Dinner Made Easy

I have mentioned my on again, off again relationship with the slow cooker, but this recipe could keep the love flowing. After reading several versions of this, I settled on using my own style. Since this was meant to be a time-saving dinner, I used jarred spaghetti sauce rather than homemade. The end result was pretty runny served hot from the crock. After it had cooled I pulled the liner out and stored it in a large bowl in the fridge overnight. The leftovers were reheated in the microwave, still in the liner inside the bowl, and the layers were firmer and attractive. It wouldn’t work to put it in the cooker and leave it all day, but I think you could cook it on low for 6 hrs since I did high for 3 hrs.

Slow Cooker Lasagna
1 lb ground meat, browned and drained (I used part chicken and part beef and cooked it with a little onion and garlic)

24 oz. ricotta
16 oz. small curd cottage cheese
2 c. mozzarella, shredded
1 egg
parsley

~ 40 oz. spaghetti sauce, fresh or jarred
8-10 uncooked lasagna noodles

1 c. mozzarella, shredded

Brown the meat and set aside (or leave it out if you prefer a vegetarian dish). In a large bowl, mix together the cheeses, egg, and parsley.

Line the slow cooker, if desired. Spread a few tablespoons of sauce on the bottom. Make a layer of dry noodles on top, breaking them as needed to fit. Top with more sauce, meat, and cheese. Repeat layers ending with noodles and sauce. Cook on High for 3 hrs. Top with remaining mozzarella; let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Advertisements

A Night Owl’s Breakfast

When we were in Montana, Aunt Leola made a breakfast casserole in the electric roasters to feed the large reunion crowd. It was hugely popular with many of our family members. When the bikers came to visit I tried something similar in the oven but it took more than an hour to bake, which ended up being a little too early for me and breakfast was still a little too late for them. I read a few different versions of this recipe and decided to tweak it for my own purposes. Enter the crockpot breakfast casserole, perfect for the night owl cook and the early bird eater. I popped it in at midnight and it was ready for a 6 AM breakfast, and my early risers love waking up to the smell of eggs and sausage.

I think I have a 5 qt crockpot, but you can easily adjust the quantities to suit your needs. It’s the sort of recipe that is easy to adjust to taste. I was tempted to put green chili in it, but it wouldn’t have appealed as broadly. Instead, I served it with salsa. The cheese around the edge gets brown and I wouldn’t make this without a liner in the crock.

Crockpot Breakfast Casserole

3 lbs. frozen hash browns (precooked shredded potatoes would also work, I think but I was being lazy)
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 c. shredded cheese
pre-cooked meat, if desired — sausage, bacon, etc
18 eggs, whisked
salt and pepper

Line the crock with a Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner. Layer hash browns, onion, cheese, and meat; repeat. Whisk eggs with salt and pepper. Pour eggs over the top of the hash browns, allowing the mixture to seep into all areas of the crock.

Cook on low for 6 hrs.

Serve with salsa, if desired.

Working On Those “Iffy” Relationships

At some point or another we all seem to have a relationship that makes us ask the question, “Why do I bother?”. You wonder why you keep investing time and energy to try to make it work when it would be so much simpler to just let it go. You could save yourself headaches and hours of therapy.

I’ve had that sort of relationship with my crock pot. I like the idea of it, but the reality never quite works out to my expectations. I’m not a big soup fan (once a month in the cool months is plenty) but that’s the one thing that generally works in the crock pot. Most of the time, though, I find myself disappointed with the texture and flavor of meals I make in the crockpot compared to those I make in the oven or on the stove top. I like the flavor of the herbs and seasonings to be fully realized, not drowned in a sea of juices and fat.

I also hate to clean the thing. I mean, it’s got a removable crock and it’s dishwasher safe so it ought to be really easy, right? But it’s so darn big that I often end up washing it by hand, which means I don’t even want to get it out of the closet in the first place.

Enter the Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner. You can get a free sample at the website, so go check it out, cheesy ad and all. The people who brought you the oven bag for your Thanksgiving turkey, have brought you another easy clean up tool!

