Ally's Sweet & Savory Eats: August 2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Buffalo Chicken Baked Rotini

This simple, quick dinner is bursting with buffalo flavor!
Just five ingredients brings it all together.

buffalo chicken baked rotini (

I feel like every family goes through different seasons.  A few years back I had three kids under the age of 5 with multiple in diapers {bless}.  Last year I had one in school full-time and two girls pretty much tagging along with me for most of my day.

Fast forward to today and I have two in school full-time {praise the heavens} and just one here at home with me during the day.  Yesterday the husband pulled TWO TEETH from two different kids. Both older kids can shower ON THEIR OWN.  My oldest is getting involved in sports.  My youngest finally after much bribing on my part {tootsie rolls}, sat on the toilet for the first time {this is major}.

I feel like our family is coming into a new season where everyone, me included, is becoming a bit more independent and that my friends makes this mama happy.

Just two years ago I wouldn't have been able to serve anything "buffalo" to my family, yet last night they all ate it, with just one remark from my drama queen about how it had "a little spice".

Well, so do you sister.

buffalo chicken baked rotini (

I have a handful of five ingredient dinners.  Why?  Because even though I'm a food blogger I still need simple.  I crave simple.  Nothing is more satisfying than pulling a dinner together fast that tastes great and uses next to nothing.

My Chicken Pesto Meatballs are fantastic alone, in pasta or on a baked sub.  These Crock-Pot Maid-Rites are a bit world famous around the Midwest.  My Oven Sandwiches for the Freezer saved us many a nights during the summer when we had evening ball games.  And once Fall hits us you will bet I'll have my Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork Sandwiches on the menu again.

And when in doubt and you are pinched on time, serve eggs.

Always, serve eggs {scrambled, over easy, whatever}, it saves me at least once a week.

buffalo chicken baked rotini (

Buffalo Chicken Baked Rotini

8 oz. rotini pasta
15 oz. jar garlic alfredo sauce
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
20 or so shakes of hot sauce
2 c. cooked rotisserie or baked chicken, cubed
mozzarella cheese to top {optional}

1.  In a stock pot bring water to a boil.  Add a nice pinch of salt to the water.
2.  Cook the pasta to al dente, around 6-7 minutes.  Remove from the water, drain and set aside.
3.  In a large bowl combine the melted butter and hot sauce.  It should be a deep orange color.  Then add in the diced chicken, cooked pasta, alfredo sauce, salt and pepper.  Toss to combine.
4.  Pour mixture into an 8x8 baking dish and cover with foil.
5.  Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes covered.  Remove the foil, add additional cheese if desired, then bake another 10 minutes.
6.  Serve warm.

My brown casserole dish you see above?  I have two and love them!  One is 8x8 and one is 9x13, so for obvious reasons I used them both equally.  And guess what...they come in an array of colors. Rachel Ray kinda knew what she was doing when designing dishes.

My two set of Rachael Ray Bubble & Brown Stoneware is under $30.  I completely recommend them.  Next up?  I'd love her Lasagna Lover Pan, because you know, I love lasagna.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Classic Summer Bruschetta

Nothing beats a fresh bruschetta made with ingredients from your garden.
Try this four ingredient show stopper soon!

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I spent all of yesterday with close to 30 Iowa bloggers {food, lifestyle, DIY and more} at my friend Michelle's house.  We brainstormed, listened to speakers, received tips from one another and ate some glorious food.

I literally took 10 pages of notes.  How to bring in more blog traffic, how to improve my photography, ways to kill it on social media and so much more.  It's no joke I have a lot of work to do.  This blog of mine is almost 7 years old and each and every day it is still a work in progress.

I kid you not, I have a list about a mile long of items, mostly behind the scenes stuff, that needs to be fixed.  And now, with the older two in school full time {do you hear the angels singing?} I will have more time.  

So until then, thank you for reading and sharing my blog with your friends and family.  It is much, much appreciated.  Bless you guys.

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So about this bruschetta.  I brought it to our gathering yesterday and it was gobbled up! Everyone knows my love of a garden tomato in my favorite B.L.T. sandwich, but honestly right behind using my garden tomatoes for that glorious sandwich is using them in this bruschetta.

Tomatoes, fresh garlic, garden grown basil, a dash of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper. That's it! Let that mixture soak up all it's goodness, overnight if possible and you'll eat the most delicious appetizer of your life.

My favorite way to eat this is with a nice crusty hunk of bread, but feel free to eat with crackers as well.  I also love, love, love it on grilled chicken.  Better yet, bake the chicken in the oven, top with the bruschetta and some mozzarella cheese the last five minutes of baking....and, whoa.

