Category: Cookout

Tips for Hosting a Fun 4th of July Party

The Fourth of July is a day to celebrate in the United States. Much about July makes the fourth day of the month the ideal time to celebrate. School is out, the weather is warm and the generally relaxed attitude of summer has typically set in by the first week of July. People tasked with hosting Fourth of July festivities may not feel the same pressure when hosting such gatherings that they would when hosting more formal affairs. The relaxed nature of summer often pervades Fourth of July festivities, but hosts can still take a crash course in summer hosting to ensure everyone has a good time.

Don’t try to break the mold.

Some hosts may be tempted to think outside the box in regard to the foods and beverages they’ll serve at their Fourth of July parties. While hosts can still experiment and serve new foods and creative cocktails at their parties, many guests will be anticipating some Fourth of July staples, such as grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and cold beer and lemonade. Making sure such foods and beverages are served alongside more experimental fare won’t disappoint traditionalists, and those looking for something beyond the norm won’t be disappointed, either.

Embrace the red, white and blue.

When decorating, opt for red, white and blue decorations. This gives the party a distinctly Fourth of July feel. Red, white and blue napkins and tablecloths are readily available come July, and hosts with a gift for crafts can even create their own decorations to use year after year.

Prepare to entertain.

Unlike holiday season gatherings that typically begin in the evening, Fourth of July parties tend to begin in the afternoon and extend into the night. That means hosts must not just feed their guests, but entertain them as well. Since Fourth of July parties tend to take place outdoors, plan lots of backyard games, such as badminton, bocce, Wiffle ball, horseshoes, and more. Hosts with swimming pools should have pool games readily available as well.

Leave the fireworks to the professionals.

Hosts should not succumb to pressure, real or perceived, to supply fireworks at their Fourth of July parties. Fireworks can lead to injuries and accidents and are best left to the professionals who put on community fireworks shows. Discourage guests from bringing their own fireworks by making it known they will be asked to leave the party if they do.

Arrange transportation home for guests.

To make sure everyone gets home safe and sound, arrange in advance for some guests to serve as designated drivers. Hosts also should abstain from consuming alcohol during the party so they can get people home safe if necessary. Keep a list of local taxi company phone numbers on hand and encourage guests who plan to consume alcohol to use ride-sharing apps to get to and from the party.

Fourth of July festivities typically are less formal than other celebrations, but hosts still must plan their parties to ensure everyone has a fun, safe Independence Day.

Green Tomatoes Not Just for the Frying Pan

Perhaps in part due to the popular 1991 film “Fried Green Tomatoes,” many people are familiar with the Southern United States side dish of the same name. But as proven by the following recipe for “Grilled Green Tomato ‘Sandwiches’ with Herbed Cream Cheese” from Karen Adler and Judith Fertig’s “The Gardener & The Grill” (Running Press), green tomatoes can be even more delicious when grilled than they are when fried.

Grilled Green Tomato “Sandwiches” with Herbed Cream Cheese (Serves 6)

Herbed Cream Cheese

1 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives

Tomatoes

4 large green tomatoes (about 11/2 pounds), sliced 3/4-inch thick (to make 12 slices)

Olive oil, for brushing

2 teaspoons Seasoning Salt (see below) or kosher salt

Ground black pepper

Prepare a medium-hot fire in your grill. Place a well-oiled perforated grill rack over direct heat.

In a bowl, blend the cream cheese, garlic, basil, and chives together until smooth. Set aside.

Brush the tomato slices with olive oil on both sides and season with seasoning salt and pepper. Place the slices on a baking sheet and bring out to the grill with the bowl of Herbed Cream Cheese and a knife for spreading.

Grill all of the tomatoes on one side for about 3 minutes with the lid open, then flip and grill on the other side for 3 minutes more, or until the tomatoes have good grill marks.

Remove the tomato slices from the grill and allow to cool slightly on the baking sheet. Spread Herbed Cream Cheese on half of the slices, top with a second slice and set the sandwiches on a platter. Serve the sandwiches hot, with oozing cream cheese filling.

Variation: Grill all of the tomato slices as above and top each grilled tomato with a dollop of the cream cheese and serve open-faced.

Seasoning Salt (Makes 11/4 cups)

1 cup sea salt
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon red pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a glass jar and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to blend. This keeps for several months in the pantry.

