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Ground meat is one of the best buys around for reasonable priced meals for your family.  I buy in bulk when there’s a sale and prepare stuff ahead as much as possible.   Meatballs are baked and then frozen.  Meatloaf is frozen to defrost the day ahead of being made.  Ground meat seasoned with salt and pepper is cooked, crumbled and drained and then frozen.  Burgers are made and then frozen.  This past week Aldi had a sale on 5 lbs. of ground beef  for $9.95.  Another market had ground turkey on a BOGO sale so it ended up being $2.20 per pound.  One of these days, I’m going to experiment with grinding my own meat.  Ironically I bought a meat grinder to make veggie burgers, but it’s sitting in my pantry gathering dust.

First, let’s talk about meatballs.  I used to buy the frozen, precooked variety until my kids rebelled and said only mine would do, claiming the others are like little rubber balls.  I see their point.  The only way I can make this happen, though, is to cook them ahead and freeze them.  I make rather large batches, so I have at least enough for two meals when I’m done.


3-4 lb. ground meats (use a blend of at least two – beef, turkey, chicken, and pork are all great)  Keep in mind, though, that beef really throws off a lot of grease, whereas the others are leaner and less greasy.  For that reason, I try to use less beef.

2 eggs

1/ 2 or so seasoned bread crumbs (in a pinch, I’ve used oatmeal, instant grits, and leftover quinoa)

2 heaping Tbsp. sweet pickle relish

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

16 oz. cottage cheese (or ricotta if you don’t have any cottage cheese)

Optional add ins:

Pesto, seasoning packets from Rice-A-Roni (ha ha – when I make prepared foods like that I always use 1 packet per two boxes to reduce the sodium, and keep the spare packet around for future use)

Prepare two 13 x 9 baking dishes by spraying with coconut oil.

Mix meats and wet ingredients by hand, gradually adding in the bread crumbs/oatmeal/whatever, so that you can form meatballs that do not fall apart.  Add sparingly, as you can always add in more, but you can’t take them out once you’ve put them in!  Sometimes when using ground chicken, the meat is impossibly sticky.  Using the grab and roll method with flour on your hands, and rolling the meatballs in a  little seasoned flour takes care of that!

Scoop meat mixture using an ice cream or cookie dough scoop if it’s not too sticky and place meatballs in baking dishes.  If there is no beef, drizzle with a little olive oil.  If there is beef, skip this step.

Bake at 375 F for approximately 40 minutes (depending on meatball size) or until golden and the internal temperature is at least 160 F.

Allow to cool, and place in containers to freeze for future use.

I defrost them overnight the night before I am going to make them for dinner.

Meatballs are so versatile.  Some variations we have enjoyed are:

Ground meat 1 Buffalo meatball and potato casserole




ground meat 3 gen tso meatballs

barbecue ranch meatballs

Or simply bake them with your favorite spaghetti sauce topped with cheese!

Sometimes I make them big, like little mini meatloafs.  You can even cook them in a muffin pan.

The recipe for crock pot meatloaf follows much the same recipe as my basic meatballs.  Cooking it in the crock pot is by far the easiest way to make a moist, delicious meatloaf.

Crock pot meatloaf

You can stuff uncooked jumbo shells or manicotti with meatloaf mixtures, too, or add in a little sausage to give it a zing.

Stuffed shells

The recipe I use for burgers is more or less the same.  I put them in a Tupperware and freeze them until the night before we’re having them.  I cook them on a baking sheet, rather than standing at the stove flipping burgers.

burger cooked in the oven

There are a load of recipes you can make with precooked and frozen ground meat or sausage:


Stuffed Poblano Pepper Casserole

Stuffed peppers

cabbage rolls casserole.jpg

Cheeseburger Mac and Cheese

Hawaiian crock pot dish.jpg

shepherds pie

sloppy joe

Lazy day casserole


My sister Sue recently shared some photos including some of matching family cars taken during our summer vacation one year.   I love this.  I hadn’t seen this picture in years!


They are parked in front of a cottage our family used to visit each summer in Geneva on the Lake, Ohio, on Lake Erie.  Our family, consisting of mom, dad, Sue, Don, and me would be joined by Uncle Sherman (Lease), Aunt Harriet, Jerry, Barbara, Uncle Tom (Miller), Aunt Jane, Tommy, Sally, Kathy, my dad’s parents, Art and Helen, and sometimes friends, including the Kunz family, Tom Coughlin, Jerrie Simon (I think) to name just a few.  There would be sleeping bags everywhere.  People sleeping all over the place! There was an old boat house down on the lake where the really brave boys would sleep, as it was beyond rustic and housed spiders of all shapes and sizes.  Or maybe they just told me that to keep me from wanting to hang out with them!   Lake Erie was the closest thing to the sea shore we had, and we loved it!

