April 30, 2012

Cinco de Mayo: The Whole Enchilada

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Margaret's Morsels | Easy Beef Enchiladas

I love Mexican cuisine, but don't have time to cook it from scratch.  I can still make and enjoy Mexican food at home thanks to shortcuts that save time without skimping on flavor.

Last year for Cinco de Mayo, I shared a recipe for an entree that has the flavor of Mexican food, but not the authenticity.  This year, I wanted to share something more traditional -- enchiladas -- with a recipe that's ready in less than 45 minutes.

Enchiladas can be filled with a variety of fillings:  meat -- beef, chicken, pork, seafood -- cheese, beans, vegetables or any number of combinations. The recipe I'm posting uses ground beef plus a can of refried beans. Adding beans to the filling means I don't need to fix them as a side dish.  If you want, you can even add one cup of cooked rice to the filling.

The beef and onion are browned and drained before being combined with a package of taco seasoning mix, refried beans and, instead of shredded cheese, a can of Cheddar cheese soup.  Once the filling is thoroughly mixed, it's time to fill the tortillas.

Margaret's Morsels | Easy Beef Enchiladas
 The combined filling ingredients

The original recipe called for flour tortillas, but I substitute corn tortillas for two reasons.  One, I prefer the flavor of corn.  Two, enchiladas are typically made with corn tortillas so using them makes the recipe more authentic.

Corn tortillas need to be softened so they can be rolled without breaking. This is usually done by briefly frying them in oil for a few seconds or dipping them in enchilada sauce.  This recipe doesn't use either technique. Instead, the tortillas are heated in the microwave.

Place a stack of five tortillas between two damp paper towels and microwave on High for 45 seconds or until warm.  Repeat the process with the remaining tortillas until you've heated the amount needed.  Work with one tortilla at a time, keeping the remaining tortillas between the damp paper towels until ready to fill.

Margaret's Morsels | Easy Beef Enchiladas

Spread approximately 1/4 cup filling down the center of the tortilla.

Margaret's Morsels | Easy Beef Enchiladas

Roll up and place seam side down in a greased 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish.

Margaret's Morsels | Easy Beef Enchiladas

When the dish is full, pour a can of enchilada sauce over the tortillas, using just enough to cover.  I use mild sauce, but you can use hot enchilada sauce if you like your food spicier.

Margaret's Morsels | Easy Beef Enchiladas

Sprinkle finely shredded Colby Monterey Jack cheese over the sauce.

Margaret's Morsels | Easy Beef Enchiladas

Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes until heated through and the cheese is melted.

Margaret's Morsels | Easy Beef Enchiladas

I like to serve the enchiladas with Spanish rice, tortilla chips and queso dip.  If you don't use refried beans in the filling, you might want to serve them on the side.

Margaret's Morsels | Easy Beef Enchiladas

Check back later this week for something for dessert that's traditional, but with a twist.

Easy Beef Enchiladas
6 Servings

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 (1 oz.) pkg. taco seasoning mix
1 (16 oz.) can refried beans
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can condensed Cheddar cheese soup (undiluted)
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
1 (15 oz.) can enchilada sauce (may not need the whole can)
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups finely shredded Colby Monterey Jack cheese

Heat oven to 350°.  Cook the ground beef and onion in a skillet over medium-high heat until meat is browned and onion is tender, stirring often; drain.  Stir the taco seasoning mix, beans and soup into the skillet; mix thoroughly.

Warm tortillas by stacking five between two damp paper towels.  Heat in the microwave on High for 45 seconds or until warm.  Repeat with the remaining tortillas.  Keep tortillas wrapped in damp paper towels until ready to fill.

Spread approximately 1/4 cup filling in the center of each tortilla.  Roll the tortilla and place seam side down in a greased 3-quart baking dish.  When the baking dish is full, pour enchilada sauce over the tortillas and top with cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the enchiladas are hot and bubbling and the cheese is melted.

© Margaret's Morsels

April 24, 2012

National Pigs in a Blanket Day

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Margaret's Morsels | Little Corn Dogs

Today is National Pigs in a Blanket Day.  Here's my version of this well known party favorite that I posted in 2010.  Bon Appetit!  

