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

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January 31, 2012

Cereal chicken

When my husband was growing up, his mom made “Wheaties chicken” just about every Wednesday, and when Jayson and I started dating, this was one of the first meals he made for me. (The first was his famous lasagne!) I don’t make this dish nearly as often as his mom did, but I should make it more often, because it’s super easy and really delicious. And best of all, the kids love it!

You can use any cut of chicken, and either leave the skin on or remove it. I thawed out a big bag of frozen hindquarters we got on sale, and made six of them. This was just enough for the five of us, plus enough for my middle son, Luke, who is a chicken aficionado, to take a couple of legs in his lunch the next day.

There isn’t a specific recipe, per se, but I’ll tell you how I made my mother-in-law’s chicken. First, I put about a cup of Miracle Whip (you could use mayo, of course, and I actually used light Miracle Whip) in a dish. Add enough milk (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup) to thin it out to be about the consistency of buttermilk. In fact, you could probably just use buttermilk if you had some sitting around. If you want, you can add a little barbecue sauce to the wet mixture, or a packet of powdered ranch dressing mix.

In another dish, I crushed a bunch of cereal flakes. This is a great job for the kids! You want the flakes to be broken up but not completely crushed. You can use wheat flakes, corn flakes, or bran flakes, which is what I used this time.

Simply coat the chicken pieces in the wet mixture, then dip in the crushed cereal flakes until completely coated. Put pieces on a foil-covered cookie sheet treated with non-stick spray. Glop any leftover cereal flakes with a little of the wet mixture and pile it on top of the chicken. This is the best part!

I baked the hindquarters at 350 degrees F. for about 45 minutes. The time may change a bit depending on your cut of chicken, and how much you are preparing. Just make sure the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165 degrees F. That was easy!

The mayonnaise/Miracle Whip base gives this chicken a nice tang, and it’s crunchy and delicious without being fried. We like ours served with a little stuffing (I actually prefer the stovetop variety) and cheesy cauliflower from the freezer section. This dinner is good enough for Sunday, but fast enough for a school night!


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January 26, 2012

Double-duty Italian meatloaf & meatballs

It’s a busy time of year … my two youngest sons have wrestling practice two nights a week plus meets on the weekends, plus we have homework and Cub Scouts, so there isn’t a lot of time for four-course sit-down meals. My slow cookers are getting a workout these days. They keep food warm so it’s ready whenever my hungry wrestlers get home from practice, and they’re such a time-saver.

Another great time-saving tip is to make double batches of food or find double-duty uses for the same recipe. Lasagne, for example, is so easy to double up. I always make two pans; one to bake, and one to freeze. Meatloaf is also great for doubling. Whenever I make my mini meatloaves, I make a double (or triple) recipe, since they freeze so well.

I’ve been craving meatloaf lately, but I’m also trying to eat healthier, so I came up with a new recipe that doesn’t include cheese or bacon, which are delicious, but fattening. I used super-lean ground beef from the beef we split with our neighbor, but you could use ground turkey if you prefer. I made a 4-pound batch, then turned half into a meatloaf and half into meatballs. Two meals in one … POW!

4 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried rosemary (I run a knife through it so the leaves are smaller)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups oats
1 cup spaghetti sauce, plus extra to top meatloaf

Combine ground beef, onion, bell pepper, garlic, spices, eggs, oats, and sauce in a large bowl. Mix well with your hands or a potato masher.

Divide the mixture in half. Line a 5-qt. slow cooker with foil. Form half the mixture into a loaf and place in slow cooker. (The foil will make it easy to lift the meatloaf out and makes clean-up a snap.) Cook on high 3-4 hours or low 6-8 hours, until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. Top with additional pasta sauce an hour before meatloaf is finished if desired. Let sit 30 minutes before cutting. (If you skip this step, the meatloaf could fall apart.)

