Make S’mores memories all summer long

(ARA) – Whether after a ball game, or when friends drop by for a visit, S’mores are the perfect summertime treat for creating lasting family memories.

Top social media moms from TheMotherhood, an award-winning Web community, teamed with Hershey’s chocolate to offer several ways your family can enjoy S’mores all summer long:

* Family activity S’mores: S’mores make a great family snack because everyone can get involved when making them. Put the little ones in charge of preparing the graham crackers and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars. The adults and older children can take care of roasting the marshmallows. Once everything’s ready, dig in and enjoy.

* Grilled S’mores: Bring S’mores ingredients and a box of aluminum foil to your next barbecue. Build the S’mores and then wrap them in aluminum foil and cook on the medium-hot grill for one to two minutes on each side.

* Summer vacation S’mores: S’mores aren’t only for camping. Many hotel chains offer fire pits or grilling areas perfect for making S’mores. If you are staying home this summer, bring your S’mores ingredients to the park or playground.

* Party with S’mores: The next time you’re invited to a summer party, bring S’mores ingredients as your contribution to the gathering. Guests will love making gooey S’mores and you’ll be a hit at the party.

This summer, showcase your favorite S’mores memories by visiting Hershey’s Facebook page and downloading the “Say S’mores” application for a chance to win S’mores-themed prizes, including a camera, photo printing gift card, outdoor fire pit, roasting skewers and all of the ingredients needed to make S’mores.

For more information and full contest details, visit www.facebook.com/hersheys.

Six easy tips for healthy summer living

(ARA) – Summer brings with it abundant sunshine, fresh foods and fun activities which is why the season inspires many people to be happy and healthy. With a few simple tips, you too can refresh your lifestyle and feel your very best.

Chelsie Hightower, the Emmy-nominated professional dancer from the hit show “Dancing with the Stars,” has put together some healthy lifestyle tips:

1. Make healthy meal choices. “I personally love sushi. Fish and vegetables are essential for my weekly protein, and it’s even healthier with brown rice,” says Hightower.

2. Hop in a steam bath. After working out, steam helps relax sore muscles and boost your immune system.

3. Use summer as a reason to try new activities. Take hikes, go swimming, or learn yoga.

4. Keep a food journal. Once you see everything you eat written down in front of you, it’s easier to make more realistic goals and changes.

5. Dance to your own beat. Realize that no two body types are the same and what works on others won’t necessary work for you. You need to understand your own body’s rhythm and set realistic goals.

6. Make healthy food more interesting with unique and delicious recipes. “I enjoy finding recipes online and then trying them at home. Old London has some great recipes on their Facebook page,” Hightower says.

One of Hightower’s favorite recipes combines the tropical flavors of Hawaii for the perfect, healthful summer treat packed with whole grain and fiber:

Coconut Pudding of Oahu

Ingredients:
2 boxes of Old London Melba Toast Unsalted Whole Grain or Classic
2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
2 1/2 cups canned cream of coconut (such as Coco Lopez)-once you open the can stir the contents well.
2 cups light coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs
Vanilla bean ice cream (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Arrange one box of Melba Toast in a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass baking dish.
3. Sprinkle with half of the coconut, top with remaining box of Melba and remaining cup of coconut.
4. In a separate bowl, combine cream of coconut, coconut milk, sugar and vanilla in heavy large saucepan.
5. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture is just warm; remove from heat.
6. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs to blend then add to warm milk mixture.
7. Pour mixture over toasts in baking dish using back of spoon to push bread gently into milk mixture.
8. Let stand 15 minutes then bake until pudding is set and golden brown, about 50 to 60 minutes.
9. Top with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream (optional).

Energize the spirit, enrich the mind and toast to your health by making Old London a part of your everyday active, healthy lifestyle. Old London’s better-for-you snacks product line Melba Snacks, Melba Toast and new Bagel Chips come in bold flavors, such as Spicy Cheddar, Sesame and Sea Salt to pair up with any topper, dip or spread for a nutritious mid-day snack, party appetizer or unique, Hawaiian-inspired recipes, available on Old London’s Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/OldLondonFoods.

