier in December.  In addition to everyday activities -- working, taking care of families, driving carpools, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, attending sporting events, meetings, school functions and church activities -- tis also the season for cookie swaps,

Margaret's Morsels | Goulash

decorating,

Margaret's Morsels | Goulash

sending Christmas cards,

Margaret's Morsels | Goulash

wrapping packages, 

Margaret's Morsels | Goulash


Margaret's Morsels | Ritz Cracker Cookies

When busy days get even busier, you don't have to eat out or rely on frozen food or take out for a fast meal.  The recipe I'm sharing today is ready in less than an hour.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a recipe for goulash.  When I heard the name, I immediately thought of the traditional Hungarian dish which is a kind of soup or stew.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this goulash, unlike its namesake, is actually a casserole.  Although the preparation is different, both recipes share some similarities.
  • Meat:  Both versions use beef, but the casserole uses ground beef instead of stew meat. 

Margaret's Morsels | Goulash

  • Vegetables:  The soup or stew usually has potatoes, onions and tomatoes, although some versions use a larger variety of vegetables.  The casserole uses onion, canned pork and beans and, in place of tomatoes, a can of tomato soup.  Make sure you use pork and beans and not baked beans which are flavored with additional spices.

Margaret's Morsels | Goulash

  • Pasta:  Some versions call for traditional goulash to be cooked with pasta while other versions serve the dish over cooked pasta.  The casserole uses macaroni which is combined with the other ingredients before baking.

Margaret's Morsels | Goulash

  • Spices:  The soup or stew is seasoned with paprika -- a bright orange-red spice made from ground up sweet peppers -- which can range from mild to hot.  The casserole gets some heat from a couple of tablespoons of chili powder.

Margaret's Morsels | Goulash

Although there are similarities between the dishes, there's also one noticeable difference:  cheese.  The top of the casserole is covered with shredded Cheddar cheese before it's baked.

Margaret's Morsels | Goulash

The casserole is baked in the oven for 30 minutes.  I add a salad and garlic bread for an easy meal on a busy day.  Not only is this quick to prepare during the holiday hustle, it's also a warming meal on a cold winter night.

Margaret's Morsels | Goulash

Goulash
6 to 8 Servings

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. chili powder, divided
1 cup elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
1 (15.75 oz.) can pork and beans
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can tomato soup (undiluted)
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Brown the ground beef, onion and 1 tablespoon chili powder; drain. Combine the ground beef mixture with the macaroni, pork and beans, soup and remaining 1 tablespoon chili powder.  Put in a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch pan.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

© Margaret's Morsels

December 11, 2012

Candy Cane Reminder

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Margaret's Morsels | Candy Cane Lollipops

Just a friendly reminder that if you want to make these white chocolate and peppermint lollipops in February, be sure to stock up on mini candy canes while they're available.

Margaret's Morsels | Candy Cane Lollipops




© Margaret's Morsels

November 21, 2012

One Pie, Two Flavors

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Margaret's Morsels | Pecan Streusel Pumpkin Pie

When I cook for a lot of people on Thanksgiving, I make pecan and pumpkin pies.  This year, I'm only cooking for a few people so instead of making two pies, I'm making one that combines the flavor of pecan and pumpkin. 


Margaret's Morsels | Pecan Streusel Pumpkin Pie

The recipe uses a frozen deep-dish pie crust.  If you don't want people to know you didn't make the crust, remove it from the foil pan and put it in your own pie plate.


Margaret's Morsels | Pecan Streusel Pumpkin Pie

I let the crust soften at room temperature for a few minutes before loosening the pan around the top of the crust.  If it doesn't separate from the crust easily, don't force it; you don't want to break the crust.  Let the crust soften a few more minutes and try again.

The recipe starts with a can of pumpkin pie mix which isn't the same thing as canned pumpkin.  Canned pumpkin is pureed pumpkin whereas pumpkin pie mix contains sugar and spices that are used to make a pumpkin pie.  The pie mix is combined with eggs and a can of evaporated milk.


Margaret's Morsels | Pecan Streusel Pumpkin Pie

I put the pie plate on a baking sheet before adding the filling.  That way, it's not as likely to spill when I move it in and out of the oven.  


