Summer means lots of potluck-style cookouts, picnics and get-togethers. And whether you need a recipe for your own weeknight dinner or a family cookout, here’s plenty of summer side dish inspiration!

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Pasta Salads

Pasta salads are undoubtedly one of the most versatile summer side dishes out there. Between the different types of pastas, sauces and mix-ins, there’s nearly endless recipe options. The best part? You can probably find a recipe that fits what you already have in your kitchen! Here’s a few pasta salad recipes worth trying:

 

Potatoes

Potato side dishes go beyond your average potato salad. Think: Cheesy potatoes, roasted potatoes and potato skins too. Here’s some of our favorite potato side dishes that we hope you like too!

 

Beans ‘n Greens

Sometimes when it comes to sides it’s nice to just keep things simple, right? Cue the humble bean (sometimes paired with green). Pro tip: Make any of these recipes in the slow cooker for easier cleanup and minimal heat in the kitchen.

 

Fruits & Dips

Summer is definitely the best time to bring fruity side dishes or simple dips. With so many fresh fruits in season, you have tons of options to choose from. And dips give guests a light option to snack on, rather than dishing out a heavy full-course meal.

 

Now that you have your recipe(s), make sure to stop by your local Sparkle Market for all the quality fresh ingredients you need to make your summer side dish a success!

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Whether you like ‘em stuffed, slathered, stacked or just plain, we can probably all agree on one thing: burgers are a summer cookout staple. And with Memorial Day weekend right around the corner, we figured you could use a juicy burger recipe…or ten. (Non-beef eaters, scroll down to Recipe 10).

 

Recipe 1: Mushroom Burger with Aioli

A lean, yet flavorful patty topped with buttery onions and mushrooms, then slathered in a horseradish mayo. Is your mouth watering yet?

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Recipe 2: Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Burgers

Think: Cheesy spinach and artichoke dip stuffed into a thick and juicy burger. You’ll need napkins for this one.

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Recipe 3: Bacon Cheeseburger

Steak sauce and cider vinegar inside the burger mix give this All-American classic combo a little tasty twist.

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Recipe 4: Blue Cheese Stuffed Fig Burgers

Juicy, USDA choice beef stuffed with sweet figs, caramelized onions and tangy blue cheese. Basically a roller coaster for your taste buds.

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Recipe 5:  Taco Burgers

Skip the taco dip and instead treat your family and friends to these zesty burgers. Trust us, it’s a risk worth taking.

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Recipe 6: Mini Bacon Cheeseburger Bites

Change it up a bit this year and serve your burgers as the appetizer, instead of the main course.

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Recipe 7: Touchdown Cheeseburgers

For Memorial Day, we think we’ll call these…Home Run Cheeseburgers. The secret is in the sauce for these burgers.

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Recipe 8: Jalapeño Cheese Stuffed Burgers

In this recipe, jalapeño poppers meat (pun intended) juicy burgers. What more could you ask for?

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Recipe 9: Whiskey Glazed Blue Cheese Burgers

A juicy beef burger stuffed with tangy blue cheese crumbles, slathered in sweet whiskey glaze and served up on a pillowy pretzel bun. Yep, they’re as good as they sound.

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Recipe 10: Burger Alternatives

If you’re not a meat eater, or if you know you’ll have guests that prefer meatless meals, grill up a few burger alternatives:

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Before your cookout, make sure to stop by your local Sparkle Market for all the quality USDA choice beef and fresh toppings you need to make your Memorial Day burgers a success!

‘Tis (almost) the season for graduation parties! And if you have a graduate of your own this year, don’t stress. Here’s plenty of inexpensive food and décor ideas to make planning the party easy-peasy.

