Ally's Sweet & Savory Eats: July 2012

Monday, July 30, 2012

Passion Fruit Bubbly

As a rule, we always eat dinner as a family, at the table.  Usually around 5:30 the frenzy begins, with it ending around 6:30, just in time for bath and bed for the kids.  We want to instill good dinner habits and I know the kids love it, as the little man usually fights us for who it going to sit next to him, either mom or dad.

But rules are meant to be broken.

Sometimes, especially in the summer, we look at each other and say "want to eat our dinner after the kids are in bed?"  Yes, please.  So, that is what we did last night.

And when we eat dinner alone, in peace and quiet, without food being thrown in different directions, it sometimes also includes a cocktail.  Now, I am almost always a beer or wine girl, but sometimes a nice refreshing cocktail sounds good.

So that is what I whipped up last night.

And of course drinking out of a mason jar just makes this drink even better.  If anyone out there reading has a surplus of different colored and sized mason jars, email me, I want them!

Passion Fruit Bubbly
*makes one large drink
handful of ice (about 2 cups)
4 shots flavored vodka (I used Passion Fruit)
juice of 1 lime
Enough 7-Up to fill the jar

Place ice in jar.  Squeeze in lime.  Pour in vodka.  Add enough 7-Up to fill the jar.  Stir and enjoy.  Then drink in peace on your deck, or in your favorite chair with a book or simply in your bathroom with the door closed while the kids are running around rampid.

Just kidding - never leave your kids unattended.

Check it out - the produce is coming in full force!  Since this picture I have picked 4 more tomatoes.  I only planted two plants but they have around 4, 308 tomatoes on them.  No joke.

We made these stuffed peppers the other night, and thanks to a dear blog friend I now have a recipe for some homemade spaghetti sauce that you can freeze and them savor the rest of the year.  I cannot wait to make it.

Well, we are home today, so I promised the little man we could bake my 'Forget Your Bikini Body' Cookies for our neighbor that just had a baby.  You know, that is just how I get my baby-crazed self in their door so I can hold and snuggle with an infant.  I'm a sucker for all things baby.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Burrito Bowls, Drinks and Making Messes

This past week I cooked on television.  Like real television.  With a reporter and camera guy and everything.  It was a ton of fun and I'm looking forward to doing it again.  We made burrito bowls, which are super easy and delicious, and I immediately brought home the leftovers and we ate on this for another two days.

You can find my recipe here.

I also went to Galena, IL with some girlfriends.  I ate this most decadent pasta at Vinny Vanucchi's.  With the air humid and the patio covered in red and white checkered tablecloths, I honestly felt like I was in Italy.  I was in Venice, Italy once in high school and it was probably 120 degrees in the shade.  I'll never forget that.  

A must eat if you ever visit this tourist town.

What beats the heat better than an ice cold cocktail?  I opted for a red wine sangria, which fit the bill.  I could have sat at this table all day chatting with the girls and taking in the touristy (is that a word?) air.  Oh, and snacking on their spicy pretzel mix.  Yum!

So...Oprah lover or hater?  I happen to love her.  And she happens to love Moscow Mule cocktails.  We'll a guy working in the root beer store (yes, they have a store dedicated to all things root beer) told us, this is the ginger beer that Oprah's uses.

Well, since he said that I had to buy two bottles.  They are still chillin' in my fridge, but I plan to make this cocktail soon!

Back to reality.  On the three days a week that I work, I've been drinking this protein smoothie to work.  It's creamy, smooth and doesn't seem at all healthy.  But it is.  I'll be sharing the recipe on my Facebook page later today.

So stay tuned!

Yes, that means go out on Facebook and like my page.  I often post things there that you won't find here!

Oh, and how do I end a post without sharing a pic of this little munchkin this morning?  We have officially put in our first ponytail.  You can barely see it and any amount of strong wind will probably knock it over, but we're trying.

I caught her red-handed emptying her dresser this morning.  She doesn't quite get the concept of putting it BACK yet.  We're working on it.

