A Slow Cooker Hit And Half Miss

The cold days of winter call for warm and hearty soups (or stews) to help keep you feeling warm and toasty to beat the winter chill. In a recent issue of Rachael Ray Magazine I came across one such soup that had the added bonus of being made in a slow cooker. A kitchen item I do enjoy using but don’t use often enough.

This stew – a Sausage, Bean & Spinach Stew  – was a cinch to make and was ready in about four hours. I began by adding white beans, chopped onions, carrots & celery, garlic, bay leaves and chicken broth to my slow cooker and cooking it on high heat for three and a half hours. I then added sausage meatballs and let them cook in the soup for about twenty-five minutes. Finally, I added in the spinach for the final ten minutes.

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Final verdict… The stew was delicious. I’ll definitely be it making again. But, I think next time I’ll cook the meatballs a little before adding them to the soup.

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Since I had my slow cooker out from obscurity I figured I would finally try making a dessert in it – a Triple Chocolate Brownie recipe I came across from Martha Stewart.

To begin I whisked together my dry ingredients: flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.

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To get started on my wet ingredients I melted butter and bittersweet chocolate together.

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After giving it a few good stirs I added in sugar and eggs.

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I then folded it into the dry mixture along with walnuts and semi-sweet chocolate chips.

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I then poured it into my slow cooker, which I sprayed with cooking spray and lined the bottom of with parchment paper.

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I cooked it on low for four hours, the final half hour uncovered.

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After letting it cool in the insert for two hours I flipped out the brownies to sadly discover that the edges were quite burnt and definitely not edible.

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All was not lost though… After some clever cutting I was left with six, albeit irregularly shaped, brownies that were quite tasty and definitely not lacking in chocolate flavor.

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Baking in a slow cooker… definitely not my first choice for delicious desserts, but, I wouldn’t rule out trying it again, just not brownies though!

Sausage, Bean & Spinach Stew

Ingredients

1 pound dried large white beans, such as great northern, rinsed and picked through

8 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

8 sprigs fresh thyme*

1 bay leaf**

Parmesan rind (optional)*

1 pound sweet or spicy Italian sausage, casings removed, shaped into 1/2-inch meatballs

1 bunch spinach, trimmed

Juice of 1/2 lemon*

Crusty bread, for serving

Directions

In a large slow cooker, stir together the beans, chicken broth, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and Parmesan rind, if using. Cover and cook on high heat until the beans are nearly tender, about 3 1/2 hours.

Place the sausage meatballs on top of the beans. Cover; cook until the meatballs are no longer pink in the center, about 25 minutes.

Discard the thyme sprigs, bay leaf and Parmesan rind. Stir in the spinach, then cover and let stand until the spinach wilts, 10 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice; season. Serve with crusty bread.

*I omitted these ingredients when I made my soup

**I added in two bay leaves as opposed to just one

Slow-Cooker Triple Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients

Nonstick cooking spray

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (6 ounces)

Directions

Lightly coat a 5-quart slow-cooker insert with cooking spray. Line bottom with parchment paper and lightly coat with spray. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.

Place butter and chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until chocolate is melted. Add sugar; stir to combine. Stir in eggs. Add flour mixture, walnuts, and chocolate chips and stir just until moistened (do not overmix). Transfer to slow cooker and smooth top.

Cover and cook on low, 3 1/2 hours. Uncover and cook 30 minutes. Remove insert from slow cooker and run a knife around edge to loosen brownies. Let cool completely in insert on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Turn out onto a work surface and cut into 14 brownies.

Lentil and Sausage Soup

Usually my idea of making soup is opening up a can of my favorite one, heating it up on the stove and then enjoying it, but since I have been cooking more I decided to give making soup from scratch a go. It’s always nice knowing exactly what you are eating as opposed to guessing what the vegetable is after it’s been masked by some thick, albeit yummy, chowder or liquid. I decided to start simple and go with a Lentil and Sausage Soup that I found on Allrecipes.

To start, I browned three links of sweet sausage over medium-high heat. I actually began by cooking the links slightly and then slicing them to finish browning them. It’s much easier to slice half cooked sausage as opposed to raw sausage.

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Next I added in one large onion, a celery stalk and a tablespoon of garlic, all chopped.

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After letting that sauté until the vegetables were tender I added in my lentils, 3 shredded carrots, water, chicken broth and diced tomatoes. I actually used diced tomatoes that were seasoned with basil, garlic and oregano which definitely added in some extra flavor.

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And finally I added in all of my spices: garlic powder, parsley, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, basil, salt & black pepper.

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After bringing the soup to a boil I then reduced the heat and let it simmer until the lentils were tender. While the directions said that it would take about 2.5 to 3 hours my soup was done in about an hour.

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It was absolutely delicious and tasted even better the following day for lunch. I doubt I will be giving up those canned soups anytime soon, but, it’s definitely nice to know that making soup from scratch isn’t all that difficult.

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Lentil and Sausage Soup

Ingredients

1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausage

1 large onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, finely chopped

1 tbsp. chopped garlic

1 16 oz. package dry lentils, rinsed

1 cup shredded carrot

8 cups water

2 14.5 oz. cans chicken broth

1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes*

1 tbsp. garlic powder

1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley**

2 bay leaves

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. dried basil

1 tbsp. salt, or to taste

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 lb. ditalini pasta (optional – I chose not to add it in)

*I used 2 14.5 oz. cans of diced tomatoes seasoned with garlic, basil & oregano

**I used 1 tsp. dried parsley

Directions

1. Place sausage in a large pot. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Add onion, celery and chopped garlic, and sauté until tender and translucent. Stir in lentils, carrot, water, chicken broth and tomatoes. Season with garlic powder, parsley, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, basil, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover, and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until lentils are tender.

2. Stir in pasta, and cook 15 to 20 minutes, or until pasta is tender.