It’s hard to believe June is over as we look ahead to America’s Independence Day celebrations. All across our land, friends and family will gather, be it in parks, stadiums or backyards. Anytime people gather, for whatever the reason, food is always a part of the festivities. And so it is that I turn my attention to a great American Holiday.
Sometimes less is more and simple is better. Sometimes it’s less about the food and more about the people. When it comes to menu planning, I’ve been accused of going overboard at time. I will admit, I am guilty as charged. So often I hear Hubby ask one of two questions – ‘How many people are you feeding’ or ‘If it’s a potluck, what is everyone else bringing’ – which is his way of saying bring it down a notch or two. So here I am, bringing it down a notch or two. I’ve still managed to keep some of our backyard favorites. This menu is one I am sure my family will love . . .
A Simple 4th of July Menu
Patriotic Macaroni Salad
Cheater’s Baked Beans
The Stars of the Day
Gourmet Burgers with Fire-Grilled Onions
Beer Bratwurst with Caramelized Onions
The Grand Finale
French Vanilla Custard Ice Cream
*** Vintage Lemonade ***
The Vintage Lemonade takes a bit more work than simply squeezing lemons into a pitcher of cold water, but end result is a good, old-fashioned turn of the century lemonade that is well worth the extra effort.
2 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 Gallon Water (8 cups)
Peel the rinds from the lemons and cut them into 1/2 inch slices. Set the lemons aside.
Place the rinds in a bowl and sprinkle the sugar over them. Let this stand for about one hour, so that the sugar begins to soak up the oils from the lemons.
Bring water to a boil in a covered saucepan and then pour the hot water over the sugared lemon rinds. Allow this mixture to cool for 20 minutes and then remove the rinds.
Squeeze the lemons into another bowl. Pour the juice through a strainer into the sugar mixture. Stir well, pour into pitcher and pop it in the fridge! Serve with ice cubes.
Mason Jars with a lemon wedge garnish will give you a fun “Vintage-Country” look.
*** Patriotic Macaroni Salad ***
The mayonnaise in the macaroni salad makes it creamy and light. You could use Miracle Whip for a sweeter, more tangy salad, or a combination of both. When using Miracle Whip, you’ll want to cut back or eliminate the vinegar as the flavors may clash. If using Miracle Whip, be sure to taste the dressing without the vinegar and go from there.
6 Eggs, hard-boiled
1 lb Salad Macaroni
¼ Cup Green Onions, finely chopped
¼ Cup Red onion, finely chopped
2 Celery Stocks, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon Dill Pickle Relish
1 ½ Cups Best Food Mayonnaise
½ Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste
Green Onions for garnish
The Night Before:
Place eggs in a saucepan, add cold water to cover eggs. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and cover. Let sit for 12-14 minutes, then plunge eggs into cold water to stop cooking process. Remove from water, gently roll on counter to “crack” shell. Place back into cold water and let rest 30 minutes before peeling.
The Morning Of:
Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions. Drain and rinse well under cold running water. Set aside to continue draining.
In bowl, combine onions, celery, pickle relish, mayonnaise and red wine vinegar. Whisk to combine. Taste dressing and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning according to personal tastes.
Chop 5 eggs. Add to dressing. Cut V marks in 6th egg to create two tulip flowers. Reserve one or both flowers. If reserving one flower, chop other half and add to dressing. Taste dressing a second time, adjust seasonings as necessary.
Place macaroni in a large bowl. Pour egg dressing over macaroni and toss to coat. Smooth out top. In the center, using the back of a spoon, create a small indentation. Place Egg flower into indentation. If desired, garnish with green onions.
To color your salad, divide the cooked macaroni into three parts. Place the macaroni to be colored into plastic bags. Add blue food coloring gel to one, red to the other, leaving the final third white. Gently work color into the macaroni. If desired, dressing may also be divided and colored. Place into a decorative glass bowl in layers of red, white and blue.
*** Cheater’s Easy Baked Beans ***
When using good quality canned beans as a base, the Cheater’s version tastes like you’ve slow-cooked the beans all day. Taste about mid-way through, and add a little brown sugar if desired. You’ll want to start the beans several hours before serving to allow them to warm nicely while soaking in all the “doctored” flavors.
2 Large Cans Baked Beans (Bush makes a good base)
6 Slices Bacon
1/4 White Onion, finely chopped
Brown Sugar as desired
Cook bacon until almost crisp cooks, releasing about 1/4 cup of bacon drippings into the pan. Remove bacon from pan, set aside on paper towel to cool. Chop into pieces.
Saute onions in bacon dripping until tender, about 3 minutes.
