The Easiest Baked Ziti Recipe Ever

Updated: 2019

When you are a busy mom, you need to find recipes that are quick and easy.

You cannot get any easier than the baked ziti recipe that I use for my family. I served it this year for my family's post-Christmas lunch. The recipe can easily be doubled, and you can also add meatballs or ground beef to it. 

Depending on your time and preferences, you can make your own sauce or use a store-bought pasta sauce.  I tend to go for the latter.

baked ziti
Baked Ziti
The original recipe came from a friend of mine when my son was a baby. This month, he turned 14, so this recipe has been used for many years.  When I first ate this dish, I thought it was delicious. My gut told me that this delicious baked ziti recipe had to be complicated and time-consuming. 

When I asked her for the recipe, she laughed and said, “It’s just noodles, jarred sauce, and some spices if I remember to put it in the bowl when mixing.”

She really didn’t have a recipe other than what she told me, so I went with her concept and created our version.

It’s a great dish to serve, and you will not have to slave in the kitchen. I coined the recipe the easiest baked ziti ever, and it really is easy.  You can use whole wheat pasta, protein pasta, or any pasta you wish to use. 

The Easiest Baked Ziti Ever

16 oz. ziti pasta
A large container of ricotta cheese ---use at least 12 to 16 ounces. Use more if you need it. 
2 cups of parmesan cheese
2 cups of mozzarella cheese
45 ounces of spaghetti sauce (store-bought or homemade)
½ tsp of basil
½ tsp of oregano
½ tsp of garlic

Cook ziti as directed.  Mix four cups of sauce with ricotta cheese (save some sauce for later use) in a large bowl.  Add spices. Add 1 and ½ cups of each cheese to cheese/sauce mixture.  Add baked ziti to bowl.  Mix together and spread in a casserole dish.  Spread remaining sauce on top of ziti.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Cover with tinfoil. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

*This can be refrigerated before baking, but increase your cooking time to ensure that the dish gets hot.

Baked ziti: Easy casserole for a crowd: Pasta, Cheese and Sauce #pastarecipes

I wish you all a great new year.

My thanks to DentalHQ,  who NC-based business who specializes in making your dental membership plan better. My blog sponsors keep me at my desk writing editorial content like this post and OutaboutNC.

8 Items You Should Purchase Because You Need Them in Your Life

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links and other affiliate links that are no extra cost to the consumer to purchase.

I do not write a lot of gift guides on the blog because of the way I see it, I am not an expert in gift-giving.  But, I do consider myself an expert in buying items for myself. As we end December, here are some products that you may want to buy for yourself after you get your Christmas money.  Some of these items are already in my home. And while we are confessing, some of these items are sitting in my stocking as we speak, waiting for me to be surprised on Christmas Day.

8 Items You Should Purchase in 2020

No more bad hair days!  Now that Liza is on a cheer team, we spend a lot of time with other people. You can learn a lot from other moms. I was introduced to this Ion Steam Pro Straightening Brush Iron while at a competition early on in the cheer season. Liza begged for it, so I bought it for her birthday. Guess who uses it more than her?  It's fabulous, and I highly recommend it.

The meat-shredding utensil. I have both a slow cooker and an instant pot. I prefer the slow cooker over the instant pot when it comes to meats. The instant pot is not as immediate as its name suggests, so I get my timing wrong a lot (meaning it takes me a lot longer to cook something in the instant pot than I realize ), and dinner ends up being way later than I hoped. Being a southerner, I use a lot of recipes that say "shred the meat."  I suck at shredding meat, but this bear paws shredder claws will turn you into a meat shredding pro. In 2020, I will share a southwestern beef recipe from one of my favorite NC cookbooks.

The tool for creamy soups! It's no secret that I love soup. I also like creamy soups, but I do not make those soups often because I do not own a hand blender to turn the soups creamy.  I have decided that 2020 will be my year for creamy soups for every season.

No more fuzzy sweaters or coats! The other day I looked in my closet and realized that some of my shirts are not looking its best. I had my photo taken with celebrity chef Vivian Howard at an event, and my mom commented on my sweater having lint balls. Jack made fun of my coat that I wore out this week, saying it was covered in lint. I have come to realize that I do not have the proper equipment to take care of these clothes. Oprah has a favorite fabric shave that is pricey, but I think I'm going to get this fabric shaver/lint remover for under $15. The reviews are stellar, and the price is right.

Hot water in an instant. A few years ago, I purchased an electric tea kettle. I love it.  My brand is Capresso, but now they've come up with designs that look beautiful on countertops and for half the price. I love the blue and white design of this electric tea kettle.  Electric tea kettles are great for hot chocolate, too.

