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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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September 22, 2010

Chocolate zucchini bread

One of the great things about having kids is that they make friends, and you often become friends with the parents of those kids. My friend Patty works at the school, so I’ve known her since my oldest started preschool. But when my youngest, Will, started school, he became fast friends with Jordan, Patty’s son. And now Patty and I are friends, and all of our kids love playing together.

The other day, Patty said something about making chocolate zucchini bread. I had to have the recipe, and she was nice enough to share! It’s actually her cousin’s recipe, and is featured in a family cookbook. What a great idea to have a family cookbook! I’m going to work on that for my family.

I picked up some zucchini yesterday, and tonight I made the bread. It smelled amazing while it was baking, and I’m pleased to report it tastes great! I love the combination of chocolate and cinnamon, and you hardly know the zucchini is even there! Nothing like sneaking some vegetables into the kids’ diet!

Here’s the recipe, courtesy of Patty and Rhonda:

2 1/3 cups flour (I used white whole wheat)
2 cups suar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking powder
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini (I left the peeling on since that’s where the nutrients are!)
1/2 cup pecan pieces (I didn’t have any, so I left them out, but they’d be great in this!).

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, and vanilla. Stir in te shredded zucchini and pecans. Pour the batter into two greased loaf pans. Bake in a 350-degree F. oven for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the loaves test done. Let cool for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

I got some handy-dandy mini loaf pans as a wedding gift, and each pan has four mini loaves. This recipe filled one pan, with just over a cup of batter per loaf. They only needed about 40 minutes to bake. Since the bread has a cake-like consistency, the batter would also make great muffins or mini muffins. And I haven’t tried this myself yet, but Patty says this bread is even better with a little cream cheese smeared on each slice. I’ll be trying that in the morning!

The kids were already asleep when the bread came out of the oven, but they’ll be surprised in the morning when I serve them a slice alongside their fruit and yogurt!

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September 21, 2010

Chili pie with a cornbread crust

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My husband is a fierce leftover-user. He has a knack for taking a little of this leftover and a little of that leftover and turning them into something new and delicious. Tonight, I put my own leftover transformation skills to good use.

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Last time we made chili, I put the leftovers into a freezer bag and froze them. Last night, I pulled the bag out and stuck it into the fridge to thaw. My plan was to make a pot-pie-type dish, with chili on the bottom and a cornbread crust on top.

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This afternoon, I whipped up a batch of cornbread. Here’s how I make mine:

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1 cup corn meal

1 cup flour

4 Tbsp. sugar

4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup milk

1 egg

1/4 cup oil

1 can of corn, drained

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Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and whisk together the egg, milk, and oil in a smaller bowl. Pour the liquid into the dry mixture, and stir or beat until well combined. Then add the drained can of corn and stir until it’s integrated into the mixture.

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I sprayed my favorite casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray, and dumped in the chili. There was about 1 1/2″ to spare in the dish. I poured about half of the cornbread batter on top and smoothed it around. A sprinkling of chili powder went over the top.

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Trust me when I tell you if you use the whole cornbread recipe, it will never bake all the way through on top of the chili. The rest of the batter can be made into cornbread muffins, sticks (I love those corn-cob-shaped pans!), or just a small loaf.

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chilipieSo the chili pie went into a 425-degree F. oven for about 25 minutes. Check the batter with a knife or toothpick to make sure it’s done all the way through, and then it’s ready to go!

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The chili pie was a big hit with the whole family. Next time you make a big batch of chili, make a little extra, throw it in the freezer, and bring it back to life as pie! If you’re short on time, you could simply top the chili with refrigerated biscuit dough. I’ve seen refrigerated cornbread sticks, and you could even weave them over the top, pie-style. That would be good! Bake according to the dough directions, and enjoy!

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September 20, 2010

Apple pie two ways

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Last weekend, we went to my husband’s hometown in southwest Iowa, and I stopped by a local, family-run apple orchard just outside of town. I bought some delicious cherry jelly, which the kids have already enjoyed on many PB&J sandwiches. I also got a bag of royal gala apples, which are just delicious sliced up with a tiny sprinkling of salt, and a bag of Jonathans to make some pie. 

