Crock Pot Easy-Cheesy-Pasta…

This was a recipe that I made up during grad school to feed a group of gaming friends.  So I was a lot younger and could stand the high calories back then.  Well not really, but I tell myself that.  It can evolve over time and there are many more like it out there.  A lot of variations in the ingredients so you can run with it yourself and or try new things yourself.

The Ingredients

Ingredients
Ingredients… Most of them.

Here is a list of the basic ingredients.  You can make or configure it how you wish.

  • Mozzarella Cheese – 3/4-1 lb shredded
  • 1 lb Firm Pasta – Elbow used this time but have used penne before
  • Pasta Sauce – Used the Packet & Tomato Paste this time but a Jar of pre-made sauce will work.
  • Diced Tomatoes – 1 can
  • Italian Seasoning – I like to add a little more than what comes in the packet or jar of sauce
  • Hamburger – 1 lb browned

Additional/Optional Ingredients

Here are some more ingredients.  Some I think should always be there but it is based on your taste.

  • Black Olives – 1 can, drained
  • Mushrooms – 1 small can, drained
  • Minced Garlic – Not really optional in my opinion
  • Sautéed Onions – 1/2 to 1 Medium White or Yellow Onion
  • Ricotta or Cottage Cheese – Cut back on Mozzarella added to sauce
  • Cheddar Cheese – Shredded, again if you use this cut back on the amount of Mozzarella
  • Crushed Red Peppers – To taste, add to sauce when cooking, I didn’t add this time because of House Mates

Equipment Used

I used the following:

  • Pot and Strainer for Pasta
  • Skillet for Hamburger Meat
  • Large Spoon for stirring/serving
  • Crock Pot

Cooking

This dish takes a some time to cook.  Mainly because of the time for the sauce to cook before adding all the rest of the ingredients.

Last Step, Heat & Eat
Cheese added to Crock Pot

First get the crock pot out and make your sauce in it.  If you are using the packet sauce, like I did this time, mixed up like the packet says.  Then add the diced tomatoes and hamburger to it.  If you are adding other ingredients to the sauce add those too (onions, garlic, olives, mushrooms, spices, not cheese).  You want the sauce to be a little runny once cooked.  So don’t worry if it does not thickened up.  That is a good thing.

Once the sauce has had some time to cook you will want to start the pasta.  Cook the pasta until just al dente.  You want to have it finish cooking in the crock pot and to absorb some of the extra fluid of the sauce.  Once cooked add it directly to the crock pot and sauce.  Stir the pasta into the sauce and let cook for about 10 more minutes.

Finally stir in most of the cheese into the pasta/sauce mixture.  You will want to keep enough cheese out to cover the top (see picture).  If you use something other than Shredded Mozzarella or Cheddar cheese you may want to stir that in at the same time as the pasta to let it have a little more cook time. Replace the crock pot lid and let it sit until the cheese has fully melted.  Once melted it is time to eat.

Toppings

I haven’t used many toppings in the past.  It is mainly come and eat it, give me a plate or bowl kind of food.  Here are some suggestions that you might like, if you want to add something a little more.

  • Bacon, ALWAYS BACON… I actually have never done it but crumbled bacon would be good on top.  It would give it an extra crunch that might be needed.
  • Parmesan Cheese – It is a pasta dish after all.
  • Green Onions – diced

Sides

You really need to eat some veggies with this as it is really heavy, lots of cheese and pasta.  So I would suggest anything you typically have with lasagna.

  • Broccoli
  • Salad
  • Green Beans
  • Garlic Bread
  • etc.

Summing It Up

My house mate love it and has pretty much finished off the leftovers.  It makes a lot so should feed a good-sized family, especially if you have sides.  So relax, don’t worry and have ABigBeer.  I would probably drink a crisp IPA with this.


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How do you Grill Ham & Cheese?

So how do you grill a ham and cheese sandwich?  I recently ran home from the office and fixed one for lunch.  It spurred me to think about cooking, my style, and how everyone does things a little different, even on something as simple as a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.  See my cooking intro to know a little more about me.

