Ally's Sweet & Savory Eats: 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012

Aloha Chili

Happy New Year's Eve!

I've got about 2 seconds to get this post together before I need to get in the shower and get the kids ready, so we can head to our friend's house later today.  A day of seeing their new house, eating, drinking, watching football {and basketball - go Hawks!} and letting the kids run and play.

Sadly, I am not taking this chili - but you can to your party!  It comes together in a flash and can just simmer away in a crock pot until ready to eat.  My mom made this for us when she babysat a few weeks back.  The husband promptly asked for the recipe, so here it is!

Now, don't get me wrong - I've perfected our regular chili recipe and we love it.  But every once in awhile you want something different.

This chili is a little bit sweet, yet still has that smoky, chili powder spice like a normal chili.  I'm pretty sure your crowd will devour it.

Aloha Chili

2 lbs. ground beef
2 - 15.5 oz. dark kidney beans
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
16 oz. can crushed pineapple
1 1/2 C. matchstick carrots
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 C. diced green pepper
1 C. diced onion
1 T. chili powder
salt/pepper to taste
*Have additional tomato juice on hand to thin it out, if too thick.
Brown ground beef; drain.  Drain kidney beans and pineapple.  Add all ingredients and stir. Cover and put in slow cooker on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.  

That's it people!  Don't you love dump and stir meals?

We do.

So I had to share this shot of the Little Miss.  She is now 21 months old, going on 15 years.  We started both of our kids potty training pretty early and now she is just all about it.  She tells me when she needs to go and other than sometimes spending much more time in the bathroom than I'd like, she does pretty good.

This was at grandma and grandpa's house over the weekend.  She sat here FOREVER and told everyone in the house "hi" and "bye" and "why she was sitting there".....she'll strike up a conversation with anyone.

Don't you love her elf tights and reindeer shirt?

I just die.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hot Nutella Cappuccino with Marshmallow Creme


When I was recently asked to develop a drink using Sweet 'N Low, I dived right in.  I just recently had been given a jar of Nutella {silly friend, she doesn't understand how important it is to keep an extra jar of Nutella on hand} so my mind started floating with thoughts of a creamy, hot chocolately drink.
And I ended up with this.
And it's magical.
And I'm not even a cappuccino drinker.
We keep coffee in our house for both sets of grandparents when they visit and the occasional cup the husband will brew up.  But it is definitely not a staple in our house.
With all of that being said, I do LOVE the smell of it.


This is the type of drink you want to make on a cold day {everyday here in Iowa recently}, put on your strechy pants, grab a book, prop yourself up on the couch and then begin to waste a few hours in your book and your drink.

My kind of afternoon.

And did I mention I got a Kindle Fire HD for Christmas?

Yeah, that little Kindle would be invited on the couch too.

You might even want to walk around the quiet house and take photos of your warm, chocolately drink.

I did.

Hot Nutella Cappuccino with Marshmallow Creme
{Print this Recipe!}
1 1/2 c. milk
1 pkt. Sweet 'N Low
1 T. french vanilla cappuccino flavoring/powder
1 T. Nutella
dollup of marshmallow creme/fluff

In a small saucepan, heat milk until warm {not boiling}.  Gently whisk in Sweet 'N Low, cappuccino powder and Nutella until combined.  Pour into a coffee mug and top with marshmallow creme.  Drink immediately.

As a part of the DailyBuzz Food Tastemaker program I received product from Sweet 'N Low and a stipend for this post.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

D.I.Y. Flavored Butters

Did everyone survive Christmas?  We are still coasting along, as my side doesn't even celebrate until this coming weekend.  Which is fine by me, as I still need to do a little shopping {I know!}.  My parents are swinging by this afternoon to pick up the kids and take them to their house for a few days until we arrive, so our house will be empty and quiet {but kinda nice, too?}

So today, we are at home, and then I have two days of work and then back on the road again.  This craziness will eventually end early next week!

Until then, I've got some yummy posts lined up.  Including this one.  When my girlfriend and I hosted our holiday party a couple of weeks back, I included this homemade flavored butter trio on our gourmet grilled cheese bar.

Yes, we had a grilled cheese bar.

It was fabulous.

So, instead of the normal boring, plain butter to coat our bread in before putting it on the panini press, I decided to make some flavored butters.  

Here we go:

Step 1: Soften one stick of unsalted butter.
Step 2: Choose 1/2 c. of flavoring.
Step 3: Combine both in a food processor until smooth.
Step 4: Place on wax paper and roll into a log, securing both ends.
Step 5: Place in fridge to harden and use immediately, or keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Pretty easy, huh?