An easy way to add to your barbecue repertoire

(ARA) – Grilling is one of the great American rites of summer, but your average burgers and brats can only take you so far. If you’re looking for a way to take your barbecue experience to another level, adding a smoker to your arsenal can really help you bring more flavor to your gatherings.

You might think using a smoker would be labor-intensive and time-consuming compared to using a standard grill, but smoking is actually easier than you might think. Smokers are also versatile and comparable in price to a nice grill, making buying one affordable for anyone who takes their barbecue seriously.

“Smoking is a great method for adding flavor to ribs, wings or a pork roast,” said Masterbuilt CEO and cookbook author John McLemore. “It’s also as simple as preparing your meat, placing it in the smoker and letting it cook while you spend time with your guests on the patio. Once it’s done, your meat is ready to serve.”

McLemore offers the following tips for those who are looking to try their hand at smoking:

* Before you cook anything in your new smoker, season it by filling it with a handful of wood chips and setting it to its highest temperature with the air vents open. Let it run for about two hours, adding wood chips twice during the process.

* Part of the fun of a smoker is that you can use multiple types of wood chips to add different flavors – from standard mesquite and hickory, as well as the less common, but flavorful, apple or pecan. Repeat the process of seasoning your smoker with each new flavor.

* An electric smoker can make for simple and convenient barbecuing. For example, the Masterbuilt Electric Smokehouse features a digital thermostat and remote timer that make it easier to monitor your roast.

* If your meat reaches your desired temperature before you are ready to serve, simply wrap it in aluminum foil and reduce the smoker temperature until mealtime.

* Overloading the smoker with food may cause uneven cooking and extend cooking time. It’s best to allow enough space for proper heat circulation.

* If you’re smoking wet ribs, apply barbecue sauce about an hour before you are finished cooking and wrap with aluminum foil. If you prefer a dry rub, apply the seasoning before placing the meat in the smoker.

* Barbecue sauce isn’t the only thing you can use to flavor meat. For example, try mixing things up by complementing your pork roast with peanut butter to add a delicious nutty flavor.

For more smoking tips and recipes, visit dadgumthatsgood.com or check out Masterbuilt on Facebook. You can also try one of these recipes from McLemore’s “Dadgum That’s Good” cookbook.

Super Smokers Sweet and Spicy Chicken Wings

Ingredients:
2 1/2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
5 pounds chicken wings, rinsed and dried
1 cup honey
1/2 cup hot barbecue sauce
3 tablespoons apple juice
Apple or pecan wood chips for smoking

Directions:
In a small bowl, mix together the black pepper, onion powder, chili powder, garlic power and seasoned salt. Place the chicken wings in a large resealable bag. Pour the dry rub into the bag and shake to coat the wings. Marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Preheat smoker to 225 F. Place the wings on the top rack of the smoker and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. Turn wings and cook for another 25 or 30 minutes, or until done. While the wings are cooking, mix the honey, barbecue sauce and apple juice in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until warmed through. Remove the wings from the smoker and place in a disposable aluminum foil pan. Pour the warm sauce over the wings and toss to coat evenly. Return pan to smoker on middle rack and cook for another 25 minutes. Remove from the smoker and serve immediately. Serves four to six.

Game Hens with Asian Citrus Baste

Ingredients:
4 game hens
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, minced
2 tablespoons brown sugar (firmly packed)
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 fresh large lemon, juiced
1 fresh large lime, juiced
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce

Directions:
Season hens with one teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of pepper. Split each game hen in half. In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix garlic, onions, brown sugar, cilantro, one teaspoon pepper, lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, soy sauce and hot sauce. Reserve one cup for basting. Pour the remainder over hens and marinate for six to eight hours in the refrigerator. Preheat smoker to 225 F. Place hens in smoker for 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the hens is 165 F. Using the cup of marinade, baste hens several times during smoking. Serves eight.

