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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December 11, 2011

Magic cookie bars

Magic cookie bars are an old-fashioned favorite. They’re so rich and delicious, and even better, they’re easy! Make them your own by using dark chocolate instead of semi-sweet chocolate chips, or add peanut butter or butterscotch chips to the mix!

1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (I like to use chocolate graham crackers!)
14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans are good in these bars)

Combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter or margarine. Press into the bottom of a greased 13×9″ baking pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over the crumb base. Spread chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts evenly in layers over the top. Press down firmly with a fork or spatula.

Bake at 350 degrees F. (or 325 if using a glass dish) for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely, then cut into bars. Enjoy!

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December 10, 2011

Super easy stuffed mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms are so delicious, but some recipes are so labor-intensive that it hardly seems worth the effort. The other night, we treated ourselves to a “steakhouse Saturday night.” We stayed home, but fixed ourselves and our kids a yummy steakhouse-style dinner. We went all out, and had a great night! Jayson grilled steaks, we had a yummy salad, baked potatoes, sauteed onions and mushrooms, and for an appetizer, stuffed mushrooms. I made them the easy way, though! Here’s how:

18 whole mushrooms
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened (you can use a low-fat or fat-free variety)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
2 tsp. olive oil
1 cup Panko bread crumbs (or you can use regular bread crumbs or round rich cracker crumbs)

Remove stems from mushrooms, and hollow them out a bit to make room for the stuffing. Slice off hardened ends and discard.  Dice the rest of the mushroom stems. Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and diced mushroom stems, and fry until cooked through, but be careful not to burn. Let cool.

Stir garlic and mushrooms into cream cheese. Add Parmesan cheese, pepper, onion powder, and cayenne pepper. Use a spoon to scoop the mixture into the mushroom caps.

Mix bread crumbs and 2 tsp. olive oil together until well combined. Take the stuffed mushroom caps, flip them over, and dip the cream-cheese side into the Panko mixture. (This is so much easier than sprinkling the crumbs over the top!) Place mushrooms on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until liquid starts to form under the mushrooms.

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December 9, 2011

Cranberry meatballs

This year for Thanksgiving, I made my friend Ginger’s recipe for cranberry meatballs. They were so easy, and were a huge hit! For the Prater family Christmas Eve gathering, we’re doing a spread of appetizers instead of a sit-down meal, which is an idea I love. Lots of yummy little bites. I’ll be making these little gems again!

This recipe makes 50 to 60 meatballs, so it’s perfect for holiday parties. You can also freeze the meatballs either before or after they are cooked.


2 lbs. ground beef
1/3 cup parsley flakes
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. minced onion
1 cup cornflake crumbs
2 eggs
1/2 cup ketchup


1 can cranberry sauce with whole cranberries
12-oz. bottle chili sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

In a large mixing bowl, combine Meatball ingredients until well mixed. Form into golf-ball-sized meatballs and put in lightly greased baking pans. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through.

While meatballs are baking, combine Sauce ingredients in saucepan. Heat over low heat until jellied sauce and brown sugar melt. Stir frequently.

Place baked meatballs in slow cooker. Pour sauce over meatballs, and gently stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 2 hours or until the sauce is bubbly. Turn the cooker down to the warm setting, and serve with toothpicks or festive party picks!

NOTE: You can change up the meat used in these meatballs however you’d like. Use ground turkey, ground pork, half turkey and half beef, or whatever you have on hand. Also, if you’re worried about the meatballs being too spicy with the chili sauce, you can use a 10 3/4-oz. can of condensed tomato soup in its place, mixed 1 tsp. prepared mustard.

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October 30, 2011

Cake pop mania!

Cake pops are all the rage these days. Generally, people make them by crumbling a baked cake into a large bowl and mixing the crumbs with a can of frosting, then scooping the mixture into balls and coating with almond bark. They’re delicious and so cute, but that’s a lot of work. That’s why I was so excited to find a cake pop maker. This countertop appliance turns ordinary cake batter into perfect little balls in 4 minutes. It does a dozen at a time, and I’ve found most cake mixes make just shy of 5 dozen balls.

