Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Slow-Cooker Wednesdays

Yes, Wednesdays are a crockpot day for us.  Its the craziest night of the week as my husband rushes home from work and I run out the door to teach until 8pm.  I need something ready to eat for my family and for myself when I get home.  The crockpot is the best!  I do all the preparation in the morning and by the end of the day there is only that 1 dish to clean - the slow cooker itself.  The models available today are all programmable, so you can throw your meal in there, set the time and temperature, and it will automatically go to warm when its done.  You can leave the house all day and come home to a perfectly cooked meal.  I love it!

Tonight it was Lentil Soup with Ham.  My toddler loves lentil soup and so does my husband, and if you have a baby who eats solids you can even puree the soup for a complete meal.  This soup was amazing!  So flavorful and everyone wanted more.  Feel free to add sandwiches or a salad if you feel soup isn't enough, but this is a very hearty soup full of vegetables and high in fiber.  To make it more fun for the kids, you can make them grilled cheese that they can dip into the soup.  Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Lentil Soup with Ham
1 ham bone or ham hock (I froze the ham bone leftover from Easter and defrosted it last night for this   soup, but you can either try to find a ham bone or a ham hock in your local grocery store or just add 1 cup of chopped ham steak - no deli meant here, you need the real thing)
1 large onion, diced
4 medium carrots, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped (optional, but adds a ton of flavor, color and vitamin C - plus they were on sale this week in my grocery store)
1 - 16 oz pkg of brown lentils  (the brand I bought did not require soaking, but read the package instructions - you  may need to soak the lentil in water overnight)
1 - 32 oz container of chicken stock
enough water to cover the vegetables and lentils

2 bay leaves
Pepper to taste
Salt to taste, but not until the end (your ham might be salty enough that you don't need any additional salt)
1 pkg of baby spinach, roughly chopped

Throw the ham, lentils, vegetables (NOT the spinach yet), chicken stock, bay leaves into the slow cooker.  Sprinkle with pepper and stir to combine.  Add enough water so that the total liquid is about 1/2 inch above the lentils and veggies (I needed about 2 cups this morning) and cover.  The lentils will absorb the liquid and it will thicken as it cooks.  Set slow-cooker on low for 8-10 hours. If you are home you can stir it once in a while, but its not necessary. About 45 min before eating, take out the ham bone or ham hock and discard.  (My ham bone had a ton of meat still on it, so I took the meat off and shredded it up and put it back into the soup - totally optional).  Taste to see if you need to add any salt, and add the chopped spinach (I chop it in the morning and throw it back in the bag - I want to avoid any unnecessary dishes later).  Put the cover back on and continue to cook on low for 45 min.   Then just serve and enjoy!

Note:  this morning was a crazy morning for me, and I didn't get the soup ready until almost 11am.  If this happens to you, then just do what I did - cook on high for 5-6 hours, then set on low until dinner time. 

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