Monday, March 30, 2009

White Vegetable Lasagna

I'm adding White Vegetable Lasagna to the Moms of Many cooking-for-a-crowd post, since it makes a big (for us) 10 x 15 inch pan of lasagna. You could double it if you had two pans that big, but in that case you'd also need some place large enough to chill all that lasagna before baking. Since we don't have a walk-in fridge and we usually have other food in the one we do have, one pan is the most I've ever made. But maybe you could think of a way to double it.

"Brunch Lasagna" is a make-ahead recipe I clipped from Canadian Living years ago. I always thought that the basic idea was good, but that some of the details were wrong. For one thing, even when I made it as written, 20 ounces of frozen broccoli NEVER fit into an 8-inch square pan; the only way it worked for me was in a 9 x 13 pan. Also you have to crack all those lasagna noodles to fit them in the small pan: an operation which should require safety glasses.

The other thing is that, in my opinion, frozen broccoli (at least the economy-brand variety) is Not a Nice Vegetable. You end up with mostly chopped-up stems rather than florets, and as a main ingredient in lasagna, that just doesn't cut it. [2010 update: Since writing this I have found that there are brands of frozen broccoli that are a little nicer--but of course they cost more.]

So this weekend, having a guest who gave up meat for Lent, I gave the recipe a makeover and stretched it to fit an even bigger pan, and I was pretty pleased with the way it turned out. It also made the preparation somewhat easier, since you don't have to chop all the vegetables. It's not necessarily more frugal, since its success depends on buying a package of more expensive frozen mixed vegetables (and I don't mean the peas-carrots-lima beans type); but if you're going to go to the trouble of making it, you might as well do it right.

First, here's the original recipe:

Canadian Living's "Brunch Lasagna"


1 tsp canola or vegetable oil
3 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 sweet red or green pepper, chopped
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp dried basil or oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 cup 1% milk
20 oz frozen broccoli, thawed
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 uncooked lasagna noodles
1 egg
1 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese, or ricotta, cheese
1 cup mozzarella, shredded, part-skim
2 tbsp parmesan, freshly grated
2 tbsp fresh bread crumbs


In large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; cook mushrooms, onion, garlic and sweet pepper, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until softened.

Sprinkle flour over top of vegetables; stir to coat well. Stir in basil, salt and pepper. Gradually stir in 3/4 cup of the milk; cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until sauce is smooth and
thickened. Stir in broccoli and parsley; set aside. Halve lasagna noodles; set aside.

In food processor or blender, blend together egg, cottage cheese and remaining milk until smooth. Spread one-third into lightly greased 8-inch square glass baking dish. Spread with half of the broccoli mixture, cover with 4 noodle halves. spread with half of the remaining cottage cheese mixture, then half of the mozzarella; cover with remaining noodles. Spread with remaining cottage cheese mixture, then mozzarella. Top with remaining broccoli mixture.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or for up to 16 hours. Combine Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs; sprinkle over top of broccoli mixture. Bake, uncovered, in 375F 190C oven for (I think it said 40 minutes, which doesn't seem like enough--use your own judgment). Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Per Serving: about 275 calories, 23 g protein, 8 g fat, 30 g carbohydrate, high source fibre, excellent source calcium

Source: Canadian Living magazine [Jan 96] Presented in an article by Carol Ferguson. Recipes from Canadian Living Test Kitchen.

Here's what we did with it:

Treehouse White Vegetable Lasagna


2 tsp olive oil
3 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp dried basil
pinch of salt (optional)
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups 2% milk plus extra as needed
1 500-g package Europe's Best "Nature's Balance" frozen vegetables [link updated 2011] (leaf spinach, sugar snap peas, broccoli, asparagus, red pepper, yellow pepper, garlic sprouts); I left the frozen package in the refrigerator overnight to thaw it a bit
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
8 uncooked lasagna noodles (that may not sound like enough noodles, but it works)
2 eggs
2 cups (500-g container) low-fat cottage cheese
2 cups mozzarella, shredded (be as generous with this as you feel you can be, nutritionally and otherwise)
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese (or more)
2 tbsp fresh bread crumbs--I used about triple this, enough to cover the top of the dish


Grease a 10 x 15-inch pan (ours is Pyrex).

