Recipes for Families with Toddlers: Roasted Veggie Lasagna

Years ago, Jason and I started experimenting with lasagna recipes. We tried meat, we veggie, we tried all sorts of different things. What we stumbled upon was a lasagna so good that we still (years later) make it about once a month or so. We have it down to a science. Veggies. Spinach basil mix. Rice Noodles. Go.

That it happens to be vegetarian is strange, as we are not…

That it happens to be toddler friendly and gluten-free* is another bonus of the recipe – and one that we have definitely capitalized on since baby RZ was only six months old. It was her first ever real prepared ‘meal,’ and she adored it! I hope you will too. : )

Roasted Veggie Lasagna 

The lasagna is made in a few separate steps. It might seem like a lot at first, but once you’ve made it twice the steps get very simple. Especially if you can make the roasted vegetables the day before.

Ingredients:

5 medium sized zucchini (or more as desired)
1 large eggplant (or more as desired)
1 package hard tofu, smashed by hand
2 balls of mozzarella, grated
1 container of ricotta
3 bulbs garlic, roughly chopped
1 big bunch or package of spinach or baby spinach, chopped
1 bunch basil, chopped
2 jars of spaghetti sauce (Prego works well)

*You can also have a layer of ground beef if you prefer that. We do this sometimes too.

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the zucchini and eggplant lengthwise, and then chop into iPod Shuffle sized pieces. Don’t they look like little iPods??

Toss in olive oil, sea salt, and italian herb seasoning. Lay these out on a roasting pan with at least the amount of spacing as shown, and cook for 7-10 minutes, then flip if translucent or remove from oven if soft and browned. If you see any burning, turn the temp down… if there’s no sizzle, turn it up.

Repeat with as many veggies as you have – it may take several batches. Place roasted veggies aside or refrigerate if making day before. Make sure you try a few samples, just to be sure they’re delicious. I almost always add a dash of tamari for some extra flavour. (If you are making this Gluten-free, buy the gluten free kind. Tamari is my fave.)

Roasted Vegetables

Step 2. This step can be done any time but it’s a tad messy. You’re going to prepare a big bowl full of chopped spinach, chopped basil, chopped garlic, ricotta and smashed (by hand) tofu. Add a dash of salt. I didn’t get a picture of my spinach mixture on its own but you’ll see it below in context.

Step 3: When you’re ready to build the lasagna (I recommend doing this the day after you’ve done steps one and two), the first thing to do is make the noodles. And pre-heat the oven to 375.

Bring a well-salted pot to a boil and add your noodles. We use (and love) the Rizopia brand brown rice sheets, shown below. It has the perfect hearty texture for lasagna.

The only rice pasta brand you'll ever need.
The only rice pasta brand you’ll ever need.

Cook until done (about 11 minutes I think, but every stove is different. These noodles do like a rolling boil.) Once cooked, strain  and run some cold water over them. Add a splash of olive oil as well. Then you’ll want to lay them out individually (quite quickly) on a cutting board or other non-stick surface so that they don’t stick together.  *Some pieces will not make it out whole. Use those for your middle layers if possible.

Ready to start building a lasagna? Here’s mine in progress:

Lasagna with Spinach and Ricotta

Step 4: Start the layering (almost done!). A really useful tool for this stage is a silicone baster, but a spoon will do. Coat your lasagna pan (preferably a heavy pan like a Creuset) with pasta sauce. Lay out three noodles or enough to cover the surface of the pan, and layer more sauce on top, as pictured. Then, add your spinach/ricotta/garlic/tofu mix. Layer #1 completed.

Next, lay more noodles on top of the spinach mix, coat with sauce, and then lay on the roasted veggies, about 2-3 vegetables thick. Then, add third and final noodle layer, and cover in sauce…. and cheese.

So it’s three layers pasta sheets and two layers filling, with sauce and cheese on top.

Lasagna before

Step 5: Bake at 375 for 45 minutes or until golden brown. *Note, the more browned it gets, the more chewy the cheese top gets, which adults love but isn’t the best for the young ones. Aim for browned in spots but not all over.

Allow it to cool so that the juices settle and then carve up and dive in. Bon Appetit.

IMG_8363

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5 BBQ ideas for babies and toddlers

Can babies eat BBQ? The short answer is yes. (Yay!)

My concern was about carcinogens found in charred meat, but the solution to that is pretty simple. Don’t give your little one any food with black bits on it. But those parts generally accompany the tough parts of food anyway. Baby BBQing is all about keeping foods soft and juicy. For achieving this, we use foil and ‘slow and low’ heat to make sure food is cooked-through and not dried out on the grill.