Food Huggers are a lifesaver. I adore food huggers. I use them for my dog's canned food, but I feel as if I need more in my life. They also have food huggers for an avocado now. I do not own one of those, but I need one. If you do not have a food hugger and if you have a pet that eats canned food, then you need this now.

Sustainable Olive Oil Mister. One of my family members will receive an olive oil mister by Misto for the holidays. I saw it and was impressed. I want one, too.

His and Hers Electric Toothbrushes: Several years ago, my dentist's office recommended an electric toothbrush because I have receding gums.  I was told that an electric toothbrush would help keep them from receding more because when we brush our teeth, we are guilty of brushing too hard. This Fairywell dual electric toothbrush travel set in pink and black are perfect for those family members you know who are taking out all of their aggression on their teeth when they brush.

My thanks to Moore Family Dentistry, a Garner, NC Family Dentist for being a December blog sponsor. My sponsors keep me at my desk writing and outaboutNC. 

#HomeTours: The Entertaining Home in Raleigh, NC: House Stalkers Episode 3

Four episodes of my House Stalkers show is now out on YouTube. Have you caught any of them yet?  Each show has a personality of its own. Episode 3, which features The Entertaining House, located in downtown Raleigh, was a favorite of mine.  First off, it was staged, and that makes for a stunning home tour. Second, this builder is unique. It has true custom-features, which differs when you are looking at a model home like we did in Episode one of our shows.  

This new Raleigh home was listed for $564,900. The house was a new construction built by Moss Construction and Design in Raleigh's Washington Heights neighborhood, which is less than a mile away from downtown Raleigh's main streets.

This home was under 2,000 square feet but had a great open floor plan with an expansive back porch.  This is why we dubbed it "The Entertaining House" for our episode title. Heather,  my co-host and local realtor with Choice Residential Real Estate, absolutely loves modern. It's her favorite style of home, so she was immediately smitten. I had to be won over to come to the "modern-side" as she calls it because I love English cottage, Charleston, and Tudor styles more.

The modern home with 3 bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths was beautiful.  It impressed me so much. The home's location is in a southwest pocket of downtown Raleigh that is going up in price rapidly as revitalization in the area continues.

back porch of modern home. Great for entertaining

You can view our entire episode below and be sure to subscribe to my channel.


The real estate listing was by Isabel Moss. We also toured one of Moss's listings in the Downtown Raleigh bungalow episode.  The large, spacious windows with natural light was a big plus for this home as well as its open floor plan. It lived a lot bigger than just over 1800 square feet.

bedroom with large windows

The kitchen was a stunner with black cabinet and cafe appliances. Be sure to check out the entire episode and see if I turned to the modern side of life. The home was built by Moss Construction and Design of Raleigh. They are specializing in construction in these areas going through revitalization.

living room of modern home

OutaboutNC Local Restaurant: Falafel and Co on Brookside Drive 

House Stalking always makes us hungry.  For lunch, we chose a charming Mediterranean market and cafe called Falafel and Co in the Mordecai area of Downtown Raleigh.  It's a market, wine bar, coffee shop, and counter-service restaurant. The food is delicious.

Falafel and Co in Raleigh, NC

Stalk you later. Episodes One through Four of The House Stalkers are now on YouTube at

I would appreciate a watch and a subscribe to help me get into the YouTube Partner program. You need 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours. I am beginning to wonder if I will see those numbers in my lifetime.

Back porch of modern home in Raleigh, NC

You can also join our Facebook community where we stalk active listing.  If you are a realtor, I also have a special realtor marketing group for you.

My thanks to Lovein Ribman, Houston Mechanics Lien Lawyer, for being a December Blog Sponsor.  Lovein Ribman is the leader in Construction Law. My sponsors keep me at my desk writing editorial content and OutaboutNC.

North Carolina Is a Top Southern State for a Road Trip

Post updated in 2019

I've said for a long time that North Carolina has a lot going for it. We have the mountains, the coast, vineyards, golf courses, history, delicious food, and diverse culture. We well maintained highways with well-equipped rest areas. In my opinion, North Carolina has some of the best rest areas in the U.S.  There are areas for dogs to walk, ample parking for cars and recreational vehicles (RVs).

