Living the Country Life

Lisa's Kitchen Blog

Thank you for visiting my blog! I'm glad you're here. I am a part-time Living the Country Life and Successful Farming web editor, and a full-time stay-at-home mom to my three young sons, Jake, Luke, and Will. My husband, the boys, and I live on 40 acres in south-central Iowa. We have a handful of cattle, an old farmhouse, a dog, a turtle, a goldfish, and a garden. It's a great life! I really enjoy cooking for my family and friends, and am thrilled to get to share some of my favorite recipes and meals with you.

Come visit my blog anytime you’re looking for ideas on what to fix for your family. The coffee’s always on!

~ Lisa Foust Prater

Follow Lisa's Kitchen on Twitter!

July 7, 2012

Peanut butter gralala bars

With three boys, our schedules can get pretty busy, especially during baseball season. We just finished another year of baseball, and one of the biggest challenges for me was feeding my family. We had several games an hour away from our house, starting at 5:15. That meant no time for dinner until afterward. These granola bars (or "gralala bars" as we call them in my house, since that's how my oldest used to say "granola") were a good solution. The boys could have a couple of bars and a drink on the way to the game, and they had the energy to play and make it through until we got home for a late dinner. 

My friend Marcy brought these bars to a Cub Scout potluck dinner, and nearly everyone asked her for the recipe! They taste better than any store-bought granola bar, and best of all, you know exactly what's in them. They may not be considered a "health food" per se, but at least they aren't over-processed. Plus, you can add whatever your kids like. Skip the chocolate candies and add raisins. Or add walnuts or almonds. The sky's the limit!

Peanut butter gralala bars

5 cups oats (I use old-fashioned)
1 cup puffed wheat or puffed rice (I use puffed red wheat)
1-1/2 cups peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup candy-coated chocolate pieces
2/3 cup nuts, chopped
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla

Here comes the best part of this recipe ... just dump all of the ingredients into your standing mixer, turn it on, and let it go until everything's mixed together. If you don't have a standing mixer, just toss everything into a big bowl and mix with a hand mixer until combined well.

Grease a 9x13" pan well. Dump the mixture into the pan and press it into the pan. I spread it around, then set a piece of waxed paper on top. Then I use the flat bottom of a measuring cup or something similar and really push hard to smash it down and compact the bars.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20-25 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and score into bars. Let set until completely cool, then cut clear through into bars. The pan I use to bake these has a lid, so once they're cooled and everyone has had a bar, I just pop the lid on and store the pan on the counter.

Note: If this is too much for your family, cut the recipe in half and bake in an 8x8" pan for 18-20 minutes. 

July 7, 2012

Peachy keen bars

My husband and oldest son LOVE peaches. Peach pie, peach cobbler, peach shortcake, or just a big juicy peach in their hands. So when my friend Beth shared this recipe for peach bars, I knew I had to try them! They were delicious AND pretty, and my peach-lovers each gave them two thumbs up!

The recipe calls for canned peaches, which means you can make these tasty treats even when peaches are out of season. If you do have fresh peaches available, they would be even better! I would recommend slicing them, sprinkling with a little sugar, and letting them sit until juicy before using in the bars.

Peachy keen bars

1 package dry white, yellow, or vanilla cake mix
1/3 cup butter or margarine suitable for baking, at room temperature
2 large eggs
29-oz. can peach slices, drained and cut into bite-sized pieces (I always get the "no sugar added" variety.)
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13" pan.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, butter, and one egg. Mix with a fork until the mixture forms crumbs. Reserve 1-1/2 cups of the crumbs.

Press the rest of the crumbs onto the bottom of the treated pan, and bake for 10 minutes. Spoon drained peaches onto the crust.

In a large bowl (or better yet, your stand mixer!), combine cream cheese, sugar, the other egg, and vanilla. Beat until smooth and creamy. Spread this mixture over the top of the peaches.

Sprinkle the reserved crumbs evenly over the top of the cream cheese layer. Bake 30 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden and the cream cheese layer is set. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers ... on the off chance you have any leftovers!

