Tips for Easy Living

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No-bake desserts make the perfect end to a gathering

It is the season for entertaining, when invitations for barbecues and parties abound. Common courtesy dictates guests offer a token of appreciation to their host or hostess for the invitation to socialize. Although wine or other beverages are a go-to gift, a tasty dessert also makes a great gift. And gifters can even consider a no-bake recipe so they don't have to turn on the oven when the weather warms up.

Need inspiration? Browse the Internet and you're likely to discover dozens of delicious no-bake recipes. Cooking shows on television and articles in newspapers and magazines also can inspire home chefs. Otherwise, you can try your hand at these simple dessert solutions.

* Ambrosia salad: Ambrosia is a variation on a traditional fruit salad. While the name references a food enjoyed by Greek deities, most believe the dessert traces its origins to the United States. Although ambrosia salad can have different variations, many recipes begin with a dairy base (pudding, sour cream or yogurt) and then include different canned or fresh fruits, shredded coconut and mini-marshmallows. Ambrosia salad is refreshing on a warm day and takes little time to prepare.

* Pudding trifle: Trifles are made by layering different ingredients to create a striated design. This dessert may include a variety of ingredients, from cake to cookie crumbs to fruit. Trifles also can be customized to fit a particular party theme. Patriotic parties may feature a trifle made with berries, whipped cream and cubes of vanilla pound cake. Match flavors to cocktails or other food being served.

* Easy ice cream cake: Packaged ice cream sandwiches can be turned into a tasty and simple dessert. First, purchase a box of ice cream sandwiches, then melt hot fudge and crumble cookies, like Oreos(R), into the fudge. Spread the cookie and fudge layer on top of the sandwiches and then repeat the layers. Finish by sealing everything with a thin coating of frozen whipped topping. Wrap in aluminum foil and allow to set and harden in the freezer for a few hours.

* Fruit pizza: This is a refreshing and relatively healthy dessert to complement any occasion. Start by making a graham cracker crust, either by mixing graham cracker crumbs with melted butter and a bit of sugar and pressing into a pie dish or by simply buying one ready-made. (For a less healthy alternative, and one that requires baking, use a sugar cookie dough to make a cookie crust.) Mix whipped cream cheese with a bit of strawberry jam, marmalade or your favorite fruit flavor. Spread over the crust. Place slices of fruit on top of the cream cheese. Peaches, apples, grapes, sliced cherries, kiwi, and blueberries can be used. For a professional-looking finish, a glaze made from cornstarch, water and sugar will give the top of the fruit pizza an inviting sheen.

* Fresh strawberry yogurt pie: The benefits of eating yogurt abound. Yogurt is lower in fat and calories than ice cream, and yogurt boasts active, live cultures that keep your digestive system working correctly. Yogurt doesn't just have to be reserved for breakfast or a snack. Enjoy it in a delicious dessert, too. Purchase a ready-made chocolate cookie pie crust or make your own from ground chocolate sandwich cookies. Mix together eight to 10 ounces of strawberry Greek yogurt with a small container of thawed frozen whipped topping. Add in slices of fresh strawberries and chocolate shavings, if desired. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and freeze until firmly set. Thaw slightly to slice easily and enjoy.

No-bake treats make for easily prepared desserts. Experiment with different flavor combinations, and you just may discover a new crowd favorite.