Now to the Decision

I got home and looked around to figure out what to have.  I could have just gone for the quick and dirty ham and cheese sandwich.  Grabbing it all out of the fridge and slap it together.  I did that the last time I ate this food combination.  Then go and chomp down on it and lose myself into the box in the corner, spewing out pictures and sound until I needed to motivate myself to run out again.  Or maybe I could take 5-10 more minutes and have a hot ham and cheese sandwich.  Is it better for me?  NO, I am adding butter.  It is much more tasty and that is what I wanted.

Ingredients Assemble

Components
Sandwich supplies

I am not cooking some sugar-cured ham with a proprietary secret ingredient or making cheese. This is all food purchased directly from the grocery and Called to Assemble in a tasty way:

  • Sliced Ham (Thin sliced),
  • 2 slices of Cheese, your choice (I like pepper jack but had American in the fridge),
  • 2 pats of butter, and
  • 2 slices of bread.

I laid it all out on the plate so that I would have easy access to it as I started cooking.

Now to the Cooking

Grill Ham
Heat Ham in Skillet

The equipment I dirtied for this includes; plate, butter knife, spatula, and skillet.  I placed the skillet on the stove and turned on the burner halfway.  I tossed in the ham to get it warmed up.  I do this because I have found that if I don’t one of two things occurs:

  1. the ham does not get thoroughly heated during the sandwich grilling process, or
  2. the bread burns.

Both are things that I do not like in my grilled ham and cheese. Heat/cook the ham to your desired temperature remove and place back on the plate.  Remember the ham is probably already fully cooked, at least mine was.

Cook First Slice
Heat/Lightly toast first slice (1/2 cook)
Heat Butter
Put butter in skillet

Next add one pat of butter to the skillet and slap one piece of bread down on top of it.  I then used my fingers on the back side of the bread to swill it around in the skillet.  I do this so that the bread soaks up the butter evenly across the entire slice.  I grilled the piece of bread to about half of what I want in the finished sandwich.  I don’t want to get to the final level of toastiness on the bread, yet.  I don’t have to do it this way but I like adding this extra step when the butter is straight out of the fridge.  If the butter is at room temp and spreadable on the slice of the bread I will typically go ahead and spread the butter on the bread and then go ahead with building and cooking the sandwich after heating the ham.

Heat Sandwich
Heat Sandwich Through, Melting Cheese
Build Sandwich
Build Sandwich in Skillet

Now it is time to assemble the sandwich.  First I put in the skillet the second pat of butter and top it with the second slice of bread.  Again I swill around the bread to evenly coat the bread with the butter.  Next I assemble the sandwich.  How you do it is up to you.  How I did it is:

  1. Slice of bread in skillet,
  2. Slice of Cheese,
  3. Heated Ham,
  4. Slice of Cheese, and
  5. First half toasted slice of bread.

I do it this way because I want cheese on both sides of the ham and on the toasted bread.  Then it is time to finish cooking the sandwich.

Toast the bread to the desired brownness, flipping the sandwich with the spatula as needed.  Once cooked to the desired tastiness place back on plate and eat.  You should find the cheese melted and ham thoroughly heated through with this method.  I like the results better than just assembling without heating the ham and hoping that you can get it fully heated through without burning the bread.

Time to eat
Finished Sandwich, Eat

 

 

Sides

On this day I had a handful of chips with my sandwich, but this goes nicely with soup.

Conclusion

I had a tasty lunch.  The big difference here is heating the ham prior to building the sandwich.  Yeah it took me a lot longer to write this up than it did to cook and eat the sandwich.  It might have taken you longer to read it than it took me to cook and eat.  I hope you learned a new method to cook your hot sandwiches in the future.  I did not drink ABigBeer with it because I was headed back to the office, but it does go nicely with one.  I was even thinking later it would have gone nicely with a lighter stout say the Belhaven Black.  I did sit back and relax while I ate it.


 

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