Ally's Sweet & Savory Eats: October 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Zesty Ranch Pretzels

These pretzels are a party staple!  Or who am I kidding...a staple in our pantry cupboard.
Try eating just one, I dare you.

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I had one of those days last week.

All I wanted to do was make these gosh darn pretzels but life kept getting in the way.

You know what I'm talking about.  The kind of day that makes you want to pull out your hair yet cry yourself to sleep all at the same time.  For whatever reason you are just a few steps behind all day long and you can't get your footing.

It started with a sick little one.  I knew she was sick as she was super crabby and needy, which is unlike her.  Plus her nose was running like a faucet.  A trip to the doctor showed an ear infection. Bingo!  I knew it.  With a previous allergic reaction to a medication they put her on a new one with the warning, "it tastes horrible and will give her diarrhea".


I spent the day forcing this liquid down her throat while simultaneously changing her drawers every two hours due to problem #2 mentioned above.  We also tried a trip to Walmart.  I NEEDED THINGS.  My stuffed plastic bag broke while walking out to our car and two boxes of tampons, a can of hairspray, a can of mousse and my bottled water rolled into out into the intersection for all the world to gawk at.  I was THAT crazy lady with a baby on my hip trying to catch my feminine items on the {of course} ridiculously windy day.

I really just wanted some pretzels.  My son had been begging me to make them for weeks. Grandma brings them each time she comes and he loves them.  Frankly, so do I.  I was determined to get these things made.

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But the rest of the day consisted of chasing a dog around the neighborhood, getting caught in the rain with two littles at school pick-up and making a dinner that tasted just so-so.

Where were my pretzels when I needed a pick-me-up?

Finally, yesterday {almost a week later!} I made them.  Golly, these things are addicting. We have them at family events and they are always one of the first things to go.  And talk about simple! Perfect for any get together. Put a bowl of these on any table and you'll be the hit of the event.

A bit spicy, a bit zesty, a bit sweet!

Zesty Ranch Pretzels

3 bags Honey Wheat Braided Twist Pretzels
1 c. olive oil
1 pkg. ranch seasoning mix
1 t. cayenne pepper
1 t. garlic powder

1.  Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
2.  Place pretzels in a large roasting pan {or a big pan with sides}.
3.  In a bowl whisk together the oil and seasonings.  Pour over the pretzels and stir.
4.  Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
5.  Allow to cool and store in an airtight container or storage bag.

Love pretzels?

Here is more pretzel inspiration.

Brown Butter Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Iowa Pumpkin Sheet Cake

A bit different from your typical pumpkin bar, 
these have a unique secret ingredient and a frosting that is mouthwatering!

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This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

Here's the thing.  The state of Texas has a lot going for them.  Here is my short, very thought through list.


Excellent Tex-Mex.

Talented football teams.

Award-winning barbecue.

Matthew McConaughey.

Texas Sheet Cake.

You see they have all this great stuff and then they had the nerve on top of all their glory to name a cake after themselves.


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The history of texas sheet cake is a bit foggy.  There are many articles out there saying how it became the dessert of the south.  Relish wrote this article awhile back on it, if you feel like digging in.

One thing is certain it is a dark chocolate cake baked in a jelly roll pan, glazed with a chocolate frosting.  Sometimes it has nuts, sometimes it doesn't.  It's good.  End of story.

Speaking of jelly roll pans, I have this one and I love it.  I'm pretty sure my mom got it for me {because, you know, I'm a dork and these are the things I put on my lists}.  Anyway, I highly recommend this one.

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It has been over a month since I shared a baked goodie on here {I know...} and after I realized that I was VERY disappointed in myself.

These bars are my redemption.

Oh my golly, they are good.  And folks they have a secret ingredient....melted Blue Bunny Pumpkin Pie Spice ice cream.  It's IN the batter.  My friends at Blue Bunny told me about their holiday line now available in stores, so naturally I found my way to the nearest ice cream aisle and purchased some.  I also plan on using it in two other dessert style dishes.

