(BPT) - - The hot days of summer are the perfect time to relax with friends in the backyard and sample delicious fruits and salads while sipping chilled drinks. Follow a few quick and easy tips to serve and enjoy the fruits and veggies grown in the garden. Serve these foods raw, because cooked vegetables can lose many nutrients throughout the cooking process. Choose to go raw for your first bite, and try these ideas from Miracle-Gro for additional recipes. * Simple dipping delights - A plate of crudites, also known as raw vegetables cut into bite-sized strips, served with a favorite dressing or delicious dip, makes for a great afternoon refreshment or pre-dinner appetizer. Simply clean and prep vegetables like carrots, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and even kohlrabi, the night before and keep stored in the refrigerator until they are ready to be served. Add unexpected treats like shoestring-cut sweet potatoes, sugar snap peas or green beans served fresh from the garden. * Pretty, delicious and raw - Turn garden delights into pieces of art. Thinly slice a sweet potato into long, narrow strips. Wrap the strips in a circle, pinning on one side with a toothpick, and flaring out on the other to create a flower appearance. For radishes, carefully slice into - but not all the way through - a square shape. Make a second, smaller square shape inside the first, and continue this process until you have reached the middle. Finally, use a vegetable peeler to peel long carrot curls to decorate the plate. There are plenty of other vegetable art ideas on the Internet to help decorate your vegetable platters. * Sassy salsa - Chips and salsa or guacamole - the reason many restaurants serve these prior to the meal is because they are delicious and easy to prepare ahead of time. Make pico de gallo using tomatoes, onions, jalapenos and cilantro. Or, change it up by smashing avocados and substituting them for the tomatoes. Salsa and guacamole make easy sides that guests love. * Fruity drinks - For a "cool" way to relax with friends this summer, make fun, fast drinks that incorporate the bounty of the garden. Use that mint that has taken over the garden to add a fresh taste to iced tea, fresh squeezed lemonade or cocktails. Mojitos and mint juleps are both cool and refreshing on a hot summer afternoon. Freeze fresh fruits and berries to give any drink an added splash. Pop frozen strawberries into lemonade or mixed fruit into your favorite wine for a sangria to remember. * Smoothies and desserts - Whether you are looking for a quick, tasty way to start the morning off right, or a delightful way to end an evening, fresh fruit is the answer. For a simple breakfast on the go, blend blueberries, peach slices, bananas, strawberries or kiwi in a food processor with some ice, a little yogurt and a splash of your favorite fruit juice for a yummy smoothie. For an extra kick, try adding a scoop of your favorite vanilla-flavored protein powder. For dessert, simply chop the fruits for colorful, healthy and tasty toppers - great over ice cream or cakes and even better when layered with a light pudding and angel food cake for a sophisticated trifle. * Crispy salads - There is nothing better than a crisp lettuce salad full of fresh vegetables and decorated with nuts and fruits. If growing leaf lettuce, do not cut until you are ready for use. Head lettuce can be chilled in the refrigerator for a day or two. Cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, radishes and asparagus add delightful flavors to the lettuce. Mix in cheese like feta, blue cheese, parmesan or goat cheese, and add nuts, croutons or even tortilla strips for some added crunch. Do not be afraid to add those fresh summer fruits as well. A handful of blueberries, sliced strawberries, diced apples or delicious grapes on top, and you have got a well-balanced meal mostly grown right in your own garden. The dog days of summer are the perfect excuse to take it easy. Head out to the garden to find plenty of food items that are delicious raw. You can have a meal, snack and even dessert ready to go in no time.
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