Meanwhile, use a 1/4-cup scoop to make meatballs with the other half of the meat mixture. Freeze for later use by putting raw meatballs on a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet and placing in freezer. Once meatballs are frozen, store in a freezer bag. Or go ahead and make the meatballs and stick them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. Brown meatballs on all sides in a large skillet sprayed with non-stick spray. Place meatballs in a foil-lined crock pot to finish cooking, about 3 hours on high, or until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. Serve meatballs with spaghetti and sauce, put them into a hoagie roll and top with sauce, or serve as sliders on mini bagels or small rolls.

This recipe makes both a 2-pound meatloaf and 16 golf-ball-sized meatballs. It was enough for dinner and leftovers for my family of five … twice. That’s a win-win-win-win for me!

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January 4, 2012

Chili-corn bread salad

This year, we went to my brother- and sister-in-law’s house in Kansas City for Christmas. Rather than having a big, sit-down dinner, we decided on a spread of appetizers and salads we could just snack on throughout the day. You might call it grazing. There was so much good food, but one of my favorite things there was a unique, delicious chili-corn bread salad Katrina made. I had never had anything like it, and boy was it good. I brought some leftovers home, and they were just as good the next day! She was kind enough to share the recipe.

1 package (8 1/2 oz.) corn bread/muffin mix
1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chilies, undrained
1/8 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. ground oregano
Pinch rubbed sage
1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1 envelope powdered ranch salad dressing mix
2 cans (15 oz. each) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans (15 1/4 oz. each) whole kernel corn, drained
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 bunch chopped green onions
15 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
3 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Prepare corn bread batter according to package directions. Stir in the can of chilies, cumin, oregano, and sage. Spread in a greased 8×8″ baking dish and bake at 400 degrees F. for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool.

Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, and ranch dressing mix; set aside.

Crumble half the corn bread into bite-sized or smaller pieces and spread on the bottom of a 13x9x2″ dish. Top that layer with half the beans, mayonnaise mixture, corn, tomatoes, pepper, onions, bacon, and cheese. Repeat layers. Dish will be very full. Cover and refrigerate for two hours before serving.

Give this tasty dish a try … it makes a delicious meatless meal, but you could add browned ground taco meat to make it a main dish. I’ll definitely be making this a part of my regular rotation. Thanks, Katrina!

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December 13, 2011

Gingerbread (ninjabread) men

You just can’t have Christmas without gingerbread men! A few months ago, I happened across a website that was selling gingerbread man cookie cutters in the shape of ninjas. Ninjabread men! They came in three different shapes, and I have three little ninjas myself, so of course I had to order them! They are a hoot!

I keep the baked, undecorated cookies in a sealed container, next to a tub containing cookie icing in a tube (hey, it’s easy and I’m busy), candy eyeballs, and tons of sprinkles. When the boys are in the mood for a ninjabread cookie, they sit down at the table and decorate them one at a time. This way, the fun lasts for days, and nobody gets burned out decorating dozens of cookies at once.

There are plenty of gingerbread cookie recipes out there, but why mess with perfection? Here’s the recipe from our sister site,

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup 50% to 70% vegetable oil spread
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup full-flavor molasses
1/4 cup refrigerated or frozen egg product, thawed, or 1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour

In a large bowl, combine butter and vegetable oil spread; beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and cloves. Beat until well mixed, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in molasses and egg. (Mixture will look curdled.) Add all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour, beating just until combined. Divide dough in half. Cover and chill the dough for 2 to 3 hours or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper; set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough, half at a time, to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 2- to 3-inch gingerbread person cookie cutter, cut out shapes; reroll scraps as necessary. Place cutouts 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 4 to 6 minutes or until edges are firm and centers are set. Cool on cookie sheets on wire racks for 1 minute. Transfer to wire racks; cool.

Dough can be made ahea of time and frozen.

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December 13, 2011

Peppermint bark

I’ve been on a peppermint kick lately, thanks to some peppermint mocha coffee creamer I’ve become addicted to. It’s so tasty in my coffee, with a little candy cane stir-stick. So yummy! I was flipping through a catalog and saw some really delicious looking (but expensive!!) peppermint bark. I figured I could make some myself with ingredients I had on hand.

