October 7, 2009

Jen's Slow Cooker Lasagna

I decided not to post yesterday, since our meal was comprised of take out food. I figured that no one would be really upset if I did not do a full post on something that was obtained through a drive thru window.
Actually, the husband's parents brought a bucket o' chicken over for dinner last night...so the nice part was that I was off the hook for cooking. We went the super-lazy route and even did paper plates! Not only did I not have to prepare a meal, but there were not any dishes either. It was quite a sweet deal, let me tell you!!! I really appreciate "no cooking" nights.

I am going to go the easy route again tonight, and do a slow cooker lasagna recipe. I have never tried to make slow cooker lasagna before, so this will be an adventure for all of us. Basically, I plan on taking my mom's lasagna recipe and adapting it for crock pot cooking.

On another note...I have discovered that I break slow cookers' like nobody's business. I just broke another one last week...one that I have had for only about a year! So, once again I find myself with a brand new slow cooker. Sigh. I did my research and I hope this new one will be a little more forgiving than my last one. Seriously! I cannot believe that this will be my third slow cooker in just over a year. Double sigh. Oh well, I will let you know how the new one performs and how my lasagna turns out!

Jen's Slow Cooker Lasagna

Cooking spray
1 box of lasagna noodles, no boil
2 Tablespoon of olive oil or canola oil
1 large onion, diced
1 lb. of Italian sausage (use 1/2 lb. of hot and 1/2 lb. regular)
2 small cans of tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans of water (use empty tomato paste cans) OR chicken stock
1 can of tomato puree or plain tomato sauce
2 fresh tomatoes, diced
1 Tablespoon of dried oregano
1 Tablespoon of dried basil
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1 teaspoon of chili powder
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
1 ball of mozzarella, shredded
1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Spray slow cooker with cooking spray and set aside.

2)In a large skillet make meat sauce as follows: Brown sausage over medium-high heat with diced onion, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, red pepper flakes, chili powder,garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Drain grease. Make a space in hot skillet by pushing meat aside. Add tomato paste to empty space in skillet, and let cook for approximately 2 minutes, or until tomato paste starts to brown. Add water and tomato puree (or sauce). Add bay leaves and fresh tomatoes. Let simmer for approximately 5 minutes, or until desired sauce consistency is achieved. Set aside meat sauce.

3)Start layering, by adding tomato sauce in a thin, even layer into the bottom of the slow cooker. (Just use liquid tomato sauce without meat; separate sauce and meat with a spoon.)

4)Add noodles over the sauce in bottom of the slow cooker; approximately 3-4 whole noodles covering the bottom. You may need to break the noodles up to ensure all area is covered.

5)Spoon about 1/3 of the layer of meat sauce onto noodles.

6) Add 1/3 shredded mozzarella and 1/3 Parmesan cheeses over the meat sauce layer.

7)Add another layer of noodles, covering meat sauce layer. Break up the noodles again to fit the slow cooker, if needed.

8) Add the ricotta cheese over the noodle layer, by using your hands to crumble ricotta over the noodles. Then, press ricotta gently with fingers to spread ricotta out evenly over all of the noodles (I find that using your hands is the easiest way to do this).

9) Add another layer of noodles, covering the ricotta.

10) Add another layer of meat sauce, covering the noodles.

11) Add 1/3 shredded mozzarella and 1/3 Parmesan cheeses over the meat sauce layer.

12)Add remaining noodles on top, creating a roof.

13)Add remaining sauce on top of noodles and sprinkle with remaining cheeses.

14) Cook in slow cooker on low for 4 hours.

Jen's Notes:
This still proved to be a labor-intensive method, so I don't know how much of an "easy time saver" this is by doing it in the slow cooker. I didn't have to boil noodles, so that is a plus. Also, the slow cooker allows for a little more flexibility while cooking. Basically, you load everything up and forget about it until it is time to eat. I guess this recipe would be a lot easier if you did not make the sauce from scratch. Then, all you would need to do is mix your favorite jarred sauce with the browned onions, sausage, and garlic and call it good. That would certainly save a lot of steps and ingredients for this dish. I am really curious as to how this version is going to stand up to my regular baked lasagna.

The Result:
This tasted just as good as the original version, but it did not save me any time by doing it in the slow cooker. Removing it from the slow cooker to portion out was a bit tricky, too. It didn't hold together as well as it normally does. So, instead of lasagna squares we got a lasagna pile on our plates. Alas, it was still everything lasagna should be, and I am excited to have the leftovers. I don't know if I will try this method again, or just stick to my original way of doing it by baking it in the oven.

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