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I have been sending box lunches to school with my three boys four days a week. They look at the school lunch menu at the beginning of the week and choose one day to eat hot lunch. I’m going to start taking pictures of the lunches I pack, and will do a blog entry on box lunches soon. So while I was in the mood for apple pie, I thought I’d make some hand-held, single-serving pies for the boys to take in their lunch.

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First, I made my pie crust. Then, I spent what seemed like an eternity peeling and slicing apples. Once I had about 5 cups of apples in a large mixing bowl, I stirred in a cup of sugar, 2 Tbsp. flour, and a generous amount of apple pie spice, probably 2 tsp.

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To make the hand pies, I just rolled out the dough on a floured surface and cut out circles that were about 5″ across, using an upside-down bowl as a template. A large spoonful of the pie filling went into each circle, then I folded the circles in half, pressed around the edges with a fork, and made a few slits on top so the steam could escape. I made 6 pies.

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After the pies were made, I didn’t have quite enough dough for a single-crust pie, so I just rolled what I had into a big circle, moved it onto a greased baking sheet, mounded the remaining apple mixture into the middle, and folded the edges up to form a rustic tart.

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I brushed the hand pies and tart crust with milk, then sprinkled them with cinnamon and sugar. They went into a 350-degree oven. The hand pies were ready in about 25 minutes, and I left the tart in for about 15 minutes more. The tart was just big enough for my family of five to enjoy for dessert, and we had pies for our lunches, with one to spare! The kids loved having the homemade, hand-held pies in their lunchboxes, and I loved knowing they had a little taste of home in the middle of their day.

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September 20, 2010

Pie crust

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Many of you have e-mailed and asked for my pie crust recipe. There are several different ways to make pie crust, although they all follow the same basic principle. Flour and liquid. It’s simple. Here’s how I make mine:

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In a medium bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups flour and 1 tsp. salt, and make a well in the middle. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup milk and 2/3 cup oil. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and stir well. I just stir it with a big spoon since I don’t have a fancy mixer with a dough hook.

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This recipe makes enough for a double-crust pie. It also freezes like a dream, so if you only need a single crust, go ahead and make the full recipe, then store half of the dough in a freezer bag, and thaw it in the fridge when you’re ready to make another pie.

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This crust comes together so quickly and easily, and with ingredients you always have on hand, that it seems crazy to buy pre-made crust. You can customize it a bit as well. If you’re making something savory like chicken pot pie, try white whole wheat flour, and maybe olive oil instead of regular vegetable oil. If you’re making peach pie, sift some cinnamon in with the dry ingredients. 

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I also brush the dough with a little milk or egg wash before baking. This crust is flaky and light and goes well with any type of pie. There you go … my secret pie crust recipe! (And here’s how to make the double cherry pie pictured above.)

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September 16, 2010

Vegetable-bean soup

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It’s soup season! I can’t get enough soup this time of year … it’s easy to make, smells amazing simmering away on the stove, and is great comfort food for cool fall evenings. One thing I love about soup — especially vegetable soup — is that you can really make it however you want.

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Love corn? Add it.

Hate corn? Leave it out!

Want to make your soup into a complete meal? Add some chicken!

Have some leftover steak in the fridge that needs to be used? Cut it up and throw it in the soup pot!

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The possibilities are really limitless. Here’s one of my favorite ways to make vegetable soup:

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 Add the following canned ingredients to a large (6-quart) soup pot or Dutch oven:

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1 regular can (do not drain) of each of the following:
green beans, carrots, corn, petite diced tomatoes, dark red kidney beans
 5 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced
1/2 small head of cabbage, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 cups frozen okra
1 1/2 cups frozen baby lima beans
3 Tbsp. beef-flavored soup base 
2 Tbsp. Italian seasoning (or use fresh Italian herbs like basil, oregano, etc.)
Pepper to taste (A black/red pepper blend is good)
1 large can tomato juice or vegetable juice (regular or spicy)
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Combine all the ingredients, bring to a boil, and simmer on low boil for approximately 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  No salt is needed, since the soup base and canned vegetables contain enough salt for the added raw vegetables.

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September 14, 2010

Swiss-mushroom soup

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Last week, we went to a local restaurant for my son Jake’s birthday, and many of us at the table tried their soup of the day: Swiss potato mushroom. It sounded too good to pass up, and we all loved it! It was creamy, but the Swiss cheese base was lighter-tasting than a cheddar-based soup. The mushrooms tasted so good, and the potatoes added just enough body to the soup to make it hearty.

