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Fun, Fourth of July food

No Independence Day celebration would be complete without a huge gathering of family and friends and tons of easy to serve food.

The crucial word really is 'easy.' If I'm entertaining at my house I like to have everything prepared and ready to go so I can devote as much time as possible to visiting and interacting with my guests.

Many people appropriately fire up their grills on the Fourth, but this is one day we prefer not to because there is already enough other activity, with little ones and, of course, fireworks, a big part of the mix.

Several of the following recipes - most crockpot friendly - can be made the night before and refrigerated for no-fuss cooking on the holiday. The batches are large and will easily feed a crowd of 20.

I like to begin with a quick appetizer that guests can dig into at their convenience. That would be a crockpot full of Spicy Con Queso served alongside generous bowls of scoop Tostito chips, for everyone to munch on until the rest of the food is served.

The main meal barbecue recipe is a favorite and one that I literally throw together all the time. Make sure you have plenty of fresh white and wheat buns, I must admit my favorite are Hornbacher's mediums and I like to pick them up the morning of. The fresher the better, the barbecues just melt in your mouth. One won't be enough.

The beans are also an old family recipe that belonged to my sister-in-law, offering up the perfect sweet-sour taste with the mustard, brown sugar and vinegar. Just remember to drain off most of the liquid as you toss the ingredients in for a thicker, more scrumptious version.

The creamy, piping hot potatoes, resembling twice baked minus the shell, are always a real crowd pleaser, taking about five minutes to prepare. The trick - substituting instant potato buds for real potatoes. Nobody is the wiser and they are equally as delicious.

I also like to throw in a fresh salad that is a simple blend of tomatoes, cucumbers, and small, garden onions doused in Hidden Valley Ranch. Right before serving I toss in some cubed mozzarella cheese to dress up the flavor even more.

Since it is the Fourth of July I wanted to include a recipe reflecting the holiday theme. That makes this refreshing 4th of July dessert pizza the perfect conclusion to the meal. Raspberries and/or strawberries coupled with blueberries make a colorful topping to the sweet, chewy crust. It doesn't get any more patriotic (or decadent) than that. To make it even more patriotic bake and decorate the dessert in a 9x13 cake pan and decorate it like a flag, using the blueberries and other fruit as the stars and stripes.

Until next time, from my kitchen to yours, happy cooking!

Spicy Con Queso

3 cans of Hormel chili without beans

2 lbs. Velveeta Mexican Cheese

1 lb. Plain Velveeta Cheese

Dice up cheese and place in crockpot with chili on low until cheese melts. Stir occasionally. Serve with chips.

Barbecue for Crowd

5 pounds hamburger

1 large onion

1 large bottle ketchup

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. chili powder

2 tsp. regular mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the hamburger and onion. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir and blend, place in crockpot and simmer.

Creamy Twice Baked Mashed Potatoes

Follow instruction on large box of instant mashed potatoes, (any brand), 20-serving size. Prepare the box using 1 less cup water.

Add to the prepared potatoes:

1 8 oz. package cream cheese

1 8 oz. carton sour cream

1 tsp. garlic salt

1 tsp. onion salt

Other salt to taste

Mix together well and refrigerate until ready to heat in crockpot.

At this point, place a stick of butter on the top so it melts down into the potatoes. I like to leave them in the crockpot for several hours and they will develop a brown crust. If you'd like, near the end you can also top with some shredded cheese, any variety.

Hearty Five-Bean Casserole

1 can Bush's baked beans (tall can drained a little)

1 can Kidney beans (drained a little)

1 can Butter beans (drained a little)

1 can Lima Beans (drained a little)

1 can Northern Beans (drained a little)

1 pkg. ready-to-eat bacon, cut up into pieces

1 cup ketchup

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. mustard

2 tsp. vinegar

Mix all together in crock pot and simmer.

Fresh Tomato, Cucumber Salad

6 cucumbers

6 tomatoes

Small bunch of garden onions

Block of Mozzarella Cheese

Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing

Peel and slice cucumbers, dice tomatoes and garden onions. Place in bowl and pour on Hidden Valley according to taste. Right before serving cube mozzarella cheese and add.

Dessert Fruit Pizza


Spread 1 roll sugar cookie dough in a greased 9x13 pan. Bake as directed on package.


Mix 6 ozs. cream cheese, softened, with 2 tbsp. sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla. Spread over cooled crust and top with raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, or any kind of fruit you like.

Hint: Sprinkle orange juice over fruit to keep fresh. Cut and serve.