I got up and in the kitchen at 7 a.m. on Saturday and starting making the biggest kitchen mess of my life.  The husband got home later, walked in and wondered what in the $%^#! I was doing.  It was a bit like tornado alley.  But I promised in 15 minutes I'd have the place put back together, and I did!

And having these warm on the counter, with frosting dripping downs the sides waiting for all of us, made the mess totally worth it.

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So I know you are wondering, why is this called "Iowa Pumpkin Sheet Cake"?

Well, I wanted to one-up that big state of Texas.  I wanted Iowa to have a sheet cake two. I'm from Iowa, I live in Iowa and I like Iowa.  Let's start a trend, shall we?  Can I get all of you to share this recipe with your friends and family and call it "Iowa Pumpkin Sheet Cake"?

I'd love you forever.

Maybe someday this sheet cake can be AS popular as the Texas cousin.  {Probably not, but a girl can dream}.

Until then, don't get annoyed when I'm sharing this all over gods-green-earth spreading the love.  And make these!  You won't be disappointed.

Iowa Pumpkin Sheet Cake

For the batter:
1 15 oz. can pumpkin
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. melted Blue Bunny Spiced Pumpkin Pie ice cream
2 t. vanilla
3 eggs
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
2 c. flour

For the icing:
1 stick unsalted butter
6 T. melted Blue Bunny Spiced Pumpkin Pie ice cream
1 t. vanilla
1 t. cinnamon
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a jelly roll pan {12 1/2 x 17 1/2}.
2.  In a stand mixer combine the pumpkin, sugars and melted ice cream until smooth.
3.  Slowly add in one egg at a time and vanilla.
4.  Sift together baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and flour.  Combine into the batter until smooth.
5.  Pour into the greased jelly roll pan and spread flat.
6.  Bake for 17-19 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
7.  While the cake is baking make the frosting.  In a saucepan on the stove over medium heat melt the butter.
8.  Once the butter is melted, let it continue to cook while stirring until it becomes light brown in color and has a caramel like smell and taste.
9.  Remove the pan from the heat and add in the spices, melted ice cream and powdered sugar, whisking until smooth.  If too thick, thin out with more melted ice cream.
10.  Pour immediately over the warm cake and spread smooth.
11.  Bars can be stored covered on the counter.  If it is warm though, I would recommend keeping them in the fridge.

*If you do not have or can't find Blue Bunny Spice Pumpkin Pie Spice ice cream, feel free to use any brand you can find, or just plain old vanilla.

Iowa Pumpkin Sheet's the NEW fall dessert!  Classic, yet with a secret ingredient that other cakes don't have! (

Let's start this Iowa Pumpkin Sheet Cake trend!  Start sharing!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

BBQ Pulled Pork Pineapple & Banana Pepper Pizza

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This post is sponsored by Smithfield.  As a pork lover {hello, I live in Iowa!} 
this dish screams the simplicity of pork, yet delights in a spunky, delicious taste.

Pork and I get along well.  I live in Iowa and we house close to 20 million pigs a year.  That is 6.5 times more pigs than we have people!  Needless to say we know our pork - whether it be bacon, chops, sausage, brats or roasts, we've cooked and eaten them all.

And we love it all!

Ever heard of "Porkifying"?

When Smithfield contacted me and this term was brought up, it made total sense. Porkifying is the art of propelling average recipes to maximum deliciousness by adding or substituting juicy, mouthwatering pork.

Of course!  I like to think I do this with all my pork recipes.  I mean, heck, I'm a food blogger!  I get much more excited about my homemade pork egg rolls or my ham and swiss baked penne than a regular old chop, but honestly those are good too.  In fact, it is my soon-to-be 95 year old grandmother's favorite meal {bone-in, of course}.

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Just in time for tailgating season, Smithfield is helping American's "porkify" their game day with their "Most Valuable Pork" sweepstakes.

