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!

June 3, 2015

Easy strawberry upside-down cake

This spring, my mother-in-law invited me and my mom to a Mother's Day lucheon at the senior center in her town. She has lunch there almost every day, and has made some great friends.  I was definitely one of the younger moms in the room, and it was great to be surrounded by so many women who have had such varied experiences. The hostess shared several poems and readings about motherhood, and we could all relate to them. We were treated to a yummy lunch, followed by a homemade strawberry upside-down cake so good I had to ask the hostess for the recipe! (That's my mother-in-law on the left, my mom, and me, at the luncheon.)

The hostess said that when she found the recipe, it said to mash the strawberries. Hers weren't ripe enough to really mash, so she ended up putting them in the blender. She said that ended up pretty much turning them to liquid. Luckily, she had more strawberries, and she just chopped them up really well. She said she left her kitchen in a mess and was worried the cake wouldn't be very good. She did not need to worry!

When I made the cake, I used my food processor to chop up the strawberries. I used a bundt pan, and I've also made it in mini loaf pans. I even added pineapple to one cake, and it was delicious! This recipe is very forgiving, so use the fruit you have, and enjoy! This is such a great way to really dress up a store-bought cake mix, but if you have a yellow cake recipe that you love, you can use that as well!

Strawberry upside-down cake

1 pound strawberries, smashed or chopped into small pieces
1 package strawberry-flavored gelatin powder (or use your favorite flavor)
3 cups miniature marshmallows
Yellow cake mix and ingredients needed to prepare it, or your favorite homemade yellow cake recipe

1. Spread strawberries into the bottom of a prepared cake pan. Sprinkle gelatin powder evenly over the top. Sprinkle marshmallows on top.

2. Prepare cake mix batter. Pour evenly over the strawberries and marshmallows in the pan. Bake according to cake directions.

3. Let cool and invert cake onto a platter or cake stand. Top cake slices with whipped cream if desired.


February 20, 2015

Slow-cooker ground beef sandwiches

Growing up in Iowa, Maid-Rite loose-meat sandwiches were a favorite! People in other parts of the country may not see what the big deal is, but they are so good! Sadly, the restaurant in my hometown that served these tasty treats is no longer in business, so I've had to resort to making my own sandwiches. There are several copycat recipes on the internet, and after trying a few different combinations, I found a sandwich I think is pretty darned close!

3 lbs ground beef, uncooked
1 cup water
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. dried minced onion
2 beef boullion cubes (or equivalent powder)

Place ground beef in slow cooker. In a bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients together. Pour over the ground beef and stir to combine. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to break up the meat into very small pieces. Remove lid and continue to cook on high for 3 hours, until most of the liquid has cooked off. Stir occasionally to break up meat.

Use a slotted spoon to serve on buns. Top with mustard, ketchup, pickles, and a slice of cheese! 


January 7, 2015

Perfect pannekoeken

Several years ago, I ate at a restaurant in Minneapolis called Panneoeken. They served these giant puff pancakes right in the skillet, topped with assorted kinds of breakfasty goodness. You could get one topped with a bacon-and-egg scramble, sausage and potatoes, or fresh fruit and whipped cream. It was delicious. And to be honest, it was just fun saying, “pannekoeken” over and over. It doesn’t take much to entertain me.

Fast forward 20 years. I was thinking about these delicious puff pancakes a while back, so I did some searching online, which is how I find a lot of my recipes. Well, in addition to browsing through my collection of a gazillion cookbooks. In my research, I learned that one of these Dutch puff pancakes is called a pannekoek. Pannekoeken is plural. And it’s one of my favorite words … right up there with my favorite Spanish word, pelicula.

I was half expecting something complicated when I went on my recipe search, but found this dish couldn’t be much simpler. Here’s what you need:


1/2 stick butter
3/4 cup flour
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
Toppings of your choice

Melt your butter and pour it into a pie plate or a skillet that can go into the oven. I used a Pyrex dish since my pie plate had recently shattered into a million pieces, and it worked just fine. Mix the remaining ingredients together (minus the toppings) and pour into your pan or pie plate, on the melted butter. Bake for 25 minutes or so at 400 degrees F., until the pastry is puffed and golden.

