Ally's Sweet & Savory Eats: March 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Balsamic & Bacon Brussel Sprouts

I have a confession to make.

Up until this past weekend I had never eaten a brussel sprout.  My mom never made them growing up and I guess I just never got on the bandwagon.  They've gotten a bad rap over the years, but lately you are seeing more and more recipes for them - and I kept thinking, "why aren't I making these?"

I put them on the grocery list {even the husband asked why I included them} and thought I'd give them a shot.  I was watching the Cooking Channel the other day and they were preparing them this way....a way that looked delicious to me!

Pan seared with bacon then drizzled with a balsamic glaze.

Don't need to tell me twice!

Just look at the crust on those babies!  I'm pretty sure the reason people often turned up their noses to these baby cabbages was because of how they were prepared.  Doing a simple boil and butter method, often gives you a bland and rubbery taste.

But searing them and letting them caramelize and adding BACON and a sweet reduction, well, that just gives them a completely different taste.

Give these a shot.  The husband and I loved them.  Unfortunately the kids turned up their noses {I'll keep trying}.  They are an easy side dish to compliment any meal.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fudgy Dark Chocolate Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting

I got in the mood to bake yesterday and these brownies are what happened.  Pretty great result if I do say so myself.

Have you ever made brownies from scratch?  If not, I strongly suggest you try it. Most if not all the ingredients you probably already have on hand {butter, cocoa, flour, sugar, etc.}. The taste and quality is really good.  

I am not ABOVE using a boxed mixed at all - those mixes have saved me numerous times, I'm just saying if you get the chance to make them homemade you should do it.  You might not go back!

The little man and I were talking peanut butter on the way home from school yesterday morning, as it seems his once classmate that had a peanut allergy moved away, so now we are allowed peanut related items to bring for snack.  Yea!

Nothing against kids with food allergies, I understand they are very serious and that is why the school is strict about these rules.

But now, we can take items {including homemade items} to school when he is assigned snack day.  A few more options!  

Obviously peanut butter stayed on my brain yesterday, as LOOK AT THIS FROSTING.

The bottom brownie part is stellar but I do think the frosting is what makes theses beauties. It's thick, creamy and full of peanut butter flavor.  And those sprinkles?

Well, I just added them for fun.  You certainly can pass on those.  Although the kids loved them.  As sprinkles make everything better.

Oh, and feel free to use regular cocoa powder and not the special dark kind I used.  I realize some people aren't a fan of dark chocolate!  But really, if you have some guts try them this way, I think you'll like 'em.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cheesy, Veggie, Rice & Chicken Bake

Do you want dinner all in one dish?  If you answered yes, then this one is for you! With chicken, rice and veggies nestled in a homemade cheese sauce {no cream of 'whatever' soups here!} you can have a one dish dinner in no time at all.

Back in the day, well before we had kids, I used to make a similar chicken and rice bake but it was not homemade in the least, it relied on a lot of store bought items.  Fast forward quite a few years and I remembered this dish.

Since then my cooking has come a LONG way and I wanted to make it from scratch - so that is what I did! While the kids napped one day last week I got to work.

I pulled all the lifeless veggies out of the fridge {carrots, broccoli and mushrooms} diced them up and got started on the filling.  

Cooking Tip: A great way to use up veggies that might otherwise go bad!  Use up whatever you have on hand - there are no rules with this one.

For a little crunch I added crushed up crackers to the top of the dish before I baked it.  A little crunch never hurts anything!

And by the time I got to that point the kids were up and needed something to do.  Wash their hand, give them some crackers and a bowl and let them crunch away....

What is also great about this dish is that it can set in the fridge until you are ready to bake it off - up to a day or two, if needed.  So obviously, a great dish to prep ahead of time for those busy nights we all have.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Homemade All-Natural, All-Purpose Cleaning Spray

I'll admit, I didn't crack the code on this special cleaner, this stuff has been around for AGES. I just happened to make it for the first time this past week and I thought maybe a few of my readers would enjoy the "recipe" as well.

{So, please don't send me haunting messages on how your grandmother has been doing this for years and you already knew about, mmm-k?}

I involved the kids in this little project too - taught them how to peel their own oranges, fill the jar, pour in the vinegar, watch the jar for a week {there is nothing to see, but they thought it was cool}, then eventually pouring the liquid into spray bottles and adding water.

This quart jar made us two full spray bottles of cleaner.  If you are a smaller household and just plain don't eat a lot of oranges like us, feel free to do it in a pint jar and it will make you one bottle of cleaner.

