Slow Cooker Lasagna, A Healthier Version of my Favorite Comfort Food!

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One of my favorite things to do on weekend mornings is to watch cooking shows, mostly on the Food Network Channel. I sleep a little longer and my hubby gets up first. He puts on a pot of coffee and I get up when I smell the brew!  I flip on the TV and do my morning stretching/yoga routine, while sipping Starbucks coffee and watching chefs whip up various dishes. I often draw inspiration for my weekly menu planning this way. Last weekend I hit on a great one!

I was watching The Kitchen and Katy Lee demonstrate her recipe for “slow cooker lasagna soup.” What drew me to this was the ease of the slow cooker-I could assemble in the morning and have it ready for the end of the day. Also, I love the idea of controlling the amount of overall carbs and calories! This method would greatly reduce the number of lasagna noodles and amount of cheese in my regular lasagna recipe. Another huge bonus is that not all of my family eats cheese. The traditional lasagna is layered with cheese and noodles making it hard for people who want to avoid the cheese to pick around it. The cheeses are added at the end with this method, and if you want to skip that step all together, you still get all the great lasagna flavor!

I set out to modify my current recipe for this technique. Super easy and tasty!

I started by browning 1 pound of sweet Italian sausage, breaking it up into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon. This was drained to remove any extra grease, which I did not want in the final dish.

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While the sausage cooked, I set to work on the slow cooker ingredients. 1 yellow onion, medium diced, went into the crock pot.

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From here we just start adding ingredients! Granulated garlic, 2 cloves of fresh garlic, Italian seasonings, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, crushed tomatoes in puree, tomato paste, tomato sauce and the sausage. I like to mix dried and fresh herbs, so chopped basil and oregano are included. Be careful with fresh oregano-it is much stronger than dried so a little goes a long way!

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We need quite a bit of liquid because the lasagna noodles will need to cook in the sauce, near the end of the cooking time. So, 4 cups of low sodium chicken broth was added, along with salt and pepper.

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This gets a big stir, covered and then set on low for 8 hours, or high for 6 hours. The noodles are added during the last hour to 30 minutes of cooking time. I like traditional lasagna noodles as opposed to the “no bake” variety, but I suspect that they would work too.

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The number of noodles you choose to add is really up to you. You could use other noodles as well, as long as it is a hardy version. Raviolis would be wonderful too!

I broke up 8 lasagna noodles and stirred them into the sauce mixture.

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40 minutes later, it was looking and smelling like lasagna!

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This was spooned into two soup mugs, that were oven safe, and we covered it with grated mozzarella, shaved parmesan and Italian parsley. I put them under the broiler for about 6 minutes. This is completely optional! You could save the calories and fat and dive right in!

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We were thrilled to get the lasagna flavors in a healthier version! I am not going to pretend that this is good for you, it is comfort food. However, you really can alter it for your own health goals. Give it a try and let me know what you think 🙂

 

Slow Cooker Lasagna

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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All the great lasagna flavor from your slow cooker, with less carbs, fat and calories than the traditional layered dish.

Credit: invisible-no-more.com

Ingredients

-1 to 1 1/2 pounds of sweet Italian sausage

-1 medium sized yellow onion, med chopped

-1/2 teaspoon granulated of powdered garlic

-2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

-1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

-1 bay leaf

-1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

-1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes in puree

-1 6 oz. can tomato paste

-1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

-4 cups low sodium chicken broth

-2 to 4 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

-1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

-1/2 teaspoon black pepper

-8 oz. fresh mozzarella, grated

-Shaved or shredded parmesan, for sprinkling

-chopped fresh Italian parsley for garnish

 

Directions

  1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the italian sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
  2. In a slow cooker, combine the sausage with the garlic, both fresh and powdered, the dried Italian seasoning, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, chicken broth, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Cook on high for 5 1/2 hours or on low for 7 1/2.
  3. Stir in the lasagna noodles and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to broil. Ladle the lasagna into ovenproof bowls. Top each with a few tablespoons of shredded mozzarella, a sprinkle of Parmesan and the parsley. Place on a baking sheet and heat under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly, 5 to 8 minutes. 
 