All you have to do is add a stick and some candy or chocolate coating, and you’re all set! I have been going nuts with my new cake pop maker. So far I’ve made three different types of cake, just using a mix, and they turned out great. I’ve also made pancakes and muffins (shown at right) from a mix. I generally like to make things like this from scratch, but the mixes are so handy on busy school days. I can make the kids hot pancake balls or muffin balls for a super quick breakfast, and they’re excited to come home and have fresh cake pops waiting for a snack. My next project is to use a baking mix, grated cheese and mini pepperoni slices to make a savory pizza-flavored pop, which the kids can dunk in pizza sauce.

I went to a Halloween party over the weekend, and the cake pops were a hit. I made pumpkin spice balls, added sticks, coated them with white almond bark, and set them in the refrigerator to firm up. Then I used food coloring markers to paint them like eyeballs, and stuck them in a cardboard cake pop holder I found at the store. I also made devil’s food cake balls, coated them with melted chocolate, and sprinkled orange sugar on top. They looked and tasted great!

Speaking of Halloween, here’s a peek at the spooky school lunch I packed for my three sons:

They each got a jack-o-lantern PB&J sandwich with gummy worms (or are they?!?) crawling out of it, a mini banana “finger”, cake pop “eyeballs” and pretzels with candy corn and a pumpkin spice marshmallow stabbed with a sword. They also got a blood bag (juice pouch with blood label) and a Halloween card in their lunch bags. FUN!

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October 14, 2011

Swiss steak roast

My boys take their lunches to school, except for one day a week when they get to eat hot lunch. I read them the menu at the beginning of the week, and they carefully weigh their options. When Swiss steak is on the menu, however, there’s no need to even consider the other options. That’s what they want.

I’ve never made Swiss steak, but decided to give it a try for them. I got a chuck roast out of the freezer, and my plan was to let it thaw a bit and slice it into steaks, then cook it in sauce. I decided to take the easy way out, however, and just threw the frozen roast (it was about 2.5 pounds) into my slow cooker, which was treated with non-stick spray. I love being able to put a frozen roast into the slow cooker at breakfast and having a hot juicy meal ready at suppertime.

I had a ton of carrots in my refrigerator, so I cleaned and cut them into chunks and tossed them into the slow cooker as well, around the roast. Then, I opened a pack of dried onion soup mix and sprinkled it over the top of the roast.

For the sauce, I combined a small can of tomato sauce, a small can of condensed tomato soup, 1 soup can of water, 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, and 2 Tbsp. steak sauce. I used a Vidalia onion steak sauce. I poured the sauce over the top of everything, sprinkled some Italian seasoning over it all, and turned the slow cooker on high.

This all came together around 9:00 a.m., and by 5:30 p.m., we were eating a roast that tasted like Swiss steak. I made some mashed potatoes, but it would be good served over pasta as well. The kids loved it, and my husband said the sauce was just like his mom used to make. It was nice to eat a roast that was a little different than the usual plain old meat, carrots and potatoes. This one was a hit, and I’ll definitely be making it again!


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October 7, 2011

Apple pancakes

It’s apple season! I picked up a bunch of red, gold and green apples the other day, and the same day, my husband stopped and got a few more bags. So we have an over-abundance of apples at my house. It was fun slicing the different varieties up and letting the kids taste the difference. We love them dipped in caramel, and they’ve been taking lots of apples in their lunches. I’m also planning to make some apple butter in the slow cooker.

We decided to have breakfast for dinner last night, and I wanted to use up some of our apples. I found a recipe for apple pancakes, but the batter turned out to be much more like a crepe than a pancake, and they weren’t exactly what I wanted. Still, I love the idea of apple pancakes, so I wanted to include it in the blog anyway.