I have always been a vinegar/water girl - but this scented stuff, along with the natural oils of the orange peels really won me over!  Smells great and cleans great.  Enough said.

This is ALL you need to do.  If you don't mind waiting a week to allow for the solution to "ferment" you'll be fine.  If you are impatient....well, sorry.  You just have to wait with this one.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Naturally Sweetened Maple Pecan Granola

Do not click out of your browser!  Granola is easy and simple to make.  Do not be afraid.  Less than 5 minutes to mix the ingredients together and an hour later your house smells like a bakery.

I really like this recipe as it does not make a TON like some batches I've made.  This batch filled a quart jar of mine and baked in a 9x13 baking dish.  All things we have on hand. Better yet, it stays fresh for a long time.  Not that it lasts very long, but I've eaten this 2-3 weeks after I made it and it still tastes great.

Do you love pecan pie?  Well, that is what I was envisioning when I made this version.....without all the fat and sugar.  That's right - today is a healthy recipe!  You can be proud while eating this and most importantly serving it to your family.

My favorite way is as a topper with oatmeal, but it's also great eaten plain as cereal.  And of course, eaten on yogurt or just by the handful for a snack.

You really can't go wrong.

In fact, lately I've kept a baggie of it in my purse, as it's been a crazy week and somehow this granola seems to perk up my mood a little when I need a snack {which is often!}.

With only 7 ingredients {all of which I'm sure you have in your pantry} this is simple, economical and tasty. Please give this one a try and let me know what you think.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Deep Dish Reuben Pizza

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Just any old day in our house, but I know some of you go all out, or were out during the wee morning hours this past weekend celebrating and drinking green beer, so this pizza is for you!

My little take on corned beef and cabbage.  I'm not a big fan of eating it the traditional way, but I am a fan of this pizza!

I swear I have been talking about Reuben pizza for months now and FINALLY this weekend I got down to making it.  A girlfriend and her kids came over for a play date and we declared it a pizza night.  Three versions were on tap: Reuben, buffalo chicken and traditional pepperoni and cheese for the munchkins.

After getting the kids fed with their version, I got to work on the other two.  Best to get those kids fed and out of the way, you know?  {And thanks to the new puppy, baby gates hold back kids too.}

I used my rectangle stoneware baking pan, a bit shy of a 9x13, but you could really use anything.  If you want a less deep crust, use a normal pizza stone without the sides.  But I do highly recommend a pizza stone! It makes the crust peeeerrrfffeeeccctttt.

If you don't have a pizza stone yet, here is a great one on sale via Amazon for $19.41.  With handles!  You can buy it HERE.

And can I just say I have no idea how I got these photos to turn out?  I was taking them outside well after the sun went down, I swear by moonlight.  I need a new camera badly.

The battles of a food blogger.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Oven Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

We eat a lot of sweet potatoes at our house.  Actually the husband eats a lot of sweet potatoes at our house. He'll eat them anyway I cook them.  The kids and I have joined in on the bandwagon and hands down our favorite way to eat them is by roasting them in the oven, until they get super crispy.

With a side of homemade ranch dressing of course.

When the kids were little, I swear I was cooking up a sweet potato every other day, sprinkling it with cinnamon and their chubby little fingers were gobbling them down.

I'm imagining I'll be doing that again about a year from now.

I used to just cut these babies up, toss them with some olive oil and let them roast.  But then I read some recipes where they also lightly dusted them with cornstarch to create a super crispy fry.

I had to try it.

It works people!

You don't need a lot just enough to toss and dust all the fries.  Then of course a super hot oven and the patience to wait for them to bake.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding + A Giveaway!

I told you I had a fun dessert coming!  Or is this breakfast?  Either way it is stellar.  Really, really good.  And if you keep reading you will have a chance to win a pretty cool gift as well.

I was recently given the opportunity to try Sandwich Thins®, Pocket Thins® and Bagel Thins ® courtesy of some free coupons and a gift card.  The kicker?  I needed to create a recipe out of one or all three of these products.

I went back and forth on this one.

My first initial thought was a type of breakfast sandwich.  You know...drippy egg yolk, salty ham, melted cheese.....the works.  And while that is a great idea, I felt it was a bit, well, predictable.

I mean, who hasn't had a breakfast sandwich on a bagel or piece of toast?

After a few days of brainstorming my mind went to bread pudding.  I have never in the history of my cooking and recipe creations make bread pudding.  In fact, I've probably only eaten it a handful of times, maybe even less than that.