To enter the contest, simply snap a picture of a delicious dish that has been "porkified" and share on Instagram or Twitter using the hastags #porkify and #contest.  All eligible entries will automatically be entered into where friends can vote for your entry for a chance to win.

One lucky pork enthusiast will win the Ultimate Game Day Prize Package including a Weber smoker, BBQ tool set, meat thermometer, Smithfield apron, meat timer, box of BBQ seasonings and grilling accessories and a Weber cookbook.  For full sweepstakes details, visit here.

Geesh!  Great prizes!

I received a Smithfield Boneless Pork Shoulder Roast to cook and experiment with for this post.  I knew immediately I would cook it slow in the crock pot all day, low and slow, with minimal seasonings.  I just wanted the pork to excel on it's own.

This boneless pork should roast is hand-trimmed and easy to prepare in the slow cooker {like I did}, but also on a smoker or in the oven.  Don't you feel like pulled pork is the new "bacon"?  From sandwiches, to nachos, to having it just on its own, pulled pork is the perfect option for tailgating and game-day entertainment recipes.

After I decided on the slow cooker I started brainstorming.  Sandwiches?  A baked pasta? Pizza?  Yes, pizza.  I wanted pizza. Full of pork goodness pizza.

My family loves pizza and in my head I knew instantly it would be a hit.  Somehow my thought of "porkifying" it centered around pickled banana peppers, a smoky/sweet/spicy barbecue sauce and sweet pineapple.  To the average Joe that all might sound a bit weird, but I just knew in my heart of hearts the tangy, salty, smoky, sweet tastes would merry well.

I mean who doesn't love eating pizza while watching the game?  It is pretty much a food staple for game watchers.  It might be a bit easier to eat at home while watching the game on T.V. but for all of you die-hards out there {you know - campers, generators, tents, smokers, etc.} don't tell me you can't cook a pizza on a grill or in a traveling toaster oven.

I've seen it done.

I've actually done it.

Don't be intimidated by pizza on the road!

Like I said, I cooked my roast all day, around 8 hours on LOW.  I seasoned it simply with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  That was it.  I poured a bit of water in the bottom of the slow cooker to keep it moist, about 2 cups, and then let the crock pot do the magic.

After about hour 6 I flipped the roast for good measure and then an hour later shredded the meat with a fork.  It fell apart easily.  That last hour I simply let the meat take a bath in the juices and hang out.

Now, this was a BIG roast.  I certainly didn't use it all for this one pizza.  I took out what I needed {2 cups} and saved the rest for future meals.  One being a killer enchilada recipe {stay tuned!}.

Golly, look at that cheese!

This pizza was gosh darn incredible.  Even the husband who is trying to stay on a strict clean eating meal plan, stole a piece and would barely make eye contact with me while eating.

All he could muster was "this is really good".  He had fear if he talked about it more, he'd eat the whole darn thing.

I don't blame him!

BBQ Pulled Pork Pineapple & Banana Pepper Pizza

homemade or store bough pizza dough {my version is stellar!}
2 c. shredded Smithfield pork {after slow cooking the roast all day}
1 c. chopped sweet banana peppers
1 c. chopped pineapple
1 c. barbecue sauce
2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

1.  Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and place a pizza cooking stone in the oven while preheating.
2.  With floured fingers stretch and roll out the pizza dough to desired size.  Remove the hot pizza stone from the oven and carefully lay the rolled out dough on the stone.
3.  Working quickly, spread on a bit of barbecue sauce on the crust.
4.  In a bowl combine the remaining barbecue sauce, pork, banana peppers and pineapple and spread over the crust.
5.  Sprinkle on mozzarella cheese and any remaining peppers or pineapple.
6.  Bake at 500 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
7.  Serve hot, cut into slices.

Not that I would know.....ahem, but this pizza is really, really good reheated in the oven for a few minutes till warm.  The crust crisps right back up and tastes completely fresh again.

Just saying.