Wash, core, and thinly slice your apples, then dip in your favorite pancake batter. Melt butter in a skillet. Using a fork, lift apple rings out of the batter and place into the hot skillet. Flip when browned on the bottom.

Sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned in the kitchen, but that’s OK. Even with the less-than-stellar batter recipe I tried, the apples were pretty good, and the kids enjoyed them. We also cooked up some sausage patties, and enjoyed making little sandwiches with a patty in between two apple pancakes. Yum!

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September 30, 2011

Macaroni and cheese muffins


My 6-year-old, Will, is in love with macaroni and cheese. When we go to a restaurant, it doesn’t matter what else is on the menu. If they serve mac and cheese, he stops reading right there. I’ve made it for him from scratch, but he honestly prefers the orange boxed version. I can’t have that. I had to come up with a way to make homemade mac and cheese he would love. And last night, I did it!


We had bacon cheeseburger meatloaf, so since we were already splurging and having a comfort food extravaganza, it seemed like the perfect time to make macaroni and cheese muffins. If there’s anything better than mac and cheese, it’s being able to just pick it up and eat it with your hands!


2 1/2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni

2 tsp. butter or margarine

1 egg, beaten

1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar or Colby Jack cheese

1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

1 cup milk

3/4 cup bread crumbs (I used Panko, available in the Asian food section)

1 Tbsp. olive oil


Cook macaroni in boiling salted water for 8 minutes, until it’s just al dente. Drain and return it to the pan. Add butter or margarine, and stir until it melts and coats the macaroni. Let it cool slightly. Add the egg, 1 cup of the Cheddar or Colby cheese, all of the Mozzarella cheese, and the milk. Stir well.


Spoon the mixture into treated muffin tins, filling them right to the top. Press down with the back of a spoon to compact them a little. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the mac and cheese.


In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and olive oil. Spoon it on top of the muffins and press down a bit to hold the mixture in place.


Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Let the muffins rest in the pan for at least 5 minutes before removing. This will let the cheese set a bit, so the muffins will keep their shape. This recipe makes about 18 mac and cheese muffins.


This recipe got two enthusiastic thumbs up from my mac and cheese aficionado, Will. He was VERY excited about being able to pick them up and eat them, and he liked the crunchy topping. Everyone else loved them, too!


These tasty little morsels would also make great appetizers or party snacks. If you want to make a meal out of them, add some cubed cooked ham or browned ground beef into the mixture. If you go with beef, you could add a little crumbled cooked bacon on top, and make bacon cheeseburger macaroni muffins. Tell me the kids wouldn’t love that!

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September 30, 2011

Bacon cheeseburger meatloaf


Meatloaf is the ultimate comfort food. Add bacon and cheese, and it’s like a warm, all-enveloping hug from your mom. Last night I decided to pull out all the stops and make a Sunday-style comfort food dinner in the middle of the week. Why save all that good food for the weekend?


My husband and sons love bacon cheeseburgers, so I thought I’d turn a meatloaf into a giant version of their favorite burger. Here’s how:


2 pounds ground beef

1 pound pork sausage

1 small onion, chopped

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup bread crumbs (I used Panko, available in the Asian food department)

1/3 cup ketchup

1 tsp. seasoned salt

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

6 slices bacon

Sliced cheese (I used Colby Jack)


Combine the meats, eggs, bread crumbs, ketchup, seasoned salt, and Italian seasoning. Divide in half. Form one half into a loaf and place it in a treated casserole dish. Place sliced cheese on top, leaving an inch border all the way around on the outside. Put the other half of the meat on top of the cheese, and press down on the edges to seal. Drape bacon over top of the meatloaf, overlapping slightly, and tuck the ends underneath. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 90 minutes or until you get an internal reading of 160 degrees F.  Let the meatloaf rest a few minutes before slicing.


I made a 3-pound meatloaf, so we’d have plenty of leftovers for sandwiches. You can adjust the size to suit your family, of course. The rule of thumb is to cook meatloaf 30 minutes for every pound of meat. Use a meat thermometer to make sure it’s fully cooked.


