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 2, 2013

Italian tortellini soup

We spent Christmas day at my parents' house, and enjoyed a relaxed, all-day buffet rather than a sit-down meal. We had bunches of cookies and candies, cheese and crackers, relish trays, and salads. It was all good. And in lieu of a turkey or ham, we had a pot of my dad's chili, and a pot of Italian tortellini soup that my mom made. Thankfully it made way more than she thought it would (she doubled this recipe), because that meant we got to take the leftovers home!

1 lb. Italian sausage
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups beef broth
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup dry red wine
8 ounces fresh tortellini pasta
1 cup sliced carrots
2 cups stewed tomatoes
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
8 oz. tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups sliced zucchini
2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Parmesan cheese

Remove sausage from casings, if needed. Cook sausage, drain, and reserve 1 Tbsp. drippings.

In a large pot, sautee onion and garlic in the drippings until tender. Add broth, water, wine, carrots, tomatoes, basil, oregano, tomato sauce, and the sausage. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

Add vegetables, parsley, and tortellini. Simmer another 25 minutes, covered. (If you are using frozen tortellini, simmer 45 minutes.) Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

January 2, 2013

Candy eggs and bacon

This is one of the hundreds of good ideas I have found on Pinterest! I am in love with the idea pinboard site, and use it for all areas of my life! You can follow Living the Country Life on Pinterest for even more great ideas!

My middle son, Luke, wanted to bring treats to his Christmas party at school, and thought these would be fun. I melted some vanilla almond bark in a double-boiler, and spread parchment paper out on the counter. When it was melted and creamy, I dolloped it onto the paper with a spoon, making circles that were about an inch and a half across. Then Luke put a yellow candy-coated chocolate (our grocery store has a dispenser where you can get one specific color!) in the middle of each. Then we took skinny pretzel rods, broke them in half, and pressed them into the chocolate to make "bacon." Once the candies were hard,we just popped them off the paper and into a resealable plastic bag.

These candies were so fun and easy to make, and they tasted good, too! A nice mix of sweet and salty. Unfortunately, Luke's school party was cancelled because of a snow day. Fortunately, that meant we got to eat the bacon and eggs!

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January 2, 2013

Slow cooker cran-apple pork loin

Pork and apples go together like ...well ... pork and cranberries.This super easy, delicious dish blends all these flavors together beautifully, and it's made in the slow cooker, so that's a bonus! I put this together the other morning, headed to town for the day, and when I got home, the house smelled amazing! The pork was so juicy and tender, and tasted great! 

Lately, our grocery store has been having some super sales on pork loins. I have the butcher cut the loins in half, and I use one right away and freeze the other. I could feed my family of five with one-third of the loin, but we like leftovers, so I use half. Plus, this is the perfect size for my oblong slow cookers.

This dish is so easy that it really doesn't even have a recipe. First, spray the inside of your crock with non-stick spray, or insert a disposable liner. Slice a couple of apples, and place a layer of slices on the bottom of the slow cooker. Sprinkle with apple pie seasoning. Place the pork loin on top of the apples.Slice "pockets" into the meat every inch and a half or so, and slip an apple slice into each pocket. Surround the meat with more apple slices. Open a can of whole cranberries in sauce, stir a little to break up the gel, and pour over the roast. Sprinkle with more apple pie spice.

That's it! A 3- to 4-pound pork loin will take about 6 hours on low, or 5 hours on high. Test for doneness with a meat thermometer. Slice and enjoy! 

January 2, 2013

Slow cooker breakfast casserole

Happy New Year! Just after midnight on the big night, when my boys were still running around the house blowing their noisemakers, I started frying bacon. Is there a better way to start the new year? We were planning on a lazy New Year's Day at home, and I wanted a hot breakfast for everyone without the work. Enter the slow cooker! I have been meaning to try this recipe for a while, and this was the perfect time.

We finally went to bed around 1:00, and when we woke up some 8 hours later, it was to the smell of breakfast cooking downstairs. Yes! The casserole turned out great, and I will definitely be making it over and over again. It's great for lazy holidays or weekends, but would be very welcome on busy school-day mornings as well. Much better than toast and cereal on a rushed morning! Customize this dish by adding chopped vegetables, your favorite herbs (dill would be good!), and whatever kind of cheese you like best. The sky's the limit!

Slow cooker breakfast casserole

1/2 pound bacon, cooked and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1- to 2-lb. package frozen hash browns or potatoes O'Brien with onions and peppers
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used Cheddar)
12 eggs
1 cup milk
Salt, pepper, and herbs to taste

Spray the inside of your slow cooker with non-stick spray, or insert a disposable liner. Spread frozen potatoes across the bottom. Top with cooked bacon pieces. Sprinkle cheese on top.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs, milk, salt and pepper, and any herbs you like. Pour over the ingredients in the slow cooker.

Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 160º F. Enjoy!

December 9, 2012

Red velvet whoopie pies

Whoopie pies are all the rage right now. You can even buy special whoopie pie pans, which you don't need, and little appliances that only bake whoopie pies. Yes, whoopie pies are good, but I wasn't moved to make any myself until I saw this recipe for red velvet whoopie pies from our sister publication, Better Homes and Gardens. First of all, you know anything made by the pros in the BHG Test Kitchen is going to be amazing. And second, I can NOT turn down red velvet.

I made these today, and they turned out DELICIOUS! I was planning on taking them to work with me tomorrow, but after filling them, I realized it would have been a good idea to just take the cookies and the cream filling with me, and fill them there and arrange on a tray. If you are taking these anywhere to share, that's what I recommend you do. Otherwise, the cream filling kind of gets all over the place. 

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

Yield: 60 one-inch or 42 two-inch cookies
 Prep: 45 mins. • Bake: 375° F. for 7 mins. to 11 mins.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1-ounce bottle red food coloring (2 Tbsp.)
1 recipe Whoopie Pie Filling (see recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheets with parchment; set aside. In medium bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

2. In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium to high 30 seconds. Beat in brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk, beating after each addition just until combined. Stir in food coloring.

3. Spoon batter in 1- or 2-inch diameter rounds, about 1/2-inch high on prepared baking sheets, allowing 1 inch between each round.

4. Bake 7 to 9 minutes for 1-inch cookies or 9 to 11 minutes for 2-inch cookies, or until tops are set. Cool completely on baking sheets on rack. Remove cooled cookies from baking sheets.

5. To fill, dollop Whoopie Pie Filling on flat sides of half the cookies. Top with remaining cookies, flat sides down. Makes 60 one-inch or 42 two-inch cookies.

To store: Refrigerate in airtight container up to 4 days. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.

Whoopie Pie Filling:

In a medium bowl, beat 1/4 cup softened butter and 4 ounces softened cream cheese until smooth. Fold in a 7-ounce jar of marshmallow creme.


December 9, 2012

Slow cooker party mix

Hold the phone!! You can make party mix in the slow cooker?!? Yes,  yes you can! I love party mix, but almost never make it, because it's a mess and a pain to make on a baking sheet in the oven. OK, maybe not for most people, but I once dumped an entire batch into the bottom of the oven when the tray slipped out of my hand. You know how much I love my slow cookers, so imagine how excited I was to hear this tasty snack could be made in them! Here's how:

9 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine
3 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp. seasoned salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
3 cups woven square corn cereal
3 cups woven square rice cereal
3 cups woven square wheat cereal
1 cup nuts (peanuts, almonds, mixed nuts ... whatever you like!)
1 1/2 cups pretzel rods or small pretzel shapes
2 cups oyster crackers, unsweetened O-shaped cereal, or small cheese crackers

In a small pan over low heat, melt butter or margarine. Add Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, and garlic powder. Stir to combine well.

Meanwhile, dump all other ingredients in a large slow cooker. Use your hands or a large spoon to toss the ingredients well. Pour the butter mixture over the top, and toss well.

Cook on low, uncovered, for about 3 hours. Give it a good stir every half hour or so.

You can really add any ingredients you like to this, which makes it so easy. If you like spicy treats, add some hot sauce to the melted butter. If you like ranch, add a packet of powdered ranch mix. The possibilities are endless! Honestly, the hardest part of making this party mix is keeping everyone from snacking on it before it's finished. It does crisp up nicely, and tastes just as good as party mix made in the oven. Enjoy!

October 31, 2012

Slow cooker pumpkin pie pudding

The slow cooker is great for meals, but it's just as good for warm desserts. The other night, I threw this pumpkin pie pudding into the slow cooker before we left for a high school football game. It was a chilly night, and while we were huddled together on the bleachers, we really looked forward to the warm, yummy treat that was waiting for us at home. It was a big hit with the whole family, and we were able to save a ton of money on concessions at the game since we had our pumpkin pie pudding to look forward to.

Pumpkin pie pudding

1 15-oz. can 100% pumpkin (not pie filling)
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk (low-fat or skim is fine!)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup biscuit or baking mix 
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine suitable for baking, melted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
Whipped cream, nuts, or maple syrup for topping

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl or mixer bowl, except toppings. Use hand beaters or stand mixer and mix well.

Spray slow-cooker crock with non-stick cooking spray. Pour pudding mixture into crock.

Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours. Top with maple syrup, whipped cream, nuts, and/or chocolate chips, if desired. (I liked mine with maple syrup and pecans!)

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!