But for whatever reason it got stuck in my head and I could not get it out.  Then the idea became even more brilliant.  Why not try using all three breads they provided me?  

And then add in some chocolate chips!

And then drizzle it with pure maple syrup hot out of the oven!

It was getting better by the minute.

This bread pudding cooked up perfectly.  A bit crispy along the edges, soft in the middle, yet not mushy like some bread puddings I've had in the past.

I popped this beauty in the oven in the wee morning hours before work and brought it warm into the office. With a bottle of maple syrup in hand, we all enjoyed a warm, sweet breakfast.

Want to learn more about these great products?

Arnold®, Brownberry® and Oroweat® Products
All Arnold®, Brownberry® and Oroweat® Sandwich Thins® Rolls are cholesterol-free foods, containing zero grams of Trans Fat and no high fructose corn syrup.
Arnold®, Brownberry® and Oroweat® Sandwich Thins® Rolls
Weight Watchers®: 3 PointsPlus Value®.  Flavors: 100% Whole Wheat, Healthy Multi-grain, Honey Wheat, Flax & Fiber
Arnold®, Brownberry® and Oroweat® Pocket Thins® Flatbread
Weight Watchers : 3 PointsPlus Value®.  Flavors: 100% Whole Wheat, Healthy Multi-grain
Thomas'® Bagel Thins® Bagels
All Bagel Thins® are 110 calories, cholesterol-free, low in fat and contain zero grams of Trans Fat.  Weight Watchers®: 3 PointsPlus Value®.  Flavors: Plain, 100% Whole Wheat, Cinnamon Raisin and Everything

So here you go.  Here is how I combined three of their products into this fabulous bread pudding.  You need to try this!

And please click on "read more" you will have a chance to win these products for yourself, plus a $25 Visa gift card!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Iowa Food Blogger Dinner at Hotel Pattee

This past weekend I was invited along with 6 other food bloggers to attend a chef's tasting at the beautiful Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa.

From left to right: Sheryl from Eat, Play, Love Des Moines, me, Matt & Lissah from Iowa Food Blog, Kelli from The Sustainable Couple, Wini from All Things Food Des Moines and Chez Bonne Femme and Kristen from Iowa Girl Eats.

Such a FUN group!

{Sorry, the photo is so small!}

This hotel is unique in so many ways - first off it is settled in a small Iowa town that supports it fully.  It is housed with a spa, two restaurants, a bowling alley and has 40 rooms, each designed and themed differently. Live music fills the hotel on Friday and Saturday nights and fireplaces surround all the rooms, making it cozy and comfortable.

Now under new ownership, we will treated like royalty.  They believe in treating their clients with the best service.  It was awesome.  We were treated to a 5 course dinner and drinks all on behalf of the restaurant. Even though everyone else enjoyed wine {I only shedded a few tears}, they did serve me two fruity non-alcoholic cocktails that hit the spot perfectly.

The chef that is now working with the new owners was wonderful!  He claimed he was beyond nervous to serve us and had been working on the menu all week.  If he only knew we were just happy to be there!

Since you all know my love of chocolate I thought I'd show you the last course first.  {Please ignore my puffy face, I'm really starting to feel swollen in this pregnancy...}

The combo of dark chocolate, raspberry gel and macadamia nuts was AMAZING.  I could eat a plate of this every day.  No joke.

Right before this dish, was an asparagus and mushroom cream soup covered in puff pastry. My absolute FAVORITE dish of the night.  And guess what?  My photo turned out extremely blurry.  Sorry!  But please know it was heavenly.

Then we dove into this deconstructed BLT plate.  Toasted bread, fried pork belly, roasted tomatoes, and romaine with an avocado cream.  My love for BLT's is huge so I was excited to have this dish, and I had never had pork belly before - so good!

Our next dish was fish {forgive me I cannot remember what kind}.  It was nestled in a lemony broth on top of soba noodles.  Very light, fresh and flavorful.  

This dish would be a perfect lunch - although I might skip it for a dinner entree as I just know I would still be hungry.  What can I say?  I like my meals a bit hearty!

And finally for all our meat lovers!

Braised short ribs with roasted vegetables and a potato puree.  Hands down my second favorite dish of the night.  I am also imagining if my husband would have been there, this would be his favorite.  The short ribs just fell apart and literally melted in your mouth.  No knife required!

And an up close look at dessert.  Pyramids of pleasure!  The perfect bite was a spoonful of chocolate, raspberry gel and some crunchy, toasted macadamia nuts.

