Slow Cooker Sausage Lasagna

I prefer to use slow cooker liners. Whenever I buy a box of them, there is invariably a little handout inside that includes a few recipes. They are great for folks starting out with slow cookers!

Reynolds produces liner bags for slow cookers. They, like Crock-Pot, offer recipes from their test kitchens. I rounded up a few more and will share them here, in a couple of fall posts. Why fall? Slow cookers are wonderful for making warm, filling meals that are especially welcome on cooler or cold nights.

SAUSAGE LASAGNA
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 4-6 hours on Low
Servings: 6

Ingredients:
1 lb uncooked ground Italian sausage
1 onion, chopped
1 can (28 oz) crushed or diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
6 uncooked lasagna noodles, broken in half
1-1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:
Set up your slow cooker by placing the liner bag inside, fitting it snugly to the bottom and sides.

Cook sausage and onions 8-10 monutes in a large skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up meat as it cooks. Drain well.

Stir in tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil and oregano; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes.

Spoon 1/3 of the sausage mixture into the slow cooker, spreading evenly over the bottom.

Arrange half the noodles on top.

Combine 1 cup of the mozzarella and ricotta cheeses in a medium bowl. Spoon half of the cheese mixture evenly over the noodles.

Repeat to add another layer.

Top with remaining 1/3 sausage mixture. cover and cook for 4-6 hours on low.

Carefully remove lid to allow steam to escape.

Mix the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses; sprinkle over top of the lasagne.

Cover and let stand for 30 minutes until the cheese melts and lasagna sets up slightly.

Serve directly from the slow-cooker.

Note: Do not lift or transport liner with food inside.

Note: Allow crock to cool before removing the liner and tossing it.

 

–Ann Cathey

Rendering Spaghetti Squash

A golden hued spaghetti squash cooks up into long strings of delightfully crisp and slightly sweet “spaghetti”. It is a wonderful ingredient for a wide assortment of dishes, though some people find it a tough cookie when it comes to cooking.

DSC_0005As the name implies, the stringy meat can be used in place of traditional spaghetti with sauce, substituted for pasta in casseroles, tossed into stir fry, or just eaten with a little butter and garlic.

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I’ve been shown a quick and fairly efficient way to render one of these thin skinned, tough to cut while raw, squashes.

 

 

 

Microwave Render

DSC_0995Remove the stem end of the squash first. This end should have a bump in the middle after it pops off.

 

 

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Cut the squash into two equal parts. This can be a bit of a chore as the meat is hard in the raw state. If the squash is larger than 2 pounds, you may need to quarter it.

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Once the squash is opened up, use a hard edged spoon to scrape the seeds and surrounding stringy material out.

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Reserve the seeds for regrowing if you are into that. The stringy material is a slightly darker color than the meat, usually, so you can scrape until you hit the lighter, harder flesh.

DSC_1000Give the meat a light spritz or rub of olive oil. You may cook the squash in a conventional oven, or in a microwave. The microwave takes a bit less time.

 

 

If you plan to roast your squash in the oven, lay the halves face down on a foil lined pan, or spray the pan with olive oil. This will prevent sticking. Set the oven to 350F and let the squash cook for a half an hour or until soft.

DSC_1001For microwaving, spray a baking dish with olive oil and lay in the squash face down. You may have to repeat the process with each separate piece of squash depending on the size. Cook on high in five minute increments until the rind of the squash is soft when pressed with a finger. Be careful – it will be hot.

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The squash may look a little wilted around the edges when you turn the halves over for inspection after cooking. Not to worry, this is normal.

 

Practice will teach you how long is long enough for your recipe and personal tastes when cooking most squash.

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Turn once again to your trust hard edged spoon to scrape the meat out of the skin. Set the stringy meat aside in a bowl to reserve it until you are ready to add it to your recipe. It should scrape easily away from the skin.

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Once empty, the skin should look something like this.

 

 

Now that you have the process, here’s a quick recipe to let you test your squash with.

