Ally's Sweet & Savory Eats: November 2014

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Homemade Christmas Scent for Your Home

Put this pot on to simmer while decorating your home for Christmas,
it will ring in everyone's Christmas spirit!
homemade christmas scent for your home (

I have always loved a good scented candle.  Especially during the cold winter months when we all have a bit of cabin fever.  It lifts my mood and makes us all feel a bit more cozy.

But currently at this time in my life, I also have 3 little kids.  Kids that are generally very inquisitive about everything.

Fire!  Look, MOM, fire!

So instead of buying my typical Christmas scented candle this year, I thought I'd save myself the heart attack and make my own holiday scent.  In about 5 minutes this pot is prepped and ten minutes later your house will smell like a cross between hot apple cider, a Christmas tree farm and warm baked cookies.

It doesn't get much better than that!

homemade christmas scent for your home (

With citrus fruits in season during the winter months we usually have quite a few oranges and grapefruit on hand in our fridge and inevitability one gets stuck somewhere out of sight and by the time I find it, it's mushy and bit over ripe.

Throw it in the pot!

We also have a HUGE pine tree in our front yard, so these pine branches were easy to come by.  If you don't have a pine tree, cut a few sprigs off the back of your Christmas tree.  OR...use a fresh sprig of rosemary.

Throw it in the pot!

And with holiday baking in full force {at least it is in my house} you might be using up some of those spices that get hidden for 10 months out of the year  You know the ones {cloves, allspice, etc.}

Throw it in the pot!

And what is great about this recipe is that when all is said and done {i.e. it's been simmering for 3 hours on the stove and you need to leave the house}, simply pluck out the ingredients, place them in a large mason jar, screw on the lid and stick it in your fridge.

You can use these same items to do this again when you are in the mood.  Their scents will still be strong for a 2nd time!

Homemade Christmas Scent for Your Home
Print this Recipe!

1 grapefruit sliced
1 orange sliced
2 small sprigs of pine branch needles {or a sprig of fresh rosemary}
4 cinnamon sticks
1 t. whole cloves
1 t. whole allspice berries/cloves
enough water to cover

1.  Place all ingredients in a large stock pot.
2.  Pour in enough water to cover the ingredients.
3.  Bring stock pot to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer.  Place on the back burner of the stove, so it is not reachable to little ones.
4.  Allow to simmer for 2-3 hours.  If water starts to evaporate, refill.
5.  When done, strain all ingredients and place in a large mason jar with a lid and secure.  Keep in the fridge.  Use again within one month.

homemade christmas scent for your home (

Friday, November 28, 2014

Creamy Turkey & Wild Rice Soup

This creamy, comforting soup is perfect when using up those holiday leftovers.
Put on your holiday meal plan today!

creamy turkey and wild rice soup (

Hands down.  The husband's favorite soup.

It is originally made with shredded chicken.  But, HELLO, Thanksgiving was yesterday so enter in the turkey.

Besides a classic turkey sandwich the next day for lunch, this is one of our favorite ways to use up leftover turkey.  It is pretty much comfort in a bowl.

Our kids gobble {sorry, I had to...} this up as well.  Per usual, our middle child asked for a second bowl and our oldest who is the pickiest of the two wasted no time downing a bowl himself.  I won't tell you how many bowls the husband had.  He'd be embarrassed.

creamy turkey and wild rice soup (

And you know me and soups.  The main reason I make them is so this mom doesn't have to worry about dinner the following night.  It stretches out to two meals and that frankly makes me happier than a good Black Friday deal.

By the way, I won't be shopping today or this weekend, in fact I probably won't start till mid-December.  And for those that have asked I still am adhering to my 3 Gift Rule for our kids.  More on that later.

To go with our soup I made a hearty crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside artisan loaf of bread.  BEST IDEA EVER.  Have you ever seen kids inhale homemade bread slathered in butter?  It's quite the show.  You'd think they were eating candy right off the factory line.

Nothing beats homemade bread.  Here is the recipe I use each and every time.

creamy turkey and wild rice soup (

Alright, right after reading this, get your butt to the kitchen and start pulling that turkey off the carcass and make this soup!

