Ally's Sweet & Savory Eats: March 2012

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Milk Chocolate Cappuccino Blondies

Have you ever gone grocery shopping with a 1 year old?  I usually try and do our shopping ALONE.  But yesterday circumstances had me bringing the Little Miss along.

Of course I picked 4 p.m. on a Friday to shop and then chose the only shopping cart that didn't have a seat belt in the front basket.  I realized this oh, about, mid-produce, when I turned around and she is STANDING up in the cart front basket, about to teeter down to the hard floor.

She thought this was hilarious.

I spent the rest of the shopping trip with her either on my hip or trying to entertain her with a box of crackers.  She did find some amusement is chewing on the milk carton.

I will say my arms got a workout, holding her and trying to maneuver a cart filled with $150 of groceries.  Yes, it was a big trip.....

In the end she had a good time, and this mom worked up a sweat.

After the kids when to bed last night and the husband went to work, I got in the kitchen and baked.  I had leafed through The Deen Bros. cookbook the other day and noticed a yummy bar recipe.  I wanted to make something for us and some to share with our daycare provider.

Who just goes above and beyond with our kids.  Plan today is to take a long wagon ride and deliver these goodies to her.

Milk Chocolate Cappuccino Blondies
2 1/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. unsalted butter
1 T. cappuccino powder
1 T. hot water
2 eggs
1 1/2 T. vanilla
2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. milk chocolate chips
1 c. walnuts (optional)

In a medium saucepan, heat the brown sugar and butter, until melted and combined, stirring occasionally.  Dissolve cappuccino powder into the hot water and add into sugar/butter mixture.  Let cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9x13 baking pan.

Beat the eggs and vanilla and pour into cooled sugar mixture.  Add in dry ingredients and stir until all combined.  Fold in chocolate chips and nuts.

Spread mixture evenly into pan, bake for 28-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Allow to cool and cut into bars.

Thank god I am only keeping one row of these in the house.  They are dangerous.  One of the top three blondies I've ever made.  And couldn't be easier!

Enjoy your Saturday!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Using Up What You Have on Hand {eggs, potatoes, tomatoes and pasta}

This week has been crazy and our meals have been less than stellar.  But last week, I was prepared and on top of it.  Last week, I used up what we had on hand and made some pretty darn good meals.

I love cleaning out our pantry, freezer and fridge and making something that everyone enjoys.  Not to mention it uses up the stuff that's been staring at you every time you open the cupboard or fridge doors.

These beauties were painted by the Little Man and some of his cousins the week prior for a little early Easter project.  Coloring Easter eggs sure have come a long way - I only remember dipping them in the dyed they full on come with paint brushes and special paint.

While the little guy wasn't looking, I cracked all of these up and made our stand-by lunch of egg salad.  It's simple to have on hand and easy to take along for work lunches.  A little mayo, mustard, dill, salt and pepper.  Simple!

I hadn't made twice baked potatoes in ages...why?  I have no idea.  We were on a baked potato kick and thank god I made these the other night, as we are now hooked again.  This time I used a melon baller to scoop out the cooked potato (genius!), mashed up the potato, and added half a ranch seasoning packet and 1 c. of plain Greek yogurt.  A little salt, pepper and dried parsley, topped them off.

I highly recommend that combo - delicious!

And these stuffed shells.  I'm most proud of these, as this is what I used up to fill them:
  • Leftover frozen homemade spaghetti sauce
  • 1/2 bag of spinach, then sauteed with garlic
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Leftover mushrooms from the week prior
After mixing together the sauce, sauteed spinach, cheese and mushrooms, I stuffed the shells, topped with a bit more sauce and then layered on the mozzarella.  Bake for 30 minutes and you've got a tasty meal!

Whew.  There you have it.  How I used up what I had on hand to make three separate dishes.  I challenge you to do the same.

Do you use up all items in your house before grocery shopping?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Caterpillar Cupcake Cake

Family photo op yesterday!  This is the best we could get with two squirming kids.  The Little Miss turned 1 year old.  She hammed it up the WHOLE DAY.  I really do think she knew the day was all about her.

Her brother on the other hand?  Well, he kept telling me, "my birthday", while patting his chest and walking around proud.  I guess he turned one again as well.

