Slow Cooker Sunday: Mushroom Spinach Tortellini

This is one of my favorite type of slow cooker recipes… set it and forget it. I actually made it overnight and then woke up in the morning and finished it. Granted, the one downfall of making something in a slow cooker overnight is that you are awoken by the smell of something delicious cooking. The downfall isn’t the deliciousness, but, the interrupted sleep of course. Especially on the weekend when you are trying to get the few extra minutes you can’t afford to get during the week because of work, school, life, etc.

To start, cook mushrooms and onions in a greased slow cooker insert (I sprayed mine with cooking spray) along with butter, vegetable broth and spices for about 7 to 8 hours, until the veggies are tender. Next, stir in refrigerated tortellini and cubed cream cheese and cook, covered, for an additional 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Stir in the spinach and let it stand (covered) for an additional 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes, stir in parmesan cheese and fresh parsley and enjoy!

If you plan on reheating this, add some vegetable broth to it prior to doing so. Doing so will give you a creamier sauce. The first time I heated it up I didn’t and while it was delicious, it didn’t have the same creaminess it did when it was done cooking initially. So, the second time I added a little broth and that did the trick.

Slow Cooker Mushroom-Spinach Tortellini

Ingredients:

8 oz. Mushrooms (I used baby bella)

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 1/2  teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoons onion powder

3/4 teaspoons garlic powder

3/4 teaspoons dried parsley

1/4 teaspoon black powder

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 cups vegetable broth

20 oz. package refrigerated tortellini (I used Buitoni three-cheese)

8 oz. package cream cheese cubed, at room temperature

6 oz. bag of baby spinach

1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

 

*Original recipe called for 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of Garlic & Herb Seasoning (Mrs. Dash)

 

Directions:

Spray the insert of a slow cooker with cooking spray. Add the mushrooms, onion, spices, butter and vegetable broth. Give everything a good stir and cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours, or until the vegetables are tender.

Stir in the tortellini and cream cheese and continue to cook on low, covered, for an additional 30 minutes. Stirring once halfway through.

Stir in the spinach and let stand for an additional 5 minutes, covered. Sprinkle with the cheese and parsley then serve.

Recipe slightly modified from Tiny Kitchen Capers

Slow Cooker Sunday: Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes

I’ve posted a fair amount of chili recipes and today I am bringing you one more… A Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes. This chili is loaded with kidney beans, black beans and chunks of sweet potato. And if you are not keen on spicy chili then this is the chili for you.

While I normally do most of my slow cooking on Sunday’s I ended up making this chili in my slow cooker overnight Saturday to Sunday since I had plans to go apple picking on this particular Sunday. I like to be home when my slow cooker is on, I know it’s completely safe and all, but, I just don’t like leaving it unattended. Also, if there happens to be a power outage I can always switch the dish to cook in the oven or on the stove as opposed to my entire meal being ruined because it didn’t cook properly, especially with a meat dish. I once read that if you do leave your slow cooker unattended and there happens to be a power outage and you’re cooking meat the best bet is to toss the food since you can never be sure of bacteria growing. And yes, I know it’s not any safer to have it on while I am sleeping, we can all recall how Jack died on “This Is Us” (even though the slow cooker wasn’t on but had a switch malfunction), in the back of my mind it’s safer thanks to my smoke detector and my keen nose. Speaking of my keen nose, the delicious aromas of this chili woke me prior to the 7-hour cooking mark and I couldn’t go back to sleep, so, I decided to check on it and happily discovered that the sweet potatoes were fork tender so I was able to turn it off and go back to sleep. If it had been on any longer the sweet potatoes would have turned to mush, but, as you can see from the picture below the sweet potato was intact.

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients:

1 medium red onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 14.5 ounce cans of diced fire roasted peppers

1 15.5 ounce can of black beans, rinsed

1 15.5 ounce can of red kidney beans, rinsed

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Options for serving: sour cream, sliced scallions, shredded cheddar cheese, tortilla chips

Directions:

In the insert of your slow cooker combine the onion, pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, cocoa, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Add the tomatoes (and their juices), beans, sweet potato and 1 cup of water.

