The Practical Pantry began in 1998 as a weekly newspaper column. After 10 years, The Practical Pantry's first cookbook was published. The food column continues to be published weekly, and many of the newspaper columns appear below.

Bring red, white, and blue to dessert

Published the week of June 27, 2016

Fourth of July celebrations rarely occur without food. While grilling and picnics might not have much room for festive colors, dessert definitely does. Just combine some naturally red, white, and blue foods in to something sweet and special.

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Red, White, and Blue Cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups butter-flavored shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 12-ounce package white chocolate chips
1 12-ounce package dried blueberries
2 6-ounce packages dried cranberries

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the shortening, granulated sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in one egg until completely incorporated. Beat in the other egg. Mix in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Fold in the white chocolate chips, blueberries, and cranberries, mixing just enough to evenly combine. Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and place 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Flatten each ball to about 1/2-inch thick. Bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack. Makes 72 cookies.

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Red, White, and Blue Trifle

3 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 quart heavy cream
1 3.3-ounce package instant white chocolate pudding mix, unprepared
1 6-ounce container lemon yogurt
2 16-ounce prepared pound cakes, cubed
2 pints fresh blueberries, or as needed

Chill a large metal mixing bowl and beaters from an electric mixer. In a bowl, sprinkle the strawberries with sugar; stir to distribute the sugar, and set aside. Pour the cream into the chilled mixing bowl and add the white chocolate pudding mix, and lemon yogurt; beat until fluffy with an electric mixer set on medium speed.

Spread a layer of pound cake cubes into the bottom of a glass 10×15-inch baking dish. Cover the pound cake with a layer of strawberries; sprinkle blueberries over the strawberries. Spread a thick layer of whipped cream over the berries. Repeat the layers several times, ending with a layer of strawberries sprinkled with blueberries and reserving about 1 cup of whipped cream; top the trifle with dollops of whipped cream to serve. Refrigerate leftovers. Makes 15 servings.

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Pantry Pointers

Plan ahead and make red and blue ice cubes using food coloring and your drinks will be festive too.

Welcome summer slowly

Published the week of June 20, 2016

When it comes to cooking in the summer, the heat is on! Ovens and skillets add heat in the kitchen to days that are already warm. And while grills are great for keeping the heat at bay, sometimes a change is necessary from grilled foods. When it’s hot, use your slow cooker. It won’t heat up the kitchen, and since you assemble it in the morning, you’ll end up with more free time in the evening.

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This beef works well served on toasted rolls. If you want to add cheese, opt for provolone.

Slow Cooker Italian Beef for Sandwiches

3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon onion salt
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 bay leaf
1 0.7-ounce package dry Italian-style salad dressing mix
1 5-pound chuck roast

Combine water with salt, ground black pepper, oregano, basil, onion salt, parsley, garlic powder, bay leaf, and salad dressing mix in a saucepan. Stir well, and bring to a boil. Place roast in slow cooker, and pour salad dressing mixture over the meat. Cover, and cook on Low for 10 to 12 hours, or on High for 4 to 5 hours. When done, remove bay leaf, and shred meat with a fork. Makes 10 servings.

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If you really want the browned skin of an oven-baked chicken, you can brown the chicken in a skillet with oil before putting it in the slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Baked Chicken

1 2- to 3-pound whole chicken
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon paprika

Wad three pieces of aluminum foil into 3 to 4 inch balls, and place them in the bottom of the slow cooker. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels. Season the chicken with the salt, pepper and paprika, and place in the slow cooker on top of the crumpled aluminum foil. Set the slow cooker on High for 1 hour, then turn down to Low for about 8 to 10 hours, or until the chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear. Makes 6 servings.

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Pantry Pointers

While it’s tempting to keep opening the lid of the slow cooker to check on your meal, you shouldn’t do it. Opening the slow cooker lets heat out and delays the cooking process. Only open it near the end of cooking to check if the meal is done.