A Little Post To Help Out My Starving Writer Friends

I’m not here to get my starving writer friends an actual job. Unless your ambition is to set up a slow-cooker lasanga stand somewhere. Not that there would be anything wrong with that. I always say, if you’re going to dream, dream big. No, I’m here to help out all my friends who, like me, may be finding their word output far exceeding their caloric intake. Or finding themselves at the bottom of a bag of peanut M&Ms in search of inspiration. This one is for you guys, my brothers and sisters in NaNoWriMo.

Here’s a quick and easy recipe that you can put together in 5 minutes (unless you’re trying to take pictures of the process. In that case, add an hour) and leave it for a few hours while you hammer out content. Drumroll, please.

Heather’s Slow Cooker Lasagna – complete with crappy photographs. You’re welcome.

Here’s what you need:

8 lasagna noodles (I prefer whole wheat because they maintain their integrity in the recipe, meaning they don’t cook down to paste. Friday, my husband finally admitted that he hates them. Who knew?)

15 oz of ricotta cheese (I like part-skim so I am not all fat, but whole milk variety works as well for you skinny folks. That I hate.)

2 Cups of shredded mozzarella cheese

1 Jar of the  spaghetti sauce of your choice (not for a minute did I pretend that this meal was going to be totally from scratch. Deal with it, or go back to your M&Ms)

1/3 Cup of water

Optional: half a pound or so of your favorite ground meat or protein crumble (my kid is a vegetarian, so we leave out the meat, but Morningstar Farms Sausage crumbles are pretty awesome)

You were, perhaps, expecting Julia Childs? Get real.

1) Break the noodles into the bottom of the slow-cooker.

I hate my oval-shaped slow-cooker. But whatever.

2) Pour in half of the jar of your sauce. You don’t have to be exact.

Cover those noodles, for the love of Linguini! Cover them!

3) Add the water. I didn’t include a picture of this step. I am sorry if you are now confused and will end up with toast instead of lasagna. I can only do so much for you.

4) Add your ricotta cheese and try to spread it evenly. Here’s a tip: it doesn’t spread. You’re going to have to squish it. But it’s kind of fun.

Squish. Squish. If it's boring, try saying "Braiiiins!" while you do it. If you're into zombies. Which I'm not. Sorry SJ. I tried.

5) Here’s the dangerous part in the recipe. If you have meat or a meat-substitute, this is where you add it. I don’t, so there is no picture. Meat or meat substitute. Not dog food or pencil shavings. You can do this, even without a photo to guide you.

6) Sprinkle 1 cup of shredded cheese over the ricotta/meat/meat substitute. Note: this represents only HALF of your cheese. If you use all of it, it will be cheesy, but it will look really weird.

Sprinkle that cheese. Sprinkle it, I say! How does sprinkling cheese make my hand look so fat. I think I need to go back to bed.

7) Top with the remainder of the sauce.

I know what you are thinking. Not only can those hands type out a novel, they are also pretty adept at pouring generic sauce from a jar. Thank you, my fans. Thank you.

8 ) Turn your slow-cooker on low. Cook for an hour. Set a timer if you have to.

9 ) After cooking for an hour, top with the remainder of the cheese. You CAN do this before step 8, but your cheese will be all brown and crunchy. Me no likey, but if you like crispy cheese, feel free to mix it up. And by that, I mean change up the recipe. If you actually mix up the contents of your slow-cooker, it won’t be pretty.

It's all in the wrist. Don't despair if you aren't this good at first. I have been training since childhood.

10) Cook for another 2-3 hours. If you have an oval slow-cooker, you’ll aim for 3 total hours of cook time. If you have a round one (I am jealous), aim for four total hours.

11) Serve it up with a side of salad and fresh bread. That you kneaded from scratch. Shut up. I did. I can’t make spaghetti sauce yet, but I can bake me up some bread. I’ll post that recipe another time.

Yes, those are raisins in my salad. And it's a bag salad. Don't judge me.

So there you have it. A recipe that is quick and easy and doesn’t require a lot of baby-sitting. Your word-count is almost guaranteed to shoot through the roof . **  Carbs and comfort food can have that effect. Happy writing!

** Please note, I said “almost ” guaranteed. Author is not responsible for writer’s block, computer crashes, hair loss or weight gain.

The Flavors of Fall

I usually don’t post on weekends, but my blogging buddy tweeted yesterday that she went apple picking, and another pal posted on Facebook that honeycrisp apples (which I suspect were the delicacy responsible for the fall of  The Very First Lady, and may actually have been worth the consequences) have hit stores, and I am inspired! One of my favorite fall traditions is making apple butter in my slow-cooker, and the time is ripe.

Let me dissuade you of the illusion that I have always been steeped in traditional homemaking skills. I grew up watching my great-grandmother pick, cook and can her own fruits and vegetables and create beautiful quilts, and my grandmother sewed many of my dresses and was a skillful knitter,  but in my opinion, those skills were for old people. And since my mother was a single-parent who worked 45-50 hours a week, all that domesticity skipped a generation.

When I got married, I didn’t even know how to cook. Hamburger helper and canned green beans constituted fine-dining in those early days. I could scramble and egg and bake cookies, but those dishes do not exactly make for a balanced diet. Over time, I have branched out, and I am happy to say that I am now an adventurous cook, and definitely not a bad one.

Now I am a stay-at-home mom (and arguably rather old),  I am beginning to appreciate those skills possessed by the matriarchs as a lost art. One by one, I am trying to revive them. Since I am but a slow knitter, and I can’t sew a straight line, cooking is currently the skill at which I am most successful. Enter apple butter.

Here’s my confession. I love eating the stuff. And it makes a great gift for family members. At least the ones who know I actually like them and won’t look at the jar and wonder if I’m trying to do them in. Actually, I’m not above messing with anyone’s head, but I hate to waste food, so I stick to the people I like. What I love most about apple butter, though, is not the taste or the mind games. I love the way it makes my house smell. Like cinnamon and the spices. The fragrance of fall. It’s  simply incredible. Unless you burn it, but I’m not going there.

I do things a little differently than my Nanny. She stirred apples on the stove-top for hours on end, until they were a delicious, caramelized mush. But face it. She raised her kids during the Great Depression. They didn’t have access to the many and various ways to do bodily harm that my kids do. I use my crock pot.

I do bow to tradition in one way. I don’t use those gadgets that will peel/slice/core an apple for you in 30 seconds. My apples are peeled and sliced by hand. It takes an hour or two, but here’s the cool part. My daughter joins me. The time that we spend together here is magic, time we spend actually talking. She is now fourteen, and I find myself greedy for these interludes of conversation and laughter. She may eventually become suspicious and wonder why we are making 6 batches of the stuff, when we normally make only two. I hope she doesn’t catch on for awhile.

So here it is, the recipe you’ve all been waiting for. Or skipped all the other drivel to get to:

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

4 1/2 – 5lbs of apples (no exact measure, but you want so many apples that the top doesn’t quite fit on the cooker) peeled, cored, and sliced thin

4 C sugar (you knew it was going to be good, right?!)

3 tsp cinnamon

1/4  tsp cloves

Combine sugar and spices. Pour apples in large bowl and pour sugar mixture over it. Mix it all up.

Dump in slow-cooker and cook on high for an hour

Decrease heat to low and cook for 9-11 hours, stirring occasionally

Uncover and cook for another hour

Whisk until smooth (I sometimes use an electric hand mixer, but really hot stuff will go flying)

Can in half-pint jars immediately (I’ll post instructions in another blog, if anyone is interested