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LASAGNA: SLOW COOKER STYLE by Sandra Lewis Print E-mail
by Sandra Lewis    Mon, Dec 12, 2005, 12:08 PM

Most people I mention this recipe to say, “I didn’t know you could do lasagna in a slow-cooker.”  crockpot.JPG

I’m not sure why the use of a slow cooker seems to be a somewhat mysterious and infrequent undertaking in the kitchen.  

Just about anything you can assemble on the stovetop or bake in the oven can (with a few tweaks here and there) be prepared with a slow cooker.  But that is just my humble opinion.

And that brings me to lasagna.

As slow cooker recipes go this is one of my favorites, but it's no substitute for the real thing. I make this adaptation when I am in the mood for lasagna, but don’t have the time to assemble and bake the oven version.

Slow Cooker Lasagna
1 pound Italian sausage
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (29 oz) crushed tomatoes
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 package (8 oz) no-cook lasagna noodles
4 cups (16 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 (12 oz) container ricotta cheese
½ cup parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried basil

In a skillet, cook beef, onion, and garlic until meat is no longer pink; drain if necessary. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, and oregano; mix well. Spread a fourth of the meat sauce in an ungreased 5-quart slow cooker. Arrange a third of the noodles over the sauce (break the noodles up to fit in the slow cooker). Combine the ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, and basil. Spoon a third of the mixture over the noodles; top that with a third of the mozzarella. Repeat layers twice. Top with remaining meat sauce. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours or until noodles are tender. 6-8 servings.

Sandra’s Kitchen Notes:

  • I always sprinkle the top meat sauce layer with a bit of mozzarella.
  • I don’t really measure the mozzarella.  I like cheese so I add it to suit my taste, but I'm sure it would be more than 4 cups if I took the time to measure it. :)
  • The no-cook noodles work well in the slow cooker. I would never use them in the oven version.
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BABY IT'S COLD OUTSIDE! by Sandra Lewis Print E-mail
by Sandra Lewis    Fri, Dec 9, 2005, 12:35 PM

snowmanmug.jpgWith a thermometer reading of 16 degrees last night Dallas dipped just below the record low of 17 that was recorded on this day in 1919.

Baby, it’s cold outside!

(Of course, being the native Dallassite that I am anytime the Fahrenheit falls below 75 I’m cold.)

So now that it’s really cold it’s time to enjoy some hot chocolate. Cold weather and hot chocolate go together like…well, I’m not sure what. Perhaps you can post your ideas on this.

The point is if you’re going to drink hot chocolate you might as well enjoy a great (not good, great!) cup. It’s easier than you think and the recipe posted below is made with real cocoa and milk.  Notice the natural ingredient list?

WARNING: Once you drink it you’ll never once again be satisfied with the prepackaged powder (that isn’t real cocoa and has lots of extra chemicals that you don’t need anyways) stuff.

This is an easy concoction and the only way to go.

The Best Hot Chocolate
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
¾ cup hot water
2 ¼ cups milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla, if desired

Mix sugar, cocoa, and salt in a saucepan. Stir in hot water until chocolate mixture is thoroughly mixed. Stir in milk and heat on low until heated through; avoid boiling. Makes 5 (2/3 cup) servings.

Sandra's Kitchen Notes:

  • I've never used the ¼ teaspoon of vanilla. It's a bit too frufru for me; I prefer not to stray from the pure hot chocolate taste.
  • Sprinkling a few marshmallows in my cup is a very necessary indulgence.
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AN EXPERIMENT IN PECAN PIE by Sandra Lewis Print E-mail
by Sandra Lewis    Thu, Dec 1, 2005, 01:09 PM

pecanpie.jpgWhile growing up my mother’s favorite cooking adventures were desserts.

But I’ve never been a dessert person, ever.

While my family was chowing down on whatever ooey-gooey, sugary creation my mom had prepared, I’d have a second helping of black-eyed peas, squash, okra, or whatever vegetable was on the table. The extent of my dessert consumption would be a “taste” so I wouldn’t hurt my mom’s feelings.