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Of course we all examined the soup and talked about how to reproduce it. My mom gave it a try this week, and came remarkably close! 

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4 Tbsp. butter (1/2 stick)
1 pint sliced fresh mushrooms
4-5 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large can (28 oz.) chicken broth (reserve 1 cup)
3 Tbsp. chicken-flavored soup base
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1/2 cup flour
1 cup reserved chicken broth
8 oz. shredded Swiss cheese
2 cups half & half
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Saute mushrooms in butter in a large, heavy Dutch oven.  Add potatoes, soup base, and broth (less 1 cup reserved broth).  Cover and cook on low boil for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are done.

Whisk flour into the cup of reserved broth.  Add into boiling soup, stirring until thickened.  Add shredded Swiss cheese and stir until cheese is melted (the cheese may appear stringy at first, but keep stirring over a low boil and it will melt further and become smooth).  If the mixture is not thick enough, add additional mixture of flour and water to thicken.  Add half and half to mixture and heat to boiling. 

This makes approximately 3 1/2 quarts.  No salt is needed, since the cheese and soup base have enough salt content for the potatoes. Enjoy!

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September 8, 2010

Pizza cups

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With school in full swing and little time in the evenings to do much of anything, quick meals are in order! Tonight I made an old favorite … one of the first meals I ever fixed for my family, when I was in junior high. Yes, I’m going back to the Home Ec archives for this one! Mrs. Engle would be so proud.

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Pizza cups are fast and easy, and super good. First, take refrigerator biscuits, roll them into about 4″ disks, and line a cupcake pan with them. Then add your cooked meat and sauce. This morning, I pulled out a freezer bag of browned ground beef to thaw. Tonight, I just emptied it into a skillet, dumped in a can of spaghetti sauce, and warmed it up. (Freezing browned ground beef is one of my favorite kitchen time-savers. It’s ready to roll for casseroles, pasta, or whatever, without the time and the mess.)

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Spoon the meat into the dough-lined cupcake pan, then top with cheese. I put a pepperoni on top just for fun. Bake according to the biscuit directions, and that’s it! I baked mine at 400 degrees F. for about 10 minutes. Just pick them up with your fingers and eat … no forks necessary! Their portability also makes these little cups great for parties or as appetizers. The kids loved them so much that I’m sending cold leftovers in their lunches tomorrow. Cold pizza is good, so these should make them happy!

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The beautiful thing about this dinner is that you can make it to be whatever you want, depending on what you have on hand. Use up those leftovers! I’ve made them with barbecue sauce instead of spaghetti sauce, and topped with cheddar cheese. Pulled pork and barbecue is also good, and leftover sloppy joe meat works well. Heck, you could even use the filling for chicken pot pie. Go plain or go fancy, or set out all the leftovers and let your family fill their own biscuit cups!

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September 8, 2010

Baked cranberry-pumpkin oatmeal

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When I made my crustless pumpkin pie last night, I didn’t have any 15-ounce cans of pumpkin — just the large cans that are about twice that size. I can’t stand wasting food, so I put the leftover pumpkin in a container and stuck it in the fridge. This morning, I put it to good use!

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I always try to make my three sons a hearty breakfast before school. We all sit at the table together, talk about our plans for the day, and listen to our favorite kids’ station on the satellite radio. It’s a good start to their day, and mine!

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This morning I got up a little early so I could make baked oatmeal. I love plain old regular oatmeal, but when you add a few ingredients and pop it in the oven, it becomes something really special! I’ve made this baked oatmeal several times, but decided to add a few extra ingredients today: the leftover pumpkin and some dried cranberries.

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In a large bowl, combine these dry ingredients:

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3 cups of oats (I always use old-fashioned)

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/2 cup brown sugar

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In a smaller bowl, whisk together these wet ingredients:

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1 1/2 cup canned pumpkin (or a 15-ounce can will work fine)

1 cup milk

1/2 cup applesauce

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

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Add the wet ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients, and stir until well combined. Pour the mixture into a sprayed 9″x9″ baking dish, and sprinkle about 1/2 cup of dried cranberries on top. (You can stir the cranberries in if you want, but I like the way they look on top.) If you don’t like pumpkin, just leave it out and add some blueberries, chopped apples or peaches, or whatever fruit you have on hand. It’s also good with raisins and chopped walnuts. You can’t go wrong!