If you want, you could add your toppings halfway through. This would be good if you were using a fruit filling with a streusel or crisp topping, or an egg and meat combo with cheese on top.

The pannekoek will puff up as it finishes baking, but will deflate fairly quickly, so serve it as soon as it comes out of the oven. It’s still delicious even after it de-puffs a bit, so refrigerate leftovers and enjoy them later.

My kids were impressed by the fancy puffy pancake, and it was actually much easier and much less time-consuming than making regular pancakes. Give this easy dish a try, and have fun saying, “pannekoeken!”

  • Tags:
January 6, 2015

Stovetop cocoa

It's cold out. Crazy cold. The high tomorrow is supposed to be NEGATIVE 6, with wind chills of -35. That's just not right. We got some snow yesterday, which meant I didn't make my weekly grocery run today. When my boys got home from school, they were freezing and I asked if they wanted hot chocolate. Then I went to the pantry and realized we were out of mix! I didn't even have any chocolate syrup. I won't let something like that stand between my frozen children and hot chocolate, though.

I whipped this cocoa up for them, and Jake said, "This is the best hot chocolate ever, and I'm not just saying that." Well, there you go. Proof positive. It's the best hot chocolate ever.

Stovetop hot cocoa

1/3 cup boiling water
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch salt
3 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Whipped cream, if desired

Bring 1/3 cup water to a boil. In a separate saucepan, whisk all the dry ingredients together. Add boiling water and whisk. Heat until boiling. Add milk and vanilla, whisk together, and heat until hot but not boiling. Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon, if desired.

That's it! This was super easy and so good. I'm not saying I won't buy those quick and easy hot chocolate mix packets anymore, but it's good to know we can still have hot chocolate when we run out!


December 17, 2014

Snickerdoodle bars

I love snickerdoodles. My Grandma Foust used to make them for me and my dad, and they were our favorite. (Here's her recipe.) So when I saw a Facebook post from my friend Ann the other day with a recipe for snickerdoodle bars, I knew I had to try them. Since it's almost Christmas and I am in full-on baking mode, I decided to make some today for an after-school treat for my boys. They were really easy to make and use basic pantry ingredients, so they can be thrown together anytime. I'm happy to report they were a big hit! I'm thinking of making another pan to send to school for the teachers!

Hat tip to my friend Jessica, who made these adorable mustache mugs for my boys, and even made Luke's especially for a lefty!

Snickerdoodle Bars

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 1/2 cups flour
Mix of 1 1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon and 2 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Greas a 9x11" baking dish. In a large bowl, use a hand mixer (I used my stand mixer), cream the butter until fluffy. Add the sugars and continue to cream. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add eggs and vanilla. Beat for 1-2 minutes. Lower speed and add baking powder and flour.

Spread half the batter in the pan, and sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the top. Use a spoon or small ice cream scoop to drop the remaining batter over the top of the cinnamon sugar. Carefully smooth out without mixing the cinnamon-sugar into the batter. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool completely. Whisk together the glaze ingredients and drizzle over the bars. Enjoy!

December 12, 2014

Saltine toffee

There's a recipe for saltine cracker toffee that has been making the rounds on Facebook lately. My friend Cara posted it, and said, "Neeeeed." We had her family over for dinner last night, so I decided to give it a try for dessert.

I'm happy to report that it turned out great! The only thing I didn't like is that it stuck to the foil like crazy, and those of us with fillings in our teeth do NOT want to bite into a chunk of foil. The next time I make these (and there WILL be a next time), I will either butter the foil, or maybe use parchment paper instead. I also recommend keeping these in the fridge, because otherwise they are just too sticky. The best thing about this recipe is that I have all of these things in my pantry at all times, so now I have a quick snack I can make anytime!