Chicken with Spaghetti Squash Bake
Prep time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:
1 med spaghetti squash (about 2 pounds)
1 lb chicken, diced
4-6 oz mushrooms, diced or sliced (Portobello is nice for this)
4 oz black olives, sliced
1 med bell pepper, diced, yellow or orange recommended
16 oz Alfredo sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
4-6 oz mozzarella, shredded
2 oz Provolone, sliced or shredded

Render spaghetti squash and microwave until done. Scoop meat out into a large bow and fold in Alfredo sauce. Cover and set aside.

While the squash is in the microwave, begin the chicken mixture. Add a little olive oil to a large skillet and saute chicken with spices. When the chicken is almost done, add mushrooms, bell pepper, and olives. Continue to cook until chicken is completely done.

Spray an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish with olive oil to prevent sticking. Turn out the chicken mixture into the baking dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle about half of the mozzarella evenly over the top.

Turn the spaghetti squash and sauce mixture into the dish on top of the chicken and spread evenly. Top with the remaining mozzarella and Provolone cheeses.

Make sure the Provolone is on top as it is a dryer cheese and will melt more slowly than the mozzarella. It will also crust better if you prefer to cook until brown.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes or until heated through and all cheeses are melted.

Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

–Ann Cathey

Lasagna Style Bake

This dish is so simple, and it takes leftovers out of your fridge in a heartbeat. Leftover pasta is often something foodies face, be it long and thin or round and stuffed. In our case it was a batch of tortellini filled with Italian sausage and cheese. There was a jar of left over red sauce with spinach, shredded carrots, roasted garlic, and onions, about 16 ounces, and a few other goodies. We added a ton of mozzarella cheese and it became a meal. The trick is in the layering to create an entirely new dish.

This is not so much a recipe as a guideline, really.

Lasagna Style Bake
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes to an hour
Pre-heat: oven to 300F
Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:
Check out your fridge and see what you’ve got. Our list included these items.
A pasta – spaghetti, ravioli, tortellini, whatever is on hand
A sauce – red, white or rose, or a mix of flavors
Veggies? Spinach, zucchini, onion, mushrooms, and garlic all work wonderfully
Olives? Black, green, kalamata…
Cheese – mozzarella and Provolone work best
Olive oil

Directions:
1. Choose a pan that will comfortably hold the ingredients. I chose an 8×8 Pyrex pan. Yours may need to be larger.
2. Spray or wipe pan lightly with olive oil.
3. Dribble in just enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. Mine was a tomato based sauce quite chunky with spinach and onion.
4. Lay in a layer of veggies. Sliced zucchini and mushroom were the veggies du jour.
5. Spread cheese everywhere in the pan. Don’t ignore the corners. At this point you may use shredded mozzarella, sliced provolone, a smear of ricotta or even well drained cottage cheese.
6. Add your pasta and distribute evenly across the pan. If you have a spaghetti style pasta, you may want to make several layers of it. Lumpier pastas, such as tortellini and ravioli, can be settled in a single layer if preferred.
7. Drizzle on some more sauce and another layer of veggies.
8. Add another layer of cheese at this point.
9. Pour the remaining sauce on top and distribute evenly. The heavier layer of sauce at the top will cook down into the rest of the dish.
10. Top with a goodly layer of cheese.
11. Cover with foil and bake at 300F for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how done you want your veggies.
12. Once removed from the oven, allow to rest for five minutes or so while you get ready to emplate.

There are so many variations on this dish that your imagination is the only possible limit. It can be done as a quick fix meal with canned sauce, any pasta, and cheese. Add whatever strikes your culinary fancy and have fun with it.

Enjoy!

–Ann Cathey

Crock-Pot Boxty

–Intro to Boxty

Crock-Pot Boxty – expand on this in the instructions

Ham bits
juices off ham
diced Portabello
1/4 cup roasted garlic cloves (loosely packed)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1TBSP dried onion bits
cabbage head, diced

Allow the pot to cook on low until all the cabbage is soft and slightly mushy. Serve over plain mashed potatoes and top with a sprinkle of grated cheddar.

 

I apologise for not have any photos of the resulting supper, but I was too busy eating it!