For our party I chose pesto, strawberry and garlic/chive.  So simply a 1/2 cup of prepared pesto, a 1/2 cup homemade strawberry jam and then 1/2 minced chives and 1 t. fresh garlic.

That's it!

Let me tell you, when you use flavored butters on sandwiches it takes them to a whole new level.  Very flavorful and unique.  I'm fairly certain even the non-cook can do this at home.  Bringing it out at your next party or gathering?  Even better.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Deep Dish Spinach Artichoke Pizza

Have I got one heck of a good last minute appetizer dish for all your holiday gatherings!  Cut up into bite-sized pieces or slices, this will be sure to be a knock-out hit.

Credit needs to be given to whomever was in a kitchen one day and decided to pair spinach, multiple cheeses and artichokes together.  You see this combo on every restaurant menu, and even those that claim to not like spinach, nor artichokes, usually like the famed dip.

I personally like them both....but I've got to admit, like them even better when in a dip, or slathered on some delicious homemade pizza crust.

We are headed on the road later today once the husband is off work, to the first of many holiday celebrations.  I am thinking I'll be making this, only in dip form, with bread dippers for our Christmas Eve gathering with the husband's side.

So, whoever is reading this and will be there, you are in luck!

You can thank me on Christmas Eve.

Deep Dish Spinach Artichoke Pizza
For the dip spread:
1 pkg. spinach, thawed and drained
8 oz. cream cheese
1 jar marinated artichokes, drained and chopped
1/2 c. parmesan cheese
1/2 c. mayo
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 large slices provolone cheese
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  If you have a 9×13 pizza stone pan, preheat that as well.  Otherwise a regular 9×13 pan will work too.
Combine all dip ingredients and set aside.  Spread out pizza dough with greased fingers and stretch to fit the pan.  Top with sliced provolone cheese slices.  Then spread on the dip.  Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese if desired.  Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.  Cut into strips and serve immediately.

I'll be taking a little break from today until the 26th, to enjoy the holidays with my family and friends and I hope you do the same!

The rest of my day will be spent controlling the kiddos {who already know we are headed to Grandma and Grandpa's house tonight....should have waited to tell them!}, packing, wrapping a few gifts and loading up the car.

So much is required to travel with a 3 year old and a 21 month old.  And did I mention the two dogs?  It's insane.  Be lucky if you can just hop in the car and go.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Raspberry Thumbprint Drops

One of the best cookies to date.  There I said it.  The best cookie!  A huge thanks to Tiff {or Biff, as I like to call her, which I'm sure she appreciates...} brought these to our holiday baking extravaganza.  I made another batch yesterday, but filled them with Nutella.

I know.  I'm a genius.

You want to know what else I did yesterday?  Well, I didn't step a foot outside.  1) because our front door was frozen shut.  2)  because I kept myself and the little man busy in the kitchen.

See, about a month ago, he decided he was over taking an afternoon nap {except for the 3 days a week he goes to daycare of course}.  I still lay him down, tell him to rest, etc, etc, etc, but usually 30 minutes later he is yelling for me and I have to get him up or else he'll wake up his sister across the hall who is sound asleep.

It really is an enjoyable experience.

So instead of dwelling on my no longer peaceful afternoons, lets talk about this cookie.  It has a similar taste to a sugar cookie, but the almond extract flavoring takes it to a whole 'nother level.

Trust me.

Make them before Christmas day okay?

Raspberry Thumbprint Drops
1 c. butter, softened
½ c. sugar
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon salt
2 c. flour
½ c, red raspberry preserves
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 ounces semisweet chocolate

Beat butter and sugar with mixer on medium speed. With mixer on low speed beat in egg yolk, almond, and salt. Beat in flour.  Cover and chill in refrigerator for 45 min.

Preheat oven to 350 make 1 inch balls. Make a hole in the middle of each cookie with the end of a wooden spoon. Bake for 11-12 min.

Fill cookies with raspberry preserves. Drizzle with chocolate.  {I microwaved them just a bit, then put the melted chocolate in a ziploc baggie, cut a small slit on the corner end and drizzled away}.

The rest of our afternoon consisted of cookies and snow.  I'm pretty sure the little man's diet consisted of just sugar cookies and frosting yesterday, with a hint of milk here and there, but oh well.  The great thing about him is - if I put a project in front of him {decorating cookies, sticker books, etc.} and his little sister isn't there to bother him, he'll go to town.


It's great.