Start to finish ready in about 30 minutes, give or take.  Enjoy!

Creamy Turkey and Wild Rice Soup
2 boxes of Uncle Ben's Wild Rice mix
3 c. shredded, cooked turkey
3 carrots, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 white or yellow onion, finely diced
6 c. chicken stock
1/2 c. half and half
1/2 stick of unsalted butter
3/4 c. flour
2 t. lemon pepper seasoning {or regular pepper}

1.  In a saucepan cook the rice according to directions, set aside. 
2.  In a large stockpot combine the butter, carrots, celery and onion.  Saute over medium heat until tender.
3.  Using a sifter, sift in the flour over the vegetables and continue to stir over medium heat, cooking out the flour for about 2 minutes.  This mixture will clump together and become thick.
4.  Slowly pour in the chicken stock and allow to cook for another 3-4 minutes, while whisking to avoid any lumps.
5.  Add in the cooked rice and chicken, stirring to combine.
6.  Turn down the heat to simmer and the soup will start to thicken.
7.  Slowly stir in the half and half and lemon pepper seasoning.  Heat to serve.

creamy turkey and wild rice soup (

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Let's Cook! Cookbook Giveaway #GivingTuesday

Tell your friends!  I'm giving away two of these popular Iowa Food & Family Project Cookbooks!  Autographed by Kristin Porter from Iowa Girl Eats.

The Iowa Food & Family Project is unique.  It involves farmers, farm groups, nutritionists, retailers and grocers.  They strive to bring Iowans {and others} together so that everyone can have greater knowledge about our food and confidence in how it is grown.

In 2013 they partnered with popular food blogger Kristin Porter from Iowa Girl Eats.  She took a journey across the state in search of information about food and farmers.  While traveling she visited century farms learning about beef, pork, dairy, corn, soy, turkey and eggs.

This 110 page cookbook is full of beautiful photos and recipes showcasing Kristin's travels and the beautiful state of Iowa.

Kristin has now become a good friend of mine and she graciously sent me three of these cookbooks.  One for me {of course!} and two to give away!
It is chock full of Iowa classics and unique ones I would have never thought of!  In fact the husband picked out the Walnut-Crusted Roast on page 49 as HIS favorite.
You know men and their red meat.
You know what else is today?

It's #GivingTuesday.  'Tis Thanksgiving Week!  Today is a day to give thanks and give back.  So here is your chance to win!

No super complicated rules this time....just leave a comment letting me know what you are thankful for this year...OR...what way you are giving back this year.

I'll pick two random winners this Friday.  Good luck!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Make Ahead Breakfast Scrambles...for the freezer!

Here's the thing.
I've been getting into a habit of eating more eggs for breakfast.  Whether it is a "dippy" {over-easy} or scrambled, I like to have a filling breakfast.  So if it's not my favorite oatmeal, then it is becoming eggs.
BUT.  One problem.  Like most households with young kids we have to exercise the Olympic sport each morning called "mad-dash-stop-dragging-your-feet-we-are-late" event.
I have a good hour to hour and a half by the time my eyelids pop open in the morning until we have to be out the door for school drop-off.  That means showering {sometimes}, breakfasts, getting dressed, feeding the baby, brushing teeth, finding bags/coats/hats/gloves {tis the season}, taking care of the dog, etc.
I'm also usually breaking up a fight or too as well.
Some mornings are easier than others as the husband is around to help {he works 2nd shift}, but some mornings he is sleeping due to working the night before and then I'm trying to do ALL OF THIS while be super-duper quiet. 
Which, let's face it, never happens in a 950 sq. ft. house with three kids and a dog.

Where am I going with this?
Well, I just don't have time to make the eggs how I want to in the morning.  Or I have to wait to do it until I get back and by then I am ravenous.
So.  {Enter light bulb moment here}.
I decided to prep all my "egg stuff" ahead of time.  I took the time to chop a veggie, brown some sausage and throw it all together for these easy breakfast scrambles.  I used this giant muffin-like tin pan I got at an estate sale once, but any muffin tin would do.
I went ahead and baked them off, let them cool, removed them from the pan and then froze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  And finally, threw them all in a freezer safe bag and forgot about them until the next morning when I exhaustedly executed another Olympic morning event.