Pantry staples make baking classic recipes a breeze

(ARA) – Thinking about baking? A few key pantry ingredients will prepare anyone to bake at the drop of a hat. Bakers and dessert enthusiasts alike know that baking requires no special season – from springtime to the holidays there’s always room for a sweet indulgence – and it’s important to be prepared to bake up a special treat. Every baker, novice or experienced, should keep a few ingredients on hand:

* Flour – A classic ingredient is the foundation for baking and will work in most baking recipes – all-purpose is the best to have on hand.
* Sugar – Baking requires a fine, light sugar that will quickly dissolve when used. Make sure the white sugar is labeled for baking. Light and dark brown sugars add a deeper flavor to recipes with a hint of molasses. Light brown sugar is more commonly used in baking recipes – keep brown sugar fresh in a well sealed container.
* Baking powder and baking soda – Each ingredient is a leavener that is often called for in cakes and cookies.
* Salt – Again, baking requires a fine salt versus a kosher or high-quality sea salt. Fine salt allows it to dissolve and incorporate with the ingredients more easily. Even just a dash of salt makes a big difference in the taste of baked recipes.
* Vanilla extract – While there are many extract flavorings, vanilla is most commonly used in sweet baked goods. Avoid imitation vanilla extract as it has a flatter flavor than true vanilla extract, which is made from vanilla beans.
* Cocoa powder – Cocoa, such as Hershey’s Cocoa, is the ideal ingredient for bringing a rich chocolate flavor to desserts. Cocoa is used in a wide variety of recipes including hot cocoa, frostings, cakes, brownies and other rich chocolate desserts.
* Don’t forget to stock the refrigerator. Baking often requires eggs and milk.

Bakers rely on these ingredients to experiment with new flavors, but also to create tried-and-true recipes, like Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake. This classic, decadent and delicious dessert was recently crowned the “Most Iconic Hershey’s Cocoa” recipe in an online vote among 15 top recipes. The homemade chocolate cake recipe first appeared in a 1971 cookbook. Later it was featured on the Hershey’s Cocoa can label in the 1970s and 1980s, appeared in a national ad in 1987 and has been printed in numerous recipe booklets and cookbooks in the past five decades. The online vote celebrated a rich heritage that dates back well over a century.

To see other contending recipes, as well as nearly 500 other cocoa recipes, visit www.hersheyskitchens.com.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake
Makes 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
11/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups water
1/2 cup finely crushed hard peppermint candy (optional)
One-Bowl Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)
Additional crushed hard peppermint candy (optional)

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans or one 13x9x2-inch baking pan.
2. Combine butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla in large bowl; beat on high speed of mixer for 3 minutes. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and baking powder; add alternately with water to butter mixture, beating until blended. Add candy, if desired. Pour batter into prepared pans.
3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.
4. Frost with One-Bowl Buttercream Frosting. Just before serving, garnish with peppermint candy, if desired.

One-Bowl Buttercream Frosting Ingredients (makes about 2 cups frosting)

Ingredients:
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Beat butter in medium bowl. Add powdered sugar and cocoa alternately with milk, beating to spreading consistency (additional milk may be needed). Stir in vanilla.

Tips to keep your summer entertaining menus easy

(ARA) – Summer entertaining season is here and it’s time to take advantage of the warm weather by getting together with family and friends. Simplicity is key, so toss the complicated menus and decor out the window in favor of cold platters, fresh fruits and vegetables and sunny skies so you can spend more time out of the kitchen and with your guests.

To help make your next summer soiree stress free, try a few of these simple tips:

* Season and marinade your meat and vegetables the night before so all that’s left to do is fire up the grill. Be prepared for entertaining all year round by storing your own unique, dry seasoning blend in an empty salt shaker. Just shake, grill and enjoy.

