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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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Slow-cooked vegetarian curry

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One of the best parts about using a slow cooker is the tantalizing aroma that fills your home as food simmers. Sit back and let the anticipation build — this mouthwatering dish is well worth the wait.

Start to finish: 4 hours 20 minutes (20 minutes active)
Servings: 8

Ingredients

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 onion, diced

• 4 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 tablespoons ginger, grated

• 2 tablespoons ground coriander

• 2 teaspoons ground turmeric

• 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder

• 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

• Salt and pepper, to taste

• 2 cans chickpeas (19 ounces), rinsed and drained

• 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced

• 1 can of coconut milk

• 1 cup vegetable broth

• Juice of 1 lemon

• A few fresh mint leaves

Directions
1. In a pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and cook until it’s translucent. Add the garlic and spices, then cook for another 2 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

2. In a slow cooker, add the chickpeas, squash, coconut milk, broth, and the onion mixture. Mix carefully.

3. Set the slow cooker to low heat for 4 hours. Add the lemon juice, and adjust seasoning as needed.

4. Serve alone or with rice, and garnish with fresh mint.

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Cinnamon buns

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For brunch, dessert or simply to treat yourself, there’s never a bad time to indulge in a cinnamon bun. All the better if they’re homemade!

Start to finish: 3 hours (30 minutes active)
Servings: 12

Ingredients

Buns
• 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/4 cup white sugar
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 packet instant yeast (or 2-1/4 teaspoons)
• 1/2 cup whole milk
• 1/4 cup water
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 egg

Filling
• 2/3 cup brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
• 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

Icing
• 1 cup icing sugar
• 2 tablespoons whole milk
• 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

Directions
1. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Set aside.

2. In a heat-resistant bowl, mix the milk, water, and butter. Using a water bath, double boiler, or microwave, heat the mixture until the butter melts and the ingredients are incorporated. Pour over the dry ingredients, then add the egg. Mix with a whisk or an electric beater until the batter has a smooth texture.

3. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Place it in a clean, greased bowl, and cover it with a damp cloth. Let sit for about 30 minutes.

4. In the meantime, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.

5. After the 30 minutes are up, place the dough on a flat surface and roll it out into a rectangle (about 8 by 14 inches). Using a rubber spatula, spread the butter evenly over the dough, leaving half an inch uncovered around the edge. Use your fingers to sprinkle the buttered dough with the filling mixture.

6. Roll up the dough to create a tube. Use a knife to cut 12 even rounds. Place each round face up in a greased cake pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let sit for about 90 minutes.

7. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 F. In a bowl, add the icing sugar then mix in the milk 1 tablespoon at a time. Once the icing is smooth and creamy, add the vanilla extract and mix well. Set aside.

8. After the 90 minutes are up, the buns should have doubled in size. Bake them in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. Let the buns cool completely, then ice them using a spoon or piping bag.

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A brief guide to gourmet hot chocolate

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Nothing takes the chill off a cold day quite like a hot cup of cocoa. For a creative twist on this winter classic, here are a few sweet suggestions.

Spices
If you want a simple way to liven up your hot chocolate, add a dash of vanilla extract or a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, or cayenne, depending on your taste.

Rim trim

Dip the rim of your mug in melted chocolate or caramel, then roll it in graham cracker crumbs, crushed candy cane, rainbow sprinkles, or whatever else suits your fancy.

Toppings
Take your hot chocolate to the next level with a scoop of ice cream, a swirl of whipped cream, or a toasted marshmallow. Top it off with chocolate shavings or maple flakes.

Finally, if you want to turn your hot cocoa into an adult beverage, you can add a splash of orange, coffee, or Irish cream liqueur. Cheers!

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Hawaiian Butter Mochi sweetens up the party

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This classic Hawaiian treat is made with canned coconut milk, evaporated milk, and mochiko sweet rice flour, which is available in just about any Asian grocery and in the international aisles in many American grocery stores. Make sure not to swap out for other types of flour–use mochiko sweet rice flour only.

Despite the name, butter mochi is actually a leavened cake, with a bouncy, chewy texture that will be unlike anything you’ve ever tried before.

This rich dessert is also gluten-free, and the stir-together process is fast and incredibly easy. The recipe yields a large pan of mochi, making it a great option for a group.

