Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Crock Pot Lasagna - Little Used Kitchen Toy & the Recipe

Every once in a while I crave a new kitchen toy, believing that it will change my life. Okay maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean. You eat a Panini in a restaurant, you watch a cooking show on TV and someone’s using a funky Panini maker, or your latest magazine has some gorgeous shots of one…and you’re obsessed. (By the way – the Panini maker is at the top of my list of kitchen toys I NEED to buy and can’t live without).

As some of you who read my posts know, I volunteer once a month (along with a group of really cool ladies) to cook and serve a Sunday community meal at Fife House, an organization that provides affordable housing and support services for people living with HIV/AIDS. A couple of years ago, two of the ladies started bringing their dishes in gorgeous electric crock pots. They extolled the virtues of 1) being able to cook and transport heated dishes easily; 2) the ability to keep food warm for long buffet dinners without it getting dried out; and 3) to be able to “throw things together quickly and just let them slowly cook all day”. Naturally, I was hooked on the idea. What could be better than putting all the ingredients in a pot in the morning, turning it on low, going about your day and returning for a perfectly cooked meal at supper time with no effort at all?

So I bought one…and here’s one of my challenges – I still think I have two teenage daughters whose friends show up unexpectedly and stay for dinner. Neither of them even LIVE in the same city I do anymore – Joanna and her husband live in Halifax and Sharron just moved to Chile, but even when she lived in Toronto, she had her own place. So it’s usually just me and my Honey for dinner unless I invite people over. The crock pot I purchased holds 6 quart/litres – which is great for parties but totally wrong for cooking for two, unless you really, really like leftovers. Oh I know you can freeze, but I hate the texture of frozen chunky vegetables – they’re so spongy! So that eliminates certain dishes- stews, chunky soups, to name a couple. Then there’s the issue that electric slow cookers need to be filled at least three-quarters full to work properly. I only learned that fact after I used it for the lasagna recipe (see my variation at the bottom of the post) I found in a newspaper and was the push I needed to buy my slow cooker. I even bought a couple of cookbooks by Judith Finlayson just for slow cooking - Delicious & Dependable Slow Cooker Recipes and The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes. A few of the recipes I tried were even quite tasty – although many of them required so much prep work that I really don’t see the point. (After all, I wanted it because I’m lazy – well okay, not lazy but I wanted it for those days when I didn’t have time to spend in the kitchen.) Now really, would you make a cake that needs to cook for 2 hours and then be refrigerated for another 4 when you could just bake a cake the regular way and refrigerate it?

Since Joanna & Ezra were coming in for the weekend and I’ve been wanting to test the Crock pot lasagna recipe for my cookbook I thought it a perfect opportunity. Naturally their flight was late getting in and by the time we got home the lasagna had been slow cooking for at least nine hours. It tasted delicious but didn’t really look good enough for a picture for the book (started to darken around the edges, noodles so soft so you couldn’t really see the separate layers when I cut portions, plus we were too starving to wait for me to add cheese to the top and let it melt). Here's the recipe if you're lucky enough to have a slow cooker. If not, just use the ingredients and instead of cooking for 6 hours in a slow cooker, bake in an ovenproof dish for about 1 hour at 350 F/180 C.

Crock Pot Lasagna
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total Cooking time: 5-6 hours
Serves 8

1 box precooked lasagna noodles (12 noodles)
4 cups torn spinach
2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
½ cup pesto
¾ cup mozzarella, shredded (3 oz)
¾ cup provolone, shredded (3 oz)
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 large egg, beaten
¾ cup parmesan cheese
6 cups tomato-basil sauce
2 cups thinly sliced pepperoni (optional)

1. Steam or microwave spinach until it wilts. Drain, squeeze dry and chop.

2. Combine cooked spinach, raw mushrooms & pesto in medium bowl and set aside.

3. Combine cheeses with beaten egg in separate bowl

4. Pour the sauce in another bowl.

5. In 6 quart electric crock pot layer ingredients as follows:
Layer of sauce (just enough to lightly cover the bottom of the pot
Layer of noodles (3)
Layer of cheese mixture (1/3)
Layer of spinach mushroom mixture (1/3)
Layer of pepperoni (1/3) optional
Layer of sauce (1/3)
Repeat layering two more times
Sprinkle with ½ cup more parmesan
6. Cover with lid and cook on LOW for 5 hours or until done.
7. Sprinkle with ½ cup more Parmesan cheese for the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Tips & Variations

This recipe really does freeze well. Just divide it up into 1-2 serving portions first.