This week I made a chicken in the crock pot. Of course, chicken brings up another iffy relationship for me. While I was preparing the bird for the crock pot, I realized that part of the reason I’ve been able to eat chicken the last few years is because I generally buy the boneless, skinless breast. The whole bird, with its giblets and neck stuffed in the body cavity and fatty skin still on, vividly brought back the smell of wet feathers. While gagging, I put the liner in the crock according to the instructions, dumped in my cleaned bird, sprinkled it with seasoning, several cloves of garlic, onion, and celery, put the lid on and let it cook all afternoon.

It looks pretty nice here, but after it had cooked it was swimming in greasy chicken juices and looking less appetizing. I pulled off all the meat and left the rest of the mess in the bag. Once it was cool, I just grabbed the bag and tossed the mess out. There were a few spills in the crock, but it cleaned up much more easily than without the bag.

When I made soup for the ladies’ retreat I used a liner for the first time. Then, I tossed the ingredients for the soup in the bag and froze it without cooking. I was hoping I could take the bag out once it was frozen solid and not have to have the crock in the freezer too, but I didn’t make it very far in advance and it didn’t seem like there was enough room at the top of the bag to seal it once it was frozen. I think that’s worth trying again, however, because how handy would it be to be able to toss all the raw ingredients into the lined crock and then pull it out on the morning you want to use it and let it heat in the crock all day? When I arrived at the retreat late in the evening, my soup was still frozen solid and we wanted it for lunch so I put it in the heating unit on low all night and it was thoroughly cooked by 9 AM.

The biggest downside to the liners is the cost. They run about $4 for 5 bags. Maybe not something I would use every time if I were a frequent (weekly or more often) crock pot user, but worth it for my usage. It’s something to keep the relationship together for a while, but I think roasting chickens and I are just done.

My Soup Bowl Runs Over

I’m not including these in my LOT#3 entry, but it’s more of the same . . . using up that rice last week. I was the main dish provider for small group so I made two different soups.

One was a chicken and rice soup — pretty straight forward. I made my own broth with celery, onion, carrots, garlic, salt and pepper, and a couple of bone-in chicken breasts in a pot of water on medium-low heat for six hours. Next, I pulled the chicken out and shredded it and returned it to the pot sans bones (although there may have been a few left). Finally, I added some frozen peas and the rice and let it warm through. Pretty ho-hum and I’m sorry to say we have a lot of leftovers from that . . . b/c it’s likely to go to waste . . . anyone want some chicken & rice soup?

chicken-rice-soup.jpg

For the other I made a Stuffed Pepper Soup. I read several different recipes — some included brown sugar or soy sauce — and came up with my own version. Here’s what I added to my crockpot:

2 lbs ground sirloin, browned

large onion, chopped & sauteed for a few minutes with the beef

2 bell peppers, chopped

3 stalks of celery, chopped

1 – 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

~ 24 oz V-8 juice (I poured from a 46 oz bottle and used about half)

water

thyme

parsley

rice

salt and pepper

I didn’t drain the beef b/c it didn’t look like it had much fat and I thought the juices would be good in the soup. But when I tasted it, I thought it was too greasy so I should have drained it like I usually do. I put everything but the rice in the crock and cooked it on low for about 6 hrs and added the cooked rice in the last half hour to get it heated through. This was OK, and the kids like it well enough, but I thought it could use a little jazzing up. A little Tabasco or something. Maybe use the spicy V-8 juice.

pepper-soup.jpg

Canned Cassoulet

snow-roof.jpg

snow1.jpg
Today we’re having ‘blizzard conditions’. These are the views from the upstairs window and the front door. I hate snow. So, it seems like a perfect time to stay inside and make a little soup. I call a soup a ‘canned soup’ when I open cans to make it — not just a can of Campbell’s condensed crud.

soup-bowl.jpg

From my limited understanding, a cassoulet means meat (frequently sausage) and slow cooked beans. I hadn’t heard about the pork skin before. This is what I made today:

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium sweet potatoes, chopped
3 large carrots, quartered and chopped
4 chicken Italian sausage links (I took the ‘natural pork casing’ off b/c, frankly, I’d rather eat plastic than pig intestine), quartered and chopped
chicken/vegetable broth
2 (15 oz) cans northern beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, drained
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
liberal serving of red wine (I’d guess 3/4 – 1 c.)
basil
thyme
black pepper
sea salt

I sauteed the onions and garlic in the olive oil and added the sweet potatoes, carrots and sausage. I dumped in the beans and what was left of a box of vegetable broth and some chicken broth to cover the solids and simmered it for an hour or so. Then I added the tomatoes, wine and seasoning and let it simmer for another hour or so.

soup-flower.jpg

Thing 1 thought it tasted a little less spicy (and therefore less tasty) than it smelled and suggested the addition of a few splashes of Tabasco to each bowl. It was a great suggestion. It was perfect then!

soup-bowl2.jpg

Think Spring!!

tulip.jpg

Not the Recipe of the Day

This story is for all those who are convinced that I am a ‘perfect’ cook who never has any failures. So today I was being ‘all put together’ and this morning I put dinner in the crockpot and made lunch on the stove (veggie ABC soup) while Thing 1 was doing her Language Arts lessons and talking to me about her work and I was breaking my arm to pat myself on the back.

At the right time, I stirred the milk and flour into the crockpot to thicken my chicken and dumplings base and then I mixed together the dumplings . . . couldn’t remember exactly how much I use, it’s probably less than when I make biscuits for us, but ah, well, we’ll eat it. Oh, it’s not getting done on time b/c the biscuit top is too thick — pull the crock out and put it in the oven to finish before we go to the meeting and the family can eat leftovers for dinner tonight and tomorrow’s lunch or dinner will already be done — it will still work out. Eat dinner, leave for meeting (notice I didn’t have a ‘remove crock from oven’ step), at meeting for 1.5 hrs — Oh crud — honey, we can’t stay to socialize — we have to see if we can beat the fireman to the house!

Amazingly, the smoke alarms had not even gone off and it looked far better than anticipated — but Thing 2 did ask if the now-plasticized chicken gravy part was ‘chocolate’! LOL!! πŸ˜€ So when I talked to Klo tonight and she asked if I had made any exciting food creations lately I had to admit I had . . . charcoal! What a waste of time and good food/money πŸ˜›

BUT, when I cook it *right*, the recipe is very good. I got it from allrecipes.com a few years ago.

******

Bacon Chicken and Dumplings

3 slices bacon

3 large potatoes, peeled and diced

1 onion, diced

4 skinless boneless chicken breasts, diced

3 c. chicken broth

1 t. poultry seasoning

salt and pepper to taste

1 – 15 oz can whole kernel corn, drained and rinsed

3 c. half and half

Dumpling:

1 Β½ c. biscuit mix

1 c. milk

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside; reserve bacon drippings in skillet. Add potatoes, onion and chicken to bacon drippings and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in chicken broth; season with poultry seasoning, salt and pepper. Stir in corn and simmer together for 15 minutes. Pour in half and half and bring to a boil; add crumbled bacon.

In a medium bowl, combine biscuit mix with milk and mix well (dough should be thick). Drop tablespoon-size bits of dough into the boiling mixture; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes uncovered, then another 10 minutes covered. Do not stir while simmering or dumplings will break apart. Serve hot.

My notes: I usually use half a package of bacon instead of three slices πŸ˜‰ and I usually add carrots and sometimes peas to this for more veggies & color. I also make this using regular milk instead of half and half and just add some flour for thickening. Since I rarely buy biscuit mix, I also use my regular biscuit recipe to drop on top. It’s a favorite recipe with the kids at our house! It can also be done in the crockpot if you cook the bacon and chicken and then let the rest cook for several hours and then add thickening agent and top with dumplings and let it cook for another 30-45 min.

*********

I’m going to have to make this again soon b/c the kids were disappointed that they didn’t get to eat this.