Enjoy 🙂

 

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Eating and Drinking our way through the Tucson Botanical Gardens, Savor Tucson!

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We are still getting familiar with all the cool happenings that Tucson has to offer. One that came up on our radar was the Savor Southern Tucson Food and Wine Festival  for charity, which was held last Saturday.

We really had no idea what we were getting into, it just looked like a lot of fun, food and a beautiful setting, as it was held at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. We have been to the gardens before and knew it was spectacular.

So we called UBER and set out on a fabulous 77°F day for four hours of indulgence! When the guests first arrived, we were all given complementary wine glasses, always a good sign.

There is no way to cover all that we experienced, so I am going to highlight our favs. The categories are: Bread, Sweets, Savory and Spirits!

Our first winner was Beyond Bread which is pictured above. In addition to showcasing bread letters, which were huge by the way, they sampled their creole shrimp salad and King Cake, in honor of Mardi Gras.

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The creole shrimp salad was good, but look at that perfect baguette!

Toward the end of the day, I went back and sampled the King Cake and it was tasty too.

Moving right along, we went into Nothing Bundt Cakes. We may have made a technical error here! While we were tempted, we decided we should eat something closer to a lunch meal before indulging. Turns out we missed some rather impressive flavors, as others told us later.

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We did loop back toward the end and we each sampled a different flavor, and wow! Not only are the cakes fantastic, but that butter cream cheese frosting was to die for!! I will have to find this store soon!

True to our first mantra of “eat lunch first” we hit a couple other stands. All the while, remember we are sipping libations! Wine, Moscow mules, margaritas and sangria for me. Any beer, whiskey and red wine for the hubby!

The Omni Chef from The Omni Tucson National Resort was our next stop. The line was longer, which we took to be sign of great things to come. We were right!

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Their beef tenderloin with roasted red pepper coulis crostini. I could have had 20 of these!

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This is their layered flan, several different layers. I don’t remember all of them but there is one with mint and strawberry and topped with chocolate pearls. I had two of these 🙂

They were delicious but small bites, so we needed to keep going to get our $75 dollars worth! It does get a little murky from here, so I don’t remember all the restaurants as I have now found the sangria stand! But I can tell you that all of this was delicious.

Top left; barbecue goat with spicy red pepper slaw, top right; the best barbecue pork ever! middle right: Frederico, that is what the server called him! Bottom image: a little cannoli that was really good! I say that with surprise because I am not usually a cannoli fan. I think the fact that it was just two bites and not a ton of cream filling was a huge plus for me.

We are now about 2 hours into the event and getting full! We decided to actually look around at the Botanical displays, and chat with people at the event.

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A portion of the herb garden

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As we were taking in the sights, we stumbled (me, literally) into the Spirits section. My hubby tasted a lot whiskey! And, we both went for the Tequila experience.

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3 Amigos Tequila had three offerings complete with pairings! I have no idea which I had, but all three were awesome 🙂

We decided to take a seat and do some people watching while the glow of my tequila experience wore off! Along the way, I found another special dessert.

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This was a deconstructed lemon bar. Shortbread crumbs on the bottom, lemon curd filling and lime caviar made through a molecular gastronomy process. The chef showed me how it was done and the equipment used, which was fun for this molecular biologist.

It was gooood, and I wanted another, but he ran out well before the event ended! I am  not surprised.

We continued to look for a seat and took a few photos along the way.

Lots of people watching and fun conversations! Everyone was pretty chatty at this point.

 

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Several people we met told us that this is the best food and wine event in Tucson, I think it will be hard to beat. The food, the people and the weather were all perfect!

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We were also told it would take 3 to 4 hours to recover from this event. Um, ya, that was about right for me!

Who wants to go with us next year?! 🙂

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Sally’s Baking Addiction, January Challenge: Conquering Yeast!

Well, actually we were supposed to make bread bowls. But Sally really wants this group to expand their abilities and provide us a successful way to learn the basics of bread baking.

Many of you know that I already love to bake bread and have had a lot of practice with artisan loaves. So, I wanted to try out her recipe but also play a little bit! As a result I did not bake the bowls but used a recent episode of “The Great British Baking Show” as part of my inspiration with this challenge.