Cover and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender and the chili has thickened, 7-8 hours on low and 4 to 5 hours on high.

Serve with your favorite toppings or eat on its own.

Recipe from Real Simple

 

 

 

 

 

A New Year…

The holidays are officially over! Yes, I believe in the 12 days of Christmas and that the holidays officially end on January 6th. Too bad I can’t gifts like the song though, not necessarily 5 golden rings, but maybe 5 skeins of yarn and 4 pairs of shoes as opposed to the calling birds. You catch my drift. All in all though my holidays were good. Filled with good times with friends and family and delicious food and treats. I am planning on getting my house back to “normal” this week. I unplugged my Christmas lights this morning, I never want to be the house with the lights on after the fact, and will start taking down decorations today. Not like it’s a lot, but, I don’t want to just rip it all down and throw it back in the box. I like to take my time.

How has the New Year been treating you thus far? A week in and I have no complaints. Although one could complain but it doesn’t mean anything will change overnight. I am not one to make resolutions. If you want to make a change then make it. I read an article recently that said we sometimes make these grand resolutions without truly giving thought as to how to accomplish them. You can’t simply say I am going to lose weight this year. There has to be something behind it. For example, I will walk/jog/run x amount of days per week, or I will watch my intake of certain foods, and so forth. I think making small life changes like that can have a bigger impact on one that some broad goal. I do apologize if that is your resolution and I just burst your bubble. By no means was that my intention. And while I don’t make specific resolutions I think what I am trying to keep in mind this year is Einstein’s definition of insanity… Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I know I want certain things to happen and other things to change but hoping they will happen without doing anything differently isn’t going to get my anywhere near those goals. I hope you will all get something out of that one. It’s definitely an important life lesson that can drive us to take chances and push us out of our comfort zones, which I have found always leads to a rewarding experience. There’s nothing like finding out you are a lot stronger physically, mentally and emotionally than what you think.

One thing I need to stop doing this year is being a procraftinator. Yes, you read that correctly, a procraftinator. I have numerous projects lying around that need to be finished. Just how bad am I? Well, I have a shrug that I finished knitting 3 years ago that I still haven’t stitched together. Don’t ask me why, I can’t really give you an answer on that one. Maybe it’s because finishing my yarn projects is my least favorite activity. But, I am sure once I start and finish I will be so happy I did. I also have a scarf I started over the summer (or maybe it was sooner) that I put down and just never picked up again. This seems to a recurrent problem of mine… LOL! I just put something else on my knitting needles that I am determined to finish, especially since it’s a small project, a coffee cozy. A friend gave me a cup for Christmas that needs one if I plan on drinking hot tea from it. I began to think that just maybe I could make them and sell them on my Etsy shop. Yes, I still have my Etsy shop (CraftedByFran). I haven’t mentioned it, but, it’s still there. I have actually found it a bit frustrating because getting sales is such a challenge, well, getting traffic to my shop is the main challenge. I have updated my keywords and still nothing. Not really sure how some people have it so easy. If any of you can offer some tips and tricks I am all ears!

And just maybe this year I will work on creating my own baking recipes. Cooking is a lot easier and forgiving, but, baking not so much. I have dabbled with it and have had success but I definitely need to delve more into it. I always have recipe ideas swirling around in my head, but I just need to build the confidence to come up with the ingredient list on my own and not depend on Google so much. I have baked enough that I should be able to do so. Who knows, maybe one day I will write my own cookbook. It would definitely be a mish mosh of different things… LOL! Did I just throw something out into the universe? Oh wait, I didn’t explain that one. Some people believe that in order for things to come to fruition you need to say them to the universe. I guess the universe needs to hear you in order to answer you.

Hopefully I will be blogging more often and including more posts like these. A little rambling, a little insight, a little more about me. I’ve been doing this for about 7 years now so I figured it’s about time. So, I welcome 2019 and whatever it has to offer and teach me.

