Ally's Sweet & Savory Eats: August 2012

Friday, August 31, 2012

Almond Butter Granola

I've been making homemade granola for years.  In fact, I've never actually bought a store version.  What can I say, I'm finicky and like to control the ingredients.  A batch will usually pop up when I get in a breakfast rut and need something besides my normal smoothie, peanut butter and banana toast or eggs.

On the three days when I work, this is easy to grab and go, and when I'm really organized I'll take some milk along to eat it like cereal once I get work.  

And yes, I often put milk into a sippy cup for easy car travel and pure laziness.  I'm not ashamed.

This is also great to eat over greek yogurt, add in a little fruit for a parfait, by the handfuls plain or really just flipping eat it anyway you want to.

Oh, and do you see my latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens under this plate?  It is patiently waiting to be read (maybe tonight?), where I can dream about log cabins, gorgeous kitchens and gardens with no weeds.  Until then, I'll just eat my granola.

Almond Butter Granola
2 c. oatmeal
1/4 c. flax seed
1 c. chopped almonds
1/2 c. shredded coconut
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 t. nutmeg
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. salt
3/4 c. almond butter (I used Trader Joe's version)
1/2 c. honey
1/8 c. water
1 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  In a bowl combine all dry ingredients.  In another bowl combine all wet ingredients, stirring until combined.  Pour wet into dry and toss to coat.  Spread in a large roasting pan.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, or until toasted (could be shorter or longer depending on your oven).  Allow to cool.

Store in an airtight container.  Will stay fresh at least a week, if not longer.

Have I mentioned lately how much I like these 3 people?  Our photos usually turn out like this.  Squirming, whining, weird faces - at least one is smiling!  We are trying to enjoy this warm ( weather now, as we all know come a few months and these steps will be covered in snow.

I'm all about fall, but winter?  Still undecided.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bacon Buffalo Mac and Cheese

If you read my rant and rave post yesterday, you read that I am entering this dish into Mr. Food's Food Blogger Contest.  I grew up watching Mr. Food on the local noon news and I'm pretty sure many of you did the same.
His food is easy, filling and delicious.  Not to mention his super cute and fun catch phrase at the end of each segment..."Ooh, it's so good!".  You can check here if your area has his TV segments.

So, back to this decadent mac and cheese.  I've made more macaroni dishes than I care to count on this blog.  I'm sorry, I'm a sucker for noodles and cheese.  But, I've got to say, this one ranks right up there.
Don't be put off by the buffalo sauce.  There isn't a ton in there and the heat is not overwhelming.  Heck, if my 18 month old can gobble it down, I'm pretty sure you can to.

Mr. Food is asking for the Ultimate Weeknight Meal.  This is the one!  I made it start to finish in under an hour (that included 40 minutes of baking time).  Oh, and I also had two little ones under foot.  So, trust me, if you don't have little ones under your feet you'll probably get it done even quicker.
I've seen a few buffalo style mac and cheese dishes out there, but I put in the twist of crisp bacon and changed up this recipe a bit to make it my own.  The guidelines for this submission where 10 ingredients or less and all items needed to be easily found in ANY supermarket.
You will have no problem with ingredients here.
Bacon Buffalo Mac and Cheese
1/2 lb. medium shells
4 strips of bacon, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
2 gloves garlic, minced
8 oz. cream cheese
1 c. wing sauce
1 c. ranch dressing
2 c. shredded cheddar/Monterrey jack cheese
1 c. panko breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.  In a small skillet, cook bacon until crisp.  Remove from skillet, drain on a paper towel lined plate.  Meanwhile, cook pasta to al dente, then drain.
In a food processor combine cream cheese, garlic, wing sauce and ranch dressing until smooth.  In a large bowl mix together cooked pasta, shredded cheese, red pepper and cream cheese sauce.  Toss to combine.  Pour into dish.  Sprinkle with panko breadcrumbs.  Bake for 40 minutes until crispy and bubbly.

You know what I'm excited about?  I've got leftovers for lunch.  And dinner.  And probably lunch tomorrow too.  That makes me happy.
I will let you know if I get selected as a finalist in this contest.  If so, I will need your votes!  Maybe, just maybe I'll get the chance to travel to Florida to the Mr. Food studios and tape a segment with him.
That would just make my life COMPLETE.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rants and Raves

1.  I'm reading this book right now.  It was due at the library today and I'm still not done.  I read until my eyes were closing last night.  It is very good, but I was so very tired.  Guess, I'll be paying a library fine.

