Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Slow Cooker Tortellini and Sausage Soup

For some reason, I haven't had my slow cooker out for awhile. I have been so sick lately, even the thought of getting dinner ready in the crock pot has seemed overwhelming. This recipe came to me in a Google group called Just Crockpot. It's not an overly active group, but once a week, I get a few new recipes delivered to my inbox. There are no pictures, but some of them sound so good I just have to try them.

This was one of them.
And it is soooooo easy. The only chopping you have to do is the sausage. Everything else is frozen or from a can. For no other reason than the simplicity, I highly recommend it. Especially this time of year when you start to feel stressed for no apparent reason.
Add to your slow cooker one can of Italian chopped tomatoes, one can of condensed French onion soup, half a package of frozen green beans and one pound sliced turkey sausage. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. (Note: I halved this recipe from the original.)

Fifteen minutes before supper, add in half a package of frozen cheese tortelli and one cup of coleslaw mix. Switch the setting to high. I actually left mine on low and cooked for about 45 minutes more.
Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

This was incredible. Definitely the best supper I have tried in quite awhile. In the words of Mantis..."I wish my mouth was bigger." Go watch Kung Fu Panda. Really, it's a good movie. And this was the soup that inspired that line.

Click here for Printable Recipe

Crock Pot Tortellini and Sausage Soup
1 can (14-1/2 oz) Italian style stewed tomatoes

1 1/2 cups water
1 cup loose pack frozen cut green beans or Italian style green beans
1 can (10-1/2 oz.) condensed French onion soup, undiluted
8 oz. fully cooked smoked turkey sausage, halved lengthwise and cut
into 1/2" slices

1 cup packaged shredded cabbage with carrot (coleslaw mix)
1/2 pkg. (9 oz.) refrigerated cheese filled tortellini
Shaved or shredded Parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a 4 or 5 quart crock pot/slow cooker combine undrained tomatoes, water, frozen green beans, onion soup, and turkey sausage. Cover; cook on LOW heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on HIGH heat setting for 4 to 5 hours. 

If using LOW heat setting, turn crock pot/low cooker to HIGH heat setting. Stir cabbage and tortellini into soup. Cover; cook for 15 minutes more.

Garnish soup with shavings or shredded Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ham and Beans

I haven't been cooking. Actually, I haven't been doing much of anything thanks to a major invasion on my sinus cavity. Jeff has been working nights and he isn't home for supper, so my kids have pretty much been fending for themselves. But I did manage to put together soup for the other night.

I never used to like ham and beans. And to be honest, I have never had much in the way of really good version of the soup. But, my mother sent me home from her house with an enormous ham bone. So what else was I going to make??

This recipe called for carrots. I've never seen them added to ham and beans soup, but I had them and my kids love them, so in to the slow cooker they went. About a cup that have been sliced.
Add in a half a chopped up onion.
  Add in a bag of dry northern beans. This was actually the for this particular recipe. You don't have to soak the beans overnight. Just pour straight out of the package.
Place your ham bone on top of the beans.
Add two cups of water, some salt and pepper, cover and cook on low for about 7 hours.
Remove the ham bone and put it on a plate to cool a little bit.
When you can handle it without injury, remove the meat from the bone and put it back into the cooker.
Heat it all through and serve.
This was really good. Even the kids enjoyed it. I'm thinking that cooking it in the crock pot allowed the ham to flavor everything else. And the carrots were a really neat addition that I will put back in from now on. Try this, even if you think you don't care for ham and beans, this just might be the version to change your mind.

Click here for Printable Recipe

Slow Cooked Ham and Beans
1/2 C Sliced Carrots
1/2 Chopped Onion
1 Bag Dry Great Northern Beans
1 Hame Bone
2 C Water
Add all ingredients to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Remove ham bone and peal the meat off. Add meat back into soup. Serve.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Old Fashioned Rice Pudding

I was on a roll. This is the same night that I made Ham and Beans for supper. I distinctly remember detesting Ham and Beans as a child (more on that later) and I really don't care for rice. But I can remember the few times I ever saw my Grandpa eat rice. I think there were only two (we are a meat and potatoes family). He drowned his rice in milk and sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar. I was fascinated, but couldn't bring myself to try it.