The husband and I both thought he'd last about 30 seconds outside yesterday afternoon while he shoveled the sidewalk and deck, but he proved us wrong.  He had to be dragged in....this mama thought for sure he'd have frostbite....but my wrapping abilities kept him warm!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Creamy Ranch Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

We here in the Midwest are buckling down today for our first major winter storm tomorrow.  Lots of snow, lots of wind, lots of time spent looking out the window.  I have a feeling I'll be working from home tomorrow a bit or working on Friday instead {my usual day off}.
The husband is working a double shift in the horrible weather the kids and I will be hunkered down at home.  I'm thinking another batch of Christmas sugar cookies are in store.  Plus decorating.  Which will probably include sugar, sprinkles and crumbs all over the house, but oh well, what else will I have to do?
I'm going to try and make it a fun 'snow day'.

Okay, let's talk about scalloped potatoes.  Every single attempt I've made at making this dish has failed.  I've tried a number of recipes - ones you bake, ones you put in the crock pot, they all turned out horrible.
Usually mushy and flavorless.
Even when I told the husband we were having this the other night, I'm pretty sure he rolled his eyes.  He's never liked my attempts either.

I came across a recipe the other day and adapted it to what I had on hand.  You guys, it turned out awesome.  I almost wanted to just plant my face in my potatoes like Ralphie's brother on A Christmas Story and gobble them up.
Even better, it made 1 1/2 pans.  So I've got another dish, just like this one, waiting for me in the deep freeze.
Creamy Ranch Scalloped Potatoes & Ham
8 baking potatoes, washed and sliced very thin
2 c. cubed ham
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. shredded provolone cheese
2 c. whole milk
1 c. ranch dressing
1/4 c. flour
1 t. pepper
3 t. onion flakes
Grease a very large casserole dish, or grease two smaller dishes.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Using a mandolin {or carefully using a sharp knife} cut potatoes into very thin slices {almost transparent}.  Place in a bowl of cold water.  When finished drain and pat dry.
In a large microwave safe bowl combine milk and ranch dressing.  Heat this mixture until warm {not boiling}.  Whisk in flour and pepper and set aside.
Layer as follows: potatoes, ham, 1 c. cheddar cheese, 1 c. milk mixture, 1 t. onion flakes.  Then again potatoes, ham, 1 c. provolone cheese, 1 c. milk mixture, 1 t. onion flakes.  Then the last layer, potatoes, ham, 1 c. cheddar cheese, 1 c. milk mixture, 1 t. onion flakes.
Bake covered for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 20-25 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

You have got to try this recipe over the holidays.  It would be a real crowd pleaser!  Not to mention makes a good amount.

Thought I'd give you a hint of what is coming on the blog.  I have quite a few recipes backed up and ready to go {very much unlike me!}.  So here you go!
  • Raspberry Thumbprint Drops
  • Deep Dish Spinach Artichoke Pizza
  • Black-n-White Crinkle Cookies
  • D.I.Y. Flavored Butters

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Cracker Toffee

Today I give you the most addicting Christmas goodie to date.  This stuff is so easy to make, it's almost embarrassing, yet saying that, this was the first year I made it myself.

My sister brought this treat to Christmas many moons ago, and I hadn't thought of it since, until I saw a photo of it online a few weeks ago.  I took it as part of our cookie exchange last weekend and finally opened up a bag of it last night after dinner.

Hey, I held out for a week, that is pretty good!

The great thing about this dessert?  You can freeze it for up to 3 months {maybe longer}.  I stored it in cute holiday bags and every time I've opened our deep freeze those darn cute holiday bags have been staring back at me.

Please come be my neighbor so I can give you a bag.

With that being said, have I told you I've only done about 15% of my Christmas shopping?  I always seem to wait to the last minute, especially these last few years.  With kids, it's harder to actually get out of the house without them, so to find a day to myself {because that is how I like to shop} usually is the reason why I takes me forever!

But, I think it will be later this week.  Hopefully.

But, I also turned on the news this morning and they are talking about our first really huge snowstorm for Thursday....which gets me pumped, but may delay my shopping.

Maybe I'll just have to stay home and open another bag of this toffee?

Christmas Cracker Toffee
1 sleeve saltine crackers
1 stick butter
1 c. brown sugar
2 c. chocolate chips

On a greased baking sheet, spread out saltine crackers.  Melt butter and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until gooey.  Pour over crackers and bake at 350 degrees for five minutes.  

Remove from oven and sprinkle on chocolate chips.  Let sit for a few minutes until the chocolate chips begin to melt.  Then, spread over crackers evenly with a spatula.