July 7, 2012

Super easy French bread

I always think about making my own bread, but as much as my 3 boys go through, I'm afraid my days would just be consumed with baking, and nothing else. Plus, with the time and energy involved, I'm not sure it would save any money. Still, there's nothing quite like a hot slice of bread straight from the oven, smeared with a little butter. So I buy our everyday bread, and make my own on special occasions or for meals that demand it, like spaghetti.

I saw a recipe on Pinterest for French bread that supposedly costs only 25 cents a loaf to make. I didn't figure out the costs for myself, but I can tell you it was easy enough even for a bread novice like me, and my family gobbled up both loaves in a hurry!  Speaking of Pinterest, are you following Living the Country Life? We have several boards to follow, including one for recipes. Click here to join us on Pinterest!

Easy French bread

This recipe makes two large or three small loaves.

2-1/2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp. yeast
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. salt
1/3 cup oil
6-7 cups flour (or more if needed)
1 egg, beaten

In a large bowl, combine the first four ingredients, and let sit for about five minutes, or until bubbly. Then add the salt and oil and stir. Add the flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is still soft, but firm. If it is still too sticky after 7 cups of flour, add more.

On a floured surface, knead the dough for five minutes, then return it to the bowl and place it in a cold oven with a pan of boiling water. This will keep the dough moist and help it rise. Check the dough every so often, and when it rises to the top of the bowl, punch it down. Do this two to five times, as time allows. I punched down the risen dough three times.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and difice into 2 or 3 equal portions, depending on how many loaves you want to make. Sprinkle corn meal on a greased cookie sheet. Form each dough section into a loaf and place on the cookie sheet. Slice diagonal slits into the top of each loaf, and brush with the let rise on the counter for about 30 minutes, until doubled. Brush each loaf with the beaten egg. If you prefer, you can brush with egg first and place the loaves in a 170-degree F. oven until they double in size.

Bake at 375 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Then do your best to fight off your family as they dive-bomb your delicious hot bread!

July 7, 2012

Breakfast kebabs

Everybody loves food on a stick, even for breakfast! These breakfast kebabs are a fun way to jazz up a simple morning meal.

I just skewered fresh fruit and muffin pops I made from a mix in my favorite invention ever: the cake pop maker! And a little cinnamon sprinkled on some yogurt made the perfect sauce for dipping.

This is a breakfast you can feel good about giving your kids (or letting them make themselves!) And since it's on a stick, it's special!

June 18, 2012

Slow cooker orange-ginger chicken

One of my favorite things to get at a chinese restaurant (when I can tear myself away from the kung pao scallops) is orange chicken. I love how the tangy sweetness of the orange sauce combines with the savory chicken and rice. Of course, the chicken is breaded and deep fried, and the rice is also fried. Or at the very least, white. Some Chinese restaurants are offering brown rice now, which I always appreciate. I actually prefer the taste, and it's much healthier.

I wanted to use my slow cooker to make orange chicken, but didn't want to spend the time or the fat grams frying the chicken pieces first. That makes this version much healthier than the usual restaurant fare, but I liked it just as much. The ginger adds a nice subtle flavor. 

My husband was sure he was NOT going to like this dish, but when he walked into the house after work, he had to admit it smelled amazing. He gobbled it right down, and even said, "Of all the chicken and rice dishes you have made, this one is the most flavorful." The only adjustment I made is that my youngest, Will, hates lettuce with a passion. I just scooped some rice and meat mixture into a bowl for him, and he was good to go! You could stir-fry some frozen Chinese veggies to go with this dish while the rice is cooking if you like. It would also make a nice appetizer for a party, since the Romaine leaves make it semi-portable. Enjoy!

Slow cooker orange-ginger chicken

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (you can use breasts if you prefer)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
4 tsp. soy sauce
4 tsp. ginger, freshly grated or from a jar
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 orange (zest and fruit)
3 scallions, sliced
Romaine lettuce

Place whole chicken thighs into a greased 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, vinegar, juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, and the zest of one orange. Whisk to combine and pour over meat in slow cooker, turning to coat. Cover and cook until the chicken is completely cooked through and tender, 3 to 4 hours on high or 6 to 7 hours on low.