Now we are off to the library.  My kids are obsessed with books.  Which I loooooovvvvvveeeeee.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Blackberry Buckle

The coffee-cake-like dessert is great for breakfast or for a mid-afternoon snack.  
The fresh fruit makes it pop and the crumbly, crunchy topping gives it sweetness.

blackberry buckle (

Have I told you how much I love fruit?  Well, I do.  So when a friend brought me 20 pints of freshly picked blackberries two weeks ago, I was in heaven.

Don't even ask me how they inquired 20 pints of blackberries.  It's ridiculous, I know.

So far we've used them in smoothies, in yogurt and in this buckle.  Blackberry buckle.  I even packed up a piece for each of my girlfriends last Saturday when we had a road trip to Galena, IL for a girl's day.

Hey - I figured we'd be spending enough money that day, might as well, say some money on breakfast!

blackberry buckle (

Good gravy, this breakfast cake (as I like to call it) was good.  The blackberries got just mushy enough to melt into the cake and the crumb topping adds that crispy, crumbly, cinnamon texture.

And then about 4 days after I baked it, there was just a smudge of it left in the pan, and even though it was a little dried out, I put it in a bowl with a little milk poured over it......and.....ta da.....a whole new dish.


Blackberry Buckle

Print this Recipe!

1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 egg
1 1/2 c. sifted flour
1/2 c. milk
2 c. blackberries

Crumb topping: 1/2 c. sugar, 1/3 c. flour, 1/2 t. cinnamon and 1/4 c. cold butter, cubed

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs.  Sift together dry ingredients and slowly add to creamed mixture, alternating with milk.  Fold in fruit.  Spread in a greased 8x8 baking pan. 

Combine crumb toppings, cutting in the cold butter until mixture is crumbly.  Sprinkle on batter.  Bake for 40-45 minutes at 375 degrees.

You know someone really has to stop me.  I just read on Facebook that our local Hy-Vee (grocery store) was selling 1/2 pints of fresh raspberries for 99 cents each until they sold out, with a limit of 10 at check out.

I may just change my outfit after the first 10 and go back for another 10.  The husband would be so embarrassed if he just heard me say that.

Please no one tell him.

blackberry buckle (

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

People Who Love to Eat Are Always the Best People

Really is there anything more to say?

Tell me who your favorite person to eat with is.  Now.  Go!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

15 Minute Smoky Spaghetti Carbonara

If you follow my blog regularly, you may have seen this pasta dish last week, hinting that I'd give you the recipe for it this week.

Well, here it is!

I was honored to feature this recipe on the Quad City Moms Blog last week as a guest post.  And since that post, I was asked to join them later today to tape a cooking segment for WQAD and their blog.  I'm beyond nervous, but very excited.  Wish me luck.

Back to this pasta.  I actually have a niece that doesn't like red sauce.  (We are still trying to figure out what is wrong with her...).  So I'm thinking she may like this dish, as there is NO hint of red, just a creamy, salty, yummy sauce.

What's even better is this dish is made in 15 minutes and is very easy.  I'm thinking most kids would enjoy it too - mine did!  And I might mention that it is good cold.  I may have eaten some cold the next day for lunch.  Sorry, I couldn't help it.

15 Minute Smoky Spaghetti Carbonara
1/2 lb. bacon, pancetta or ham (finely cubed)
1 small onion, diced
1 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. milk
2 eggs
splash of hot sauce
fresh parsley

In a large skillet, cook the meat over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes.  Drain on paper towel-lined plate.  Take the skillet off the heat, but do not drain the fat.  Add onions to this skillet and cook until softened.

In a small bowl whisk together cheese, milk, eggs, hot sauce and black pepper, set aside.  Meanwhile in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to directions, drain and reserve 1 cup of cooking water (in case you need to thin out the sauce later).