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Easy Appetizers

Graduation party “season” typically means lots of party invites throughout the spring and summer– AKA your party might be stop number two or three for some of your guests. So, don’t worry about serving up a full five-course meal. Instead, take it easy with a few fruit trays, vegetable trays (just call your local Sparkle) and bite-sized apps. Here’s a few delicious appetizer recipes:

 

Dips ‘n Sides

For less food maintenance and more socializing time, make big batches of dips and side salads. Keep warm dips in crock pots and cold dips over ice. Put plenty of crackers and chips in large bowls to minimize the amount of times you need to refill. Here’s a few crowd-pleasing recipes:

 

Create-Your-Own Food Tables

Create-your-own [insert food] tables are becoming more and more popular at parties. Why? They’re easy to set up and fun for guests! The formula to a great create-your-own food station = main component options + topping options. Take a look below for some inspiration:

  • Taco Bar = soft tortillas + hard shells + shredded chicken + ground beef + lettuce + tomato + salsa + cheese
  • Flatbread Pizzas = flatbreads + pizza sauce + white sauce + meats + cheeses + veggies + oils + seasonings
  • Burger & Hot Dog Bar = buns + patties/dogs + cheeses + veggies + sauces
  • Mac & Cheese Bar = pre-scooped cups of mac + bacon + extra cheese + tomatoes + chicken
  • Bagel Table = bagel varieties + cream cheese varieties + fruit + bacon + avocado slices
  • Soft Pretzel Table = soft pretzels + seasoned salts + cheeses + mustards

 

Desserts

To keep things extra simple, order a graduation cake from your local Sparkle bakery! All you’ll have to do is pick it up and cut it at the party. But, if you want to serve up some other desserts along with (or instead of) your cake, here’s a few ideas:

  • Diploma cookies – buy pre-made pirouette cookies and tie colored ribbon around the middle of each
  • Ice Cream Sundae Bar – scoop ice cream into mason jars, place in a bucket of ice, and set up a table with bowls of different toppings
  • Donut Wall – purchase or make donuts, then hang them on a wall with dowel rods
  • Peanut Butter Pie Bites
  • Magic Cookie Bars
  • Strawberry Lemon Poke Cake – fresh, delicious and perfect if your school color is red!
  • Strawberry Pretzel Dip

 

Now, a Message from Food Safety

When hosting any sort of party, graduation or not, it’s important that you keep basic food safety in mind– especially if your party is outside.

  • Fill large bowls with ice and set foods that need to stay cold (pasta salads, fruit, deviled eggs) on top
  • Make sure to replace the ice as it melts
  • Any food sitting out for more than 2 hours should be thrown away (if your party is longer than 2 hours, serve food in smaller portions, with the rest kept cold/hot elsewhere)
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat is cooked thoroughly

 

Decorative Food Label Tents

Food labels serve two purposes: they (1) let your guests know what they’re eating (no surprise allergic reactions) and (2) function as simple decorations. On Amazon, you’ll find all sorts of food labels, like these mini chalkboards or these stainless steel tents. But, if you don’t plan on re-using the labels, go the simple route: fold pieces of paper in half and write on them with colorful markers. For design inspiration, check this Etsy page.

 

Mason Jar Centerpieces

A quick search on Pinterest for “centerpieces” will probably yield about 500+ mason jar results. Why? They’re super cheap and extremely versatile. Here’s a few ways you could decorate them:

  • Fill the jars with colored beads, stones or mints. Decorate craft dowel rods with your graduate’s year, name or colored ribbon. Place rods in the mason jars.
  • Spray glue onto the bottoms of the mason jars. Dip the jars in colored glitter and let dry. Decorate dowel rods and place inside.
  • Fill mason jars with flowers along with dowel rods decorated with photos of the graduate.
  • Paint the outsides of the jars in school colors. Let dry, then tie ribbon around the top with graduate year attached.

Pro tip: before filling the jars, place a can or other small object inside. This will make the jar appear fuller, without using a ton of beads, stones or mints. 

 

How to Display Memories

The whole point of this party is to celebrate the journey your graduate took to reach graduation! Let your guests reminisce by displaying those memories via photos.