In a separate pan, make rice on the stovetop. Instead of using water, use juice from the slow cooker.

While the rice is cooking, remove chicken pieces to a cutting board and shred into bite-sized pieces. Return to slow cooker. Cut orange segments into bite-sized pieces and fold into the mixture, along with scallions.

To serve, scoop rice onto the end of a piece of Romaine lettuce. Top with meat mixture and drizzle with sauce.

June 13, 2012

No-bake millionaire pie

I have seen several different recipes for millionaire pie floating around, and I had never heard of it before. I wondered why it was called millionaire pie ... that's interesting. It looked delicious though, so I made my own version of it last night, using the fruits we like best. One bite of this delicious, creamy pie and I had my answer: They call it millionaire pie because it's so rich! AHA! This pie was seriously good, and since it's no-bake, it will definitely be moving into regular rotation at my house this summer. Here's how I made it:

Millionaire pie

1 store-bought graham cracker crust (shortbread crust would be good, too!)
8 oz. frozen whipped topping, thawed
Half of a 14-oz. can of sweetened condensed milk (try to avoid eating the other half with a spoon)
10 oz. jar maraschino cherries, drained and cut in half
11 oz. jar mandarin orange segments, drained
Half of a 20-oz can of crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 cup nuts (I used a combination of chopped almonds and walnuts)
1/2 cup coconut flakes

In a medium bowl, mix whipped topping and condensed milk together thoroughly. Fold in fruit, nuts, and coconut. Pour into pie crust. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or over night, until set. Enjoy!

June 13, 2012

Summertime sangria

Jerry Jeff Walker has a song called "Sangria wine" and I couldn't get it out of my head while I was making this! Sangria is such a fun drink to make, and it just tastes like summer. You can use any fresh fruit you have on hand, and the best thing is, there's no need for expensive wine. You can seriously turn a $3 bottle of wine into a delicious drink! Here's how I made this batch of sangria.

Summertime sangria

750 ml bottle of inexpensive wine (I used a sweet red table wine)
1/2 cup sugar
1 orange, sliced
1/2 lemon, sliced
2 key limes, sliced
3 cups club soda (try lime flavored!)

Pour wine into a pitcher. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add sliced fruit and stir again. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight to let the flavors mingle. Try to keep yourself from sneaking drinks. Warn the kids it's a grown-up drink.

Immediately before serving, add club soda and give it a stir. Pour into glasses and garnish with fruit slices. If you are just having a glass at a time rather than serving the pitcher to friends, skip adding the whole amount of club soda. Just pour the wine and fruit mixture into your glass and top with a little soda.

You can make a delicious non-alcoholic sangria by just using grape juice in place of the wine. Then everyone can enjoy the taste of summer!

Cheers to you, friends!

June 13, 2012

Slow cooker Parmesan chicken with pretzel crust

I've been using my slow cookers (yes, plural) like crazy this summer, and I love it! Last night, I took a classic Italian dish and made it in the slow cooker. I decided on Parmesan chicken, but didn't have any bread crumbs on hand. I love using Panko, which are crispy crumbs you can find in the Asian food section. We were also running low on bread, so rather than use all we had left to make crumbs, I made do with what I had and used pretzels! You could "crumb" them in the food processor, but I have three small boys, so I just put the pretzels in a plastic bag and turned the kids loose with a rolling pin. Instant crumbs. Cracker crumbs would also work. Just use whatever you have in your pantry!

The grown-ups and thekids loved this dish. The kids weren't so sure about chicken in spaghetti sauce at first, but they were soon asking for seconds. The only thing I may try differently next time is to brown the crumb-covered chicken in a little olive oil before putting it into the slow cooker. This may help crisp it up a bit. The crust was very good, though, and I actually really liked it with pretzels. The best thing about it, though, is that it cooked away all day while I drove the boys to swimming lessons and to my parents' house in town for a little visit. There's nothing like coming home and walking into an amazing-smelling kitchen with dinner ready!

