Creamy Slow Cooker (Crock Pot) Tortellini Soup

ImageRECENTLY I CAME ACROSS A RECIPE from the blog “My Favorite Things” and I felt compelled to share it here, with some slight adaptations to meet my family’s dietary needs.  The original recipe calls for an envelope of white sauce mix.  My grandmother needs to be on a low-sodium diet, so most of the sauce mixes that we find on supermarket shelves are loaded with sodium… not good for those of us trying to watch our blood pressure!  It’s very easy to make your own white sauce in advance, and I will attach my white sauce recipe below to help you out.  Also, be sure to check your nutrition labels!  If you’re aiming to adjust for dietary needs, take into account the amount of sugar, sodium, or whatever ingredient you’re adjusting for based on the ingredients you’re using to create your final meal.  It’s not very difficult, and you can still get yummy results from the adjustments.  The best part about this recipe is that it’s done in the Crock Pot, so you don’t have to worry about slaving over your meal.  I have also added my own little tips and tricks in there for what I would do to make the dish my own.  Enjoy the deliciousness, and thank you to the original author of the recipe for creating it!

  • White Sauce (see below for preparation instructions)
  • A 14oz. box or can of low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups of fresh sliced mushrooms (I would use a mix of different mushrooms to enhance the earthy flavor.  Think shiitake, cremini, button, portobella…)
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped onion
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed basil (you can use dry or fresh, but be sure to adjust to flavor.  I tend to prefer fresh herbs)
  • A pinch of salt (1/8 tsp or less.  A little salt is acceptable to enhance flavor, but don’t overdo it)
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed oregano (fresh or dry, just like the basil)
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
  • 6 cups fresh baby spinach (it sounds like a lot but it will wilt as it warms up, so don’t panic)
  • 1 package (7 or 8 oz.) dry cheese tortellini
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated parmesan or pecorrino romano cheese on the side to serve with the soup

In a skillet, melt your 2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter on medium heat.  Add your mushrooms and onion, saute until their juices are starting to release and their aroma becomes apparent.  Don’t cook them entirely as you’re going to put them into the Crock Pot to finish cooking.  Season with your small amount of salt and your black pepper.  Set aside.

Pour your broth into your Crock Pot and add your tortellini, garlic, basil, oregano, and cayenne pepper to it.  Give it a brief mix, then add your mushrooms.  Cover and cook on high for 3 hours until your tortellini are al dente (slightly firm).

While your Crock Pot works away, make your white sauce.  Using the same pan from your mushrooms (hey, no sense in dirtying another pan, right?), melt 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter and add 6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour to it.  Mix well until it is thick and smooth, creating a roux.  This will help thicken your sauce without lumps!  To that, add 2 cups milk and 1 cup evaporated milk (or just 3 cups of milk if you prefer… doesn’t matter), and stir well.  Heat the mixture until it bubbles along the edges (DO NOT BOIL IT!) and thickens up, about 8 to 10 minutes.  This will make a medium white sauce. Set it aside for now until your Crock Pot ingredients are almost done cooking.  It will thicken a bit more as it cools.

During the last 20-30 minutes of cooking, add your white sauce and spinach to the soup and mix well.  Allow it to warm up with the rest of your ingredients at the end of your cooking time; this will help you avoid curdling your milk/cream.  The spinach will wilt a bit but remain green and not soggy if you don’t cook it for an excessively long period of time.  Serve with the grated cheese on the side and warm, crusty bread.

Enjoy, and happy cooking!

— Sarah

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Non-Dairy Macaroni and Cheese… Is it possible?! Oh yes it is!

ImageI RECENTLY HAD THE OPPORTUNITY to reconnect with a very dear friend of mine from what nowadays seems like a different life. She recently determined that she has a sensitivity to dairy products, namely milk. This was entirely different territory for me; no one in my house has ever had a food sensitivity, including my two year old, much less one to milk and dairy, such basic products of our daily existence. She was coming to visit me, and after already having failed once at including her dairy-free needs in my entertaining menu, I was bound and determined to broaden my horizons and make a successful dish for her. Enter: Carrie’s Non-Dairy Friendly Mac and Cheese. I know what you’re thinking – how can any mac and cheese be non-dairy?? The secret is in the Cabot brand cheese, which is naturally lactose-free. She originally directed me to use Cabot Mild, but I was unable to find it in my grocery store, so I used her second suggestion – Cabot Seriously Sharp (look for the red buffalo plaid wrapper). What an amazing cheese! Creamy, robust and simply delicious. This recipe was such a hit with my husband that I had to share it with everyone. You and your family are guaranteed to love it just as much as we do. Enjoy!

~Sam~

Carrie’s Non-Dairy Friendly Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:

            – 1 16 oz pkg macaroni of your choice, cooked according to package directions

            – 2 sticks unsalted butter

            – 8 tbsp all purpose flour

            – 3 ½ cups lactose-free milk (I used Lactaid)

            – 1 tsp salt

            – 1 tsp ground black pepper

            – 1 ½ tsp garlic powder

            – 2 8 oz bricks Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheese, shredded

Directions:

            1) Heat the oven to 350. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the milk. Return to heat and cook, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens slightly. DO NOT let it reach a boil!

            2) Remove from heat. Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder and stir to combine.

            3) Immediately, gradually add the cheese (I do a couple of handfuls at a time) and stir with a wooden spoon until cheese is melted. Be sure cheese is completely melted after each addition. Add the cooked macaroni and stir until evenly blended.

            4) Coat a 9x13x2” baking dish lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Pour pasta mixture into dish. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the edges are bubbly and the middle is set. Let stand for a few minutes before serving.

Notes: 

            – The first time I made this dish, I used elbow macaroni, but any short, small shape will do – for a fun twist for the kids, try bow ties. Small shells would also be lovely. 

            – If you have a food processor with a shredding blade, this step goes super fast.

            – Feel free to turn this into a casserole! It can really take anything that you’d like to put in it. Just remember, since it doesn’t have any eggs in it, it doesn’t need very long in the oven. If you’re going to add any vegetables, sauté them in a little butter or olive oil until they’re slightly tender, just to ensure that they will cook thoroughly during baking. Ideas: broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, cooked shredded chicken, ground beef or sausage, tomatoes … use your culinary imagination! The possibilities are truly endless. Also, don’t be afraid to mix up the seasonings to taste – pretty much any dried or fresh herb will work with this dish. Remember, you need less dried herb than you would fresh.

            – Keep in mind that the longer you let the dish sit when you take it out of the oven, the more set the cheese sauce will be – it thickens as it cools.