 

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

Are you all set for Christmas? Are your gifts wrapped? Cards in the mail? Cookies baked? Or, are you looking for just one more treat to make? If so, you should try these Chocolate Truffle Cookies.  They are chocolaty without being overly sweet thanks to the addition of unsweetened chocolate, which helps to offset the sweetness of the semi-sweet chocolate and sugar.

One thing you will definitely need to make these cookies is time. Once the batter is made it needs to be refrigerated for at least 3 hours so it can become firm enough to handle, but, it’s worth the time. The final result is a cookie similar to a truffle, firm on the outside and soft on the inside.

These cookies were part of a box of treats I mailed to a friend. Included in the box were the Chocolate Covered Pretzels and Candied Nuts I posted about earlier this week. Also included were Peanut Butter Blossoms. All wonderful homemade treats to gift to anyone on your list and can easily be made this last weekend before Christmas.

 

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

Ingredients:

12oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1/3 cup unsalted butter, cubed

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup flour

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)

 

Directions:

In a microwave, melt 1 cup of the chocolate chips, unsweetened chocolate and butter; stir until smooth and let cool for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl beat the sugar and eggs on medium speed until well blended. Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture and vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Gradually beat this into the chocolate mixture. Once fully incorporated stir in the remaining chocolate chips.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a cookie scoop, scoop the dough (it will be quite firm) and then roll into a ball and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies have puffed and are set. Cool on the pan for 3 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if using.

Recipe from Taste of Home

Freezing Cookie Dough

I knew I would be pressed for time this year when it came to baking cookies for Christmas, so, I decided to do something I’ve never done before and was always skeptical of doing… freezing cookie dough. I normally have a good day or two to bake, but, the way things are falling this year I am only going to have one good full day to bake all of my cookies and I just knew that it wouldn’t be enough time due to the fact that I have a few other things to take care of that day as well. So, currently there are about 6 or 7 different batches of drop cookies in my freezer along with the dough for these Checkerboard Cookies . And, there is also a batch of Gingerbread People ready to be popped in the oven. I also went out and purchased some extra-large baking sheets. I am sure you have seen them, the Wilton Mega-Sized Baking Sheet. As you can tell, I am serious about baking these cookies in record time.

So, let’s talk about freezing cookie dough. Were or are some of you skeptical like me about it? Or, is it something you have been doing for years and are shocked to read my apprehension about it? The best cookies to freeze are drop cookies and slice and bake cookies. You can also freeze the dough for roll out cookies (sugar cookies, gingerbread people, etc.), but, I would suggest rolling out the dough and cutting it into your desired shapes first and then freezing it. That’s exactly what I did with the Gingerbread ones. Using a freezer-safe container, I lined it with two pieces of plastic wrap lengthwise and widthwise leaving a few inches of overhang. I layered the cookies in the containers making sure they were flat and placed a piece of parchment paper between each layer and on the top layer. Once filled, I wrapped the plastic wrap over the top layer making sure to press out any air. Topped the container with the cover and placed it in the freezer. You could freeze the entire disk of dough as well, but, I personally think that the time spent waiting for it to defrost would be better spent just making the dough to use immediately. My plan for these is to let them thaw a little and then press mini M&M’s into them before baking and then ultimately decorating them with royal icing.

 

Back to the drop cookies and slice and bake variety…. For the drop cookies I simply made the dough, rolled the dough into balls (scooping it with a cookie scoop) and then placed it on a baking sheet. Since the dough was going in the freezer and not in the oven I was able to place the dough really close together on the baking sheet. I just made sure none of them were touching which could ultimately lead to them freezing together. I then placed the sheet in the freezer for a few hours until the dough was thoroughly frozen. Once frozen, I transferred the dough to a freezer-safe plastic zip bag. I labeled the outside of the bag with the type of cookie it was. Since I wasn’t planning on leaving it in the freezer too long I opted not to include the date, oven temperature and baking time on the bag as well. The suggested length of time for leaving dough in the freezer is 3 months. I actually baked a batch of one of the cookies this weekend and I am happy to say it was a success. To bake them, I placed the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet 1 to 2 inches apart and increase the suggested baking time by 1 to 2 minutes to account for the dough being frozen. The cookies baked perfectly and tasted like I had just made the dough that morning. That’s really what my fear was (and still is to a certain extent), that the cookies will somehow have a weird flavor from the dough being frozen.

