Welcome to my world!

I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Slow Cooker Lasagna - Better the Second Day?!

I have a love-hate relationship with slow cooker lasagna.  I LOVE the idea of cooking lasagna in a slow cooker, but hate the results.  I came across a recipe for a slow cooker recipe that celebrated mushrooms - one of my favorite veggies, so I decided to give it a try.

Basically, slow cooker lasagna works much like regular lasagna - prep ingredients ahead and assemble before cooking.  The difference is that the lasagna noodles should be the "oven ready" variety and the prep is with a slow cooker rather than a lasagna pan.  This recipe requires that the ground beef and mushrooms be cooked ahead and then layered into the noodles and cottage cheese.

Were I to do this recipe again, I would 1) sauté the mushrooms and onions separately to build a layer of flavor, 2) brown the ground beef and season BEFORE combining with mushrooms, 3) use spaghetti sauce rather than plain tomato sauce, 4) punch up the flavor with more garlic and dried herbs, and; 5:  sub ricotta cheese for the cottage cheese (personal preference).  It's not that this recipe was bad, but it's just based on what I love for a regular lasagna (and that I have a sentimental attachment to a recipe my husband first made for me when we dated).  Honestly, my taste in lasagna is probably more Americanized, but who cares - it's comfort food any way you want it!

All of that said, slow cooker lasagna is super-easy, though it comes out different than regular lasagna.  It's more mushy and is more something you spoon out than cut out and serve.  However, if you love the stacked lasagna look, cook the lasagna a day early, then put into a container that allows you to stack the lasagna in a double layer.  It firms up nicely and can be easily cut into squares and reheated the next day.  And we all know that leftover Italian food is even better the next day!

I'm giving you a basic slow cooker lasagna recipe, but feel free to modify to your tastes and remember to use a 5-qt or larger slow cooker.  It doesn't cut into squares straight out of the slow cooker - it's more like a spooned up skillet recipe, but it's tasty! It makes a lot, but if you're like me, you'll take it and double stack it  for leftovers! It actually tasted better the second day and because it was chilled then reheated, it's easier to shape into a square before rewarming in the microwave. Happy eating!

Better the second day.

Slow Cooker Lasagna

Adapted from a recipe in Prevention Magazine
1 lb extra lean ground beef or bulk Italian sausage
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms or 1 can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 clove garlic, minced
9 oven ready lasagna noodles
1 jar (28 oz) spaghetti sauce
1 container (16 oz) reduced or fat-free cottage cheese
2 cups shredded reduced fat mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown ground beef and onion until nicely browned and cooked through.  Add in tomatoes, mushrooms, and garlic and saute another 5 minutes.  Coat 4-qt or larger slow cooker with cooking spray. Place 3 noodles, side by side or slightly overlapping, in bottom of cooker. Top with 1/3 each of the spaghetti sauce, cottage cheese, beef mixture, and mozzarella. Repeat layers 2 more times, ending with mozzarella. Sprinkle Parmesan on top. Cover and cook on low 4 - 5 hours or until lasagna is cooked through and cheese is bubbly.  Spoon onto plates (this will be very soft) and garnish with more Parmesan.

For leftovers: place contents in a rectangular or square dish and refrigerate. When ready to eat, cut into squares and place on microwave-safe plate. Cover with paper towels (to prevent splatter) and reheat on medium power (50%) for 1 - 2 minutes or until heated through (time will vary by size of slice and microwave power).  Can also use "reheat" setting on microwave if available. Garnish with more mozzarella and Parmesan.

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