I've heard.

Inspired to "porkify" your own dish?  Then get to work!  Remember to snap a photo, share on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtags #porkify and #contest and then let your friends vote.  All eligible entries will be automatically uploaded to    Full details can be found HERE.

Until then, you need to make this pizza!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Smithfield.

Monday, October 19, 2015

ChoppedCon - Food Blog Conference - Kansas City

I had the privilege of attending the Chopped Conference this past weekend in Kansas City.  
To say I had a good time was an understatement.  Read on for the full recap!

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I know 99% of you reading are not in the food blogger business, but just like any "job" continuing education is needed.  New programs come out, all the while with the industry changing and sometimes it really is hard to keep up.

Hint:  If someone invents ONE MORE social media outlet I might scream.

With that being said, I still need to keep on top of things.  This is the second year for this conference. I really wanted to attend last year, but at the time I had a nursing 6 month old and it just wasn't feasible to ditch out on the family for a few days.

But this year, I made it a point to attend.  #1 it is close {about a 5 hour drive}.  #2 I had friends in attendance.  #3 I had heard great things about it.  Jenni, from The Gingered Whisk, and I carpooled and Michelle from Simplify, Live, Love shared a hotel room one night.  So it was nice to share this experience with some friends.

How about a fun collage recap?

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{from left to right, starting at the top}

1.  Me chilling in my hotel room.  BY MYSELF.  Any mother with three kids under the age of 6 will agree that this is a vacation.

2.  Thursday night, we left the cocktail reception starving, so a few of us walked to BRGR Kitchen and Bar, not far from our hotel.  It hit the spot.  I drank too many beers, but my burger topped with barbecue sauce and fried onion strings was stellar.

3.  Saturday morning when I woke up, I snapped this photo and shared on Instagram.  I had been encouraged by another blogger the previous night to share "unflattering" photos of yourself so the outside world doesn't think you're perfect.  Which I'm pretty sure you all don't, but that was my "just-woke-up-no-make-up-tired" look.

4.  Holy Mary, I ate the best burnt ends on Friday night.  Catered by Crazy Good Eats, we all chowed down on burnt ends, bacon wrapped meatballs, cheesy potatoes, veggies and more.  I was truly stuffed to the gills.  When others suggested going out for pizza later that night I had to turn them down.  So full.

5.  I got a tattoo!  Kidding.  I got a fake one.  But I do like the saying "live today".  It seemed super fitting for the weekend I had.

6.  Chef Renee Kelly showed us how to properly cut an onion and sharpen our knives.  It sounds basic, but gosh she did it beautifully.  She owns a farm-to-table restaurant just outside of Kansas City, so if you are needing a date night there I would suggest it.  It's in a castle!  For that alone you should go.  And if you need one more reason she told us she just got done tapping a national television cooking show, to soon be announced.

7.  I stole all these products out of my hotel room.  Someone told me too.  Moving on.

8.  We were instructed to take these awkward selfies for a contest on Instagram.  And well, yes, they were truly awkward.

9.  Look at this pretty crowd!  Our event was held at the River Market Event Place.  Such a unique and fun place.  We heard it is very popular for wedding receptions.  It has that industrial, modern feel. We had a great time there.

10.  I snapped this photo right before I left town.  Did you know driving without three kids in the back seat is super peaceful?  I loved it.

11.  My hotel room.  We stayed at the Hilton President downtown.  It was lovely.  My back didn't ache come 4 a.m. because the beds were just so lovely.  It was like sleeping on a cloud.

12.  Thursday night my drink of choice was Boulevard Funky Pumpkin.  I loved it {a bit too much}. The conference served local drinks.  Their Fall Sangria was pretty good too.  What can I say?  I love a good cocktail!

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This guy.  Matt Armendariz.  He is the creative genius behind the award-winning blog, Matt Bites.  His background includes being a creative art director for Whole Foods as well as the author of a cookbook and photography book.  Matt spoke to us about authenticity.  What makes you, you?  Are you truly being yourself in your writing?  Are you doing what you want to do or what you think others want you to do?  It was very though provoking.