Extra-precautions: Use FOIL to cook food that’s being BBQ’d for baby – especially on a less-that-super-clean BBQ (hey, it happens) safe away from char, dirt and grunge, BBQ brush wires or other stray objects.

Some starter ideas:

  • Super checked, double-checked, 100% boneless/deboned white fish or salmon pieces (cooked in foil with a little butter or olive oil and dill or light seasoning).
  • Portabello mushrooms in foil (cooked until juicy and soft)

If your BBQ is clean and you trust the surface doesn’t contain any hazards, here are some other no-foil ideas we’re trying out this season:

  • Grilled Fruit (Pineapple, apple, pear, banana, kiwi) Cook on a skewer or tray and then de-skewer (obviously) , cool, and dice up. *If you haven’t tried grilled fruit, you will love it! It gets caramelized and sweet and juicy.
  • Blueberry-stuffed peaches (OMG. baby food? Mommy Food!) Here’s a recipe (drop the sugar though, not necessary at all)
  • Goat Cheese Turkey Burgers with Spinach (How awesome do these sound?!)

And a little more labor intensive and ambitious, but SUPER healthy:

  • Sunshine Burgers “Raw or Cooked” *Substitute the celery and carrot in this recipe for cooked/soft green peas and green beans *the recipe is about half way down the page. What I was looking for was a burger recipe that is fine even if it doesn’t cook through and through, so that you don’t need to char it or overcook it. These burgers are fine even they are basically raw inside, because the ingredients are cooked brown rice, ground flax, and ground sunflower seeds. For a less labor intensive meatless burger, any of the “just add water” quinoa variety are worth trying, or pre-packaged sunshine burger mix!

And then last of all, below is a picture from about 5 or 6 months ago (which would make RZ about 9 months old) trying out her first fried chicken…. not the healthiest option, but she sure loved it! We’ll be experimenting with BBQ chicken, but probably will shred it! Also, leftover BBQ chicken is good for a BBQ chicken pizza the next night ; )

Diggin' a drumbstick with Daddy
Diggin’ a drumbstick with Daddy

 

 

 

She eats everything….

I wouldn’t have guessed my 10 month old would be eating these things, but she has a mind (and flavour palette) all of her own. And growing up in our house, there will be no shortage of interesting things for her to try. Here’s a few of her oddest choices:

1. Pickled burdock root.

We get it from Sanko (Japanese food store in Toronto) and she gnaws on it like it was licorice. She doesn’t bite into it or swallow, but for gumming it has been her favorite teething food. Bizarre! (The vinegar level is probably higher than recommended, but burdock itself is a reputed calming herb, and she had no bad reaction)

yamagobo

2. Hummus.

I’m not a huge hummus fan myself but I wanted to try something with veggie protein since I don’t cook with many beans or lentils. Lo and behold, she loves it. Particularly with pita and cheese.

Hummus

3. Jambalaya. She went nuts for this clam-juice and tomato soaked rice. (I left out the meats for her portion.)

creole jambalaya

4. Cranberry sauce It was her favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. She loved the turkey quite a lot too.

cranberry sauce

5. Mango. This might not sound strange, but my kid isn’t a fan of apples really, or bananas, or strawberries. Her pick is mango. Eats it for breakfast 7 days a week. Funny little monkey. I buy the Europe’s best frozen mango, blanche it, and cut it up small.

mango

Will this baby eat leeks soup?

A review of Bringing up Bébé by Pamela Druckermana.k.a. Why you’ll never catch a Parisian mother with a Ziploc bag of Cheerios….

I should start by saying I’m a total francophile. I pretty much adore the language, the land, the people, and the snobbish culture that has endured and persisted despite global sophistication killers like le Big Mac and Paris Hilton. More than anything, I love the way they dress their babies… those knits!

So it’s no surprise that I’m a little taken with this book that spills the secrets of french-style parenting. A book that, incidentally, might help us all bring up better behaved, less bratty babies — and therefore preserve our sanity.

Think… a leisurely glass of wine at the end of the day because you can, not because you have to…

Bringing up Bébé is about how the french (once again) do things a little bit different, and maybe a little bit better. The book introduces crazy ideas like:

  • Parents enjoying long adult conversations while their children play quietly. (Mon Dieu!)
  • Birthday parties where 5-year-olds sit patiently at tables waiting for their slices of cake.
  • Babies who sleep through the night at just 2 or 3 months old.
Yeah, these certainly got my attention. And then more:
  • Kids that act more grown up: The idea that kids don’t need you to applaud and entertain them at every second. Kids can learn autonomy, and will be more self-sufficient if they understand that while they ARE the centre of your universe, their universe is not the only one. Mommy needs mommy time.
  • Civilized meal time: Eating is about flavor, taste, and the experience — not just food in, food out. French babies have a snack time once per day (4:00) and eat better because they aren’t noshing from morning to night.
Do I plan to be a french-type mom? Uhh.. yeah. There is nothing so far that turns me off the idea, I’ll say that much! So probably yes, in many ways, I will strive to have a food-appreciating, parent-respecting, sophisticated child. Yes indeed. Yes please.

