The Rattenborg family at Disney World last summer. Front row - Jonny, 6 Lizzie and Katie, 4 Back row - Ryan and Allison
The Rattenborg family at Disney World last summer. Front row - Jonny, 6 Lizzie and Katie, 4 Back row - Ryan and Allison
Monday, February 28, 2011

DUNLAP, Ill. — The Rattenborg family of Dunlap, Illinois, loves to play together. You name it, they do it. They love to sing, dance, play musical instruments, play sports and board games, and cook and bake. This past Christmas, the family sang Christmas carols while ringing bells for the Salvation Army.

Ryan and Allison Rattenborg are parents to Jonny, 6, and twins Lizzie and Katie, 4. Ryan (a 1995 Carroll High graduate) and Alli (a 1994 Carroll High graduate) began dating in high school after getting to know each other while participating in speech and drama. The couple, who live north of Peoria, have three little performers on their hands. The three often put on “shows” for mom and dad and love to help in the kitchen.

Ryan, the son of Rodney and the late Vickie Rattenborg, of Scranton, is an Information Technology Project Manager at Caterpillar Inc. Alli is the daughter of Steve and Marsha Nuckels, of Carroll. She teaches Kindermusik part-time and is a stay-at-home mom.  

When the couple first married, Ryan did all the cooking. After their kids were born, Alli decided it was time for her to learn how to cook too. Ryan and Alli take a team approach to cooking for their family of five. Alli cooks during the week and Ryan cooks on the weekends. Alli says she and Ryan’s cooking styles differ, so it makes for a nice variety of dishes. Alli prefers to stick to the recipe and Ryan loves to experiment. Alli envies Ryan’s ability to whip up delicious meals with random ingredients.

The Rattenborg family always prepares one meal for the family to share. Alli and Ryan are not short-order cooks, nor do they think, “Would the kids eat this?” before making a meal. Alli says they exposed their children to a wide variety of foods early on and says she just makes what sounds good.

The family plans their meals for the week on Sunday, often with the kids’ input. Ryan and Jonny are in charge of the grocery shopping. Jonny, a kindergartener, is just learning to read, so he loves the challenge of finding the right ingredients. It makes a trip to the grocery store a fun learning experience.

The family loves to eat lots of healthy fruits and vegetables. Alli learned a trick from the book “Deceptively Delicious” by Jessica Seinfeld. She has raw veggies like green pepper strips and thinly sliced English cucumbers waiting for the kids while she cooks dinner. This way when they are “starving,” they are eating a healthy snack. Jonny, Lizzie, and Katie love fruit so much, they think its dessert!

Alli enjoys looking online for new recipes. The family stays active throughout the year. The three children love to cheer each other on at their different activities. Jonny plays basketball and soccer and the girls take dance lessons and play soccer, too. Alli is the children’s choir director at their church and is currently directing a musical called “Holy Moses!” which will be performed next month. The family prefers to eat dinner at home, even when busy with activities. Alli says, “Planning ahead is key!”



Ryan’s Spaghetti

When asked which recipes should be included for this article, all three kids agreed that “daddy’s spaghetti” should make the cut. Alli agreed since Ryan made this spaghetti for her on one of their very first dates in high school. Alli was so impressed and it won him big brownie points. Ryan learned to cook early on as he was a cook at Bloomers on and off for six years throughout high school and college.  

1 to 2 pounds ground beef
1 medium/large onion - diced
3 green peppers (smallish) - diced
1 tablespoon basil
1 1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 large cans tomato sauce
2 to 4 garlic cloves - minced
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
8 oz fresh portabella mushrooms - sliced (optional)
1 to 2 small cans tomato paste (optional)
2 tablespoons white sugar to taste (optional)

Brown beef and onion. Sautee peppers and mushrooms in a small amount of oil over medium/low heat for about 3 minutes. Combine all ingredients except tomato paste and white sugar into crock pot. Simmer on low for 4 hours to combine flavors. Add tomato paste 30 minutes before serving to thicken as desired. Add sugar to sweeten to taste. Serve over spaghetti.



Alaska Salmon Bake with Pecan Crunch Coating

The Rattenborgs love to eat fish. In the summertime, Ryan grills salmon and all kinds of white fish. Orange Roughy is the family’s favorite.

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons melted butter
5 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
3 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley
6 (4 ounces each) salmon fillets
salt and pepper to taste
6 lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, butter, and honey. In another bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, pecans, and parsley. Season each salmon fillet with salt and pepper. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Brush with mustard/honey mixture. Cover the top of each fillet with bread crumb mixture. Bake for 10 minutes per inch of thickness, measured at thickest part or until salmon just flakes when tested with a fork. Serve garnished with lemon wedges.



Easy and Delicious Brussel Sprouts

Alli will never forget the Thanksgiving dinner when her sister-in-law, Jackie Nuckels (wife of Ben, of Oconomowoc, Wisc.), prepared Brussel sprouts and Jonny discovered his love for this vegetable. Now Brussel sprouts are served often in the Rattenborg home.

1-1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and yellow leaves removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove - minced (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place trimmed Brussels sprouts, olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, and garlic in a large re-sealable plastic bag. Seal tightly and shake to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet and place on center oven rack. Roast in the preheated oven for 15 to 25 minutes, shaking pan every 5 to 7 minutes for even browning. Reduce heat when necessary to prevent burning. Brussels sprouts should be darkest brown, almost black, when done. Adjust seasoning with kosher salt, if necessary. Serve immediately.



Pumpkin Pancakes

The family lived in Morton, Illinois for 6 years and the Libby Pumpkin Plant there produces 80% of the world’s canned pumpkin. Every year Morton has a Pumpkin Festival with delicious pumpkin recipes ranging from pumpkin chili, pumpkin ice cream, and even pumpkin pancakes. Everyone in the family loves pumpkin and this is one of their all-time favorite recipes.


2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk (only 1 cup if using fresh pumpkin)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar

In a large bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt, stir into the pumpkin mixture just enough to combine. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.



Dana’s Cookies

This recipe was created by a friend of Alli’s. Their families had a get-together with a group of friends this past fall. On the drive home, Ryan and Jonny could not stop talking about these cookies. Jonny said, “Mommy! You have to get this recipe! They are the best cookies I have ever tasted!” Dana so graciously passed along her recipe and they have made these cookies for many occasions. Alli even entered them into a cookie contest at Ryan’s work and won. The contest winner was named “Red, White, and Blue” as it had white chocolate chips, craisins, and blueberry-infused craisins.
Alli loves this recipe, because it’s so flexible. It is a base recipe and with several optional and yummy ingredients. Jonny’s favorite is the semi-sweet chocolate chip and Heath English Toffee Bits option. Katie and Lizzie love to help bake and have been baking with Alli since age 2. The three kids learn many skills while baking including math, science, and fine motor skills. Lots of fun and laughs are shared in the Rattenborg kitchen.

In a large bowl combine:
1 stick salted butter - softened
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix well. Add 2 eggs and continue to mix thoroughly.

In a separate bowl mix together:
2 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Slowly mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients.

Stir in any of the following extras:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 cup Heath English Toffee Bits
1 cup white chocolate chips and 1 cup Craisins (or dried cherries)
2 cups M&Ms
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drop spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for approximately 9 minutes. Remove from oven when just beginning to brown. Let cool for a bit (about 10 minutes) on the cookie sheet before removing them to continue to cool on a baking rack or foil.