In 2019, WalletHub named North Carolina as the best state for a summer road trip, up from the 4th place spot in 2017.  With road warriors in mind, WalletHub compared the 50 U.S. states based on 33 key metrics to find the most fun, scenic, and wallet-friendly road-trip destinations — plus those that’ll have travelers pulling a quick U-turn.  Each year, we get more restaurants, more attractions, and more people wanting to move to this southern state with Carolina blue skies. 
Source: WalletHub

North Carolina is divided into regions. North Carolinians refer to these regions as the mountains, the piedmont, and the coastal plains. The terrain is different all over the state. We have over 70 public airports. If flying in on an International flight, then Charlotte, N.C, or  Raleigh, N.C. are your best bets for cities to arrive into with the least amount of connecting flights. You can rent a car, or look for an RV rental in North Carolina to use for your road trip.

U.S map

Arriving in Charlotte, known as North Carolina's Queen City, will put you closer to our mountains and piedmont regions. From Charlotte, you about two hours from Asheville, N.C. and the scenic Biltmore Estate. Charlotte has a great amusement park called Carowinds, a professional sports team, NASCAR Hall of Fame Museum and an outdoor rafting center.  It's also close to the quaint town of Salisbury, NC, where the popular drink Cheerwine was invented.

Arriving at  Raleigh-Durham-International airport will bring you closer to our coastal regions and Piedmont. From Raleigh, you can get to Wilmington, N.C. in two hours, the Southern Outer Banks in three hours, the Brunswick beaches in three hours, and the Outer Banks in three and half hours. The towns of Greensboro and Winston-Salem are just over an hour away.  Kitty Hawk is known as the place where the Wright Brothers were first in flight.

Love to relax around vineyards and enjoy wine? Then you may want to visit the Greensboro-Winston-Salem area and visit the Yadkin Valley area vineyards. It's the only area in North Carolina where the soil can grow grapes comparable tho those found on the West Coast and in Europe. This area is producing some award-winning wines.

Love Craft Beer? North Carolina ranks high in craft beer production. You can go just about anywhere in our state and find a local brewery. Asheville, N.C, Charlotte, and the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill areas have the most breweries in a concentrated area, but you will find breweries throughout the state these days.

North Carolina Local Beer Taps

Are you a fan of the PBS show, "A Chef's Life?" then take a road trip to Kinston, N.C. and dine at Vivian Howard's restaurant, "A Chef and A Farmer.".  Reservations are a must, and if you want to go a weekend night, you need to make those reservations several months in advance.

Love history? We have historic sites in almost every town in North Carolina. Raleigh is our state capital.  New Bern, N.C. houses Tryon Place, the former NC Governor's Palace when we were a colony. New Bern is also the site of where the drink Pepsi was created. The waterfront towns of Edenton and Beaufort had pirates walk the streets. We have battlefield sites, and even a museum devoted to actress Ava Gardner, who was born in the North Carolina town of Smithfield.

If you are a golfer, you may want to visit our Sandhills region in Southern Pines, where some may say there are more golf courses than people.  That's not really true, but this terrain is filled with sand, pine trees, and is home to a PGA golf course. Southern Pines is located about 30 minutes from NC Zoo in Asheboro, N.C.  This area is also known for its beautiful pottery in Seagrove, NC.

Ideas for a scenic road trip through North Carolina are endless. I love the mountain town of Blowing Rock, where you can walk across the swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through our North Carolina mountains. You can hop on it near Asheville, N.C, and take it into the Boone area. The Indian reservation, Cherokee, N.C. takes you to the Smoky Mountain National Park. In Franklin, N.C., you can take a scenic rail ride on the Smoky Mountain Railroad.

Map  of North Carolina _Great State to Road Trip

I am not a travel agent, but I know North Carolina well. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. Visit my OutaboutNC social community to see where locals like to go, and you can also follow my own Instagram account.

Request your map from NC DOT and start your adventure. Read the places to visit articles on NC and enjoy exploring. VisitNC has a list of accommodations. There are over 300 campgrounds in the state, so we certainly have something for every traveler, adventure style, and budget.  If you are thinking of moving to North Carolina, be sure to watch my YouTube show, The House Stalkers. 

Happy road tripping!

RV on scenic road

My thanks to RVshare for being a November sponsor. To search for the perfect RV for your North Carolina, visit RV rental, North Carolina.  My sponsors keep me at my desk writing editorial content, #OutaboutNC and house stalking on YouTube. 

And Beautycounter: A leader in the beauty industry for Safer Beauty.  Shop now for some of my absolute favorite products.  Contact me at Leigh (at) or message me at

Quick and Easy Pantry Meal: Pasta and Bean Soup

I like to eat soups, especially in the fall and winter.  My children not so much, but I just give them pasta with butter and then make what I want for dinner. I have found that if you keep chicken stock in your pantry, pasta, beans, and canned tomatoes, then you can pretty much make some type of soup.