This is an interview with the author of Bringing up Bébé, Another article here, from the Wall Street Journal

and here, from New York Times

In other news…. Wish me luck! We may have a bébé ourselves by the time I post next. Somehow I think I’ll probably sneak one more in under the wire though. Hard to believe the pregnancy journey is nearly complete and the parenting one is just beginning. My first three months seems like a lifetime ago…. Time is about to start flying, isn’t it??

9 months pregnant belly with 9 days left….

Happy Valentine’s Day, baby.

Today is Valentine’s Day.

Next year, we’ll have a one-year-old to celebrate this day with, and in a few more years we’ll be helping her write Valentine’s for all the boys and girls in her class.

She’ll know us better than anyone, and love us more than anyone. And vice versa of course. But I was really touched by this quote about giving it time:

“All new parents work at knowing, understanding, and loving their babies. Your baby will work just as hard at learning to know, understand, and love you. This is the process of attachment-the work that parents and babies do together to form a deep and lasting love. It is what becoming a family is all about.”

– From You and Your Newborn Baby – A guide to the First Months After Birth

By Linda Todd

Lofty aspirations on the eve of parenthood…

With a baby coming in less than a month my parenting ambitions are kicking into high, HIGH gear, but those other more personal (selfish?!) dreams and aspirations are fading into the background.

Is that good? Bad? After some careful thought… I think it’s pretty awful actually. And I want to consciously put an end to this back-burner instinct. Pronto.

How terrible, that so many people must feel like we feel do right now… that babies and children mean the end of personal dreams and aspirations. Its almost as if we feel irresponsible about dreaming freely and imagining wonderful and exciting things.

I want to put together a quick little Pre-Baby Bucket List to remind myself, and my husband, that we need to keep dreaming to stay alive. And no matter how practical we try to be for our child, it doesn’t mean that we stop walking our own path to personal fulfillment. So here it is…

THE PRE-BABY BUCKET LIST

1. Start a charity

2. Publish my novel

3. See Leonard Cohen in concert. I hope he tours again!

4. Learn to make a scrumptious, braised Beef Bourguignon (in a Le Creuset pot that I don’t own yet.)

5. Create a pied-a-terre in the Caribbean.

6. Get chef/resort/dinner party idea off the ground (could include #1, and #5)

*With only six things on this list, my mind is filling with worries about my mother’s finances, my child’s education, and my own retirement. I can see how it’s much easier to put this sort of list in permanent limbo. But isn’t it through additional income and entrepreneurship that we can escape the loop of pay check dependancy? (P.S. Notice how none of the above involves Twitter or Facebook… why do I waste my time on that crap?)*

7. Write an article for a national newspaper.

8. Give an inspiring speech (And yes, I’d happily settle for giving a reading while on a book tour)

9. Live in a glass house. Surrounded by beautiful trees and/or water.

10. Take a wine tour of Bergundy by canal.

11. Learn to play piano.

12. Learn French (#11 and #12 have been on my list since forever!! I’m terrible…this is really kind of helpful for focusing. Although I’m finding it kind of depressing for some reason. Onward ho!)

13. Earn a Master’s Degree. Likely an MFA in creative writing.

14. Tour Japan. Visit the zen gardens. See the cherry blossoms. Eat the food.

15. Learn Scubadiving.

16. Dive.

17. Get nominated for an award.

18. Attend an award show.

19. Learn some tricky salsa moves/get thrown in the air.

20. Start a Speaker Series (I’m thinking this will tie in with #1, #5, and #6!)

21. Grow hair long, like past elbows.

22. Finish reading Proust, Remembrance of Things Past. Seriously. Finish. It.

23. Publish second novel.

24. Become a stronger swimmer.

25. Go to Greece. Island Hop.

Wow, ok. So 25 things… and it would be hard to come up with more at this moment. I feel inspired though, and focused, and I truly believe that happy, fulfilled parents make happy, fulfilled children. I want my daughter to know me as a writer, a doer, a maker of change. So why put my own life on the back burner?

Thoughts? Oh, and if you make a list of your own, send me the link!

~ ♥ LMF