Creamy Meatball and Tortellini Soup…

Is there anything as comforting as a hot hearty bowl of soup on a cold winter day? Enjoying a piping hot bowl of soup with some crusty bread when the weather outside is cold and snowy – well that to me defines food for the soul.

In the past, the only homemade soup I ever made was my mother’s chicken soup. I never thought about making any others. Then two years ago when I had a tomato crop that was just unheard of and left me tomatoes coming out of my ears, I tried to make homemade tomato soup. And it was fabulous. So I invested in an immersion blender and made homemade broccoli cheddar soup. And the rest is history. I love making homemade soups.

Add the evaporated milk and spinach

Prior to this recipe all my soups were made on the stove top. This time I decided to make soup in the slow cooker. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I am getting more adventurous with my slow cooker, trying things with it that I’d never done before with it. So why not try to make some soup?The basis for this recipe I saw on Facebook and thought, wow this sounds and looks delicious. So I made it (with a few of my own tweeks). All I can say is this one is divine.

So let’s talk creamy meatball and tortellini soup…

Veggies Cut Into Chunky PiecesLesson Learned 1 – It bears repeating, cut your veggies into chunky pieces: Because you cook for extended periods of time in a slow cooker your veggies can break down if you don’t cut them chunky. You want to see and taste your veggies. So don’t be afraid to cut them into chunky pieces. They will cook I promise you.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use different settings to get different results: Sounds pretty logical doesn’t it. But I used to be a one size fits all girl when it came to slow cooker settings. If I started on low, I stayed on low. And the same for high. But I found you can be more creative with recipes when you vary your settings during the cooking process. For this recipe I cooked the basic parts of it, veggies, meatballs and broth, for 6 hours on low. During the last hour I set it on high. I added the evaporated milk, thickener and tortellini and let that cook for 45 minutes on high. Then I added the spinach and let it cook on high for another 15-20 minutes. Everything cooked perfectly.

Italian Sausage MeatballsLesson Learned 3 – Don’t be afraid to be creative: Originally I was going to add chunks of sausage links to the recipe but my husband has a hard time with the casings. So I removed the casings and formed portions of the meat into meatballs. That worked just fine. I also used sweet Italian sausage in my recipe but you can use hot Italian sausage and give the soup a little more kick if you like. You can also use ground beef, but I think the seasonings in Italian sausage give more zip to the flavor of the soup.

This soup tastes absolutely divine. Your should really try this. I guarantee you will love it! You betcha can make this!

CREAMY MEATBALL AND TORTELLINI SOUP...

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Creamy Meatball And Tortellini Soup1 pound Italian sausage (ground or links cut into chunks)

1 onion, diced

2 thick carrots cut into 1/2 inch circles

2 stalks of celery cut into chunks

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbs. Italian seasoning

2 tsp. chicken bouillon powder

1/2 tsp. salt

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 cornstarch

1/4 cup water

1 12-ounce package of cheese tortellini

3 12-ounce cans of evaporated milk

4 cups baby spinach with stems removed

DIRECTIONS:

Form the Italian sausage into 1 inch meatballs. Place the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, italian seasoning, bouillon powder, salt and meatballs into a 6 quart slow cooker. Pour in the chicken broth. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.

Mix together thoroughly the cornstarch and water. Combine cornstarch mixture with the evaporated milk. Add the evaporated milk and the tortellini to the slow cooker, stir to combine and cook on high for 45 minutes. Add the spinach leaves and stir to combine. Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes on high.

Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Veggies and Meatballs in the slow cooker

 Add the chicken broth

Creamy Meatball And Tortellini Soup

Creamy Meatball And Tortellini Soup

Meatballs With A Surprise Inside…

My “Best Ever Meatballs” is my go-to recipe for an hors d’oeuvre but I wanted to experiment with a meatball recipe that could serve as a entree and not an appetizer. I definitely wanted them to taste differently from the appetizer version and I also wanted to have some fun with them. So I decided to make these meatballs and I think they’ll be my go-to entree recipe.