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Classic Summer Bruschetta

6 medium-sized tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 large basil leaves, chopped
1 t. balsamic vinegar
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper

1.  Wash the tomatoes and cut out the core.  If the tomatoes are extra juicy, squeeze a bit of the juice and seeds out.  Then slice and dice into small bit size pieces.
2.  In a bowl combine the chopped tomatoes, minced garlic, basil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.
3.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, better yet overnight.
4.  Serve with toasted garlic baguette slices.

How are you still using up your garden tomatoes?

I'd love to hear some new ideas!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Chinese Chicken Lettuce Cups

This post is sponsored by Veetee, but all opinions are my own.

chinese chicken lettuce cups (

I pretty much died and went to heaven when I first tasted this dish.

Died and went to heaven.

Then came back.

Every single person in my family {two year old included} loved these Chinese Chicken Lettuce Cups.  Can I talk about the flavor for a moment?  It's like the best Chinese dish you've ever had rolled up into a healthy lettuce wrap.

So basically it felt like I was indulging a LOT, but really I wasn't that much.  They are sweet, salty, tangy, yet suitable enough for any palate.  I may have belly rolled over in laughter watching my 5 year old daughter trying to eat one...but she asked for a second so, consider them sold.

chinese chicken lettuce cups (

This year I have been brought on as a Veetee Brand Ambassador and these Chinese Chicken Lettuce Cups are my first creation using their easy-peasy ready to eat rice {stay tuned for two more great recipes!}.

There are a few things I loved about this dish.

1.  It's quick.

2.  It's super flavorful.

3.  It's fun.

Did I mention it's quick?  Start to finish I had these done in less than 15 minutes.  The ground chicken cooks up super quick with the veggies, you pour on the marinade, heat up the rice and add it all to a nice crisp leaf of lettuce.

Roll it up and eat.

chinese chicken lettuce cups (

Of course any rice can be used, but the Veetee rice option is time friendly {cooks in 2 minutes} with great quality.  Coming in a variety of flavors; long grain white rice, red beans and rice, brown rice, chicken, quinoa and rice, Spanish style and so many more, I'm super excited to have a few of these options now in my cupboard.

You can find your favorite variety at Walmart or Amazon or see a full listing HERE.

Besides loving the flavor and easiness of this dish, I also loved that the leftovers heated up awesome. We had leftover meat, rice, sauce and lettuce, so this easily became lunch for me the following day. It reheated like a champ and tasted just like dinner the night prior.

chinese chicken lettuce cups (

Chinese Chicken Lettuce Cups

l lb. ground chicken
3 T. soy sauce
3 T. hoison sauce
1 T. olive oil
1 T. rice wine vinegar
1 T. peanut butter
1 T. honey
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. dried ginger
1/2 t. minced onion
1 sweet red or orange pepper, finely diced
3-4 baby carrots, finely diced
10-15 pieces large leaf lettuce

1.  Preheat a medium sized skillet over high heat and coat with cooking spray.
2.  Cook the carrots and pepper for a few minutes just until softened.
3.  Add in the ground chicken, stirring frequently to cook until no longer pink.
4.  Meanwhile in a separate bowl combine the marinade: soy sauce, hoison sauce, oil, vinegar, peanut butter, honey and spices.
5.  Once the chicken is cooked pour 3/4 of the marinade into the cooked meat and stir to combine. Turn the heat off, cover with a lid and keep warm.
6.  Cook the Veetee rice in the microwave for 2 minutes, poking holes in the lid to vent.
7.  To assemble lay down a piece of lettuce, two spoonfuls of rice and two spoonfuls of the chicken mixture and extra sauce if desired.  Roll up tightly and eat!  

chinese chicken lettuce cups (

A big thanks to Veetee for sponsoring this post.
Stay tuned for next month's fun recipe!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

50+ Pumpkin Dessert Recipes

For the love of all things pumpkin!
There are so many variations of this delectable dessert.
Find your favorite in my ultimate pumpkin dessert list!

50+ pumpkin dessert recipes (

I know it's only August {mid to late August to be fair...} and I'm already all over the pumpkin bandwagon.  Turn away if you want but I'm finding myself already craving tailgating parties, hoodies, colorful leaves, crock pot Sunday dinners and everything PUMPKIN.

It is truly my favorite time of the year.  Here in the Midwest Fall is the absolute best. Generally the horrible humidity leaves us and a cool breeze enters in often letting all us moms finally break out the leggings and long sleeved shirts we've been wanting to wear since last Spring.

Personally I also long for super long Saturdays filled with football watching and game eats...generally followed with a delicious, over-the-top dessert.  Even better?  A pumpkin flavored dessert.  I'll take it in pie form, bar form, cookie form, pudding form or cake form.  I don't care.  Just give me that creamy, fall spiced pumpkin flavored bombshell.  Please.