2.  Why hasn't a company sent me an iPad or Kindle yet, so I don't have to deal with overdue library books?

3.  The husband is gone for the next two weeks for work.  Thankfully he is back for a few days this weekend.  I'm sure my neighbors have heard me screaming a few times.  Sorry.  When the little guy took a blue crayon and colored our kitchen table I screamed.  Then when a rabbit ran out from under our deck, almost directly over my feet, I screamed.  And last night when one of the dogs, started barking out of nowhere in the dark backyard, I screamed.  Again, I'm sorry neighbors.

4.  When I was supposed to be finishing my library book last night, I was also making this granola.  My inner tree-huggin' goodness came out.  I couldn't help it.

5.  I'll soon be hosting a giveaway for all moms, grandmas and girlfriends out there.  Hint - think What to Expect When You Are Expecting.  The baby book of all time.

6.  Tonight I'm making a bacon, cheesey, buffalo-style mac and cheese.  Then I'm entering it on Mr. Food's food blogger contest.  I'd really, really, really like a trip to Florida.  I need a vacation.

7.  Two nights ago, I dreamt I owned a bakery.  I was up to my elbows in apple pie, even though I've never baked an apple pie in my life.  But I have made these apple bars a zillion times and I think they are better than pie.

8.  I wish I could harvest, can and produce enough food to fill our deep freeze for the winters.  Like the days of Laura Ingalls, in The Long Winter.  Only they had to eat pancakes every meal for days on end because they were stuck in a cabin with only flour.  When reading that when I was 10 - I thought it was awesome.  Pancakes every meal!

9.  Last Friday after I worked a golf tournament all day in the heat - I almost literally collapsed when I got home.  Heat exhaustion?  I'm not sure, but I barely managed a shower and a glass of water before I fell into bed.  I need to get out in the heat more.

10.  I'm finished.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chocolate Zucchini Cake with Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze

So I used up a HUGE zucchini our daycare provider gave us the other day in this cake.  Oh....this cake....I cannot express how good it is in words.

But then it got even better.  You know, because I cannot live good enough alone.  I then poured on a chocolate peanut butter glaze.  I almost died.

We ate slice after slice for our after dinner snacks for the next week.  It kept awesome in the fridge and was promptly followed by a nice ice cold glass of milk.

I just cannot express how good this is anymore, so I'm just going to shut up and give you the recipe.  You'd be a fool not to try.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake with Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze
2 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa or 2 packets Nestle pre-melted baking chocolate
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 c. canola oil
2 t. vanilla
2 c. packed and drained shredded zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two loaf pans or one 9x13 pan.  With an electric mixer or stand mixer, beat eggs and sugar until fluffy.  Add in oil, vanilla and melted chocolate (if using Nestle packets).  Sift together flour, cocoa (if using cocoa), baking soda and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet mixture.  Fold in shredded zucchini.  Pour into pans.  Bake for 50-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Glaze:  In a small bowl, mix together 1 Nestle pre-melted chocolate packet, 2 T. peanut butter, 2 T. sugar, and enough hot boiling water to make a glaze.  Start with a few tablespoons, adding more until a thin glaze consistency.  Immediately pour over warm cake.

Serve warm or store in fridge to keep for later.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Firecracker Sloppy Joes

I'm writing up this post the night prior to it being posted (so writing Thursday, you'll be reading it Friday)....still following me?  Anyway, I'm doing this as tomorrow I'll be on the links all day schmoozing and boozing with the business folk at my job's annual golf outing.

It's a lot of work.  Have you ever put on a golf tournament?  Fun, yet challenging.

But, you don't really care right?  So, back to these sloppy joes.  I think my mom used to open up a can of Manwhich when I was little (sorry, Mom) and frankly, the thought of eating that today just sends me over the edge.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all about a good sloppy joe (why are they called that...does anyone know?), but I want it to be HOMEMADE.  None of that fake sauce out of a jar or can.

So, last week I whipped up a batch.  A spicy little batch.  I took a couple of recipes, combined them, tweaked them a bit and came up with this.  It had just the right amount of sweetness and spice.  And it made a lot - you know what that means!

Yes, dinner for two nights in a row.  I just love that.

Firecracker Sloppy Joes
2 lbs. ground turkey
1 celery rib, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. wing or hot sauce
1/2 c. ketchup
3 T. brown sugar
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. worcestershire sauce

In a large pot, cook the first five ingredients over medium heat until turkey is no longer pink.  Drain off excess fat.  Stir in all remaining ingredients.  Simmer on low for 30 minutes to let flavors melt together.  Serve on buns.