Once the pasta is cooked (but still hot), add all ingredients back into the skillet or hot pot - pasta, meat, onion and small bowl with cheese/egg mixture.  Toss everything together to combine.  The heat from the pasta will thicken into a creamy sauce.  If too thick, add a little of the pasta water.  Garnish with fresh parsley, and serve hot.

And just to entertain you a little more, this past weekend I went to Galena, IL with some girlfriends for a day of shopping and eating.  Lots of shopping and lots of eating.  I'll be sharing more wonderful shots of me later this week in a recap.

We didn't eat at this burger joint but I wanted to.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

DIY Sunday: Making Your Own Non-Stick Cooking Spray

Lately, I've been cringing every time I spray non-stick spray out of the can into our skillets, baking pans and dishes while cooking.

But, honestly I never cringed until I had kids.  Now when I'm scrambling up eggs or melting a grilled cheese for them, I keep thinking, "what is in this spray?"  So I did what every mother would do and looked at the back of the can.

This is what I saw.

Ingredients: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Lecithin from Soybeans, Phosphated Mono and Diglycerides, Dimethyl Silicone (For Anti-Foaming), Propellant.


I was disgusted.  I still am disgusted.  Now, I know these ingredients, are probably minimal and there probably isn't any scientific evidence that they can harm you, but I just don't think I'm going to take the chances anymore.

Enter in my homemade version of non-stick cooking spray.  You'll need 3 items.  A brand-new spray bottle, olive oil and water.

Step 1:  Wash and dry a new bottle (I got mine at Target and love it).

Step 2:  Pour in 1 part olive oil, to 5 parts hot, boiled water.  It will look like this.

Step 3:  Since we all know oil and water are enemies, you'll have to shake it up before each use, to make it look like this.

Step 4:  Spray into the pan, dish or  skillet you are cooking with.  Make sure skillet is cold, the water in this will splatter if skillet is hot.

Step 5:  Keep in a cool, dry place or the fridge.

I used this mixture for the first time today when I was baking some Blackberry Buckle (recipe coming!).  I scooped out one piece to take a picture and it worked pretty darn well.  There was one little crummy corner that got left in the pan, but I think that was more due to my being in a hurry and not using my spatula properly.  As like with any homemade product, it may not work as well as a commercial product...just keep that in the back of your mind, please.

All in all, I've made the switch.

Will you?

P.S.  I've already had people say they use olive oil straight in their Misto, and that works great too, but I don't have a Misto, so I went this route!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pumpkin Banana Loaf

I'm pretty sure the last thing people want to do this time of year is fire up the oven and bake bread, but I just cannot help it.  So in order to not blast us out of the house, I do it in the wee, early morning hours, or later at night once the sun goes down.

That is how I compromise.

A can of pumpkin had been staring at me since last November in my cupboard, and since I had planned on baking two loaves of banana bread - I just threw the pumpkin in as well.  There is no sense in waiting till November to eat pumpkin again.

Although, for some reason we in America feel like that is a rule or something.  No eating pumpkin until fall!  

Well, I guess I broke the rules.

Pumpkin Banana Loaf
1 1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. honey
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 c. pumpkin
1 t. vanilla
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1/2 c. buttermilk (or regular milk)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 loaf pans.

With an electric mixer or stand alone mixer, cream butter, sugar and honey together until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Beat in the bananas, pumpkin and vanilla. Sift flour together with the baking soda and salt and add to the mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour.

Pour the batter into the loaf pans and bake for 50 minutes. Cool slightly in the pan before turning the loaves out onto wire racks to cool completely.

I've got a loaf of this in the freezer for safe keeping.  You know, when I get that hankering for something "fall" in the middle of summer.  Or when I need to cheer up a friend who is a little down.

And speaking of summer and all - I love it, but golly gee, this heat is starting to get unbearable.  I know I shouldn't complain, because the sun and shining and my tomatoes are growing, but I'm HOT.

Like, really, really HOT.