I made this soup recently by rummaging through my pantry and old cookbooks. It's a great soup using pasta.

Use your Pantry and serve this easy pasta and bean soup.

Pasta and Bean Soup


1/4 cup of olive oil plus a little more for drizzling
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons of fresh or dried rosemary
2 14 oz diced tomatoes
Salt and Pepper
7 cups of chicken stock
6 ounces of pasta (elbow or tiny shells)
2 19-ounce cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed. 


Heat oil in a large stockpot. Add garlic and rosemary and saute for about two minutes. Add the tomatoes plus salt and pepper. Simmer for several minutes. 

Add the chicken stock and bring soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes. Add the pasta and cook 7 to 10 minutes. 

Add the canned beans to the pot and simmer for several minutes.  Add salt and pepper, if needed. Once the soup is in serving bowls, drizzle with olive oil to taste. 

Serve with my cornbread

This soup is excellent later in the week. It also makes enough to freeze. 

Are you a soup lover, too?

#Soups for weeknight meals. Quick and Easy from your pantry with #pasta #beans and #tomatoes. Get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes with this soup recipe. Budget-Friendly, too.

Updated 2019

My thanks to Louisiana Eye and Laser, with offices in Monroe, Louisiana, for being an October HinesSightBlog sponsor. The Monroe location offers routine eye care to LASIK eye surgeries. 

#HouseTours Raleigh Bungalow in the Historic South Park Neighborhood: House Stalkers Episode Two

In Episode Two of the House Stalkers on YouTube, Heather and I explored parts of Raleigh, North Carolina's inner beltline area in downtown Raleigh. We originally wanted to stalk a home in the new Caraleigh Commons neighborhood off of Maywood Avenue, but that didn't work out because all homes in this new downtown neighborhood are custom, and a home was not far enough along in the construction process for us to view on our shooting day. We'll revisit these homes by CitySpace another time.

Not getting into a home didn't deter us from shooting that day. I suggested stalking some new construction about a mile down the road in Raleigh's historic South Park neighborhood.

White House

You can view the full seven-minute episode two: Downtown Bungalow: The House Stalkers on YouTube now.

This bungalow/modern farmhouse featured in the show sits on a historic downtown Raleigh street near Shaw University. Homes in this area in Raleigh are undergoing revitalization at a rapid pace. Home prices are increasing just as fast as the remodeling. The home featured in this episode had an asking price of $408,000 and was already under contract when we visited.

 Isabel Moss, a realtor with Fonville Morisey and also co-owner of Moss Construction and Design in Raleigh agreed to let us stalk impromptu and boy, are we glad. The original property on this corner lot was a duplex, built-in 1930.

The Before: raleigh duplex built in 1930:

Moss transformed the bungalow-style duplex into a 1400 square feet modern farmhouse with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. The remodel also included a coveted carport.

modern farmhouse

remodel of home includes a carport

There were many things about this home that we loved. We saw the house empty, but it is even more quaint furnished.  Be sure to check out the show and see the tile in the bathroom.

living room of home and kitchen. Blue couch. Staged

This South Park home is very close to Transfer Food Hall at the corner of Davie and East Street in Downtown Raleigh. It was where we chose to dine for the lunch portion of the show to tie in the flavors of the neighborhood and tap into my OutaboutNC community on Instagram.  I love this new space in Raleigh. It houses twelve vendors in one gorgeous space. Housed in the historic Carolina Coach Garage and Shop, it is a unique gathering place in Raleigh, where different communities can connect through food.  I've dined at Transfer Food Hall many times now, but for the show, we had Tuna Poke Bowls from Bul-Box.

Tuna Poke Bowl at Bul Box inside Transfer Food Hall

I've also dined at Locals Seafood and Dank Burrito plus had a visit to Burial Brewing. I highly recommend Transfer Food Hall as a place to visit when in Raleigh.

We're going to visit another Moss Construction and Design in show three in another part of Downtown Raleigh.  Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel Leigh Powell Hines and ring the bell so you will not miss it when we drop a new episode.

a white modern farmhouse

My thanks to October HinesSightBlog sponsor, Flooring by Design, carpet installer in Raleigh.  The Flooring by Design team is ready to assist your home project to suit your lifestyle and budget.

A Travel with Purpose Idea: Bahamas Vacation #Ilovebahamas #BahamasStrong

In between carpool lines, cheer practice, and walking the dog, I start fantasizing about vacations as it gets colder and darker earlier in North Carolina.