* Put a unique spin on traditional pasta salad by swapping out your regular white pasta variety in favor of Ronzoni Garden Delight Pasta. Ronzoni Garden Delight pasta is the only great-tasting tri-colored pasta with the added bonus a full serving of vegetables in every four-ounce portion. It’s a great way to sneak in a healthy dose of veggies without anyone noticing.

* Take your meal outdoors and pack a picnic. Opt for coolers with handles and wheels that allow you to transport heavier foods easily. You can also purchase picnic baskets complete with a shoulder strap, glasses, plates, silverware, napkins and even a tablecloth.

* If you’re looking to lighten things up this summer, swap the mayonnaise found in your traditional pasta salad with fat-free Greek yogurt. Not only will this lower the calories in your salad but it will also add a unique and tangy punch of flavor.

* Summer salads are as much about the texture as they are about the taste. Incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables like asparagus, grapes, apples and broccoli for a fresh and satisfying crunch.

If you’re looking to spice up your usual summer salad, this Southwest Chicken Pasta Salad offers a delicious combination of fresh salsa, hearty beans and sharp cheddar cheese.

Southwest Chicken Pasta Salad
Serves: 8 to 10

Ingredient:
1 box (12 ounces) Ronzoni Garden Delight Penne Pasta
1 cup prepared salsa
8 ounces plain low-fat yogurt
2 cups cooked, diced chicken
1 can (15 ounces) corn, drained
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
1 can (2.25 ounces) black olives, drained
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Tortilla chips, optional

Directions:
Prepare pasta according to package directions. In a medium bowl, whisk together salsa and yogurt. In a large bowl combine pasta, chicken, corn, black beans, green onions and black olives. Fold in dressing. Top with cheddar cheese and cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips, if desired.

Five culinary trends that will make summer entertaining sizzle

(ARA) – Summer entertaining season is about to heat up. Barbecue and traditional cookout fare will always have a place in warm weather menus, but sometimes you just want to shake things up a little – and bring some new ideas and flavors to the picnic table.

If you want to spice up your summer entertaining, radio host, cookbook author and Certified Sommelier Jamie Gwen recommends you try these five hot culinary trends:

1. The “It” wine for summer
Summer fare calls for a companion wine that’s clean, crisp and food friendly – and that’s Italian Pinot Grigio. While domestic varieties are lovely for sipping, Italian Pinot Grigios, like those from Ecco Domani(R), DaVinci(R) and Maso Canali(R), tend to have a fresh, clean taste that pairs better with food, and especially with the lighter cuisines of summer, Gwen says. In fact, culinary professionals are five times more likely to prefer Italian Pinot Grigio to domestic when pairing with a summer meal, according to a recent online survey of members of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. What’s more, you can find a fine Italian Pinot Grigio to fit a range of budgets – from about $10 to $11 for Ecco Domani, $12 to $13 for DaVinci, and $18 to $19 for Maso Canali.

2. The new cupcake
Cupcakes were everywhere last year, from swanky Hollywood soirees to beach weddings. This year, French macaroons are the new cupcake. Made from almond flour or almond paste, French-style macaroons are available in a variety of flavors, such as passion fruit, chocolate, coffee and orange. They’re a light and airy sweet complement to a summer meal, especially when filled with buttercream or lemon curd.

3. The spice superstar
This year, Spanish paprika (pimenton) nudges out chipotle and Sichuan peppercorns as the spice superstar of the season. Paprika is a key ingredient in Spanish cooking and Spaniards use it in everything, from chorizo to scrambled eggs. Hot enough to stand up to summer’s sizzle, this smoked paprika is great for grilling, and adds zesty flavor to grilled chicken and meat.

4. Meatless Mondays
Eating lighter, especially during summer months, is a definite trend for 2011. More Americans will be getting on board with the “Meatless Monday” initiative that encourages consumers to reduce their meat consumption by 15 percent. Reducing meat consumption can lead to better health for you and a better environment for all, proponents say. Plus, light salads and vegetarian dishes make for ideal warm-weather fare.

