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Celebrating July 4th is about more than fireworks. It’s the opportunity to gather with family and friends for a celebration of the freedoms you enjoy because of your country’s independence. This year, celebrate the holiday with delicious and festive recipes in shades of red, white and blue.

Side Dishes

Peach Chicken Wings add grilling and food taste to your festive celebration. Process 2 cups of barbecue sauce, 1 finely chopped garlic clove and 2 peaches in a food processor. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Reserve 1/2 cup for basting. Toss 24 wings in the remaining sauce and chill. Combine the remaining sauce with 1 cup peach jam, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of hot sauce, 1 finely chopped garlic clove and 1/2 teaspoons salt in a small saucepan. Cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat until slightly thickened. Baste the wings in this sauce as they grill.

Cilantro Tomato Corn Salad bursts with flavor and color, and you can adjust the ingredients to satisfy your palate. Combine the kernels from three cooked ears of corn with 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 chopped plum tomatoes, 1 seeded and finely chopped jalapeño pepper, 1/2 small, finely chopped red onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/2 bunch chopped fresh cilantro, 1 pinch lemon-herb seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Chill before serving.

Snacks

Watermelon Salsa delivers a sweet punch of flavor in every bright red bite. In a white serving bowl, mix 2 cups seeded and coarsely chopped watermelon, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, 3 tablespoons seeded, chopped Anaheim chile, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt. Cover and chill then serve with blue corn chips.

Red, White and Blue Party Mix combines patriotic colors with a sweet and salty crunch as you involve your kids in the kitchen. Mix 1 cup yogurt coated mini pretzels, 1/2 cup yogurt coated raisins, 1/3 cup dried blueberries, 1/2 cup dried banana chips, 1/2 cup dried pineapple pieces and 1/3 cup dried sour cherries or cranberries into a large bowl. Serve the mix in individual flag buckets for guests to enjoy.

Drinks

Berry Blue Fizz tastes great and looks festive when you serve it in clear glasses. Microwave 3 cups of water on high in a glass measuring cup for 5 minutes or until it boils. Pour in 4 (3 ounce) packages of blueberry gelatin and stir until dissolved. Cool slightly before adding 5 (12 fluid ounce) cans lemon-lime soda. Serve over a scoop of pineapple sherbet or vanilla ice cream.

Strawberry Punch adds vibrant color to the drink table. Mash 4 cups of strawberries with 1/2 cup sugar. Let it sit for an hour before straining it. Add 3 cups orange juice, 3/4 cup lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar and 1-1/2 liters ginger ale.

Desserts

Patriotic Fruit Salad ends the evening on a sweet note. In a seasonal serving bowl, mix 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons honey, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon white pepper. Add 3 cups seeded and cubed watermelon, 2 cups blueberries and 1 cup julienned jicama. Stir, chill and enjoy.

July 4th gives you an opportunity to celebrate your country’s birthday and your freedom. Invite a few friends over and enjoy festive food and a fun time. What’s your favorite patriotic food?

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Memorial Day is observed the last weekend of May and is considered by many to be the official kick-off for summer. Most Americans know that Memorial Day is more than just a great time to fire up the outdoor grill – it’s a day to honor and remember our fallen soldiers. The first official observance of Memorial day was May 30, 1868 when, at Arlington Cemetery, flowers were placed on the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers. Though it may have somber roots, Memorial Day is a time to appreciate friends and family and remember those who are no longer with us.

It seems all patriotic holidays are best celebrated with an outdoor barbecue. Maybe that’s because outdoor cooking lends itself to casual, family-friendly entertaining and traditional American fare. This year you can kick up your Memorial Day menu with bold versions of classic summer foods.

Sweet Tea

You need a refreshing drink to balance the spicy, robust flavors of grilled foods, and what’s more Americana that classic sweet tea?

For 2 quarts:

If you were enticed by that delicious looking and sound roasted chicken with herbs in the last post, then you will not be able to resist this cake, which is the perfect dessert to complement your main course. Again, this is from Art Smith’s kitchen.

Ingredients:
Makes 12 servings
• 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
• 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 8 egg yolks
• 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter , cut into 8 pieces
• Grated zest of 2 lemons
• Pinch of salt
• 3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 2 cups sugar
• 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter , softened
• 4 eggs , at room temperature, separated
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 cup well-stirred, canned unsweetened coconut milk
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 2 egg whites , at room temperature
• 2 teaspoons corn syrup
• 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 bag (17 ounces) shredded sweetened coconut (2 2/3 cups)

In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, combine lemon juice and 1/2 cup water. Add cornstarch, and whisk to dissolve. Add sugar, egg yolks, butter, lemon zest and salt. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture comes to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and whisk 1 minute. Strain through a coarse sieve into a medium bowl. Let cool to room temperature, press a piece of plastic wrap directly on surface, and refrigerate until very cold. (Filling may be prepared up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated.)

