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Kara's Sights & Bites: Lighten up! It's time to celebrate spring

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Mother’s Day may have come and gone, along with a few college graduations, but there are still plenty of special occasions occurring from now until summer. High school graduations, bridal showers and milestone birthdays are just a few of the reasons to celebrate the special people in your life. And it’s a good time overall to switch from winter’s heavy comfort foods and instead, turn to dishes and desserts that are light, refreshing and delicious!

If the thought of hosting a special spring celebration creates anxiety when considering the time needed to prepare food for guests, consider mixing quality prepared baked goods from a reputable bakery or supermarket whose products you trust. A brunch or afternoon party table filled with layer cakes, cupcakes, sliced fruit breads and plates of sliced fruit is more than adequate. As long as everything is served on nice platters (just remember to hide or better yet, throw away the bakery’s cardboard box) nobody has to know who prepared the food.

Whichever route you choose — homemade or store-bought — the number one rule to remember is to relax, have fun and enjoy the moment. After all, the guests attending your spring celebration will treasure the memories of the special event long after thoughts about the food have faded.

Following are three of my favorite spring recipes that will make your event special while allowing you to enjoy your guests.

Favorite Strawberry Pie
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 8-ounce container whipped topping
2 cups (or more) chopped strawberries
1 shortbread pie crust

     Mix cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar in mixer; add whipped topping and strawberries, and mix well by hand. Pour into crust and garnish with strawberries. Chill for several hours or freeze slightly before serving.

Old-Fashioned Lemon Pound Cake
All-vegetable shortening, melted
1 cup salted butter, softened
3 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs, separated
1½ teaspoons lemon extract
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, divided
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

     Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 12- to 15-cup Bundt or tube pan with melted vegetable shortening, and dust with flour.

     In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat butter and granulated sugar at medium speed until fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add extract and ¼ cup lemon juice.

     In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with 1 cup milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beating just until combined after each addition. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites with a mixer at high speed until stiff. Fold into batter. Pour batter into prepared pan.

     Bake until a wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean, 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack.

     In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice and remaining 2 tablespoons milk. Gradually whisk in confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Drizzle over cake.

Fried Rice, Chicken and Vegetables
4 cups cooked rice
1-2 large chicken breasts
¼ teaspoon salt
Vegetable or canola oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup diced white or yellow onion
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cube chicken bouillon
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups frozen peas and carrots, thawed
2 tablespoons green onions, sliced

     Slice chicken into thin strips. Sprinkle with salt and rub it evenly all over chicken. Beat two eggs in a bowl. Heat skillet under medium heat. Add vegetable or canola oil to skillet. Once oil is heated, add eggs to skillet.

     When the bottom of the egg mixture is cooked, flip and cook the other side. Once eggs are no longer in liquid form, break it into small pieces. Remove from skillet and set aside.  Heat skillet under high heat. Add vegetable or canola oil to skillet. Add chicken pieces. Stir and flip occasionally until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Remove and set aside.

     Add 1-2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil to skillet. Once oil is heated, add diced onions and minced garlic. Once onions and garlic are fragrant (do not brown or burn), add cooked rice. Break apart rice if it is in chunks. Stir continuously for 30 seconds, then add chicken bouillon, soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper. Stir continuously for a minute, or until everything is mixed well. Add frozen mixed vegetables. Stir to combine for 1-2 minutes.

     Add chicken pieces and egg/omelet pieces previously set aside back into the skillet. Stir to combine. Remove from heat. Garnish with green onions (optional).

Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer and travel agent from Mississippi. Email her at kkprco@yahoo.com.