So what possessed me to try it now, I am not sure. I found this recipe (ironically, as you will see) from an old Quick Cooking magazine. For some reason, it just kept calling me. So, in the spirit of Try It Tuesday, I forged ahead.

Take 3 1/2 cups of milk, 1/2 cup of uncooked long grain rice and 1/3 cup of sugar and mix them all together in a medium sized saucepan.
Cook over low heat until it all comes to a boil. Stir this constantly and don't heat this too quickly or you will end up with burnt milk. And to be honest, there are few things that are worse than that.
Pour the heated mixture into a greased baking pan. Cover and cook at 325 for 15 minutes.
Take it out, uncover and stir the mixture. If you look closely, you can see some rice on the spoon.
Recover and cook for 15 minutes. Take it out and stir again.
Recover (again) and cook for another 15 minutes. At this point, I am beginning to see why this is called "old-fashioned". It is called old-fashioned because it is "not convenient". But, it is starting to actually look something like a pudding.
So let's cover it back up and cook it for another 15 minutes.
Now we are getting somewhere. Add in 1/2 cup raisins and a teaspoon of vanilla. I also didn't check the recipe and added a teaspoon of cinnamon. The recipe says to sprinkle the cinnamon on at the end. Oh well. Stir all this in, cover one more time and cook for the last 15 minutes.
And magically, not instantly, but magically, this is what you end up with.
This went over really well. The Girl had two bowls. I think there were too many raisins. I don't like raisins that well (again, why I even made this is beyond me), so I just ate around them.
This is actually something I will make again. It takes awhile and is not something you just pop in and forget about, so probably not on a week night. I also would add in diced apples instead of the raisins, maybe on the second stir.

I encourage you to try this, even if your first reaction is "yuck" (a surprising number of reactions are!) Because if I like it (me, who doesn't like rice or raisins), chances are good that you will.

Click here for Printable Recipe

Old Fashioned Rice Pudding
3-1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup uncooked long grain rice
1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt, optional

1/2 cup raisins

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ground cinnamon, optional

In a large saucepan, combine the milk, rice, sugar and salt
. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pour into a greased 1-1/2-qt. baking dish. Cover and bake at 325° for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Add raisins and vanilla; cover and bake for 15 minutes longer or until rice is tender. Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired. Serve warm or chilled. Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 6 servings.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Wonder Pets Cake

So my now 3 year old was asked a few weeks ago what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday. He thought for a minute and said, "Hmmm...maybe a Wonder Pets take."

Wonder Pets cake. I actually was thinking something along the lines of, you know, chocolate. But, he wanted a Wonder Pets cake. So off to Google we go. There are some incredible cakes out there, many of which are much too involved for my skill level. But the Nickelodeon site had a template for the Flyboat. This is only fair since it is their fault that my child knows about the Wonder Pets in the first place. In truth, the cake didn't look all that difficult to make, so I figured it couldn't turn out THAT bad.

Since you are on a decorating quest, use a cake mix. Because, truly, do we need another challenge??