In large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; cook mushrooms for about 5 minutes or until softened.

Sprinkle flour over top of mushrooms; stir to coat well. Stir in basil, salt and pepper. Gradually stir in half of the milk; cook, stirring often, until sauce is smooth and thickened. Stir in frozen vegetables and parsley; set aside.

In food processor or blender, blend together egg, cottage cheese and remaining milk until smooth. (If you use the food processor, do it gently--one time I tried this and the milk and egg sprayed out of the machine.)

This is where things get mathematical:

Spread one-third of the milk-eggs-cottage cheese into the baking dish. Spread with half of the vegetable mixture. Cover with 4 lasagna noodles: three arranged lengthwise and one crosswise (you'll probably have to break a bit off the end of that one to make it fit; the leftover bits can just go in with the other noodles).

Spread with half of the remaining cottage cheese mixture, then half of the mozzarella; cover with remaining noodles in the same pattern (3 lengthwise, 1 across). Spread with remaining cottage cheese mixture, then mozzarella. Top with remaining vegetable mixture.

Depending on how thick you got the vegetable sauce, you may want to add more milk around the edges. You're not going for soupy, but it should look at least somewhat wet, if that makes sense.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or for up to 16 hours.

Combine Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs; sprinkle over top of broccoli mixture. Bake, uncovered, in 375F 190C oven, or adjust it as I did: I started it at 375 degrees but turned it down to 325 degrees after about 20 minutes and let it cook for another hour; I wasn't in a hurry for it to be done and I didn't want to scorch the topping (I did end up sliding a piece of foil over the top when the crumbs started to get darker than I wanted). Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. If the edges seem dry when you take it out, you can sprinkle them with a bit more milk.

Served six hungry people along with sweet potatoes and salad; and we had some leftovers. So I would say it should serve 8 nicely.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Apricot Bars (improvised)

A couple of years ago I posted a favourite recipe for Raisin-Sesame Cookies. I wanted to make some today, mostly because they're one of the few good oatmeal cookie recipes I have that use oil instead of butter or margarine (we have lots of oil, short on the other things). But we had only a couple of spoonfuls of sesame seeds left, and I didn't want to use raisins because Mr. Fixit hates them.

But there was half a box of generic toasted-O cereal, which it turned out nobody likes much for breakfast and which therefore has been sitting in the cupboard. And a whole container of dried apricots. So Mama Squirrel got an idea: we ran about a cupful of cereal and a dozen or so apricots through the food processor, not to completely pulverize it all but to leave the cereal kind of crumbly and have the fruit chopped in small bits. With the bit of sesame seeds stirred in, there was a bit more than the required cupful, but that didn't matter--we just put it all in and adjusted the liquid a bit. We didn't put any cinnamon in either.

The other change was due to the realities of a busy homeschool morning: Mama Squirrel didn't really have time to push cookies out onto sheets (or wash the pans afterwards), so we spread the dough in a greased 9 x 13 inch glass pan, and baked it at 350 degrees (rather than the usual 375 degrees). The "big oatmeal cookie" baked fairly quickly--it was done in about twenty minutes, and Mama Squirrel cut it in squares before it got hard.

Verdict: yes!

Here's the original recipe:

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
1/2 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
1 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup milk or enough to get the dough to hold together

Sift flour, soda, salt and cinnamon. Stir in raisins.

Beat together oil, sugar and egg. Add rolled oats, sesame seeds and milk. Combine with flour mixture until well blended.

Drop dough by heaping teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets, allowing room for cookies to spread. Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes (watch them at the end). Makes about 4 dozen medium-sized cookies.

(Source: The Harrowsmith Cookbook Volume One, contributed by Holly McNally of Fredericton, New Brunswick.)

