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1 box lasagna noodles (I used old style with the ruffed edges like they did on ATK)

1 jar marinara (I used Lucky’s brand tomato and basil)

1 can diced tomatoes (I used Del Monte with basil, garlic and oregano)

2 lb. cooked, drained, crumbled ground turkey

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 large sweet onion, diced

1 container cottage cheese

1 packet Knorr pesto sauce mix

1/2 c. butter or butter flavored spread, softened

1/4 c. shaved Parmesan cheese

1 c. Daiya mozzarella shreds

1 c. shredded Italian six cheese mix

3 whole wheat hoagie rolls

In a dutch oven,  saute onions in olive oil until softened, but not browned.  Add in canned tomatoes, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add in cooked ground meat and marinara. Continue to cook on stovetop for 3-4 hours, or transfer to crock pot and cook on high 3-4 hours or low 7-8 hours.  This can be made ahead and refrigerated until use.  I cooked mine in the crock pot and when straight into assembly with the heated sauce.

About 20 minutes before you are ready to assemble your lasagna, place lasagna noodles in baking dish and pour enough boiling water over noodles to cover.  Let stand for 20 minutes.  America’s Test Kitchen chose this as their favorite method, over using no-bake or actually boiling the noodles.  After 20 minutes, lay noodles out on kitchen towels and pat dry.

Combine cottage cheese, 1/2 packet of pesto sauce, and 1/2 c. mozzarella shreds, set aside. On ATK, they used heavy cream, Fancy cheese, and garlic  I used what I had on hand.

Combine butter (or spread) with 1/2 packet of pesto sauce, set aside.

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Put 1/3 of the cooked sauce in the bottom of a deep baking dish.  Top with noodles.

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Next layer with half of the cottage cheese mixture sprinkled with a little more mozzarella shreds, followed by another layer of noodles.

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Layer with half of the remaining sauce.

Then more noodles.

Then the remaining cottage cheese mixture.

Then the last of the noodles.

Then the last of the sauce.

Top it all off with the Italian cheese and Parmesan.

Cover with foil and place in 350F oven for 30 minutes.

 

When 30 minutes for Lasagna is up, increase oven temperature to 450, and remove the foil.  Let lasagna cook for 5-10 more minutes.

Remove from oven.  Let it sit for 20 minutes before cutting.  Important!!

Meanwhile, cut hoagie rolls into garlic toast size portions.

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Spread with the butter, pesto mix.

Place in oven until golden – about 5-7 minutes.

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I menu plan and check out the sales at local markets all week long.  Wednesdays and Thursdays are the new sales days here, so I plan around that.

I thought about what makes me different from others who also love good food.  I recalled things people have said to me regarding my culinary explorations.  It comes down to my ability to feed my family good quality food at bargain prices by planning my menu around what it on sale.    Ensuring that leftovers don’t go to waste by freezing and/or utilizing them is another method for cutting food costs.  My menu plans and shopping lists are fluid, changing daily with my mood, and based on what is on clearance at the store.  I love those racks of stuff they are getting rid of, and the meats marked down on their last day!

I saw Rachel Ray speak about her menu planning, and she utilizes her own version of this method.  The difference is, she doesn’t have to focus on the cost of cooking what family members ask for, she has an unlimited budget.  My food budget varies from week to week, but averages around $150.00 per week to feed 6-8 adults dinner each night, while keeping leftovers or sandwich fixings around for daytime eating.  Oatmeal and cereal for breakfast most days.  Some yogurt, family breakfast on Sunday.

I have food on hand dinners for the next few days, but as of Friday, I will need more food.  The cupboard is nearly bare as far as my usual staples, i.e., canned beans, frozen seasoning veggies and side dish ingredients, frozen leftovers ready for future use.  So this week has the potential to be one that runs a little higher than usual.  I find it so rewarding to buy at the right price and food prepare items ahead to make meals quicker to fix.   Cooked meatballs, cooked and crumbled ground meat and sausage, and cooked (and then shredded) chicken in the freezer help make weeknight meals so much easier!