So I guess it will come as no surprise that before this Thanksgiving I’ve never made a pie.

I've never had an interest. In addition to the fact that pie falls into my least favorite food category, I thought pie crust was tricky, time consuming, and, yawn, just not exciting.

But as fate would have it, my neighbor had a bumper crop of pecans this year. (I had written about my pecan shelling adventure previously here.)

And it just seemed time that I try my hand at pecan pie. Thanksgiving was approaching and so I did.

I made a test pie a couple of weeks ago. Making pie crust was not as tricky or time consuming as I thought and definitely not boring.

According to Brian, Ariel’s boyfriend, I made the best pecan pie he’s had in all of his 18 years.

With feedback like that there will definitely be more pies in my future.

I made the same pie again at Thanksgiving with only one complication. Note to self: next time don't leave the pie unattended in the presence of a teenager who picks the pecans out of it before Thanksgiving dinner.

So here is the recipe. There’s plenty of time to give this a try with the upcoming holidays.

Let me know what you think.

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Crust
1/4 cups all-purpose bleached flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter
1 large egg

Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl and stir well to mix. Cut butter into 1-tablespoon pieces and add to dry ingredients. Toss once or twice to coat pieces of butter. Then using your hands or a pastry blender, break the butter into tiny pieces and pinch and squeeze it into the dry ingredients. Occasionally reach down to the bottom of the bowl and mix all the ingredients evenly together. Continue rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse-ground cornmeal and no large pieces of butter remain visible. Beat the egg(s) in a small bowl and pour over the flour and butter mixture. Stir in with a fork until the dough begins to hold together, but still appears somewhat dry. Scatter a teaspoon of flour on the work surface and scrape the dough out onto it. Press and knead the dough quickly 3 or 4 times, until it is smooth and uniform.

Press the dough into a disk.  Sandwich the disk of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and press it into a 6-inch circle. Refrigerate the dough until firm, or until you are ready to use it, at least 1 hour.   Storage: Keep the dough in the refrigerator up to two days, or freeze it double-wrapped in plastic. Because the dough is thin, it will defrost quickly at room temperature when you intend to use it.

Variations:  Add 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon each freshly grated nutmeg and ground cloves to the dry ingredients before mixing in the butter.  

Filling
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 cups chopped toasted pecans
1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 eggs, lightly beaten

While the crust is baking make the filling: In medium saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and stirring constantly, continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the nuts, bourbon, and the vanilla. Set the mixture aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. (If the crust has cooled, return it to the oven for 5 minutes to warm through.) Whisk the beaten eggs into the filling until smooth. Put the pie shell on a sheet pan and pour the filling into the hot crust.

Bake on the lower oven rack until the edges are set but the center is still slightly loose, about 40 to 45 minutes. (If the edges get very dark, cover them with aluminum foil half way during baking.) Cool on a rack. Serve slightly warm or room temperature.

Sandra’s Kitchen Notes:

  •  I adapted this recipe from a couple of recipes I found on FoodNetwork.com.
  • I chopped and toasted ½ cup of the pecans.  I will try toasing all of the pecans next time.
  • I used two tablespoons of bourbon :).  
  • I didn’t use the spices in the crust, but think it would make for an interesting variation.
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NEXT TIME IT WON'T BE HITACHI by Sandra Lewis Print E-mail
by Sandra Lewis    Tue, Nov 29, 2005, 09:50 AM

For 20+ years I owned the same RCA TV set. (I received it as a gift when I was 12.)

(Just kidding.)

rca tv.jpgIt outlasted my girls’ toddler and elementary school years and persevered through five moves, once across state lines and four local ones.

It was a technological dinosaur as of several years ago, but it worked, and worked, and worked, for years and years and years. So I kept it.

The TV was used mostly for watching rented movies. Somewhere around 1995 I disconnected the cable and there was no television service at my house besides what we could pick up with a rabbit ears antenna.

I sided with Bruce Springsteen on this issue – “57 Channels (and nothin’ on)” – and I couldn’t justify paying for nothin’.

My girls thought me evil at the time, but both have since thanked me. (I love it when that happens.)