Stick in the freezer for an hour, or until chocolate hardens.  With a metal spatula, break into small pieces and put into gift containers or baggies.  Store in the freezer until ready to eat or give away.

Have you baked for your friends/family/neighbors/co-workers yet?

Tell me what you've made!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Homemade Stadium Style Beer Pretzels

I'm recovering a bit this morning.  A little too much wine, too many appetizers and too much of a go-go-go mentality yesterday has gotten me moving sluggish this morning.

We hosted our 2nd Annual Holiday Dinner Party last night and well, I'm tired today.

BUT!  That doesn't mean life doesn't go on.  I mean, I have to show you these beer pretzels, right?  A perfect Saturday snack.  Oddly, it is rainy and icky here (weird, that it isn't is December in Iowa!). 

Nonetheless, a gross day.

One of my favorite snacks to get at games, sporting events, etc. is a hot pretzel.  Either dipped in a red sauce or melted cheese.  I'll pass by a hot dog, nachos or even a slice of pizza...all for a pretzel.

Never having made homemade pretzels before I was surprised by how easy they were and how good they turned out.  I almost felt like I was at a ballpark - minus two kids tugging on my leg asking a zillion questions and the messy kitchen in the background.

Homemade Stadium Style Beer Pretzels
4 3/4 to 5 1/4 c. flour
2 T. sugar
1 envelope quick rising yeast
1 1/2 t. salt
1 c. milk
1/2 c. beer
2 T. canola oil
2 eggs, beaten
coarse salt

In a large bowl, combine 2 c. flour, sugar, yeast and salt.  In a small saucepan, heat milk, beer and oil to warm through {do not boil}.  Add wet to dry ingredients, beat until just moistened.  Stir in remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Turn onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 4-6 minutes.  Cover and let rest 10 minutes.  Divide dough into 12 portions, rolling each into a 15 in. rope.  Cover and let rest 10 more minutes.

Twist into pretzel shapes, place on a greased baking sheet and brush with eggs.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  Take out of oven, brush with additional eggs and sprinkle with coarse salt.  Bake an additional 12 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve warm with mustard, cheese or marinara sauce.

Here's a sneak peak at one of our activities last night.  Yep, their arms got tired and their drawing skills were horrible.

Awful, really.

But, it was fun.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thick and Hearty Potato Soup

We all know I have an annoying love for soup.  In the cold weather months I could eat it everyday.  It is also a meal that I can have for lunch, again for dinner and then again for lunch the next day.  The only other food I can do that with is pizza.
So, soup consider yourself pretty special.
As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker's Program I was recently asked to visit a Panera Bread location and then create a soup of my own with their soup philosophy.  They start at the most basic level - with fresh and thought out ingredients.  Nothing ordinary by any means, as the taste of their soups really stands out, but they vow to keep things simple.
Who doesn't love a soup that is easy, fresh and mouth-watering good?

I sought out a bowl of their Broccoli Cheddar Soup while I was there, in their Pick 2 Combo, and paired it with the Smoked House Turkey Panini.  When I'm there and stumbling over what I want {because it's all good!}, I usually fall back on this combination.  It never fails me.
After getting back home I knew I wanted to create the same type of creamy, thick, hearty soup.  And with a huge bag of potatoes on hand, some carrots, milk and cheese, my mind immediately drifted towards a potato soup.
This is a new recipe for me, and let me tell you it's a keeper.  Beyond good, stick-to-your-ribs good.  I cannot say enough about it.
As you well know, I ate it for lunch, dinner and then again lunch.

Thick & Hearty Potato Soup
8 baking potatoes, peeled and diced into small chunks
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 c. diced ham {optional}
2 c. chicken stock
2 c. water
1 T. chicken bouillon
1 T. dried onion flakes
1 t. pepper
5 T. flour
5 T. butter
2 c. milk
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
In a large stockpot combine potatoes, carrots, ham, chicken stock, water and chicken bouillon.  Bring to a boil.  Continue to boil until potatoes and carrots are fork tender.  With a potato masher, give the pot a few good mashes - this will help to break up some of the potatoes and thicken the soup.
In a saucepan melt butter.  Sift in flour and whisk to combine.  Cook on medium heat until bubbly and flour has cooked through, around 3-4 minutes.  Slowly whisk in milk, season with pepper and dried onion.  Continue stirring on medium heat, until milk starts to thicken, about 5-7 minutes.  Once thick, add in cheese.  Stir to combine.
Pour cheese sauce into stockpot and stir to combine.  Taste test to see if seasonings need adjusted.  Eat immediately or let cool and refrigerate.  Will keep for up to a week in the fridge.