 

I always buy condiments and grains when I see them on clearance or for an exceptional price.  For instance, I have Lea and Perrins White Wine and Herb Chicken Marinade on hand for a future meal that I bought from the clearance rack for 2/3.49.  The regular price is $2.88 at another store on sale, so it was still a good price.  I also have some S & F Lemon Pepper Chef Sauce that was on sale.  I will definitely be on the lookout for some chicken on sale, since I freeze the chicken pieces in the marinade and defrost it the night before I’m cooking it.  We are a little spoiled in our family, though, and usually opt for boneless chicken.  Less flavor, no homemade broth, higher per pound price, but still first choice most of the time (unless I’m feeling poor, or their giving chicken with bones away).

At least once a week, I make a meal in the crockpot that requires little or no effort on the part of those eating it!  Chili.  Stew.  Chowder.  This usually falls on Wednesday night, when I shop at a new local market called Lucky’s where they have “sip and stroll” and I have to say the level of aggression among fellow shoppers is measurably lower since we are all sipping wine or beer.  People actually smile and sometimes even speak to each other!  It’s a bit of a novel experience nowadays to shop within such a nice vibe.  Their sales are amazing, too, and since Wednesdays you can shop the previous week’s sale or the coming week’s sale, I am presented with more options.  I also find Aldi to be a good choice for my Wednesday night shopping. I keep an eye out for when they have ground turkey on sale, or when I’m bringing food to a gathering and my ingredients are not on sale a the Lucky’s, Aldi, or on the weekly BOGO sale.  Staples such as baking needs, butter, sandwich fixings, breads, produce, and pastas and grains, not to mention canned goods and foil and the like, are all super reasonable at Aldi.  Lucky’s has an app where I can get additional discounts, and tonight I saved $11.00 off my $85.00 bill.  All the items were already on sale, and the discounts were on top of the sale, like coupons.

My daughter also turned me on to Ibotta app, and I’m hooked.  It’s like after-the-fact couponing.  Over the last six months, buying only items I would have bought anyhow, I’ve earned nearly $200.00 which is paid into my bank account using Paypal.  Sometimes when I forget to check what deals are available on Ibotta, I will check when I get home.    Referring friends gets you extra money.  Making your own “team” also gets you extra money.  I enjoy it.  I even got a discount recently shopping at Best Buy and on Groupon!

I find that I enjoy cooking more and we waste less food!  A win, win.

Happy bargain hunting and menu planning!

My kids are the best!  Mother’s Day couldn’t have been better!

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Flowers . . .

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Beautiful handmade card . . .

dishwasher

A new dishwasher!!

Coffee and my favorite movie!

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Scissors – I’m always looking for them!

The best gift of all is knowing what good people my kids are.

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1 package RPs Pasta Company or other fresh lasagna sheets

2-3 lb. ground meat, browned and drained (I cook and freeze cooked ground meat when it’s on sale)

2 onions, chopped

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

2 c. chopped sweet peppers

1 jar marinara

2 Tbsp. pesto

2 Tbsp. minced garlic

4 c. leftover cooked quinoa

1 container ricotta cheese (2 lb)

1 packet Knorr pesto sauce mix – or Italian seasoning and Parmesian cheese

1 egg

1 package (8 oz) shredded Italian 6 cheese

SAM_3070I bought some fresh gluten free lasagna noodles.  It didn’t say how many sheets are in the package, so I worried that I couldn’t make enough layers, so I decided to try something new, inspired by pastitsio. By the way, the package has 12 sheets, enough for three layers!

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I cook the sauce overnight in the crock pot.  This step isn’t necessary, but it certainly adds another layer of flavor that can’t be replicated any other way.