We met the family at Blackstone in Iowa City.  Great restaurant and service, I highly recommend.  But before we left I put together the birthday cake.  You know how I feel about store bought birthday cakes (never!), so I stole this idea from Pinterest.  Mine didn't turn out quite as cute, but pretty neat nonetheless.

This caterpillar cupcake cake was super easy.  I simply took a boxed yellow cake mix and divided the batter equally into four different bowls, then added food coloring to each bowl to make various colors: pink, orange, lime green and violet.

After the cupcakes baked and cooled, I got out a large baking sheet (with sides) to assemble.  I added a bit of almond flavoring to the frosting and topped them all off with a generous amount.  Then it was just a matter of sticking them together in the pan.  Suckers and chocolate chips assembled the face and gummy worms were attached for the legs.

The only challenge was holding it on my lap for the 30 minute drive to the restaurant!

We all had a great day.  It was sunny and 75 Iowa.  Hard to believe.  Both kids crashed when we got home and so did Mom and Dad (although, Dad had to go to work).  Mom just plopped down and watched Desparate Housewives and GCB.

We are so happy and proud of our kids....and blessed!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Oatmeal Pancakes

This week has been crazy.  Instead of my normal 3-day work week, it's been 5.  We have a big shindig on Tuesday, and well, that just means more work.

Therefore I feel like my blog has been put on the back burner, which irritates me to no end, because that is not how I want it.  I want to give you a fun post to read at least every other day.  This week that hasn't happened.

Forgive me.

But, look what is today!  These glorious oatmeal pancakes.  Lately, Saturday mornings are pancake mornings at our house.  The little miss sees me start making them and immediately gets fussy, as they just can't get into her mouth fast enough.

Just like her mother.

I was out of regular flour (the horror), so I improvised.  These were delicious.  I've been using Paula Deen's pancake recipe, and so far no matter how much I fiddle with it, they are still great.  I love you Paula.

Oatmeal Pancakes
1/4 stick butter, melted
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/4 c. sugar
1 3/4 c. milk
1 1/2 c. oat flour
1/2 c. coconut flour

*To achieve the oat flour, simply put old-fashioned oats in your food processor or blender and give it a whirl, pulsing until it resembles a course flour.  Generally, about 2-3 cups of oats, will give you enough flour for this recipe.

Mix together wet ingredients, then incorporate with the dry ingredients.  In a hot skillet, cook pancakes until desired doneness.  Serve with butter, syrup, peanut butter, honey, etc.

Guess what tomorrow is.  Little Misses 1st birthday.  I'm heartbroken.  I don't want her to grow up.  At this time last year I was having my first contractions and waiting for her arrival.  She has been such a blessing to us.

So tomorrow we are headed to Iowa City to meet family and have a great meal.  Stay tuned for her birthday cake, it's cute, adorable and homemade by me.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Slight Obsession

I have a slight obsession.

And no it's not one of those weird, freaky obsessions that TLC is showcasing on their new reality show, My Strange Addiction.  I do not sleep with my hair dryer, have 100 cats in my house or insist on clipping my fingernails hourly.

But, I do love sandwiches.

In fact, I could eat one everyday.  Anything 'sandwiched' between two slices of good, quality bread is, in my opinion, one of God's greatest combinations.  A close second behind his peanut butter and chocolate combination, that I could also eat daily hourly.

This melt-in-your-mouth-tangy-salty-best-thing-since-sliced-bread came courtesy of Avenue Subs.  A small sandwich joint in the town I work in.  Everything is fresh, cut and assembled right before your eyes.  My kind of sandwich.

It was layered between their 'everything' bread with roast beef, turkey, cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, oil, vinegar, salt, Parmesan cheese, oregano and a little mayo.  The oil and vinegar is key.  It gives this sandwich just enough tang.

If you are local, you need to visit their joint.  Or check out this YouTube clip, where a local teenager is clearly as obsessed as I am.

What's your favorite sandwich?

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Fresh, Green Spring Meal

We had the most fantastic linner the other night (lunch+dinner).  In fact, I should probably call it a blinner (brunch+lunch+dinner).  This meal could definitely be served for your next brunch gathering.  I'm one of those that can eat anything breakfast related or light meal anytime of the day.

No questions asked.  Serve and I shall eat.