5. Korean fusion
Food lovers and creative chefs have been blending cultures and ingredients forever, but you can expect to see even more melding of flavors this summer. Korean influences and spicy flavors will be particularly pervasive, popping up in cuisines found everywhere from food trucks to backyard barbecues. Korean flavors will excite the palate and make for an even more delicious summer.

Here are two summer dishes that feature Italian Pinot Grigio. You can further enhance the flavor by serving them with an Italian Pinot Grigio from Ecco Domani, DaVinci or Maso Canali.

BBQ Shrimp with Pinot Grigio Butter
Serves six.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup Italian Pinot Grigio
2 sticks of butter, cut into pieces and softened
2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
Salt and pepper to taste
2 to 2 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
Place the Italian Pinot Grigio in a sauce pot and reduce to two tablespoons. Place butter, garlic, onion, parsley, zests, salt and pepper in a food processor. Add the reduced wine and pulse until it is uniformly mixed.

Season the shrimp with salt and toss with olive oil. Grill shrimp until cooked and top with Italian Pinot Grigio butter.

Chicken and Avocado Salad
Serves four.

Ingredients:
For dressing:
1/2 cup Italian Pinot Grigio
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 grinds of black pepper from a peppermill

For salad:
3 cups cooked chicken, cubed
3 tablespoons sweet peas
4 radishes, quartered and thinly sliced
1 avocado, peeled, pits removed, chopped
Lettuce, as desired

Directions:
To make the dressing, reduce Italian Pinot Grigio in a saucepan to two tablespoons, then mix with next six ingredients.

For salad, combine chicken, sweet peas, radishes and avocado with the dressing and toss to coat. To assemble, serve chicken mixture on a bed of lettuce drizzled with olive oil.

Tips for throwing a safe and memorable summer party

Summer provides us with long beautiful days that are perfect for family gatherings. Whether you’re planning an upcoming Father’s Day celebration or birthday party, or just want to organize a festive day for loved ones to spend some quality time together, don’t let a party disaster ruin everyone’s good time.

With a few easy home safety precautions, you may be able to avoid an accident or injury so everyone can leave with wonderful memories.

Tip 1: Grill with care
Grilling is likely to be part of your summer soiree, so make sure you follow some simple grilling tips to avoid fires, burns and other issues. Always use a grill outdoors and place it at least 10 feet away from your home or other objects. Don’t place the grill in an area where kids play or around heavy foot traffic. Remember, someone should always be manning the grill when it’s turned on. Be sure to cook foods to their appropriate internal temperature. For example, experts recommend chicken breasts should be 165 F, ground meats should be 160 F, and steaks should be 145 F. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature.

Tip 2: Protection from the sun
Of course you want a sunny day for your summer party, but you also want to protect yourself and guests from a nasty burn. The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daylight savings time are the most hazardous for UV exposure in the continental United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because your guests may not realize the sun’s intensity at your home, be a helpful host and set out several bottles of sunscreen they can use as they please. Make sure to slather yourself as well.

Tip 3: Home safety for children
Laughter of children can be the highlight of a great summer party, but making sure your outdoor space is kid-appropriate is important. Remove any tripping hazards and clutter from the yard, as kids will be running around in delight. Keep bug repellents and citronella candles out of reach of little hands. Try to use plastic cups and dishes to avoid the possibility of breaking the real thing. When in doubt, look at children’s eye level to see what they will see and make any necessary safety changes to ensure all ages have a fantastic time.

Tip 4: Keep everyone hydrated
Along with lots of great food for the summer holiday season, be sure to serve up plenty of beverage options. If you’re serving alcohol, containers and coolers should be clearly marked. Offer non-alcoholic alternatives as well. Providing a variety of drink options will help keep guests hydrated even in hot summer temperatures. Cold bottles of water are easy, convenient and may be the most popular option at your party, so mix those in among soda, punch and other beverage choices.

