Fun, family, fireworks and food; that’s what it’s all about on the Fourth of July, our uniquely American annual holiday.
The weather, of course, is always a variable factor, but we who live in the Pacific Northwest seldom let it interfere with our celebrations.
Cool and damp more often than not, when it turns out to be a warm and sunny Fourth, it’s simply a bonus addition to the festivities. As of the time I’m writing this, the predictions are that we’ll be enjoying that bonus. We’ll see.
Our family gathering will be larger by two this year and, for the first time in about three years, we’ve added those two without losing others. There are two new babies to introduce to the rest of the clan, beginning their initiation into all the memories and rituals associated with a traditional family Fourth.
There will, of course, be a huge pot of steamed clams, mounds of cool, pink shrimp, and my personal favorite seafood of all, fresh Dungeness crabs hauled in from the crab pots early that morning by my Uncle Larry and his three tall sons.
Along with those staples of a Fourth of July feast, there will also be the inevitable baked beans, hot dogs for the kids to burn over the beach fire, several salads, including the must-have Jo’s Potato Salad and, as always, an impressive array of desserts, because each and every one of us has a sweet tooth.
At dusk, the “kids” (some of whom are long past childhood) will haul out the sacks and boxes of fireworks purchased during the preceding week at the reservation stands, and the competition will begin. Careful monitoring of the smaller ones just learning to participate will be part of the ritual as the old “kids” turn over the job of making us all “ooooh” and “aaaaah” to the younger and nimbler set.
And a great time will, as always, be had by all.
I wanted to leave plenty of room this week to pass along some great potluck outdoor buffet recipes for your Fourth of July celebrations.
This first one, a lighter variation of potatoes au gratin, is a great dish for any vegetarians in the group.
POTATO RED PEPPER GRATIN
3 red bell peppers
1 sweet onion, peeled and cut in half
3 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices (or use red potatoes, if preferred)
1 T. chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 t. dried)
¾ t. kosher salt
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/3 cups skimmed milk (use regular milk if you want this to be richer)
½ t. black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
Cut the peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place halves on a foil-lined cookie sheet, skin side up and flatten with your hand. Place onion halves, cut sides up, on baking sheet. Broil under a preheated broiler until peppers are blackened (about 12-15 min.). Put peppers in a zip-top plastic bag and let them sit for 15 min., then rub off the skin. It should come off easily. Cut the onion into slivers; set aside.
Cut 4 of the pepper halves into strips; set aside. Chop the rest of the pepper halves. In a bowl, combine the chopped peppers, onion, potato, rosemary salt and garlic. Toss well to combine then arrange the mixture in a 9×13 baking dish coated with cooking spray.
Combine milk, black pepper and eggs, stirring well. Pour this mixture over the potato mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Cover and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 1 hr. 15 min. Uncover and arrange the reserved pepper strips on top in a lattice pattern. Return to oven and bake an additional 30 min. Serves 10-12, depending on serving size.
1 hr. 15 min. Uncover and arrange the reserved pepper strips on top in a lattice pattern. Return to oven and bake an additional 30 min. Serves 10-12, depending on serving size.
Note: If available and not outrageously expensive, use both red and yellow peppers; it makes a very pretty presentation. If you’re making this ahead, cook it, cover with foil and keep refrigerated until about 15 min. before serving. Reheat in microwave or hot oven.
Here’s a variation on Waldorf Salad that turns it into a delicious appetizer. You can make these in the morning and keep chilled until ready to serve.
8 large celery stalks
2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 t. vegetable oil
1 cup finely diced red apple of choice
¾ cup finely crumbled gorgonzola cheese (or roquefort, if you don’t like gorgonzola)
¾ cup finely chopped walnuts
Small pinch of ground cardamom
2 T. minced fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
Using a vegetable peeler, cut a thin slice down the length on the rounded side of each celery stalk, so it will sit with the open side up. In a bowl, combine the lemon juice, oil and apple, mixing well. Stir in the remaining ingredients, combining well.
Divide the apple mixture evenly among the celery stalks, pressing it into place a bit. Cut each rib crosswise at an angle into 1-inch slices. Serve, or cover and chill until ready to serve. Makes about 60 celery/Waldorf bites.
This salad has been part of our family gatherings ever since cousin June produced it one summer. It’s easy to prepare ahead, a great favorite with kids and adults (but I often selfishly leave out mini-marshmallows just because I don’t like them) and feeds a lot of people.
FROG EYE SALAD
1 cup sugar
2 T. flour
2 ½ t. salt, divided (see instructions)
1 ¾ cups pineapple juice
2 eggs, well beaten
1 T. lemon juice
3 qts. water
1 T. cooking oil
1 16 oz. pkg. acini di pepe (in pasta section; or use orzo)
3 11 oz. cans mandarin orange sections, drained
2 20 oz. cans pineapple chunks, drained
1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
1 9 oz. carton whipped dairy topping
1 cup miniature marshmallows, optional
1 cup coconut, shredded
Combine sugar, flour and ½ t. of salt. Gradually stir in pineapple juice and eggs. Cook over med. heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add lemon juice; cool mixture to room temp.
Bring water to boil; add remaining 2 t. salt and oil. Add acini and cook at rolling boil until done according to pkg. directions. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again and cool to room temp.
Combine egg mixture and acini. Mix lightly but thoroughly; refrigerate overnight in an airtight container.
Add remaining ingredients; mix lightly but thoroughly. Refrigerate in airtight container until well chilled. Salad may be refrigerated for as long as a week in airtight container.
And finally, when you’re too full for the brownies, or cheesecake, or pie, these fruit skewers are a perfect light touch.
FRUIT & CHEESE SKEWERS
2 kiwis, peeled and sliced
12 seedless green grapes
2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and cubed (sprinkle lightly with lemon juice so they won’t brown)
12 strawberries, hulled
½ lb. provolone cheese, sliced
½ lb. pecorino cheese, cubed
Half a small watermelon or a thick slice, to stand the skewers in
Thread the fruit and cheese onto wooden skewers, alternating pieces of fruit with pieces of cheese and saving the grapes to be the top or last piece on each skewer. You can do this ahead of time and keep chilled until ready to serve. Stand the skewers in a round or thick slice of watermelon, or in a bowl of crushed ice. Makes 12 skewers.
Margaret Walton can be reached at email@example.com.