Chef AJ Early from Boise, Idaho, shares tips on throwing a perfect 4th of July BBQ. Welcome, AJ!

The Fourth of July is just around the corner, and there is no other holiday that is more perfect for a backyard BBQ. Whether you invite friends, family, or both, you’ll want to make sure that everything goes smoothly, and that everyone has a great time. Follow these steps to make sure your patriotic shindig is perfect.

Comfortable Seating

 The first thing you want to do is make sure there will be a place for everyone to sit and enjoy themselves. If you don’t have enough outdoor furniture to accommodate all of your guests, you have a few options. First, you could rent chairs from a local party rental store, or even buy some inexpensive ones to have on hand.
You could also bring some of your indoor chairs outdoors, or utilize things like coolers, crates, or bails of hay as seating. The last option is to ask guests to bring portable chairs along with them.

Get Rid Of Pests

 This time of year, mosquitoes are out with a fury. They are pesky little critters, but they can also carry dangerous diseases, and even a few swarming around will surely dampen your guest’s spirits.
There are a lot of ways you can protect your backyard from mosquitoes: place traps or use a bug misting system, and make sure to get rid of any standing water before the event.
Utilizing a canopy or porch with mesh curtains is always a safe bet if you have those items, otherwise, you’ll want to take extra measures for your backyard BBQ. You can spray pesticides beforehand, but if chemicals aren’t your thing, burn citronella candles or torches, or place fans blowing outward from the party area. Mosquitoes have a hard time flying in wind.

Prepare Your Grill

 The next step to ensure BBQ perfection is to make sure your grill is ready to go before the big day. According to Tony Roma’s pitmaster, there are five steps to preparing your grill for a gathering. First, give it a good scrub  down and make sure it’s clean and free of debris. Second, make sure you have enough fuel to get you through, and if you’re in doubt, grab some backup. Third, make sure you have all the tools and utensils that you’ll need. Next, grab an instant read thermometer. This will not only help ensure your meat is cooked properly, it will also help keep you from overcooking it. Last, make sure you have a grill light or a flashlight. If you end up grilling after it gets dark, it will be very hard to tell when your food needs to be flipped or rotated without some direct light.


 Now that you’ve got the grill and the backyard prepared, it’s time to get crafty. You don’t have to go all-out for an outdoor event, but taking a little time to make everything look festive will delight your guests, especially the little ones. You can go super simple by using red, white and blue bandanas as placemats, grabbing some red, white, and blue flowers, and printing up some little flags to wrap around water bottles. You can also get extra
crafty with the kids by gathering together to make
these homemade“fireworks”
this cute DIY marbled red, white, and blue garland.
Image from All You
Image from Market Colors


