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4 delicious ways to enjoy asparagus

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Whether it’s green, white or purple, asparagus is a delicacy best indulged in when it’s in season — during mid to late spring. Take advantage of the availability of asparagus this month by incorporating it into all of your favorite dishes. Here are four great ways to prepare it.

1. Grilled. Toss your asparagus in olive oil, season it with salt and pepper and then grill it on your barbecue. Place the spears across the grill grates, or use a grill basket so you don’t lose any.

2. Roasted. Baking or roasting asparagus in a hot oven allows the sugars within to caramelize, thereby enhancing the latent flavors.

3. Blanched. Simmer your asparagus in boiling water for a few minutes. Once the spears are sufficiently cooked, remove and then plunge them in ice water. You can now serve your blanched asparagus on a crudités platter, or use them later in other recipes.

4. Pickled. Put the asparagus in a jar with green onions and brine made of water, salt and sugar. After a few days, you’ll have a delicious snack that keeps for months.

What to pair with asparagus
Asparagus is a great addition to many dishes. Add it to a salad, include it in a risotto or try it as a pizza topping. For a sophisticated side dish, top with Parmesan cheese, slivered almonds or balsamic vinegar.

Asparagus has a limited local growing season, so don’t miss out on indulging in this delicious veggie while it’s fresh.

Did you know?
White asparagus isn’t a genetically modified variety of green asparagus. Instead, the pale hue is induced by shielding young asparagus shoots from the sun. Typically, farmers pile soil over the emerging spears, which prevents them from photosynthesizing and turning green. Purple asparagus, on the other hand, is a genetic variety, but the violet color dissolves once the vegetable is cooked.

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Greek chicken brochettes

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Serve up these tasty brochettes at a Greek-inspired feast or as an alternative to burgers at your next family barbecue.

Start to finish: 1 hour 20 minutes (25 minutes active)
Servings: 4

Ingredients

• 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
• Juice of 1 lemon
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons oregano, fresh or dried
• 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, fresh or dried
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• 4 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cubed
• 1 large zucchini

Directions
1. In the sink or a large bowl, soak four wooden skewers in water for at least 1 hour. (Skip this step if you’re using metal skewers).
2. In a large bowl, mix the Greek yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and spices. Add the chicken and mix well. Make sure the chicken is evenly coated in the marinade. Chill in the fridge for 1 to 3 hours.
3. Chop off the ends of the zucchini and use a peeler to cut fine strips. Salt generously and lay the strips flat (without overlapping) on a clean cloth or paper towel. Place another cloth or piece of paper towel and a heavy object, such as a wood cutting board, overtop. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.
4. Uncover the zucchini and use a clean cloth or paper towel to dab away excess salt and water. Roll up each strip.
5. Assemble the brochettes by alternating cubes of chicken and rolls of zucchini. Cook on a barbecue or in a grill pan until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with tzatziki sauce.

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For your 4th of July feast: A blueberry trifle

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It’s that time of year when berries explode with color. The reds, the blues, and the blacks attract us, but there’s far more to berries than meets the eye.

They’re loaded with compounds that keep your body and brain working right and staying young. So impressed were researchers at Ohio State University that they recommend everyone eat berries every day.

When it comes to total antioxidant power, four of the top 10 fruits and vegetables are blueberries (ranked number one), strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

They are rich sources of quercetin, a potent antioxidant.

Another thing that makes berries so special is a compound called ellagic acid, which is believed to prevent cellular changes that can lead to cancer. All berries have some of it, but strawberries and blackberries have the most.

All berries are also rich in vitamin C, one of the best antioxidants. It is particularly important in preventing cataracts. A half-cup of strawberries has 42 milligrams of C. And berries contain large amounts of insoluble fiber, which keeps bowels moving.

Want to feed your brain? Researchers at Tufts University found that compounds in blueberries have actually improved the memories of aging lab animals.

Fortunately, blueberries are not only good for you but delicious.

Here is a recipe for a pretty blueberry trifle that will look fantastic on your 4th of July table:

Blueberry Trifle Recipe

Ingredients
1-Angel Food cake

1-bag frozen blueberries, thawed and drained OR 1-2 pints fresh berries

1-box dry instant vanilla pudding (3.4 oz)

1-can sweetened condensed milk

1-8-oz. block cream cheese

12 oz. Cool Whip

Directions
Break angel food cake into large chunks.

Put 1/2 of cake on bottom of trifle bowl.

Sprinkle 1/2 of blueberries on top of cake.

Beat cream cheese until smooth, then add dry pudding mix and condensed milk. Beat until creamy.

Stir in about 2/3 of the Cool Whip, reserving the rest for later.

Gently spread 1/2 of mixture over cake and blueberries in bowl.

Layer again as before, keeping a few blueberries aside for garnish.

Top with remaining Cool Whip and garnish with leftover blueberries.

Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

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4 tips for a successful Fourth of July barbecue

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The Fourth of July is an ideal occasion to host a backyard barbecue. Here are four tips to ensure the day is a success.

1. Start planning early
Hosting a barbecue isn’t complicated, but waiting until the last minute to get organized can be stressful. A to-do list will ensure you don’t forget to pick up ice for the drink cooler or top up on fuel for the grill. If guests are bringing side dishes, preemptive planning can help you avoid ending up with four macaroni salads.