I defrost one in the microwave for about a minute and then nuke it on a high level for another minute.  By then they are thawed, hot and ready to eat.  If I have time I'll toast a piece of whole wheat bread, slather on a bit of butter and call it good.
Whatever you like in your omelet, put into these little cups.  For this batch I added spinach, ground sausage and cheese.  Other options could be ham, bacon, peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc.

If you have rushed, busy mornings like us, then these are for you!
And if you commute to work, let them thaw out on your drive to work, then it will take even less time in the microwave once you are ready to eat.
Make Ahead Breakfast Scrambles
*makes 6 jumbo muffin sized egg scrambles
toppings of choice
6 eggs
1.  Spray non-stick cooking spray into the jumbo muffin tin and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Place toppings in each muffin tin to fill it up halfway.
3.  Crack an egg in a bowl, whisk, then pour into the muffin tin.  Repeat this 5 more times.
4.  Sprinkle each with salt and pepper
5.  Bake for 25 minutes or until puffy and eggs are set.
6.  Allow to cool, use a knife to cut around the edges releasing the eggs from the pan.  Place on a baking sheet and freeze.  To store place egg scrambles in a freezer storage bag for up to 3 months.
7.  To reheat, place in microwave and defrost for 1 minute.  Then cook on high heat for another minute.  Serve warm.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Top 14 Stocking Stuffers for Kids {Ages 0 - 14}


Do you have the tradition of filling everyone's stocking at Christmas?  In my family growing up we always looked forward to opening our stockings first thing on Christmas morning, well before we tore into our larger gifts.
But I do know that some families don't do this - in fact when I met my husband I learned that his family doesn't do stockings.  They are missing out!
I strongly recommend starting this tradition if you haven't already.  You can go over the top and buy monogrammed stockings or simply use an old, long sock.  It is up to you.  Regardless it is fun finding little treasures, more often than not items that you would never buy for yourself, but love the idea of receiving.
Here are my Top 14 picks for 2014All items are linked for easy purchasing right here within this post.  Now is the time to buy - get it ALL DONE now!  And as most of you know me well, nothing is super expensive or outrageous.  Please note prices can vary from day to day, but should stay close to the price listed below.
Happy Shopping!
My kids LOVE the Color Wonder markets from Crayola, and as a Mom I love them too.  They only color on the special paper that it comes with, so there are no heart attacking inducing moments when your 3 year old draws on the wall.
My son has been BEGGING me for this.  He has seen the commercial on T.V. and thinks it is just the coolest thing.  And I kind of do as well?  Snacks and drinks in one cup seems pretty neat.
Every boy from the age of 2-7 needs some Hot Wheels cars.  They provide endless entertain and use of the imagination.  I keep all of ours in a big Ziploc baggie for easy storage.
If your teenagers are into reading {I sure hope they are!}, then this book light is needed.  They can read in their rooms at night or in the family room with everyone else without having to sit next to a lamp at night. 
I always kept a journal when I was younger and this one is the elite journal for kids.  It provides questions and thoughtful conversations to encourage kids to write.  A whole three years of fun!  And a great keepsake too.
Every child LOVES hot cocoa.  My two oldest feel that every time they come in from the cold they NEED hot cocoa, and I usually oblige.  There is just something warm and fuzzy about drinking the stuff.
You are not a true parent until you have kids bored in the car on long trips.  This game will entertain them and keep them away from video games for at least an hour.  Perfect for all ages!
Our 3 year old is just now getting into jewelry {fake jewelry that is...} and this organizer is ideal for kids {and adults!} to keep it all organized.  No more stepping on those darn beads.
Snacks are a must for kids.  They seem to be hunger every hour!  Having their own healthy granola bars on hand with keep them full and satisfied until dinner.  If your kids are older, try allowing them to keep them in their rooms so that the other little don't snag them.
Boy and sports?  Pretty much go hand in hand right?  These athletic socks will give them the support needed when running from one event to another.
I am in LOVE with the Philosophy brand.  I first smelled their scents at Von Maur back in college.  I am pretty sure any girl in your life will love this scent.  And how about a recipe on each bottle?  Genius!
If you have a wee little baby at home like me you may often juggle with what they should wear.  Especially during the changing seasons where it is chilly in the morning and then warms up as the day goes on.  I love putting our 6 month old in long-sleeved onesies this time of year, but her legs are still cold - these leg warmers would be perfect!
I am a BIG fan of limiting our kids television time when we are home, at least at their age when I can still control it.  I like to set our kitchen timer and rotate activities for them.  This word scramble brain game will be perfect for when they get a bit older!
And finally it isn't Christmas until you've watched the Charlie Brown Christmas.  As I type out this blog post my kids are watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving DVD.  A good, classic cartoon.
 I hope at least one of these 14 stocking stuffer ideas have helped you.  I'm just trying to make this holiday season a bit easier on all of you!
Happy Shopping!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Crock Pot Italian Beef Sandwiches

