The lasagna that followed me to a second location

Slow cooker sausage lasagna

You're coming with me, friend!

You’re coming with me, friend!

Welcome to March!  …nervous laughter…  To make up for my delay in getting to March, I’m going to start my posts for this issue off with an amazing recipe that you’ll want to try as soon as possible.  This is a bookmark it, pin it, print it, laminate it, share it, love it recipe.  I promise.  It’s so good that when faced with the idea of leaving some of it behind for a weekend trip to my parents’ house or bringing it with, we packed it.  J ate this stuff like it was his job.

A few notes about the recipe.  First, this is one of those times that an oval slow-cooker really comes in handy.  When is the other time?  Um, the Consumer Reports thing I read about slow-cookers said they are good for giant roasts.  I’m not sure I’ve ever made a roast in the slow-cooker that was so big that I couldn’t have gotten away with a round one, but I’ll give it to them.  What they should have said in the article was that oval slow-cookers are good for making lasagna.  The magazine has a picture of all of these little broken shards of lasagna noodle stacked on top of each other looking haphazard at best.  It says “To fit lasagna noodles into a round slow cooker, break of corners as needed.”  For an oval slow cooker, that meant busting maybe a couple noodles here and there.

Second, this recipe is bland as written.  Even with the Italian sausage.  What you see pictured with the lasagna below is the jar of Rachael Ray italian seasoning that I ground very liberaly on to my lasagna.  It needed something.  If you make this recipe, excuse me, WHEN you make this recipe, add a couple teaspoons or two of Italian seasoning or just a mix of your favorite Italian dried herbs.  I’m a fennel seed fanatic myself.

Resisting cheesy Rachael Ray catchphrase caption...

Resisting cheesy Rachael Ray catchphrase caption…

Bon appétit!  You know,  I don’t feel nearly so bad writing about March when it’s 45 degrees out at the end of May…

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“Ain’t nothin like the real thing, baby”

Slow-cooker chicken mole

Rice pilaf with peas and almonds

None of the effort, some of the taste

None of the effort, some of the taste

I was conflicted as to whether I even wanted to like this mole recipe.  Here’s the thing: my big culinary triumph is/was making mole from scratch one time in 2011.  I used this recipe.  The 2 hour cooking time on that recipe is a prank.  It took me and, eventually, D, 6 plus hours of intense, hands-on cooking.  Here’s a picture of all of the ingredients that went into the mole:

I think I still have that Mexican chocolate...excuse me for a minute

I think I still have that Mexican chocolate…excuse me for a minute

Well, not the dish soap.  Anyway, I had planned to take pictures at every major step.  Then I spilled hot chicken broth all over my brand new phone and convinced myself to focus on cooking.  The end result?

My friend Katie contributed homemade tortillas and was paid in mole.  It was a good trade.

My friend Katie contributed homemade tortillas and was paid in mole. It was a good trade.

Man, was that good.  It was such a hassle to fry and blend and cook and wait and fry and worry and wait some more, but oh my was it good.

Which is why I was so conflicted about this recipe.  On one hand, if it’s just as good, then I’ve found a way to short-circuit 6 hours of madness using the slow cooker.  On the other hand, if it’s just as good, then my great culinary triumph was roughly on par with making a pot roast.

Thus, I am equally disappointed and relieved to tell you, dear readers, that this is in no way as good as real mole.  What it was missing was the depth of flavor.  This recipe is like a cheap bottle of wine: the flavor is pretty much there, but it’s not as deep, not as complicated.  Which is not to say that this isn’t good.  It is.  This is a fine recipe for what I’m forced to call imitation mole.  And it’s exceedingly easy.

The pilaf?  Um, it’s rice with peas and almonds.  It tastes like….rice with peas and almonds.  I think we can leave it at that.

Anything that needs that much milk and butter might not be good

Shredded beef chuck roast

Celery root and potato puree

Those are whole cloves of garlic.  Remember when restaurants used to have roasted garlic as an appetizer?  I miss that.

Those are whole cloves of garlic. Remember when restaurants used to have roasted garlic as an appetizer? I miss that.

The beef is unremarkable.  It’s pot roast.  Sure, the rosemary and oregano made it smell nicer and taste a little herbier, but it’s still just pot roast except without the potatoes and carrots and such.  It could have used those, especially after the triumph that was panic carrots.  In the beef’s defense, this would have been better if I would have served it like they do in the picture in the magazine and online: on rolls with red onion and horseradish-mayo (aka horsey sauce).  I served it on the celery root puree instead.

About that puree…At first it seemed like normal mashed potatoes, but there was a little something extra there.  It was something kind of bitter and earthy, but subtly so.  It was something that definitely tasted like celery.  I enjoyed it.  It also had whole milk and butter in it, a cup and 6 tablespoons respectively.  That can’t hurt.  Well, it can hurt later on when you look at the recipe again and then remember how much of it you ate.  That can hurt.  In fact, it makes me think that celery root is super duper bitter.  Everyday Food doesn’t normally go quite that heavy on butter and milk, even for a holiday recipe.  I think it’s worth giving a try if you’re tired of plain mashed potatoes or if you don’t think you’re getting enough whole milk and butter in your diet.

Panic carrots

Slow-Cooker Garlic Chicken with Couscous

Here I come to save the day!

Here I come to save the day!

I’ve already said I’m a food safety nut.  I’m also pretty into fire safety.  I don’t want to get into it because it’s sad and this is not the place for it, but there was a fire in my old neighborhood that killed some people in an apartment building and it stuck with me.  No, I don’t have an escape plan, but thank you so so so much for putting that into my head.  Guess what you’re doing tonight instead of watching TV, D?  I digress…  Because of this fear of fire, I’m nervous about leaving my slow cooker on all day.  (I can hear your eyes rolling.)  My slow cooker has a big warning in the manual about making sure the slow cooker is filled at least halfway.  I suppose they are trying to say that you shouldn’t put a single pork chop into the cooker, crank it to high, and leave it for several hours and expect it to work out.  My fear is that a less than half-full slow cooker would cook down, start to smolder, burst into flames that climb up the kitchen cabinets, reach the walls, and engulf the apartment and my kittens in smoke and fire.  All this was running through my head as I rushed to get the dinner into the slow cooker and out the door to go to work.  I didn’t leave myself enough time, so I was frantically carving the super cold bird and chucking pieces into the cooker, all the while gauging the crock for whether it had reached the magic halfway mark.  I finished loading the carrots and chicken and it was only (ominous music here) 1/3 full.  So I did what any sensible person would do, I panicked.  I grabbed a pound of carrots from the fridge, washed them and hacked them into long pieces.  I stuffed the carrots under the chicken pieces to raise the food up to the halfway mark.  Then I turned the cooker on and dashed out the door, 15 minutes late to work.

That moment of panic turned out to be doubly awesome.  First, the house didn’t burn down.  Second, those carrots were completely delicious.  I mean they were the best part of the entire dish.  I’m not just saying that to justify what I did.  The lack of a house fire was justification enough for me.  I mean that the onions, garlic, and rendered chicken fat all turned those carrots into sweet and savory little flavor bombs.  I highly recommend adding carrots to this recipe, even if you’re already at the halfway mark on your crock or if it never occurred to you to worry about such a thing, you foolhardy, devil-may-care, ne’er-do-well, you.

Actually, it was triply awesome.  Baby J loved those carrots.

Panic carrots: one. Fire: zero.