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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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October 5, 2012

Easy caramel popcorn

My husband grew up in Hamburg, Iowa, which is home to a big popcorn plant, and as any resident will tell you, is the popcorn capital of the free world. They even have Popcorn Day in September every year, complete with class reunions, a parade, greased pig contests, frog jumping contests, and -- of course -- all the popcorn you can eat. So, as you might imagine, popcorn is a popular snack at my house.

If there's anything better than sitting on the couch with my family watching a movie, it's sitting on the couch with my family watching a movie and eating caramel popcorn. Of course you can buy microwave caramel popcorn, but you can make the caramel yourself, and it's even better! You can also pour the caramel into a jar and use it for topping ice cream or dipping apples.

This version of caramel sauce is super easy. Easy enough that you can whip it up while your popcorn is popping, using ingredients you no doubt have in your pantry.

2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Simply melt the ingredients together in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Let the mixture boil for about 2 minutes, still stirring constantly. Then pour it over your popcorn and fold to coat, or put it in a jar and refrigerate for use as apple dip or ice cream topping. This recipe makes enough caramel to coat 3 bags of microwave popcorn.

It's that simple! Can you believe it? Give this gooey, soft caramel a try, and you'll be a believer!

October 5, 2012

Cherry cheesecake dip

Hold the phone!!! An easy dip that tastes like cherry cheesecake and can be scooped up with graham crackers or vanilla wafers? Yes!

I love cheesecake, but rarely make it. This dip couldn't be simpler to make, and it gives you the same tongue-tingling sensation that you get when eating real cherry cheesecake. I made this for my family the other night, and they flipped over it! The kids took leftovers in their lunches and said all the other kids were jealous, so bonus points for Mom! In fact, Jake loved it so much that he requested it for his birthday dessert! 

8 oz. cream cheese, softened (go ahead and use reduced-fat or fat-free!)
1 7.5-oz. jar marshmallow fluff
2 8-oz. cartons frozen whipped topping, thawed
2 21-oz. cans cherry pie filling
1 tsp. vanilla
Graham crackers or vanilla wafers

In a large bowl, mix together the softened cream cheese, marshmallow fluff, and vanilla. Fold in the whipped topping, one carton at a time. Don't use a mixer or beater for this step, just stir in the topping by hand. 

Spread the mixture into a 9x11 pan, or two 8x8 pans. Top with cherry pie filling. Serve with graham crackers or vanilla wavers for dipping. Refrigerate for an hour or so before serving. Enjoy!

August 28, 2012

Cheesy Joes

My middle son, Luke, is playing football this year, and it's his first year with pads and a helmet. It's also his first year with practice four nights a week. That makes for a pretty crazy evening at my house, and is giving me baseball season flashbacks! He eats a healthy snack, like a banana and granola bar, when he gets home from school, but can't eat dinner until he gets home from practice around 8:00. So the trick these days is to make a meal that my other two sons can eat while Luke's at practice, and that the football player and his dad can have when they get home. The slow cooker is perfect for this kind of meal, and sandwiches are a natural.

This tasty, cheesy version of the sloppy Joe fits the bill. It's ready whenever we are!

Cheesy Joes

1 pound ground turkey or beef
1 pound ground sausage
1 packet onion soup mix
1 pound (half a block) Velveeta or similar cheese-type product

Brown the meat in a large skillet with the onion soup mix. Drain any fat. Transfer cooked meat into a slow cooker treated with non-stick spray, or (even better) fitted with a disposable liner. Cut the Velveeta into cubes and mix it into the meat. Cook on low, stirring occasionally, until the cheese is melted. Turn slow cooker to the "warm" setting, stirring occasionally, and eat whenever you're ready!

We ate this right up on little wheat cocktail buns. Leftovers would be great in nachos, or as stuffing for baked potatoes. This would also be an easy dish to take to a potluck dinner or for tailgating at the football game! Enjoy!