Use a bit of the cake mix to grease and flour your round pan. This is a brilliant cover up when your husband points out that you have just poured the mix into the baking pan instead of the mixing bowl. What can I say? I just drove 3 hours from Kansas City to make a Wonder Pets cake.
While the cake is baking, get started on the wheels. A small package contains six chocolate donuts. Put these onto a cooling rack that is sitting over waxed paper. Do not forget the waxed paper. We are just starting to make the mess here.
Tint 1/2 cup of white frosting (you guessed it, Duncan Hines) so it is a violent blue color. We are now going to microwave this for about 10 seconds. Just long enough to make it pourable.
Spoon the frosting over the donut so it is covered down the sides. The bottom doesn't matter since we are going to stick this on the side of the cake.
Did you know that a small package of M&Ms has THREE yellow ones? Good thing I bought two packages. Put one of those rare yellow M&Ms M-side down in the middle of the donut.
Repeat with the other donuts. If you are good at this kind of thing, you can probably get away with only making four wheels. I am not, so I am making all six into wheels. Notice the poor wheel on the left. That is what happens if your frosting isn't warmed enough to make it pourable.
This is the template the Nick site has for the Flyboat's sail. In the hands of a less ambitious (insane??) person, this would be fine to cut out and put on the cake. For some reason, this was not good enough for me at the time. Don't let it be good enough for you either, because this was probably the easiest part of the whole deal.
So cover it in waxed paper.
Get out three (2-1/2) squares of almond bark. I found The Boy with an entire slab of this underneath the kitchen table. He seemed to think he was eating cheese. Just trim that part off and melt the rest. Microwave for about 30 seconds and stir. Microwave again and stir.
You can kind of tell it's getting late here, because I didn't think a flat sail was good enough. Put all the M&Ms back in the package and put it under the template. This sail is going to blow in the wind.
Spread the melted almond bark in a semi-even layer over the shape of the sail. I did this the night before. I highly recommend that so it has time to harden. At this point, I realized that I colored outside of the lines and can no longer see the shape of the sail.
Noooo problem. Once it hardens, just take a pair of scissors and cut it out. Patience is key here. Don't try to make big swipes with your cuts. Little ones keep it from breaking, especially if your sail is blowing in the wind. If it does break, just melt some more almond bark and glue it back together. Can't even see where this one broke, can you??
Find The Boy's Wonder Pets toys. and give them a bath. I have plan to put them into the Flyboat.Now that your cake has cooled, level off the top if it needs it. We want it really flat.
Like so. This step will also tide over any hungry people hanging around asking if the cake is done yet.
Now cut the cake in half.
Tint the rest of the frosting purple. Purple is a really difficult color to make right when it comes to frosting.Frost one half of the cake.
Sandwich the two halves together. The flat edge is going to be the top of our cake, so we want it to be even and flat. I would like to point out here that this is how the edges lined up for me. There was no trimming involved. I am pretty proud of that...
We want the cake to stand on the round part, so trim a tiny bit of cake off the bottom.
Just enough so it doesn't roll one way or another.Then stand the cake up.
This is where I start to get nervous. The cake immediately started to crack in the middle.
So I put it back down on its side to frost it.
This didn't work as well as I thought it might, but probably not any worse than the other way would have been.
Remove about 1/2 cup frosting from a second can of frosting and tint the remainder red. It's pretty tough to get a true red in frosting, so a dark pink will have to do.

I am going to let you in on a little cake decorating secret. It is nearly impossible to smoothly frost the cut side of a cake. I ended up putting on a pretty thin layer and sticking it in the refrigerator for about half an hour.
That's better. Now it is relatively smooth. For the life of me, I could not get the wrinkles out. There is a really cool blog called Cake Wrecks that highlights horrible cake decorating decisions. On Sundays, incredibly beautiful cakes are featured. All with frosting that does not have wrinkles in it. After spending 20 minutes trying to make a smooth side to the Flyboat, all I have to say...Wow.
Use the little bit of untinted frosting to "glue" the wheels onto the side of the Flyboat.Add on the pretty buttons to the side. Besides, at this point, there is no such thing as too much sugar.
Of course, the Wonder Pets have an emblem on the sail of the Flyboat. In my decision to forgo the paper sail, I inadvertently forwent the emblem. Not to be deterred, I searched my kitchen for something, anything, about the same size round. A curly straw works perfect. Look around, there is SOMETHING in your house that will work. So trace that with purple decorating gel.
Not bad as far as my circles go.
I was pleasantly surprised at how the "W" turned out.
Of course, now we have a very thin edged sail on our flyboat. I had a chocolate covered pretzel stick that worked perfectly as a mast.
Just as I feared, this is not a stable configuration. Notice the crack at the base of the sail.
I tried putting the spare tires under the edges, but nothing, I mean NOTHING, was stopping this cake from falling apart. So I frantically searched my kitchen for any bowl that would hold it together. Amazingly, I had a clear one the perfect size...

But doggone it anyway. I was really upset about the whole thing, until...
...The Boy walked in.
"It's perfect, Mom."

So it was totally worth it.

For more complete instructions and the template, go to this page on the Nickelodeon website.