I used my own Lazy Tomato Sauce recipe but you can try experimenting with different bottled sauce mixes like tomato and roasted garlic or add some crushed dried chili pepper flakes for some heat.

It goes great with a salad and some garlic bread or toasted focaccia slices with pesto and melted cheese.

My pretty, but seldom used slow cooker usually lives in the back of a closet and rarely sees the light of day. I know I’m not alone, so which of your kitchen toys falls into this category? Don’t be shy, I’d love to know…

Related links:


Kalyn said...

My very, very favorite kitchen toy is the foodsaver vacuum packer. If you have that you can freeze things and it doesn't ruin the food.

I use the crock pot sometimes for things like lentil soup or pot roast, but mine is also a little underused. I just bought a small one (2 1/2 quarts) so I'm hoping I will use it more.

joey said...

Hmmm...I would have to say the fish scaler. It's easier just to use a knife...that and these weird egg-shaped containers for cooking eggs in the microwave. I never used it again after the first time because the egg exploded and it was a mess :)

Cate said...

I agree - you definitely need a panini maker. You'll love it!

Paz said...

My friend just bought a crockpot and she likes hers a lot.

I'd love a panini maker.


Ruth said...

Kalyn, actually the food saver is on my list too, and maybe I'll buy a small crockpot, I keep going back and forth on the idea.

Joey - I really did lol and cringed thinking of what the microwave looked like.

Sweetnicks & Paz - yup the panini maker will definitely be the next kitchen toy.

Thanks all of you for your comments.

J said...

hi ruth, i can't live without my crock pot - it's especially handy for making chinese-style clear soups and congee...the gadget i never touch is my mandoline slicer; it's simply too unwieldy to dismantle and clean!

lucette said...

We just had venison stew made in our crockpot--I never use it though, it's always my boyfriend who does it, one of those weird but inflexible separation of tasks that has lasted for years.
I'm hoping that my immersion blender doesn't turn out to be a little-used toy--I got it about a month ago, and haven't used it yet, out of a kind of kitchen-appliance shyness (or fear?).

Ruth said...

J, I have this cheap mandoline slicer by Star Frits that I use, but not as often as I thought. It is really simple to clean, but the fact that I seriously sliced the tip of my finger once probably has something to do with my not using it more often.

My double bladed mezza luna from William Sonoma, on the other hand is just frustrating - I bought it after watching Nigella on TV and she made it look so good. Frankly my big sharp chef's knife does a much better job.

Lucette, a year or so ago I gave my immersion blender away, because I rarely used it....now I want it back. Go figure!!!

Tania said...

I'm so glad I read this post! I haven't yet used the 7-quart crock pot I got for Christmas, but now I know it's way too big. There's just me to cook for, and I can't imagine the army-sized quantities of leftovers I'd have, esp. if the pot needs to be 3/4 full to work properly! I don't mind having some leftovers to freeze, but I definitely think I need to exchange it for a smaller one.

Thanks for the info, Ruth! Your site is awesome!

As for my favourite kitchen toy, I'd have to say my big, heavy-but-perfectly-balanced chef's knife. I use it for everything!

Ruth said...

Tania, thanks for dropping by.

The funny story about the crockpot is that my daughter was just visiting (she lives in Halifax and we live in Toronto) and she's been coveting the crock pot since the last time she was in town.

They stopped by on their way home from a month long visit to Mexico and naturally have way too much stuff to take back with them, so the crockpot, once again, sits here waiting for them to be able to take it.