Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lasagna Rollups

One of our favourite recipes at home is these spinach and cheese mini lasagnas. My wife first found the recipe on pinterest but I've made some changes to make it go further.

The original recipe calls for 9 lasagna noodles and I've found it can go much further if you add some extra cheese and just use more noodles.


  • 15 lasagna noodles, cooked
  • 1 package frozen spinach, thawed according to the package
  • 500g tub of ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • pepper
  • 680ml can pasta sauce. This is the size of hunts pasta sauce. YMMV.
  • 1 bag of italian blend shredded cheese. These are usually in the 320g range. More is better though.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Start cooking the lasagna noodles but don't cook them as long as the box would suggest. I like to do a "super al dente" so I usually go one minute shorter than the box says. This will help them keep their shape after baking. Put the spinach in the microwave to start thawing, this usually takes about 7 minutes total so it should be done about the same time the noodles are.

When the noodles are done I like to lay them out on cooling racks. This will make them cool enough to work with and usually most of the water will dry off of them. You want them dry on the surface so they are a bit sticky, it helps with the rolling.

Get a 9 x 12 baking dish and put about a cup of the pasta sauce in the bottom.

In a bowl combine the spinach, ricotta, parmesan, egg, pepper, and about 1/4 of the shredded cheese. Mix this all up.

Get a piece of wax paper and put it on the counter or wrap a cutting board in it. This will be your assembly station. Lay out a noodle and spread an even layer of the spinach mixture on it. How much? You're going to have to estimate. You need to do this 14 more times and you don't want to run out of mix. Roll each noodle and place it seam side down in the pan. Repeat this until you have 15 nice little bundles in the pan,

Take the remaining pasta sauce and spoon it over the lasagnas and then sprinkle the remaining cheese over them. Cover in tin foil and put in the oven for 40 minutes. If the cheese on top isn't melted after 40 minutes, uncover and put under the broiler for 3-5 minutes.

Laying out the cooked noodles on cooling racks

Filling all mixed up

Spread the filling on a lasagna noodle. Don't worry about getting it even. When you roll it up that'll even out the filling

Putting the rolls in the pan

All 15 rolled up

Covered with pasta sauce and cheese

Fresh out of the oven and cooling.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Backdrop Storage System

My wife is a photographer and has a growing collection of backdrops that are basically just sitting around getting ruined. She saw the following image on Pinterest and asked me to build one.

It seemed simple enough. Just some PVC pipe screwed into some 2x4's hung on the wall. I measured some of her backdrops while they were rolled up and 3" PVC seemed like it would do the trick. I didn't think 2x4's were required and they would stick out too much so I went with 1x3.

It turns out the 3" pipe caused me a bit of an issue. I've got an old dewalt radial arm saw but its only 10" so I can't cut through the pipe in one shot. Luckily some careful blocking on the saw makes it so I can get a pretty good cut. I cut the pipe into two inch sections.

I figured the easist way to mount these would be to drill a hole all the way through so I could get a drill and screw in from the top. This would also make sure that everything was true and would result in a nice mount. Like the saw my problems came down to tools. My drill press only has a two inch throw so I can't drill down through a three inch pipe in one shot. I ended up just drilling a hole in the top so I could screw them in. I just let the screw do the work making the other hole.

I made a simple jig on my drill press to make sure all the pieces had the hold drilled in the same place. The long piece of wood was to stop the pipe from jumping up when the bit broke through. It worked pretty well and I got through all 28 pieces much faster than I expected.

Some #8 3/4 inch screws hold the pieces of pipe to the 1x3's. Ideally I would have liked to get the holes counter sunk a bit so the screws were flush with the inside of the pipe but I had no good way to do that. The screws sunk in a bit and they have no sharp edges so it seems like it'll be ok.

Here is the finished project.

There is some space at the top and the bottom of each board so I used some 2 inch screws to screw them into the studs. The spacing worked out OK since three studs are 48 inches apart and that was the minimum size required for the smallest backdrop she had.

I didn't finish the outside of the pipe or boards, my wife didn't care and it saved me a bunch of time. Originally I was going to hit the PVC with some Krylon fusion white paint and maybe stain the pine but if she's good with it, so am I.