Let this home safety checklist serve as a basic guide for your next summer party. With a few simple changes, your yard will be the perfect place for a memorable summer party.

Essential tools for healthy summer living

(ARA) – Summer is the season of relaxation for many, but it’s easy to become lazy on your mission to better health. Plenty of temptations can negatively affect your well being, but with the right tools, you can treat yourself to good health and good times.

Mix it up

Seasonal drinks and dishes are a highlight of summer, but too many hamburgers, ice cream cones, and cocktails can have a disastrous effect on your diet – and waistline. Fortunately, keeping your body bathing-suit ready doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice taste or variety. And the best part is you need only one machine to create all your healthy summer recipes. The Vitamix 5200 creates a wide range of nutritious options that taste great. Whether it’s a whole-fruit smoothie, frozen sorbet, fat-free salad dressing, or veggie dip, this powerhouse machine can whip up endless healthy options. A favorite tool of professional chefs, your new culinary prowess will make summer entertaining a snap. With hundreds of healthy options, the Whole Food Recipes cookbook included with the machine will help you make delicious and smart decisions all summer.

Sun safety

After months of dreary, cold weather, you may be eager to soak up the sun’s rays. As good as the warm sunshine feels, though, it can be damaging to your health. More than 2 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, with unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation as a leading cause. To lower your risk, make sure you have the right sun-safety tools: sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. Any time you head outside, generously apply sunscreen and lip balm SPF 15 or higher, taking care to cover all exposed areas, including the back of your neck and tips of your ears. Sunglasses should block 99 to 100 percent of UV rays to best protect your eyes and the delicate skin around them, and a comfortable, wide-brimmed hat will give your head and face added protection.

Feet first

Summer is the perfect time to become more active, enjoying the fresh air and scenery while you improve your health. Whether you’re planning to hike a trail, ride your bicycle, run a 5K or just stroll through the park, it’s important to make sure you have the right support. Walking in poorly fitted or thin-soled shoes can cause back and joint pain, blisters, and stress fractures, so invest in quality cross-training or running shoes that provide sufficient cushion and comfort. Make sure that the shoes fit properly and don’t hurt or rub any parts of your feet. Wear thick, sweat-wicking socks, and get ready to enjoy better health in the great outdoors.

Stay hydrated

With the temperatures rising and the sun beating down, it doesn’t take much to break a sweat on a hot day. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, replacing the water your body loses through sweat is important, as dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you know you’ll be outside for an extended period of time or if you’re heading out to exercise, make sure to bring a refillable water bottle or canteen. Fill it with ice and cold water, and drink 8 to 10 ounces about every 15 minutes.

With the right knowledge and tools, you can make this summer healthier and more enjoyable than ever. Invest in and incorporate these essential items into your lifestyle every day, and you’re sure to feel healthy and refreshed throughout the summer months.

Have fun getting your kids involved in healthy cooking

When dinner’s ready, everyone gathers around the table to enjoy some family bonding and a delicious meal. But why not add some extra family time to your evening by bringing kids into the kitchen to assist in preparing a delicious meal? It will extend quality time together by teaching them about cooking while instilling healthy eating habits at an early age.

The benefits of teaching your kids to cook could go well beyond what you would expect. This summer, Barilla is looking for the Next Piccolini Mini Chef. Moms with their kids are invited to create healthy recipes and submit them for voting online and a chance to win. The grand prize winner will receive $10,000 in scholarship money and a year’s supply of pasta to encourage even more cooking creativity.

Try these tips in your home to encourage kids to get cooking.

Think kid-tested. Kids love foods that are small and can easily fit into the palms of their hands. Try Barilla Piccolini(R) Rich in Fiber-White in mini-sized classic shapes like shells and rotini. It’s a great choice for everyone in the family because it offers three times more fiber than regular pasta, yet looks and tastes like regular pasta. As you prepare the meal, give kids the opportunity to measure out the amount of pasta you’ll need.