Margaret's Morsels | Pecan Streusel Pumpkin Pie

While the pie is baking, combine the topping ingredients.  The original recipe had a praline topping made with pecans, brown sugar and butter. Over the years, I experimented with the topping and came up with a streusel topping we like better.  I still use pecans and brown sugar, but I add a little flour and use shortening instead of butter.


Margaret's Morsels | Pecan Streusel Pumpkin Pie

Halfway through the baking time, sprinkle the topping onto the pie.  The sister-in-law that gave me the recipe only sprinkled the topping in the center of the pie so the pumpkin would show.  I like to sprinkle it all over the top, letting a little bit of the pumpkin show.


Margaret's Morsels | Pecan Streusel Pumpkin Pie

Return the pie to the oven to finish baking.  When it's done, remove it to a wire rack to cool before storing it in the refrigerator.

If you're not sure what kind of pie you want to make for Thanksgiving, I'll share what my 14 year old son wrote when I was working on this post and left my laptop unattended.  "You should make apple because it is better than pecan or pumpkin!!!!!!!!!!  However, though, peanut butter pie with a chocolate covering is quite delectable."  If you agree with him, clicking on the words in bold type will take you to those recipes.  Otherwise, here's the recipe for something a little more traditional.

Pecan Streusel Pumpkin Pie
8 Servings

1 (9-inch) frozen deep-dish pie crust (unbaked)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 (30 oz.) can pumpkin pie mix
1 (5 oz.) can evaporated milk

Topping:

1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsp. shortening
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

Combine the topping ingredients; set aside.  Combine eggs and pumpkin pie mix in a large bowl.  Add evaporated milk; mix thoroughly.  Pour into pie crust.  Bake at 425° for 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350° and bake 15 minutes.  Sprinkle topping over pie filling and bake an additional 30 to 35 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.  Keep refrigerated.


© Margaret's Morsels




November 17, 2012

Afternoon Appetizer

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Margaret's Morsels | Cranberry Delight Spread


My mother always served the Thanksgiving meal in the early afternoon. Some years, I serve the meal in the afternoon -- depending on who's coming and whether or not they're going to their in-laws later that day -- but I prefer serving it in the evening.  I like having more time to cook the food plus the ambiance that comes from having candles lit while we eat.

The years I serve an evening meal, I offer an array of appetizers for guests to nibble on during the afternoon while the turkey, dressing and all the trimmings are cooking.  Cranberry Delight Spread is one of my favorite seasonal appetizers.  Like the previous cranberry recipes I've shared, it's also a combination of cranberries and oranges, but this time in the form of dried cranberries and a fresh orange.

Cream cheese is combined with concentrated orange juice, cinnamon, sugar, chopped pecans, dried cranberries and orange zest.  Zest, the outermost layer of the rind, contains aromatic oils which are very flavorful.


Margaret's Morsels | Cranberry Delight Spread


The easiest way to remove the zest is with a microplane zester.


Margaret's Morsels | Cranberry Delight Spread
The microplane zester is the one on the right.

Don't scrape the orange too deeply; you don't want to remove the white part -- known as the pith -- because it's bitter.  The zest adds a lot of flavor so if you're using a large orange, start by adding part of the zest; you might not need all of it.  Taste the mixture to see if you need to add more zest. This is especially important if you're doubling or tripling the recipe.   

Dried cranberries can be tricky to cut because they're sticky.  A quick and easy way to cut them is with a pair of kitchen shears.  If the cranberries stick to the shears, spray the shears with a little bit of nonstick cooking spray.  The cranberries will slide right off.


Margaret's Morsels | Cranberry Delight Spread


I mix up the spread a couple of days ahead of time so the flavors have time to blend.  When I'm ready to serve it, I put the spread in a bowl on a platter surrounded by vanilla wafers and gingersnaps.  The friend that gave me the recipe serves it with Triscuits to balance sweet and salty.

After our Thanksgiving meal is over and the leftovers are put up, we play -- what one of my nephews calls a family tradition -- several friendly, but competitive rounds of Taboo.  As the evening progresses, the leftover afternoon appetizers are brought out for people to munch on while trying to figure out how to describe cranberry without using the words red, bog, juice, Thanksgiving or Ocean Spray!


Cranberry Delight Spread

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. concentrated orange juice (undiluted), thawed
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. sugar
zest of 1 orange
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup finely chopped dried cranberries

In an electric mixer bowl, combine the cream cheese, orange juice, cinnamon and sugar.  Beat on medium speed until smooth.  Fold in the orange zest, pecans and cranberries.  Refrigerate.