So the TV was mostly used for watching rented movies.

And then one morning three years and one month ago I woke up lusting for a big screen TV (or at least a bigger screen), and so decided that I needed an updated movie-watching venue.

Being single does have its advantages as there was no one to consult on this purchase. (And even if I weren’t, what man in his right mind would have protested this decision?)

I gave my RCA TV in perfect working condition to a single father friend of mine, Craig, with six kids.

hitachiripoff.jpgA couple of days later I took delivery of a 43-inch Hitachi HDTV. It was the largest screen with the best picture I could get for the money at the time, $2,100.

And in honor of the purchase I resubscribed to cable (the $15 a month package).

My guy friends were envious. (Only guys experience TV envy.)

Three years and one month later I am furious.

From what I’ve read of others’ experiences, it seems that this particular line of Hitachi TV goes kaput at the three year mark.

The screen is way dark and the color scheme would only make sense to someone in an altered state of mind. (Cameron Diaz’s hair was not green the first time I watched Vanilla Sky – and, yes, great flick.)

I wondered if Hitachi thought that three years was an appropriate life span for this set so I called. Without a protection plan I was out of luck and needed to call for a repair.

But thanks for calling Hitachi, he said.

Whatever.

Repair or replace? It’s a dilemma.

Repair = expensive.

Replace = even more expensive.

I called Craig to see how my old RCA TV had fared at his house. Still going strong, he said. They watched a movie on it this weekend and it serves as the family video game center.

That TV is a survivor.

For $49 I could buy a TV just like it off of eBay if I’d be willing to drive to Edmond, Oklahoma.

It might just be worth it, except this TV isn’t working either.

Yes, I hear it.  That's Bruce Springsteen calling my name.

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CRAZY LITTLE EVENING WITH DWIGHT YOAKAM by Sandra Lewis Print E-mail
by Sandra Lewis    Sun, Nov 27, 2005, 06:36 PM

I am not a person with a huge collection of music and the music I do own is quite eclectic, classical, rock, alternative, gospel, and some I don't know how to classify like the Red Elvises.

And then there’s country. Half of my country music collection is Dwight Yoakam. Since I only have four country music CDs ripped to iTunes, that means two of those are Dwight. If I count a couple of cassettes of his music I purchased several years ago, then more than half of my country collection is Dwight.

Dwight performed at Billy Bob's Texas Saturday night and I was there with my friend Gracie to hear him.

His voice is crystal clear and every bit as strong in person as it is recorded. And he does this thing with his voice that, well, I’m not even sure how to describe except it’s pure enjoyment when I hear it.

I admire singers who are also songwriters and Dwight definitely fits into this category.

He kicked off the show with “She’ll Remember” from his most recent album, “Blame the Vain”; Dwight penned every song on this album and it’s one of his best in years.

ACF13A8.jpgGracie and I had the cheap, general admission tickets so we didn’t get to see much of Dwight, we mostly just listened. This was ok as we were too busy between his opening song and encore scootin' our boots and twirling around the dance floor to even care; really, I had no idea I could spin like that.

Dwight’s encore song was “Crazy Little Thing Called Love."  If I had to pick out a favorite Dwight song (which is hard to do because all his stuff is a favorite) this one makes the list.

I had a suspicion that Dwight didn’t write it, but who did?  Elvis, maybe? It sounds like something Elvis would sing.  So, as I often do out of pure curiosity, I turned to the Internet to find out.

And I was shocked at what I discovered.

Freddie Mercury of Queen wrote “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” during a soak in the tub.

Wow. It’s a Freddie Mercury tune. Go figure. Dwight recorded it in 1999 for The Gap; the song debuted in a commercial for the clothing retailer during the 1999 Academy Awards.  I'm glad he did.

I had a chance encounter with Dwight sans the cowboy hat this past July at a back table in Terrilli’s a couple of days following his concert at Gilley’s. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to shake his hand and tell him I enjoyed the concert.

I doubt my luck will hold for another chance encounter with Dwight following last night’s concert, so this will have to do – thanks for a crazy little evening at Billy Bob's Texas Mr. Yoakam.

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