Hubby and I have been watching the most recent season on Netflix, and in one episode the bakers made Fougasse bread for one of the technical challenges. Traditionally this bread is made with olives, but I detest olives! And, I had some leftover caramelized onions and roasted peppers from a pulled pork recipe earlier in the week (maybe you saw that sandwich on my Instagram?), so that was my flavor profile for the Fougasse.

I began with Sally’s bread bowl recipe which is a straight dough for the most part. I chose one of her recommended variations and added 2T of Italian seasonings.

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The dough came together quite nicely.

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The yeast is good and active, always a positive sign!

The dough was left to prove and double in size. It was a hot day here in Tucson so this only took an hour!

The final weight was 2 lbs 12 oz or 44 oz total. As I said before, I wanted to play so I divided the dough into two equal portions, 22 oz each (or 1 lb 6oz.)

 

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Time to get out the leftovers and chop finely

I added the caramelized onions and yellow peppers to one portion of the dough. The tricky part is getting them incorporated as they do have quite a bit of moisture. I just kept at it! I was careful to not over knead the dough as I did not want it to be too tough.

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This was shaped into a rough (so very rough!) oval and the Fougasse cuts were made.

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The cuts need to be quite large so they don’t fill in during the second prove and subsequent baking.

I left this to prove for a second time and turned my attention to the second portion of dough. I kept this one a little simple and just formed it into a long baguette. I then used a pair of scissors to make the leaf sections.

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This turned out to be too long for my sheet pan! So I had to cut it into two loaves

 

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This also had to be set aside for its second proving.

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Both types of bread needed a crunchy exterior so I did not use Sally’s egg wash and put them into a 400°F oven with steam. The results were pretty darn tasty!

 

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One of my concerns was that the onions and peppers on the surface would burn, fortunately, that did not happen.

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When we got inside it was baked through and retained the moisture from the vegetables, so it was not dry!

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I was also pleased with the flavor and texture of the baguettes.

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These froze well and made some wonderful sandwiches later in the week.

Overall, we liked both versions but really found the Fougasse to be extraordinary! My husband has not stopped talking about that one!

I do hope Sally continues with the bread challenges, my hubby hopes so too 🙂

 

Yoga Retreat, One More Time

Last January I let my hubby talk me into attending a yoga retreat. He is a big yogi and his instructor told him about a retreat she was holding just north of Manzanillo. I was skeptical. I don’t love Mexican food, we had been to Mexico many times and it was always way too hot for me and I only do yoga when I can’t rock climb or run. So, how much fun could I possibly have?

The answer: So Much!!

Our goal last year was to meet fun people and do some yoga. We greatly exceeded those expectations, so much so that we signed up to go again this year. We even hosted a reunion last summer at our house. My blog posts from last time Good Morning from Manzanillo!, Exploring Bara de NavidadHappy Hour,Snorkeling and Lunch in Santiago Bay! and Our Yoga Retreat Wrap Up! are full of pictures and images that we were privy to this time around as well. So, for this year’s post, I tried to focus more on what was different.

Bill and Susan, our hosts, were once again, fabulous! They made most of our meals and they both are great cooks! Additionally, they would take us to places that no other tourists go-we had day trips to Colima and Comala and they chose restaurants that the locals frequent. They are a big reason why we chose to repeat this experience. Of course Lisa, our yoga teacher, was another big draw to the event! Once again we met wonderful people and had even more adventures. We did repeat the snorkeling trip but otherwise the experience was unique.

We began each day with meditation at the nearby beach then morning yoga, at Bill and Susan’s home. Look at these views!

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The infinity pool at the lower house

 

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View from the lower house

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Another angle from the lower house

We did all our yoga at the upper house, under the palapa. You can see the pool at the upper house as well

We had morning and evening yoga sessions. This year Lisa challenged us with partner yoga poses. She would give us a pose and then we had to interpret that pose in a creative way. For example, Dennis and I did a “moon pose” on the beach.

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And, Janet and Annie did this interpretation of the fish pose, in the pool

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So these were more creative poses than the traditional forms. It was fun to see what everyone would come up with for their assignment.

In between all the yoga were the adventures. Snorkeling, hiking, museum visits and lots of shopping.