Can't get much easier, right?

And I just couldn't leave you without a picture of the kids.  I caught them "chatting" with each other the other morning while I was making waffles.

Gosh, I just love them so...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Petit Amuse Review

I am often contacted by various companies to do a product review or tag their business in some shape or form.  Some I say yes, some I say no.  When Petit Amuse, contacted me earlier this month about doing a product review I quickly said yes.

Want to know why?

They help small producers/businesses get their product into consumers hands.  I'm all about helping out the little guy.  Who knows, maybe someday I'll be a small business owner?

So here's the deal.  Petit Amuse helps food lovers discover delicious artisan treats, made by small, speciality producers from around the country.  For only $10/mo. customers can subscribe to receive a different box of 3-4 samples of speciality food each month.  Fun, right?  They are all items that you probably won't find at your local grocery store, but open your eyes to all the incredible food vendors out there.

So first up was Oogie's Gourmet Popcorn.  Well, I'm pretty sure EVERYONE likes popcorn.  They sent me the Sun-Dried Tomato & Parmesan and let me just say I devoured it at work one day while typing away.  Five minutes later, I looked down and the bag was empty.  It was that good!

I'd gladly eat this popcorn any day.  All day.

Then it was off to try some wine jelly from Canada (a big hello to my Canadian readers!).  Now, I'll be honest here.  I normally do not eat any other jam or jelly other than my homemade version.  I'm kind of a jelly snob.

This jelly was ok.  I usually prefer jam, with chunks so fruit in it, so I'm probably not the best advocate for jelly.  But, the little man and I did have it on toast one morning and he seemed to enjoy!

And lastly, these cookies and a granola bar.  These saved me one morning at work.  I failed to bring my breakfast with me, but remembered I stuck all of these in my purse = impromptu breakfast.  I loved, loved, loved the Garukabar.  It was fresh, gooey and seemed like it was made that morning.  It had nice chunks of nuts and dried cranberries.  Yum!

The two shortbread cookies came from Lark Fine Foods, a Salted Rosemary Shortbread and a Spicy Dark Chocolate.  This company claim is "cookies for grown-ups", which definitely makes sense considering their flavors.  I much preferred the Salted Rosemary over the chocolate one. 

Which is shocking - as I am a chocolate lover of all kinds.  Who knew?

So a BIG thanks to Petit Amuse for letting me try out their sample pack.  If you are interested in learning more about them, visit their online site here.  It's fun!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lemon Cranberry Spritzers

I'm pretty sure I've posted about more cocktails this summer than the three years combined that I've been writing this blog.  It may have to do with two kids under the age of 3, working part-time and running a household.   Just a hunch.

Since I seem to be an expert in them lately, I did not hesitate when the Foodbuzz Tastemasker program and Sweet 'N Low asked me to make a cool, fun and refreshing summer drink.

I mean, come on, there are some days I live to sit on the deck in the sunshine with a cocktail in hand.  Even if it is only for 10 minutes, in this crazy household.  Am I the only one?

So, here are the ingredients.  Very simple - any type of crisp white wine, a lemon, cranberry juice, club soda, one Sweet 'N Low sweetener packet and ice.

That is it!  Really, that is all it takes.

Oh, and a cocktail shaker makes it fun too, but it isn't required.  This one was sent to me to use for this drink and I love it!

Lemon Cranberry Spritzers
In the cocktail shaker layer in as follows: 3-4 cubes of ice, Sweet 'N Low sweetener packet, juice of half of the lemon, splash of white wine, splash of cranberry juice.  Then shake away!

Pour into a tall glass of ice, then top with club soda.  Garnish with additional lemon slices.

Sweet 'N Low can be substituted for regular sugar and be used in many low-sugar drinks.  Yes, the wine has sugar.  Yes, the cranberry juice has sugar.  But, hey we only live once.

Live it up!

This drink was so refreshing.  I am NOT one who usually drinks something fast, but this drink was downed quickly.  Maybe I was really thirsty?  Or maybe it was just really good?

This is how I spend time when the kids are napping in the afternoons on days I am home.  I get about one hour of time to myself, after I shower, pick up the house, load the dishwasher, prep dinner, etc.  You get the idea.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

As part of the DailyBuzz Food Tastemaker Program, I received a Sweet 'N Low Sweetener Gift Pack and a stipend.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Open-Faced Balsamic Caprese Sandwiches

I have fallen in love with fresh buffalo mozzarella.  It's thick, creamy and melts like a pool of gold.  Now, if only it didn't cost $4.99 for a log of it, then I'd be happy.