I also made the slow cooker mac and cheese recipe that has been posted all over Facebook lately. It wasn't blog-worthy. It tasted really good, but it looked kind of awful, and it basically turned to spackle once the slow cooker was turned off. You win some, you lose some. The tenderloins I made were a hit, so overall, dinner was good, and Cara was happy!

Saltine toffee

1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
12-oz. bag chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a jellyroll pan or cookie sheet with sides with foil, so the foil comes up over the sides. (See my notes above about the stickiness issue, and consider greasing the foil or using parchment paper.) Spread crackers out to cover the foil (see photos below).

Melt butter over medium-high heat, and add brown sugar. Stir until dissolved. Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes without stirring. Pour over crackers.

Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately top with chocolate chips. After a few minutes when they have melted, use a spatula or scraper to spread the melted chocolate around.

Cool completely, and refrigerate until cold. Lift bars from pan using foil and place on cutting board. Cut into pieces and store in the refrigerator.

November 24, 2014

Easy bread pudding

I love treating my family to warm, yummy breakfasts, especially on cold days like those we've been having lately. Weekday breakfasts are usually eggs or something fast, but on the weekends I like to make things a little more special. Bread pudding is so easy and tasty, and I found a way to make it even easier! Now this is a regular request at my house, and it disappears in a flash!

The grocery store in one of the small towns in our area has a day-old bread rack, where they sell 16-ounce loaves of Pepperidge Farm flavored bread for $1.25. Seriously. I have been buying bags and bags of the limited edition fall flavors of caramel apple and pumpkin spice whenever I'm in the neighborhood, then I bring them home and pop them right in the freezer. When the mood strikes, I use them to whip up a tasty bread pudding. There's almost no preparation time involved, but the result is so tasty!

Easy bread pudding

1 16-oz. loaf raisin bread, or other fruit or flavored bread
2 14-oz. cans sweetened condensed milk
3 eggs
Raisins, fruit, and/or nuts, optional
Canned frosting or homemade glaze (see below)

Cube fresh or frozen bread and place in 1 1/2-quart greased baking dish. Stir in raisins or nuts, if desired. (For this batch, I used caramel apple bread, and added a diced apple.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together sweetened condensed milk and eggs. Pour over bread cubes, coating evenly.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make glaze if desired. For this glaze, I melted together 2 oz. cream cheese and 3 Tbsp. butter, and whisked to combine. I added about 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, and enough milk to reach the desired consistency. Play around with the amounts of powdered sugar and milk until the glaze is the consistency you prefer.


November 18, 2014

Ham balls

I find this shocking and nearly impossible to believe, but there are some people out there who have never had a ham ball. Chances are good those people are not from Iowa. There are a few schools of thought when it comes to ham balls, and they're all about the meat mixture. Some people mix ground ham and ground pork together as the base. But those of us who do it the right way also add ground beef. It mellows the flavor, and makes it less salty. Believe me, it's the way to go.

I had never made ham balls before until a few weeks ago. It's one of the many dishes that my mom makes so perfectly that I don't even bother trying. It's just better when she does it, so I'll just let her do it! She uses my Aunt Thelma's recipe, so that's what I used, too. It's perfect. In fact, her ham balls are probably my favorite food ever. EVER.

My mom only makes ham balls on special occasions or holidays, because she has always ground her own meat, and frankly, that's a TON of work. These days, most butcher shops and grocery stores carry a ham loaf mix. Ask them about it. I asked at one local grocery store and found their mix was just ham and pork. No. But at my favorite butcher shop, they have a mix that is ham, pork, and beef, and guess what? It was $1 a pound less than the grocery store mix. I bought 10 pounds, cooked 6, and froze 4. Score. I told my mom about the butcher shop find, and just yesterday she and my dad drove over there and she bought some! Yay for more ham balls!

Traditional ham balls are about 1/2 cup, or a little smaller than a baseball. I made a pan of these for my family, but I also made a bunch of bite-sized ham balls for my oldest son, Jake, to take to a potluck for the cast and crew of the high school play, Aladdin, where he put on a smashing performance as Razoul. And as much as I consider myself a ham ball traditionalist, I have to admit I kind of liked the mini size better. They're easier to eat, and you get more sauce per square inch of ham ball. I've done the math.

