comfort. italian style.

Before.

It’s been a decade or more since we’ve had a functioning oven in our house. As it turns out, finding a replacement 24-inch gas wall oven is significantly more difficult — and more expensive — than one might expect.

Much of the time, I don’t miss it. And by “much of the time,” I mean I don’t miss it in the summer, when I would be hesitant to turn it on anyway. The rest of the year, though, can be tough. I would totally bake cookies in December if I could. Having an oven could have improved my first crack at smoking a brisket earlier this year. And as the weather starts to cool off, my brain immediately starts craving things I can’t make — casseroles, baked ziti, stuffed shells … and lasagna.

Necessity is the mother of excessive kitchen toys, and at some point a few years back, my craving for lasagna drove me to the internet in search of a solution. And the internet told me that our crock pot could help.

I’ve tinkered with the original recipe to the point that it’s no longer derivative — it’s pretty much my own. And since you guys asked:

What you’ll need:

Olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, diced

2 jars of spaghetti sauce

1 small can of tomato paste

1 pound of ground beef

1 pound of ground sweet Italian sausage

1 box of lasagna noodles

15 oz tub of ricotta

About 3 cups of shredded mozzarella

About 2 cups of shredded parm

Spices: Italian seasoning, dried basil, dried oregano, parsley flakes, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and a bay leaf

Sugar to taste

What you’ll do:

  1. Dump the cheeses in a mixing bowl and stir until all three are combined evenly. Set aside.
  2. Brown the meats in a skillet, breaking up the large pieces as you go. Drain the fat and set aside.
  3. Sweat the garlic and onions in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a sauce pan. Add the jars of sauce and the seasonings. You’ll add about a tablespoon of each of the spices except salt and black pepper — add just a little of those. Drop in a bay leaf and let it simmer for a half hour. When time’s up, remove the bay leaf, add a little sugar to suit your personal taste and once you’ve got it down, add the meat. I’ll simmer this for a bit too, although with hours to come in the slow cooker, it’s probably not necessary.
  4. Haul out your crock pot and get ready to layer. You’ll go in this order: meat, noodles and cheese, and you’ll have enough stuff to repeat that for three layers. Note that the noodles are just straight out of the box; break them up to fit a full layer each time. The crock pot will take care of cooking them.
  5. Cook on low for four or five hours.

When you’re done, cut out a wedge of lasagna and drop it on your plate. If you’re lucky, you’ll have one whole side of that wedge kind of brown and crisp like those ridiculous brownie pans that are arranged so every piece is an end piece. Make a salad, open a bottle of red wine and go to town.

No oven necessary.

TPAUCNFFC (BTYBPP) has tipped off.

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The tournament has begun, and things are … intense. Right, coach?

I appreciate your patience while Mrs. Crappy and I took in a Jeff Tweedy show in Indianapolis earlier this week. Without further ado, let’s get into all of the entries for Thirteenth Practically Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub). Note that you will see that some teams in our picks have already been eliminiated; on Monday, I’ll go through the list and assess where we all stand.

As is tradition we begin, as usual, with me:

Sparty beats Florida State, and UNC beats Virginia. And in the title game, the Izzoheads beat Roy’s boys, 74-70.

And then, the rest of yinz guys, in no particular order. First up is noted Morgantown Democratic Socialist Joe:

Final Four: Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Kentucky

National Championship: Michigan State, Kentucky National

Champion: Kentucky Tiebreaker: 133

Faithful AUCNFFC participant Otimemore, who still occasionally lives in Pittsburgh:

Final Four
Duke vs Gonzaga; North Carolina vs Tennessee

Final
Duke vs UNC

Winner
Duke 75-68

First-timer (I think) Expatpghgirl:

Final 4 – Duke, Syracuse, Villanova, North Carolina

Championship Game – Duke, North Carolina

Champion – North Carolina (79-74).

OG AUCNFFC player AAA:

Duke – Gonzaga
Tennessee – North Carolina
Final – Duke & Tennessee
Winner Tennessee, 86-61

Here’s an old Twitter nickname — Dr. Scooter:

F4: Mich St/Nevada, Purdue/UNC

Title: Mich St/UNC

Champ: UNC 92-84

Kewyson‘s annual opus references my Globetrotters question:

Although with a lifetime record of 26,000+ wins to 6 losses, I didn’t even see the Globetrotters in the #16 play in games. So I will stay local to my abode (play the odds) – I have Duke playing Purdue (both Virginia and Tennessee will fall) and North Carolina playing M*ch#g!n.

In the final I have the 4th Battle of the Blues of the year – Duke vs. UNC. With Coby’s electrifying pink shoes helping UNC to beat Duke and Zion’s reinforced Nikes. UNC 84 / Duke 81.

Quick summary for your ease:
Duke vs. Purdue; M*ch#g!n vs. UNC
Duke vs. UNC; UNC 84, Duke 81

I know for a fact that Redbuppy would make good use of a $50 Piper’s Pub gift card:

Let’s go with Gonzaga and Villanova losing in the semifinals, and Duke beating Kentucky, 81-73, in the final.