Impress Guests With Homemade Salsa At Your Next Soirée

Gatherings of family and friends are better with food, and few foods are more universally beloved than salsa! Whether they’re hosting a gathering for the big game or a celebration of Hispanic culture and cuisine, hosts who want to go the extra mile can forgo store-bought salsa for the following homemade recipe for “Warm Black Bean Salsa” courtesy of Judith Finlayson’s “The Health Slow Cooker: 135 Gluten-Free Recipes for Health and Wellness” (Robert Rose).

Warm Black Bean Salsa (Makes about 3 cups)

2 cups cooked black beans, drained, rinsed and mashed (see tip 1 below)
1 cup diced tomatoes (see tip 2 below)
4 green onions, finely chopped
2 roasted peppers (poblano or sweet), peeled and diced
1 roasted jalapeño, seeded and diced, or 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon puréed garlic (see tip 3 below)
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cups shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves

Finely chopped green onions

1. In slow cooker stoneware, combine beans, tomatoes, green onions, poblano, jalapeño peppers, garlic, lime zest and juice, and cheese. Stir well. Cover and cook on high for 11/2 hours, until mixture is hot and bubbly. Stir in cilantro, sprinkle with green onions, if using, and serve.

Tips

1. Use 14- to 19-ounce can of no-salt-added beans, drained. Or cook dried beans yourself (see below).
2. For convenience, substitute 1 cup drained no-salt-added diced canned tomatoes.
3. To purée garlic, use a sharp-toothed grater.

Basic Beans (Makes approximately 2 cups)

1 cup dried white beans (see tip below)
3 cups water

Garlic (optional)
Bay leaves (optional)
Bouquet garni (optional)

1. Long soak: In a bowl, combine beans and water. Soak for at least 6 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Beans are now ready for cooking.
2. Quick soak: In a pot, combine beans and water. Boil for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Beans are now ready to cook.
3. Cooking: In slow cooker stoneware, combine 1 cup presoaked beans and 3 cups fresh cold water. If desired, season with garlic, bay leaves or a bouquet garni made from your favorite herbs tied together in a cheesecloth. Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours or overnight or on high for 5 to 6 hours, until beans are tender. Drain and rinse. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate. The beans are now ready for use.

Tip: If you have difficulty digesting legumes, add 2 teaspoons cider vinegar or lemon juice to the water when soaking dried beans.

Fourth of July Barbecue Essentials

The 4th of July is fast approaching and revelers across the nation are preparing to toast their independence with family and friends. For many Americans, backyard barbecues are synonymous with the Fourth of July, a day that, in the United States of America, commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

Precious few Americans can say they have not been present at a 4th of July barbecue or witnessed a fireworks display honoring America’s official declaration of independence from Great Britain. Hosting a July 4th barbecue for the first time may have some hosts anxious about throwing a summer soirée to remember, but fun is sure to be had if hosts remember to include the following backyard barbecue essentials this Independence Day.

Food

No Fourth of July barbecue is complete without food, so hosts should be sure to stock up on popular barbecue fare like hot dogs and hamburgers. Though such foods likely won’t be mistaken for gourmet fare anytime soon, Fourth of July revelers often embrace the tradition of grilling up some hot dogs and hamburgers even if they tend to avoid such foods throughout the rest of the year. Hosts should not feel pressured to provide gourmet fare on July 4th, but it is a thoughtful gesture to ask guests in advance if they have any food allergies or need to avoid certain foods for other reasons.

Beverages

It goes without saying that guests will need refreshing beverages at parties held in early July, but be sure to stock up on a variety of beverages so guests are not forced to consume drinks they don’t want. Be sure to have plenty of water available to guests, and provide sodas, iced tea and lemonade as well. Offer alcoholic beverages to adult guests, but don’t go overboard stocking up on alcohol, as that might encourage guests to overindulge.

Games

Backyard barbecues are most fun when guests are entertained, so plan to have some games available for guests of all ages. Encourage guests to bring a change of clothes or swimsuits if games will involve water or something that might soil their clothing. If you have a pool, purchase some pool games so swimmers can do more than just wade in the water or take a few laps. Plan a Wiffle® ball game for kids and dig some horseshoe pits or buy a ring toss set so adults can engage in some friendly competition as well.

Safety

Though no one wants to think of a 4th of July celebration taking a turn for the worst, hosts must prepare for emergencies. Restock the first-aid kit if necessary and keep a constant eye on guests, especially children, to ensure everyone is having a safe and happy time. Program a list of local taxi companies into your phone so you can easily call for transportation should any guests have too much to drink during the festivities. Hosts should abstain from alcohol so they can serve as designated driver should the need arise at the end of the night.