Foodbuzz has partnered up with Frigidaire, Jennifer Garner and award-winner chef Suzanne Goin to share spectacular spring time recipes.  They asked me to join in on the fun and to think up a fun, fresh spring meal and showcase it on my blog.  This is what I came up with (I sure hope they like it!).
  • Crustless quiche with mushrooms, sausage and fresh green onions
  • Asparagus and brie stuffed phyllo sticks
  • Spinach salad with buttermilk dressing

Are you noticing the green theme?  I wanted each dish to have something fresh, tasty and green in it.  Spring is all about the great weather, starting your garden and farmer's markets.  It makes you want to eat better and healthier.

To assemble the quiche, I went to my go-to recipe.  Really, the only part that requires a little planning, is making it the night before so the flavors can merry overnight.  Other than that?  Just a dump and mix dish.

Crustless Quiche with Mushrooms, Sausage & Green Onion
Cook 1/2 lb. sausage of your choice until juices run clear.  Add in mushrooms to heat through and soften.  In a bowl crack 7 eggs and whisk.  Add in 1/4 c. cream or milk, 1 t. salt, 1 t. pepper, 1 t. dry mustard, mix.  In a greased pie dish, layer in sausage and mushrooms.  Pour in egg mixture.  Shred cheddar cheese over eggs and sprinkle on 1/2 c. chopped green onion.

Chill overnight.  Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes prior to baking.  Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes or until eggs are set.

Asparagus and Brie Stuffed Phyllo Sticks
Thaw prepared phyllo dough on the counter for 1 hour.  Lay down wax paper, then phyllo dough, another sheet of wax paper, then a damp towel to cover.  Have asparagus cleaned and trimmed.  Cut brie into small chunks.  Melt one stick of butter to have ready in a bowl for brushing.  Once all ingredients are ready, on a clean work surface, take one sheet of phyllo, brush with butter and repeat this process with 3 sheets, working quickly.  Place two asparagus spears and 4 chunks of brie on one side of the dough and roll.  Brush outside with more butter and place on a baking sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes, flip, then another 10 minutes until both sides are golden.  Cut into pieces when slightly cooled.

Spinach Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
Wash spinach leaves (or any combination of fresh greens) and toss with your favorite buttermilk dressing.


All in all, our linner was a success.  A big thanks to Foodbuzz for choosing me to showcase a fun spring meal.  Now, if only Foodbuzz could guarantee that this spring weather is here to stay!

Which dish calls out spring to you?

This post was sponsored by Frigidaire. When you check out Suzanne Goin's springtime recipes at, Frigidaire will donate $1 to Save the Children's U.S. programs. Plus, you'll be entered for a chance to win the new Frigidaire Range with SymmetryTM Double Ovens – featuring two large ovens (that can each fit up to a 28 pound turkey!), providing the flexibility to cook multiple dishes at the same time at different temperatures, so you can get more on the table at the same time.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Veggie Cream Cheese Spread

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Before I show you a delicious green spread I made, here is a short recap.

Yesterday was filled with...long wagon rides, visits to the park and lots of outdoor play.  Both kids were in bed by 7 p.m.

Mission accomplished.

This mom had one of her favorite spring/summer beers.  With homemade pizza for dinner.  A perfect ending to a perfect day.

And this spread was inhaled by all at lunch.  Back during my junior and senior years in college, my good friend and roommate got me hooked on veggie cream cheese and bagels (Hi, Janell!).  I probably ate it 3 times a week, if not more.  It was cheap and filling.

A few days ago that memory came back and I just knew I could make it better and homemade.  You need to try this dip/spread.  It is beyond wonderful on crackers, with veggies, or smeared on a hot toasted bagel.

Veggie Cream Cheese Spread
8 oz. cream cheese
4 green onions
1 large carrot (or a handful of baby carrots)
1/2 red pepper
2 T. ranch seasoning mix (use the remaining to sprinkle on baked potatoes or to marinate meat with)

Combine all veggies in a food processor and pulse until fine chunks.  Add in cream cheese and seasonings, pulse until combined and smooth.  Chill for at least 1 hour.

Who wants to dig in?

You can't miss Tuesday's post.  Foodbuzz asked me to create a fun spring time meal.  I'm making it for dinner tonight, as the weather is great and we are feeling spring!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chocolate Chip Coconut Flour Bars

It has been so incredibly beautiful here in the Midwest since last weekend, that we have spent a ton of time outside.  Last night after getting home from work, we were all outside for two hours until I realized I hadn't even thought about dinner and the kids weren't even complaining that they were hungry.

It's amazing what a little sunshine can do to your life.