Last night right as I was going to bed the wind picked up and about 10 minutes of rain fell.  It was heaven.  I hope you are staying cool where you are!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sneak Peeks and a Winner

Today this little pasta recipe I created over the weekend is featured on the Quad City Mom's Blog.  I am beyond thrilled they asked me to contribute.  This blog connects mom's in our area via various activities and support groups.  Whether it be cooking (like my love), kid's play dates, garage sales, discount and coupons to local stores or just some good 'old advice from other moms, this blog has now become one of my daily reads.

Check out my 15 Minute Smoky Spaghetti Carbonara here.

Or wait a couple of days and I'll post it on my blog too.  Your choice.

But, really check out their blog, it's neat.

Another great thing happened over the weekend.  I opened up my new August/September issue of Taste of Home magazine and there lay my Chocolate Caramel Cracker Bars, featured in their Bake Sale section.

I of course call these my Homemade Twix Bars, but for liability reasons the name was changed.


They are so easy and fun, you have to make them.  Today.  Or tomorrow.  At least this week, okay?

So a friend of a friend of a friend, gave us some black raspberries last night.  Follow that?  Rumor has it he picked 500 lb. of them, but then due to his air conditioning going out he had to get ride of them stat.

Guess who got 20 pints last night?  Yep, me.

So at 7 p.m. I started rinsing, drying and laying them all on large baking sheets to freeze.  Tonight after they have spent a day in the deep freeze I'll throw them into Ziploc baggies.

We cannot wait to make smoothies, pies and other fancy-schmancy desserts.  Stay tuned on that front.

And finally the winner of my YUM plate Giveaway!  Thanks to all who entered!

Erika Havlik, you are the winner!  Please send me an email and I'll ship it out pronto.

Enjoy your Tuesday everyone!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Being Thankful from A-Z + A Giveaway

The idea of telling people what you are thankful for has become popular around the blog world.  In today's world I feel it is important to shout out these thankful statements as you just never know which way your life will turn.

If you are a committed reader, I just may have a giveaway at the end.

Here are my thoughts from A-Z.

A: I'm thankful for my name, Ally.  It's not too common, so I rarely run into anyone with the same name.  In fact, my real name is Allysa.  Somehow Ally stuck as a child, and we never went back.

B: Bread.  Need I say more?  So many people are afraid to eat bread and it annoys me.  Yes, it's all carbs, but it's delicious.  Just eat in moderation.  In fact, I have a recipe coming up about this bread.

C: Cars.  Without my car, I wouldn't be able to get to and from work, and I wouldn't be able to haul the kiddos around to the library, park, store, etc.  And this car needs to hold out for a couple more years...then it's on to the minivan.

D:  Dogs.  We have two.  Yesterday, I wouldn't have even mentioned our dogs, as when I came home our black lab had had explosive diarrhea all over the house.  I was ready to set him on the curb.  But, then I felt bad because he was sick and looked so pitiful.

E:  Eggs.  Farm fresh eggs to be exact.  They are so buttery and delicious.  I think we have eggs at least once a week for dinner.

F: Flowers.  I'm not a green thumb.  But I do enjoy a bouquet of flowers that I didn't have to pick or put together.  Hence, this bundle that I brought home from work.

G: Girlfriends.  There is a group of 5 of us that have been together since early elementary school.  We've been through everything together - deaths, break-ups, births and weddings.  We are FINALLY marrying off the last one in October.

H: Hot sauce.  Found this at Target yesterday and cannot wait to try on some grilled chicken.  The hotter the better in my opinion.

I: iPads.  Someday I'll get one.  Someday.

J: Jobs.  I love my job.  I work three days a week, and I like to say 4 days a week at home being a stay-at-home mom.  It is the perfect split.  Not to mention my husband's job, without his we'd be living on the street. I know many in the country aren't as lucky as us.

K: Kids.  My kids.  They are perfect.  Doesn't every mom say that?  We have been blessed with two that are keepers.  Maybe someday we'll be blessed with a third (but not anytime soon!).

L: Laughter.  I love to laugh.  Sometimes in tense and serious situations I laugh.  I can't help it.

