When Irving Naxon received a patent for, and then started marketing, his Naxon Beanery in 1940, he made possible a way for busy people to have warm meals waiting for them at the end of long, hectic days. Nixon’s Beanery was the first generation slow-cooker, which gained popularity when Rival Manufacturing bought the design from Naxon in the early 1970s. Rival changed the name of the slow-cooking device to Crock Pot, and that name has now become the generic nomenclature for slow-cookers of all makes and models. My Crock Pot is one of my favorite kitchen appliances. It ranks among the top three (right up there with my immersion blender and my Breville food processor). Over the years, more manufacturers have begun making slow-cookers, and adding all kinds of bells and whistles that allow the cookers to do more than just cook on low, high, or keep food warm. They now come with digital and programmable options, as well as options that allow the device to do more than just cook. Phillip and I were gifted with a Crock Pot brand slow-cooker when we got married, and I used that Crock Pot for over thirty years before it finally quit functioning except to keep food warm. When I had to replace it, I replaced it with one of a different brand, that offered more features than the original Crock Pot I had used for so long. I won’t mention the brand of my replacement slow-cooker in this post, but I will mention that even though it cost twice as much as a basic Crock Pot, I used it only two times before giving it to Good Will and replacing it with a basic $19 Crock Pot brand slow-cooker just like the one that had faithfully served me for over thirty years. The newer one cooked food too high, even when it was on low, and it emitted excess heat when it cooked so that I couldn’t leave it alone while it was in use. The entire kitchen counter underneath the slow-cooker became so hot both times I used it that I feared damage to the counter. My having to baby-sit the cooker while it was in use defeated the entire purpose of the appliance’s existence. Naturally I read reviews of this particular slow-cooker before I bought it, but it received over four out of five stars from hundreds of users and only a handful mentioned the problem with the temperature being too hot for the food and for the counter. I have never experienced a problem with the basic Crock Pot I ended up buying when I gave away the faulty, more fancy slow-cooker.
As far as convenient meal preparation is concerned, microwave ovens are also useful; however, most of the time microwaves are used to heat up pre-frozen, manufactured foods. Of course, people also use microwave ovens to heat up left-overs, but those left-overs have to be prepared as a meal the first time, before they can become left-overs to be reheated. The slow-cooker, on the other hand, can be used to prepare fresh meals, as simple or as fancy as one wants. I’ve used my Crock Pot for myriad types of dishes, but my favorite dish to prepare in my Crock Pot is veggie lasagna. One week about a year ago, I knew I had a busy Friday schedule into which I also had to fit in a long run in preparation for the Austin marathon for which I was registered. I figured a Crock Pot meal would work best for that day, but I was tired of my usual go-to slow cooker recipes. Fridays are meatless days for Phillip and me (in keeping with the Catholic abstinence from meat every Friday as a form of penance for Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday), so if I were going to try something new, it had to be a vegetarian recipe. Without much of an idea for dinner, I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few things, noticed the gluten-free lasagna on the pasta aisle, and decided to see if I would adapt my veggie lasagna recipe to the Crock Pot. My recipe adapted beautifully, Phillip and I had a lovely lasagna dinner after a long day of work followed by a long run, and I now make Crock Pot veggie lasagne WAY TOO OFTEN to be excused. Full disclosure: Crock Pot lasagna, though layered in the slow-cooker, will not have the neat, polished, layered appearance of oven-baked lasagna once its scooped from the cooker onto a plate; in fact, it looks rather messy on a plate. What it lacks in plated attractiveness, however, it makes up for in richness of flavor. Don’t let it’s muddled appearance once served scare you away from making it. It’s an elegant dish to serve and enjoy at the end of an exhausting day.
Here is probably a good place to mention the care with which you select your ricotta cheese. Most brands of ricotta cheese contains gums and modified food starch. The gums that show up in ricotta cheese merely shave additional steps from the manufacturing process and add nothing to the cheese. The can also make the texture of the cheese unpleasant. Of more importance to readers of this blog, modified food starch is often a source of hidden gluten and should be avoided in any product (unless the ingredient lists specifically the source of the modified food starch, such as modified corn starch, etc). Fine quality ricotta cheese should contain only whole milk, an acid (coagulant), and salt. If you find only ricotta cheese brands that have added gums and modified food starch, substitute Daisy cottage cheese instead. Daisy cottage cheese is widely available throughout the country, has simple ingredients, and contains nothing objectionable.
- 1 25.2 oz jar of gluten-free pasta sauce
- 1 10 oz box gluten-free lasagna pasta
- 6 tablespoons red wine
- 1 15 oz container ricotta cheese (free of gums and modified food starch)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- salt and pepper to taste
- 12 oz sliced provolone cheese
- 6 - 7 oz package of baby spinach leaves, chopped
- 8 oz portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 1 sweet bell pepper (such as red, or chocolate brown), thinly sliced
- 1 large shallot, finely chopped
- 4 oz shaved Parmesan cheese
- Spread about four tablespoons of pasta sauce on the bottom of a 4.5 qt slow-cooker. Break the lasagna pasta sheets into large pieces and place enough lasagna pasta pieces over the sauce on the bottom of the slow-cooker to cover the sauce completely. Mix the beaten eggs, one egg at a time, into the ricotta cheese until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread half the cheese mixture over the pasta pieces. Tear the provolone cheese slices into large pieces and place half the pieces carefully over the ricotta cheese, until it completely covers the ricotta cheese. Sprinkle half the chopped spinach, sliced mushrooms, sliced bell pepper, and chopped shallots over the provolone cheese layer. Spoon half the pasta sauce over the vegetable layers. Sprinkle three tablespoons of red wine over the pasta sauce. Repeat the layering with the remaining ingredients, starting with the lasagna pasta pieces. After finishing the second layering of the ingredients, Sprinkle the shaved parmesan cheese evenly over the top of the lasagna. Place the lid on the slow-cooker, set the temperature on low for eight hours (or high for four hours). Serve when ready to eat.