Category Archives: Cooking

Trouble Free Cooking?

Believe it or not, trouble free cooking is a common desire around the world. Even those among us who love cooking and eating almost equally will be the first to confess that being able to cook without the worry of creating a mess, spilling, or burning would be a blessing. Truthfully speaking there really is no such thing as trouble free cooking though there are things you can do that will take a good deal of trouble out of your cooking.

Most of the tips here will be beneficial to novice or beginners in the culinary arts however, there are some great refresher tips for those who are more experienced when it comes to cooking as well. Hopefully you will learn some things through the next few paragraphs or at least remember some things you had forgotten.

First of all, cleaning as you go will take a lot of the trouble out of what comes after the cooking. When asked the least favorite thing about cooking a wide margin of women proclaim without a second of hesitation that the clean up by far is the worst thing about cooking. To make things easier, clean as you go. Keep a sink of hot sudsy water ready to go the entire time you are cooking and wipe up any spills that occur immediately to avoid sticky messes that are much more difficult to clean afterwards. You should also note that if you transfer your food to serving dishes and immediately wash your pots and pans they will be much easier to clean than if the food is allowed to sit in them while your family dines.

My best friend is constantly burning her dinners. The reason? She believes in high or low when it comes to cooking and there is nothing in between. Very few meals should be cooked on high truth be told. You are much better off to begin the food preparation at a medium or medium high temperature and to adjust accordingly.

Make sure your oven is preheated. The temperature of the oven does indeed make a difference in the cooking process. While there are those that believe preheating is a simple waste of electricity it is what is required in order to achieve the optimal results when cooking. Most modern electric ovens will signal when the proper temperature has been achieved.

Select recipes that fall within your comfort zone in order to avoid making mistakes or becoming too stressed about the cooking process. Once you’ve decided on your recipe read it through a couple of times in order to be certain that you not only understand all the steps involved but also have all the necessary ingredients before beginning.

Wash your hands thoroughly and wash your hands often. Remember the sink of sudsy water I mentioned above? You’ll want to use it quite frequently in order to wash any surface, cutting board, plate, or utensil that has come into contact with raw meat in order to avoid cross contamination. The same holds true for your hands.

While to some degree these tips may seem a bit simplistic, when it comes to trouble free cooking there really is no such thing. The more you do to make the cooking process seem as effortless as possible the more trouble free your cooking will really be.

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Traditional Christmas Cooking

Christmas is a time of year when different families around the world will get together and observe traditions that are the same for them year after year and yet vastly different from those that other families share around the block. There are very few universal Christmas traditions any more and there is nothing wrong with that. In America however, there are some items that many people consider traditional holiday cooking and there is little that will be done to dissuade these opinions. The truth is that many of these traditional holiday foods are largely traditional in specific regions rather than the United States having one nations wide traditional Christmas dinner.

Turkey or ham? For some families the answer is both while others answer quite quickly that it is neither. One of the best all-American Christmas cooking ideas I’ve ever seen was lasagna. It was a Christmas Eve tradition but a delicious tradition just the same. There are no right or wrong traditions only those traditions that work well for you and your family. If you feel the need to change a long-standing tradition for a large extended family by all means discuss it with everyone involved. Otherwise it is your tradition and you should feel free to make it your own.

At the same time, there is something comforting and reminiscent of home to have those traditions to come home to year after year. I can’t help but think of the movie Christmas with the Kranks. The entire movie was spent in an attempt to break with the traditional Christmas trappings and trimmings only to make a mad dash to return to them in the end. That is often the way things go when attempting to break with tradition. If you are considering this for the first time this Christmas be sure to hang on to some of your old traditions in case you find that it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without them. You certainly don’t want it to be too late and miss out on the spirit of Christmas in your home.

Other great traditional favorites for many Americans as far as Christmas cooking goes are: sweet potato casseroles, devilled eggs, dressing or stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, apple pie, mince meat pie, and pecan pie. Of course there are regional favorites that are often highly dependent upon where you live such as key lime pie, lemon icebox pie, oyster dressing, deep fried turkey. If one of these is a Christmas tradition for you, no matter where you are in the world you will think of home or Christmas whenever you come across them. It’s really amazing how that happens and quite nice too when family and friends seem far away to have something as simple as a dish of food make them seem that much closer.