Of course, the most important aspect of any backyard BBQ is the food. There is nothing more All-American than burgers and dogs, so that’s always a great option to go with, especially since you can have guests bring sides and desserts. But, if you want to escape tradition a little, this is my idea of the perfect 4th of July BBQ:
Start everyone off with this delicious grilled vegetable salsa:
Photo by Quentin Bacon
1 cup store-bought refrigerated fresh salsa
1/2 bell pepper (any color), grilled and diced
1/2 medium red onion, grilled and diced
Heat grill or grill pan to medium-high. In a large bowl, toss the pepper, onion, and oil.
Grill, turning occasionally, until tender and charred, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut the pepper and onion into 1/4-inch pieces and transfer to a bowl. Add the salsa and stir to combine.
Next, give everyone something a little different, yet still thoroughly America, with these root beer ribs:
2 racks baby back ribs
1 bottle (2 liters) root beer
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Place ribs in large baking dish. Pour all but 1 cup root beer over ribs. Sprinkle 2
tablespoons salt over ribs; cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to overnight, turning once if possible. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove ribs from root beer and pat dry with paper towel. Discard root beer in pan; wipe pan dry. Place ribs back into pan. Add 1 cup water; cover tightly with foil. Cook 2 hours or until meat is nearly falling off the bone. Meanwhile, make root beer barbecue sauce: In small saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onion; cook 3 to 4 minutes or until onion is soft, stirring frequently. Add
remaining ingredients (including reserved 1 cup root beer and 1/2 teaspoon salt); heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally. Just before ribs hit the 2 hour mark in the oven, preheat grill for indirect grilling over medium-high heat. Put bones on cooler side of grill, bone side down. Brush with some Root Beer Barbecue Sauce and cook 10 to 15 minutes, then flip. Brush with sauce again and cook until ribs are lightly charred and meat is falling off bone. Serve with any remaining sauce.
Can’t forget the veggies! This succotash salad is super easy and a perfect addition to 4th of July:
1 pound fresh okra, trimmed
1 pt. cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Place mixture on cooking grate, and grill, covered with grill lid, over medium-high heat (350° to 400°). Grill tomatoes 3 minutes or just until they begin to pop. Turn okra, and grill, covered with grill lid, 2 to 3 more minutes or until tender. Transfer okra and tomatoes to a serving dish, and sprinkle with basil. Serve immediately.
Last, impress your guests by ditching the classic flag cake and going with this fruit-tart flag instead:
Photo by Tara Donne
Fill premade miniature tart shells or phyllo cups with sweet mascarpone cream (recipe below), then arrange on a tray and top with blueberries and halved strawberry slices to create stars and stripes.
Mascarpone Cream:
Beat an 8-ounce container of mascarpone cheese and 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar with a mixer until smooth. Gently fold in 1/2 cup freshly whipped cream.


The last step to a perfect Fourth of July gathering is of course, the fireworks. If your town or a nearby one has a great fireworks show, start the grilling early in the afternoon so you can all head down to save a spot early. Otherwise, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got plenty of fun to go around. When you get the show
going, start with the smallest fireworks first, and work your way up to the bigger ones. Building anticipation is a great way to keep your guests entertained the whole evening, especially the little ones. Just remember to
firework safety, and clean up everything once it is cool enough to touch.
AJ Earley is a personal chef, freelance writer, and root beer float enthusiast from Boise, Idaho.


SS logoWhen we arrived home from vacation, I had the most wonderful box of goodies awaiting from ScentSicles.

If you haven’t heard of them, ScentSicles are the first scented ornaments that make any Christmas tree smell like you’ve trekked into the woods and cut it down yourself.

ScentSicles scented ornaments bring the magic to the season by allowing Christmas enthusiasts everywhere to have all the convenience of an artificial tree but with the real-tree smell so many of us desire.  It’s true – no messy pine needles but still the real tree smell that makes it feel like Christmas!

SS3 low rez

And the ScentSicles are so easy to use. Just hang on your tree, inhale the wonderful fresh-cut tree smell, and relax knowing that there aren’t any pesky needles to clean up. ScentSicles holiday scents include: White Winter Fir, Christmas Time Spruce, It’s a Wonderful Pine, SnowBerry Wreath, and Two Dashes of Cinnamon.

SS 7 low rez

ScentSicles offer the following products:

  • ScentSicles Table Ornaments – the ultimate housewarming gift!  Better than a candle and always “on”, this festive jar filled with holiday scents is a safe way to infuse the home with the smells of the season…without the flame.
  • AutoSticks – the annual holiday trek to Grandma’s house wouldn’t be complete without the smell of Christmas for that car ride.  Just hang a ScentSicles Autostick from the rearview mirror or hide under your seat, and let the memories begin!
  • Decorative Ornaments – one of the most popular holiday traditions is decorating a Christmas tree.  Enjoy new decorative ornament designs including gold and silver glitter.  Beautiful and fragrant!
  • Scented Sprigs – go from Grinch to Cindy Lou in a flash with the aroma of perfectly sized smaller ScentSicles ideal for tucking in a wreath, placing in a tablescape or hiding in a mantle display!

I’d noticed ScentSicles in a few of our local stores a month or so ago, so when the opportunity arose to review their products I jumped at it.