 

For the slice and bake cookies, you can follow your directions and form the dough into a log, wrap it in a few layers of plastic wrap, place it in a freezer-safe bag that has been labeled and then freeze it. It’s not necessary to refrigerate the dough prior to freezing as most slice and bake cookies require prior to slicing. To bake these cookies, let the dough sit at room temperature unwrapped for 10 to 15 minutes. The dough should feel cold to the touch, but soft enough that you will be able to slice it. Slice and bake per the directions, once again adding an additional minute or two to the time.

Since my test batch was a success I am little less unnerved by the process. Fingers crossed I will still be singing high praises come Sunday when I bake quite a few more batches.

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Rods

Sweet & Salty is as good a combination as you can get and there’s no better way to get satisfy that craving for both than with chocolate covered pretzels. If you’re looking for a last minute treat to give your loved ones this Holiday season these may be the answer. You only need three ingredients to make them, pretzels, chocolate and a topping (if you choose). Now, when I’ve made chocolate covered pretzels in the past I’ve used the mini pretzel twists and while they taste good I always have an issue with getting the excess chocolate to drip off… It never does. I never end up with pretzels that are nice and evenly coated with chocolate, there is always one or two spots that has a little too much. As I mentioned, they taste good, but, I am just not 100% happy with how they look. This year, I decided I would make chocolate dipped pretzels rods rolled in sprinkles. Figuring that the sprinkles could easily cover any imperfections with the chocolate. Which it did!

Now, I know a lot of directions for chocolate covered pretzels call for a bit of shortening to be added to the chocolate when melting, I have never done this. From what I have read the shortening creates a smoother and more manageable consistency of chocolate – which I suppose would be ideal for the chocolate covered pretzel twists – but, I have also read that it can alter the flavor of the chocolate and that sometimes the chocolate doesn’t harden as well, so I stick with plain old chocolate. If I find that the chocolate is beginning to thicken too much while I am working with it I pop it back in the microwave for a quick 10 seconds just to get it smooth again. Not much longer because I don’t want to scorch the chocolate. Oh, and I melt my chocolate in the microwave as well. I have melted chocolate in my own make-shift double boiler – I place a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water – but, I find the microwave quicker and with less clean-up. I simply pour a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl (I normally use a silicone one) and heat it for 1 minute. I give it a good stir and continue melting the chocolate in 30 second intervals, stirring the chocolate between each zap in the microwave. I don’t melt the chocolate completely in the microwave. Once it begins to melt stirring it will help melt the rest of the chocolate into a smooth mixture. For dipping pretzel rods you want to use a small bowl that is pretty deep so you can get a lot of the pretzel rods coated in the chocolate. As you go along and find yourself with less and less chocolate but pretzel rods remaining you can use a spoon/knife to spread the chocolate on to the rod.

Once the chocolate is ready I pour my sprinkles onto a rimmed baking sheet and push them to the center of the pan. Using a baking sheet will make it easy to roll the pretzel rods in the sprinkles. I set up another baking sheet with wax paper to place the rods on once they are dipped and sprinkled. And then I simply dipped a rod into the chocolate and then rolled it in the sprinkles. I then placed it on the wax lined paper so it could set and once I was done I placed the entire pan in the refrigerator to be sure that the chocolate would harden.

Here are some tips that may help you get a good coating of chocolate on your pretzels… If you have too much chocolate and it’s just not dripping off use a butter knife to smooth it out, or, another pretzel rod. I did the latter a few times. I simply rolled the pretzels next to each other over the bowl to coat the one without the chocolate. For those rods that I wasn’t planning on rolling in sprinkles I actually rolled it on a sheet of wax paper to smooth the chocolate out and then placed them in the refrigerator so the chocolate could harden and then drizzled them with the red and green chocolate the following day. To do so, I melted candy melts and then poured it in squeeze bottles and drizzled the chocolate over the pretzels and once again placed the sheet back in the refrigerator so the drizzle could harden.