Usually, my daydreams start with my picturing a quiet, tropical destination (even though I'm not really a sit-on-the beach type gal) where I see blue waters, white sandy beaches, and refreshing cocktail in my hand. My children are off splashing around because they are at a resort having fun. Will is happy because he paid for all food and drink in advance, so he doesn't have to tally up the food bill every time he charges it to the room. And I'm happy because I'm not doing laundry, or cooking a meal that no one wants to eat.

Ahh, glorious family vacations. Aren't they wonderful?

The truth is family vacations are usually a mess at certain points when you are experiencing them with your kids. As parents, you probably stated at least one time on that vacation, "With that attitude, we won't be vacationing next year!"

But, you know that is not true. Once you get home, you will only remember the priceless vacation fun. That's what we do.

PLAN a Bahamas Vacation in 2020

As you start vacation planning or even fantasizing about destinations like I do, consider a Bahamas vacation. Hurricane Dorian, as a category five hurricane, was devastating. As someone who lives in a state where hurricanes are frequent, I know first-hand how devasting these storms can be for the economy and tourism in the areas that were hit. It's more important than ever to get those dollars flowing and to let people know that 14 islands are ready for visitors in the Bahamas. In this interactive  Bahama island finder, you can find the most perfect island to visit for your family.

map of the Bahamas with islands open
Photo courtesy of  Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation 

There are many places to donate dollars to help the area, but to choose to help the economy by planning and experiencing a vacation in the impacted area allows you to do even more for the area to help with recovery. From dining in local restaurants to local tour experiences, you are helping the area's economy. 

I traveled to Nassau in 2001 for a wedding with Will. We were not yet married, but Will told me that one night on the island, he wanted to " impromptu propose" to me because the setting was perfection. He, of course, had no ring plus it was someone else's' happy occasion, so he bit his lip and proposed a few months later instead while I was sick with a sinus infection, wearing a sweatshirt and watching Saturday Night Fever.  Maybe we should redo our experience. 

Leigh and Will in Nassau in 2001
July 2001 in Nassau, Bahamas

Eighteen years later, it's hard now to remember trips before kids. However, I remember we stayed an extra day so we could dine at the Graycliff Restaurant, an iconic five-star restaurant in a historic inn that is still in operation today. The base hotel for wedding guests was a Marriott resort, at the time, which I think could be the  Melia Nassau Beach now.

The Graycliff offers even more culinary adventures for travelers to experience.

  • Graycliff Chocolatier Factory – Located in the historic Graycliff Hotel, the Graycliff Chocolatier Factory is The Bahamas’ first interactive chocolate factory. From tasting tours to children’s activities, Graycliff Chocolatier offers something for everyone to experience chocolate in a new way. 
  • Graycliff Culinary Academy – The Graycliff Hotel is also home to the Graycliff Culinary Academy, where visitors can take interactive cooking classes with the hotel’s five-star restaurant’s Executive Chef Elijah Bowe and his team.

  • Graycliff Cigar Rolling – Vacationers can tour the award-winning Graycliff Cigar Company and even take a cigar-rolling lesson with one of the company’s 16 master rollers.

Baha Mar: Pack with Love Initiative 

White Sandy Beach and Gorgeous Baha Mar Resort Complex
Photo courtesy of Baha Mar Resort Media Office 

Baha Mar, developed a few years ago to revitalize the island's Cable Beach, houses three luxury resorts, including the Rosewood, SLS, and the Grand Hyatt. I always told myself that I would stay on Paradise Island when I went back to visit the Bahamas, but now, I'm not so sure. These resorts have my attention, and you all know this whole blog was started because of my hotel obsession.

Post-Hurricane Dorian, this Nassau resort, is offering the Pack with Love program where guests are encouraged to pack an item or two that symbolizes love and comfort for the victims. Articles can include clothing, stuffed animals, baby items, educational items, books, and small toys. Guests will have the opportunity to deliver their items directly to local shelters if they desire. There is also a collection on site. Baha Mar is also home to the Beach Sanctuary at Baha Mar, which is an experience that allows guests to immerse themselves in the natural beauty and the wildlife of the Bahamian Islands.

Man swimming with fish

Other resorts in the Bahamas are also offering special incentives to help you get there to visit and plan a vacation for all budgets.

If you would like to donate to the island's relief efforts, here is an approved list of  Hurricane Dorian relief agencies working with the tourism boards you can be confident your dollars are going to be used precisely as intended.