M: My mom.  She's great.  Her and my dad watched the kids for 4 days this past week because we needed help.  I can't thank them enough.

N: Nacho Taco Pizza.  A knock-off the famous taco pizza around these parts.  I would eat it everyday if I could.

O: Oceans.  I live smack dab in the center of the country, but can appreciate their beauty.  Wish I had a house in the Hamptons.

P: Penmanship.  I was blessed with nice hand writing and lets face it, some people aren't.  Why can't they take the time to write a little better?  I'll never know.

Q: Quirks.  I've got a lot of them.  I'm fearful of ever being late.  I prefer sleeping on the left side of our bed. I cannot relax until all toys are picked up when the kids go down for a nap or bedtime.  I loathe water chestnuts.  These quirks, just make me, well me.

R:  Reading.  I was fortunate to grow up in a house were reading was a part of our lives.  Each one of us kids to this day is always reading.  Both of my parents read.  It is just what we do.  And now I love that both of our kids love reading looking at books.  It makes this mama proud.

S: Sleep.  I try and get 8 hours a night.  And if I don't I try and catch a cat nap if I'm at home and the kids are napping.  It gives me a ton of more energy.

T: Terrible Twos.  I know, I'm thankful for this?  Well, I am.  It gives me a chance to work with my kids and let them know that the world will not end if their sibling stole their toy.  10 seconds later?  They're fine.

U: Underwear.  Enough said.

V: Victories.  I'm fiercely competitive.  I love any board game, sport or challenge.

W: Wine.  Especially, this White Wine Sangria.  One of my favorites.

X: Xylophones.  Just kidding.  I had no idea what to put for X.

Z: Zoos.  Both of our kids, especially the Little Miss are fascinated with animals.  Thankfully there is a nice zoo about an hour away from us.  It is on the list of things to do this summer.

So, you made it through my list.  Just for reading through this, I have a small giveaway.  Another fun find at Target yesterday!

Want to win it?  

Four separate ways to win - each being a separate entry.  Go!
Open to U.S. residents only please.  I'll pick a random winner on Tuesday, June 17th!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pimento Cheese Spread

This quick dip is great for entertaining.  I promise people will ask for the recipe!

pimento cheese spread (

I love all dips.  Any kind of dip.  Spicy dips, bland dips, ones you use crackers to dip, ones you use veggies to dip.  And don't forget the chips.  I love the ones you use chips to dip.  Creamy, thick, runny, cold, hot, I'm  not a hater to any.

I love dips.

I've often said that if I ever get a cookbook deal {any publishers out there reading?}, I would devote a whole chapter just to dips.  They are essentially "the other food group".  I could live on dip and dip alone.  A healthy choice?  No.  But, I'd do it anyway.

pimento cheese spread (

We went over to a friend's house last night and had a great time - mingled, played corn hole and ate. A lot.  We brought our meat to grill, along with this dessert and this Pimento Cheese Spread.  It was a hit.  We started with a big batch and only came home with a small bowl of it left.

I'm imagining a side of this with my lunch today.

Pimento Cheese Spread

8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz. shredded monterey jack cheese
2/3 c. mayo
1 small jar pimentos (drained)
1/4 c. shallots or minced onion
1 glove garlic, minced
1/2 t. cayenne
2 t. hot sauce
Ritz crackers

1.  Combine all ingredients and chill.
2.  Serve with crackers.

pimento cheese spread (

Our friends were surprised to hear it had cayenne pepper and hot sauce in it because it wasn't hot at all.  In fact, when I make it again I may add more to suite my spicy needs, but it was great this way as well.

I have a few hours this morning to chill and relax before going into work - so I am going to do just that!  Be thankful for your Thursday and enjoy your day!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Skillet Chicken & Broccoli Bowls

Our kiddos are visiting the grandparents for a few days and the house is eerily quiet.  The husband and I can get up when we want, eat when we want, shower when we want and basically do whatever we want.  The freedom is endless.