I have many, many people tell me that the way I write is exactly how I am in real life.  I fully take that as a compliment....I try and be as authentic as possible.

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My girl Liz from The Lemon Bowl!  She was my mentor on this trip, as she is a seasoned veteran food blogger and travel queen.  Liz is straight and to the point and I love that.  She tells it like it is. She talked to us about blogger burnout.  Sometimes it can be just like high school - comparing yourself to others.  How did THEY get that sponsorship?  How did THEY get picked for that trip? How did THEY get that book deal?

It's all a bunch of hog wash.  We are individuals and we need to think like individuals.  The comparison game will get us no where.

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One of my favorite podcasts is Chopped.  We attending a live taping with the founder herself, Marly. This woman is as sweet as apple pie.  She really is.  How she organized this event is beyond me, but what I do know is that she put her heart and soul into it and it showed.

A BIG thanks to her for this great event.

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Anyone follow Six Sister's Stuff?  The immensely popular food blog out of Utah?  We were lucky to have Camille speak to us on Friday {the oldest sister of the six}.  Her along with Kyle Ivins of The Blogger Network {which I just joined} spoke of how their partnership started and where they are taking it.

If you don't know there is a LOT of behind-the-scenes junk homework that goes on to making your blog look pretty.  It's not as easy as making a recipe, writing it down and taking a few photos.  There are ads, html codes, layout design and so much more.

And guess what?  Most of us just figure it out as we go along.  I have a media and journalism degree, so I have some background in it, but it is forever changing, so I'm thrilled that they will now be helping me.

Praise the Lord.

Oh and did I mention they took free head shots of us?  I hope mine turned out.  I need a new one baaaaaaadly.  Fingers crossed.

I'm already counting downs the days till next year, I will definitely be going back.  If you are a food blogger I strongly recommend Chopped.  It's small, quaint, but so full of great information.

Have any questions?  Just leave a comment!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Oven-Baked Barbecue Ribs

These mouth watering ribs are so easy.  The oven does all the work!

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I am a rib virgin.

I've eaten my share but I have never, ever attempted to make my own.  They intimidated me to say the least.  I figured it was this long, painful process of watching, basting, smoking, blah, blah, blah.

Everyone knows I'm not a fan of complicated recipes.

Enter in a couple weeks back when on a random Tuesday the husband announced he wanted ribs on Saturday.

In my head I thought, "Okay, that gives me Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to try and talk him out of this deal."

Well, there wasn't any talking out of this deal.  He was SET ON HAVING RIBS.  Kinda like a kid who is set on opening his gifts the minute his eyes open on Christmas morning.  There was no getting around it.

We don't have a smoker, I knew we were low on gas for our grill, so I needed to figure out a way to use the oven.  I love my slow cooker, but I didn't want to go that route.  After pleading with my Facebook family I got a ton of advice, suggestions and family recipes.  Thanks by the way!

I read them all {seriously, I did} and basically figured out the way I wanted to cook them in the oven on my own.

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I did my regular grocery shopping the day before and stopped by an Iowa-trusted-staple-meat counter, Fareway.  The helpful guy behind the counter graciously went to the back and brought out several pork rib racks to show off.  I picked two and prayed I was picking the right ones.

I decided on keeping the rub simple, using a favorite Stubb's barbecue rub and mixed two of my favorite barbecue sauces, Stubb's Spicy and Original version.  I wanted a bit of a kick, but not too much.  This combo turned out perfect.  A bit peppery, yet sweet.

Don't these ribs just look divine?

I was surprised at how easy they were to make, why did I wait so long?  The hardest part was probably stripping off the silver skin membrane off the back of the rib, but even that wasn't too difficult.

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I'm happy to say I had about three ribs for dinner that night, our oldest boy had two and the husband had about 24, or however many were left.