Backyard barbecues are a staple of July 4th, and there’s no reason your summer soirée can’t be one to remember for years to come.

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Maple Pecan Scone Recipe

Scones make an ideal companion to a morning cup of coffee or tea. Simple and delicious, this recipe for “Maple Pecan Scones” from Linda Collister’s “Quick Breads” (Ryland, Peters & Small) is ideal for scone lovers who want something quick to make in the morning.

Maple Pecan Scones

Serves 6

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

A good pinch of salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1 cup pecan pieces

1 extra-large egg

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

About 3 tablespoons milk

1 greased baking sheet

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Mix in the pecans.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg with maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of the milk. Stir into the flour mixture with a round-bladed knife to make a soft, coarse-looking dough. If the dough is dry and crumbly and won’t stick together, stir in more milk 1 tablespoon at a time. If the dough is very wet and sticky, work in another tablespoon of flour.

Tip out the dough onto a work surface lightly dusted with flour and gently work it with your hands for a few seconds so it looks smoother. Put the dough ball onto the prepared baking sheet. Dip your fingers in flour and pat out the dough to a round about 11/4 inches thick and 7 inches across. Using a knife, cut the round into 6 wedges, but do not separate the dough before baking.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until light golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and leave until the wedges are cool enough to separate. Serve warm the same day. The cooled scones can be wrapped tightly and frozen for up to 1 month.

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Tips for Safe Home Grilling

Millions of grilling enthusiasts take to their backyards each year to cook delicious foods over an open flame. Grilling is embedded in the history of many cultures, and to this day many people feel nothing beats the savory flavor characteristic of grilled meats, poultry, seafood, and vegetables.

Although many people safely enjoy outdoor barbecues every day, accidents can happen. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, roughly 6,000 grill fires take place on residential property every year in the United States alone. Many grilling accidents can be prevented with some safety precautions and a little common sense.

When grilling, place the grill in a safe location. Grills should be at least 10 feet away from the house when they are in use. Also, keep the grill away from wooden overhangs or other structures attached to the house, such as garages and porches.

Before using a gas grill, inspect it to make sure there are no gas leaks. Ensure hoses are properly connected and that the grill looks in good repair.

Use propane and charcoal grills outdoors only. Never bring such grills into your house, even if it seems like there is ample ventilation. Potentially fatal carbon monoxide can build up quickly.

Keep children and pets away from the grill area. Grills can be knocked over easily, and kids and pets may burn themselves if they bump into a hot grill.

Clean the grill regularly. Grease and fat buildup forms in the tray below the grill and can be quite flammable. By brushing off the grates after each use and periodically removing food and grease buildup, you can prevent flare-ups that may ignite the grill.

Always tend the grill while cooking. Walking away for even a minute may lead to accidents.

Store unused propane tanks upright at all times to prevent leakage. Keep them outdoors and beyond the reach of children. Never smoke near propane cylinders and never move a lit grill.

Keep a fire extinguisher handy in the event of a flare-up. A hose may not prove effective on a grease fire.

It’s also important to emphasize food safety when grilling. Invest in a food thermometer so you can test the internal temperature of foods and prevent foodborne illnesses.

Grilling is a great and flavorful way to cook. But safety must remain a priority when grilling.

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A Family Meal that Packs a Light, Flavorful Punch

Many people aspire to eat light meals that satisfy hunger pangs without creating feelings of fullness. Some may assume light meals must be lacking flavor, but the following recipe for “Silken Chicken” from Madhur Jaffrey’s “Quick & Easy Indian Cooking” (Chronicle Books) is light and packs that familiar flavorful punch that endears Indian cuisine to millions of people across the globe.

Silken Chicken

Serves 2 to 4

For marinating the chicken:

4 boned, skinned chicken breast halves (about 11/4 pounds)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon homemade garam masala (see below)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds (see below)

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a pulp

1/2 teaspoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger

For sprinkling over the chicken:

Salt as needed

Freshly ground black pepper

A little homemade garam masala

A little ground roasted cumin seed

A little cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon dried mint flakes

Generous squeezes of fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to its highest temperature and arrange a shelf in the top third of the oven.