I didn’t ask defending AUCNFFC champ Breaking Brews if he used all $50 at last year’s Imperial Breakfast. But he’s still alive, so I’m guessing he’s smarter than that.

Are you ready? Here’s how it’s done: Michigan State vs. FSU Tennessee vs. North Carolina. Michigan State vs. North Carolina. North Carolina. Screw Duke!!!!!!

Lorenzo:

Duke Michigan Virginia Kentucky. Duke Kentucky. Duke. 77-74.

The Sports Chump is back:

Duke over Michigan, Virginia over Houston.

Let’s go with Duke over Virginia by a score of 88-76 in the Final game.

Happy March, everyone!

Curl Girl Michelle has been doing this forever (and nearly won last year):

Final Four: LSU v Texas Tech, Virginia v. Kentucky

Championship game: LSU v Kentucky

Champion: Kentucky, 77-60

PghRugbyRef is channeling his inner Kewyson with his two-part entry. Here’s part one:

This post inspired me to start my predictions, as Sweet Georgia Brown (Teddy Riley Remix) played in the background I looked at the bracket and started selecting teams. As the song ended, I got to my Final Four:

Virginia Tech v Michigan
Wisconsin v Houston

And part two:

Ok, I have some time to work on this:

Michigan v Houston

Houston 133 total points

Thank you (and Piper’s Pub) for doing this again. I look forward to it every year.

HP from Lakewood, with the first-ever AUCNFFC photographic entry:

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Ethel, probably from her shiny new kitchen:

Final Four: Michigan State, Syracuse, Cincinnati, North Carolina
Final: Michigan State vs. North Carolina
Winner: North Carolina
Points: 122

Ohio State and Browns/Cavs/Tribe fan Kelsey:

I like . That said, I think the final 4 will be a battle of the mitten (UM vs MSU) and Wisconsin vs Kansas. I predict Sparty will beat Kansas 74-68!

Scooter from the Land of Suburban Shooting Guards:

Duke, the Rats from the North, UNC, UVA

Duke beats the Rats; UVA beats UNC

Duke 71, UVA 65

F Burris

(Editor’s note: Huh. I wonder what he means by that last thing?)

Sara Without An H:

Final Four
Duke vs Gonzaga; North Carolina vs Tennessee

Final
Gonzaga vs UNC

Winner
Gonzaga 82-79

Lunchbox Birdshit‘s basetball entry:

Duke/Gonzaga and Wisconsin/UNC

Gonzaga beats UNC, 88-85

Finally, we have Juan, oh he of little basektball knowledge. He is entered each and every year against his will (or, at least, without his approval); I couldn’t find picks from Phil’s Mom, so we’re going with the Penny-Flipping Method.

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And so we all understand my absolutely shameful handwriting:

LSU/Arizona State and Iowa/Georgia State

Arizona State beats Georgia State in the title game. I don’t think we’re going to worry about a tiebreaker.

And that’s what I have, boys and girls. As is always the case, if I missed your entry, it’s nothing personal — I’m just an idiot. Let me know and I’ll add you to the list. Hope you’ve enjoyed the games so far. And good luck to everyone. Especially me.

missions accomplished.

nova confetti

Mission No. 1: ABM, or anybody but (that team up north).

Mission No. 2: The successful completion of Twelve-point-five-th Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub).

As previously mentioned, TPFAUCNFFC (BTYBPP) came down to two teams … and two contestants. If Kansas moved out of the Final Four and won the title, Curl Girl Michelle would have been pregaming July’s Styx show at Post-Gazette First Niagara KeyBank Star Lake with the help of a $50 gift card from our friends at Piper’s.

The other option? A Villanova win, and Jason at Breaking Brews gets to blow that entire fifty bucks at the Piper’s Imperial Breakfast in a couple weeks.

Thanks to my friends at Piper’s for making this thing possible after a year off. Thanks to Mrs. Crappy, who is always willing to give me the time to take care of my AUCNFFC duties. And especially, thanks to you guys for coming back after a hiatus and making this as much fun as it always has been.

And now? Let’s all weep for Jason’s liver as we watch One Shining Moment:

See yinz guys next year.

not terrible. but not great.

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I will say this after calculating the first points in the Twelve-point-five-th Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub): It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.

I was expecting a figurative bloodbath. What I got instead is a majority of TPFAUCNFFC (BTYBPP) contestants scoring at least a couple points. And I even got two contestants who correctly picked three of the four actual Final Four teams, a thing that I’m going to go ahead and call miraculous this year.

Oh. And there are a few who are ready to receive this year’s first awards. Including me.

But let’s get to the points first.

If you’re on this list, I have good news and bad news. The good news? You scored two points, a remarkable achievement this season. The bad news? You didn’t pick your correct Final Four team to advance, so you’re done.

