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The Fourth of July on a Budget

It sure feels like summer. Temperatures in the 90s and high humidity which means the Fourth of July isn’t far away. Here are some treats and dishes I’ve found that taste great but still easy on the budget.

Drinks
Instead of the standard ones like lemonade, try fruit flavored ones. Not mixes, but drinks you can easily put together yourself using real fruit. As strawberries and raspberries are in abundance right now try adding them to lemonade. You can put the lemonade into a blender and add about a cup of chopped strawberries and blend. And how about just adding some fruit, like blueberries, to a soda like 7-Up. If you get the wide topped one-liter containers you can put the blueberries straight into the bottle. Let it stand in the refrigerator overnight and you’ve got a drink that’s changed color and added some natural fruit flavoring, try using raspberries too. This also works with lemonade too.

Appetizers
Sometimes my favorite items at restaurants are appetizers. They’re also great if you’re heading out to listen to a concert on the Fourth. Or maybe you’re going to watch the fireworks and need just a light snack to take with you. I also like to serve appetizers when guests are stopping by after they’ve been to another venue and already eaten. They’re not too filling and you don’t feel bad about not serving your guests something to nibble on. An easy one is to take a tortilla, spread it with cream cheese with chives, and add some slices of turkey or chicken, you can also add some fresh basil, roll it up, and cut into pinwheels. A couple of other easy ones are flavored cream cheese piped into cherry tomatoes, and mini quiches. You can also get ready-made mini phyllo dough shells in your supermarket freezer. They cost less than $2 for 15 shells, and are made by a company called Athens. You can add just about anything to them and as they have a neutral flavor, plus, they’re perfect with both savory and sweet fillings. I like to add chicken, tuna, or egg salad.

It’s Picnic Time
If you’re heading out for the day, or even just staying at home, a great way to celebrate is with a backyard picnic. One way to save some time is to buy a large loaf of uncut bread, slice it in half horizontally and start layering it with herbed mayonnaise, mustard, cold cuts, cheese, tomatoes and peppers. You can leave it whole and have guests slice off what they need. If you’re taking it out and about with you, I prefer to wrap everything individually and assemble it once we arrive at the picnic site. It prevents the usual soggy bread, and it doesn’t take that long to put it all together. If you’re having guests over and want to turn it into a real party, why not give each guest a ‘picnic’ box with their name written on it. Inside you can add a sandwich, maybe wrapped in some red white and blue paper. Put in some of those red and blue corn chips, a little dish of salsa for dipping, and a cookie/brownie, or a container of fruit salad.

Desserts
Would any holiday celebration be complete without something sweet to finish off the day? One of my favorites, and an alternative to a pie, is a fruit pizza. You can use a regular pizza crust, and I know some people like to use crescent rolls as the base. The first layer is cream cheese sweetened with some powdered sugar. Then you just start layering on whatever fruit you want. Another dessert that’s really simple and makes an impressive centerpiece is Baked Alaska. I’ve found the keys to making a successful Baked Alaska is one to make sure all the ice cream is covered before you put it into the oven. And tip two is to serve it straight away. You can experiment with different types of cakes and ice cream combinations to come up with your own unique Baked Alaska. I love dark chocolate cake and cherry ice cream. It’s also a great way to use leftover cake.

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