Cut 3 diagonal slits across the top of each piece of chicken breast, being careful not to cut all the way through and also not to go to the edge. Prick the chicken pieces with the sharp point of a small knife. Put them in a single layer in a large baking dish and rub both sides with the salt and lemon juice. Leave for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the cream with the garam masala, cayenne, cumin seeds, paprika, garlic, and ginger in a bowl. Stir this mixture well and pour it over the chicken. Rub it into the meat and leave for 10 minutes.

Lift the chicken pieces up (most of the marinade will cling to them) and place them down in a single layer in a shallow baking pan lined with aluminum foil. On top of each, sprinkle a little salt, black pepper, garam masala, ground roasted cumin seed, cayenne, dried mint, and lemon juice. Put into the top third of the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is just white all the way through. Serve immediately, minted side up.

Garam Masala

1 tablespoon cardamom seeds

1 2-inch cinnamon stick

1/3 of one nutmeg

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon black cumin seeds

1 teaspoon whole cloves

Place ingredients into a clean coffee or spice grinder and ground to a powder.

To make ground roasted cumin seeds:

Put 4 to 5 tablespoons of the whole seeds into a small cast-iron frying pan and set over medium heat. Stir the seeds and roast them over dry heat until they turn a few shades darker and emit a wonderful roasted aroma. Wait for them to cool slightly and then grind them in a clean coffee or spice grinder. Store in a tightly closed jar.

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Master Magical Marinades

Grilled foods boast inviting flavors that put many diners on the lookout for second helpings. Quite often the magic behind grilled meals lies in the marinade used to give foods that flavorful kick.

Marinades can be used to enhance the flavor of meats, vegetables and poultry. While marinades add flavor, they also may be responsible for some other benefits in grilled foods.

Marinades add flavor

Defined as a savory acidic sauce in which food is soaked to enrich its flavor, marinades help break down fiber and tenderize certain foods. The base of many marinades include vinegar, lemon juice or wine, and marinades can be enhanced with spices, oil and herbs.

It’s important not to let foods sit in marinades for too long, as any alcohol, acid or salt in the mixture can chemically “cook” the food in a process known as “denaturing.” Adhere to timing recommendations when using store-bought marinades, and keep such guidelines in mind when using homemade marinades as well. Many may tell you to let foods sit no longer than four hours. Marinades with citrus juices may require even less time for flavor to penetrate.

The timing of marinade use also will depend on the foods being marinated. Delicate items, such as seafood, may change with regard to texture or color in a matter of minutes.

It’s important to always marinate foods in the refrigerator. Food left sitting out on a counter – even when it’s in a marinade – invites the growth of bacteria. If a recipe calls for marinating at room temperature, continue to marinate in the refrigerator, but extend the length of time you marinate. This helps to prevent foodborne illnesses.

When marinating, use plastic or glass containers so the marinade does not cause a chemical reaction, which may occur if you marinate foods in metal containers. Discard all marinades for raw meats and poultry when the time comes to cook the foods, as leftover marinades may contain bacteria that makes them unsafe to reuse on other foods.

The nutritional benefits of marinating

In addition to flavor, marinades may improve the nutritional value of grilled foods. In 2008, researchers at Kansas State University discovered that marinating meat in antioxidant-rich spice blends can reduce the risk of forming heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, by more than 80 percent. HCAs are harmful, cancer-causing compounds that form when food chars over an open flame at high temperatures. Marinades must be rich in spices to have any HCA-busting properties.

Marinades are a secret weapon in the creation of tasty, tender and healthy foods. They come in quite handy when grilling, and add an extra dose of flavor when cooking over high heat.

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Give Boring Lunches a Big Boost

Lunch might not be the most exciting meal of the day, and conventional wisdom might not suggest it’s the most important meal. But that does not mean lunch has to be boring.

For those who tend to lean on sandwiches for their midday meals, straying from the sandwich norm can provide some variety and flavor. The following recipe for “Warm Tandoori Chicken Wraps” from Vicki Liley’s “Asian Wraps & Rolls” (Periplus) can make for a unique lunch for the whole family or even serve as an easily prepared dinner.

Warm Tandoori Chicken Wraps

Makes 6 wraps

1/3 cup plain tandoori paste

2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup plain yogurt

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

12 chicken tenderloin fillets or 3 skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets

2 carrots, peeled

1 English (hothouse) cucumber, halved and seeded

6 pieces naan

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Leaves from 6 fresh mint sprigs, plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

In a small bowl, combine tandoori paste, 2 tablespoons yogurt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Put chicken in a baking dish. Pour tandoori mixture over and stir until chicken is coated. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Light a fire in a charcoal grill or heat a grill pan. Brush grill or pan lightly with oil. Cook chicken for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until juices run clear when pierced with a skewer. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut each tenderloin into 2 long strips (if using chicken breast fillets, slice each fillet into 4 long strips).