Little hands at work. Encourage kids to help “chop” herbs – but without the knives. They can use their fingers to tear up herbs – like basil or parsley – for sauces or salads. Their little fingers are just the right size for tearing them into perfectly-sized pieces.

Say cheese. Teach kids how to safely shred cheese over prepared dishes for a delicious finishing touch. Use a kid-friendly hand-held grater and show them how to hold the grater while grating the cheese over the plate. Make it even more fun by singing the classic children’s song “On Top of Spaghetti.”

Try out your kids’ kitchen skills with this simple and tasty recipe:

Mini Rotini with Green Peas, Leeks and Carrots

Ingredients:
1 box Barilla Piccolini Rich in Fiber – White Mini Rotini
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium leeks
1 cup green peas
3 small carrots
4 leaves fresh basil, chopped or torn
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Directions:
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season water with salt to taste (optional).

2. Cut the leeks and carrots into thin slices.

3. Heat oil in a large skillet; add leeks, carrots and peas. Saute gently until thoroughly cooked.

4. Cook pasta according to the package directions. Drain and toss with the sauce in the skillet.

5. Stir in basil and cheese before serving.

Buon appetito!

For more information about the contest and for the official rules, including eligibility, judging criteria, odds of winning and more, go to piccolini.com.

Quick tips for summer entertaining made easy

(ARA) – As the temperature continues to rise and the dog days of summer head our way, you’ll want to keep your guests refreshed with frosty drinks, cool appetizers and buffet items when entertaining this season. Following are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your party menu for a fun, relaxed event.

* Keep it simple. Focus on easy recipes to save time in the kitchen so you can spend more time with family and friends.

* Plan ahead. Begin preparing as many recipes as possible the day before the party to allow for easy and quick preparation the day of the event.

* Make it memorable. According to celebrity chef and entertaining expert, Kathy Casey, you want to invest in the right piece of equipment to provide guests with a great experience. “Whether you’re mixing up cocktails or preparing for a large dinner party, quality kitchen tools, like a reliable Vitamix blender, are essential,” Casey says.

For your summer party, consider a signature cocktail, such as a refreshing margarita made easy in a Vitamix Professional Series 200 machine. This high performance blender does just about anything – finely chops, grinds and blends whole ingredients all in one container – and also comes with a recipe book with more than 200 recipes for extra inspiration.

* Keep it light. Serve lighter foods during the warmer weather. Grilled vegetables, a variety of pasta and green salads, and an assortment of chilled dips and spreads – such as easy-to-make guacamole in a Vitamix – create a delightful summer buffet.

* Make it colorful. Add interest to your buffet table with a variety of colorful foods as well as decorative tableware, such as a bright tablecloth, fun napkins and fresh cut flowers.

With these simple tips and easy entertaining recipes, you can relax and enjoy your summer party just as much as your guests will.

Guacamole
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Processing time: 20 seconds
Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 medium tomato, halved
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
For a spicy guacamole, add 1/2 a jalapeno pepper during step one.

Directions:
Using a blender, like the Vitamix, place all ingredients into the container in the order listed and secure lid. Blend for 15 to 20 seconds. You may need to stop the machine and run a spatula around the inside of the container to integrate ingredients. Don’t over mix – leave chunky. Serve with tortilla chips and garnish with diced tomato and parsley.

Whole Fruit Margarita
Preparation time: 7 minutes
Processing time: 45 seconds
Yield: 8 cups

Ingredients:
1/4 cup water
6 ounces tequila
2 ounces Grand Marnier
1 medium orange, peeled, halved
1 lime, peeled, halved
1 lemon, peeled, halved, seeded
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
6 cups ice cubes
(For a non-alcoholic version, substitute the tequila and Grand Marnier with 8 ounces of sweet and sour mix.)