The Magic Box

My mom taught school on and off when I was young. I was thinking this morning about the trouble she used to have to go to to make reproducibles for her class. They didn't call them that, though. The teacher made "stencils" and you got a "ditto" from the "ditto machine," otherwise known as a spirit duplicator. If you were lucky, the stencil didn't wrinkle during duplication, and if you were very lucky, you got 50 to 100 nice clear (and smelly) copies before your stencil didn't work so well anymore. (Most schools had moved on from the Gestetner era by that time, although a lot of churches were still back in the ka-chunka ka-chunka '50's, duplicating-wise.) It wasn't until high school that we started getting many photocopied sheets.

Now we have computers.

I'm getting ready for a homeschool week with my second grader, getting back into the groove after March Break. We're going to be reading a chapter about Henry V and the battle of Agincourt. I go to, find H.E. Marshall's book An Island Story, find the right chapter, adjust the printing preferences (no pictures, small font), and print myself out a three-page copy. I Google-Image the words Agincourt Henry, hoping for something to cut out or colour, and come up with a page of possibilities. OK, there's a map. I try to print it out, but it's too big; I save it to our desktop, and print it out with a Photo Wizard (sizing and rotating it to fit the paper). Takes me about 30 seconds. There--one nice map of France, England, and the English Channel, and I'll teach Crayons how to colour water on a map. (I also found a few minutes of the Laurence Olivier Henry V on YouTube--the St. Crispian's Day speech--but Crayons wasn't as interested it in it this time around as she was four years ago.)

Crayons wants to start learning cursive. We do have a Canadian Handwriting transition-year workbook, but I don't think it's enough to get her started--she needs more tracing practice and the chance to learn some strokes before she's asked to go right ahead and write capital and lower-case cursive letters (especially capitals--those can wait). I print out the Kidzone Rockin' Round Letters "a" worksheet, tape it to the kitchen table, and let her go to it.

The Miquon Math (Green Book) pages for this week are a bit confusing; they want you to introduce the concept of factors, as in, what are the factors of 6? (1, 2, 3, 6) I don't like the two Miquon pages in the workbook, at least not to get started with; maybe there's something else online. At first I can't find any appropriate free sheets or instructions for dice or card games, since factoring is usually taught in higher grades. But I do come up with a page of java-based games and other online activities for teaching factors. And there's something there called The Factor Game, which can be played with two people or against the computer. I try it out myself a couple of times and decide we might be able to use this, especially after a You-tube lesson on finding factors from an elementary-school teacher named Tim Bedley. Nothing too high-tech about the lesson--just a teacher writing on a white board (I wish they'd leave out the annoying drum beats, though). I could show Crayons myself, but today I'll let Tim do it, and then we'll try out the game. (Update: success! Crayons really liked the game, both against the computer and against me, although the computer seems very hard to beat.)

We're getting back into French, after several weeks' break. I found some pages I put together years ago, a four-week study of the French version of All Tutus Should Be Pink, an I-Can-Read book. Each lesson was a short passage from the book that I typed out, plus a couple of language activities (reading, copying, finding sounds, putting words in order) for each day. I thought I'd have to type them all out again, but I realized I did have them still in my computer files. I needed new "word cards," though; that was as easy as highlighting my typed text, copying it to another page in a larger font, putting it into columns, and asking Word to put boxes around each word or phrase. (That's on the Word toolbar, something called "Outside Border" with a little icon that looks like a square divided in quarters.) I printed the columns out twice, pasted the pages onto old manila file folders, and cut all the pieces apart. (If this sounds like a Charlotte Mason elementary reading lesson, that's because it is. Only in French.) Now we have word cards for the first lesson that we can match up, play Concentration with, put in order, or play fill-in-the-blanks with.

A very far cry from having to write all that out on a stencil with a pen.

I also find a ballerina colouring page to print out and glue on the front of a file folder, so Crayons has a place to keep her "tutu" worksheets. (I picked the drawing of the two little girls, the fourth one in the top row.)

Oh, and finally today we're going to do some Ambleside Online picture study. Our term's artist (we're off the schedule) is Giotto di Bondone, and I click the link to today's painting on the Ambleside art page. Oops--it takes me to some fashion design site--I'll have to let AO know the link is broken. OK--Google Image search for "Jesus washes the feet of the apostles." There we go.