That, of course, is the great, and almost perfect things about Christmas traditions. We pass them along to our children who one day will find that they are a little less alone because someone in an airport is eating a slice of key lime pie or having a dish or macaroni and cheese. If you don’t have Christmas traditions it is time to develop a few just so that you can share something special and almost sacred with your friends and family.

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Cooking On the Grill

Summertime is rapidly approaching. This means it is time to begin preparing meals without heating the house whenever possible. If you haven’t considered the value of cooking on the grill in the past, perhaps now is a great time to adjust your way of thinking.

Cooking on the grill is a great way to keep the heat of cooking outside your home as well as to bring the family together for the entire cooking process. Moms read: this is a great way to get dad to help out with meal preparation. While this is said somewhat in jest, there is some truth to the fact that men are much more inclined to slave away over a hot grill than a hot stove. More importantly, most of the mess of cooking on the grill remains outside your kitchen. I don’t know about you, but that is a huge bonus for me, when it comes to cooking.

Cooking on the grill is also a great way to get the kids involved in the meal preparation and clean up process. We like to use disposable plates when grill cooking and keep the dining al fresco. If you are hoping for instant family unity over the picnic table you might want to think again but there isn’t anything quite like it when it comes to not worrying about spills or dropped food as you can rest fairly certain that the animals will take care of anything that gets left behind.

Even small children can help when cooking on the grill by bringing utensils to the grill, holding plates, and ‘setting’ the picnic table for your dining experience. If you intend to do a good deal of cooking on the grill you may want to invest in some portable and ‘kid friendly’ containers for things such as condiments, napkins, plastic ware, and tablecloth holders. Be sure to find containers that can handle a decent gust of wind without flying off too. These may be a little heavier for your little ones to hold but they won’t be nearly as difficult to chase when blowing across the lawn.

Cooking on the grill is a great way to enjoy nature after a long day of work. Be careful that you do not reserve this as a weekend event as you will find you miss out on some of the relaxing qualities it can bring to your midweek slump. One thing that can definitely be said about grill cooking is that the selections are almost as limitless as they are when cooking on the stove. You must use your imagination for maximum effect though very few meats and vegetables are truly off limits when it comes to cooking on the grill.

In addition to cooking meats on the grill, it is important to keep in mind that you can also cook all kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables on the grill as well. You should also keep in mind the awesome side dishes that go great with grilled foods such as baked beans, potato salad, and nice cool deserts and pies.

Cooking on the grill is a great way to bring family and friends together. The next time you plan to have a get together why not make it a night of cooking on the grill? You can have the best of all worlds with no muss, no fuss clean up and great food with good friends. Cooking on the grill is certainly a great way to get the neighbors out and about. There’s nothing on earth that can quite compare to the aroma of meat, fruit, and vegetables grilling over hot charcoal. If you don’t remember and your mouth isn’t watering just reading about, it’s been far too long since your last barbecue experience.

The most important thing to remember about cooking on the grill is that it should be an experience rather than a chore. Most of us truly enjoy the thought of having a good dinner under the sun or stars (whichever applies in your case). If you haven’t tried this in a while, it’s time to dust off the grill and refresh your memory and your taste buds.

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Excellent Menu for a Great Fourth Outdoors

The Fourth of July is America’s Independence Day. It is a special day in the minds and hearts of patriotic citizens of this country and there are many ways we celebrate that patriotism. If you are looking for a little something extra to add to your Independence Day menu try some of the ideas below. Remember that the red, white, and blue of the American flag can be excellent color additions to your fabulous fourth menu and make it definitely firework worthy.

It is fairly safe to say that for most of the country the weather on the fourth of July is going to be a little bit on the warm side. While there are exceptions to every rule this is the general rule of thumb. For this reason you should prepare your menu according to that and avoid foods that are going to melt quickly or will not look as appealing in warm weather. You should also take proper precautions for storage and keeping things from spoiling by leaving them out in the elements too long. Store as much of the food as possible until it is time to serve.