This is a great recipe for a variety of reasons. I love it because the meatballs are easy to make, they’re delicious, they cook quickly, the cheese inside is a delightful surprise and it makes great leftovers! I have to say I cheated when I made these, I used pre-made mashed potatoes instead of making them from scratch. But by doing that I could have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. So it was worth the short cut.

So let’s talk meatballs with a surprise…

ground beef mixtureLesson Learned 1 – It doesn’t take many ingredients to make the meatballs flavorful: basically you’re mixing the meat with an egg yolk, some panko, minced onion, worcestershire sauce and dijon mustard – that’s it. Combined with the cheese inside and the beef gravy you get flavorful meatballs without a lot of work! The key is to make sure you combine all of the ingredients but not over work the meat. If you do you’ll have tough meatballs and you don’t want that.

Cheese Inside the MeatballLesson Learned 2 – A little bit of cheese goes a long way: You can use any kind of good melting cheese in the center of your meatballs. I chose one called Buttrekase, a cheese that originated in Switzerland and now produced in Wisconsin. It’s American name is “butter cheese” although it has no butter in it. It melts luxuriously and has a mild buttery flavor. This was a perfect choice for these meatballs.

You will get approximately 15 meatballs out of one pound of ground beef. You don’t want your meatballs to be too big, maybe an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. Make sure you cut pieces of cheese that are small enough to support a meatball that size. Then just take the meat mixture and wrap it around that cheese, pressing the meat together to try to minimize any holes. But don’t worry if cheese leaks out when you bake them. There will still be more inside.

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t over bake your meatballs:  Although the meatballs look large, remember that there is a good amount of cheese inside them. So I would not bake them any longer than 15-18 minutes. Keep in mind you will also be simmering them for a few minutes in the gravy once you take them out of the oven, so they have plenty of time to get cooked through.

The amount of meatballs you get with a pound of ground beef.

This has got to be one of the easiest recipes ever and produces a great meal in a short amount of time. I love topping a mound of mashed potatoes with these meatballs and then drizzling the beef gravy on top. Add a sprinkling of fresh cut flat leaf parsley and you’ve got a meal that looks as good as it tastes. Enjoy!

MEATBALLS WITH A SURPRISE INSIDE...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

(For The Meatballs)

1 pound 93% lean ground sirloin

2 Tbs. minced onion

1 egg yolk

3 Tbs. panko bread crumbs

1 Tbs. worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. dijon mustard

4 oz. good melting cheese (I used Butterkase cheese)

Chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

(For The Sauce)

4 – 6  cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 small onion sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbs. unsalted butter

2 1/2 cups beef stock, divided and unsalted

2 Tbs. corn starch

2 Tbs. ketchup

2 Tbs. worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a lipped baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.  Cut the cheese into about 15 small pieces. Combine onion, egg yolk, minced onion, bread crumbs worcestershire sauce and mustard until well combined. Add the ground beef and mix until just combined.

Divide the ground beef mixture into about 15 equal sized pieces. Flatten each piece, add a piece of cheese into the center and roll the meat around the cheese sealing it to the best of your ability.

Bake 15-18 minutes. While the meatballs are baking, make the sauce.

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until tender (5-8 minutes). Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (approx. 1 minute). Pour all but 1/4 cup of the beef stock into the pan. Mix the remaining stock with the cornstarch, making sure that the cornstarch is completely absorbed into the stock. Add that to the pan along with the ketchup and worchestershire sauce. Cook until thick. Salt and pepper to taste.

Take the meatballs out of the oven and add them to the sauce. Simmer them in the sauce for about 3 minutes. Serve warm.

Cooked onions and mushrooms

Simmer Meatballs In The Sauce

Meatballs With A Surprise

Meatballs With A Surprise Inside

Lasagna Roll Ups

I recently came across a recipe for lasagna roll ups. The recipe intrigued me because one of the go-to recipes I regularly make and really enjoy is chicken roll ups, so I thought making a lasagna version might be interesting. I particularly liked the idea of rolling the noodles with a ricotta mixture instead of layering them flat as in traditional lasagna. The original version of this recipe was for veggie lasagna which I knew would probably not be a big hit with my husband so I decided to work with the concept and create a recipe that would appeal to the carnivores of the world. But you can certainly make this a veggie dish and it will be fabulous.