Sue shared some pictures of how it looks today, including “Shank’s Cottage”  which belonged to a friend of Uncle Sherman’s named Elmer (I think) Shank, who rented it to our family each year.


Nicely updated, but it still has some of the charm I remember!


There were arcades where we could play bingo and other games for tickets to claim amazing prizes (or so we dreamed).  Miniature golf and an amusement park called  what?  Pop’s maybe, with kiddie rides.  Vacations at Geneva were a dream come true!


Eddie’s Grill has been there forever!


This is the Sunken Bar circa 1966-67

Geneva 1 Sunken BAr

I remember my grandma and Uncle Sherman cooking spaghetti for dinner, both with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths.  Mom used to joke that ash was their secret ingredient.

We used airplane tire tubes as our flotation devices.  So many fun times!!

We rented a scooter one year and have some fun home movies I now have a yen to dig up!

Family vacations are money well spent.  Nothing in my childhood memories matches the times we had at Geneva on the Lake!

Miscellaneous pictures I found searching online:

Another Proud Mama Update

As you know, I am proud of all my children.  My son Austin is no exception.  He also has always been very clear on who he is and what he wants.  His creativity led him first to remodeling and decorating.  He could have done that for a living.  However, he found himself drawn to doing hair.  He also followed his passion.  After much research, he decided that Aveda was the place for him.

Austin Aveda Show.

He landed a job with Ted Gibson of “What Not to Wear” fame while still in school.

Hair 8 Ted

Another part of who Austin is presents itself in his willingness to give back.  The following story and picture ran in our local paper:

Nine economically-disadvantaged teens and young adults, some homeless, got a bit of pampering at Blend Beauty Lounge and then dinner at J72 Chef’s Lounge all for free during the “Beauty and the Feast” event in Davie. The girls are residents at 4 KIDS of South Florida, a non-profit that finds homes for children, teens and young adults in crisis, based in Fort Lauderdale. The owners of the establishments said they simply want to reach out to the less fortunate if even for just one day.

(Taimy Alvarez / Sun Sentinel)


Austin giving back

Currently at Blend Beauty – every day, he helps women to feel more beautiful.

Hair 7

From beautiful blonds using Balayage.  (his kid sister Molly the Baker is his model)

Hair 5

To vivid and amazing colors.  Color correction, too.  (friend Stephanie is his model)

Hair 1

Gorgeous, one-of-a-kind coloring (his sister in law Bree is his model)

Hair 4

Letting people express themselves with beautiful, unique hair (friend Anandi is his model)

Hair 3

Wow – amazing (significant other Daniel is is model)

Hair 2

Austin is an artist.  His vision, eye for color, his talent, are a gift.  I love when he does my hair and makes me feel beautiful.  (his sister Olivia and I are his models)

Livy and Mom

He keeps the whole family looking beautiful!  Austin introduced me to unique hair, and I’ll never go back to boring colors.  Maybe it’s my inner rebellious teenager, but I choose to continue to embrace the opportunity to express myself with colorful hair!

Hair 6

Thank you for letting me share another proud mama moment.  More of these “tributes” to my children are to follow.  They are all truly the best thing!


Those of you who follow my blogs know how proud I am of my kids.  Molly the Baker is no exception.  From a young age, Molly knew who she was and who she wanted to be.  She was always smart and focused.  She worked hard – two part time jobs – saved money, and followed her passion.  When we visited the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, we both immediately knew it was exactly where she needed to be.


From the Culinary Institute of America, she went on to a job at Duane Park Patisserie, where she helps create some of the masterpieces they are known for.

big rainbow color cakes

Rainbow cake

Her boss at Duane Park Patisserie is Chopped Champion Madeline Lanciani.

Chopped Champ

In addition to amazing cakes and other delicious treats, Duane Park Patisserie is also home to the Ring Ding Bar – the latest trend in sweets.

About a month back, Molly had the privilege of being part of making Meryl Streep’s birthday cake.

Meryl Streep Birthday!

Molly recently got an invite from celebrity chef, Jean-Pierre, to join him next time she is in town teach a few classes with him.  Cool stuff!

Sunshine Cuisine

And not only is she an amazing baker, but she’s also an amazing young woman.

Molly and Lein

That’s my girl with sweet Lein!  Keep following your dreams, Molly.  The sky’s the limit!


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.


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


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


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.


Spread with the butter, pesto mix.

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


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!


Flowers . . .


Beautiful handmade card . . .


A new dishwasher!!

Coffee and my favorite movie!


Scissors – I’m always looking for them!

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


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!


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.


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.


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


Place layer of noodles on top of ricotta.


Top with sauce in a thin layer.


Top with layer of noodles.


Top with remaining ricotta.


Layer the last of the noodles.


Top with remaining sauce and sprinkle with shredded cheese.


Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes.


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.




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.

scan0001 (2)

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


“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.


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.


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