This may somewhat limit your offerings but opens the door to other offerings. Rather than have chilled pies for dessert choose cake that can be stored at room temperature. There are sure to be a few chilled recipes or dishes that are best served and/or stored chilled. Be sure to have plenty of cold gel packs or ice on hand and plenty of ice chests and other appropriate containers, especially if you are going to be camping or cooking out away from home, on hand to take care of at least the amount of food you are contributing that needs cold storage.

If you are going to be camping out or enjoying the great outdoors on the fourth consider foods that can be prepared with a Dutch oven. There are many great recipes and these foods can pretty well cook for the prescribed length of time and served immediately if you plan properly. These ovens are quite useful and can prepare everything from cakes and muffins to stews, chili, and roast beef with vegetables. In other words, a Dutch oven opens doors that may not be widely available to the average camper on a cookout.

Foil packet meals are also excellent choices for your Fourth of July cookouts. These leave little mess, little fuss, and more often than not taste great. Dishes such as Hobo Stew and Creek Bank Potatoes are very popular and quite savory for the average cook out. They are also rather simple to prepare with few ingredients. This makes them an excellent choice for cooking on a grill or even in a Dutch oven if you have one at your disposal, which I highly recommend not only for Fourth of July meal preparations but also any time you are cooking in the great outdoors. You might find that you love it so much you don’t want to do without it.

Another great tip when cooking away from home on the Fourth of July is to keep things simple. You do not want to lug around stacks of condiments, dishes, bowls, trays, etc. Keep things as simple as possible and try to use dishes that require few ingredients yet still taste great. The more simple things are when dining in the great outdoors the more you can appreciate the simplicity of being in the great outdoors.

Don’t forget the appeal of simple hamburgers, hot dogs, and brats as great Fourth of July meal ideas. These foods are easy to prepare, easy to clean up, and go great with chips. No muss, no fuss, remember? The less time you spend on meal preparations, the more time you have available to get around to enjoying your time in our great countryside. I can’t think of many better ways to celebrate our independence as a nation than by enjoying it.

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The Wonderful Tools of Cooking

Far too often people overlook the importance of using the proper tools when cooking fine meals. While there is nothing in the world that can quite compare to cooking with the finest and freshest of ingredients, these things can only be enhanced by making use of the perfect tools for the job at hand.

When it comes to pots and pans and skillets you should keep in mind that conductivity is of extreme importance. You should also select pots and pans that are made of a heavier gauge. This allows your pans to heat evenly avoiding hot spots, which can lead to food that may ‘stick’ to your pan or scorch during the cooking process. This means that simply stopping in at your local mass market retailer and purchasing any old set of pots and pans is probably not the best course of action for the best possible quality in your kitchen.

Kitchen knives are also important ingredients in the kitchens of today. If you plan to prepare many meals in your kitchen, then the quality of your knives is of the utmost importance. Your knives are an investment you shouldn’t have to make too often in your lifetime. For this reason, select a really good set and be prepared to make a sizeable investment in your knives. You will never understand, unless you’ve tried to prepare foods with knives of inferior quality, just how important it is to purchase good quality and well-balanced knives for your kitchen. You should also try the handles in your hand to see how comfortable they feel before purchasing a set of knives. If you do a lot of chopping and cutting during your meal preparation and cooking you will want to make sure that the knives you are using feel comfortable in your hands.

If you are like me and plan on cooking a great deal of meat then you should also invest in a jacquard. This useful tool helps not only when it comes to tenderizing rather rough and tumble cuts of meat but also pierces the surface so that rubs and marinades can penetrate for a more flavorful experience. This is by far one of my favorite kitchen gadgets and it isn’t a sizeable investment for the added value it provides to meals.

A good quality grater is another tool that no kitchen should be complete without. There are many who feel that with all the pre shredded cheese products on the market today this tool is obsolete but nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, pre grated and pre packaged cheese simply doesn’t touch the quality of flavor that freshly grated cheese provides. Second, cheese isn’t the only thing that these graters are useful for grating. Graters are excellent tools for grating citrus fruits, spices, garlic, chocolate, and even onions. If you do a good deal of baking in addition to your cooking you should not overlook the value of having a quality grater in your kitchen.