2. Get creative with colors

A simple way to incorporate patriotism into your decor is to use red and blue plates on a white tablecloth. Create simple centerpieces with mason jars, battery-powered headlights, and miniature American flags. For the rest of your yard, think flowers, balloons, and streamers. If you want to entertain the kids, buy some red, white and blue water balloons.

3. Keep the menu simple
Set out chips and dip for guests to snack on before you fire up the barbecue. Complement the traditional meat options with grilled asparagus, corn on the cob, or vegetable skewers. Remember, simple doesn’t have to mean boring. You can make the meal interactive with a build-your-own burger, nacho, or sundae bar.

4. Remember to relax
Independence Day is about spending time with loved ones and creating memories. Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks by assigning someone to the grill or asking guests to contribute a salad or dessert. Once everyone has a plate full of food, be sure to raise a glass to family and country.

Ideally, your barbecue should start in the early afternoon so you and your guests can make the most of a sunny day and still have time to go watch a fireworks display in the evening.

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How to make homemade ice pops

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Do you want to make your own ice pops? It’s easier than you think. Here’s how.

Use your favorite drink
To ensure you like the flavor of your ice pops, use a beverage you enjoy. Fruit juices, smoothies, drinkable yogurts, and flavored teas are all great options. If you’re a coffee-lover, use cold-brew coffee or dissolve instant coffee crystals in cream or milk. If the liquid isn’t pre-sweetened, you can add maple syrup, honey, or sugar.

Mix and match flavors

If you want more elaborate ice pops, combine your favorite ingredients. Some great flavor combinations include strawberry and lemonade, cucumber and mint, mango and almond milk, chocolate and yogurt, and pineapple and coconut milk. Toss your ingredients in a blender, pulse until smooth, and then freeze.

To make your ice pops even more interesting, layer two or more different flavors. You can do this by partially filling the ice pop molds with one flavor and letting it freeze for about an hour before pouring in the next one.

Incorporate texture
Add whole berries, slices of fruit or even candy to your ice pops. You can show off these treats by using a translucent liquid as the base. Alternatively, make these ingredients a surprise by concealing them in yogurt or an opaque drink.

To ensure your ice pops freeze all the way through, leave them in the freezer for at least eight hours. Run the mold under hot water for a few seconds before removing your ice pop to make sure it comes out in one piece.

Ice pop molds come in an assortment of shapes and can be made of plastic, silicone or stainless steel. If you shop around, you’re sure to find one you like.

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4 types of picnic food that are sure to please

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Are you planning a picnic? Whether you’re headed to the beach, park, or wilderness, packing a lunch to eat outdoors is a must. Here are four types of food you can eat pretty much anywhere.

1. Sandwiches. Compact and easy to make, sandwiches are the perfect picnic food. Swap your regular bread for bagels, tortillas, croissants, or French baguettes, and fill them with your choice of deli meats, spreads, and grilled veggies. Serve with chips and raw vegetables.

2. Finger foods. Pack an assortment of snack foods and let everyone choose what they want to eat. For adults, consider bringing olives, nuts, soft cheeses, pâtés, dips, crackers, and crusty bread. If you’re picnicking with children, think veggie sticks, hummus, mild cheeses, tortilla chips, salsa, and guacamole.

3. Handheld foods. Foods that don’t require utensils or plates are ideal for a picnic. Think cold pizza squares, individual quiches, spring rolls, or small, savory tarts. Sushi is also a great choice, provided you have a way to keep it cool and fresh until you reach your destination.

4. Salads. There are countless varieties of salad, and most of them are ideal for a picnic. Prepare or buy a pasta, bean, rice, quinoa, or potato salad. If you opt for leafy greens instead, pack the dressing separately to ensure the ingredients stay crunchy and fresh.

Once you’ve decided on your main course, be sure to pack your beverage of choice and one or more desserts.

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Grilled fruit: 5 tips for a perfect sear

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Indulging in fresh, local fruit is one of the pleasures of summer. Grilling them, however, amplifies their inherent sweetness and flavor while adding a seductively smoky taste. Here are five tips for grilling them.

1. Choose firm fruit. Grill firm-fleshed fruit like peaches, avocados, melons, pineapples, pears, and apples. Save soft and overripe fruit for other purposes.

2. Skewer small fruit. Use wooden or metal skewers if you want to grill small fruit such as strawberries or smaller pieces of large fruit. This will ensure they don’t fall into the fire. A perforated grill basket works too.

3. Cut thick slices. Melons and pineapples should be sliced into thick rounds or wedges. Peaches, mangoes, and other smaller fruit are best cut in half. When possible, keep the skin on and grill flesh side down.

4. Season the fruit. Before placing fruit on the grill, coat them with brown rum, melted butter or vegetable oil. Also, brush them a few times with your coating of choice while they’re cooking. To enhance the natural sweetness of the fruit, you can sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar or drizzle them with honey beforehand.

5. Grill one side only. This will ensure the fruit has caramelized exteriors and juicy interiors. For best results, grill them over high heat for three to four minutes without moving them.

Grilled fruit can be enjoyed alone or with your favorite meal. Alternatively, you can use them as a garnish for summer cocktails or a topping on vanilla ice cream or plain yogurt.

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