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Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 to 30 minutes, until set.

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You can just slice this up like cake and serve it on a plate, but we like ours in a bowl, soaking in a little milk or cream. Top with a dash of maple syrup, and you’ve got yourself the perfect breakfast for a crisp fall morning! Enjoy!

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September 7, 2010

Crustless pumpkin pie

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Pumpkin is the ultimate fall flavor. Its sweet and slightly spicy taste just goes perfectly with the season. Tonight, to go with my pie-themed dinner, I pulled out an old recipe from my archives. This pie has no crust, so right off the bat you’re saving a ton of fat and calories … this way you can have two slices! My husband refuses to call this pie since it doesn’t have a crust, but he loves my “baked pumpkin dessert.”

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This pie (or dessert, if you will) couldn’t be easier. In a large bowl, beat together the following ingredients:

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15-ounce can of unsweetened pumpkin

12-ounce can of evaporated milk (fat-free works fine!)

2 eggs, or 3 egg whites

1/2 tsp. salt

3 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2/3 cup sugar (you can use baking-friendly granular artificial sweetener to save calories)

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Beat the ingredients until smooth and pour into a 9″ pie plate sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

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pumpkinpieBake at 400 degrees F. for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature and bake at 325 degrees F. for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.

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I had a little bit of refrigerated crescent dough left after cutting around the edges of my chicken pot pie casserole dish, so I rolled it out and used my mini maple leaf cookie cutter to make a few embellishments. These went on the pie about 20 minutes before it was finished baking. So there’s a little crust after all! Believe me, though, you don’t need a bottom crust on this pie. It holds together beautifully, and the pumpkin flavor is phenomenal!

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This pie is good as soon as it’s cool enough to eat, but it’s even better right out of the fridge the next day. When packing up our leftovers, I filled two single-serve containers, so my two sons who are taking their lunch tomorrow will have a tasty dessert courtesy of Mom!

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September 7, 2010

Chicken pot pie

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The weather has cooled down a bit, and I am in a baking mood! Today I had a craving for chicken pot pie, so that’s what was for dinner at my house. When I went to the grocery store the other day, chicken breasts were on sale, so I bought a four-pack of boneless, skinless breasts. Perfect!

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I used my favorite chef’s knife and cut the raw meat into bite-sized pieces, and chopped a clove of garlic and about 1/4 of an onion. I put a little oil in a skillet and sauteed the garlic and onion, then added the chicken. I ran out to my patio herb garden and grabbed about 4 lemon basil leaves, chopped them up, and added them to the pan. I covered the skillet until the chicken was just about cooked through, then turned up the heat a smidge and browned it to finish it off. I set about 3 ounces of the cooked chicken aside for my boys’ school lunches tomorrow. They’re taking a salad, and the chicken will add some protein. The rest of the chicken went into a large bowl.

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Next, I put a large drained can of mixed vegetables into the bowl (carrots, celery, potatoes and peas), and a can of drained corn. I also added a can of undiluted cream of chicken soup, and a can of cream of mushroom. I used the low-fat varieties of soup, but whatever you have on hand will do. A little salt and pepper to taste, a good stir, and the filling for my pot pie was ready to go.

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I usually make my own pie crust for pot pie, but I happened to have a few extra tubes of refrigerated crescent dough in the fridge. I was thrilled to find this dough available in a sheet, without being cut into triangles, which makes it really handy for baking. If you have refrigerated pie dough on hand, of course that would work too.

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chickenpotpieI sprayed my casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and dumped in the filling. There’s no need for a crust on the bottom of the dish, in my opinion. I unrolled a tube of the dough over the top, crimping the edges and poking a few holes in the top to allow the steam to escape.

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The pot pie went into a 375-degree F. oven for 45 minutes. The crescent crust browned a bit faster than a regular pie crust would, so I put some foil over the top for the last 15 minutes of baking.

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I realize this isn’t traditional chicken pot pie, but it was really quick and easy, and everyone loved it! You could save even more time by using leftover cooked chicken, turkey, beef, or pork. And if you prefer, use ramekins or small baking dishes to create individual pot pies. Refrigerated biscuit dough would work well to top the mini pies. These won’t need to bake quite as long, so keep an eye on them. Wonderful comfort food for a crisp fall evening!

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