This recipe makes regular butter mochi, but it’s easy to experiment and add your own twist. Try three tablespoons of matcha powder for green tea butter mochi, or about a third of a cup of cocoa powder (or more) for butter mochi brownies. You can top it with shredded coconut or mini chocolate chips. Have fun!

1 stick unsalted butter (melted)
2 cups granulated sugar (or 1 1/2 if lower sugar is desired)
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
16 oz. mochiko flour (1 whole box if using Koda Farms brand)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 can evaporated milk (12 oz.)
1 can regular (not lite) coconut milk (14 oz.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.

Mix melted butter and sugar until combined. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Stir in vanilla.

Add mochiko flour and salt and stir until mostly combined. The batter will look thick and dry.

Add coconut milk and evaporated milk, making sure to shake cans well before opening. Using a whisk to break up lumps, mix until batter is totally smooth.

Pour into a greased baking pan and bake for one hour.

Mochi is done when a sharp knife or toothpick comes out clean. Allow mochi to cool completely and then remove mochi from the pan and cut into small squares. Store in a sealed container.

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Red velvet bites

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This bite-sized version of red velvet cake will allow your guests to sample all the desserts at your next holiday spread. You can count on these to be a crowd-pleaser.

Start to finish: 3 hours (1 hour active)
Servings: 40 bites

Ingredients

• 3 cups sugar
• 3 cups flour
• 1/2 cup cornstarch
• 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
• 4 large eggs
• 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
• 1-1/4 cups warm water
• 1/2 cup vegetable oil
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon white vinegar
• 2 tablespoons red food dye
• 4.5 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
• 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
• 2 cups icing sugar
• 28 ounces white chocolate
• 1/4 cup red decorative sugar

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 7 by 11-inch baking dish. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, use a whisk or hand beater to mix the sugar, flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Add the eggs, buttermilk, warm water, vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, vinegar, and food dye. Blend until the mixture is uniform.
3. Pour the mixture into the baking dish, and bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool.
4. In a large bowl, blend the cream cheese, butter, and the rest of the vanilla. Slowly incorporate the icing sugar by blending at low speed until the mixture has a smooth, even texture. Set aside.
5. Once the cake has completely cooled, place it in a large bowl and use your hands to crumble it until it has the consistency of wet sand. Add about a 1/2 cup of the cream cheese icing to the cake at a time and mix well. The final texture should allow you to form balls that keep their shape.
6. With your hands, form 40 cake balls and squish them slightly to create a disc shape. Place the balls on a baking sheet, and put them in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
7. In the meantime, melt the white chocolate using a double boiler or water bath. Let the chocolate cool slightly while ensuring it remains a liquid. Using a fork, dip each cake ball into the chocolate, so they’re completely coated. Place the balls on a baking sheet and immediately sprinkle the decorative sugar. Put the balls in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the chocolate to harden.

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Gazpacho shooters

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Does a high-spirited holiday season leave you feeling exhausted? This vibrant and refreshing drink is packed with vitamins that will give you the energy boost you need to continue celebrating.

Start to finish: 1 hour 30 minutes
(30 minutes active)
Servings: 8 small portions

Ingredients
For the gazpacho
• 1 cup croutons
• 2 large ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded and cubed
• 1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
• 1 red pepper, seeded
• 1/2 red onion, cubed
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
• 2 cups tomato juice
• 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon sugar
• Salt and pepper, to taste

For the garnish
• 1 small tomato, seeded and cubed
• 1 Lebanese cucumber, seeded and cubed
• 1/2 red pepper, seeded and cubed
• Sea salt, to taste
• 16 fresh basil leaves

Directions
1. In a small bowl, place the croutons and add 1/2 cup of room temperature water. Set aside.
2. In a blender, purée the tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, onion, and garlic. Drain the croutons and add them along with the tomato juice, vinegar, oil, and spices. Continue to blend until the mixture has a smooth, uniform texture. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
3. To serve, pour the gazpacho into shooters or small verrine-style glasses. In a small bowl, mix the chopped tomato, cucumber, and pepper. Top each glass with about 1 tablespoon of the vegetable mixture. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over each and garnish with 2 basil leaves.

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