Crock Pot Lasagna

Hey. So I'm doing this thing where I'm trying to cook "real" food more and rely less on nuking a frozen pizza pocket in the microwave for meals.  But because I hate hate hate to cook, my sole saving grace is the crock pot.  Toss some stuff in and leave it alone for a few hours.  Then magically pull out beautiful homemade food that wows Tony and entices a certain picky little girl to eat.  That is my kind of cooking, my friend.  So I picked up a couple of crock pot recipe books from the library, and I try a new one out every week.  And because I am a thoughtful and polite hostess, I am willing to share some of my crock pot adventures with you.  (It's like those dinner and movie shows where they tell you how to cook a dish and then you get to watch a movie while it cooks!  Only with blog entries instead of movies!  But still, kinda the same thing!  Kinda!)

Anyway, I tried this one last night, and it was pretty and easy and tasty.  Toss together a salad and some garlic bread and you are guaranteed to impress your friends and family with your awesome Julia Child-like ways.

Crock Pot Lasagna!

(Note: This recipe makes enough for two to four people, or in my case, two people, a picky toddler, and enough for leftovers for lunch tomorrow.)

1 pound (16 ounces) ground beef
1/2 cup diced white onion (Note: I used a teaspoon of onion powder instead...seemed to work just as well).
1 teaspoon minced garlic (Next time I'll use more garlic.  It was okay like this,  but we like lots and lots of garlic in this house.  Up to you on how much you like it and if you're expecting any romance later).
1 (24 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
1/2 cup water
1 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 whole egg
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley or 2 teaspoons dried parsley
6 uncooked lasagna noodles (Be sure and get the no boil kind.  Apparently there's a boil kind and a straight to oven/crock pot kind.  Who knew, right?)

1) In a large skillet brown beef and onion. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Drain. (Mine took longer than one minute.  I guess just brown until it's brown).
2) Add spaghetti sauce and water and simmer for about 5 minutes. 
3) Mix ricotta, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, 2 Tablespoons Parmesan, egg and parsley in separate bowl. 
4) Pour 1 cup of spaghetti meat sauce into a 4 to 6 quart sized slow cooker. Place half of the noodles and half of the ricotta mixture on top of the sauce. Cover with 2 cups meat sauce. Top with remaining noodles (If the noodles don't fit exactly break them to fit) and cheese mixture and meat sauce. 
5) Cover and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours or until noodles are soft.  (Mine was ready in 4.  5 hours may give you soggy noodles)
6) Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella and remaining Parmesan. Recover with the lid to melt the cheese and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving. 

Note: Do not overcook and don't try to speed up the process by cooking it on high. Works best with a 4 to 6 quart size slow cooker.

Ooooooh Yummy!

Cheesy noodley meaty deliciousness! 

Toughest critic says "More please!"

This is the Reason Why They Don't Let Cats Up in Space

I'm frantically cleaning the house because Stanley Steamer is scheduled to come by this afternoon to clean the stain off of the new mattress.  (And yes, I clean for cleaners.  A regular run of the mill mess if fine for my family.  We can be rolling around in dust three inches thick, but to have the possibility of some pimply-faced high school kid making minimum wage with a scrub brush and a hose come in to clean my mattress and be all like, "When's the last time this lady dusted?" is just flat out unacceptable.  I mean, I have standards here.)

(I should mention that I have no idea what Stanley Steamer people make.  They are probably handsomely compensated for their time and stain fighting expertise.  The minimum wage thing was just a guess.  I could probably look it up, but at this point I've spent more time going on and on about it than the whole thing warrants.)

Anyway, the whole reason why Stanley Steamer is coming is because we bought a new mattress a few months ago.  And because new mattress warranties are voided by any kind of stain whatsoever, we bought the super-duper money-back guaranteed waterproof mattress pad protector.  It has a 10 year warranty!  It has space age polymers!  It will protect your mattress through the Apocalypse!  So we bought one.  

And then we unleashed the cats.  

Here's something you should know about the cats.  Cats have hairballs.  Five times the cats equals five times the hairballs.  And on top of that, Dixon has a nervous stomach, which means that if ANYTHING unexpectedly changes in his environment (we go on vacation, we change laundry detergent, the full moon corresponds with the third Monday in a month ending in R), he will pull a Linda Blair all over your bed/floor/nicely folded pile of clean laundry in seconds flat.  So we asked the mattress sales guy if this mattress pad protector was up to that challenge, and he was like, "Oh absolutely!  Money back guarantee!  Did you see the part about the space age polymers?"

