March 21, 2016

Hop Into Easter

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Margaret's Morsels | Marshmallow Peeps Easter Cake

A few years ago, a cousin emailed me pictures of a cake she'd made for Easter.  The cake was so cute, I knew I wanted to make it for Easter, but I didn't know when.  My family was disappointed the year before when I replaced our traditional bunny cake with a carrot cake.  I knew I couldn't replace the bunny cake two years in a row, so I filed the idea away until one Easter when we were having enough company I needed two desserts.

The cake isn't a recipe, but a method.  Start by making a two layer cake, either from scratch or a mix.  Fill and frost the layers with white icing such as buttercream or cream cheese.

Margaret's Morsels | Marshmallow Peeps Easter Cake

I think the cake would also look pretty with pastel pink or yellow icing. Although chocolate icing would be tasty, I don't think the decorations would stand out as well as they do on a lighter color icing.

When the cake is frosted, decorate the sides with marshmallow peep bunnies.  The year I made the cake, the hardest part was finding all the different colored bunnies!  I found pink and blue at Kroger, purple at CVS and green at Rite Aid.  The bunnies aren't quite tall enough to cover both layers.

Margaret's Morsels | Marshmallow Peeps Easter Cake

You can decorate the sides with just the bunnies, or add some pastel color M&M's above or below the bunnies.  I found it easier and faster to put the candy above the bunnies.

Margaret's Morsels | Marshmallow Peeps Easter Cake

The top is decorated with more pastel M&M's.  My cousin piled the candy all over the top, but I used it sparingly.  I also like to turn the candies over so the "m" doesn't show.

Margaret's Morsels | Marshmallow Peeps Easter Cake

This cake is easy to make, quick to assemble and a festive ending to an Easter meal.  Easter is less than a week away, but there's still time to find the bunnies before they hop out of the store.

© Margaret's Morsels

March 7, 2016

Pasta Pleaser

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Margaret's Morsels | Baked Spaghetti

The transition from winter to spring is never easy for me.  Although days are getting warmer, nights are still chilly.  This makes it challenging for me to know -- not only what to wear each day -- what to cook each night.  The weather's not cold enough for soup, chili or stew, but not warm enough for chicken salad, congealed salad or a chilled soup.  Baked Spaghetti is the perfect compromise for those nights when Mother Nature can't decide if it's winter or spring.  Baked Spaghetti isn't as hearty as my traditional spaghetti, yet it offers warmth on a chilly night via a delectable blend of spices.  Most of my recipes have a story behind them and this one is no exception.

Years ago, we belonged to a church that held a luncheon on the first Sunday of each month.  Members would bring a dish or two to share and the congregation would eat together in the fellowship hall after the church service ended.  The selection varied from month to month, but there were some dishes you could always except to see on the table:  a two layer mandarin orange cake piled high with frosting; a big bowl of banana pudding topped with meringue; a pan of piping hot, perfectly seasoned, baked spaghetti.

After enjoying baked spaghetti on more than one occasion, I found out who made the dish and asked if she would share the recipe.  She graciously did but, like many good cooks, she didn't measure the ingredients.  She gave me a list of what she put in the dish with approximate measurements and the method she used to put it together.  I eagerly bought the ingredients and made the dish a few days later.

Margaret's Morsels | Baked Spaghetti

My first attempt was good, but not as good as what she made.  Over the next few months, I tried unsuccessfully to duplicate the recipe.  My version was either too runny, too dry, too spicy or not spicy enough!  The recipe was too good to throw away, so I filed it complete with notes and revisions in a recipe box with plans to cook it again at a later date.

A couple of years later, a coworker gave me a recipe for a spaghetti casserole.  As I read the recipe, I noticed how similar it was to the recipe for baked spaghetti, except it used additional ingredients and was only seasoned with salt and pepper.  I was able to combine the two recipes, using the measurements from the spaghetti casserole with the assembly instructions from the baked spaghetti.  Figuring out the right proportion of spices was trial and error, but I finally came up with a combination that pleased everyone in my family.  If my version is too mild for your taste, you can add more chili powder and cayenne pepper; too spicy, decrease those two ingredients.

Although the spaghetti is baked, the prep work takes more time than the dish is actually in the oven.  To save time, I chop the vegetables and measure the spices ahead of time.  When I'm ready to cook, I put a pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti while I brown and drain the meat and vegetables.  Once the spaghetti is cooked and drained, I combine the ingredients in the same pot used to cook the spaghetti and let it simmer 10 minutes.  If you want, you can add a drained 8 ounce can of mushrooms to the mixture.

Margaret's Morsels | Baked Spaghetti

The mixture goes in a greased 3-quart pan and into the oven for 20 minutes. To make a cheesy version, add a cup of grated cheese on top before you put the pan in the oven.

Whether you like a little bit or a lot of heat, add the cheese or leave it plain, baked spaghetti is a quick and easy pasta dish sure to please on a cold night.

Baked Spaghetti
6 Servings

1 (7 oz.) pkg. thin spaghetti, cooked and drained
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (8 oz.) can mushroom stems and pieces, drained (optional)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. chili powder or to taste
1 tsp. rosemary, crushed
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
3 tsp. sugar
1 c. shredded cheese (optional)

Cook spaghetti according to directions on the package; drain.  While spaghetti is cooking, saute ground beef, onion and bell pepper in a skillet until meat is no longer pink and onion and green pepper are tender; drain. Combine all ingredients, except cheese, in a large pot and simmer 10 minutes.  Pour into a greased 3-quart casserole dish; sprinkle cheese on top.  Bake at 400° for 20 minutes. 

© Margaret's Morsels