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And the food! Oh my god, did we eat!! If Bill and Susan weren’t cooking then we were at some amazing restaurants! I have a few images, many of which were on Instagram, of some of the cuisine we were fortunate to enjoy.

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Breakfast was wonderful! Bill’s granola and yogurt, with local fruit was a fan favorite. And with this sunrise, hard to beat!

 

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Bill and Susan always served dessert-This is a Poncho Villa. Amazing!

 

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Lunch in Colima, these crepes could have been from Paris

 

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Bill and Susan selected this restaurant near Colima. So glad they did!

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Many of you know about my coffee “issues”, This Sunday brunch spot, Los Portales de Suchitlan, was a true highlight. A young girl served as our translator as this was a local place, no tourists around!

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And then this…A Swiss restaurant (?) in Comala, Mexico! Piccolo Suizo was spectacular!

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You can see why we are trying to eat lighter after coming back to Tucson! We ate constantly on this retreat, and it was worth it! So good 🙂

We had another wonderful experience this year, just like last time. One of the tasks I undertook was to organize a slide show for the final night, I was the only one who brought a computer (what a nerd, right?). I took the partner poses and some fun images of our experience to attempt to capture the feel of the week. It is short, only 2.5 minutes and our yogi buddies wanted to see it again. I thought I would post it here for anyone who wants to see a few more images.

 

So what is next for Dennis and I? We need to spend some time on the homes for now, no trips planned right now, but you never know!

Leftover Ham? No Problem!

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Our family likes, no requires, ham for our Christmas and Easter dinner celebrations. I am fine with that, a precooked ham that only needs minimal heating is a pretty easy meal prep and it allows me to focus more attention on sides and baking desserts!

The problem comes days later, when everyone is tired of having ham sandwiches to use up the leftovers. I have made several versions of this ham and lentil soup. I posted one version last year that incorporated corn, which gave the dish a nice sweet flavor. But this year I decided to tryout some thick cut bacon and dill. The result: Wow! This is a keeper 🙂

I started by baking 3 strips of thick cut bacon in a 400°F oven, on a small baking sheet.

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When the bacon was nice and crispy it was drained, chopped and set aside for later.

While the bacon cooked, I added 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and heated that in a dutch oven. I then add a medium, diced onion and one leek, also diced. Why a leek and not celery? Because I detest celery! I know, who doesn’t like celery? Me, and I am doing the cooking so….

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the onion and leek are cooked until it begins to brown

Next into the pot went the carrots, potatoes and dill

Water, salt and pepper were added. The pot was covered, and the vegetables cooked until tender.

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The rest of the liquid, lentils and cooked ham were added and cooked until the lentils were tender.

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When the lentils were ready it was just a matter of stirring in the final ingredients and heating through. The peas, bacon and yogurt went into the pot. The yogurt acts as a thickener and makes the soup creamy.

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Next a big bowl and spoon are needed. I garnished with a little bacon and dill that I had reserved, and voila!

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This version is a keeper! If you try it let me know what you think. I am always looking for a way to improve on this 🙂

 

Ham, Lentil and Dill Soup

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Bacon and dill add a unique twist on this hearty soup with a complex flavor that only gets better with time.

Credit: invisible-no-more.com

Ingredients

-2-4 slices of thick cut bacon

-1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

-1 Medium yellow onion, small dice

-1 Leek, chopped

-3 Tablespoons dill, chopped

-1 pound carrots, small dice

-1 pound yukon gold potatoes, small dice

-1/2 cup water

-1 teaspoon kosher salt

-1/2 teaspoon black pepper

-4 cups low sodium chicken broth

-1 and 1/2 cups water

-1 cup dried lentils

-~10 ounces of cooked ham, small dice

-1 cup frozen peas

-3 Tablespoon plain yogurt ( I prefer Greek yogurt)

 

Directions

  1. Place the bacon strips on a sheet pan and bake in a preheated oven set at  400°F until crisp. Approximately 12-15 minutes. Drain, chop and set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and leek; cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the carrots, potatoes, dill, 1/2 cup water, salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just soft, 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken broth, 1 1/2 cups water, the lentils and ham; cover and bring to a simmer. Uncover and cook until the potatoes are tender and the lentils begin to fall apart, 12 to 15 more minutes.
  5. Stir in the peas, yogurt and diced bacon. Ladle the soup into bowls.