Day 1:  The Sauce:

2-3 lb. ground meat, browned and drained (I cook and freeze cooked ground meat when it’s on sale)

2 onions, chopped

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

2 c. chopped sweet peppers

1 jar marinara

2 Tbsp. pesto

2 Tbsp. minced garlic

Combine ingredients in crock put.  Cook overnight 8-10 hours on low.  The house will smell amazing.

Day 2:  The Lasagna –

4 c. leftover cooked quinoa

2 c. cooked sauce

Combine quinoa and sauce.  Add a little more sauce if it looks too dry.

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1 container ricotta cheese (2 lb)

1 packet Knorr pesto sauce mix – or Italian seasoning and Parmesian cheese

1 egg

Combine cheese, pesto sauce mix and egg.

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Spray DEEP lasagna dish, and spread quinoa mixture into bottom.  Top with layer of half of the ricotta.

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Place layer of noodles on top of ricotta.

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Top with sauce in a thin layer.

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Top with layer of noodles.

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Top with remaining ricotta.

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Layer the last of the noodles.

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Top with remaining sauce and sprinkle with shredded cheese.

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Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes.

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We really loved this.  My daughter suggested stuffing peppers with a quinoa mixture like I used for the first layer and I can’t wait to try it.

I made garlic toast using Texas toast multigrain bread and premade garlic spread.

Yummy!

 

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I’m thinking of my father today, as I do most days.  He would have been 92 today.  steelers worlds best dad

I was blessed with a father who always told me I was beautiful, smart, and could do whatever I set my mind to.

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This is an excerpt from a letter I received from my father in which he encourages me to enjoy my life and everything I do.

A girl’s first love is her father.

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He was a loving, kind, generous, and supportive father.  I remember going to his office with him as a little girl, and playing with the keypunch machine and mixing myself up a glass of Tang.

He was patient and hard-working.  He always had my back.

Arthur Milton Barnes, Jr. was born on May 12, 1925 to Helen Hulvey Barnes and Arthur Milton Barnes, Sr.

From a young age, he excelled in sports, and in high school was on the football, baseball, and basketball teams.

Soft spoken and shy, he had a friend call my mom to ask her if she would go out with him.

His love was baseball, and he played shortstop.  I never got to see him play, as he was 34 when I was born, but if baseball players were as well paid back then as they are now, we would have been rich, I’m told.

We were rich – in love.

Dad's Oakmont Team

He joined the Navy and was, at the time of his graduation from flight school in Pensacola, the youngest to graduate.

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Once, during a trip to the Florida Keys, he decided to skip shaving, and for the first time ever, my dad had facial hair.  He wore a beard the rest of his life.

While in Key West, multiple tourists asked him to pose for a picture next to Sloppy Joe’s – Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar – because they thought he resembled Hemingway.

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My dad taught me to love football (Go Steelers!) and baseball (Go Pirates!)  I remember attending many many games with him.

He taught me accounting skills that I use to this day.  At the age of 14, I was doing the bookkeeping and payroll for local businesses.

At his funeral (we lost him at the age of 71 – far too young) the people who spoke shared stories spoke of a loving brother and father, of a boss who treated his employees with respect and made them want to do their best, and a friend who you could always count on.

The other day when I was missing him, I cooked some franks and beans (one of his favorite meals).

He never swore (well maybe later on in life – but not when we were kids).  He would say “oh my aching back” or some other equally endearing expression instead.  I wish my kids had gotten to know him better.

He didn’t drink.

He was never ever mean.

He was a great man.  A man of value.

A man of integrity.

A man who truly cared for others.

An inspiration.

Field of Dreams was his favorite movie.

Lemon Meringue Pie his favorite dessert.

Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” one of his favorite dance songs – did I mention he was a great dancer?

 

My dad taught me many lessons.