It was not overally sweet - just perfect.

Throughout the night we were also serenaded by their music act of the night - a woman duo from Algona, Iowa.  Their style was a bit funky, folky, yet still classic.  Their harmonies were wonderful.  The hotel encourages locals to come in for the live music, have a drink and just relax and you could tell by the crowd they were enjoying it.

Finally, a HUGE thanks to my friend Kristen at Iowa Girl Eats for inviting me and some of our fellow blogging friends to this dinner.  It was a great night out and the food service was top notch!

A quick look at upcoming posts....

I have some crispy oven sweet potato fries, a fun dessert and another giveaway!  Some free coupons for a fun product and a gift card will be up for grabs.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pizza Stuffed Meatballs

I made some really great meatballs the other day.  And in case you've noticed, I've made my share of meatballs on this blog.

Here are a few:

I promise I'll try and start focusing on more meals that don't involve meat and rolling them into balls.  My kids love meatballs that is probably why I keep making different versions! Perhaps deluxe sandwiches or outrageous brownies will be next.  What do you think?  Until then, you have to deal with one more meatball.

These also freeze well, so don't be afraid to make up a double batch for those crazy days {we all have them!}.

After rolling and assembling, you flash cook them in a hot skillet to sear, then bake them in your favorite marinara or spaghetti sauce to finish them off.  It will make your house smell like an Italian pizza factory, I swear. The husband came home many hours after I had made these and after walking in the door promptly said, "something smells good!".

And please keep reading....we have a new person in our house!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

No-Bake Cow Pies

I promise...these taste much better than they sound!

When I came up with the name in the back of my head I hoped no one was offended, and then that quickly became an afterthought.  I'm from Iowa, the heart of the Midwest, we have a LOT of livestock around these parts and even though I didn't grow up on a farm, I've been to my share of them.

And any farm with cows....has cow pies.  And if you don't know what I'm referring to, just Google it.  Long story short, these kinda look like cow pies.

Let's move on, shall we?

The kids were hankering for a snack these past weekend and I was out of MOST EVERYTHING.  You see I don't buy pre-packaged snacks, except for crackers.  You'll never catch me buying baked goodies, fruit roll-ups, fruit snacks, etc.  The one exception being when we are traveling and I'm in a bind.

Not that I won't eat them if given to me {remember, I'm pregnant and HANGRY} - I just won't buy them. The quality is crap, the ingredient list is endless and I can make better and tastier things at home.  So usually once a week I'll make a treat of some sort and will graze on them for a few days.

This past weekend it was these.  I had oatmeal.  I had cocoa.  I had peanut butter.  I figured I could come up with something out of those three ingredients.

This is also a great snack to make with your kids.  Once you get past the stove-top part and away from the heat, it's fairly easy to plop these little suckers down on some fool with a spoon.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mexican Stuffed Shells

Last week I had a half box of jumbo shell pasta staring at me every time I opened the pantry cupboard. These are normally reserved for Italian style stuffed shells, but this time I mixed up a different filling and prayed that it would taste good.

God must have been listening as they tasted pretty darn good!

Think of it as the creamy filling of an enchilada tucked inside pasta instead of a tortilla.  Once you wrap your head around it, it makes sense!

Lately, I've tried taking Mondays in prepping a few meals for the week.  I am at home on Mondays and so is the husband, so it gives me another hand around the house to rally the kids and keep them busy.  This past Monday, the little guy was in school in the morning and the husband took the little miss on a little adventure, therefore I had 4 HOURS ALL TO MYSELF.

I prepped this meal, along with another one I'll be showing you soon.  This allowed for the three days I do work outside of the home, to come home to dinner already prepped with only having to turn on the oven. So refreshing....try it!

I'm also about 10 weeks or less from having baby #3.  My mind has been dreaming up some freezer meals to start prepping as well.  Usually, I'll try and stock the freezer with easy meals {lasagna, soups, pizza pockets, breads, casseroles, homemade frozen pizzas, etc.} so that when we come home and our minds are consumed with feedings and diapers, all on little to no sleep, I can easily set out something in the morning and have it thawed by dinner.

Sometimes my mom helps, sometimes I get together with a girlfriend and have a power cooking session - but just like my last two babies, this third one will also come home to a stocked freezer.

Not that she'll be eating any of it, but I will, which in return will go to, yeah, I guess she will be eating it!

This dish is a keeper and is easy to assemble, so I do think it will be going on the list for when the baby comes.