Standard Route on Mt. Lemmon

Ryan and I first climbed on Mt. Lemmon near the base, at “the wall of the flying scorpions”. This was a single pitch crag and near 1500ft. elevation. We had fun, even though I did split open a couple fingers in the process.

This time we decided to head up near the 4000ft area to a multi pitch climb named “the standard route“. This climb is located on Chimney rock and is only a 200ft climb, divided into 5 pitches. Perfect for me but pretty lame for Ryan!

It was a gorgeous day when we got to the base of the wall.

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Ryan placed his rope and some gear near the base and we “suited up”.

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There was a party of three ahead of us, so we waiting our turn. I watched the two women ahead of us in the hopes of learning the best way to maneuver the route.

Then Ryan lead up to the first anchor.

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There was a big ledge here to sit and wait for our turn on the second pitch.

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The view just keeps getting better!

This is the start of the second, and my least favorite, pitch. This is the chimney, which is just large enough for your body to squeeze into the gap. You can see the last climber in the group ahead of us as she tries to work her way up the rock face.

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Eventually, Ryan and I got up, through and over this pitch. Below is the top of the chimney and the start of my favorite pitch, number 3.

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We waited here for a bit while the other group made their way up.

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Helmet hair!

 

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Ryan was tired of waiting at this point and was ready to head up.

The view from the top of pitch 3.

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After talking with the group ahead of us, we all decided to combing pitches 4 and 5 and went to the top!

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This rock teetering on the spike, was another 1000ft or so above us. Would love to climb in that area!

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The obligatory Summit Selfie!

 

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We waited for our turn to rappel off the top.

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Ryan goes first and I wait for him to yell clear, then I head down. When we are both on the ground, we pull the rope through the anchor.

But the rope did not cooperate this time. Ryan had to climb back up and retrieve it!

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This happens sometimes! Luckily he knew what to do because that rope is $300.00, Yikes!

After a fun climb there is only one thing left to do!

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Happy Hour at Zona78!

Our next climb will be with the whole family!

Sally’s Baking Addiction, December Challenge: Iced Sugar Cookies

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This month Sally challenged all of us to make sugar cookies decorated with royal icing. I am a fan of royal icing for my sugar cookies and made some last year, so I was ready to try to improve on my earlier attempts.

I began by making Sally’s recipe for the sugar cookies. This is a really straight forward dough and easy to work with, not to mention tasty. I rolled out the sheets and refrigerated them for a day, then used 9 different cutters to punch out the shapes.

The cookies were baked off, cooled and stored for another full day. Here is were I made a crucial decision. I used pre made royal icing from a baking supply store. I should have stuck with Sally’s royal icing recipe as it tastes better! The pre made icing looks great, was easy to work with but has more of a sticky, marshmallow consistency that we don’t really like.

But, I learned a valuable lesson and won’t do it again! Sorry Sally.

Once I got the premix to the right consistency, I began the outlining and flooding of the cookies.

There was some planning that has to go into this as the icing needs to dry before detail work can begin. Also, I decided to do some cookies with the wet-on-wet technique so those had to be handled quickly in order to prevent the icing from drying. I had to have a plan in place before I started!

I gathered all my decorations and mixed several colors of icing.

Then set to work! The snowflakes, snowmen, trees, bells, stockings, candy canes and lights were flooded and allowed to set to for one day so that I could add detail later.

The mittens and ornaments were flooded then other colors were added immediately. I used a straight pin to pull the colors together.

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A little colored sanding sugar and pearls finish them off.

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The verdict: I did ok. I think I did a better job with the wet-on-wet technique but I really suck at writing on the cookies! And, as I said before, I would not use this pre mix again. The consistency was a little too thick. I also will use only #1 or # 2 tips next time. The #5 was too wide and hard to control the flow of icing.

I had so much fun decorating these. I didn’t realize how many hours went into them until my hubby told me, apparently he was keeping track 🙂

I am not sure if Sally will be continuing this challenge series moving into 2018, but I hope she does as I have learned a lot and had so much fun challenging myself in the kitchen.

 

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