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Baked pasta, casseroles and even dessert can be made in slow cooker

01/14/2013 03:59 EST | Updated 03/16/2013 05:12 EDT
Here are three recipes from "The Best of Bridge Slow Cooker Cookbook" that are a departure from the soups and stews that are most commonly prepared in the appliance.

Sweet Potato Cannelloni

If you haven't used your slow cooker for baked pasta dishes, you'll find they turn out well due to the slow gentle heat. Use oven-ready cannelloni for this recipe. It stands up better to the long, moist cooking than fresh or regular dried pasta.

750 ml (3 cups) tomato sauce

250 ml (1 cup) evaporated milk

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

1 ml (1/4 tsp) ground nutmeg

0.5 ml (1/8 tsp) pepper

1 egg, lightly beaten

300 ml (1 1/4 cups) ricotta cheese

50 ml (1/4 cup) grated Parmesan cheese

300 ml (1 1/4 cups) grated peeled sweet potato

250 ml (1 cup) packed baby spinach, chopped

12 oven-ready cannelloni shells

250 ml (1 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese

Grease insert of a 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker.

In a bowl, whisk together tomato sauce and milk. Spread 250 ml (1 cup) of the sauce mixture in bottom of slow cooker.

In another bowl, whisk together salt, nutmeg, pepper, egg, ricotta and Parmesan. Stir in sweet potato and spinach. Using fingers, fill cannelloni shells with ricotta mixture. Place filled shells side by side in slow cooker, making 2 layers if necessary. Pour remaining sauce over shells.

Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours or on high for about 3 hours, until bubbling. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Cover and cook on high for about 15 minutes or until mozzarella is melted.

Makes 4 servings.

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Vegetable Polenta Casserole

Your slow cooker can prepare part of a recipe. Here the appliance is used for polenta, a versatile Italian grain dish made by cooking cornmeal in broth or water, which is then transformed into a hearty vegetarian entree. Start the meal with a salad.

250 ml (1 cup) cornmeal

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

0.5 ml (1/8 tsp) pepper

750 ml (3 cups) boiling water

125 g (4 oz) cream cheese, cubed and softened

250 ml (1 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

125 ml (1/2 cup) grated Parmesan cheese, divided

15 ml (1 tbsp) vegetable oil

2 onions, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

750 ml (3 cups) sliced mushrooms

500 ml (2 cups) tomato-based pasta sauce

Grease insert of a 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker. Grease a 33-by-23-cm (13-by-9-inch) baking dish.

Place cornmeal, salt and pepper in prepared slow cooker. Gradually add boiling water, whisking constantly until blended. Cover and cook on low for 1 1/2 to 3 hours, until liquid is absorbed and cornmeal is tender.

Transfer slow cooker insert to a heat-resistant surface. Stir in cream cheese, 175 ml (3/4 cup) mozzarella and 50 ml (1/4 cup) Parmesan. Spread two-thirds of the polenta in prepared baking dish; set aside.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 200 C (400 F).

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, red pepper, garlic and mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in pasta sauce. Spread over polenta in baking dish. Drop remaining polenta by spoonfuls over top. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake, uncovered, for about 25 minutes, until heated through and browned.

Makes 6 servings.

Make Ahead: Prepare polenta base and spread in baking dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Place remaining polenta in another container, cover and refrigerate. Prepare vegetable mixture and transfer to a separate container. Let cool, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, assemble casserole and proceed with the recipe.

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Apple Cranberry Cake

The perfect dessert. You can nap while it cooks. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

300 ml (1 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour

175 ml (3/4 cup) granulated sugar

10 ml (2 tsp) baking powder

5 ml (1 tsp) ground cinnamon

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

1 egg, room temperature

125 ml (1/2 cup) 2 per cent or whole milk

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 orange

2 apples, peeled and chopped

250 ml (1 cup) cranberries (thawed if frozen)

50 ml (1/4 cup) orange marmalade

50 ml (1/4 cup) melted butter

Grease insert of a 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together egg, milk, vanilla and orange zest. Pour over flour mixture and stir just until evenly combined. Spread batter in prepared slow cooker.

In a bowl, combine apples, cranberries and marmalade. Arrange on top of batter. Pour butter over top. Cover and cook on high for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until apples are tender and a tester inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Turn off slow cooker, remove lid and let stand for 15 minutes before removing cake.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Source: "Best of Bridge Slow Cooker Cookbook" by Sally Vaughan-Johnston & The Best of Bridge Publishing Ltd. (Robert Rose, www.robertrose.ca, 2012).

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