Of course there are many more cooking tools than I could possibly mention here. Those mentioned above simply happen to be among my personal favorites. There are all kinds of appliances that in my humble opinion no kitchen is truly complete without. In addition to these great appliances there are many tools that are simple matters of preference. Do you peel enough potatoes to warrant a special device for doing so or do you simply opt to purchase an ergonomically designed potato peeler and peel them by hand? There are no one size fits all answers when it comes to kitchen tools and many of us are often limited by serious budget constraints and restrictions. My best advice if this is the situation for you is to purchase the best possible quality you can afford and build from there. Even if it means replacing one pot or knife at a time until you can manage a complete set of superior quality cooking tools you will find it well worth the price you’ve paid in the long run.

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Cooking on a George Foreman Grill

When it comes to convenience and enjoyment when cooking there are very few appliances in my kitchen that can compete with my George Foreman grill. While there are many different sizes and styles to the George Foreman line of grilling machines I have the George Foreman Next Grilleration Grill, which allows us to do almost anything on our grill. This grill even comes with the ability to make waffles in addition to all the wonderful meals that the traditional George Foreman grill can assist with when it comes to cooking.

This handy grill is completely awesome when it comes to cooking no matter what time of the day it is. For breakfast, you also have the option of using the flat grill in order to make pancakes, sausage, bacon, or eggs if that is your wish in addition to the ability to make waffles. For breakfast, this grill is divine and we’re just getting started for the day.

For lunch you can once again use the flat grill for making grill cheese sandwiches if that is your choice or you can use the traditional grilling grills in order to create paninis or quesadillas that are sure to please even the most selective member of your family when it comes to a quick, easy, and delicious lunch. If that doesn’t do the trick though you can also use the grills to make hot ham and cheese sandwiches or use your imagination to come up with a tasty combination of your very own. To get a little extra creative you could toss a few pineapple rings onto the grill for a tasty after lunch treat.

In the afternoon you can use your grill, believe it or not, to make homemade chocolate chip cookies. I’d be fairly willing to be that is one thing you never thought you’d be cooking on a grill. I know it was a surprise for me. When you buy the grill, if you decide to buy one of these, you will discover that there is a recipe for making your own chocolate chip cookies in the recipe booklet that comes with the grill. Of course there are other snack foods you can make with your grill as well just use your imagination.

When it comes to dinner, very few kitchen appliances offer quite the degree of diversity of my little George Foreman Grilleration when it comes to cooking. Another surprising recipe in the booklet is one for pizza and I have actually used my grill to make Shake and Bake chicken on more than one occasion. As far as tools for cooking go in my kitchen this is one tool that is definitely tops. You can also make fish sticks or chicken nuggets and French fries on this nifty little grill if that is your wish.

In addition to the things I’ve mentioned above you can use your grill for making chicken, fish, steaks, pork shops, and many other delightful dishes if that is your wish. When it comes to this particular grill the plates are not only removable but also dishwasher safe. This means that clean up is quick and easy once the cooking is complete.

When it comes to cooking for you and your family, any little short cut to make things easier is a shortcut well worth taking. The George Foreman Grilleration is a great accessory to add to your kitchen that will make cooking easier day in and out.

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Easy Christmas Cooking that is Sure to Please

Christmas is a hectic time of year. Many families find that they barely have time to breathe much less cook dishes to bring for this or that function. For this reason there are several great cheat dishes that can be purchased and prepared for the occasions and very few people will be the wiser. Though Christmas may be about being with friends and family it is not about broadcasting a possible lack of talent in the kitchen, time on hand, or a shortage of attention span that is required in order to prepare a stellar dish for your Christmas needs.

Of course, you could begin preparing and freezing large casserole favorites as early as August for the Christmas season. In this instance you could freeze all your family favorites and have great dishes not only for family functions that require a pitch in dish but also for those nights when you are far too busy to be bothered with something as demanding on your limited attention span as actually preparing a home cooked meal. This is possible the best method for each Christmas cooking known to man. If you prepare casseroles and similar dishes that work well with a holiday theme throughout the year be sure to double your efforts next time and freeze half for busier months such as November and December.