But whose counting?

Oven-Baked Barbecue Ribs

2 baby back pork rib racks

1.  Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.
2.  Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Place a wire rack on the bottom of the pan and spray with cooking spray.
3.  Flip the ribs over and remove the silver skin membrane {it looks like a thin piece of fat covering the back of the ribs}.  Gently pull on one end and after tugging a bit it should peel off in one long strip.
4.  Generously rub the ribs with seasoning on the front and back.  Place the ribs on the wire rack.
5.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 6-7 hours.
6.  Thirty minutes before eating, remove the ribs and foil covering.  Brush heavily with half Spicy and half Original barbecue sauce.
7.  Place the ribs back in the oven, uncovered and turn up the heat to 400 degrees.  Bake for another 30 minutes.
8.  Remove from the oven and cut ribs into pieces and serve warm.

Give these ribs a try!  We served them with oven roasted potatoes covered in melted cheese and bacon.

I know.

But if you are eating ribs you might as well go all out, right?

Make sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook this weekend as I'm traveling to Kansas City for ChoppedCon!

I'm sure you'll get a good show.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Cajun Jambalaya Pasta

Kick off your shoes, lean back and cozy on up with a bowl of my Cajun Jambalaya Pasta.
It's pure Southern comfort food.

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Hey, who likes a one pot meal for dinner?

Or lunch?

Heck, I'd eat this stuff cold for breakfast.

After I graduated college, we continued to live in our college town {gosh, I miss that place} for quite a few years.  They have this fabulous restaurant there in the historic downtown area, called Bourbon Street.

My former boss and I and sometimes the rest of our team would go there often.  I even remember one time parking ourselves there, with bottles of wine and our favorite dishes waiting patiently for Matthew McConaughey and Lance Armstrong to walk in the door.

Super long story.

They didn't show up, but we sure did eat and drink well that night.

The moral of the story is I would order a dish similar to this one each and every time.  It was spicy, creamy and filling.  I loved it.  They also had complimentary cornbread muffins sprinkled with black pepper and drizzled with honey.  Odd combo, but so good!

I would be so full when I left that place.

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Since I hadn't had that dish is yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeears, I figured it was about darn time to make something here at home to cure the craving.

I picked up some spicy smoked sausage from the store as inspiration and built the dish around it's flavor - chicken, peppers, cream, creole seasoning - yum, yum and yum!

The day I made this I made it while the girls were napping, figuring it'd take awhile and I'd save time by not rushing to make it at 5:00 p.m. while all chaos was ensuing in the house. But low and behold, it is all made in just one pot and it came together super quick!

So basically I made it at 2:00 p.m., was finished at 2:35 p.m. and reheated it for dinner at 5:30 p.m.

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This dish makes a good bit.  We had it for two dinners in a row and there wasn't anyone complaining. To reheat the next night I simply poured a 1/4 cup more cream over the pasta and stirred to bring the sauce back to life.  It works splendidly!

Give this one a shot and let me know how you like it, mmm-kay?

Cajun Jambalaya Pasta

1/2 lb. smoked spicy sausage, sliced
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 green pepper, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 c. chicken stock
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 1/2 c. dry tube like pasta {bucatini/penne}
1/2 c. green onions, thinly sliced
2 T. olive oil

1.  In a stock pot heat the olive oil.  Add chicken and generously sprinkle with Cajun seasoning. Allow to cook mid way through, then add the peppers and sausage.  Cook over high heat until chicken is cooked through and sausage and peppers start to brown.  Add in garlic, stirring to become fragrant.
2.  Pour in stock, cream and pasta, as well as more Cajun seasoning {1/2 teaspoon} to taste.  Stir together and bring mixture to a boil.  Then turn down to simmer and let cook for 15-20 minutes.
3.  When the pasta is cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed, taste and adjust seasonings accordingly.  Mixture should be thick and creamy.
4.  Serve warm and garnish with green onions.