When I sliced into this meatloaf, the cheese started oozing out, and I knew it was going to be good. There was absolutely no conversation at dinner, because everyone was too busy eating … a sure sign everyone loved it!


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September 28, 2011

Easy chicken tortilla soup


Fall is in the air, so soup is back on the menu! It’s also an extremely busy time at my house, especially on Tuesdays. My oldest has play practice, the younger two have football practice (and my husband helps coach their team), plus every other week, we have Cub Scouts. That means we have a very small window for eating supper, and it’s often late in the evening, so we don’t want anything too heavy. Hello, slow cooker!


I love the warm spiciness of chicken tortilla soup, so I thought I’d give it a try! It was perfect for the slow cooker, too. I’ve been trying to plan my meals for the week ahead of time, so since I knew I was making this on Tuesday, I threw some frozen chicken thighs in the slow cooker on Monday and just let them cook. Then, I removed the skin and bones and shredded the meat. I reserved 2 cups of meat for this soup, and froze the rest in a freezer bag. Perfect for a future soup or casserole! I also strained all the juices left in the crock pot and put the container of stock in the refrigerator.


Tuesday around lunchtime, I put the soup together in the slow cooker. Here’s what I used:


2 cups chicken broth (I skimmed the fat off the top of my refrigerated stock and added hot water to make 2 cups)

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

1 medium can tomato sauce (you can used crushed tomatoes, but I don’t like tomato chunks!)

1 can enchilada sauce

2 small cans green chiles

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can corn, including the liquid from the can

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely diced

2 Tbsp. cilantro

2 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

Salt and pepper to taste


Just dump everything into the slow cooker, put on the lid, and cook it on high for 3 to 4 hours, or low 6 to 8 hours. My slow cooker also has a “warm” setting, which is great. The soup was ready before we left for football practice, so I just turned it to low, and it was perfect when we got home.


Traditionally, tortilla soup is served with toasted strips of corn tortillas. Why not make things easy? I used slightly crushed tri-color tortilla chips, and also added a sprinkle of cheese. You could add sour cream if you like. I made this soup to be on the mild side, since my youngest doesn’t love spicy food. You can certainly pump up the spice factor by adding more peppers or hot sauce.


Sometimes it’s hard to get kids on board with just soup for supper, but all three of my boys cleaned their bowls and said they loved the soup! It was nice to come home from a busy afternoon and evening and sit down together at the table with a warm, hearty meal that was waiting for us.


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September 26, 2011

Muffin tin apple pies



My oldest son, Jake, is a very good eater, and happily eats just about everything I fix. He rarely asks for any food in particular, so when he does ask, I usually make whatever he wants. This week, he wanted apple pie. Apple pie it is.


I happened to have a fruit bowl full of apples, and a couple of refrigerated pie crusts, so I set out to work. I wanted to make mini pies so they could take extras in their lunches. I didn’t have any mini pie pans, but I did have a muffin tin. I found a cup that was about an inch wider than the muffin cups, and used it to cut out circles, then pressed them into the bottom of the muffin cups and up around the sides. A double-crust box of dough was just enough to make 12 mini pies, with enough dough left over to cut out stars with a mini cookie cutter for the tops.


Here’s how I made the filling:


8 apples, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces (smaller than for a normal-sized pie)

Lemon juice, if needed (I had Jonathan apples on hand, so added some lemon juice to make them more tart)

1/2 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. flour

1 tsp. apple pie spice


Toss all the ingredients together and fill the crust-lined muffin tins. Top with the dough cut-outs, sprinkle with a little sugar, and bake at 425 degrees F. for 30 minutes.


These little pies turned out so cute, and they couldn’t have been easier. You can use canned pie filling to make these pies easier still! They also make portion control easier. There’s no way a pie would be cut into 12 pieces in my house, but with the same amount of ingredients, we had 12 mini pies. They’re also the perfect size for lunchboxes, so Jake and his brothers are happy campers!

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