Today's high is 78 (in March!) so it's going to be another great day.  Work, a lunch date, and possibly dinner on the grill after I do a little grocery shopping.  Can't beat it.

Oh, and did I mention these bars?

I was recently contacted by Swanson Vitamins and was given the chance to sample some of their great products for free.  In the end I ended up ordering chia seeds (the hubby loves them in his protein shakes!), gluten free oats and organic coconut flour.

The coconut flour I used in these bars.  Drool.  All over yourself at this point.  I did.

After cruising the Swanson website for a long time, I will have to admit it was hard to choose my items.  There is SO much good stuff!  And what makes it even better is how reasonable the prices are - in my opinion, much better than any health food store.

I did learn something though.  Coconut flour can be tricky.  Mixing it with other flours creates a great texture, but using just alone will make for a mess.  I tried making pancakes out of it one morning, with that flour alone, and it was a lumpy, hard, delicious smelling mess. 

Silly me, I just flew into the process without researching it one bit.  After reading about it online, EVERYONE said to mix with other flours, so I did.

And my bars turned out delicious.  And wonderful.  And heavenly all in one.

Chocolate Chip Coconut Flour Bars
1 stick butter, softened
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
3 T. honey
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
3/4 c. flour (whole wheat, all-purpose or gluten free)
1/4 c. coconut flour
chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray an 8x8 baking pan.  Combine butter, sugars and honey.  Mix together dry ingredients and add to wet ingredients.  Press batter into pan (will be a little crumbly) and layer with chocolate chips.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Have you ever used Swanson's products?  Or coconut flour?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Biscuit Topped Chicken Pot Pie

Nothing is more comforting and cozy than chicken pot pie.  When KFC starting showing their commercials a few weeks ago for their chicken pot pie, I thought to myself, I haven't made that dish is a long, long time.

And I don't eat KFC, so homemade it is.

After giving the pantry cupboard a huge overhaul this weekend, I'm embarrassed to say I found a box of gluten free Bisquick mix.  We love that stuff - everything from a quick pancake, biscuit or a fun topper for this chicken pot pie.

On a plus side the filling for this pot pie is super simple.  A bag of mixed vegetables, some chicken, chicken stock, seasonings and there you have it!

Biscuit Topped Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Mixture
1 T. vegetable oil                                          
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces                          
1 small onion, chopped (optional)                                           
1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. milk
1 c. mixed veggies
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1/4 t. ground thyme
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
Baking Mixture
1/2 c. Original or Gluten-Free Bisquick® mix
1/2 c. milk
2 eggs
Heat oven to 375 degrees and spray an 8x8 baking dish.

In nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook chicken in oil 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink in center. Add onion, milk and chicken broth; heat to simmering. Add frozen vegetables and seasonings. Heat until hot, stirring occasionally. Cool 5 minutes; stir in cheese.

In a medium bowl, stir together biscuit ingredients.  Pour chicken mixture into dish, then pour biscuit mixture over top.  Bake 25-30 minutes, or until topping is golden brown.  Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Then dig in.

This one dish covers it all - veggies, protein and a little carb to get you through.

I've got a really great dessert coming up this week.  I baked my first sweet tooth dish with coconut flour.  Delicious!  Stay tuned...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

DIY Sunday: Hanging Children's Photo Mobile

Our daycare provider made this adorable hanging photo mobile of the kids awhile back.  I just knew I had to showcase it on DIY Sunday.  It is so simple and easy, I'm sure even the most un-craftiness (if that's a word) person could handle this one.

I love that she takes the time to photograph our kids, when I might not always have the time.  They are always coming home with neat crafts that they've tackled during the day.

Here are the simple items needed:
  • A twig or stick (at least 1 ft. long)
  • Ribbon
  • Card stock or construction paper
  • Photos
  • Tape or glue
  • Paper punch

I plan on hanging this in the Little Misses' room, since we now have some extra wall space due to our closet to home office makeover.

Have you made anything 'crafty' lately?

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Few Foodie Perks to My Job...

I've talked previously about how blessed I am to have a part-time job I enjoy, while still being able to be home with my family most of the time.  I usually work Tuesday-Thursday unless we have an event I need to attend, or I need to finish some work up at home.

But, all in all I get to spend long weekends at home with the kids and hubby.  I am grateful each and everyday for that option, as I know many moms (including me at one point) do not have that choice.  My background is in media and marketing, so when a part-time position came up for the local Chamber of Commerce, I jumped on it.