  • Spread photo albums or scrapbooks out on a table for guests to flip through
  • Create a photo board by taping pictures to a tri-fold board
  • String photos along thick string with clothespins, clothesline-style
  • Purchase large wooden numbers (2019) from a craft store, cut photos to fit, then collage them onto the numbers
  • Build a mini wall out of pallet wood and string or attach photos on the wall

 

DIY Photo Booths

We’re sure it’ll come as no surprise when we say that teens love to take photos. And the perfect photo opportunity for your grad’s party is a photo booth! Save the money from renting a professional photo booth and instead create one yourself (it’s not too difficult, trust us). A few ideas:

  • Hang a simple backdrop (sheet or paper) and set props out for people to use
  • Set up a more creative background, like 2019 balloons or a plant wall with hanging banner
  • Create a life-sized picture frame for people to hold up and take pictures in

 

Other Extras   

Each graduation party is slightly different from the next. Here’s a couple ways you can personalize your party even more:

  • Set out a Words of Wisdom Jar next to your card box– guests can write advice for your graduate
  • Gift guests light bulbs filled with candy that say “thanks for making my future bright”
  • Create a custom Snapchat filter for the day and location of your party
  • Set up yard games like giant tic-tac-toe and corn hole for guests to play

 

Congratulations to your Class of 2019 graduate and good luck planning the party! As always, make sure to stop by your local Sparkle Market for all the quality ingredients you need to make your graduate’s party a success.

If you’ve listened to the news lately, you’ve probably heard more than one story about the latest environmental hot topic: plastic.

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What’s Wrong with Plastic?

Great question. Found in most packaging and consumer products, plastic is a major contributor to ocean pollution and the release of toxic chemicals. The use and disposal of plastic is seriously threatening both wildlife and the human population. So, what can you do to help? Start by reducing your plastic use in the kitchen! Here’s how:

 

Buy in Bulk

Not only do you save money when buying groceries in bulk, but you also significantly cut down on plastic packaging. Instead of purchasing single-serve yogurt cups, purchase one large yogurt (then separate into smaller glass containers later). Need more toilet paper? Purchase the larger bundle and store in a closet at home. If the product has a long shelf-life, try buying it in bulk.

 

Ditch the Plastic Re-Sealable Bags   

This is a tough one to be rid of, but HUGE for the environment if you can. Swap your disposable, single-use plastic bags for their silicone counterparts. They’re leak-proof and dishwasher, microwave and freezer-safe. Or, use re-usable containers.

 

Use Re-Usable Grocery Bags

Re-usable grocery bags are becoming more and more popular among eco-conscious shoppers. Rather than taking home a cart full of plastic bags, use fabric re-usable ones. They’re more durable than plastic bags (no more broken handles!) and they’re inexpensive to purchase.

 

Avoid Plastic Wrap

It’s almost picnic and cookout season, which means lots and lots of pasta salads covered with plastic wrap. This summer, try using either (1) regular lids or (2) a re-usable plastic wrap alternative. What’s a plastic wrap alternative you may ask? These food wraps by Etee are one example, made out of organic cotton soaked in natural oils. They can be washed and reused up to 150 times.

 

The Last Plastic Straw    

The Last Plastic Straw project has rocked the world recently with its simple mission: get rid of single-use plastic straws by refusing to use them. A lot of restaurants, hotels and companies have jumped on the #NoStrawPlease train and you can too. How? Opt for reusable alternatives like stainless steel straws or bamboo straws or when out to eat, drink your drink straw-free.

Next time you stop by your local Sparkle Market for all the quality ingredients you need, pause and think of ways you can reduce plastics during your shopping trip!

 

For centuries, it’s been the star of many cuisines, recipes and vampire movies. You’ll find its pungent smell in nearly every kitchen around the world, and probably on every chef’s hands as well. Yep, we’re talking about garlic. And today, we feature the delicious bulb in celebration of National Garlic Month!

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Its Roots

Garlic, formally known as Allium sativum, is one of the oldest and most widely-used food flavoring plants on Earth, dating back as early as 10,000 B.C. (aka the Stone Age). Originally from central Asia, the plant quickly spread to the Middle East and Africa and eventually made its way over to Europe and North America. Initially, garlic was used for its supposed medicinal properties. Egyptians believed garlic could prolong life, cure wounds and give strength. In fact, there are records of Egyptian royals feeding garlic to slaves so that they would have more strength to build the pyramids! In Greece and Rome, garlic was popular in many superstitious rituals (i.e. hanging it above entrances to prevent the spread of smallpox). And nowadays, garlic is most commonly used in cooking.