If you want a meal that everyone will love, these Crock Pot Italian Beef Sandwiches are it!

crock pot italian beef sandwiches (

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

I think I've spoken about this before, but when it comes to Christmas gifts I often ask for meat.  Or my husband asks for meat.  We're weird.

I'm a bit over the lavish gifts - we live a pretty simple life but I feel I have all that I need.  I have a closet full of clothes, a nice stash of jewelry, a good laptop, a nice camera...what else do I need?

I need meat.

I don't know if anyone else is in my situation, but when you cook 90% of your meals your grocery list is constantly on your mind.  What's for dinner tonight?  Did I put hamburger out to thaw?  What prepared meals do I still have stashed in my freezer?

All of this runs through my head daily {again, I'm weird}.  I've been known to ask for Target gift cards to stock up on pantry items or a Trader Joe's gift card to stock up on essentials {i.e. my love for their dark chocolate covered almonds}.  And most Christmas's the husband will ask for steaks from one of our favorite restaurants and I'll ask for different cuts of meat to stock our freezer with.

Meat is expensive!  {I'm sure you know that}.

But nothing excites me more than NOT having to put meat on our grocery list, so I can spend that money on other things.  I love having ground beef, ground pork {for these amazing egg rolls}, bacon and roasts on hand.

And just look what I used ones of those roasts for...

crock pot italian beef sandwiches (

I made these sandwiches a week ago and I'm still thinking about them now.  This is the quintessential working mom meal to make.  It can sit in the crock pot ALL DAY LONG.  Even if you weren't home until 9 p.m. that night it would still be perfect, simmering away in all those flavorful juices.

The husband was worried they might be too 'spicy' for the kids, but our kids didn't look twice finishing off their sandwich in no time.  The pepperoncini peppers give the roast such extreme flavor.  There is a little bit of spice, but it is a good pickled kind of spice - just enough tang to make you smack your lips!

crock pot italian beef sandwiches (

In fact these would be a good crowd pleasing meal.  It makes a lot of sandwiches!  Every fall I also make this meal twice, as a freezer meal.  You can read all about it in this meal planning post.  Genius idea for busy moms.

Crock Pot Italian Beef Sandwiches

Print this Recipe!

3-4 lb. beef roast
1/2 stick of unsalted butter
16 oz. jar of pepperoncini peppers
1 envelope of dry Italian dressing seasoning
hoagie buns

1.  Place all ingredients into a slow cooker {including the juice from the pepperoncini's} and set to LOW.  Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours 
or until the beef easily shreds.
2.  Eat warm on hoagie buns.

I have so many more easy crock pot meals that my family loves.  Here are a few of our favorites!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Pulled Buffalo Chicken Sliders
Crock Pot Chicken and Noodles
Crock Pot Maid-Rites
Crock Pot Shredded Chicken Tacos
Crock Pot Beer BBQ Chicken Sandwiches

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ham & Swiss Baked Penne

If ham and swiss anything is your favorite, then this dish is for you!
Creamy and comforting here is Sunday dinner.

ham and swiss baked penne (

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

Let me start this post off with....our fish died.  You can read about how we got that fish here.