I've gathered over 50 of my favorite pumpkin recipes, so I'm hoping this list with inspire you for Fall. Find a favorite {or two or three} and test them out!  And guess what?  I've included a handful of my personal recipes that have been hits on the blog the past few years.  My favorite?  Iowa Pumpkin Sheet Cake.  Phenomenal.

Let's get started!

50+ pumpkin dessert recipes (

50+ pumpkin dessert recipes (

50+ pumpkin dessert recipes (

50+ pumpkin dessert recipes (

50+ pumpkin dessert recipes (

50+ pumpkin dessert recipes (

50+ pumpkin dessert recipes (

50+ pumpkin dessert recipes (

50+ pumpkin dessert recipes (

50+ pumpkin dessert recipes (

Whew!  How about that pumpkin recipe round-up!  I'm drooling just writing this blog post and uploading all of these photos.

I cannot wait for chili in the crock pot, a chill in the air, the first big football game and pumpkin "something" on the table for dessert.

Who is with me?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Zucchini Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

These Zucchini Cupcakes are mouthwatering delicious.
Do not skimp on the frosting!

zucchini cupcakes with caramel frosting (

I'm back with an actual recipe, can you believe it?

I spent all of last week in the beautiful Okoboji, Iowa basking in the summer sunshine and not paying a lick of attention to my phone or computer.  I almost completely took myself off of the grid and just simply enjoyed time with my family.

This vacation comes every August and each year it seems to get better.  When Saturday rolled around and it was time to leave I was heartbroken.  None of us wanted to leave, we love it there!  We live in our swimsuits, drink margaritas at noon, make meals together, let the kids eat junk, stay up way too late and just enjoy our time together.

We traveled back {on my birthday, nonetheless} and when we arrived home later that day, our kitchen was pretty bare and our energy was nonexistent so we ordered pizza and crashed.

Then finally, about two days later I got back in the kitchen.

And these cupcakes were made.

zucchini cupcakes with caramel frosting (

I had the same problem half of America had last week as well....two rather large, lonely zucchini's took up half of my counter top.  And they weren't moving.

I sliced and sauteed one with garlic and parmesan cheese to go along with the husband's lunches and that last remaining one got shredded.  Initially for traditional zucchini bread, but after much thought I thought I'd go all out and make something a bit different.


Traditionally I've never been a big cupcake maker {cakes are so much less time consuming}, but I had liners available and just went for it.  Plus caramel is one of my favorite flavors, so well, the decision was made.

zucchini cupcakes with caramel frosting (

You know it's a funny thing.  We came home from vacation with barely a slice of bread in our house to me making these cupcakes and trying to give over half of them away.

This batch makes two dozen cupcakes so be prepared for many sweet treats sitting on your counter {or cut the batch in half}.  I ended up walking six over to our neighbors, then set another six on my friend's doorstep.

If you have zucchini coming out of your ears shred some up and make these cupcakes!  The zucchini keeps the cake super moist and the frosting is deep, rich and super flavorful.  I have extra tucked away in the fridge and I just might go grab a graham cracker and hide in the bathroom.

Zucchini Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

3 eggs
1 1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. canola oil
juice of one lime
1 t. almond extract
2 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. nutmeg
2 c. shredded, drained zucchini

1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. milk
1 t. vanilla extract
2 c. powdered sugar

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place paper liners into a 24-cup muffin tin.
2.  Combine the eggs, sugar, oil, lime juice and almond extract until smooth.
3.  Gradually add in the dry ingredients and beat well to combine.  Fold in zucchini.
4.  Fill liners two-thirds full {I used a cookie scoop so they are all even}.  Bake for 22 minutes or until a soft golden and the tops spring back.  Allow to cool before removing to a wire rack.
5.  For the frosting, combine the brown sugar, milk and butter in a saucepan.  Bring this to a boil over medium heat, constantly stirring until it has thickened a bit.  Remove from the heat and add in vanilla.  Allow this mixture to cool a bit.
6.  Sift in the powdered sugar until the frosting meets a spreading consistency.  Frost the cooled cupcakes.

*Based loosely on this recipe.

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Love a great cupcake?  This Vanilla Almond Cupcake is another one of our favorites.  And guess what?  It makes a super small batch, just six!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Iowa Pork Tour 2016

Last month I attended the Iowa Pork Tour on behalf of the 
What an experience, read on for a full recap!

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I'm an Iowa girl at heart, most of you now that, but I did not grow up on a farm.  Can you believe it? Yes, many, many of us Iowans grow up in towns and have nothing to do with farming.  My dad was a middle school principal and my mom was a speech pathologist. About as far away from farming as you can get.