Bahamas Vacation Guide

Travel Sites to Help You Plan a Bahamas Vacation:

Official Nassau Paradise Island: The Bahamas
The Islands of the Bahamas: Official Site
Grand Bahama Island
The Out Islands of the Bahamas

Other Midlife Perspective Members Bahama Vacation Guides for Planning/Relief Donations

Discovering Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas
Travel to the Bahamas Now: #BahamasStrong and Relief Efforts
Bahamas Cruising
Bahamas Romantic Getaway for Two
7 Reasons to Visit Nassau Now

My thanks to Empire Chevrolet Buick in Wilkesboro, NC, for being an October HinesSightBlog sponsor. Empire Chevy Buick is the place to search for pre-owned certified vehicles. All vehicles undergo a 172-point vehicle inspection and a thorough reconditioning process.  My blog sponsors like Empire Chevy Buick keep me at my desk writing editorial content, house stalking on YouTube and OutaboutNC. 

Do You Like To Look at Homes for Sale and Eat in Restaurants? Catch the Raleigh Area YouTube Show The House Stalkers

I have a new passion project for my fifties. Apparently, I do something new to help me cope with aging every decade. In my thirties, it was getting married and starting a family. In my forties, I started this blog. Now, I'm excited to say I'm vlogging and back on the small screen (where I feel most at home) with a YouTube Show, called The House Stalkers. This show is done in conjunction with  Raleigh realtor, Heather Petrovich, who is my witty co-host.

House Stalkers Host on Scene Shooting You Tube  Show

In the House Stalkers show, which is housed on my Leigh Powell Hines Channel, Heather and I stalk homes and visit local restaurants for lunch. You get a front-row seat on this house hunting journey and are invited to go along with us on the ride. The two of us have been friends for years and met when our children were toddlers. When Heather went back to work as a realtor, I messaged her and told her I was in the market for a home. You see, I was in the market for a home, but my husband was not in the market. She stalked homes with me for five years until we got my husband ready. Yes, you read that right. FIVE YEARS! The woman is a saint. Most people would have written me off as a nut who wasted their time.  During our house stalking period, we would look at homes about once a month and eat lunch. She finally sold me my dream home in downtown Raleigh a few years ago.  When I told her my YouTube show idea last year, she said a colorful word and declared she wanted to be the realtor who stalked homes with me. Now in 2019, we are stalking homes together again.  You can catch our first episode below. 

In our first episode, we visited the model home in the Olde Mill Trace neighborhood in Raleigh with new home builder, Stanley Martin Homes. This neighborhood is about ten minutes from downtown Raleigh. This lovely home design, called The Morgan II, is built in a community with larger lots than what is usually found in the city. The model home price for this Morgan II design starts around $550,000 for The entire Olde Mill Trace neighborhood currently has homes for sale from around $478,000 to $862,615.

The House Stalkers show has been in the works for over a year. We are concentrating on new construction in the Raleigh area currently so we can share new home trends.  As we move throughout the city, it will also give you an idea of price points in the Raleigh area. I think everyone is curious to see the types of homes on the market, and to realistically guess if the house we show is in their housing budget.

Inside a model home on The House  Stalkers

No doubt, I truly believe that North Carolina is a great place to live, and I think this show, and on our social media, you will get to see the charm of North Carolina's southern homes. I've been doing social media many months leading up to our show, and I think people are surprised at the cost of homes, especially around the area of downtown Raleigh.

As the founder of the OutaboutNC community on Instagram, I also wanted to tie in the local neighborhood flavor with this show. If I were in the market for a home in Raleigh,  I would want to know what restaurants are around where I plan to live.  In this Model Home episode, I take Heather to the locally-owned Manhattan Cafe on Wilmington Street in Downtown Raleigh.

fruit and turkey sandwich at Manhattan Cafe in  Raleigh, NC
Manhattan Cafe

This little family-owned restaurant serves breakfast and lunch. It's been a popular spot for downtown Raleigh workers since its opening in 2009 and has one of the largest salad bars in town.

This show is not about selling homes. By the time, our show may air, the homes we feature may already be sold, but rather, the show is about what life in Raleigh is like, and what type of home budget you need to have to live in certain areas of the county.

Heather and I have known each other for years, and I'm so glad she is helping me make this show a reality. I think she has as much fun as I do on our shoots.

The House Stalkers is on YouTube on Leigh Powell Hines Channel

My thanks to October blog sponsor CQC Home Raleigh -for keeping me at my desk writing and OutaboutNCCQC Home Raleigh is a home remodeling business in Raleigh and Durham that will deliver everything you need to help you transform your living spaces to meet your exact needs efficiently and on budget.