Lesson Learned 1 – There is a lot of prep work to this recipe: If you’re not a prep person, this might not be the recipe for you. I find it cathartic to chop, mince, slice and dice but not everyone feels that way. You also have to cook the lasagna noodles ahead of time and arrange them individually on wax or parchment paper so they remain straight and don’t stick together before you roll them up with the cheese. The key to this recipe is making sure everything is prepped up front, including cooking and separating the noodles. If you do that, assembling it is a breeze. All I can say is that regardless of the work, this recipe is worth it.

IMG_3630Lesson Learned 2 – Cut all the veggies for the sauce to a similar size: This is important so that you don’t overcook or undercook any of them. Don’t throw them all in at the same time. Saute the onions, peppers and mushrooms first, then add the garlic followed by the squash. By the time the squash is crisp tender everything else will be ready as well.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use fresh mozzarella and shred it yourself: I think fresh mozzarella tastes better and it definitely melts better giving you that gooey consistency that we all love. It takes a little extra time but it’s worth it. Then again, if you don’t have the time or want to shorten the prep process you can always use shredded mozzarella.

Lesson Learned 4 – Establish a process for assembling this: You can organize cooking and assembling this recipe any way you want but the key is to be organized when you make it. Think through what process might work the best for you before making this dish. That way you won’t feel overwhelmed by all of the various steps.

Lasagnajpg

Lasagna Roll Ups

This recipe is enough to serve six. And although the lasagna noodles look small when you take them out of the package, they plump substantially when you cook them. One noodle roll up is more than enough for the average appetite.

The original recipe was designed to be frozen once assembled and baked off frozen at a later time. You can certainly do that but if you do make sure to use a meat thermometer to test the temperature of the center of the lasagna to ensure it’s heated all the way through.

My husband REALLY liked this recipe. In order to make it more carnivore friendly I added my homemade meatballs on top when I served it. I cooked the meatballs separately and just heated them through before I served them on top of the lasagna. If you don’t have time to make meatballs you can add partially cooked ground italian sausage to the sauce or just do what I did and use a sauce that already had sausage in it. Or you can simply leave it as a veggie dish. Any way you adapt this recipe, I know you will like it.

Lasagna Roll Ups…

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

PASTA:

6 lasagna noodles cooked according to packaged instructions

SAUCE:

2 Tbs. olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small onion, diced

1 small sweet pepper, diced

4-6 large cremini mushrooms, chopped small

1/2 medium size zucchini, diced

1/2 cup white wine

1 24 ounce jar of pasta sauce (I used Classico with sausage)

1 6 oz. can of tomato paste

16 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Grated parmesan for sprinkling on top

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

RICOTTA FILLING:

16 oz. ricotta cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1 egg

1 TBS. flat leaf parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Drain them and place them flat on a wax or parchment paper lined sheet pan. Make layers of individual noodles as needed separating each layer with a sheet of wax or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large skillet heat the olive oil. Saute the onions, mushrooms and peppers for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds to a minute). Add the zucchini and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the wine and salt and pepper the mixture to taste. Pour in the jarred sauce. Add a can of tomato paste. Stir until combined and warmed through. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Combine all of the ingredients for the ricotta filling. Taste before adding salt and pepper as the parmesan is salty. Salt and pepper to taste. Line up the flat lasagna noodles and divide the ricotta mixture into six equal portions. Spread the mixture over each flat noodle. Roll each noodle tightly with the filling.

Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of a 2 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle some mozzarella and parmesan over the sauce and top with a teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Place the rolled lasagna noodles on top making two rows of three each. Pour the remaining sauce over the noodles. Generously top with mozzarella and parmesan. Sprinkle the remaining Italian seasoning on top of the cheese.

Tent the casserole dish with foil and bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake for additional 5 minutes or until the cheese on top is browned and bubbly. You can also turn on the broiler for the last 3 – 5 minutes and put the casserole dish under the broiler. If using the broiler, keep an eye on the casserole so as not to burn the cheese on top.

Let sit for 5 minutes and serve.