A big thanks to Panera Bread for letting me take part in another soup adventure!  Now I've got another half day of work, and then it is down-to-the-wire time for our holiday dinner party tomorrow night at my girlfriend's house.
I need to get baking!

Disclaimer: As part of the DailyBuzz Healthy Living Program, I received a free gift card and stipend from Panera Bread. All opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

4th Annual Holiday Baking Extravaganza

This past weekend my high school girlfriends and I got together for our traditional holiday baking fest.  Please remember we are all now in our early thirties, so we have been out of high school for a long time, but we still make a point to see each other often!
We met at our usual gathering place and immediately got to work.  This is an all-day affair, with each of us often making three different types of Christmas treats.
We are so very comfortable with each other, so we are often borrowing a pan, a spoon, a cup of powdered sugar, it doesn't matter what it is, we share and just enjoy being together.  Someone always forgets something {this time is was me!} but thankfully others come prepared and just pitch in to help.



Around midday we break for lunch.  Hey - we just can't eat sweets all day!  So after a few slices of pizza and gossip galore, we dug back in.  After most is done, cooled and ready to get packed up, we give one person the daunting task of dividing everything out {thanks Jenelle!}.  The containers come out and everything gets divided evenly.
Lets just say I came home with 5 containers full of holiday treats.  A sampling of each of our goodies.  It's heaven.  I immediately put them all in our deep freeze and try to forget about them, but its virtually impossible.
Especially with a husband who would give his right arm for a sugar cookie.  And a three year old who thinks he deserves "a treat" after every meal.

I'll be sharing a few of these treats in the coming days so stay tuned!  But, first thanks for all the congrats on 3 years during my last post.  If I've said once, I've said a million times, my readers keep me cooking, baking and posting.
Thank you!
The winner of the Panera Bread gift card is...
Katie from Yes, I Want Cake.  If you haven't started reading Katie's blog yet, well, you've been missing out.  I loooovvvveeeee her posts, her recipes, her wisdom and her writing style.
Katie, I hope you enjoy!  Shoot me an email girl!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cheesy Veggie Frittata {+ Panera Bread Giveaway}

Today, three years ago, I started this food blog.  I had a 3 month old baby at home, wasn't working and needed an outlet.  With the support of the husband {who said, 'sure go for it'}, I logged on to the computer and I haven't looked back since.

This blog has seen me through two babies, a job change, multiple opportunities with various companies, but most importantly it has given me the chance to meet many of you.  Many I would have never of had the chance to meet.

I truly am thankful to all my readers, my family and my friends for supporting this little idea.  I know many, many, many of you have recommended to your friends and co-workers a little something like this, 'hey, I have a friend who has a food blog, you should read it'.

And for that I am forever grateful.

They always say the best marketing is by world of mouth.

So happy 3-Year Blogoversary to me.  Stay with me a bit for this recipe and I promise at the end of this post I'll have a little surprise.

I am not ashamed to admit that our go-to meal is eggs.  If I have nothing planned, prepped, prepared or thawed for dinner we just do eggs.  Everyone likes them, they come together in about 5 minutes and are a good, healthy protein.

Well, the other night I actually planned to have eggs.  Not just our usual throw some in a pan and cook them eggs, but a frittata.  You can stick anything in a frittata...try mine, will you?

Cheesy Veggie Frittata
4 eggs
1/2 c. evaporated milk
1/4 c. chopped green pepper
1/2 c. chopped mushrooms
1 slice of bread, cubed
1 t. minced onion
1 t. pepper
1 t. salt
1 c. cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a good-sized ramekin or 6x6 baking dish.  In a bowl, combine all ingredients, minus 1/2 c. of cheddar cheese.

Pour egg mixture into the dish.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven, add additional 1/2 c. of cheese to the top of the frittata.  Bake an additional 5 minutes, or until lightly golden and puffy.

So, to thank all my readers, I'm giving away a $10 Panera Bread gift card.  Treat yourself to lunch, throw it into someone's Christmas stocking, or give to a friend.

I love, love, love Panera and even have an upcoming sponsored blog post with them {stay tuned!}, so I figured it would be the perfect gift to all my foodies out there.  I'm going to let people comment here on this post and also on my Facebook post.  So do both for two chances!

Open to U.S. residents only.  I'll pick one random winner between this post and my Facebook page on Tuesday, December 11th.

Just tell me...

What did you ask for from Santa this year?  Good luck!