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Happy 4th of July: Festive recipes to celebrate Independence Day

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This is not a sponsored post or endorsement made in coordination with or paid by any of the brands or individuals mentioned here—only offering a few suggestions based on things my family and I have tried and enjoyed.

July 4th in the United States celebrates Independence Day. On that date in 1776, the 13 original colonies claimed their independence from England, forming a new nation.

If your family is like mine, years past may have been celebrated with large BBQs complete with burgers and hot dogs, pasta and potato salads, corn on the cob, and assorted sodas and beers (for those of age to drink, of course.) When I was growing up, my grandparents had an above ground pool at their home, and at my house we had a community in-ground pool. I spent a lot of time at both of them so depending on where our summer feast took place and if it wasn't raining, taking a dip in the pool was absolutely in order while dinner was being made.

For dessert, we typically took a trip to get soft-serve ice cream or ate an American flag cake—which many of you probably know and have likely made or tasted at least once, if not many times: a rectangle-shaped poundcake or a boxed vanilla cake mix covered with whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries arranged in the shape of a flag. Finally, a trip to see fireworks at a local park capped off the night, where we would sit on a blanket or folding chairs, or stand near the car, to watch the magical bursts of colors in the night sky.

This year will no doubt be very different. Maybe a large gathering you may have planned with your family and friends was downsized or turned into a virtual celebration with some of them instead. I have also seen some creative ways that communities are celebrating in the absence of being able to have large, in-person gatherings: drive-through fireworks, for example, are being planned at the Iron Pigs Minor League baseball team ballpark for the holiday weekend in the Lehigh Valley, PA.

No matter how you are celebrating this year, here are some festive food ideas that you can still hopefully try.

Elotes (Mexican Street Corn)

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This is not a sponsored post or endorsement made in coordination with or paid by any of the brands mentioned here—only offering a few suggestions based on things my family and I have tried and enjoyed.

Elotes, otherwise known as Mexican street corn, is a hot food trend right now for good reason: it's really, really good.

The topping is a perfect, creamy addition to fresh, sweet, in-season corn that gets sprinkled generously with Mexican-style seasoning blend (make your own or use one from the grocery store that's pre-made; there is a chili-lime one that tastes really good, called tajin) and cotija cheese. Cotija is a firm cheese that typically comes wrapped in a small wheel and can be easily crumbled, similar to feta but much milder in flavor. If you can't find this in a store near you, substituting a shredded Mexican-style cheese blend or cheddar cheese blend works (but definitely try the cotija, if you have that option!)

The recipe makes enough topping for about 6-8 medium ears of corn. You can always cut the corn in half, too, to double the number of portions—this is a nice idea for a buffet when you have multiple side dishes that people can choose from. When corn is not in season, frozen, small ears of corn can also be used, such as Green Giant® brand Nibblers®.

Mexican-style Spice Blend

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This is not a sponsored post or endorsement made in coordination with or paid by any of the brands mentioned here—only offering a few suggestions based on things my family and I have tried and enjoyed.

This is an easy Mexican spice blend that uses just five spices from your pantry. You can use it as a topping for elotes as well as for tacos, fajitas, or grilled meats—I like it on chicken or steak.

Toast your spices for maximum flavor—it's an extra step that brings out their flavor. (Admittedly, I don't always bother doing this, but here it makes a huge difference.) You can buy spices pre-toasted and ground, such as McCormick's, or make your own.

One of my favorite places online to buy spices is My Spice Sage. They have a nice assortment of whole spices, spice blends, and other pantry ingredients available in different size containers—from 2 oz bags to small glass jars, larger 8 oz and 16 oz bags, and even larger wholesale sizes. I like their lemon pepper spice blend a lot.

To toast spices, you'll need a small skillet, whole spices, and a little bit of time and attention. Add the spices to a cold skillet and turn the heat to medium. You'll want to keep the pan moving so the spices don't stay in one place for too long and burn. It only takes a couple of minutes for them to toast and during the process, they may start to crackle and pop a little bit, but they shouldn't blacken or darken considerably—if that happens, they're burnt and will taste bitter, so it's best to start over.

Foodie Resolutions: A five-year recap

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I came across an article on MSN Food & Drink in January 2015 that outlined new things that foodies should try in the new year.

The article (now accessible via PopSugar) really inspired me over the years to make and tackle some of my own "foodie resolutions" as well as see how many I could cross off from this list. Today, I'm revisiting some of them, five years later, as a recap of what I've accomplished.

Raw-curious: A whos-who of raw food

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This installment of my raw food series discusses some of the people and brands that focus on raw living. In case you missed it, read some reasons why you might try a raw food diet and essential tools for raw cooking to make the process easier and more enjoyable. As a reminder, I'm not a dietician or medical professional, so please consult with your doctors before changing your eating habits or starting any new diets. Also, this is not a sponsored post or endorsement made in coordination with or paid by any of the brands or individuals mentioned here. 

Bobby Flay. Ina Garten. Emeril Lagasse. Rachael Ray. When it comes to a who's who of cooking, any fans of food could probably also rattle off these familiar names. Those four come to mind first for me, having watched the Food Network since what seems like "day 1"and more precisely, back when the OJ Simpson trial was dominating the news.

Really. I remember this because my mom was, and still is, a fan of anything involving law and politics. We upgraded our cable package so we could have the channels that would cover the Simpson trial 24/7 instead of just the highlights that would come on the evening news.

The Food Network was only included in these higher-priced packages at the timeFoodTV, as it once wasso the perk for little ol' me was that this was now my chance to watch it at home, not just at my grandparent's house. The Essence of Emeril, hosted of course by Emeril Lagasse, was my favorite. And when we got our first family computer (a Packard Belldid anyone else have one of those?!) and printer (a HP and still to this day I have an HP printeralbeit a more modern one ;), I remember printing some of his more complicated recipes that, one day, I hoped to be able to master.

Learning about raw food introduced me to a whole new set of chefs as well as brands, some of which I'd like to share with you. Have a favorite raw chef or brand that's not mentioned here? I'd love to know about them, so leave me a comment!

Devils on Horseback

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Also known as stuffed dates, these are a great addition to your tapas board or as a quick and simple appetizer with cocktails before a meal. They're salty, sweet, and incredibly addictive... impossible to eat just one! This recipe makes a dozen but it's foolproof: scale it to make as many as you'd like.

If blue cheese typically isn't your jam, a creamy gorgonzola is a good choice that is a little milder. If you love blue cheese as much as I do, St. Agur is fantastic, probably one of my favorite blue cheeses to both use in recipes as well as just eat by itself with some crackers, since it's so damn delicious. It's also made with vegetarian-based rennet.