I can’t say enough about how much I like the scents and the ease of use (my idea of a perfect combination!).

As a special holiday surprise, one lucky randomly drawn winner will receive a ScentSicles Gift Package! The gift package includes ScentSicles ornaments, AutoSticks and their new table ornament!

Just post a comment below about your favorite scent of the season to enter!

For more information, visit: www.scentsicles.com

And be sure to watch this fun video with Jack:


A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a company that had a unique, acid free ornament storage system.

They asked if I’d like to see a sample and blog about it.

So, of course I said,”sure!”

Oh, my goodness gracious!

I never expected the “sample” to be incredibly awesome!

The company is Ultimate Christmas Storage.

The sample they sent is called the 830 Ultimate Ornament Box. And it is the ultimate.

First, I was impressed with the size of the box. Measuring 22 x 16 x 7 1/2 inches, it is meant for some serious storage.

The beautiful red moire fabric covering the box is quite dazzling and gives it a very luxurious appearance. And it came in heavy vinyl zippered bag for storage to keep everything dust-free and protected.

Once I took the lid off the box, I was even more impressed. The top tray holds 28 ornaments and the compartments are adjustable. The 4-inch deep bottom compartment holds 16 oversized items, again with adjustable compartments.

These storage boxes are a little pricey up front, but when you think of the years and years of use you’ll get out of them, it seems like a good investment.

Ultimate Christmas Storage offers several fabric options for the boxes as well as sizes.

They also have everyday storage boxes and archival supplies. From the sample I received, this company knows how to offer high-quality item meant to last.

For more information, visit their website at http://www.ultimatehomestorage.com

Newsletter sign-up: https://app.e2ma.net/app2/audience/signup/1733682/1721374.102069278/?v=a



Darigold – the company with all those wonderful dairy products, shared this yummy summer recipe.


Rosemary Shortcake with Balsamic Strawberries & Honey Cream by Darigold



  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons Darigold Unsalted Butter, chilled, cubed
  • 1/4 cup Darigold Sour Cream
  • 3/4 cup Darigold Buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • Darigold Whipping Cream
  • Crystal sugar


  • 2 pints fresh strawberries, rinsed, stemmed, halved
  • 1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel


  • 1-1/2 cups Darigold Sour Cream
  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt then pulse to combine. Add the chilled butter and process just until combined. With the motor running, add sour cream, buttermilk and rosemary, stopping just before the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured sur face and gently knead, forming a smooth ball. Do not overwork. Roll the dough out to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut into desired shape using a biscuit cutter or a knife. Arrange the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet; brush the tops with cream and sprinkle lightly with crystal sugar. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cakes are golden and firm to the touch. Cool on a rack.

Meanwhile, prepare Balsamic Strawberries: Toss berries with balsamic vinegar, sugar and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Prepare Honey Cream: Combine sour cream, honey and lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside.

When ready to serve, split each shortcake in half and warm slightly. Place the bottom half of shortcake on a dessert plate. Spoon about 1/4 cup of strawberries on the cake and top with 1-2 tablespoons of the Honey Cream. Top with the remaining half of the cake. Serve immediately.


Makes 8 to 10 servings.

From the creative folks at FlowerCard – check out this fun infographic!
This Flower That Room

– See more at: https://www.flowercard.co.uk/blog/this-flower-that-room#sthash.pGIqSG7G.dpuf

Juicy steak on barbecue

I’m super-excited today to share some great summer cookout tips from Jack Vogt, Tony Roma’s Pitmaster just in time for the summer barbecue season!

How to prep for an Unforgettable Summer Cookout


Before you fire up the grill, you’ve got to get your backyard kitchen aka THE GRILL prepped and ready. Here’s a checklist to get you set for your first summer cookout:


  • Grill. If you already own a grill, drag it out of storage and give it a good scrub. Use a stiff wire brush to scrape off the grate and follow the directions in your grill’s instruction manual for cleaning the rest of the grill. If you’re new to the grilling game, check out this list of grills and smokers from AmazingRibs.com to help you find a grill that matches your needs and budget.


