I know I said I was busy, and I know that I shouldn’t have time for posting TWO posts in one week. However, there’s a lull in my office and I’ve spent the past two weeks bookmarking hundreds of recipes from my new favorite site: TasteSpotting. I figured that if I had enough time to spend all day looking at mac and cheese recipes (yummm!), then I had enough time to resume posting on my poor neglected blog.
I also know I’ve been griping about my current food budget (HA! What food budget??), but I’ve started to adjust and learn to make some pretty good stuff with the meager means I have at the moment. And, if you haven’t noticed or if you live in the U.S. Virgin Islands (damn you!), it’s winter time. Winter means cold, cold weather. I work in a cold office, I live in a cold, drafty apartment building and drive a car with a wonky heating system. So I’m a cold lil otter, and when I’m cold … I want mac and cheese.
***Oh, and ATTENTION PSEUDOREADERS!!! I FINALLY learned what I was doing wrong with my goopy mac and cheese issues …
… so I’m totally able to make my own mac and cheese now. Stay tuned and be afraid!***
Anyway, so when I’m cold I almost always want mac and cheese. However, 99% of the time I eat mac and cheese other than homemade, I feel awful 10 minutes later and remind myself that this is why I gave up processed foods in the first place. Uggh. Unfortunately, sometimes you just need something warm and covered in sauce to get your blood moving when it’s 17 degrees outside.
Well, I do anyway.
So I’ve been bookmarking all kinds of comfort foods: casseroles, moussakas, panades, vegetable bakes, mac and cheese (I’m sorry people, I love it so much) and countless pasta combinations. Plus drinks, lots and lots of drinks, from mulled cider to an amazing dulce de leche liquor – which may or may not having something to do with the jar of dulce de leche sitting in my fridge. Keep your eye for THAT one, because it’s happening as soon as I get my hands on a bottle of vodka. One recipe really stood out while I was doing all this searching and drooling. Lasagna. Mostly because the only lasagnas I’ve ever had were from a bright orange box and burnt on the edge and frozen in the middle, at my university’s cafeteria or at the restaurant where I used to work (old, dry and full of suspect meat). Sub par to say the least.
Sounds so delicious, but I’ve spent my whole life disappointed. I kept trying that stupid orange box, and I kept hating it. I didn’t go anywhere near my university’s version, and the restaurant version was always one of those that veteran servers warned me away from. So disappointing! I became determined to make my own. Except … it always sounds like a lot of work. A lot of precooking and parboiling. Oh and then it has to spend a million hours in the oven and by then I would have just crawled into a box of Velveeta and said, “Goodnight, moon.”
Enter the slow cooker. The beautiful machine that saved me from slaving over stock pots or turning down the heat on a stew every 20 minutes. Slow cooker … I love you.
And now I love you even more, because you brought this into my life …
Slow Cooker Lasagna*
1 box lasagna noodles, uncooked
1 jar (or approximately 24 oz) pasta sauce (the jar is more a measuring tool for later on, so if you have an old one, just use as much sauce as you like and keep the jar handy!)
1/2 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
12 oz mushrooms
1 1/2 cups spinach or kale
1 container of ricotta cheese
2-3 cups mozzarella, shredded
1-2 cups parmesan
*Before I lay into the actual “how-to,” let me just say that this is an extremely subjective recipe. Add more or less cheese. Add more sauce. Forget the spinach and add Morningstar gorund “beef’ crumbles. Super subjective. Also, many other recipes will have you mix the ricotta and parmesan with an egg to form a batter … maybe this works, I still have to try it and let you know. Also, I have a rather large, slow cooker, around 4-6 quarts. Please adjust this recipe accordingly. Without further ado, here’s how I’ve been rocking it …
Pour your pasta sauce into a saucepan along with the onion and garlic over low heat (SAVE YOUR JAR! DO NOT RINSE!). Give it a good stir, and leave it alone to heat. At this point, I also turned on my slowcooker so that it could get a headstart on heating. When the sauce was hot,spoon a layer into the bottom of the slowcooker. Then, add a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles. I had to break a lot of the noodles, but this is absolutely fine. This won’t be the prettiest lasagna, but it’s going to be delicious. So, cover the sauce layer with a layer of uncooked noodles, broken and whole alike.
Layer your ricotta, followed by mushrooms and spinach on top of the noodles. Then add a sprinkle of mozzarella and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Follow this with another ladle of your heated pasta sauce. Then lasagna noodles, then ricotta, then mushrooms and spinach – etc. Just keep repeating your layers. This sounds crazy, but in the end, the order itself won’t matter too much. It’ll be a big saucy mess of your own customized goodness. Try to save about 1/2 cup of mozzarella for the top of the lasagna – you’ll add this cheese in the last 20 minutes or so of cooking.
When you get near the top, make sure you end in a layer of red sauce, and then a layer of noodles. Top this off with one more ladle of pasta sauce to cover the noodles. Now, take that empty sauce jar that I know you saved and DIDN’T rinse, and fill it halfway with water. Shake it up, to get some of that yummy tomato left behind. Pour the water slowly over the lasagna mixture. I filled the jar about halfway, but you might need a bit more. General rule of thumb I follow is to add the water until just before it gets to the top of the lasagna. Cover it and let it do its thing.
Now here’s the tricky part … you can cook this on low the whole time for 4-6 hours until the noodles are soft. That’s fine. I alternated, because I was worried I added too much water. So every once in a while, I popped that sucker on high, took off the lid and let it simmer for a bit to take off some of the water. That’s your call. Definitely trial and error. If you see some noodles poking out of the mixture and getting a bit dry, don’t worry. You can push it back down into the liquid, no harm, no foul. Like I said … this lasagna isn’t going to win beauty contests, but it will make your tummy win the gold in Olympic gymnastics.
Now, about 20 minutes before it’s done, take off the lid, sprinkle the remaining mozzarella on top and replace the cover. Let it melt. Let it get delicious. Usually, you want to let casseroles and the like rest for a bit, so that they can reabsorb some of the water that exists naturally during the cooking process. So just turn off your slow cooker, take of the lid if you wish and just let it sit for about 10 minutes. Trust me, it will not get cold. I pinky swear.
After about 10 minutes, start dolloping this messy, gooey WONDERFUL thing onto plates. I recommend garlic bread and a great salad. Your boyfriend/wife/husband/girlfriend/partner/soulmate/parents/neighbors/grandparents/coworkers etc … are going to love you.
Despite how delicious this is, here are a few changes I should have made to the particular recipe above:
- Added mushrooms into the sauce itself, rather than layers. Not a faux pas … but it might have changed the texture for the better.
- More ricotta – This recipe is definitely more sauce-focused
- More mozzarella – because you always need more mozarella. Next time, I want to use mozzarella slices instead of shredded.
- Added seasonings to the pasta sauce, such as thyme or tarragon. Though it’s hard to season this with salt and pepper as you go, you’ll need to season each individually, or have salt and pepper on hand when you eat.
- Layered the noodles a bit more thickly in each individual layer. Like I said, this was very sauce focused. A good thing, but I’d have liked a bit more noodle action.
Now, I’d love some more suggestions on what ELSE I can do with this amazing lasagna! Or what else I can do with my
newfound best friend slowcooker. And perfect timing to go reheat MY lasagna from last night!