I would have preferred dark chocolate or even semi-sweet, but I’m running dangerously low on chocolate chips, and I live too far away from the store to just run into town for chocolate. What I did have was a bunch of milk chocolate bars in the freezer. I melted 8 regular-sized bars in a double boiler and spread the melted chocolate onto a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Then it went into the freezer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I melted a 14-ounce bag of white candy chips (the kind they sell in the cake decorating section, specifically for making molded candies). Then I added 1/4 tsp. of peppermint extract and mixed it in. (Don’t overdo the peppermint extract … a little bit goes a long way!) Finally, I added a few drops of red food coloring, and just barely mixed it, so the melted candy had a swirled look to it.

I poured the peppermint mixture on top of the layer of chocolate, and spread it around with a spatula. Then I sprinkled 1/2 cup of peppermint chips (found in the chocolate chip section at the store) over the top, and went over the whole thing with several different types of Christmas sprinkles I had on hand.

The whole thing went into the refrigerator until it was set, and then I broke it into pieces. This was such a simple treat to make, but it’s really tasty, and the kids loved it! I’m thinking Santa might like a little of this left on his plate of goodies Christmas Eve.

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December 11, 2011

Magic cookie bars

Magic cookie bars are an old-fashioned favorite. They’re so rich and delicious, and even better, they’re easy! Make them your own by using dark chocolate instead of semi-sweet chocolate chips, or add peanut butter or butterscotch chips to the mix!

1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (I like to use chocolate graham crackers!)
14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans are good in these bars)

Combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter or margarine. Press into the bottom of a greased 13×9″ baking pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over the crumb base. Spread chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts evenly in layers over the top. Press down firmly with a fork or spatula.

Bake at 350 degrees F. (or 325 if using a glass dish) for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely, then cut into bars. Enjoy!

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December 10, 2011

Super easy stuffed mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms are so delicious, but some recipes are so labor-intensive that it hardly seems worth the effort. The other night, we treated ourselves to a “steakhouse Saturday night.” We stayed home, but fixed ourselves and our kids a yummy steakhouse-style dinner. We went all out, and had a great night! Jayson grilled steaks, we had a yummy salad, baked potatoes, sauteed onions and mushrooms, and for an appetizer, stuffed mushrooms. I made them the easy way, though! Here’s how:

18 whole mushrooms
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened (you can use a low-fat or fat-free variety)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
2 tsp. olive oil
1 cup Panko bread crumbs (or you can use regular bread crumbs or round rich cracker crumbs)

Remove stems from mushrooms, and hollow them out a bit to make room for the stuffing. Slice off hardened ends and discard.  Dice the rest of the mushroom stems. Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and diced mushroom stems, and fry until cooked through, but be careful not to burn. Let cool.

Stir garlic and mushrooms into cream cheese. Add Parmesan cheese, pepper, onion powder, and cayenne pepper. Use a spoon to scoop the mixture into the mushroom caps.

Mix bread crumbs and 2 tsp. olive oil together until well combined. Take the stuffed mushroom caps, flip them over, and dip the cream-cheese side into the Panko mixture. (This is so much easier than sprinkling the crumbs over the top!) Place mushrooms on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until liquid starts to form under the mushrooms.

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December 9, 2011

Cranberry meatballs

This year for Thanksgiving, I made my friend Ginger’s recipe for cranberry meatballs. They were so easy, and were a huge hit! For the Prater family Christmas Eve gathering, we’re doing a spread of appetizers instead of a sit-down meal, which is an idea I love. Lots of yummy little bites. I’ll be making these little gems again!

This recipe makes 50 to 60 meatballs, so it’s perfect for holiday parties. You can also freeze the meatballs either before or after they are cooked.


2 lbs. ground beef
1/3 cup parsley flakes
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. minced onion
1 cup cornflake crumbs
2 eggs
1/2 cup ketchup


1 can cranberry sauce with whole cranberries
12-oz. bottle chili sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

In a large mixing bowl, combine Meatball ingredients until well mixed. Form into golf-ball-sized meatballs and put in lightly greased baking pans. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through.

While meatballs are baking, combine Sauce ingredients in saucepan. Heat over low heat until jellied sauce and brown sugar melt. Stir frequently.