© Margaret's Morsels

April 20, 2012

No Delivery Required

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Margaret's Morsels | Make it Your Way Pizza

In less time than it takes to have pizza delivered, you can enjoy hot fresh pizza from the oven and I'm not talking about the microwave!  You can make your own pizza and be ready to eat in less than 30 minutes.  Just like the kind that's delivered, this pizza can be made to order.

The crust can be made with a package of precooked pizza crust, a can of refrigerated pizza crust, English muffins or a large loaf of Italian or French bread.  The choice is yours.

Margaret's Morsels | Make it Your Way Pizza
I use a can of refrigerated pizza crust

You also have a choice when it comes to the sauce.  The recipe includes a homemade sauce, but you can substitute 1 1/2 cups pizza sauce instead.   I highly recommend making the sauce.  It's easy to prepare, only uses five ingredients and cooks in five minutes.  Remember to make additional sauce if you're making more than one pizza.

Margaret's Morsels | Make it Your Way Pizza
One batch of homemade sauce

Just like the pizza you order, you can choose which toppings you want on this pizza.  My husband and I like ground beef and mushrooms.  Our son likes cheese and sometimes pepperoni.  The choice of toppings is up to you, but make sure to precook any toppings -- especially meat -- that won't cook in the short baking time.

The assembly is different depending on what you use for the crust.  If you use a precooked crust, a can of pizza crust or English muffins, add the ingredients first and then bake the pizza.  If you're using French or Italian bread, split the loaf in half lengthwise and broil in the oven until it's lightly golden brown.  Add the remaining ingredients and bake until the pizza is heated through and the cheese is melted.

Instead of spreading the sauce on the crust, I mix it with the toppings, except for the cheese and pepperoni.  It's not as messy when eaten plus the flavors blend.

Margaret's Morsels | Make it Your Way Pizza
Cooked ground beef mixed with 
mushrooms and homemade sauce

Cover the pizza with cheese and, if desired, pepperoni.

Margaret's Morsels | Make it Your Way Pizza

Regardless of which crust you use, the baking time is the same:  10 to 13 minutes or until the crust is brown and the cheese is melted.

The next time pizza's on the menu, give this recipe a try.  It's quick, tasty and no delivery required.

Make it Your Way Pizza
4 Servings


1 (14 oz.) pkg. precooked pizza crust
1 (13.8 oz.) can refrigerated pizza crust
4 English muffins, split in half
1 large loaf French or Italian bread, split in half lengthwise and broiled until lightly golden brown


1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried basil leaves
1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves


1 cup cooked ground beef or pork sausage
cubed cooked ham or Canadian bacon
cubed cooked turkey or chicken
1 (8 oz.) can mushroom stems and pieces, drained
chopped onion and green pepper
1 (8 oz.) pkg. shredded Mozzarella cheese or any cheese that melts easily
pepperoni slices

Preheat oven to 450°.  Put desired crust on a pizza pan or baking sheet. Prepare sauce by combining all five ingredients in a small saucepan; simmer on low heat for 5 minutes.  Or, use 1 1/2 cups store bought pizza sauce.  Spread sauce on crust.  Add desired toppings.   Sprinkle with cheese and, if desired, top with pepperoni.  Bake 10 to 13 minutes until crust is brown and cheese is melted.

© Margaret's Morsels

April 16, 2012

2012 Easter Bunny Cake

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This is the cake I made for Easter.  I tinted coconut pink for the ears, instead of decorating them with pink jelly beans.  I like the way it turned out, but next year I'll use two drops of red food coloring instead of four. The tie, as usual, was decorated with frosting and jelly beans since my son doesn't like coconut.  Maybe next year I'll use licorice for the whiskers instead of jelly beans.

© Margaret's Morsels

April 11, 2012

Easter Ham Redux

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Margaret's Morsels | Ham and Potato Casserole

I heard a disc jockey describe the day after Easter as egg salad Monday. If you've got leftover Easter ham, today doesn't have to be ham sandwich Wednesday.

I always cook a ham for Easter and freeze what isn't eaten, keeping out just enough to make a broccoli ham ring.  This year, I'm using some of the leftover ham to make a ham and potato casserole.

Three family members shared this recipe with me, but each one had their own version.  Since the process and ingredients are similar to scalloped potatoes, I used that recipe as a guide to create my own version of this layered casserole.  One layer consists of three ingredients:  potatoes, ham and cheese.