  • Fuel. If you’re working with a gas grill, you’ll need to fill your propane tank. While you’re there, grab a spare. You never want to get halfway through grilling the perfect prime rib and discover you’re out of gas. If you have a charcoal grill, pick up a bag of charcoal briquettes, a chimney starter and a few pieces of newspaper to get the fire started.


  • Grilling tools. Many stores sell BBQ or grill tool sets, but you can also buy each tool separately depending on what you already have at home. The most important tools to have handy are tongs, a spatula, a basting brush and a fork. You may also want to pick up a few metal skewers for kebabs (and everyone’s favorite dessert – s’mores!).


  • Instant Read Thermometer. Using a meat thermometer will ensure your meat is properly cooked – no one wants their guests to leave with a stomachache. A thermometer will also help you gauge when to pull the meat off to avoid an overcooked, dry dinner.


  • Flashlight or grill light. If you think your summer party will extend past daylight hours, you’ll need some direct lighting on the grill. You can buy a grill light that clips onto the side of the grill so you can work hands free. If you’re using a flashlight, enlist a friend to assist you.


Now that you’ve got the grill prepped, here are a few of my tested tips to make this summer’s cookouts the most successful (and delicious) yet!


  • Choose the best cut. The best cut (and type) of meat may depend on your budget and the number of people at your party, but these three are my favorites.

Baby back ribs are the most tender cut. While they are one of the pricier options, this cut is sure to please your guests. You can start cooking ribs before your guests arrive and finish them on the grill when you’re ready to eat.


Chicken breasts, legs and thighs are all great options if you’re feeding a group. Chicken is less expensive than ribs and it is easy to cook (read: hard to mess up!), so it’s a good choice if you’re a grilling novice.


Beef skirt steak may have a bad reputation as a tough cut of meat, but it can be real crowd pleaser when cooked on the grill. Plus, it can be cooked quickly (about four minutes on each side) so you won’t have to worry about keeping hungry guests waiting.


  • Marinate to perfection. Marinades are used to enhance the flavors of your chosen meat and your marinade options are almost limitless. Most marinades consist of a fat (like olive oil), an acid (like citrus or wine), and flavoring (herbs and spices), but as always, there are exceptions to this rule. Whether you are making your own marinade or using a prepared one, you’ll want to make sure you give the meat enough time to soak up all the flavor.


If you’re working with seafood, a short marinating time is best; an hour or two is plenty of time to infuse seafood with flavor. You can soak hard vegetables anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours and softer vegetables for about 30 minutes. You have more leeway when it comes to meat, which can be marinated anywhere from one hour to overnight (which may be the most convenient if you are planning a party for a lot of people).


Keep in mind that the thinner the food is cut, the less time it will need to marinate. Marinades that are high in acid also require less time as the acid breaks down tissue and can toughen the meat if left to soak for an extended period of time.


Safety tip: Don’t ever reuse a marinade as it can contain harmful bacteria.


  • Seasoning is everything! You may think that since you’ve already marinated your meat, you don’t have to worry about seasoning, but think again! Seasoning with salt and pepper will help bring out the flavors you have infused into the meat. Even if you decide to skip the marinade and go with a dry rub, you still want to make sure you include salt and pepper.
  • Pre-cook meat. Before your guests arrive, heat the meat most of the way so all you have to do is finish on the grill. You can also purchase pre-cooked ribs, pulled pork or chicken at your local supermarket. Easy to prepare and ready to serve in about 15 minutes, they’re the perfect option for entertaining, plus you’ll have more time to socialize and more room on the grill for other dishes.


  • Maintain the correct temperature. Cooking your meat to the proper temperature can mean the difference between a juicy steak and a dry one. Use your grill’s lid and vents to help you control the temperature.


The difference between using your grill’s lid and leaving it open is like the difference between oven and stovetop cooking. The lid is useful in trapping not only heat, but also smoke and flavor. If you don’t use the lid, you’re only cooking from underneath, which is preferable for thin foods, but not for foods that are more than ¾ inch thick.