And to be fair, the mattress pad protector did manage to protect the first 9 times that a random cat (cough Dixon! cough!) barfed on the bed, but I'm afraid that time number 10 just did it in.  Even space age polymers can't handle that rigorous of a barf, wash, repeat cycle.  So now there's a cat barf stain on the mattress.  We called the pad protector people, and they were shocked! SHOCKED I say! that their space age polymers were bested by cat barf.  And I was all, "Yeah, that's the precise reason that Dixon flunked out of the space program...incompatible with polymers." (Which I thought was pretty funny, but it just seemed to confuse the mattress pad people, so I let it drop).  Meanwhile, what are we supposed to do about this stain on our new mattress?  In the end, the mattress pad people offered to send us a new mattress pad protector (now with more polymers!) and pay to have people come out and remove the stain from the mattress.  Which is why I am frantically cleaning the house in expectation of Stanley Steamer coming to pay us a call sometime between noon and 5pm today.  Of  course, the sound of the vacuums and cleaners and whatnot will scare Dixon enough that he will barf on the bed again, so it's all a vicious cycle.  Those space age polymers better be out of this world.

Sharks, Playgroups, Pheromones and Stumps

Hello Internets, It's been a few weeks, so I thought I'd pop on and tell you what I've been up to here at the House of Quirk.

And the answer to that is not very much.

I spent most of the last two weeks watching the Olympics and most of this week watching Shark Week on Discovery. (I hear you out there. You're like, "Whoa, three straight weeks of nothing but watching tv? Is that even possible?" And normally I would say no, not for your average person. But it just so happens that I am a TV watching gold medalist, so I can marathon tv watch with less strain and tearing than your average recreational watcher).

But even I am tired of myself watching TV, because basically I spent the Olympics saying things like, "Wow, he's fast!" and "Look how high he can jump!" and "I'm tired of watching stupid swimming all the time!" to Shark Week, where I say things like "Wow, he's fast!" and "Look how high he can jump!" and "I'm tired of watching stupid swimming all the time!" Same tune, different channel. So in the spirit of non-tv related news, here's a meager offering of what else is going on in my life. And in list format no less! (Betcha didn't see that one coming!)

1. I have recently decided that ZB needs to interact more with kids of her own age. She is great with adults. The life of the party when it comes to adults, but she has no idea how to interact with other kids. It's like she considers herself a short adult, and what the heck is she supposed to say to this kid over here? They have nothing in common.  So I'm looking into Mother's Day Out programs so that she can have some supervised interaction with her fellow short ones. And since this is our first attempt at a daycare-related institution, I'm not sure how it's going to go for either of us. Anybody have any advice for us on making the transition smoother?

2. Speaking of new things, I'm trying something new with the cats that may prove interesting. Long time readers will know that due to Tony's crazy cat-lady tendencies and my inability to say no to a homeless kitten, we are the keepers of five Siamese cats. (Yes, five. Don't judge me). Anyway, with five cats in the house, you can imagine that there are some battles over who gets to be reining alpha cat. And while normally I don't mind a racing, hissing, madcap dash about the house at 2am, I draw the line at territorial marking, which Magellan has recently gotten into his tiny evil cat brain to try. Now, we've tried those cat pheromone diffusers before with some success, but they are basically limited to one room, and trying to outfit an entire house with them runs roughly the same out-of-pocket expense as trying to purchase a black-market kidney. So instead, I'm trying something new. Pheromone cat collars. Same great kitty pheromones, but now mobile! And at a cost of $8 a month as opposed to $20 for the diffuser refill. While it's only been a week and I don't want to jinx it, they seem to be working for us. No one is spraying or having passive-aggressive "accidents" outside of the litter box, and the number of all night cat fits has been reduced by about 95%. So yeah. If you have a nervous, stressed out or free-peeing kitty cat, I recommend the pheromone collar. It makes a difference.  (PS-They also have them for dogs, but I can't speak to their effectiveness for the canine persuasion.)

3. There isn't really a three.  I mean, I was going to tell you about how I'm trying to get rid of a tree stump in the front yard by drilling holes in it and pouring powdery stuff called STUMP OUT! on it, but STUMP OUT! takes 4 to 6 weeks to work and it's only been on my stump for a week, so I feel like telling you about it now would be a little premature.  Although I did get my big drill bit stuck in the stump while I was drilling, so that was kinda exciting, if by exciting you mean annoying.  (I don't know how it happened.  The bit went in, but then when I put it in reverse to pull it back out, nothing happened.  The motor goes "GRRRRRRR!" and smoke starts coming out of the back of my drill, but the bit doesn't move.  Stuck, stuck, stuck. So now I have a lovely powder-covered stump riddled with holes and holding my 5/8" drill bit hostage.  I'm hoping it becomes the latest rage in abstract lawn decor.)  I'm guessing that my drill bit will come out when the STUMP OUT! starts breaking down the wood fibers around it, but until then I'm just using it as a conversation piece with the neighbors.  I call it EXCALIBIT!

Okay, on that really bad joke, I'm outta here.  Sister-in-law Mary recorded a totally awesome video of ZB petting some goats at the petting zoo, so I'll try to get that up later this week because ZB is adorable and you deserve it after reading this far.  I just hope that her excitement over the goats in the video doesn't persuade Tony to try to bring one home.  I don't think they make goat pheromone collars.