 

–Ann Cathey

Quick Eggless Brownies

I’ve been playing with recipes to create goodies for friends who are allergic to specific foods like eggs or nuts. This particular research was geared towards making brownies for a little boy who is allergic to eggs. I found a lot of helpful suggestions out there. After test cooking what I felt were the best of them, this is the simplest idea I came up with.

In choosing the brownie mix to be used, check the packaging to make sure that no eggs are either in the mix or have come in contact with it. Generally if a brownie mix calls for eggs, there won’t be any egg in the dry mix. Sometimes, however, the allergy statement may mention eggs.

No-Egg Pumpkin Brownies

Take 1 package of dry brownie mix (10-15oz) and one 15oz can of pure pumpkin. Mix them thoroughly. At first it may seem like there is not enough moisture, but you should find that there is plenty.

Turn the mixture out into a 9×9 pre-greased pan. Make sure to spread the dough around evenly. Bake in a pre-heated 325F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the dish comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for a few minutes before turning out or cutting into servings.

The resulting brownies are not cake-like. The finished confection has a dense, bread-like texture that is chewy without being tough. The pumpkin flavor is evident without outweighing the chocolate. The brownies are surprising in quality and level of satisfaction according to a est audience of more than 30 individuals.

If you prefer to make your brownies from scratch, go get your favorite recipe. Mix us all the dry ingredients and use a can of pumpkin in place of the wet ingredients. Nuts, chocolate bits, mini marshmallows, and even a bit of cinnamon may be added to taste for a variety of brownie options.

If you give this no-egg recipe a try, please drop a line here and let us know how it turns out!

— Ann Cathey

 

Blueberry Muffins and Beyond

Who doesn’t like a fresh muffin on a cool morning, hot out of the oven, maybe with butter or cream cheese stuffed inside to melt? Here is a recipe that makes fruity muffins simple and satisfying. I stole it from my daughter after trying her muffins!

Blueberry Muffins (basic recipe)
2 c flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c butter, melted
1 lg egg
3/4 c milk
1 1/2 c blueberries

Preheat oven to 350*F.
Combine dry ingredients.
In separate bowl combine wet ingredients.
Fold dry into wet until thouroughly mixed.
Fold in blueberries.
Spoon into greased or lined muffin tins.
Bake approx 10 minutes or until golden.

Blueberry Lemon Cherry Variation

Blueberry Lemon Cherry Variation

For a lemon variation add 2 teaspoons lemon zest and 2 teaspoons lemon juice (or more to taste) to wet ingredients.

The pictured variation is blueberry, lemon, and chopped maraschino cherries with a half tablespoon of the cherry juice.

Crushed pineapple may also be added for a different taste sensation. A variety of berries may be substituted for the blueberries, or added to them. Strawberries, dewberries, and blackberries are all tasty variations.

For folks with certain dietary restrictions, these substitutions are also handy:
Milk = Almond Milk, or other non-dairy alternative
Butter = olive or vegetable oil
Sugar = Truvia or other sugar substitutes suitable for baking
Egg = Egg white or egg substitute

With so many possibilities, how can you go wrong?

Crock-Pot Breakfast Casserole

A delightfully variable recipe came into my kitchen from a family reunion a few months ago. It’s taken all this time for me to try it out, and I’m sorry I waited!

The concept is simple – set it up the night before, so that it is hot and ready when you wake up the next morning. It’s great for parties when folks stay over, family gatherings, and for kid’s sleepovers. With the kids, it can be a great group activity to set up the meal.

Here is the basic recipe as I received it:

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1 bag (2#) hashbrowns
1 jar salsa
1 bag real bacon bits
1 small bag shredded cheddar (2 cups)
1 dozen eggs
1 cup whole milk
Salt & pepper to taste

Spray crock pot with non-stick spray. (Or use a bag liner – your choice)

Layer 1/3 of hashbrowns evenly into the bottom of the crock pot, 1/3 bacon bits, 1/3 salsa and 1/3 of cheese. Repeat twice, ending with cheese.

