Fourth of July menu keeps cook free to celebrate

Patriotic BLT Skewers (iceberg lettuce, slab bacon, cherry tomatoes and blue cheese dipping sauce) are a hit at Fourth of July celebrations. BY JACK CLEMONS
July 3, 2011

On Monday we’ll celebrate our nation’s independence with parties and picnics, surrounded by family and friends. Why not build a menu to keep the cook free to enjoy the festivities? Of course, we’ll need to color coordinate the dishes with the signature hues of the day: red, white and blue (or reasonable facsimiles thereof).

Since so few foods are blue, that’ll be the most challenging color to match. Gorgonzola, Stilton and blue cheese can add a layer of blue to a sandwich. Some beet and potato varieties fill the blue niche in salads, while blueberries and blackberries are the dessert standbys. Blue crabs have one color in their name, with both red and white in their cooked shells. Tomatoes, cherries and strawberries are very dependable reds, while whites can be sourced from sweets like cakes and ice cream.

Now that we have the color challenges in mind, there are a few different ways to minimize kitchen duties - from purchasing prepackaged foods, to having guests do most of the assembly work themselves, to preparing the meal beforehand. With a little planning you can create satisfying menus that fit the criteria for lunch and dinner, as well as dessert after the fireworks.

Because of the excellent carry-out options in the area, you won’t have to sacrifice quality for convenience. Options range from gourmet sandwiches, elegant salads and specialty pizzas to steamed crabs and the ubiquitous rotisserie chicken. For example, Taste of Italy in Lewes and Rehoboth offers a wide range of colorful sandwiches and homemade pizzas. Try layering their sweet roasted red peppers with slices of fresh mozzarella for a spicy, creamy combination.

Summery and simple side dishes might include colorful fingerlings tossed into a potato salad or red cabbage slaw dressed with tangy mustard dressing. For an easy-to-make-in-advance appetizer, consider an interesting twist on the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich as shown in the photo (inspired by our friend Marie). Cut iceberg lettuce into one-inch-thick squares and thread between chunks of slab bacon and cherry tomato. To round out the color scheme (after all, icebergs are white and tomatoes red) serve with a chunky blue cheese dipping sauce. Another handy skewer combination is tomato, mozzarella cheese and plump blackberries, drizzled with a balsamic reduction.

A traditional barbecue meal of hotdogs and hamburgers can become thematically appropriate with the addition of white and blue corn tortilla chips served with bright red salsa. You can turn up the heat in this recipe for traditional fresh tomato salsa if you add a more generous amount of jalapeno and a sprinkle of hot paprika.

If you want a baked dessert and cringe at the thought of turning on the oven, try one of the local bakeries’ offerings of patriotically decorated cakes or cupcakes. Or, you can make this recipe for cobbler that works with almost any fruit. Another dessert is to combine white and red cherries with blueberries for a flag-colored fruit salad; alternatively, layer berries with vanilla yogurt for healthy parfaits. Or go the slightly more decadent route with a shortcake bar: set out several choices of fruit, a stack of buttermilk biscuits and a bowl of fluffy whipped cream.

The only thing we haven’t covered is which beverage to serve, and without proper training as a mixologist, I’ll stay clear of the potent potables concocted in various shades of blue and red. Instead, I’ll raise a glass of prosecco, garnished with a few bright berries floating among the bubbles. Happy Fourth of July!

Spicy Mustard Slaw
2/3 C sour cream
1/3 C whole grain mustard
3 T honey
juice of 1 lemon
2 T rice wine vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste
1 small head red cabbage
1 small head Napa cabbage
2 shredded carrots
2 sliced green onions

Whisk together the sour cream, mustard, honey, lemon juice and vinegar; set aside. Shred the cabbages into a large serving bowl, discarding thick pieces of core.

Toss with shredded carrots and add dressing, stirring until vegetables are coated. Add salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

4 seeded, diced tomatoes
3 sliced green onions
2 pressed garlic cloves
2 t minced jalapeno
1 T olive oil
1 T lime juice
3 T chopped cilantro
2 t chopped oregano
salt & pepper, to taste

Toss the ingredients together and allow to rest for at least one hour, covered with plastic wrap.

Easy Cobbler
1/2 C butter
1 C flour
1 t baking powder
2/3 C sugar
1 C milk
1 C blueberries
1 C pitted cherries

Preheat oven to 375 F. Melt butter in a soufflé pan placed in the oven; remove and set aside. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and milk in a mixing bowl. Pour batter into the pan. Scatter berries and cherries around the batter – Do not stir. Bake until center is set and top is nicely browned, about 35 to 45 minutes. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.