Sympathetic Couch Twitching for the Gold

What? Oh hey, Internets! Glad you found me. It's been radio silence over here lately because last week we took ZB on vacation for her first trip to the beach. We had a blast and I'll tell you all about it but first I have to edit some video. (Yes, it will be a multi-media presentation since ZB LOVES sand and she LOVES the water and she's just too darn cute to be limited to still photos).

(But first I have to cut out the random shots of my feet and the sky and then quickly back to my feet).

(And the two minutes that I thought the camera was off so you get a close up shot of my right nostril while you hear me say riveting things like, "This sand gets everywhere!" and "Hold on. I think there's some sun screen on the lens".)

(Obviously this is Emmy winning material).

But all that is coming later.  Right now I'm completely glued to my tv set as I bob and weave my way though the uneven bars routines from the comfort of my couch.  Ya'll, I am a total Olympics junkie.  Biking, swimming, synchronised diving, fencing, judo, beach volleyball, men and women's gymnastics...I've watched them all.  And I feel like I've competed in them all since apparently I cannot sit still while the US is competing.  I duck my head, I wave my arms, I tuck my legs up in time with the athletes.  Tony actually left the living room and went upstairs last night because he said that my "help" with Gabbie's dismount from the beam almost knocked him off the couch.

And in case you are also tucking and rolling with me, I'd like to recap some of my couch Olympics favorite and/or interesting moments:

1.  I'm bawling like a baby over the girls gymnastics. And not just over the All-American Jordyn Weiber fiasco. Not about them winning gold anyway.  Not even just for the Americans.  Just in general.  Something about these tiny girls trying so hard just gets me every time. They train and they train and they train and they are so small and strong and young and...I could just scoop up every one of them and give them a big hug.  Not that NBC is helping any with their constant back stories about how they had to move across country without their families to train with coaches that could get them to the Olympics. Swimming? I'm fine. Synchronized diving? Not so much as a sniffle. But these 16 year old girls flying through the air doing flips and leaps? I'm sobbing like I'm the one who just won or lost the gold. I don't know why they get me like they do.  I'm a blubbery mess.

2. Did you see where Great Britain's Bradley Wiggins won gold in the road cycling time trials?  I was feeding ZB breakfast at the time he was racing so I didn't get to watch/couch cycle with him, but I listened to it as I cleaned mashed banana up off the floor.  I'm glad he won.  I always root for the host nation if the US isn't in medal contention.  That goes double for Great Britain, since they always seem to come in 4th for everything. Plus I just like saying the name Bradley Wiggins.  It sounds so English, doesn't it?  Wiggins.  Like he's Paddington Bear's best friend or something.  

3. I read an article the other day that said that the organizers provide 100,000 condoms to the athletes in the Olympic village.  (Up from 70,000 at the Sydney games when they had to order another 20,000 when they ran out).  Apparently when you put 10,000 young, attractive, fantastically in shape and mostly unsupervised athletes under a lot of pressure together, they erm, find a way to get rid of that excess energy.  I guess some of that's to be expected, but 100,000?  That's a lot of excess energy.

4. So what the heck is going on between the sets for men's beach volleyball?  All these couples in swimsuits are waltzing around on the sand.  Like, literally waltzing.  I'm assuming it's some kind of weird halftime show?  Instead of cheerleaders or bands they have beach waltzing?  That cracks me up.  Those crazy Brits!

5. This doesn't have anything to do with this Olympics, but if you get a chance, read this article in the Atlantic about a gold medalist in the 1896 Olympics in Athens.  It's crazy how things have changed between then and now. 

6. Did you know that they used to have an Olympic swimming obstacle course race?  I'm not sure how they did it, (buoys? nets? underwater mines?) but I wish they still had it, because I think that would be awesome to watch.  I like to watch swimming, but sometimes it gets boring watching them just splash back and forth in their straight little lanes.  Let's put a ring of fire at the end that they have to jump through.  I'm thinking a cross between the 200 meter freestyle and that show Wipeout.  Get on that Olympic committee.

7.  Oh my goodness.  Did you see the Chinese synchronized diving?  Blew my mind.  How many hours and hours of training do you think that takes to be able to not only do a complex dive, but to do it exactly like someone else?  And the other teams get ready and go, "Okay on three.  One, two, three!"  The Chinese just stand on the end of the board and say one word, which I'm assuming is just "go".  And then they go.  Together.  Perfectly.  I kept jumping up and down and going, "Did you see that?!?  They even have identical water ripples!"  I tell you, these athletes blow my mind.  

I realize it's weird to stop on the number seven, but I can't think of any other Olympic moments right now.  If you have some, feel free to add them to the comments.  I'm sure there are some great ones that I've left out, but after staying up half the night to watch the Latvian underwater basket weaving team weave their reverse double-loop way to gold, my Olympic reflexes are a little fuzzy.