Position a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350°. Lightly butter and flour three 9-inch round cake pans; tap out excess flour. Line bottoms of pans with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, cream sugar and butter with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time, then vanilla. On low speed, add flour in three 1-cup additions, alternating with two 1/2-cup additions of coconut milk, beginning and ending with flour, and beat until smooth, scraping bowl often with a rubber spatula. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites (with clean beaters) on high speed until they form stiff peaks. Whisk 1/4 of the whites into batter, and then fold in remainder. Spread evenly in pans.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Be sure pans don’t touch each other and that they clear sides of oven by 2 inches.

Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Invert onto racks and unmold, removing parchment paper. Turn right sides up and cool completely.

In the bottom of a double boiler, simmer water. In the top of a double boiler, combine sugar, egg whites, corn syrup, cream of tartar and 1/3 cup water. Place over simmering water. Beat on high speed with a handheld electric mixer until icing forms soft peaks, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and beat in vanilla. Continue beating 5 minutes, or just until stiff peaks form.

Place one layer upside down on a serving plate. Spread with half of lemon filling. Place another layer on top, right side up. Spread with remaining half of lemon filling. Add the final layer right side up. Spread icing over top and then sides of cake. Press handfuls of coconut all over icing. (Cake tastes best the day it is made.)

This recipe and the previous one are actually part of Oprah’s Christmas menu, which can be found on her web site. I wish I had Art Smith to whip up these goodies himself!

Cabernet grapes on vine

Sometimes, parties are more about the drinks than the food – is this right? Whether you think so or not, I do believe that you will enjoy this mulled wine recipe by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

INGREDIENTS
3 star anise pods
3 allspice berries
6 whole black peppercorns
3 cinnamon sticks
1 large orange
6 whole cloves
3 bottles fruity red wine, such as Rioja, Grenache, Shiraz, or Raspberry Merlot
1 1/2 cups brandy or Grand Marnier
1 cup whole dried figs
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup dried, pitted and chopped prunes
3 hibiscus flowers, (optional, for garnish)

Special equipment: cheesecloth and butcher’s twine

To make the sachet:

Place a large square of cheesecloth on the cutting board. Add the star anise, allspice berries, peppercorns, and cinnamon sticks directly to the center. Tie up the cheesecloth with the twine to make a small package and set aside.

To make the spiced wine:

1. Take the orange and stud it with the cloves. In a large pot (not aluminum) over medium heat, add the sachet, clove-studded orange, wine, and brandy. Stir to combine. Then add all of the dried fruit. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes until the wine begins to simmer. Reduce heat to low; simmer until flavors have melded, about 30 minutes.
2. To serve, ladle out the spiced wine and some fruit to each glass. Garnish with hibiscus flowers, if desired. Serve immediately.

I don’t know about you but I can almost smell and taste that medley of fruity flavors!

chocolatefondue_250A Valentines Dinner would not be complete without dessert and for me, this dessert should be something chocolate. Call it traditional. Call it mushy. I don’t care. I have to have chocolate on Valentine’s Day! So here is my pick from Rachel Ray’s ideas for the day of love – Chocolate Fondue:

Ingredients:
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
Two 12-ounce bags semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Dried apricots, for dipping
Gala apples, cored and sliced, for dipping
Pretzel rods, for dipping
Marshmallows, for dipping

Directions:
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cocoa powder with 1/2 cup water and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Stir in the milk and sugar and bring to a simmer. Add the chocolate chips and vanilla and cook, stirring, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes.
2. Serve the fondue warm with the apricots, apples, pretzel rods and marshmallows for dipping.

There’s nothing like good old chocolate fondue to top off a romantic evening. Imagine having a very satisfying meal together. How much more romantic can you get than this – a cozy conversation while dipping fruits and marshmallows into a sumptuous chocolate fondue? You can’t get any better than that, really. The rest of the evening is up to you. Happy Valentines everyone!

Note: If you do not like the fruits mentioned above, you can always find some other fruits that you prefer. Try bananas or strawberries.

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Does Rachel Ray have a man in her life? I was just wondering because I have not heard or seen anyone linked to her romantically. In any case, it does not really matter because she has some awesome ideas for a romantic dinner come Valentines. Here is my pick for the main course – Pan-seared Scallops with Pesto and Tomato:

Ingredients:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, plus 2 tablespoons finely shredded basil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 plum tomato, finely diced
4 large scallops

Directions:
1. In a food processor or blender, pulse the basil leaves until finely chopped. Add the pine nuts, cheese, garlic and lemon juice. Turn the machine back on and add 3/4 cup of the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Season the pesto with salt and pepper. Place the pesto in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
2. In a small bowl, combine the tomato and shredded basil and set aside. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium- high heat until almost smoking. Add the scallops and sear until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the scallops to a plate. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of the pesto on each scallop and arrange the tomato and basil around the scallops. Serve immediately.

This serves two and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. And if you have huge appetites – just double the ingredients!

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Forget the gingerbread house. Your holiday dessert should be simple to prepare, so you can spend more time with your family (that is what Christmas is about, right?). Here’s a quick chocoalte mousse recipe from Nigella Lawson’s cookbook, Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast.

