January 31, 2014

Slow Simmered

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Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Spaghetti Sauce

Every January, I make it a point to share a crock-pot recipe in honor of National Slow Cooking Month.  With my husband's surgery earlier this month, January almost got away from me this year.

I like to vary the recipes I share and not post similar recipes close together. However, I'm going to break that unofficial rule today and share another recipe that uses ground beef.  It's quite different from the Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf recipe I posted earlier this week.

Homemade spaghetti sauce is one of my favorite cold weather recipes.  It only requires a little prep work, is quick to assemble and can easily be doubled.  It's also the best spaghetti sauce I've ever eaten!  Over the last 20 years, I've adapted the recipe to suit our tastes.  The easiest adaptation I made was to move the sauce from the stove top to the crock-pot.  If you're making one batch of sauce, you'll need a 3 1/2 to 4-quart crock-pot. If you double it like I do, you'll need a 6-quart crock-pot.

Although I don't brown roast beef or chicken before I cook them in a crock-pot, I always brown ground beef before using it in a crock-pot. Spaghetti sauce doesn't take as long to cook as roast beef or chicken, so I want to make certain the meat is fully cooked.  Browning the meat beforehand gives me that peace of mind.  It also gives me the opportunity to drain off the grease so it won't be in the finished sauce.  The easiest way to drain the grease is to set a colander inside a large bowl and pour the meat mixture into the colander.  I let the meat drain while I prep the other ingredients.

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Spaghetti Sauce

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Spaghetti Sauce
Grease from two pounds of extra lean ground chuck.

Once the grease is drained, the meat and onion are combined with the remaining ingredients.  Unlike many spaghetti sauce recipes, this one doesn't use crushed or diced tomatoes.  It uses tomato sauce and tomato paste instead.  It can be difficult to get all the tomato paste out of the can, so I want to share a trick my mother taught me when I first started cooking. Open one end of the can of tomato paste.  Leaving the lid in place, turn the can upside down and open the other end.  Remove this lid, turn the can upside down over your mixing bowl or pan and use the lid on the other end to push the tomato paste out of the can.

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Spaghetti Sauce

The sauce is seasoned with oregano, garlic powder and a package of Italian style spaghetti sauce mix.  Sometimes I can't find Italian style spaghetti sauce mix so I use a package of thick and zesty spaghetti sauce mix instead.

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Spaghetti Sauce

A little bit of sugar is added to the sauce to help cut down on the acidity of the tomato sauce and tomato paste.

The only other ingredients are the liquid and canned mushrooms.  To give the finished sauce more flavor, I drain and reserve the mushroom liquid, adding enough water to it to equal the amount called for in the recipe.

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Spaghetti Sauce
 Liquid from two (8 ounce) cans of mushrooms.

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Spaghetti Sauce
Mushroom liquid and water for a double 
batch of spaghetti sauce.

If you don't like mushrooms, you can leave them out and just add water to the sauce.

Once everything is thoroughly combined, cook the sauce three to four hours on high, or six hours on low until the sauce is heated through.  The last 30 minutes of cooking, I fix the pasta and garlic bread and assemble the salad.

I always double this sauce so I can freeze some to use later in the year. To do this, I refrigerate the sauce overnight so it's completely cold.  The next day, I ladle the sauce into a freezer safe, resealable plastic bag, making sure I date and label the contents.  The sauce expands as it freezes so don't fill the bag completely full; leave about an inch of headspace.  To save space in the freezer, I freeze the bag flat.  I have a chest freezer so it's not always easy to find a spot to lay the bag flat.  To solve this problem, I put the bag on a cookie sheet and put the cookie sheet in the freezer overnight.

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Spaghetti Sauce

The next day, the bag looks like this:

Margaret's Morsels | Crock-Pot Spaghetti Sauce

To use the frozen spaghetti sauce, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight.  It can be reheated on the stove top or, what I do, in the crock-pot.  Either way, you'll need to add some additional water to the sauce when it's reheated.

I've often wondered why January is National Slow Cooking Month.  I finally decided it must be because a lot of people only use their crock-pots in the summer when they don't want to heat up the kitchen.  National Slow Cooking Month is a great way to remind people to use their crock-pots in cold months too.   Even better, use this time saving appliance all year round!