So here's the ham ball recipe. Enjoy this scrumptious taste of Iowa! As my friend Sara Hatcher-Hobart says, "They're amazeballs!"

Ham Balls

6 pounds ham loaf mix (2 pounds each ground beef, ground pork, and ground ham, combined)
4 eggs
2 cups milk
3 cups graham cracker crumbs (don't cheat and use regular cracker crumbs or bread crumbs)

2 cans (10.75 oz. each) tomato soup, undiluted
3/4 cup vinegar
2 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. mustard

Combine meatball ingredients, form into meatballs, and place in a baking dish. (This will take 2 or 3 baking dishes.) In a separate bowl, whisk together sauce ingredients. Pour over meatballs. Bake at 325 degrees F. for 1  hour or until meat is cooked through. Spoon sauce over meatballs several times while baking. Transfer to a slow cooker to keep warm if you're taking them to a get-together or just want to snack on them all day.

November 13, 2014

Grab-and-go sausage biscuits

I don't know about your house, but things are pretty crazy at my place in the mornings. Getting three boys up, fed, and ready for the bus by 7:10 is easier said than done some days. That's why I love this recipe! It's fast and easy, can be adjusted to use ingredients you have on hand, and when everyone's running late, they can just grab breakfast and head out the door.

The other night, I browned 2 pounds of ground sausage for spaghetti. I didn't have Italian sausage on hand, so it was regular old sausage. Before adding the meat to my sauce, I scooped out about 1/2 pound and stuck it in the fridge to make these biscuits. The next morning, I spent a couple of minutes mixing up the batter, and the biscuits cooked while the boys got dressed and ready for school. They LOVED them, and have asked for them again already! This recipe makes 12, and we had 3 left after breakfast. They were great the next morning just zapped in the microwave. Win!

Grab-and-go sausage biscuits

2 eggs
1 cup milk
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 cups baking mix
1 cup shredded cheese (Or more, or less! Use what you have on hand.)
1/4 to 1/2 pound cooked meat (ham, sausage, bacon, leftover taco meat, whatever!)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 12 regular-sized muffin cups with non-stick spray.

Beat eggs. Add oil and milk. Beat well. Stir in baking mix, just until combined and moistened. Mix will be thick. 

Fold in cheese and meat. (If you'd like to add vegetables like mushrooms, onions, or peppers, fold them in here!) 

Divide batter evenly among 12 muffin cups. They will be fairly full, and the muffins will puff up quite a bit when they bake.

Bake 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

August 2, 2014


At my house, we love pork. We also love a good deal! One of our neighbors' sons was raising some hogs to show at the county fair, but thanks to a paperwork snafu, he wasn't able to show them. They had spent a lot of money on expensive show feed and just wanted to cut their losses and sell the hogs. We jumped at the chance, and he delivered our hog to the local locker. 

My husband talked with the butcher and told him how we wanted the hog processed, and a few days later, I loaded up the back of my Suburban with fresh pork. We have a big freezer in our mudroom, and we've spent the past few weeks cleaning it out, reheating frozen lasagne, and grilling all kinds of meat. I was able to squeeze almost all of the meat into the freezer, and put several pounds of bacon in my kitchen freezer so it's handy.

With the cost of the hog and the processing fees, we wound up spending just over $2 per pound for 170 pounds of pork. And we won't have to buy meat again all winter. Not too shabby!

We have hams, ham steaks, shoulder roasts, ribs, Iowa chops, pork chops, 30 pounds of sausage, bunches of bacon, pork cutlets, and assorted other cuts of pork filling our freezer. So now what will we do with it?

I put together this slideshow today of some delicious pork recipes on our site. A few are favorites from my blog (Havarti-ham quiche and apple-cranberry slow-cooked pork loin). I'll definitely be making these again in the near future, along with some of the other tasty pork recipes!

Browse the slideshow: 10 terrific pork recipes

What's your favorite pork recipe?