Yesterday after we dropped off the munchkins, we headed to Iowa City for some lunch at BWW.  We love a good basket of wings, you know?

I may have had a beer with lunch too.  Wings + beer = a relaxed lunch.

When we got home, I tinked with my blog a little (like the new look?), cleaned the house and then we both retreated to the deck with some neighbors and enjoyed another beer.  I promptly headed into the house at 6:50 p.m. to prepare myself for the Bachelorette.

I know it's cliche, because Sean is the typical All-American hunk, but I was really sad to see him go.  I just can't picture Emily's life with Jef or Ari.  Prove me wrong Emily!

Oh...and I heated up these leftovers.  So good!

Skillet Chicken & Broccoli Bowls
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken, cut into thin strips
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (add more to taste at the table if you'd prefer more heat)
1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets

In a large skillet, cook chicken on a high heat with a little bit of olive oil, about 4 minutes.  In a small bowl mix together garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes.  Turn heat down to medium and pour in this mixture.  Add in broccoli, toss to coat.  Sauce will thicken.  Cook an additional 3-4 minutes until broccoli is tender crisp.

Serve in a bowl over rice.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

DIY Sunday: Family Time & Meatball Subs

On the 4th we planned on doing nothing.  The husband had to work the festivities all day and I was home with the kids.  And as you can tell from below - unshowered and looking dreadful lovely.  But a good friend called that morning and asked to get the kids together, so we did!

Since it was 100 degrees out, the kids only lasted about 30 minutes on the slip-n-slide, so most of the day was spent indoors (ugh), but we made it work.

Little Miss &, sweaty, but having fun.
Little Man & our friend Shanna - I will never get over how blue his eyes are!
Daddy and Little Man doing sparklers.  Definitely the highlight of his night!
And so the rest of the week has been low-key.  I've been off work and we've been stuck mostly inside because of the heat.  I think the library is getting sick of us coming in everyday, but the kids love it.  Minus the tantrum the Little Miss threw yesterday which was beyond embarrassing...

I normally don't crave hot meals on hot days, but I was running out of options this week, so yesterday I pulled out the slow cooker and made these meatballs.

And turned them into these meatball subs for us, and spaghetti and meatballs for the kiddos.  Spaghetti is hands down one of their favorite meals.  They'd probably eat it every meal if I let them.

Tomorrow, we head to meet my parents and drop of the kids.  Our daycare is on vacation this week, so Grandma and Grandpa are going to get some quality time with them for about 4 days!  I hope they are ready.

The downtime is nice, but gosh I always miss them like crazy.  When will this get any easier?

Be blessed and enjoy your Sunday:)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Marshmallow Stuffed Cupcake Cookies

I'm a little bit under the weather today, but somehow I'm managing still to post about these little bundles of goodness, watch two kids and stay somewhat afloat.

Maybe it was the very low-key 4th of July celebration we had, or maybe I just caught a bug.  Either way, I've spent too much time in the bathroom today.  Grossed out yet?  I am, lets stop talking about it.

Lets talk about these pop-in-your-mouth pieces of heaven.  I keep finding desserts to use up my marshmallow fluff.  I can't help it, they just keep coming.  So, therefore, if you don't like marshmallows, I'm sorry.

These are so simple...

Take your favorite chocolate chip cookie dough, spray mini muffin tins, place a scant amount of batter in the bottom of the muffin tin, pressing down.  Place a teaspoon of marshmallow fluff in the center, then top with additional cookie dough to cover the fluff.

Bake for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees, until golden brown and when the fluff is just starting to ooze out the sides. Allow to cool for a bit, then carefully remove from the muffin tins to finish cooling on a rack.

Ignore the temptation in your brain to eat one right away.  You'll burn your tongue and mouth.

True story.

Okay, now I'm off to gets the kids lunch and right into their beds for nap.  Then this mama is going to lay down too.  I'm hoping to be back up and at it soon, as I have some fun foods coming up!  A healthy snack and a really fun dip.

You know 'snacks & dips' the other food group, right?