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The Best Ever Meatballs…

You know how some recipes catapult from being just something you try to a family and friends favorite that spans generations? Well this I can assure you is one of them. I first started making this recipe when I was in my twenties. At that time I could barely cook myself out of a paper bag. But I needed to make an appetizer for a family gathering and I decided to make meatballs.

Almost everyone I know has their tried and true meatball recipe and quite a few say to me that theirs is alright but not particularly special. Well search no more. This one is special and it’s been passed down from family to friends and friends of friends for decades. Every time I serve it at least one or more people ask me how to make it. This recipe is now multi-generational!

The first time I made this I was not very adept in the kitchen. I wasn’t learned about certain ingredients, proportions, substitutions, doneness – you name it, I didn’t have a clue. But my naiveté was the factor in making a mistake that kicked this recipe to the next level and made it ever so popular.

IMG_3579The original recipe came from a grocery store bought book, you know the ones you always see at the checkout counter. This one was called Pillsbury’s Cookbook of Family Favorites. You can see how old it is just by looking at the price, $1.25. When was the last time you spent that small of an amount of money on a book or magazine?

When I first read the ingredients there were two things that I did not have on hand. One was cracker crumbs and my husband suggested using bread crumbs instead. The second was sweet pepper flakes. I thought to myself hmm…, that shouldn’t be too hard to find. So off to the store I trudged in search of them.

When I got to the store, lo and behold, there were no sweet pepper flakes to be found. I endlessly looked and looked at the spices and herbs and the only thing I saw with “flakes” labeled on it was red pepper flakes. So I thought to myself, “well green peppers and red peppers are considered sweet peppers so that must be it” (you see what I mean). I bought the red pepper flakes and used them in the recipe.

Now I grew up in a household where very bland food was served. My father was not one for any kind of spices, he totally shied away from garlic and onions, and any kind of “heat” was never put in what we ate. But my husband’s family loves food with a kick, the more heat the better. So little naive me went on to make this recipe substituting red pepper flakes for sweet pepper flakes and it became a huge hit. The first time I made it I used two tablespoons of red pepper flakes and that produced some spicy meatballs, let me tell you. Since then I’ve toned it down to one tablespoon which gives a very nice kick and doesn’t leave you running for something cold to drink. But if you really like to bring on the heat use two tablespoons. It won’t hurt the meatballs that’s for sure.

Meatballs

I’ve been trying to think if I could share any lessons learned in making this recipe but it’s very straightforward even for the novice chef. Just follow the directions and you’ll be able to serve meatballs that will always be a big hit.

The technique is easy. All you need to do is mix the ingredients for the meatballs, form them into one inch rounds and bake them for 30 minutes. Then you put them in a casserole dish, add the sauce, cover and bake them for another hour. Now what’s easier than that?

I know in other blogs I’ve said that you just have to try this recipe, but you really must make this. It’s been tried and true over decades and its popularity came about because I, the cook who never could, made the most advantageous mistake I’ve ever made in the kitchen. Enjoy this one and share it with all of your friends!

The Best Ever Meatballs…

  • Servings: 2-2 1/2 dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

MEATBALLS:

1 lb. ground beef (I use 85% lean)

2 eggs, slightly beaten

2/3 – 3/4 cup bread crumbs (use a smaller amount and first and see if you will need more)

2 Tbs. organic minced onion flakes

1 Tbs. red pepper flakes (for really spicy meatballs add 2 Tbs)

9 drops Tabasco Sauce (you can add more if you like)

Dash of salt

SAUCE:

3/4 cup catsup

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 1/2 Tbs. organic minced onion flakes

1 tsp. prepared mustard (I use Grey Poupon but you can use yellow mustard)

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

4 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce

6 drops Tabasco Sauce (you can use more if you like)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients for the meatballs. Shape them into one inch balls and layer them in an ungreased jelly roll pan. (You need a sheet pan with a lip on it so the grease does not run off). Bake at 325 for 30 minutes.

Combine all of the ingredients for the sauce. Place the meatballs in a casserole dish that you can cover. Pour the sauce over the meatballs, cover and bake for 1 hour. Enjoy!

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Serving Suggestion: sprinkle with parsley and parmesan cheese…