When the Iowa Pork Producers Association invited me to attend their Iowa Pork Tour I happily accepted.  This 3-day event would give me the chance to see the farming industry from start to finish, not to mention the chance to hang with some other amazing bloggers.

This post will be overflowing pork {just throwing that out there!}.  If you are a lover of cute pigs, all things bacon, with a dash of good wine and great scenery, then you'll love what I have to show you.

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Can we talk food?  After all this is a food blog.  I had some of the BEST food of my life on this tour. Hands down some of the best.

Our first night in town we sat down to a private chef's dinner at the Pullman Bar & Diner. Pullman values three things: service, community and quality and boy oh boy was it evident. They take pride in proud Iowan's who have a deep passion for their historic area and their food.  

Our four course dinner featured, what else?  Pork!  From a fresh cucumber, tomato and crispy proscuitto salad to an antipasto plate to the BEST pulled pork over creamed kale and grits, it was heavenly delicious.

And guess what?  This fabulous restaurant is only 30 minutes from my home.  I will definitely be back.

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On day two of our Iowa Pork Tour we headed to the farm!  The family we visited were beyond gracious to have us on their farm.  These people are BUSY, but you would have never have noticed. They want people to visit.  They want people to see the strict standards they follow.  They want to show you how your food lands on your plate.

The farm we visited receives pigs after they have been weaned {no longer drinking their mom's milk and about 3-4 weeks old}.  This farm then keeps these pigs until they head to market at around 6 months of age.  The baby pigs are born around 2-3 lbs and will eventually weigh in at around 280 lbs. Once the smaller pigs leave the nursery, they then move on to the finisher building where they are kept until market.

I was super, super impressed with the farm's security measures.  To say these farmers are invested in their hog's health is an understatement.  Showering in and out of each building and wearing protective gear is their first priority right after the pig's health.  These farmers are doing everything they can to prevent using antibiotics on their hogs.

It became evident that proper air ventilation is key to healthy hogs.  Alarms sound when the temperatures inside the pens get too hot or too cold, proper room is given to the pens {we visited hogs who would be moving to a larger pen the next day as they were getting too big for that area and they STILL had plenty of room to move around, have their space, eat, drink, etc.} and curtains move up and own to allow for fresh air in the warmer months to circulate as well as keeping the cold air out during the winter.

When the pigs are ready for market the farmer has the option to sell to smaller niche markets {restaurants, butcher shops, etc.} or sell to larger packing plants like Tyson. Regardless of where they sell all truckers, processors and butchers have to be certified in order to even get out of their truck to go to work that day.  Not only do the workers need to be clear, the hogs do as well.  No evidence of antibiotics can be in their system before butchering.  None.  

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Later that night {after showering and cleaning up} we headed to Fireside Winery, one of the mainstay wineries in Eastern Iowa.  Another fantastic spread was put on for us from the moment we stepped foot in the door.

The husband and wife owners LOVE what they do, it shows in the way they handle their customers and make them feel like one of their own.  We were able to see all the behind-the-scenes action, from their vineyards to their food storage room {think thousands of pounds of fresh berries} to their state of the art bottling machine from Italy. 

Mosley's Barbecue catered dinner that night so between their mouthwatering pulled pork, sausages, cornbread, potato salad and baked beans, plus my favorite wine at Fireside, Glo, I was most definitely in a food coma by the time we left.

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The next day it was time to move on to the Amana Colonies.  The Amana Colonies are a group of seven German villages located just west of present day Iowa City.  These German settlers came to Iowa after first settling in New York.  They came here to live out their beliefs of having a more isolated lifestyle and living a communal life.

For eighty years they did live an almost completely self-sufficient economic lifestyle {until the mid-1930's}, importing very little from the U.S. economy.  People worked jobs daily, yet did not get paid. Their work gave back to their community.  By doing this their community took care of them in the form of food, shelter, other provisions and their health.

Today the Amana Colonies are a major tourist attraction.  The area is filled with restaurants, craft shops, breweries and more, with many of the original buildings still in tact.  

I highly recommend their Cinnamon Swirl Bread at the local bakery {was fabulous in French toast}, their cream soda from Millstream Brewery {my kid's loved it} and the Rhubarb Streusel Pie from the Ox Yoke Inn {again, to die for...I may have personally asked for fresh whipped was granted}.

From the very beginning this trip was enlightening.  For a girl who did not grow up on a farm, nor is involved in any other food industry, it was a delight to see the work that goes into the food that we eat.  A big thank you from the bottom of my heart to the Iowa Pork Producer Association for sending me on this #IATourDePork!