Nigella says that most mousses need to be made the day before, to allow the egg yolk to set. Here’s her “instant” alternative. She does away with eggs, which not only saves time but allows you to safely feed it to young children.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) soft butter
9 oz best-quality semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/4 cup hot water from a recently boiled kettle
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Pour the marshmallows, butter, chocolate, and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
2. Melt over gentle heat, stirring occassionally. Remove from heat and let cool.
3 Whip the cream with the vanilla until it’s got a thick consistency. Fold it into the cooled chocolate mixture.
4. Pour into individual dishes or cups and chill until ready to serve.

Watch Nigella’s regular TV show, Nigella Express on the BBC Channel for more recipes and tips.


Children love christmas time. Maybe it’s because of the joy in the air or maybe it’s because of the gift giving. They definitely enjoy the decorating that is done for this holiday.

The gingerbread house is a fun christmas tradition. It allows you and your kids to work together to be creative. It also makes a great item for your christmas decorating. You might want to buy extra bits of the ingredients as some might get nibbled before you finish making your gingerbread house.

The gingerbread house starts with the form. Most use a cardboard house as a base. You can usually buy these in stores if you don’t want to make your own or try creating your own template, it is really easy. Of course you can always print out guides from online.
For the rest of the gingerbread house, try this recipe from Chef Bobby Flay. He introduced this recipe on his show, Food Nation.

Ingredients:

  • 5 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups dark molasses
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Frosting, either store-bought or homemade
  • Brightly colored candies such as gumdrops, licorice, peppermint sticks, etc.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix 5 cups of flour, the ginger and baking soda in a large bowl. Set aside.

Cream shortening and sugar in large bowl with mixer. Add molasses and lightly beaten eggs. Blend well. Gradually add dry ingredients. Knead in remaining flour, if necessary. Chill dough 1 hour for best rolling results.

Lightly grease cookie sheets. Roll out dough to 1/8-inch thick directly onto cookie sheets. Cut patterns, removing excess dough. Chill 10 minutes before baking. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes.

Let cookies cool.

Next, to assemble house, you will want to make a simple cardboard house to use as your base to help hold the house together. Begin applying cookies to the cardboard using your frosting as glue. Once cookies cover the entire house you can decorate with colorful candies such as gumdrops, peppermint sticks and licorice.

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Art Smith is most known for being Oprah’s personal chef and his concoctions can grace our own tables during this season – thanks to Oprah’s web site. I found this roast chicken recipe by Art Smith which might prove to be a good alternative to turkey. Though Christmas is over, I am sure you still have a lot of meals to prepare. Why not try this out?

Ingredients:
Makes 8 servings
• 2 (4-pound) chickens
• 4 cloves garlic
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 1 lemon , halved
• 2 medium onions , chopped
• 2 medium carrots , chopped
• 2 ribs celery , chopped
• 2 cups homemade or canned low-sodium chicken broth

Position a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 400°. Clean chickens inside and out with cold water and pat dry. Arrange on racks in a large roasting pan.

Chop garlic, then mash with salt to make a paste. Transfer to small bowl. Add oil, tarragon, basil, thyme, marjoram, oregano and pepper, and mix. Slip your fingers under the skin of each breast to loosen; rub as much herb paste as you can under skins. Rub remaining paste in body cavities, then place a lemon half in each cavity. If desired, tie chicken legs together with kitchen twine.

Place chickens, breast side up, on rack in large roasting pan. Roast 30 minutes, basting twice. Scatter onions, carrots and celery in pan. Roast about 20 to 30 minutes longer, basting once or twice, or until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh, without touching a bone, reads 180°.

Transfer chickens to a platter. Pour pan juices into a small glass measuring cup. (Discard vegetables in roasting pan.) Let juices stand 5 minutes, then skim off any fat from surface. Place pan over high heat on stove. When pan is sizzling, pour in degreased juices and broth. Bring to a boil, stirring up browned bits on bottom of pan with a wooden spoon. Strain into a sauceboat. Carve chicken and serve with pan juices.

All those herbs are making my mouth water!

I was going to post something else but I just could not resist the drink that Art Smith presented in the same menu that I found the recipes for the chicken and the cake (see the two previous posts here and here.) Dubbed Vanilla Citrus Punch, the drink is a perfect end to a sumptuous dinner. Here, take a look:

Ingredients:
Makes 4–6 servings
• 3 cups fresh orange juice
• 1 orange , sliced
• 1 cup fresh or unsweetened canned pineapple juice
• 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
• 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
• 1 whole vanilla bean
• 1 1/2 cups ginger ale or club soda , chilled

Combine all the juices in a large pitcher. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the juice. Stir with a whisk to separate the vanilla seeds. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Just before serving, add the ginger ale (or club soda). Serve in ice-filled glasses.

As you have probably noticed, the drink is HARMLESS! That was actually the first thing that I noticed – what? No alcohol??? Well, this version is for the kids. For those of you who are looking for a little more kick, just add a dash (or two, or three, or more!) of your favorite dark rum. I was actually thinking of using some coco rum. How does Malibu Rum sound? I think it’s perfect! I wonder if I would be ruining Art Smith’s creation if I used it?