Slow cooker Parmesan chicken with pretzel crust

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (you can use breasts if you prefer)
1 egg
1 1/2 cups pretzel crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 cups shredded Parmesan or Mozzarella cheese (or use an Italian or pizza blend)
4 cups marinara sauce (canned is fine!)

Pour olive oil into your slow cooker crock. Spread around to grease well. In a medium-sized bowl, combine crumbs, grated Parmesan, herbs and spices. In a small bowl, beat egg.

Dip each piece of chicken into the beaten egg, then dip into the crumb mixture to coat all sides well. Arrange on the bottom of the slow cooker crock. Spread any remaining crumb mixture over the top of the chicken pieces. Sprinkle 1 cup of the shredded cheese on top. Reserve the other cup of cheese.

Pour marinara sauce over the top. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, or until chicken is completely cooked through. Turn slow cooker to warm setting. Sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese on top, replace lid, and let warm until cheese melts. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Serve chicken and sauce over pasta.

June 8, 2012

Slow cooker chicken fajitas

Slow cookers are great in the winter, but they often get shoved to the back of the cupboard in the summer. I live in an old farmhouse with no central air, and even with a couple of window unit air conditioners, it gets pretty hot in my house. Hot enough that I avoid turning on the oven at all costs. Once again, my many slow cookers come to the rescue! They let me prepare a nice meal for my family without heating up the house, and I can start dinner, take the kids to the pool, and when we all get home, dinner's ready!

I made these chicken fajitas yesterday, and was a little worried about my youngest not wanting to eat them, because he thinks he doesn't like peppers and onions. He also thinks he doesn't like tacos or fajitas, but he loves burritos. So ... whenever we have tacos -- or in this case fajitas -- I just roll his up like a burrito, hand it to him, and we're good to go. Everybody loved these, and the only thing I would change is that next time I'll make more! Everyone wanted seconds! I was a little afraid the chicken would fall apart and we'd have shredded chicken instead, but the strips held together beautifully.

Slow cooker chicken fajitas

2-3 cups sweet and/or hot peppers, cut into strips
1/2 onion, cut into strips
1 lb. raw chicken, cut into strips (I used boneless skinless thighs)
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. garlic powder (or you could use fresh minced or garlic from a jar)
2 Tbsp. lime or lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Spray slow cooker with non-stick spray. Add chicken and vegetables. Top with spices. Toss to combine everything, and sprinkle lime or lemon juice on top. Cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, or  until chicken is done.

Serve on tortillas (here's a link to my recipe for delicious homemade tortillas) with sour cream, salsa, guacamole, and whatever else you like! By the time this dish is finished cooking, there will be a lot of juice in the crock pot. I used that juice instead of water to make some instant rice, and it gave it a great flavor. If you're looking to save calories, skip the tortillas and serve the meat and veggies in lettuce wraps. Enjoy!

This recipe would also be great for the freezer. Just put all the ingredients into a freezer bag instead of the slow cooker, and freeze! Then all you have to do is just thaw the bag in the fridge, toss in the slow cooker, and go!

May 23, 2012

Slow-cooked gyros with light tzatziki


I love Greek food, especially gyros. There's something so yummy about the perfectly spiced meat combined with cool, refreshing tzatziki sauce. I had never made these at home before, but with the slow cooker, they are easy and delicious! I used beef, but you could use lamb or chicken, or any meat you like.

Slow-cooked gyros

3 large steaks, about 2 1/2 pounds (I used boneless arm steak)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Slice your steak into thin strips, or have your butcher slice it for you. I threw my steaks in the freezer for a few hours and sliced them with my trusty chef's knife. This makes cutting meat so much easier!

Line your slow cooker with foil or a liner. Arrange beef strips on the bottom. Mix the other ingredients together and pour over the beef. Toss gently.

Cover and cook on low 6 to 7 hours, until the meat is thoroughly cooked and tender. Serve on pita bread with lettuce, cucumber slices, onions, and tzatziki sauce.

Light tzatziki sauce

8 oz. fat-free plain Greek yogurt (or use regular plain yogurt, strained to remove liquid)
1 small cucumber, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh or dried dill, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh or dried chives, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate a few hours before serving.