But there are special occasions when you have to break out the buffalo mozzarella.  You cannot have a caprese salad without it, nor these sandwiches.  It just would not be the same.   

Two nights ago the husband was working a double shift and the kids were in bed early, so guess what was my dinner?  This.  A girly meal, that the husband would probably frown at.  Actually, I'm pretty sure he would turn up his nose.  Not that he doesn't like all the ingredients, but because there is no meat.

He is most definitely a meat and potatoes man.

Open-Faced Balsamic Caprese Sandwiches
5 slices good quality french bread
1 fresh garden tomato
1 log of fresh buffalo mozzarella
fresh basil
balsamic vinegar
1 clove of garlic

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  On a baking sheet lay slices of bread.  Toast in the oven for 5 minutes until slightly crispy.  Meanwhile in a small sauce pan, pour in 1 cup of balsamic vinegar, turn heat to medium and allow mixture to reduce to almost nothing.  It will become a thick syrup and very sweet.  Take off the heat.

Remove bread from oven, immediately take peeled garlic clove and rub over the toast.  Place a sliced tomato, sliced mozzarella on top of the bread.  Set oven to broil.  Cook for a few minutes until cheese is melted and slightly browned.  Don't walk away!

Remove from oven, sprinkle with chopped basil and drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar.

Oh my gosh, then take a fork and dig in.  It will be the most mouthwatering meatless meal you've had in decades.  I'm not kidding.

And if you're not a fan of open-faced sandwiches, put two of them together and take a big bite, while the juices run down your chin.  That'd be pretty.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fresh Garden Lasagna

Forgive me if I'm a little frazzled during this post, but the Little Miss just over turned our kitchen island onto HER.  She's a monkey and was climbing the drawers while I was in the family room.  Thankfully, only a scratch and a small bruise on the cheek.

But, it was frightening.  And messy.

It forced me to clean out the drawers.  Which was not on my list to do at 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night with dinner needing to be made.

Tonight it was scrambled eggs because I was lazy and running out of time.  But a few nights away it was this lasagna.  Do you hear the angels singing?

In case you have heard me ramble about my two tomato plants out back, well here's proof that they are very fertile.  About every 4-5 days I'm picking close to 20 tomatoes.  I just keep making salsa and spaghetti sauce.  I figure my freezer will be stocked soon for winter!

Sometimes I like to think I'm Ma Ingalls and I really need to stock for winter. It's kinda fun.

This baby even looks beautiful pre-cooked.  I could stare at it all day.  I took a TON of veggies (zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms and peppers) and loaded this baby full.

So take whatever is in your garden, do a little chopping and make this lasagna.

You can find the recipe, here.  It was featured on the Quad City Moms Blog today.  I've been asked to contribute once a month for them.  Fun, fun, fun!

And ladies, if you serve this to your husbands, they may not even notice it is meatless.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Avocado Brownies

Today, these are my birthday brownies.  Yes, I turn the glorious 31 today, so I'm celebrating by stuffing my face with these.

Please don't turn up your nose because the word avocado is sandwiched right next to brownie.  Trust me, the creamy avocado makes these brownies thick, fudgy and delicious.  You need to try them.  Better yet, the avocado substitutes any butter that is usually required for homemade brownies.  Win, win!

First mash two, very ripe avocados.  Refrain from taking a tortilla chip and digging in.  It's hard.

Melt two squares of unsweetened baker's chocolate and put in with the avocado.  Or - do like me - and find the great squeezeable packs at the grocery store (Nestle brand) and not have to do any melting!

Add in one cup of sugar, two eggs and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  Stir.  Then fold in 1 t. baking powder and 1 c. of flour.

Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper and pour in the thick batter.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-32 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Allow to cool.

Then grab another half of an avocado, mash it up and sift in 1 cup of powdered sugar.  Stir until you have the right frosting consistency.  You may have to add more powdered sugar to get it thick enough.  Spread on this green goddess frosting and cut into squares.

Then refrain from eating the whole pan.

I also attended a beautiful outdoor wedding this weekend.  My former boss (although, I never really considered her a boss, just a great friend), found her man.  They now have two beautiful blended families and I could not be more happy for her.  I'm just sad we don't get to see each other as much as we used to.

And check out that log cabin!  She got married on her sister's acreage and I was drooling the entire night.  It is my dream piece of land.  And my husband's dream too.

They served the insanely good Scratch cupcakes for dessert.  You should be proud I only had one.  I was tempted to take one for the road.