The most important one – he showed me who I want to be.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Dad.

noll classic pose

Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 70’s, wanting to spend time with my father and brother, the great sports teams were a source of great bonding.  During that time, I saw what teamwork and perseverance could accomplish.  I also saw what a great man looked like.  Not because he was a great coach, but because he was classy, intelligent, well-read, kind, a teacher, a real renaissance man.  I was inspired to write about Chuck Noll today for a few reasons.  He was featured Friday night on the NFL Network on their “A Football Life” program, and I learned some things I never knew about him.  Watching “Mean” Joe Greene cry when talking about Chuck Noll made me want to know more.  The show opened with Noll quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson quote

and then saying to the reporter “you don’t know what that means, do you?”  As the show went on, I came to understand the man I had always admired, but never really knew much about.  That was the tone of the program, too – what a private man he was.  It possibly started because he suffered from epilepsy as a young man.  I had a cousin Jerry who also had epilepsy, and I can tell you, there is a certain amount of shame and secret ism that it carried.  He refused to play into the drama and flamboyance of the coaches of the era.  His biographer said he was “not colorful”.  It depends on how you look at it.  He was more of a doer than a talker.  He shunned celebrity.  Didn’t do endorsements.

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Chuck Noll came in as coach in Pittsburgh in 1969.  The Steelers had never made it to the post season in all their years of existence.  That first year, they only won one game.  By four years later, they played their first post season game ever.  By 1975, they made it to and won the Super Bowl, and again in 1976, 1979, and 1980.

Noll Franco Pops

Some of his great quotes:

Noll’s wife Marianne said that she read aloud to him every day of their 50+ year marriage, up to and including the day he died.  Their family vacations with their son, Chris, were always full of opportunities to learn new things.

Noll saw himself as a teacher.  He brought together players and built a winning team.  The admiration they felt for him was evident in the interviews given.

“He was a father figure, with me being a young African-American growing up in the South and losing my father early in my college career. My father died during my freshman year of college. Just being young and immature, Chuck was a stabilizer; he was a stabilizing figure in my life. He was a great mentor and a great leader. He was special.” — Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount.

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“He was a tough coach to me, and I spent more time with him than anybody, so I know. I learned how to be mentally tough with him, and for that I can never say thank you enough, because that got me through divorces, Super Bowls, and those times when I had bad moments in big games. He made me mentally strong, which I wasn’t. And he instilled in me a great work ethic.” — Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

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“Chuck was just the ultimate leader. He had truth and belief in what he was saying, and over time all of those things he said were validated, the things about winning football games and being a solid citizen.” — Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene.

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Once, after the glory years were over, and Noll had coached through a difficult season of trying to build a new team, a reporter asked Noll about retiring.  I’m sure Noll, were he a different type of man, would have said “F@*! you”, but instead, Noll said “I’m not going to answer that”, and got up and walked out.

Noll foundation

What really touched me is that Chuck Noll’s legacy as a coach is not even his greatest contribution.  Suffering from Alzheimer’s later in life, his family formed the Chuck Noll Foundation in his memory.  A great man, and a great legacy.

RIP Chuck Noll.  The Emperor.  My Hero.

Puerto Rico Waterfall

With a son who is a talented colorist, an artist really, I have been fortunate enough to try fun hair colors.

My latest look is reminiscent of a peacock!

 

People will say the most interesting things to me.  Some stare.  Some complement.  Some criticize.  One thing is for sure, I no longer blend into the background, unnoticed.  People hold doors for me, say “Hello” even.  Children have laughed out loud and told me they love my hair.  I feel better about myself, and take more care with the way I dress and I even sometimes use a little make-up. Having colorful hair makes me more approachable.  It opens so many doors to connections with people that would otherwise never occur.

Acceptance

Sometimes I forget that I have outrageous hair and am reminded by the behavior of others.  My 4 year old grandson was not happy the first time I tried an unusual color.  He said that he wanted me to have brown or black hair or something.  He has since come to accept that Mom Mom likes to color her hair.