Margaret's Morsels | Ham and Potato Casserole
The first layer

You can use any form of cooked ham including canned, thinly sliced deli ham or even packaged luncheon ham.  You can also make as little or as much as you want by increasing or decreasing the ingredients.  I use a 2-quart dish to make a three layer casserole.  A couple of family members use a large roasting pan and bake several layers.

All three recipes started out the same.  Grease a baking dish and alternate layers of thinly sliced potatoes, diced ham and shredded cheese, sprinkling each layer with a little salt and pepper.  When you've got all the layers you want, pour a mixture of eggs, milk and flour over the top.  This mixture binds the ingredients together.  It's also where the recipes differed.

Margaret's Morsels | Ham and Potato Casserole
The eggs, half and half, milk and flour

The recipes called for four, six and even 12 eggs!  Of course, the number you need depends on what size casserole you're making.  A good rule of thumb is to use one egg for each layer.  Since I had three layers, I used three eggs.

One recipe called for milk, another used half and half and the last used a combination of the two.  We only drink 1% milk so I knew half and half would be too rich.  However, half and half would make the casserole creamier than milk.  I ended up using equal parts milk and half and half.

The recipes differed again when it came to flour.  Two versions used it while the third did not.  I added two tablespoons of flour since it helps thicken the casserole. 

Margaret's Morsels | Ham and Potato Casserole
The egg mixture poured on three layers

The casserole took 1 hour 15 minutes to bake, but the total baking time depends on two things:  the number of layers and the thickness of the potatoes.  If the top gets too brown before the potatoes are done, cover the pan with foil.  If you're baking a lot of layers, cover the pan with foil, removing it the last 30 minutes to brown the top.

I bet the casserole would be delicious substituting cooked bacon for the ham.  The next time I make it, I'm going to perform the experiment.  In the meantime, I've got leftover ham I need to use and I don't want ham sandwiches.

Ham and Potato Casserole
4 to 6 Servings

3 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
ham, cooked and diced
1 (8 oz.) pkg. Cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup half and half
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

In a greased 2-quart casserole dish, alternate layers of potatoes, ham and cheese three times.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the cheese.  Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over the top.  Bake at 350° for 1 hour 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  If the top gets too brown, cover the pan with foil.

© Margaret's Morsels

April 6, 2012

Eggs to Dye For

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Margaret's Morsels | Gel Icing Color Easter Eggs

My son stopped hunting Easter eggs years ago, but I still dye a dozen every year.  It's a tradition just like the bunny shaped cake I make for dessert.  I've always used an egg dyeing kit, but not anymore.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw something on the Wilton website about using gel icing color to dye eggs.  I thought this was a great idea -- I could create the exact shades I wanted -- so I decided to give it a try.  I'm glad I did because these are the prettiest eggs I've ever dyed!

Gel icing color is a concentrated paste 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!

Margaret's Morsels | Gel Icing Color Easter Eggs
These are the colors I used

If you've never worked with gel icing color, the most important thing to remember is to use a toothpick to remove the gel from the jar.

Margaret's Morsels | Gel Icing Color Easter Eggs

If you need more color, use another toothpick and repeat the process. This keeps the gel from getting contaminated which is important when you're dipping the toothpick into frosting.  In this case, it keeps the gel from getting diluted with water.

Unlike kits that use lemon juice or vinegar to dissolve tablets, the gel is dissolved in very hot water.  If you're like me and don't have an instant hot water dispenser, turn the hot water on and let it run until the faucet feels hot to the touch.  Pour 3/4 cup water into a container -- I use clear plastic disposable cups -- and add the desired amount of gel.

Margaret's Morsels | Gel Icing Color Easter Eggs

Stir until the gel is dissolved.

Margaret's Morsels | Gel Icing Color Easter Eggs

Stir in one tablespoon of white vinegar and add the boiled egg.

Let the egg sit in the cup until it reaches the desired color.  Remove the egg and let dry.  I put the eggs back in the egg carton to dry and stored them in the refrigerator.

Margaret's Morsels | Gel Icing Color Easter Eggs

I definitely plan to dye eggs this way again next year.  In the meantime, I need to decide whether to use these for deviled eggs or egg salad sandwiches.