Basic rule of thumb: If the food is thin or you need to watch its color, leave the lid off. If it’s over an inch thick, close the lid and use a high quality grill thermometer.


The key to successful grilling is to remain in control of the heat. It’s also important to remember that the charcoal or wood is not the only fuel- oxygen also plays a role. Grills have an intake vent and an exhaust vent, and by manipulating these vents you can control the temperature. The intake damper brings oxygen to the fire, and the exhaust damper helps the intake vent do this, while also allowing gases to escape.


Below are a few recipes to cook on the grill this summer!

Open-faced Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese Sandwich

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 40 minutes | Total time: 50 minutes

Yield: 8 servings


  • 8 slices Texas Toast
  • 4 cups prepared macaroni and cheese, warmed
  • 2large onions, thinly sliced
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 slices Gouda cheese
  • 8 slices sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 pkg. (2 cups) Tony Roma’s BBQ Pulled Pork
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce



  1. Preheat grill to medium-high, about 400°-450°F, and lightly oil the grate.
  1. Place sliced onions into a 6-inch square piece of tin foil, drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper, to taste. Close foil around onion slices.
  2. Set foil packets on lower rack of a gas grill or directly on top of hot coals on a charcoal grill. Cook for 30-35 minutes. While waiting for the onions to caramelize, heat Tony Roma’s Pulled Pork as per package instructions.
  3. Butter both sides of each slice of toast. Layer each with one slice of cheddar cheese, ¼ cup macaroni and cheese, ¼ cup pulled pork, ¼ cup caramelized onions, and one slice of Gouda cheese.
  4. Working in batches of four, cook the sandwiches until the cheese melts and the bread is golden, about 5 minutes.
  5. Drizzle with barbeque sauce and enjoy!


Prairie-Style Weddings (Rustic and Romantic Farm, Woodland, and Garden Celebrations) by Fifi O’Neill makes me want to rush outside and start planning a grand party.

Bestselling author Fifi O’Neill has earned a  reputation for her unique development of prairie style. As an executive editor overseeing several successful, magazines including her latest, Prairie Style, The New American Country, she’s known as a talented stylist who often creates prairie style editorial for dozens of other publications.

Working with talented photography Mark Lohman, O’Neill created a book that is not only gorgeous, but packed full of marvelous, creative notions.

The book’s blurb says: “Rustic barns and gardens are popular settings for the intimate, personalized weddings that are today’s top trend. Stylist Fifi O’Neill knows how to transform such venues into gorgeous “prairie style” celebrations that seamlessly blend ruggedness and elegance. This beautifully illustrated look-book with more than 150 photographs is filled with unique ideas for planning the perfect bridal shower, rehearsal dinner, ceremony, and reception. From a cheery garden-shed party to a dinner set amid a lush cornfield, Prairie-Style Weddings shows how to achieve an effortless look that is rich in personality and bursting with charm. Ten simple DIY projects add a homespun touch to any wedding event.”

Each page holds a treasure-trove of ideas, pops of color, and a definite romantic feel.

Talk about clever – who would have thought to make a chandelier out of vintage silverware and candles? And I want every single plate in the top photo on the right!

How fun are these chairs for a newlywed couple? Seriously, there are just pages and pages of unforgettable style.

barn weddingI absolutely love this idea! I can’t even begin to tell you how every girly cell in me screams out to jump into the photo and attend this celebration. The soft pastel colors, the lace, the candles and the chandelier combine for a perfect ideal of romance against the rustic barn setting.

heart laceI think this lace heart is one of my favorite details. And you don’t have to be planning a wedding to make a few. You could hang them in a window, outside on your porch, on a guest bathroom wall…

If you are a romantic at heart, love beautiful photography, or host parties, this book is a great selection to add to your collection. Especially, if you’re planning a wedding!

Available from Chronicle Books, the book can be found at Amazon and other retail outlets.


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