© Margaret's Morsels

November 7, 2012

Thanksgiving Traditions

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When it comes to cooking, I'm a creature of habit.  When I find culinary combinations that work well, I tend to stick with them.  For instance, I always serve Marinated Baked Chicken with Mushroom Rice Casserole


Margaret's Morsels | Marinated Baked Chicken


and Baked Ziti with salad and garlic bread.


Margaret's Morsels | Baked Ziti


This habit comes in handy at Thanksgiving, especially when the fourth Thursday in November falls early like it does this year.  My Thanksgiving menu will be reminiscent of years past which, in reality, is almost identical to what my mother served every year at Thanksgiving.

There will be slices of roast turkey on a colorful turkey serving platter and a big bowl of Cornbread Dressing.  To save time, I bake the frozen biscuits and packaged cornbread mix the day before.  The recipe makes a lot -- 8 to 12 servings -- so if there's any left, you can freeze it and use it later.


Margaret's Morsels | Cornbread Dressing


A lot of people serve mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, but my mother always served Potato Salad and so do I.  In fact, it's the only Thanksgiving recipe I use that came from my mother.  This tasty side dish can be made one or two days ahead of time.  You can substitute a 24 ounce package of Ore-Ida Steam 'n Mash cut Russet potatoes and avoid peeling, dicing and cooking the potatoes.


Margaret's Morsels | Potato Salad


If you prefer sweet potatoes, I've got two recipes to share.  Sweet Potato Souffle, a fancy name for sweet potato casserole, can be made with three pounds of sweet potatoes or a package of Ore-Ida Steam 'n Mash cut sweet potatoes.  It can be made a day or two ahead of time and reheated in the oven or microwave.  If you leave it in the dish you baked it in, no one will even know it was made ahead of time.


Margaret's Morsels | Sweet Potato Souffle


Quick and Easy Candied Sweet Potatoes are a nice alternative to the traditional casserole.  You don't have to peel potatoes because this recipe uses canned sweet potatoes.  Unlike the sweet potato souffle that can be made ahead of time, this is best made right before serving.  It only takes a few minutes and is cooked on the stove top, which is helpful when the oven is already being used.


Margaret's Morsels | Quick and Easy Candied Sweet Potatoes


If you're a cranberry lover like me, I've got three tasty recipes that share some of the same ingredients, but with completely different textures.  The first one, Cranberry Orange Relish, is a sweet-tart combination made with fresh cranberries, apple, orange, pineapple and sugar.  It can be made up to two weeks ahead of time and stored in the freezer.


Margaret's Morsels | Cranberry Orange Relish


Southern Cranberry Salad is a congealed salad that combines whole berry cranberry sauce, mandarin oranges and pineapple with cherry gelatin. It can be made a couple of days ahead of time.


Margaret's Morsels | Southern Cranberry Salad


Cranberry Orange Casserole also uses whole berry cranberry sauce and mandarin oranges, but not pineapple.  The sauce and oranges are combined with lemon juice and sugar and baked in the oven.  Unlike the other two cranberry recipes that can be made ahead of time and served cold, this one is best served hot from the oven.  The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.


Margaret's Morsels | Cranberry Orange Casserole


My mother made homemade rolls from scratch, but I use a bread machine to make One Hour Buttermilk Rolls, which means they take longer than an hour to make.  If you don't have a bread machine, the recipe includes directions for making the rolls by hand.  The rolls can be made a month ahead of time, stored in the freezer and reheated in the oven or microwave.


Margaret's Morsels | One Hour Buttermilk Rolls


To quench everyone's thirst, I serve Fruit Tea.  This sweet tea is combined with pineapple juice, lemon juice and, the secret ingredient, ginger ale.  It's best made the day it's served.


Margaret's Morsels | Fruit Tea


I'll be posting some new Thanksgiving recipes next week, including a dessert that combines two traditional Thanksgiving flavors.


© Margaret's Morsels
                                                     

October 25, 2012

Repurposed Recipes for Halloween

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Margaret's Morsels | Halloween

You don't need special ingredients to make Halloween party food.  Give everyday food a Halloween makeover by repurposing the recipe.  Most of the recipes I'm sharing today can be made ahead of time.  This makes things a lot less hectic the day of the party, because most of the work has already been done.

