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ASSET YOUR INDEPENDENCE LAST-MINUTE APPETIZERS AND DESSERTS FREE YOU UP TO CELEBRATE THE FOURTH IN STYLE.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

It's the Fourth of July, and lots of feasting, fireworks and festivities go hand in hand with star-spangled holiday celebrations. If you're hosting or attending a casual gathering, or heading to a picnic at the park or the beach, or even just enjoying a lazy day at home, it's not too late to whip up a delicious last-minute appetizer or a show-stopping red, white and blue-themed dessert finale to get in the spirit of the day.

``Keep it easy and incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables in your appetizers or desserts,'' suggests Pam Becker, spokeswoman for Betty Crocker Kitchens.

You'll find an array of fast and simple ideas here -- some relying on convenience foods. You may already have some of the ingredients in your pantry -- and if not, there's still time to make a quick trip to the supermarket and complete the cooking chores by the time the eating marathon begins.

For starter ideas, give dips with roasted vegetables or crackers, a Bruschetta Appetizer Tart, or Chili-Roasted Peanuts with Dried Cherries a whirl. For fun, you might also serve a cheese spread designed to look like a flag. Simply roll out softened cream cheese (or a mixture of it with shredded Cheddar), then arrange four rows of olive slices in the top left corner to simulate stars. Next, make four 1/4-inch-deep rows, using a rounded spoon for stripes, leaving 1/4-inch space in between. Fill rows with prepared salsa of your choice.

In the dessert realm, offer creations that look as good as they taste. Nothing exotic, just good American inspirations like strawberry shortcake stars filled with vanilla pudding and fresh raspberries and blueberries, or an Angel Food Flag Cake created by splitting an angel food cake baked in a loaf pan and sandwiching a raspberry, sugar and jam mix in between the lengthwise layers. A fresh fruit pie requires a baked crust but sports a no-bake cream cheese-sweetened condensed milk filling. Garnish in glorious style with assorted fresh fruits attractively arranged on the top.

If you have limited time, a layered trifle is an impressive jiffy dessert that requires little prep time. Use store-bought pound cake (or make and use cake mix layers), pudding mix, whipping cream and an assortment of berries. Top with star designs made from white chocolate or with berries arranged in a star design.

For other inspirations, create stars, stripes, flag or other patterns atop cupcakes, cakes, pies, cookies or dessert cookie-dough pizzas with buttercream or store-bought frostings, whipped cream or topping and cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries -- or colorfully tinted icings. Let children help you decorate some of the goodies, if time allows.

Keep in mind that it's best to assemble and decorate your creations within a couple of hours of serving (and refrigerate) so the desserts look well dressed.

If time runs out, you can always opt for red, white and blue sundaes -- presenting all the fixins' in a make-your-own sundae bar.

Natalie Haughton, (818) 713-3692

natalie.haughton@dailynews.com

BERRY SHORTCAKE STARS

4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 to 2 teaspoons salt

2/3 cup shortening

5 1/2 cups milk

2 boxes (4-serving size EACH) vanilla INSTANT pudding and pie-filling mix

4 cups fresh raspberries

1 cup fresh blueberries

In medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening, using pastry blender or crisscrossing 2 knives, until mixture looks like fine crumbs. Stir in 1 1/2 cups milk just until blended.

Place dough on lightly floured surface. Gently smooth into a ball. Knead 20 to 25 times. Roll dough 1/2-inch thick. Cut into 10 stars with a floured 3-inch star-shaped cutter. On an ungreased cookie sheet, place about 1 inch apart.

Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Make pudding mix as directed on box for pudding using remaining 4 cups milk. Split warm shortcakes. Fill and top shortcakes with pudding and berries.

Makes 10 servings

NOTE: Sweeten stars by sprinkling with granulated sugar before baking, if desired.

SPINACH-BACON DEVILED EGGS

12 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, cut in half and yolks mashed in a bowl

1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup real bacon bits

2 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 tablespoon sugar

1 to 2 teaspoons black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine thoroughly mashed yolks with remaining ingredients, except whites, and mix well. Fill whites evenly with the mixture, mounding up slightly.

Makes 24 filled egg halves

From ``Deviled Eggs,'' by Debbie Moose.

FRESH FRUIT CREAM CHEESE PIE

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 (9-inch) baked pie crust

Fresh fruit (blueberries, strawberries, bananas, etc.)

White corn syrup (optional)

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and vanilla. Pour into prepared pie crust.

Chill 3 hours, or until set. Arrange fruit on top of pie. Just before serving, brush with corn syrup (optional). Store leftovers covered in refrigerator.