Spaghetti Sauce
4 Servings

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (12 oz.) can tomato paste
1 (1.5 oz.) envelope Italian style spaghetti sauce mix
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. crushed oregano
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1 (8 oz.) can mushroom stems and pieces, liquid drained and reserved
reserved mushroom liquid and enough water to make 1 1/2 cups

Cook and stir the ground beef and onion in a large pan until the meat is brown and the onion is tender; drain.  Combine the meat and onion with the remaining ingredients.  Cook in a crock-pot for 3 to 4 hours on high, or 6 hours on low until the sauce is heated through.  Serve over hot spaghetti. Recipe can be doubled.  Leftover sauce can be frozen.

© Margaret's Morsels  

January 28, 2014

Marvelous Meat Loaf

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Margaret's Morsels | Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf

A couple of years ago, my brother, who was visiting from out of town, was sitting in the kitchen while I fixed supper.  He asked what I was cooking and I replied, "Meat loaf."  He was silent for a moment and then asked, "Are you using mom's recipe?"  I laughed and told him I wasn't.  From my peripheral vision, I detected a sigh of relief.  Our mother was a wonderful cook, but there were two dishes she made that left a lot to be desired. One was macaroni and cheese; the other, meat loaf.

After I got married, I tried numerous meat loaf recipes and, although more flavorful than what my mother used to make, none were good enough to earn a regular rotation on our dinner table.

Ten years ago, after I got home from having surgery, a friend brought us a delicious dinner that included meat loaf.  It was the best meat loaf I'd ever eaten!  She shared the recipe with me and I've been making it ever since. I still remember how nourishing that meat loaf was to both body and soul so, when my husband had surgery last week and asked me to make meat loaf for him post op, how could I refuse?

Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf uses a lot of the same ingredients as my mother's recipe.  So why was my friend's meat loaf better?  Like most food, personal preference plays a role, but it also comes down to what is and isn't in the meat loaf.  Let's look at the anatomy of a meat loaf.
  • Meat:  The main ingredient is ground meat.  The meat can be beef, pork, turkey, lamb or a combination of meats.

Margaret's Morsels | Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf

  • Vegetables:  Chopped onion, green pepper, celery, carrots, mushrooms or canned diced tomatoes are common additions. They add flavor and, depending on the size, texture.

Margaret's Morsels | Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf

  • Liquid:  Liquid is needed to keep the meat loaf moist.  Water, milk, beef broth, catsup, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce or Worcestershire sauce are often used.

Margaret's Morsels | Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf

  • Binding:  These are the ingredients that keep the meat loaf from falling apart.  Eggs are traditionally used in combination with bread crumbs, oats, crushed crackers or uncooked packaged stuffing mix.

Margaret's Morsels | Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf

  • Seasonings:  You can season meat loaf with herbs and spices you like, but make sure whatever you use goes well with the rest of the ingredients.

Margaret's Morsels | Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf

These five elements are true of every meat loaf recipe I've ever tried. However, some recipes call for additional elements.
  • Filling:  Cheese or other ingredients are often placed in the middle of the meat loaf.  Half the meat mixture goes in the baking pan, the filling is added and then topped with the rest of the meat mixture.
  • Topping:  Toppings can range from as simple as a jar of brown gravy or a squirt of catsup, to bacon strips draped across the loaf, to a combination of ingredients that can be added at the beginning or towards the end of the cooking time.
No matter what ingredients you put in meat loaf, the best way to mix it up is with your hands.  It's messy, but it's the best way to tell when all the ingredients are combined.  This is important because you don't want to overmix the ingredients.  Overmixing produces a tough meat loaf.

Margaret's Morsels | Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf

Once the ingredients are combined, they can be baked in a square pan, loaf pan (regular or miniature), muffin tins or shaped by hand into an oval shape and baked in whatever size pan you have.  Depending on the size pan you use, you may need to increase or decrease the baking time.  I like to bake meat loaf in a 9-inch square pan.  When I serve it to company, though, I like to use a meat loaf pan.

Margaret's Morsels | Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf

A meat loaf pan is nothing more than a loaf pan with a removable rack.   The rack serves two purposes.  One, it allows the fat to drain from the meat while cooking.  Two, the handles on the rack make it easy to lift the meat loaf from the pan and transfer it to a serving platter. 

Margaret's Morsels | Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf

My friend's recipe doesn't use a filling, but it does use a delicious topping that is added the last 10 minutes of cooking.  The topping is made with tomato sauce, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, granulated sugar and Dijon mustard, but it can be customized to suit your taste.  If you want it sweeter, use more sugar; spicier, use more Dijon mustard.  Through trial and error, I found that we prefer the topping with less vinegar and granulated sugar than called for in the original recipe.

Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf is an easy recipe to make on a busy day, but also fancy enough to serve to company.  It's a nice comfort food to take someone who's had a baby, lost a loved one or, like my husband, is recuperating from surgery.

Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf
6 Servings

1 1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 cup oats (uncooked)
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper


1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar (I use 1 Tbsp.)
1/2 cup sugar (I use 1/4 cup)
2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Combine meat loaf ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix well and put in a greased baking pan.  Bake at 350° for 50 minutes.  Combine topping ingredients in a small saucepan; bring to a boil.  Pour over meat loaf and bake an additional 10 minutes.

© Margaret's Morsels

January 10, 2014

Vanishing Velveeta

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Margaret's Morsels | Broccoli Rice Casserole

According to news reports, Velveeta -- the processed cheese known for its creaminess when melted -- is in short supply.  I only use Velveeta in queso dip so I'm not too worried yet.  Other people, though, use Velveeta regularly in a variety of dishes from appetizers to entrees, sides and, believe it or not, even dessert.  If you rely on Velveeta for broccoli rice casserole, here's a recipe that will make you forget all about the shortage.  

I don't remember when or where I first discovered broccoli rice casserole. My mother never made it so I probably tried it at a church potluck or a friend's house.  My mother-in-law used to make it and gave me a copy of her recipe.  I tried making it like she did with Cheez Whiz, but my husband thought it was too cheesy.  The next time I used her recipe, I substituted grated Cheddar cheese, but it still wasn't as good as the casserole I fondly remembered from my youth.  I tried several other recipes unsuccessfully and resigned myself to the fact that I'd probably only enjoy this casserole when I could find it on the menu at a restaurant.  

A couple of years ago, an acquaintance shared her broccoli rice casserole recipe with me.  It was similar in some ways to the recipes I'd tried in the past, but at the same time different enough that it piqued my interest.

The recipe starts like most broccoli rice casseroles by sauteing chopped onion in margarine.  However, the broccoli, instead of being cooked separately in a pot of water, is sauteed with the onion.  I think the texture and flavor of the broccoli is better when it's sauteed rather than boiled.

Margaret's Morsels | Broccoli Rice Casserole

Evaporated milk and soup are stirred into the sauteed mixture.  Instead of the traditional cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup, this recipe uses a can of broccoli cheese soup.  This adds additional broccoli -- even if it is tiny -- and, more importantly, cheese.  However, it's not the only source of cheese in the recipe.  The casserole gets it cheesiness not from Velveeta, Cheez Whiz or grated cheese, but from a can of Cheddar cheese soup! 

Margaret's Morsels | Broccoli Rice Casserole

Cooked long grain rice -- no Minute rice in this recipe -- is mixed in before the dish goes into the oven.

Margaret's Morsels | Broccoli Rice Casserole

I've written more than once that I'm a creature of habit, especially when it comes to ordering food in a restaurant.  When I find something I like at a restaurant, I tend to order it every single time I eat there.  One of my favorite restaurants has broccoli rice casserole on the menu.  I always order it with cooked cabbage, lima beans, sweet potato casserole and a corn muffin. This is how I serve the casserole at home for a meatless meal, except I omit the cabbage since I'm the only one that likes it. 

Margaret's Morsels | Broccoli Rice Casserole

Hopefully, the vanishing Velveeta will be back on store shelves soon.  I certainly hope it will be plentiful when Cinco de Mayo rolls around so I can make queso dip.  To be on the safe side, though, I'm going to pick up a box the next time I'm at the grocery.  After all, I can't make queso dip without Velveeta!

Broccoli Rice Casserole
6 to 8 Servings

1/2 cup chopped onion
1 (10 oz.) pkg. frozen chopped broccoli
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 (5 oz.) can evaporated milk
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can broccoli cheese soup (undiluted)
1 (10 3/4 oz.) can Cheddar cheese soup (undiluted)
1 cup long grain rice, cooked according to pkg. directions

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute onion and broccoli in butter or margarine 3 to 5 minutes.  Remove skillet from the heat and stir in milk and soups until smooth.  Stir in rice.  Pour into a greased 2-quart baking dish. Bake uncovered at 350° for 45 minutes, or until heated through and bubbly.

© Margaret's Morsels