Literally, almost jumped on it.

Each day I get to write, publish and market our events - exactly what I love doing.  And each month I get to attend a Business After Hours, which is usually a foodie lover's dream.  Last night was NO exception.  The local hospital hosted and they went all out.  The city I work in is trying to become a Blue Zone Community, which focuses on healthy living - physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.  We have our fingers crossed we are picked.

So their food was fresh, local and delicious.  My partner in crime and I jumped on this buffet like flies on sticky paper.

Tons of fresh fruit (just what we Iowans need to see in March!)

Hummus with Pita Chips
Crab & Avocado Stuffed Shells

Fresh sushi, cocktail shrimp and smoked salmon

Raspberry Mousse Cups

Asparagus Stuffed Phyllo & Raspberry and Brie Stuffed Phyllo

Mozzarella with Prosciutto

German Chocolate Cake

I came home stuffed to the gills.

But today is a new day - we are off to the library for story hour, running a few errands and then heading back home.  I am going to try a new recipe for a Chicken Pot Pie...with a twist.  We'll see how it turns out!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sticky, Gooey Cheerio Bars

These bars took me back to grade school.  Many people complain about school or hospital cafeteria lunches.  I don't think I ever did.

I loved the 'lunch ladies' growing up and I clearly remember a high school classmate who used to sing to the lunch ladies everyday when he went through the line, along with getting them gifts at holidays, he really loved them.

He's still a character to this day.

I remember their homemade cinnamon rolls, french bread, chili, cake, and some thing that I can't remember the foreign name to - homemade rolls stuffed with a meat mixture.  Gosh, what were those called?

When I birthed our two kids at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, I loved their food.  I'm not sure if it was a lack of food in a 24-hour period, being exhausted from giving birth, being waited on hand and foot or realizing that I'd eat anything at that point - but their food was good.  Take that back - great.

With a baby in one arm and the hospital menu in the other - I looked forward to breakfast, lunch and dinner served to me in bed.

What I'm getting to, is I love food, especially when people cook it for me.  These cheerio bars remind me of my childhood when the lunch ladies would serve them as dessert, along side whatever creation they had for the day.

Good for you?  Not so much.  But as always, I'm not eating the whole pan.  Just enough to bring me back to those early days.

Sticky, Gooey Cheerio Bars
3/4 c. light corn syrup
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. peanut butter
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
4 c. Cheerios
1 c. chocolate chips

Butter or spray an 8x8 pan. In large pan heat syrup, sugar and salt to boiling. Stir in peanut butter, remove from heat and add vanilla. Pour over Cheerios and chocolate chips, stirring quickly to combine, press into pan. Refrigerate 1 hour.
Do you have a favorite school or hospital cafeteria food?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Stuffed Egg Roll Lunches

Whether you are a stay-at-home-mom or work part-time, like me, lunches for your kids can get old.  I sometimes feel like I'm making the same thing, day in and day out, and the kids even though are small, are learning to 'roll their eyes' at what I place in front of them.

We've been luckily both of our kids are good eaters.  So I've been able to place pretty much anything in front of them and they'll at least try it.  But that doesn't replace the redundancy of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese, veggies and dip or whatever leftovers are in the fridge from the night before.

Enter in egg roll lunches.  This fantastic idea came to me yesterday morning, as my brain is always thinking about the 'next meal'.  Why not stuff fun stuff into egg roll wrappers?  Kids love to dip their food in ketchup, ranch, mustard, etc.  So this might be a way to change it up.

Ham, Cheese, Ranch (for the little man)

Smoked Turkey, Cheese, Buffalo Sauce, Ranch (for me)

Yep had to do it.  Don't judge.  Peanut butter, coconut, chia seeds, chocolate chips.

Spray edges with cooking spray, fold in edges and roll up.  Bake at 400 degrees
for 10 minutes, flip, bake another 10 minutes.

Slice and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.
These can easily be prepped ahead of time and even frozen for lunches later in the week.  Do not be intimidated by egg roll wrappers, they are really easy to work, never tear, and always turn out crispy when baked in the oven.

What would you stuff your egg roll with?

And does anyone have a great traditional egg roll recipe?  Cabbage, pork, veggies, seasonings?  I'd really like to try my hand at some...