Directions:
Place all ingredients into your blender in the order listed and secure lid. Blend for 45 seconds or until smooth. Pour into salt-rimmed margarita glasses and enjoy.

Homemade baby food serves up healthy eating habits and savings

(ARA) – When it comes to caring for your bundle of joy, you only want what’s best. And these days, with early nutrition top-of-mind for many, it’s no wonder that a growing number of parents are turning to homemade baby food to help instill healthy eating habits from the start.

Prepping and pureeing easy, everyday ingredients in the home also gives you the satisfaction of knowing exactly what is going into your baby’s belly, from avocado and green beans to diced apples, sweet potatoes and peaches. Using fresh-from-the-market finds also lets you avoid preservatives and additives. And by introducing a variety of healthy foods at an early age, parents can help children develop a taste for similar flavors for the rest of their lives.

Another benefit to pureeing baby’s meals at home is the savings. Ranging from 50 cents to $1.50 per jar, the cost of buying premade baby food can quickly add up. By preparing homemade meals for your little one, you’re not only ensuring better control of his overall diet, you’re also helping keep an eye on your household budget.

Follow these easy tips and tasty recipes to discover ways in which you can hop on this back-to-basics movement and be well on your way to puree perfection.

Preparing the baby food
* Avoid costly specialty baby food mixers or gadgets and opt for an equally effective, easy-to-use food processor, like those from Black & Decker, that puree for baby but also stand up to other culinary tasks.
* Steam, bake or broil the ingredients. Healthy tip: steaming maintains the most nutrients.
* The liquid the vegetables and fruits were cooked in can be added to the puree to adjust consistency. Breast milk or formula can also be used to thin the puree.

Storing the baby food
* Transfer the baby food puree into ice trays or a baby food container. If freezing in glass, use “safe to freeze” jars or containers.
* Fill each cube with the puree.
* Cover the tray with a lid or plastic wrap and place in the freezer.
* Each cube is equal to about 1 ounce of food.
* Once the cubes of puree have set and are frozen, you can transfer them to freezer bags.
* Label the bag with the date of preparation as well as the type of food. The baby food cubes should be used within one month of freezing.
* When it’s time to feed the baby, remove the number of food cubes needed, thaw and reheat.

By following these simple, at-home recipes from Black & Decker, you’ll help develop healthy eating habits for your tot, all while keeping your overall baby budget in check.

For infants 4 to 6 months

Green Dream
1/2 ripe avocado, peeled
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup fresh or frozen thawed peas
1/3 cup sliced fresh green beans

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Place in food processor and process for 10 seconds or until smooth for 4- to 6-month-olds or leave slightly chunkier for 6- to 12-month-olds.

Makes about 1 cup.

Cinnamon Apples and Yams
3/4 cup peeled, cored and diced apples
3/4 cup peeled, diced yams or sweet potatoes
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until apples and yams are soft. Let cool slightly, then place in food processor and process for five seconds for 4- to 6-month-olds or leave slightly chunkier for 9- to 12-month-olds.

Makes about 1 cup.

For babies 6 to 9 months and 9 to 12 months

Peachy Rice Pudding
3/4 cup soy milk
1/2 cup diced fresh or frozen peaches
2 tablespoons diced ripe banana
1/4 cup cooked brown rice
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Let cool slightly, then place in food processor. Pulse on and off 10 times for 6- to 9-month-olds or leave slightly chunkier for 9- to 12-month-olds.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Lemon Chicken
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced uncooked chicken
1/4 cup whole wheat couscous
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon snipped green onion tops
1 tablespoon minced red bell pepper
1/8 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add chicken; cook and stir for five minutes. Add couscous and cook for five minutes more then stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and remove from heat; let stand for five minutes. Let cool slightly then place in food processor. Process for 10 seconds. Scrape down sides and process five seconds more for 6- to 9-month-olds or leave slightly chunkier for 9- to 12-month-olds.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

For more information on food processors, visit www.blackanddeckerappliances.com.