A Little Black Dress Worthy Dinner: Easy Baked Pork Tenderloin with a Dressy Salad Wedge Side

When entertaining, you want to serve a classic meal that fits perfectly with your little black dress hanging in your closet. Am I right?  You seek sophistication and elegance. You want your food to be as appealing as your elegant LBD. But, unless you are Martha Stewart or have all the time in the world to slave away in the kitchen, you need some serious shortcuts. I know I do. 

Enter stage right is the Little Black Dressing Company, #GotToBeNC made-product out of High Point, North Carolina. This company's homemade dressings will have you looking like a culinary superstar with little effort. I love them. 

Little Black Dressing Company has delicious NC Made Salad Dressings that are great for salads and recipes

North Carolina Bloggers throughout North Carolina were paired tin 2017 with North Carolina food products to help promote the annual Got to Be NC Festival, held in May. I was paired with Little Black Dressing Company to learn more about them. 

Founder Kissie Stroup said that her grandmother, now 94 and who is affectionally called, "Nana" made all of her own dressings from vegetables and herbs in her garden. Kissie said that their family would have some type of salad nightly with a fresh dressing on it. One of her grandmother's specialty dressing was a creamy vinegarette. 

Kissie Stroup, CEO and Founder of Little Black Dressing Company
Little Black Dressing Co CEO and Founder, Kissie Stroup

"Every time I made Nana's salad dressings, my friends would always want to know how to make it, " stated Stoup. "It got to the point that I was making it in my basement and people would come with their own jars to take some home." 

Her husband encouraged her to start a business making these dressings. She asked a friend to help her come up with a name for her dressing. They both agreed that her product was classic and elegant just like the little black dress, and in 2010, the classic Creamy Dreamy Vinegarette was bottled. 

It is excellent served with a salad, as a veggie dip or drizzled over cucumbers and tomatoes. Honestly, this is my favorite dressing, and in the privacy of my home, I'm not too proud to admit that I slurped the bowl after my salad was gone. It's that good, folks. 

Creamy Dreamy Vinagarette is delicious over tomatoes and cucumbers

Little Black Dressing Co later expanded its flavor wardrobe to include It Takes Three to Tango, a mixture of Blue Cheese crumbles, 1000 Island, and Ranch Dressing, Honey, It's Dijon Dill, and Far East Flair, a combination of orange juice, peanut butter, and zesty ginger. 

Each dressing is fresh with no preservatives, additives, or gluten. It can be found in the refrigerated section in Lowes Foods and Fresh Market. These dressings are so versatile and can be used for lots of recipes. 

As you know, I'm a storyteller and not a food stylist, but I made two recipes with the dressings and then used the dressings for salads until they were all gone. 

You cannot get any easier than with these two menu items. I found that pork is great to use with a honey dijon base so for this recipe, I paired it with Kissie's Honey, It's Dijon Dill dressing, but you could use another type of honey dijon dressing, but I encourage you to seek out this homemade dijon salad dressing. It can be bought in the U.S now in several states

Easy Baked Pork Tenderloin and a Dressy Salad Wedge Recipe for Pinterest Graphic

Easy Baked Pork Tenderloin served with a Dressy Salad Wedge

Easy Baked Pork Tenderloin 
2 Pound Pork Tenderloin
Salt and Pepper
One bottle of Honey, It's Dijon Dill Dressing or any Honey Dijon Dressing of your choice

Season tenderloin with salt, pepper, and garlic. Pour half a bottle of the salad dressing over the pork. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. The temperature needs to reach 160 degrees. 

Easy Baked Tenderloin Recipe

I used Honey, it's Dijon Dill Dressing and served it with rice and spicy collards.

Dressy Salad Wedge

Iceberg lettuce
Salt and Pepper
Extra blue cheese crumbles, optional 
It Takes Three to Tango Salad Dressing

Cut lettuce into a wedge, top with bacon pieces, salt, pepper and drizzle with the salad dressing.  Simple and delicious.

It Take Three to Tango Dressing is Perfect for a Lettuce Wedge with Bacon

I served the pork tenderloin with rice and farm-fresh spiced collards. 

I made these dishes on a busy weeknight for my family, but these salad dressings make every meal at your home little black dress worthy. 

 Other Recipes: Got to be NC Blogger Recipes for #HomeGrownFare17

Updated: September 2019
2017 FTC Disclosure: Sponsored by NCDA &CA. Opinions about whether or not to slurp your salad dressing bowl to get the last taste are not up for debate. When you taste the dressing, I promise you, all table manners are forgotten. You will want every last drop of that Creamy Dreamy Vinegarette. I believe it when Kissy said people showed up with gallon jugs. The dressing is $4.99 a bottle. 