  • Sports Chump
  • Slappy White
  • Kewyson
  • Dish
  • Clumberkid
  • The Coochie Doctor
  • Matlock
  • AJ
  • Gina and her dog
  • Scooter
  • President Obama

This one-person list is for those who correctly picked two Final Four teams but had them both losing in the semis. And that one person is:

  • Lorenzo

Next up — contestants who picked just one Final Four team correctly, but can earn another four points in the semis. You’re not going to win, but you should be proud of your effort:

  • Redbuppy
  • Daria
  • Pghrugbyref
  • Calipanthergrl

And then we have contestants who picked just one Final Four team correctly, but can earn another six points if that team wins the title, as they have predicted. An exception effort, but this group can’t catch up with the leaders, even if their points are maxed out.

  • Otimemore
  • Carla
  • JD

One more one-person list, for the guy who picked two Final Four teams but can get just four more points:

  • Father Spoon

And here’s where it gets interesting. This group picked two Final Four teams correctly, and their picks to win the title are both alive. The bad news: their respective championship picks match those who still have more points, meaning even winning out isn’t going to get them caught up.

  • Pghrugbyangel
  • Yay Toast

And then there are two more. These guys are already winners in my book, because picking three of the Final Four teams this year qualifies you as a freaking college basketball savant. And if either Kansas or Villanova wins, I’m pretty sure one of these two will be your TPFAUCNFFC (BTYBPP) champion.

  • Curl Girl Michelle, who picked Kansas
  • Breaking Brews, who picked Villanova

And if Michigan or Loyola wins? Good lord, I have no idea. We’ll find out this weekend.

That accounts for all of our distinguished TPFAUCNFFC (BTYBPP) contestants. And, of course, we’re left with the not-so-distinguished TPFAUCNFFC (BTYBPP) contestants, those whose futility was so magnificent that they deserve awards all their own. Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present this year’s Blutarsky Award Winners:

  • Uncle Crappy
  • Momsbrain
  • Susan
  • HP
  • Diane the Beer Lady
  • Juan

For those of you who are still alive, get ready for a crazy weekend ahead. And for those who are not, thank you for playing — I hope, as always, you got your money’s worth.

that’s not good.

hindy

It is as much of an AUCNFFC tradition as the long-ass entries post or the Blutarskys — the post-first weekend post where I lament how terrible our brackets are looking.

And that’s where Twelve-point-five-th Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub) is special.

As in especially bad.

We’ve already noted the historic 16-over-1 upset from Friday night, but honestly, the upsets never really let up. UNC? Gone. Arizona? Gone. Michigan State? Gone. Xavier? Gone.

Remember, TPFAUCNFFC (BTYBPP) contestants don’t start getting points until teams start making the Final Four. Even so, we can still get a pretty good sense of who’s doing OK and who is struggling (a whoooooole bunch of us). Here’s a look, using categories we’ve used in the past:

Holy crap: All. Four. Teams. In. (Team Statistical Anomaly)

  • Beer lady Diane

Title game, champion and third team in (Big point totals could still be in the future)

  • Uh, yeah, no

Three teams and champion still in (They didn’t pick the title game correctly, but could still rack up some big points)

  • Curl Girl Michelle
  • Breaking Brews
  • Matlock

Three teams in, champion out (If things go to hell, could still score enough to win)

  • Sports Chump

Title game and champion in (Gotta be perfect to have a chance)

  • Otimemore
  • PghRugbyRef

Two teams and champion in (Not ruling them out, but it’s looking tough)

  • Redbuppy
  • PghrugbyrefTwo Final Four teams, one in title game, champ
  • Otimeore
  • Susan
  • AAA
  • YayToast
  • Coochie Doctor
  • AJ

One in Final Four, one in title game, and the champ

  • Carla
  • HP
  • JD

The remaining entries have lost teams ranging from their champion pick to nearly everyone … otherwise known as our 2018 Blutarsky nominees. Listed in order of increasing futility, as in from almost sort of respectible to, uh, not at all. Thank you for playing.

  • Kewyson
  • Daria
  • Clumberkid
  • Father Spoon
  • Calipanthergrl
  • Lorenzo
  • Dish
  • Gina and her dog
  • President Obama
  • Uncle Crappy
  • Momsbrain
  • Scooter
  • Juan (and Phil’s mom)

Good luck this weekend, everyone. We’ll be back next week with points and probably quite a few Blutarskys.

well, then.

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Sixteen of your Twelve-point-five-th Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub) contestants had them in the final four.

Seven of us — including yours truly — picked them to win the whole thing.

No, I’m not talking about the UMBC Retrievers — no one had those guys making the Final Four. I’m talking about Virgina, which is now the only No. 1 seed in the history of the men’s tournament to lose to a No. 16.

I mean, it was fun to watch … and then we all remembered what it would do to our brackets.

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I guess it’s not too early to start thinking about Blutarsky candidates, huh?