He lasted two weeks.  In rather inhumane conditions {i.e. mixing bowl on the counter}.  We had one child that bawled their eyes out for about 30 minutes and one child that couldn't wait to flush it down the toilet.

I'll let you guess which child is which.

Since then the mixing bowl has been washed and we have moved on.  On to our next adventure!

ham and swiss baked penne (

Let's talk this baked penne.  I came up with it one afternoon and we were eating it a few hours later.  So good! 

Growing up I remember eating hot ham and swiss sandwiches from a local fast food restaurant.  I think they still have them....and this dish makes me think of them.  Melty, gooey, goodness.  It's kinda like a mac and cheese, kind of like a carbonara.  

A good mix between the two?

And because people have asked, the retro Corningware baking dish I used in the recipe is old school.  It was most definitely my Grandma's.  Here is a similar one with the same glass lid that you can buy via Amazon, I use it for everything!

ham and swiss baked penne (

My kids loved this dish, as did the thighs?  Probably not.  But it is a good hearty dish to eat right about now in the Midwest {freezing cold!} or great to take to a friend that needs a pick-me-up.

It might even be a good one to take to my freezer swap next month?

And here's a thought, if you have extra turkey leftover in a couple of weeks, try replacing the ham with turkey, I'm thinking it would be just as good, because who doesn't like a good turkey and swiss sandwich?  Essentially the same thing.

Ham & Swiss Baked Penne

Print this Recipe!

4 T. butter
1/4 c. flour
2 c. milk
1 c. half and half
2 c. diced ham
1 1/2 c. Swiss cheese
1/2 c. Colby cheese
8 oz. cooked penne
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. breadcrumbs
2 T. butter, melted

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2.  In a stockpot melt the 4 T. of butter.  When melted add in the flour, whisking for 1-2 minutes over medium-high heat.
3.  Whisk in the milk and half and half.  Stirring until it starts to thicken, about 4-5 minutes.  Gradually add in the shredded cheese, stirring to melt.
4.  Once the sauce is thick and cheesy, stir in the cooked penne and ham.  Pour into a greased 9x13 baking dish.
5.  Stir together the Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and 2 T. of melted butter.  Sprinkle over the top of the dish.
6.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes covered.  Then turn the oven to 400 degrees and bake uncovered for 10 minutes.

I'm a huge fan on any baked pasta dish.  Here are a few more of our favorites!

Mexican Stuffed Shells
Chicken Alfredo Lasagna Roll-Ups
Bacon Buffalo Mac and Cheese
Bacon Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese
Baked Ravioi Lasagna

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

These Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes are the perfect side dish for Thanksgiving. 
Put them on your meal plan today!
I often think you are either a garlic lover or hater.  Kinda like mushrooms.  Or cilantro.  There isn't any middle ground, you will either gladly gobble them up or your turn your nose the other way.
I've also heard of garlic being too strong for sensitive stomachs.  Thank god I don't have a sensitive stomach!
Because folks, I love garlic.  In all forms.  Freshly minced on pizza, slow simmering in spaghetti sauce, infused in oil and spread on toasted bread, and of course in these potatoes.  Roasting a head of garlic prior to putting it into a dish makes it become sweet and not as strong.
If you have tin foil, olive oil and an oven - you can do this!  Follow my simple directions found here.  Then once you have that roasted goodness, boil up some potatoes and put these on the dinner table.  Or like I said above, save for Thanksgiving!
That lovely American holiday is just a couple of weeks away.  Have you started planning your meal yet?  We will be home on the day of {the husband works}, but we will travel to my parent's on that Saturday.  So on the actual day I will probably make something simple and non-fussy.
Maybe these mashed potatoes?
We have so much to be thankful for this year.  A new, healthy, happy baby.  Two beautiful and rambunctious older children.  My husband's job that allows me to stay home and take care of these babies.  A home, albeit small and a bit outdated, that is warm and cozy.  Food on our table every night and clothes that keep us warm.
What are you thankful for this year?