Of course there is one method that may be a little easier in the long run though a good deal more costly. This is the supreme cheater method. There are plenty of businesses that offer you the opportunity to put together or ‘assemble’ meals then bring them home to freeze and bake. This isn’t quite home made though it tastes as good and might convince those at the parties and events you attend that you are in fact an excellent cook even if you have difficulties finding your way to boiling water. Some cities have several of these meal assembly stores while others have none or only one. You need to constantly check with the menu if you are a finicky eater because they often rotate some of the more popular dishes so that they aren’t available all the time. Since the food is frozen you can typically plan your sessions for those times when they are offering the dishes you are interested in creating.

A variation on the theme above is purchasing prepared meals in the freezer section of your local supermarket. There are a few surprisingly good meals to be had especially if you are considering macaroni and cheese or lasagna for your offering. These are meals that you bring home and heat in your oven. They are often sold in foil pans, which are great for potlucks and pitch ins but not so much for looking good. If that isn’t the utmost concern these are definitely a possible fit for your needs and your plans. They also happen to be fairly budget friendly which is something most of us can agree is a great thing.

You do not have to have super powers or even a great deal of cooking talent in order to make a Christmas dinner that is delicious and easy to make when time is short. Careful planning well ahead of time is often the key to a successful Christmas season. Most of us begin our shopping early there is no harm in also beginning our cooking a little early too.

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Cooking for One

It is often frustrating to attempt to plan meals that are designed for one. Despite this fact, we are seeing more and more recipe books and Internet websites that are dedicated to the act of cooking for one. Divorce and the death of spouses or grown children leaving for college are all reasons that someone accustomed to cooking for more than one would suddenly need to learn how to adjust all the cooking practices utilized before into a streamlined plan of cooking that is more efficient for one person creating less waste.

The mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make cooking for one a challenge rather than a trial. Use this opportunity to try new and exciting cuisines. Perhaps one of the greatest things about cooking for one is the fact that it isn’t quite as expensive as cooking for two. This means that you have a little more money in the grocery budget with which to plan and prepare your meals.

One thing you may want to keep in mind however is that when cooking for one, if you prepare foods that are freezable. It may save more time (and in the end money) if you cook the full 2-4 servings that most recipes call for and freeze the leftovers in single serving portions for a later point in time. This leaves you with a freezer full of foods for those nights when the thought of cooking just seems beyond your capabilities. This also leaves you with doing the work once and enjoying the fruits of your efforts many times over. This is a great position to be in if you ask me.

We are finding more and more recipes and cookbooks that are designed around the concept of cooking for one. No matter what situation placed you in the position of cooking for one, there is no reason that you shouldn’t enjoy great food that is exciting and pleasant simply because you are dining alone. There is no harm in enjoying a fabulous meal with a glass of wine and great music whether you are cooking for one or one hundred.

Remember you are what you eat and if you relegate yourself to boring meals that lack excitement and spice that is what you will become. However if you decide to reach out and try new and exciting dishes with every meal you prepare when cooking for one, it will show in the way you embrace life in other areas as well. While we should not live to eat, we should also not limit ourselves to eating to live. Enjoy the foods you prepare whether the portions are large or small in size.

If you do not want to invest heavily in cookbooks that relate to cooking for one, it is quite possible that your local public library will have a few from which you can find some excellent recipes tips and resources. While you are there be sure to check out their selection of exotic food cookbooks in order to spice things up a bit. You never know what treasures you may discover on the shelves or your local library. You may even find local resources on classes that center on the idea of cooking for one. If the library proves to be a bust as far as resources go, the Internet is full of recipes, tips, and hints for those who are cooking for one.

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Thanksgiving Menu Ideas

Thanksgiving is many things to many different people. In America it is a day we set aside to give thanks for all the things that are important to us and pay homage to an excellent dinner with an afternoon of football watching and yelling at the television screen (at least that is what you do if you live in Detroit). In other areas of the nation people actually do things together such as playing board games, touch football, or any number of other games that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Other traditions are to gather the ladies together to plan the shopping strategy for the next day’s shopping. A worthy cause if ever there was one to be sure.

But, the traditions that go along with Thanksgiving and giving thanks do not solve the dilemma that many face each and every time Thanksgiving is celebrated in their homes faces. That dilemma would be what to prepare for the big meal. There are plenty of options and as hostess and chef extraordinaire it is entirely up to you what the menu will be. The best piece of advice that can be given however, is the less food left to prepare on Thanksgiving day is the less food that has the opportunity for something to go wrong in the preparation process.