Place baked meatballs in slow cooker. Pour sauce over meatballs, and gently stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 2 hours or until the sauce is bubbly. Turn the cooker down to the warm setting, and serve with toothpicks or festive party picks!

NOTE: You can change up the meat used in these meatballs however you’d like. Use ground turkey, ground pork, half turkey and half beef, or whatever you have on hand. Also, if you’re worried about the meatballs being too spicy with the chili sauce, you can use a 10 3/4-oz. can of condensed tomato soup in its place, mixed 1 tsp. prepared mustard.

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October 30, 2011

Cake pop mania!

Cake pops are all the rage these days. Generally, people make them by crumbling a baked cake into a large bowl and mixing the crumbs with a can of frosting, then scooping the mixture into balls and coating with almond bark. They’re delicious and so cute, but that’s a lot of work. That’s why I was so excited to find a cake pop maker. This countertop appliance turns ordinary cake batter into perfect little balls in 4 minutes. It does a dozen at a time, and I’ve found most cake mixes make just shy of 5 dozen balls.

All you have to do is add a stick and some candy or chocolate coating, and you’re all set! I have been going nuts with my new cake pop maker. So far I’ve made three different types of cake, just using a mix, and they turned out great. I’ve also made pancakes and muffins (shown at right) from a mix. I generally like to make things like this from scratch, but the mixes are so handy on busy school days. I can make the kids hot pancake balls or muffin balls for a super quick breakfast, and they’re excited to come home and have fresh cake pops waiting for a snack. My next project is to use a baking mix, grated cheese and mini pepperoni slices to make a savory pizza-flavored pop, which the kids can dunk in pizza sauce.

I went to a Halloween party over the weekend, and the cake pops were a hit. I made pumpkin spice balls, added sticks, coated them with white almond bark, and set them in the refrigerator to firm up. Then I used food coloring markers to paint them like eyeballs, and stuck them in a cardboard cake pop holder I found at the store. I also made devil’s food cake balls, coated them with melted chocolate, and sprinkled orange sugar on top. They looked and tasted great!

Speaking of Halloween, here’s a peek at the spooky school lunch I packed for my three sons:

They each got a jack-o-lantern PB&J sandwich with gummy worms (or are they?!?) crawling out of it, a mini banana “finger”, cake pop “eyeballs” and pretzels with candy corn and a pumpkin spice marshmallow stabbed with a sword. They also got a blood bag (juice pouch with blood label) and a Halloween card in their lunch bags. FUN!

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October 14, 2011

Swiss steak roast

My boys take their lunches to school, except for one day a week when they get to eat hot lunch. I read them the menu at the beginning of the week, and they carefully weigh their options. When Swiss steak is on the menu, however, there’s no need to even consider the other options. That’s what they want.

I’ve never made Swiss steak, but decided to give it a try for them. I got a chuck roast out of the freezer, and my plan was to let it thaw a bit and slice it into steaks, then cook it in sauce. I decided to take the easy way out, however, and just threw the frozen roast (it was about 2.5 pounds) into my slow cooker, which was treated with non-stick spray. I love being able to put a frozen roast into the slow cooker at breakfast and having a hot juicy meal ready at suppertime.

I had a ton of carrots in my refrigerator, so I cleaned and cut them into chunks and tossed them into the slow cooker as well, around the roast. Then, I opened a pack of dried onion soup mix and sprinkled it over the top of the roast.

For the sauce, I combined a small can of tomato sauce, a small can of condensed tomato soup, 1 soup can of water, 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, and 2 Tbsp. steak sauce. I used a Vidalia onion steak sauce. I poured the sauce over the top of everything, sprinkled some Italian seasoning over it all, and turned the slow cooker on high.

This all came together around 9:00 a.m., and by 5:30 p.m., we were eating a roast that tasted like Swiss steak. I made some mashed potatoes, but it would be good served over pasta as well. The kids loved it, and my husband said the sauce was just like his mom used to make. It was nice to eat a roast that was a little different than the usual plain old meat, carrots and potatoes. This one was a hit, and I’ll definitely be making it again!


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