In a separate bowl, scramble eggs and milk. Add salt and pepper. Pour mixture evenly throughout the crock pot.

Cover and cook overnight 8-10 hours. Serve!

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Of course, my partner in food and I could not leave this alone.

Noticing the similarity between this recipe and a quiche (which we love and play with regularly), we picked up fresh eggs and cubed ham. Everything else needed was already in the kitchen.

We dutifully layered the hashbrowns, ham, and an excessive amount of cheddar into the pot, skipping the salsa for this first experiment. The eggs got a nice uplift of season salt, garlic and dill. We decided the salsa would be better if served cold and crisp on top of the hot and lovely casserole.

Two more friends joined us the next morning for breakfast. As we cracked the seal on the crock pot, the captivating aroma of melted cheese wafted playfully about the kitchen. Our attention, all four of us, was instantly riveted on the food.

We served up the gooey stuff from the crock-pot with a sprinkle of yet more cheese, a bit of salsa (hot sauce was also available), and, as if the cholesterol content wasn’t bad enough, a side of bacon.

This was a wonderful nosh! The possible variations for “next time” was the primary topic of conversation in between mouthfuls and moans of foodie pleasure.

Ham, sausage (pork, Italian, sage, chicken, etc.), crumbled bacon, and shredded turkey were all offered as possibilities for the meat ingredient. The cheese might need to be adjusted to compliment the meat, such as Mozzarella with Italian sausage, or Swiss for turkey.

Including the salsa in the crock-pot will give a nice flavor, though I personally prefer using as a condiment rather than a spice.

The “salt and pepper to taste” is an excellent base spice choice. Our use of garlic and dill rather than pepper gave the dish a mild flavor, enhancing the cheese rather than taking over. Spicing to match the meat/cheese combination is the way to go.

Experiment with this “super-quiche” and let us know what you come up with!

— Ann Cathey

Cheesy Pinto Bean Dip courtesy of ALDI

Some of you are already aware of a little grocery chain called ALDI. They only take cash or debit, make you bag your own groceries, and get you to return your shopping carts properly by charging you a quarter to use one – which you get back when you return the cart.

They also maintain a website that offers recipes using products available in their store. Some items may only be temporary, so if you want to try it exactly the way it’s published, make haste with your ingredients. You can always figure out substitutions later. One such recipe that caught our eye while we were visiting the sore is the Cheesy Pinto Bean Dip, made available the week before the Superbowl. Good marketing on ALDI’s part.

Of course, we had to pick up all the ingredients we could find that we were interested in, and substitutions for what was not available. We did leave out the green chilies and onions, and bought Mexican Bland cheese rather than the Quesadilla Cheese, which we could not locate. Mild salsa was used in place of Medium to allow the flavors rather than the heat to be sampled. Black olives replaced the green chilies to good effect, both as a layer and sprinkled on top.

Their Test Kitchen Photo

Following the recipe was quite simple. We went step by step, building the dip in layers. By the time it went into the oven, we were more than ready to try it! The anticipation in the kitchen was not overwhelming, though definitely present. When the oven opened, the drooling began. The cheese on top had melted into a lovely golden layer. We knew what it was hiding beneath and couldn’t wait to try it. We let it cool a little so as not to burn ourselves too badly before digging in, chips first.

The chips we prefer are a thinner, crispier style that threatened to break in dense depths of cheese and beans. The flavors made us not worry about the chips. The two types and textures of cheeses, one very melty and gooey while hot and the other very creamy, made a lovely contrast while complimenting each other with cheesy goodness. The beans offered two different textures, one creamy re-fried style and the other whole beans, that again complimented one another and the cheeses. The seasoning in the beans was enough to enhance the flavors without overpowering them. The salsa was a little underplayed in the flavor, but lent the crunchy texture of peppers, onions, and tomatoes in the middle of the layers.

Our Test Kitchen Photo

Our compliments to Chef Alyssa from the ALDI Test Kitchen for this simple and tasty recipe. We will be checking out more recipes from ALDI in the future!

-Ann Cathey