 

August 28, 2012

Poor man's lobster

As I mentioned in my last blog entry, we have been doing A LOT of catfishing. One can only eat so much fried fish, though, so I set out to find some other ways to prepare this delicious catch. A few of our fisherman friends recommended a method called "poor man's lobster". Here's how it's done:

Cut fresh or thawed catfish into bite-sized pieces. Boil a pan of water on the stove, with a teaspoon or so of Old Bay seasoning, a Tablespoon of sugar, and a pinch of salt. Lower catfish pieces into the boiling water. Remove each piece once it floats to the top. This will only take a few minutes. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of sugar, and serve with melted butter and lemon.

I wasn't really expecting this to be very good. It didn't sound like a great idea to me. But once I tasted it, I was sold! It really does taste like lobster, and even has the same consistency. The kids even liked it! Next time we're going to make extra, and use the leftovers for a seafood salad. Now if we could just figure out how to make catfish taste like steak, we'd have surf and turf!

August 28, 2012

Fish fry!

A few months ago, my family became the proud owners of a boat. It's nothing fancy, and it's older than I am, but it floats, the motor works, and it's big enough for the five of us to hit our local lakes for fishing and fun. We named it "The Heat Wave Lizard" after a passage in a favorite book by Jimmy Buffett ... and because the boat is 1970s avocado green. Over the summer, we spent hours and hours on the lake, and even spent the night on the boat with  our oldest son. Each boy has had fishing trips on his own with me and Jayson, and they have all caught some nice fish.

Lately, we have been doing a lot of fishing for catfish. One weekend, we took Luke for a few hours Friday night and again Saturday morning, and between the three of us, we reeled in 16 keepers, averaging 4 to 5 pounds apiece. On Jake's solo trip, he landed a nice 5-pounder. Will didn't have quite as much luck, due in part to the fact he took a nap on the fold-down boat seat for about half the trip. He had fun, though! Here are Jake and Luke's biggest catches of the summer:

  

My husband, Jayson, cleans all of these beasts we catch, with help from the boys. They love the idea that the fish they catch will feed their family. We've had a couple of big fish fry dinners, and the rest of the fillets are frozen, so we can enjoy them later. When we have a fish fry, we cut the fish fillets into nuggets, so they're just the right size for eating with your fingers. We use a couple of different kinds of pre-mixed fish fry coating in our recipe, and add a few spices. I mix big batches of this up and keep it in a canister, then it's ready when we are! I'll probably try to recreate the mixture using base ingredients at some point, but the mix is so good and so inexpensive that for now, we're going with it. Why make things more complicated than they need to be?

Fish fry coating

1 10-oz. package lemon-flavored fish fry mix
1 10-oz. package Cajun-style fish fry mix
1 Tbs. Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. pepper

Mix all ingredients together, and spoon only what you need for a batch at a time into a flat bowl. Dip fish pieces into mixture and coat well. You can dip them in a beaten egg with a little milk first, but we just put ours straight from the water bath into the mixture.

Place nuggets into boiling peanut or vegetable oil, using a candy thermometer to keep the temperature between 365 and 370 degrees F. Don't fry too many nuggets at once. They need room to move!

After about 6 or 7 minutes, depending on the size of your nuggets, they will float to the top. That means they're ready! Remove one and test for doneness. The fish should be opaque and flake with a fork. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

Jayson sets up an assembly line for doing a big fish fry. We usually have them at my parents' house, and we heat the oil on the side burner of my dad's propane grill. This keeps the mess out of the kitchen! Most of the nuggets are kept in a water bath in the refrigerator, and he brings a bowl with ice water and a couple of batches of nuggets outside. Next to the fish, he puts a bowl with some of the fish fry in it. His table is set up right next to the grill, so the fish go from water bath to coating to oil in no time.

A fish fry is a great time to invite friends and family over to share a meal! Here's a look at the delicious spread we prepared with my parents for our last fish fry. Fresh tomatoes from my dad's garden, corn on the cob from a local grower, the best cole slaw in the world made by my mom, hearty baked beans, and, of course, fish! We also fried some chicken legs in the fish mix, and they were great! 

Yes, fishing has become a regular activity for me and my family. It's great to catch enough fish to feed our friends and family, and to have a supply in our freezer. But the real reason we spend so much time on the lake is that we get to just sit and enjoy our boys. There are no cell phones, televisions, or video games to distract any of us. We just sit and talk, and wait for the next big lunker to take our line.

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
Rice
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.

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