 

Cooking with Garlic    

Delicious, flavorful and relatively inexpensive, its journeyed past makes garlic a staple in dishes found all around the world. And at your local Sparkle, you’ll find it fresh, minced and powdered to fit any sort of recipe. Need some inspiration for your next garlicky dish? Click on the recipes below!

Fresh / Minced Garlic

 

Powdered Garlic

 

Dealing with the Aftermath   

Let’s be honest, a garlicky pasta dish probably isn’t your first choice for a first date dinner. Why? Simply put: the smell. Garlic tastes great, but its scent will stick around long after dinnertime. Luckily there’s plenty of solutions out here in the cooking world for getting rid of garlic’s potent smell. After peeling and mincing garlic, try rubbing your fingers on something made of stainless steel (i.e. a sink, spoon) under cold water. If that doesn’t do the trick, rub whole coffee beans or some coffee grounds on your hands, then rinse. Cleaning your hands with lemon and salt is another tried and true solution– but be careful not to irritate already-dry skin! If you’re struggling with garlic breath, eat some raw apples. The same enzyme that makes apples turn brown, also fights against the stinky sulphides in garlic. Drinking lemon water, green tea or milk are also great (and less conspicuous) ways to freshen your breath during a dinner date!

This month, and every month, make sure to stop by your local Sparkle Market for all the quality garlic you need to make your dishes a success!

Celebrate National Eat Like the Irish Day (more commonly known as St. Patrick’s Day) with us as we round up some of our favorite Irish dishes. These hearty meals are the perfect way to celebrate St. Patty’s Day with your family and friends. Hopefully, the luck of the Irish will bring us not only tasty food, but also some nice spring weather!

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Don’t Reuben Your Dinner

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Save the parade candy until after you’ve had an iconic Reuben sandwich (you’ll thank us later). Stacked high with corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, then toasted between two slices of rye bread, the Reuben is a staple in Irish cuisine. But, a sandwich isn’t the only way to enjoy this classic combo of ingredients. If you’re not into rye bread, try these Hearty Reuben Turnovers, made with biscuits instead of bread. Or, try swapping the bread for cabbage leaves in our recipe for Reuben Cabbage Rolls. They’re baked with a homemade dressing and perfect for anyone that’s gluten-sensitive or trying out the keto diet. This recipe for Reuben Wraps also allow you to enjoy the best parts of a Reuben, without the carbs. If you’re looking for a crowd pleaser, try this recipe for Reuben Pizza or this recipe for Reuben Dip. Both recipes make delicious St. Patty’s Day party food and are filled with plenty of corned beef + cheesy goodness.

 

Do the Mashed Potato

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The next step to eating like the Irish? Potatoes of course! If you’re cooking for kids, try this recipe for savory Potato-Green Onion Cakes. The recipe is just four ingredients long (potatoes, green onions, eggs and seasonings) and can be prepped six hours ahead of time. Preparing ahead means less time spent in the kitchen and more time playing with your little ones! Speaking of saving time, this recipe for Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes takes the struggle out of making the perfect mash. Simply place potatoes in a slow cooker on high with chicken broth, milk and seasoning and cook for three and a half hours. Mash them up and they’re ready to go! And when you’re left with lots of potato leftovers, use them to make Mashed Potato Waffles. It sounds weird, but they taste amazing and make a great breakfast dish.

 

Cabbage Patch Kids

One ingredient you’ll undoubtedly find in nearly all authentic Irish dishes is cabbage. Not only is cabbage inexpensive and found in all Sparkle stores, but it also makes for some pretty tasty meals! The most well-known cabbage dish is Old-Fashioned Corned Beef and Cabbage. If you make more than you can eat, the leftovers from this are extra delicious served on a bun. For those still on the fence about cabbage, Irish Colcannon (creamy potatoes and cabbage) is a great starting point. This dish’s creamy texture and mashed potato base do a great job at hiding the cabbage. Or, save time in the kitchen and make this recipe for Irish Cabbage and Bacon. Bacon, onion, and chicken broth combine with cabbage to create a noodle-like dish, filled with flavor.

