Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why Did I Not Know About This Sooner

I think I really became interested in cooking when my kids and I moved to a tiny town at the base of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, not long after my divorce. When the three of us arrived and moved into the old farmhouse we brought the population of that town up to a whopping 220. Across the street to the north was a ranch with several noisy steers and to the west was the Last Chance Tavern, complete with a drive up window, in case you wanted to get something to go. I'm not sure the drive up window got much traffic since we were pretty well at the end of the road before you hit the dirt heading up the mountain. But at least one had options.

I worked in a town of about 15,000 several miles up the road but loved the solitude and quietness of our humble abode in the sticks. We moved into our house in Big Horn on a lovely day just after Christmas with temperatures hovering in the 50's. A week later it was being dubbed as the worst winter in ten years. If you've never been to Wyoming in the winter you're missing out. It's blowing snow that is so dry it piles up in drifts along the road side fences making it next to impossible to see where the edge of the road stops and the shoulder begins. On many a night, driving those several miles home in the dark I'd ask my son to keep his eyes peeled for the fence posts on his side of the road and my daughter to be on the lookout for the fence posts on her side of the road. Every now and then I'd hear from the backseat, 'uh, mom, you're getting kind of close to the fence. And that's how I'd keep all four on the road. As they say, it's all part of the adventure.

I had a lot of time during those winter evenings and on the weekends, so I began using that time to experiment with my cooking. I'd find recipes that sounded interesting and tweak them to fit my taste. I don't know that I've ever followed a recipe exactly as it's written, mainly because I tend to treat recipes more like suggestions than absolutes. I'm the type that never (or very rarely) uses exact measurements but throws everything together based on sight and taste. Some days I go heavy on the paprika and some days I like an extra jalapeno. Maybe that's why sitting down to write out a recipe is so tough for me - because it's never exact and always changing. (At least that's my excuse for not posting more of my recipes.)

Anyway, all these years later, in a quest to continue the expansion my culinary aptitude I recently discovered cooking lasagna in the crock pot. I'm sure it's been around forever but when I read about it I thought, "huh, that sounds good" and proceeded to give it a try(I know, I'm so yesterday). I've now made a vegetarian version which is really good, but if you're a strict carnivore like me the meat version is what it's all about. I wish I'd known about this years ago because this beats baking lasagna in a pan and being all worried about how it looks on the plate. Simply because this is so good you won't care how it looks when you scoop it out of the crock pot.

Crock Pot Lasagna

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 3-1/2 hours

1 lb. Mild Italian Sausage
2 14.5 oz cans Tomato Sauce
1 14.5 oz can Crushed Tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can Diced Italian Style Tomatoes
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 tsp Thyme
3.5 oz Pepperoni, diced
5-6 Cups Spinach
12 Lasagna Noodles (Uncooked)
15 oz Ricotta Cheese
3 Cups Mozzarella, grated
1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese

In a non-stick skillet crumble and brown the Italian Sausage until cooked through and no pink is showing. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, Italian-style tomatoes, garlic and thyme. Let the sauce come to a nice boil then cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 10-15 minutes.

In a 5-6 quart crock pot, cover the bottom with about 3/4 cup of the sauce. Top with 4 of the noodles, breaking them to fit along the bottom of the crock pot. **(Do not cris-cross the noodles.) Completely cover the noodles with about 1-1/2 cups of sauce, half the spinach, half the ricotta (drop by spoon fulls over the spinach), 1 cup of mozzarella, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and half of the pepperoni. Repeat one more layer. For 3rd layer use remaining noodles, sauce and mozzarella. Cook on low for 3-1/2 hours and until the noodles are tender.

Serves 6-8, or 4 very hungry boys.

**For a vegetarian version, omit the meat of course, and add zucchini, squash and grated carrot to the sauce.