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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 29, 2010

Baked zucchini fries

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French fries are good. There’s no denying that. Bake them in the oven instead of frying them, and your side dish just got a little healthier. Use zucchini instead of potatoes, and you’ve upped the healthiness factor once again.

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If you’re a gardener who grows this prolific squash, chances are you have had it coming out your ears all summer. I love zucchini, but because my garden was scaled back to containers on the patio this year, I didn’t have the benefit of walking out my back door and grabbing a fresh one off the vine. I bought two small squash (about 10 inches long) when I made chocolate zucchini bread the other day, but only wound up needing one for that recipe. This seemed like a good thing to do with the leftover zucchini.

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First, I cut the zucchini into French-fry-sized pieces. Leave the peel on, since that’s where the vitamins are. In one flat dish, I beat an egg mixed with a little oil. In another dish, I combined a cup of Panko, about 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and a sprinkling of pepper. I use Panko for just about everything. You’ll find these crisp, airy bread crumbs in the Asian food section of your grocery store. If your store doesn’t carry them, you can always use toasted bread crumbs instead. 

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I dipped the zucchini pieces into the egg mixture, then rolled them around in the Panko mixture, and placed them on a greased cookie sheet. They went into a 425 degree F. oven for about 15 minutes. Watch them closely … you want the zucchini to be tender and the bread crumbs to be crunchy, but don’t let them burn.

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The one small zucchini made enough fries for my family of five to each have enough for a side dish. They were really tasty, and the kids loved them. “You can’t even taste the zucchini,” they said. Now if we could just get the fast-food giants to start serving them, we could do away with those greasy fries altogether!

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September 29, 2010

Sweet potato balls

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There’s something really powerful about preparing someone else’s recipes. Make your grandma’s chocolate cake, and you’ll get the feeling she’s right there in the kitchen with you. Take a bite of your mom’s apple pie, and you’re a little kid again. Last night, I made Vallie Bishop’s sweet potato balls. She’s a friend of my aunt’s, and I went to church with her as a child. I thought about her while I made this tasty side dish, and sent healing vibes her way as she deals with some health issues.

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I love sweet potatoes, and last year I discovered instant sweet potato flakes in the grocery store. I was a skeptic, but when I tried them, I found them to be delicious! They taste just like you baked and mashed them yourself, and they already have the sweetness and spices right in the packets. They’re great just scooped onto your plate with a little butter and brown sugar on top, or baked in a casserole topped with marshmallows.

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Here’s the recipe for Vallie’s sweet potato balls … then I’ll tell you how I cheated and made them the quick way!

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3 cups mashed sweet potatoes

1/4 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 Tbsp. milk

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. grated lemon rind

8 large marshmallows

1/2 cup crushed corn flake cereal

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Combine mashed potatoes, butter, sugar, milk, salt, and lemon rind. With a tablespoon, scoop out about 1/4 cup. Place marshmallow in the center and mold additional sweet potatoes around the marshmallow to form a ball. Roll in corn flakes. Place in a buttered baking dish and bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 minutes or until the marshmallows melt. 

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That’s how Vallie makes her sweet potato balls. All I did was prepare a box of instant mashed sweet potatoes. Coincidentally, one box makes 3 cups. I added a little brown sugar (maybe 1/3 cup) to the sweet potatoes, but didn’t need the salt, milk, butter, or lemon rind.

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I had mini marshmallows on hand, so I decided to use them and make mini sweet potato balls instead of the larger version. I have a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop, which worked perfectly. I took a scoop of sweet potatoes, pushed a mini marshmallow into the center and filled in the hole with more sweet potatoes. Then I just squeezed the scoop and dropped the sweet potato ball into the crushed corn flakes, rolled it around, and placed it on a sprayed cookie sheet. I baked them as directed.

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These little sweet potato balls were so delicious, and the marshmallow surprise inside makes them really special! The kids gobbled them right up, and the grown-ups loved them too. They were great alongside the pork chops I grilled last night, but they would also make a really good side dish to take to a Thanksgiving potluck.

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Whether you mash your own baked sweet potatoes or use flakes from a box, give this recipe a try. You’ll love it!

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September 27, 2010

Oreo cookie dessert

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I spent the weekend in northwest South Dakota, in my old stomping grounds. My parents and I lived in Shadehill when I was a girl, just south of Lemmon. We still have family there, and we made this trip for a cousin-in-law’s wedding. It was a wonderful trip, a beautiful wedding, and a great chance to catch up with family, friends and old neighbors.

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My husband and I and our sons stayed with my Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Cleo. One of the benefits of staying with them is getting to enjoy Carolyn’s cooking. She makes fabulous meals and decadent desserts, and this time, we all enjoyed her delicious Oreo cookie dessert. She was nice enough to share the recipe with all of you! (Here she is with my boys, Luke, Will, and Jake.)

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Here’s how to make this yummy treat!

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35 Oreo cookies, plus extras for garnish (or similar cream-filled chocolate cookies)

6 Tbsp. melted butter

1-8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup sugar

2 Tbsp. cold milk

12 oz. carton whipped cream

2 small pkgs. chocolate instant pudding

3- 1/4 cups milk

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Process cookies in a food processor until they become fine crumbs. Mix in the melted butter and press into the bottom of a 9×13″ pan. Put the pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the dessert.

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Beat the softened cream cheese, sugar, and 2 Tbsp. of milk together. Then stir in 1-1/4 cups whipped cream. Spread this mixture on top of the cookie crumbs.

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Beat the pudding mixes with the 3-1/4 cups milk for two minutes, then spread on top of the cream cheese mixture.

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Let the dessert stand for 5 minutes for the pudding to set up. Then spread the remaining whipped cream on top of the pudding layer, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Just before serving, break up the remaining cookies and sprinkle them on top, or stick a few cookie halves on top of each serving. Save this step until serving time, otherwise the cookies will get soggy.

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This dessert is so good … it’s cold and creamy, and hits the spot after any meal! Thanks for sharing, Aunt Carolyn!

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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

pies

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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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tart

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September 20, 2010

Pie crust

cherrpie

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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

vegsoup

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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

pizzacups

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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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