 

Irish Comfort Food

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With all the excitement that St. Patrick’s Day brings, you’ll probably want some hearty comfort food to keep you going. Try our recipe for Mini Shepherd’s Pie. All the flavors of a traditional Shepherd’s Pie are packed into single-serve ramekin dishes. The past couple St. Patty’s Days have been cold for the valley, so keep warm with this Irish Beer Beef Stew. In a league of its own, this soup has a combo of Guinness, potatoes, beef roast and fresh veggies. Or to please the kids, try our recipe for Creamy Ham and Potato Soup. Its familiar flavors will keep the little ones (and their parents) happy. And what better way to end this feast than with St. Patty’s Day Brownies? Rich in peppermint flavor and frosted bright green, these brownies are great for St. Patrick’s Day parties.

 

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year by eating like the Irish. And don’t forget to visit your local Sparkle Market to grab all of the fresh ingredients you’ll need to make your Irish creations a success!

Like many American consumers, we bet Ranch dressing has been a lifelong staple in your diet (if not, read this blog instead). Whether it’s dunked with fries, smothered on chicken or paired with veggies, one thing is certain: Ranch goes with basically everything. And today, on National Ranch Day, we’ve gathered some of our favorite recipes to present to you: the best Ranch combinations.

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Ranch + Chicken  

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This classic combination appears on menus and in recipes time and time again. We’ll say it- Ranch dressing and chicken were made for each other. And our recipe for Cheesy Chip Chicken Tenders can prove it. Coated in crunchy, spicy crushed Doritos, these tenders just wouldn’t be the same without a side of cool ‘n creamy Ranch. If you’re feeling real ambitious, make sure to check out the bonus homemade Ranch recipe included! Or, try this recipe for Ranch Chicken Tacos. Dry Ranch seasoning gives these soft tacos fantastic flavor. Still looking for more chicken and Ranch goodness? Make Chicken Bacon Ranch Meatballs!

 

Ranch + Buffalo  

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A word that normally precedes chicken AND ranch? Buffalo sauce of course! Its spicy and tangy flavor marries perfectly with Ranch and can normally be found slathered on wings or in the oh-so-popular buffalo chicken dip. But, we’re taking it up a notch today with this recipe for Buffalo Taquitos. Fill soft tortillas with lots of shredded buffalo chicken, bake to a crisp perfection, then serve with plenty of Ranch. This Buffalo Chicken Ring is another ingenious pairing of the two flavors. Form crescent dough in a ring, fill with buffalo chicken dip mixture, bake until crunchy and you’ve got a delicious appetizer for your next party or tailgate!

 

Ranch + Pizza

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While some pizza, especially in the Valley, might be good enough to eat on its own, there’s no denying that leftover crust tastes ten times better dunked in Ranch. If you don’t agree, maybe our recipe for Pizza Bread will change your mind. What is it? A ring of dough, pepperoni and cheese that’s cooked to crispy perfection on the outside and left fluffy and delicious on the inside. Pull apart, dunk in Ranch and your life will be forever changed for the better (maybe a little dramatic, but you get the gist). If you’re not the dunking type, try spreading it along a flatbread to make either this recipe for Chicken Bacon Ranch Flatbread or this one for Chicken Chipotle Ranch Flatbread.

 

Ranch + Potatoes

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Although long-debated, Ranch and potatoes DO in fact go together (ketchup fans, your day will be here soon). This recipe for Baked Buffalo Fries is a great example. A trifecta of great flavors, this recipe smothers fries with buffalo sauce and ranch, among other seasonings, to create a fantastically tasty side dish. Our recipe for Bacon Ranch Potato Salad is another delicious use of potatoes & Ranch, this time in dry-form.

 

While we’re sure Ranch lovers could name countless more flavor combinations, we’ll leave ours at four. Whether you prefer potatoes or pizza, stop by your local Sparkle Market for all the quality ingredients and Ranch you need to properly celebrate National Ranch Day!