Here are a few great menu ideas, tips, and tricks that should help make your Thanksgiving Dinner preparations go a little more smoothly.

First of all, plan ahead and make sure you have all the ingredients you need and any special menu items that may be required well ahead of time but in a manner that allows for maximum freshness. If you must wait until the day before to get some of your shopping done, then do so as early in the day as possible. Otherwise make a point of getting all the non-perishable ingredients that are necessary a week or so ahead of time. Also if you are going to order a smoked turkey or something along those lines do so far enough in advance that you have no doubt at all that your order will be filled on time.

Second, if you can afford to have something ordered and prepared offsite and it doesn’t hurt your sense of pride do so. You do not have to have everything catered but having a few items catered will leave your day much less stressed making the risk of something going wrong a little lower than if you were cramming everything into one morning and doing it all yourself. Bread from the bakery, smoked ham or turkey, and certain favorite side dishes that are complicated and time consuming as well as some pies are a great buy and save a lot of time that would be better spent enjoying the day.

Third, recruit help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with grabbing a passing child or adult and asking for a little help with the chopping, washing, or mixing that must take place in order for the dinner to go off without a hitch. The thing is that while people often don’t mind helping they are afraid to offer for fear of seeming to imply that you aren’t doing well enough on your own. For this reason there is no harm in recruiting help especially among friends and family.

Finally, keep the animals outside or locked away from the festivities and, more importantly, the food. Animals are great friends to have but most of your guests do not appreciate them in the kitchen or at the table. You do not want Fluffy or Fido to run off the food you’ve worked hard to prepare (or purchase whichever the case may be) so remove them from a situation that it might prove tempting.

The most important thing about your Thanksgiving dinner is that you are not so stressed from the preparation that you do not have the time or peace of mind to enjoy it. The advice above should help with that.

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Giving Dad Home Style Cooking on His Big Day

There is no one on earth quite like dear old dad. He has given hugs, offered advice, picked up the pieces of your broken heart, and been the source of many twenty-dollar bills finding their way into your pockets unexpectedly for gas or a new pair of shoes. This man has meant so much to you throughout your life. Do you honor him on his special day with a trip to some nameless restaurant where he is little more than table number 23 or do you cook him a feast fit for the King her really is in your heart?

A little hint, most dads prefer home made food (provided of course you have a firm grasp on basic cooking skills) to a restaurant menu almost any day of the week and twice on a day that should be sacred for family. For this reason it is a great idea to prepare to put on a fest for your dad whether you are planning for your family and mom and dad or bringing the entire family to the table you need to plan carefully and prepare as much of the food as possible ahead of time.

Be kind to dad too and his health. Avoid laying out a table of his favorites if they are all completely off the charts for his dietary and health restriction needs. Chances are that you can find low fat, low cholesterol, or low sodium versions of most of his favorites if you do a thorough search online. You can also find plenty of recipes for sugar free treats that are delicious and friendly to those who either have type II diabetes or those who need to shed a few pounds because of other health concerns. Of course you do want dear old dad to live a little and enjoy the foods you prepare but do try to keep some of his dietary needs in mind and offer choices that fit in with his needs as well as his favorites.

Is your dear old dad a steak and potatoes kind of man? If so, feed that need. Offer a nice steak prepared in a low fat, low sodium method and a small side of potatoes with a large side of steamed or raw vegetables. This will be a good balance on the plate and should also leave a little bit of room for an excellent dessert later on. Of course if comfort food is your dad’s mainstay we are seeing new and improved recipes crop up almost every day that provide as much of the great flavor as possible without the fat, calories, and/or carbs.

Of course if your dad is the kind of man who is going to eat what he wants no matter what, there is no reason not to give him what he wants. Just make some efforts to minimize the impact by lowering where you can while still providing the taste he loves so much. Be sure to offer a nice selection of dear old dad’s favorite drinks too. Preparing an excellent father’s day feast goes well beyond just throwing a few steaks on the grill. Desserts should be something dad will enjoy and fresh fruit is another great option to add for a healthy choice and a bit of variety. The important thing is that you have taken the time to prepare and cook a great meal for the man who has given you so much on this special day.

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