© Margaret's Morsels

April 4, 2012

Countdown to Easter: Part 3

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Margaret's Morsels | Easter Bunny Cake

When I posted my Easter menu, I didn't include a dessert.  For at least the last 12 years, I've made a bunny shaped cake like the one shown above. This year, I was going to make something different, but my plans changed.

A couple of days ago, my husband stopped at the grocery on his way home from work.  He noticed jelly beans were on sale and bought a bag. When he handed me the bag, he said he bought them for the bunny cake. This cake is such a family tradition, there's no way I could make a different dessert for Easter.

The cake is made with two 8-inch round cake pans.  To save time, I use a cake mix and store bought frosting.  Coconut is sprinkled on the frosting to mimic the bunny's fur.  Licorice, tinted coconut, jelly beans or any other small colorful candy is used to decorate the cake.  Click here to find the directions.

© Margaret's Morsels

April 2, 2012

Countdown to Easter: Part 2

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Margaret's Morsels | Asparagus Bundles

Spring announces its arrival in many ways:  trees start budding; flowers burst into colorful blooms; pollen appears on surfaces; people with allergies start sneezing.  I know spring has sprung when I see asparagus, the quintessential spring vegetable, in the grocery store.

Fresh asparagus is in season from March -- in time for Easter -- until June. When choosing asparagus, look for stems that are crisp with tight tips that are green or purple.  Asparagus is best used within a day or two of purchase.

Just like cranberries, I'm a late in life asparagus lover.  I never liked asparagus but, to prove a point to my son, tried it again when it came with an entree I ordered at a restaurant.  Much to my surprise, I loved it and have started looking for asparagus recipes to add to my recipe box.

The recipes I found using fresh asparagus were either grilled -- like I had in the restaurant -- or cooked with a sauce.  Since I liked the grilled asparagus, I decided to see how I liked asparagus cooked with a sauce.

A lot of the recipes I found called for wrapping bundles of asparagus with bacon.  This reminded me of the recipe I posted for green bean bundles. I decided to adapt that recipe using fresh asparagus.  In order for the recipe to work properly, I had to alter the proportions and technique.

Rinse the asparagus in cold water and pat dry.  Bend the bottom of one piece of asparagus until it breaks.  This break is the dividing point between the tender and tough portion of the stalk.

Margaret's Morsels | Asparagus Bundles

Use this stalk as a guide to trim all the remaining asparagus to the same length.

Margaret's Morsels | Asparagus Bundles

The asparagus cooks in half the time of the green beans.  Due to the shorter cooking time, the bacon might not be fully cooked when the asparagus is done.  To solve this potential problem, I cook the bacon strips in the microwave for three minutes.  This doesn't fully cook the bacon -- it's still pliable and easy to wrap around the asparagus -- but it gives it a head start.

Margaret's Morsels | Asparagus Bundles
Bacon that was cooked for three
minutes in the microwave.

I wrap the bacon around the spears in a spiral so it covers more surface area.  You can wrap the bacon closer together if you prefer.

Margaret's Morsels | Asparagus Bundles

I had to increase the rest of the ingredients to make enough sauce. Instead of sprinkling the ingredients on the asparagus, I combine everything in a saucepan and bring it to a boil.  That way, the sauce is heated through by the time the asparagus is done.

Margaret's Morsels | Asparagus Bundles

Pour the sauce over the asparagus bundles and bake 20 to 25 minutes, basting every 10 minutes.  Don't overcook the asparagus or it will be limp. The bundles are best served as soon as they're removed from the oven. The leftovers don't do good reheated so I only prepare as many as I need for each meal.

The point I made to my son that night was to try food you don't like because tastes change over time.  Asparagus will never be my favorite vegetable, but it's definitely one I'll eat again.  Now that I've found an asparagus recipe that uses sauce, I need to find a good recipe for grilled asparagus.

Asparagus Bundles
8 Servings

1 lb. fresh asparagus, rinsed and patted dry
bacon (one slice per bundle), partially cooked
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 tsp. garlic powder

Preheat oven to 400°.  Bend the bottom of one piece of asparagus until it breaks.  Use this as a guide to trim all the remaining asparagus to the same length.  Divide the asparagus into equal bundles.  Wrap one partially cooked bacon slice around each asparagus bundle.  Set the bundles into a greased baking dish.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the remaining ingredients, stirring until well blended.  Pour the mixture over the bundles. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, basting every 10 minutes, until done.

© Margaret's Morsels