When I wrote about Sausage Balls, I described this simple three ingredient recipe as a "no brainer."  This term is definitely appropriate because on Halloween this appetizer turns into brains.  The brains can be baked up to five days ahead of time and reheated in the microwave or oven.  If you reheat them in the oven, you may need to cover the pan with foil to keep the tops from getting too brown.  If you want to make them look more disgusting, slightly squish the warm brains with your fingers.


Margaret's Morsels | Halloween Brain Sausage Balls

Baked Mozzarella Cheese Sticks turn into fingers with the addition of sliced almonds for fingernails.  Unfortunately, you can't add lines for the knuckles because the cheese will ooze out when it's baked.  The cheese sticks need to be assembled and refrigerated at least four to six hours ahead of time.  If you're short on time, they can be assembled and refrigerated the night before.  Unlike the other recipes, fingers are best served hot from the oven.


Margaret's Morsels | Halloween Baked Mozzarella Cheese Fingers

While the fingers are baking, whip up a batch of fake blood dipping sauce with this homemade pizza sauce recipe.  This easy to prepare sauce only uses five ingredients and cooks in five minutes.  One batch is enough for 18 fingers.

For years, I've used Nutter Butter cookies to make ghost cookies for Halloween.  This year, I decided to turn these store bought cookies into monster toes.  I used a package of spooky green candy melts instead of the usual white.  Monster toes aren't pretty so you don't have to worry if the toes aren't covered perfectly with the candy melts.


Margaret's Morsels | Halloween Monster Toes

The toenails are made with small pieces of black licorice.  The pieces are too thick to use out of the package so I cut them in half.


Margaret's Morsels | Halloween Monster Toes

If you want to add an extra ick factor, put a chocolate chip on the toe to mimic a wart.  Normally, when I decorate with chocolate chips, I turn them upside down so the point doesn't show.  To make the wart more disgusting, I put the chocolate chip with the point right side up.  The cookies can be made a few days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container.


Margaret's Morsels | Halloween Monster Toes

A festive touch for Halloween is to coat drinking glasses with fake blood made from a mixture of corn syrup and food coloring.


Margaret's Morsels | Halloween Fake Blood Rimmed Drinking Glasses

Instead of liquid food coloring, I use gel icing -- a concentrated paste -- which is sold in small jars in a variety of colors.  It produces richer, more vibrant colors and, because it's concentrated, a little dab will do!  The most important thing to remember when using gel icing is to use a clean toothpick or knife every time you remove some icing from the jar.  This keeps the contents from getting contaminated with frosting or, in this case, diluted with water.  Once the rim is coated, stand the glass upright on a paper towel or piece of wax paper, letting the excess drip down the glass. It takes at least eight hours for the glasses to dry.  To ensure they dry in time, I coat the glasses a day ahead of time.

With the glasses decorated, you need something to put in them.  I turn my mother's Christmas Kool-Aid Punch into Ghoul-Aid Punch, by substituting two packages of orange Kool-Aid for the cherry and lemonade called for in the recipe.


Margaret's Morsels | Halloween Ghoul-Aid Punch

The punch can be made a few days ahead of time, but don't add the 7-Up until it's served.  To make the punch more festive, I add some orange gel icing.  


Margaret's Morsels | Halloween Ghoul-Aid Punch
The punch on the left doesn't 
have orange gel icing.

To keep with the holiday theme, I make ice cubes using silicone Halloween ice cube trays.  


Margaret's Morsels | Halloween Shaped Ice Cubes

I don't use water to make the ice cubes; water will dilute the punch as the ice cubes melt.  If you make the punch ahead of time, you can use some of it for ice cubes.  You can do the same thing with pineapple juice, since it's also an ingredient in the punch.  A 6 ounce can of pineapple juice was just enough to make one tray of ice cubes.


Margaret's Morsels | Halloween Shaped Ice Cubes

If you don't want to fool with ice cubes, an easy way to keep the punch cold is to add orange or pineapple sherbet to the punch bowl.

The repurposed foods mentioned today don't make a well rounded meal. For more ideas, check out the Halloween blog I posted in 2010.  I posted two Halloween blogs last year and they can be viewed here and here.  For the recipes mentioned today, click on the bold words to go to the appropriate page.  Whatever you serve, may your Halloween food be ghoulishly delicious!


© Margaret's Morsels