Asheville’s Biltmore Estate is a Must-See for “Downton Abbey” Fans (New Exhibition will Run Nov.8-April 7, 2020)

I was a big fan of the PBS show "Downton Abbey."  I've not yet seen the movie that debuted this September in theaters, but I'm certainly going to put the new "Downton Abbey" exhibit on my travel wish list to see in Asheville, North Carolina.

Opening on November 8 and running through April 7, 2020, Downton Abbey The Exhibition will feature set recreations, costumes, and exclusive multimedia elements, providing guests with a chance to step inside the world of Carnival Films’ global television phenomenon and feature film

At Biltmore’s Amherst near Deerpark, never-before-seen multimedia elements and the series’ most recognizable sets and artifacts will immerse guests in the social history, culture and memorable moments from the show. At Biltmore Legacy in Antler Village, guests will get an up-close look at more than 50 of the show’s costumes that were worn by their favorite actors including Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, and Dame Maggie Smith.

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. is America's "Downton Abbey."

Once I immersed myself in the "Downton Abbey" series, it made me even more captivated by the Biltmore Estate, I grew up visiting as a child. 

George Vanderbilt and his family lived on this estate during the same time period as the Crawley family portrayed in “Downton Abbey.”  As I went through the house, I could imagine the inner workings of the house just like I see on TV with the popular series.

George and Edith Vanderbilt welcomed guests from all over the world to their home, Biltmore.  Set on 8,000 acres and situated on the bank of Asheville’s meandering French Broad River, the 250-room French chateau is magnificent.  It would take guests one hour by carriage as soon as they went through the Estate’s gate to reach the front door.

Biltmore's main entrance

Can’t you imagine all the servants coming out to welcome guests on arrival just like on “Downton Abbey”?

George Vanderbilt provided a resort-like atmosphere for his guests.   There was horseback riding, shooting, bowling alleys, and even a 70,000-gallon, heated indoor swimming pool with underwater lighting. Guests could ring the servants for a pool-time snack.

The Biltmore's indoor swimming pool

Tea was served around 4 p.m., and a formal, white-tie dinner was served promptly at 8 p.m. in the banquet hall.  It was not uncommon for there to be nine to ten courses served each evening.  They were small portions, of course, but still, I cannot even imagine a dinner so formal today.  The Vanderbilts would have a family breakfast in this lovely room. It is one of my favorite places in the home. 

The Breakfast Room in the Biltmore House. I love the fireplace.

And get this. It was not uncommon for the Vanderbilts and their guests to change 10 times a day.  I’m serious.  There was an outfit for breakfast, riding, shooting, tennis, croquet, tea, swimming, fishing, boating, bowling, and dinner. No wonder they needed a valet. 

The servants were certainly kept busy. 

The Biltmore kitchen.  The Biltmore Estate did not have a Mrs. Patmore though. The main chef was male. His room was
near the bowling alley, and if guests kept him up late because of their bowling, then they would know it the next morning by the mediocre breakfast they were served.

Biltmore offers special guided tours that take guests unrestored rooms and mechanical areas to see how the house functioned daily. Guests also learn about the work of the domestic servants who worked for the Vanderbilts.

The Vanderbilts provided living quarters for their staff.  Females stayed in the house, while male employees stayed in rooms above the stable. At Biltmore, each servant had a comfortably furnished, heated private room, and that was most uncommon for the time period.  As many as 30-35 servants had three meals a day in the servants’ dining room.

The servant's dining room.  Imagine the gossip.

They were allowed two hours off daily, but still on call. They received one afternoon and one evening off per week, and a half-day every other Sunday.

I imagine George Vanderbilt to have been kind like Lord Grantham is portrayed on the series.  On the audio tour, it said that a girl in a role similar to Daisy on the series had to go up to the dining room, and she was so nervous that she dropped the dish on the floor.  It was revealed that Mr. Vanderbilt got up and helped her clean the mess off the floor. 

The Servant’s Domain area is a very interesting part of the house tour. 

Mr.  Vanderbilt's bedroom.  Today, the  Inn on the estate uses burgundy as an accent color in the rooms.


This year, the Christmas season at Biltmore will also feature the "Downton Abbey" exhibit. 

Visit the Biltmore Estate and Explore Asheville for your vacation planning tips. 

The  Biltmore Estate In Asheville, NC can be compared to "Downton Abbey"

Other posts on Asheville, NC that you may enjoy:

My thanks to Turnkey Photographer in Raleigh, NC, for being a September blog sponsor. My sponsors keep me at my desk writing and #OutaboutNC promoting travel and tourism. 

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