My apologies for not having step-by-step pictures, but, I made these late at night (a lot later than I had planned since my car decided to act up that day and I had to be towed from work to the mechanic and then have a friend bring me home… thankfully my car was fixed and back on the road the following day!) and I have learned that late-night pictures are not good for blogging!

So, to recap, all you need for these Chocolate Covered Pretzels is a bag of pretzel rods (I used a 12oz bag that had about 30 good (unbroken) pretzel rods), a 12oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, and to decorate sprinkles, candy melts, chopped nuts or coconut. You will also need wax paper, at least 3 baking sheets and a bowl to melt and dip the chocolate.

Happy Dipping & Rolling!

Slow Cooker Sunday: Spiced (Candied) Mixed Nuts

Today’s slow cooker Sunday recipe is something perfect for this time of year… Spiced Mixed Nuts. If you are thinking they are spicy nuts sorry to disappoint you, but, these are more sweet over anything else, think candied nuts. Although, if you would like yours to have a little kick, add a teaspoon (or two) of cayenne pepper to the sugar mixture to get them sweet & spicy.

The original recipe called for a cup each of almonds, pecans, walnuts and cashews, which, in all honesty can get a bit pricey to purchase separately. So, what I ended up doing was purchasing a bag of roasted and unsalted mixed nuts from my local Trader Joe’s. It had approximately 4 cups of nuts which was just perfect and only cost $8. Included in this mix are almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and pecans.

While you could simply bake these in the oven, cooking them in a slow cooker really gives the spices time to develop and flavor the nuts. In one bowl I whisked together an egg white with vanilla extract until it was well blended. I added in the nuts and stirred them until they were coated. In another bowl I whisked together sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg & cloves and salt.

I then added the nut mixture to the sugar mixture and gave it a few good stirs to coat the nuts.

I sprayed the insert of my slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray and then transferred the nuts into it. I also added in the extra sugar mixture that didn’t stick to the nuts. I covered it and set it to cook on high for 90 minutes, stirring the mixture every 15 minutes. Truthfully, my slow cooker isn’t one of those nifty digital ones that you can set the time, so, I set it for the least amount of time on high, 4 hours.

After the 90 minutes, I stirred in 2 tablespoons of water and covered it once again and cooked it for an additional 20 minutes on low. This will allow any of the sugar mixture that hasn’t adhered to the nuts stick. During those first 90 minutes there were a few times I thought that the sugar wasn’t going to stick but, it all came together during these final 20 minutes.

During the final 20 minutes I covered a rim baking sheet with wax paper, and once the 20 minutes were up I transferred the nuts to the baking sheet and let the nuts cool completely. I then transferred them to an airtight container. These were destined for a dear friend in another state, but, before boxing them up I had a few friends taste test them and they immediately put in their requests for a batch for Christmas!

These would make a nice a gift or a nice treat to have at home for yourself or for when guests arrive.

 

Slow Cooker Spiced Nuts

Ingredients:

1 large egg white

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup almonds*

1 cup pecan halves*

1 cup shelled walnuts*

1 cup unsalted cashews*

1 cup sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons water

 

*Use any nut combination you choose. Or purchase a mixed bag as I did

**If you want sweet & spicy nuts add in a teaspoon or two of cayenne pepper to the sugar mixture

 

Directions:

In a large bowl whisk together the egg white and vanilla extract. Add the nuts and toss to coat.

In another large bowl whisk together the sugars, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg cloves and salt. Add in the nut mixture and toss to coat.

Using butter or non-stick cooking spray, grease the insert of a slow cooker. Transfer the nut mixture, along with any of the remaining sugar mixture, to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 90 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. After the 90 minutes gradually stir in the water and cook covered an additional 20 minutes.

Cover a baking sheet with wax paper and spread the nuts on the paper and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Recipe from Taste of Home