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I decided to research what the experts say about people who color their hair unusual colors.  The reasons they gave ranged from – “to get attention” to “to be unique” to “because they are risk takers”.  It was making sense to me.  I’m going through a time of change in my life, and changing my appearance helps me see myself in a different light.

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What I found the most unsettling about the articles I read weren’t the articles themselves, but rather, the comments people made were unbelievable.  The level of condemnation and judgment is staggering.   These individuals who felt compelled to name call and criticize couldn’t look past the hair color, just like they can’t look beyond weight, skin color, gender, affluence, age, or any of the other numerous differences we all have.  It’s sad because it represents what keeps people from connecting.  It is judging someone without giving them a chance to show you who they are.

all my kids and then some

Molly the Baker is home for a visit with equally talented baker Lein!  The girls made some amazing cupcakes for us tonight as we celebrated.

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Cupcakes:

1 c. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

2 c. sugar

4 eggs at room temperature

4 tsp. vanilla extract

3 c. flour

4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 c. buttermilk

2 lemons for zest and juice

Blueberry Filling:

2 c. frozen blueberries

3/4 Tbsp. water

1/4 c. sugar

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line 2 muffin pans (12 each) with cupcake liners.  Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar on medium high until creamed (about 3 minutes) scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Beat on medium high until combined about 2 minutes, again scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.  Slowly add dry ingredient mixture into wet ingredients over 3 additions, beating on low.  The batter is thick!  Beat in buttermilk, lemon juice and zest, and continue to blend on low until combined.  Avoid overworking the batter, being sure to stop as soon as it appears uniform.

Spoon batter into cupcake liners.  Bake 18-20 minutes.  Test with toothpick for doneness.

Cool completely before filling and frosting.

Meanwhile make compote by 1 cup of the blueberries, water, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan.  Cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat.  Add in remaining blueberries and cook an additional 8 minutes.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

2 blocks cream cheese, softened

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

4 c. sifted confectioner’s sugar

Zest of 2 lemons and juice of 1

Beat cream cheese, butter and sugar until smooth, about 5 minutes. Beat in lemon zest and juice.

Carefully cut center of cupcake to make room for the filling, careful to save a “lid” to put on top of filling.

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Pipe cream cheese frosting on top.

Watch everyone’s delight when they reach the yummy center!

Thank you Molly and Lein!

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2 boxes elbow macaroni, cooked according to directions

12 leftover chicken fingers (you could use any leftover meat)

1 package broccoli slaw, steamed in the microwave (any steamed veggies will work!)

1 jar alfredo sauce (variation – mushroom soup, marinara, any sauce!)

1 c. shredded cheese (I used sliced and shredded up some cheese I had on hand)

Mix cooked macaroni and alfredo sauce.  Place half in the bottom of a 13 x 9 baking dish sprayed with coconut oil spray.

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Top with cooked broccoli slaw.

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Cut up chicken tenders and spread evenly over broccoli slaw.

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Top with remaining macaroni and sauce.

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Top with cheese.

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Bake at 350F until melted and golden, about 25-30 minutes.  Loved it!!

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1 1/4 c. milk  – I used coconut almond milk

1/2 c. agave syrup – the recipe called for sugar, but I prefer agave

1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice – I left this out, since I used pumpkin butter that was seasoned

3 large eggs, slightly beaten

1 can pumpkin (15 oz.)  – I actually used up the pumpkin butter instead!

4 1/2 c. cubed  bread  – I used a seedy whole wheat and the seeds gave it a nice crunch!

Cooking spray

Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl.  Whisk until frothy.  Add bread and toss gently to coat.  Spoon into an 8 inch square baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.

Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350.  Place baking dish in a larger dish with an inch of water.  Cook covered for 25 minutes.  Remove foil and bake an additional 10 – 15 minutes until knife in enter comes out clean.

I served it warm topped with vanilla yogurt and some stewed strawberries.

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