Using a vegetable peeler, cut carrot and cucumber into thin ribbons. To heat naan, follow instructions on packet. In a small bowl, stir 1/2 cup yogurt, garlic and chopped mint together.

Place naan on a work surface. Divide chicken, cucumber, carrot, and mint leaves among naan. Drizzle with yogurt mixture. Wrap the naan around filling and serve immediately.

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Stock Your Pantry With These Healthy Staples

When hunger pangs arrive and you head to the kitchen to prepare a meal or a snack, it helps to have healthy foods on hand so that you can fill up without filling out your clothes.

Sugary or fattening foods may be popular snacks, but consuming too many of these items can cause health implications, including weight gain, that could last for years. Although health experts tout certain “super foods” that are essential for the body, there are run-of-the-mill foods that are far less glamorous but pack their own healthy punch and are much more readily available.

When making your next shopping list, be sure to add these items.


* Rice: Starchy rice is a versatile food that can accompany many meals. Whether served as a side dish or on its own or with some broth in a soup, rice can help satisfy hunger and keep the stomach feeling full. Brown rice is a healthier option than processed white rice. Rice is also gentle on the stomach for people who need to consume bland diets due to any gastrointestinal ailments. Another advantage to rice is that it stores well and will not go bad, so you can stock up.

* Low-fat yogurt: Yogurt can be enjoyed as a snack any time of the day. Rich in calcium and healthy probiotics, yogurt can even replace certain ingredients in recipes, including creams and sour cream. As a dessert, yogurt is a better option than more fattening puddings or ice cream. Thicker varieties of yogurt can help you feel fuller, longer.

* Unsalted nuts: An excellent protein-rich snack, nuts can be the go-to food when you need a nutritional pick-me-up. Although they tend to be high in fat, much of the fat content is unsaturated fat that is rich in omega acids necessary for cardiovascular and neurological health. Nuts can be sprinkled on salads or served with cheeses to make meals more satisfying.

* Canned or dried fruits: Fruits that are packed in natural fruit juices are just as healthy as fresh produce. However, they can be stored for longer periods of time without spoiling. Many people do not consume the recommended servings of fruit, and having canned or individually packaged fruit cups available makes it easy to include fruit in your diet. Fruits are full of required vitamins and are a natural fiber source to keep digestion in check. Dried fruits can be added to nuts to make a healthy trail mix. Raisins, for example, are a great source of iron, which helps the blood transport oxygen.

* Beans and legumes: These foods are high in protein as well as fiber, generally in a low-calorie package. Beans and legumes can replace meats as a protein source in many meals when the goal is to reduce caloric and fat intake. Beans can be used to thicken sauces or make foods more hearty, helping to stretch them further.

* Vegetables: Whether fresh or frozen, vegetables are a must-have staple. Vegetables are ripe with vitamins and minerals, and pack a lot of punch with very low calories and fat. People need not worry about filling up on vegetables, and they’re one of the snacks that can be eaten in abundance without worry of racking up a lot of calories. Aim to have half of your plate filled with vegetables at every meal, which will keep you full.

* Lean protein sources: Fish, poultry and lean cuts of meat are often the basis for meals. They can be kept and enjoyed in moderation. Rich cuts of pork and beef may be flavorful but are high in saturated fats.

* Lemons or lemon juice: Rather than seasoning foods with salt and butter, lemon juice is a tasty flavoring that lends itself well to many types of foods. Lemons and limes contain limonene, furocoumarins and vitamin C, all of which help reduce your risk of cancer.

* Cranberry juice: In addition to being an antioxidant, 100 percent cranberry juice helps fight bladder infections by preventing harmful bacteria from growing. The juice can be consumed on its own or diluted to add a splash of flavor to water.

* Figs: Many people underestimate the nutritional value of figs. Figs can be eaten fresh off of the tree. Think about adding mashed figs to batters for healthier breads or even desserts. A good source of potassium and fiber, figs also contain vitamin B6, which produces mood-boosting serotonin, lowering cholesterol and preventing water retention.

There are many healthy and versatile foods that can be stored in the pantry without spoiling. They make for quick snacks and help keep you feeling fuller, longer. HM131804