And their barn was decked to the nines in Pinterest concoctions.  It was so pretty!  I don't want to know how long it took, but it was gorgeous.

The bride and I.  Miss this girl.  We had way too many good times in the past.  Usually involving wine and board games.

My old co-workers.  Love them!  After seeing this photo, we realized I should have been standing on the downhill slope on the right instead of the top of the hill where I of course look like a giant.  Ha!

Well, I hope you all had a great weekend and take a chance on these brownies - I know you'll like them!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mom's Meatloaf Burgers

Let me tell you a story.

Or maybe just my rambling thoughts.  Bare with me.

In December of 2009, with a 3 month old in tow, I started this little food blog.  Not with the intent that I'd still be going strong in 2012, but here I am.  Since the start, I have since added one more baby to the mix, went back to work full-time, then learned 9 months later that job was being eliminated, accepted a new part-time job in my field the next day, cooked a ton of meals, posted over 500 different recipes, became a Taste of Home Field Editor, guest posted on various other food blogs, and even appeared on T.V.

What has had me thinking about the last three years, is that when I opened up my blog this morning I noticed I am nearing 1 million page views.

1 million page views.  How crazy is that?

I guess what I am saying is THANKS.  If it weren't for my readers, my family, and the random strangers who stop me during my day to say they enjoy reading, I probably wouldn't keep truckin' along.

In fact, yesterday at work, I talked to a gal on the phone, who at the end of the conversation, she said "Are you the Ally, who has the blog?".  Yep, that is me.  You just never know who you are reaching.

Without your comments (yes, they are very important!) and support this little old blog would have probably ended the month after it started.

Now, with all that sappy talk out of the way, let's focus on these burgers.  I have no idea whose "mom" these burgers belong to, but let's all thank her, okay?  She made a fantastic creation.  I found this recipe on my good friend's blog (she features food and fashion), so I immediately wrote it down to make.  You can visit her blog here.

Mom's Meatloaf Burgers
2 lbs. hamburger
1 c. Ritz Crackers, crushed
1/4 c. oatmeal
2 eggs
1/3 c. ketchup
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 t. minced onion
Sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, garlic powder and parsley

Mix all ingredients together and place on the grill.  They will be a little delicate (they are very moist!) so be gentle when flipping them.

And yes, that juicy red tomato is from our garden.  I currently have 17 tomatoes on my counter, waiting to be placed in the crock pot for yet another batch of my freezer spaghetti sauce.  I can't get enough of it!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Freezer Spaghetti Sauce

With a ton of fresh produce, there is only one thing to make right?  Some bread-dunkin', pasta slathered, drink yourself silly red sauce.  Or spaghetti sauce.  Or gravy.  Whatever you like to call it.

Problem is until last week, I had never made homemade spaghetti sauce with fresh tomatoes.  I usually just make my beef and mushroom ragu (which is equally easy).  So, I sought some help from Steph over at Been There, Baked That.  She had a recipe for freezer spaghetti sauce that didn't require canning.

Whoo-ho!  Canning and I haven't become the best of friends yet, so I was game with her recipe.

This recipe didn't call to soak the tomatoes to get the skin off, but I did take that additional step.  I think it is all about preference - you either like the skin or you don't.  I'm somewhere in between.

Freezer Spaghetti Sauce

3 onions
4 garlic cloves
1 green pepper
1/2 c. olive oil
16 c. chopped tomatoes (skins removed, optional)
handful of each freshly chopped herbs(basil, parsley, oregano)
1/4 c. sugar
2 T. salt
3/4 t. pepper

Saute onion, garlic and pepper in olive oil.  In a large pot place tomatoes, cover with water and simmer with lid on, about 15 minutes, until softened and skins peel off easily.

Transfer onion, garlic, pepper mixture into a large slow cooker.  Add in remaining ingredients - tomatoes (crushed), spices and herbs.  Cook on low for 3 hours, stirring frequently.

Allow to cool and pour into freezer containers.  Freeze.  Makes 3 quarts.

*When ready to serve, thaw and mix with 6 oz. of tomato paste, if you'd like a thicker consistency.  If not, leave out.

Well, one quart of this sauce didn't make it a week in the freezer.  Since it was a little chunky after it thawed, I threw it in the blender and created this fantastic marinara.

So last night, while the husband bathed one little cherub and the other one sat at my feet attempting to put together a puzzle, I made this Garden Lasagna.  It is sitting in the fridge right now and I cannot wait to throw it in the oven tonight for dinner.  Recipe to come.  Stay tuned!