I'm pretty impressed with how it turned out. I really think if I had a 12" saw and a bigger drill press I could have made a much cleaner product. Good enough for a weekend project.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Trailer Hitch Install

Today  I did an install of a Curt Manufacturing 13364 hitch on my 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan. I was going to try to find a different one because the instructions on this one mention that you have to trim the bumper on some models. It appears that is only for the Town and Country and I didn't need to trim on my Caravan. I did the install by myself in my driveway with the van on oil change ramps. Maybe not ideal but it worked pretty well. There are a couple good videos on YouTube that were very helpful. I felt pretty familiar by the time I got under there.

Curt manufacturing has a video.

And etrailer.com has one. This one is for a hidden hitch brand but they appear virtually identical.

They've disabled embedding the YouTube video but here is the link. https://youtu.be/npTXMh2Lxa8

It's pretty straight forward. You need only basic hand tools. I didn't feel like getting out my big impact for the 18mm bolts so I just used a breaker bar.

Here are the tools I used:

  • 1/2in drive breaker bar and 10 inch extension
  • 1/2in drive torque wrench. If I had a 3/8 drive I would have used that also but more on that later.
  • 3/8in drive ratchet and 10 inch extension. I don't own a 1/2 drive ratchet right now.
  • 13mm socket to remove the exhaust hangers
  • 15mm socket for the rear most bolts
  • 18mm socket for the other bolts Two on the drivers side and one on the passenger side. **Note** this isn't a regular size as far as I know. None of my sets had one so I went out and bought one in each 3/8 and 1/2 drives.
  • Universal joint to get to the 18mm bolt above the muffler.
  • Jackstands to hold the hitch while you get a bolt or two in. You wouldn't need these if you have a helper.
  • I did grab my cordless impact but it didn't have enough torque to do much other than take the exhaust down.

All the tools laid out with the instructions. The instructions were pretty good but the videos make it easier.

The three drivers side bolts. 1 x 15mm and 2 x 18mm. Remove all three. When I reinstalled them the forward most 18mm wouldn't go in so I had to use a screw driver to align the hole. I think whatever the nut is on moved, the bumper maybe? It was easy enough to line back up and get the bolt in.

The passenger side is a bit harder to deal with. This is the 15mm that needs to come out and there is a 18mm right above the muffler. Even with the exhaust lowered I had to use an universal joint to get to the bolt. My 1/2 drive socket was 12 point so it wouldn't get a good grip on it with the universal. I had to use my 3/8 since it was six sided. Unfortunately I didn't have a 3/8 torque wrench so this bolt didn't get torqued. It's 86ft-lbs so I just got it as tight as I could with the short handle on my ratchet. A case of good enough I guess. There always has to be one of those bolts.

The 15mm is only supposed to get torqued to 48ft-lbs but my torque wrench doesn't go lower than 50. I kind of wish I had a 3/8 but an extra 2 ft-lbs won't make any difference.

The passenger side is pretty tight.

All installed.

A couple overview shots. This project is very doable for anyone that changes their own oil since there are no holes to drill and all the bolts used are already on the van.

It'll likely be a while before the hitch actually gets used. We plan to get a small tent trailer in the next few years but I thought it would be much easier to install this before our Canadian winters made everything under the van rusty and crusty. I haven't looked into the wiring much but as far as I know I'll require a brake controller. I'm sure that'll be a pile of fun.

So all in this took me about 45 minutes to an hour. It probably would have been faster if I didn't have to stop and run out to get some 18mm sockets. The hitch cost $215 shipped from www.canadianhitches.ca. They were slightly more expensive than etrailer.com but since the shipping was free that saved me a bunch. All in I spent about $275 because I needed two 10 inch extensions, two 18mm sockets, and two universal joints. I also picked up a 5/8 hitch pin and a plug for the receiver opening. I probably could have bought just 1/2 drive sockets and extensions but I'm glad I grabbed the 3/8 because of that bolt behind the muffler.

I like doing this stuff so it was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Now if only it was sunny and warm instead of cold and drizzle.