Makes 1 (9-inch) pie

BERRY PATRIOTIC TRIFLE

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)

1 (4-serving size) package INSTANT lemon flavor pudding and pie-filling mix

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup sour cream

1 (10 3/4-ounce) loaf frozen pound cake, thawed and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries

1 3/4 cups fresh blueberries

Star Garnish (optional; recipe follows)

With mixer, beat sweetened condensed milk, pudding mix and milk in large bowl. Fold in sour cream. Chill 5 minutes.

Set aside 1/4 cup pudding mixture. In a 2- to 2 1/2-quart clear glass bowl, layer 1/2 of pound cake pieces, 1/2 of remaining pudding and 1/2 of raspberries and blueberries. Repeat layers. Spoon reserved pudding mixture on top. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Top with Star Garnish, if desired. Store leftovers covered in refrigerator.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

STAR GARNISH: Place 1 (1-ounce) white baking bar in a small heavy saucepan. Heat over low heat until melted, stirring constantly. Tint with red paste food coloring. Pipe mixture into star shapes on wax-paper-lined baking sheet. Let stand until set. Carefully peel from wax paper.

CHILI-ROASTED PEANUTS WITH DRIED CHERRIES

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound raw peanuts

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground white pepper

1 tablespoon salt OR to taste

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 pound dried cherries (OR raisins)

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Coat raw peanuts with melted butter. Spread peanuts on a large baking sheet and lightly toast in a preheated 325-degree oven about 10 minutes, shaking pan occasionally.

Mix together remaining ingredients, except cherries, in a large bowl. Transfer toasted peanuts to bowl and coat with dry ingredients. Mix in cherries.

Cool completely before serving. Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.

Makes 1 pound

From ``The Culinary Institute of America's Gourmet Meals in Minutes.''

BRUSCHETTA APPETIZER TART

1 refrigerated pie crust (from 15-ounce box) softened as directed on box

1 cup chopped plum (Roma) tomatoes (3 medium)

1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, finely chopped OR 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Remove pie crust from pouch; unroll on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated 425-degree oven 6 to 8 minutes, or until light golden brown.

Meanwhile, in medium bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except cheese. Remove partially baked crust from oven. Spread tomato mixture over crust; sprinkle with cheese. Return to oven; bake 7 to 10 minutes longer, or until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown. Cut into wedges. Serve warm.

Makes 16 appetizer servings

ANGEL FOOD FLAG CAKE

1 (1-pound) box one-step white angel food cake mix

3 cups fresh OR frozen unsweetened (thawed and drained) raspberries

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons seedless red raspberry jam, melted in microwave oven

1 (8-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed (3 cups)

2 cups fresh OR frozen (thawed and drained) blueberries

Move oven rack to middle position. Make cake as directed on box for 2 (9-inch) loaf pans. Baked in a preheated 350-degree oven as directed.

Immediately after removing from oven, turn each pan on its side on a heatproof surface and let rest until completely cool. Run knife around edges; remove from pans.

Line each same loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing wrap to extend over edges. In food processor, place raspberries, sugar and jam; cover and process, using 3 quick on-and-off motions, until coarsely chopped. Cut each loaf cake horizontally into 4 slices, using serrated or electric knife. Place 1 slice in bottom of each pan; spread 3 tablespoons of raspberry mixture over each. Top with another slice of cake. Repeat with remaining raspberry mixture and cake slices. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours until chilled.

To remove loaves easily from pans, place serving plate upside down on top of pan; turn pan upside down onto plate. Remove pan and plastic wrap. Cut each loaf crosswise into 8 slices, using a serrated or electric knife. Serve with whipped topping and blueberries.

Makes 16 servings

SPINACH & ARTICHOKE SPREAD

1 (16-ounce) container sour cream

1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained

1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup chopped red pepper

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 (0.7-ounce) envelope dried Italian salad dressing mix

Ritz OR other crackers

Mix all ingredients except crackers until well blended; cover. Refrigerate several hours or until chilled. Serve as a spread with crackers.

Makes 5 cups

CAPTION(S):

7 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) The American way

Same-day appetizers, desserts for the Fourth

From Betty Crocker Kitchens

(2 -- color) SPINACH-BACON DEVILED EGGS

From ``Deviled Eggs,'' The Harvard Common Press

(3 -- color) CHILI-ROASTED PEANUTS WITH DRIED CHERRIES

From ``The Culinary Institute of America's Gourmet Meals in Minutes,'' Lebhar-Friedman Books

(4 -- color) ANGEL FOOD FLAG CAKE

(5 -- 6 -- color) BERRY PATRIOTIC TRIFLE, ABOVE AT LEFT, BRUSCHETTA APPETIZER TART

(7 -- color) FRESH FRUIT CREAM CHEESE PIE
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Jul 4, 2006
Words:1731
Previous Article:GOOD TASTES.
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