While I'm getting ready for school, I check Homeschool Freebie of the Day; I decide that I'm not that interested in hoop skirts, but there will probably be something later in the week I want to save. I have a few minutes to look at babies and babies and more babies (everybody's posting about their babies today). Sebastian is discovering Japan, and Lindafay has something about poetry that I want to come back to. Mr. Fixit wants to use the computer too--he wants to check the weather and he has to print out a shipping label for something he's sold on E-bay.

Not every day is this dependent on The Box. But when we need it--it's astonishing.

(And now we're going for a nature walk. No computer necessary.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thrift shop books

We went back to the "silver-lining thrift shop" today, and Mama Squirrel found a few more good books, mostly priced between twenty-five cents and a dollar:

Jan Karon, In This Mountain (hardcover with dj)
Jan Karon, A New Song (I keep finding copies of this and giving them away)
Rumer Godden, In This House of Brede, older hc with dj
Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God
Walter Wangerin Jr., Ragman and Other Cries of Faith, a really nice paperback copy (I had a feeling there might be another couple of Wangerin books there that I hadn't found last time)

101 Dalmatians, the real book by Dodie Smith
A Child's First Book of Poems, illustrated by Cindy Szekeres--1981 library discard
The Orphelines in the Enchanted Castle, by Natalie Savage Carlson--1964 library discard

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Sugar Mouse Cake: CPSIA-Endangered Books

All-Purpose and General Jinjur (get the joke?) posted an (inside-pages) photo last August of her favorite children's book: Gene Zion's The Sugar Mouse Cake. Read her comments and the reviews at Amazon (there are 22 of them), and you'll see the same thing over and over: "I loved this book but didn't own it. We took it out of the library over and over and over..." Same here. We loved the talented mouse, the truly amazing cakes in the baking contest, the queen's cheesecake-induced "nightmare" ("A mouse...was dancing...on that cake!"), and Tom's great big splash into the moat. And the happy mouse-baker reunion at the end.

It was published in 1964 but never reprinted. My guess is that the cake-guzzling queen may be a harder sell these politically-and-anatomically-correct days than she was forty-five years ago. Still, with all that begging, maybe somebody will pick it up for reprinting; Zion's Harry the Dirty Dog books are still very much in print. (Somebody did ask the reprinting question on

But in the meantime, it's contraband. That is, if you can find a copy. The cheapest one on is $95 U.S. Does that put it in the category of fancy adult collectibles and out of the reach of the CPSIA? I don't think's just scarce and expensive. The $95 copy says "Book Condition: Acceptable. POOR. Both hinges are taped and pages have many smudges. Cardboard showing at cover corners. DJ in mylar has wear at the corners. Very well-read...."

Sounds like the copy we found a few years ago at a library sale. And I'm not selling it.

Well, I can't anyway. Unless you don't live in the U.S.

Confused feetnote...Actually, I've noticed that U.S. sellers on do not seem to have withdrawn their listings for pre-1985 books. Maybe they're hoping the government will back off.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Crayons' Grade Two: Term Three Begins

I didn't write in any memory work--it's still there, just not noted.

Plans for this week:

Monday (yesterday):

Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers, half of chapter 1
Math, two dime-store workbook pages on addition
Poems, two
To Far Cathay, chapter 1 (Marco Polo book)
Copywork/language: part of a Ruth-Beechick-style lesson based on Tanglewood Tales' "The Pygmies"
Sewing--self-directed, making doll things


Stories from 2 Samuel; using a Bible story book for these chapters as there is some sensitive material
Miquon Math
An Island Story--starting Henry IV
Copywork/language sheet
Composer study: start Dvořák


A Boy Named Giotto
Start Howard Pyle's Robin Hood
continue stories about St. Francis
Nature study


Stories from 2 Samuel
Pilgrim's Progress
Picture study: Giotto
Pilgrim's Progress


Finish the Mr. Pipes chapter
Tanglewood Tales, "The Pygmies"
Finish Island Story chapter if necessary
Composer study again