Place baked beans in crock pot. Mix in onions and bacon. Cook in crock pot on LOW setting until ready to serve.
*** Fresh Ground Gourmet Burgers with Fire-Grilled Red Onions ***
Skirt steak or Flap Meat is perfect for “grinding” in the food processor. The meat is thin and tender, making it easy to grind yourself, with just the right amount of fat to lean ratio to produce a succulent, flavorful burger that is out of this world. I love to use sharp Cheddar Cheese to top these burgers. Sargento makes a decent “thin” sliced Cheddar that will melt more easily than a thick slice of cheese. Grated Cheddar is also good.
Ingredients – Fresh “Ground” Burgers:
4 lbs Flap Meat, well marbled
4 Teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 Teaspoons Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
Ingredients – Grilled “Extras”:
8 Thick slices of Red Onion
2 Avocado, sliced into fourths (Optional)
8 Thin Bamboo Skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes
8 Kaiser rolls or other hearty buns
Ingredients – Toppings
8 Thin Slices Sharp Cheddar Cheese (optional)
8 Green Leaf Lettuce
8 Slices Beef Steak Tomatoes
TO MAKE GOURMET BURGER: Cut flap meat into manageable “chunks”. Using a food processor fitted with a chopping blade, add half of the flap meat, pulse until the consistency of ground beef, about 5-10 pulses. Remove meat to a bowl and season with salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. DO NOT MIX.
Repeat with remaining flap meat. Place second ground meat the bowl on top of seasonings. Now the seasonings are sandwiched between two sections of meat.
Use hands to mix seasonings in well into the meat. Form meat into a large ball, then quarter the ball for even distribution. For big 1/2 pound burgers, form each quarter into a hamburger patty. For 1/4 pound burgers, divide again before forming patties. Place waxed paper between each burger. You can grill now or refrigerate patties for later. If meat is cold, let it come to room temperature before grilling. Cook as you would any fresh hamburger, turning once.
DO AHEAD: Prepare a platter with lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes and small ramekins or bowls with mustard, mayonnaise and/or Ketchup.
Prepare grill for hamburgers. Brush grill with a little olive oil to prevent burgers from sticking.
While grill is heating, thread 1 slice of onion each bamboo skewer (looks like a lollipop), and brush with olive oil to prevent sticking.
Place onions on grill along side burgers, turned as necessary to prevent onion from burning. Brush avocado wedges with olive oil to prevent sticking. Place avocado slices on the warming rack of grill, turn as needed to prevent burning.
When burgers are cooked through, transfer to a platter, top with cheese (if desired) and tent loosely. Allow to rest 5 minutes to retain juices. Remove onions and avocados, CAREFULLY remove from skewers then set on platter with other condiments.
Brush buns lightly with olive oil. Grill buns, cut side down, until golden, 2-3 minutes. Plate buns & call everyone to build their burgers.
*** Beer Bratwurst with Caramelized Grilled Onions ***
Hubby hails from Wisconsin. A grilled Bratwurst that has first been cooked in beer is the state’s official dish. Or at least that’s what Hubby tells me. All I know is that if the Packers are playing, we’re grilling brats. In our house, nothing but Johnsonville Bratwurst will do. And the beer must be Miller’s. I’m not a beer drinker, all I know is that these things come from Wisconsin, which seems to be important in the Beer-Brat experience.
2 Package Johnsonville Bratwurst
2 Onion, sliced
Beer – enough to cover Bratwurst
2 Package Steak Rolls
Pierce Bratwurst with a fork to allow fat to drain and beer to soak into meat. Place Bratwurst in a large pot. Cover with beer and bring to a full boil. Lower heat and simmer about 45 minutes.
While bratwurst are simmering, thinly slice onions. Saute with a little butter over medium-low heat until golden, about 20-30 minutes.
Heat a gas grill. (Or add to the big grill with the burgers, if room allows). Remove bratwurst from liquid. Grill to sear outside.
Spread mustard or favorite condiment onto bun. Top with bratwurst and onion.
*** Home Made French Vanilla Custard Ice Cream ***
This ice cream will take 2 days to make. You’ll want the custard base to be well chilled prior to pouring it into your ice cream maker. Since this is the 4th of July, a nice touch would be to serve the creamy white ice cream with some ripe red strawberries and sweet blueberries to keep that Red, White and Blue theme going.
2 1/2 cups half-and-half cream
8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 Vanilla Pods
1/8 teaspoon salt
Place vanilla pod in a medium sauce pan with half-and-half cream. Over medium heat, heat the pod with the half-and-half cream until very hot but not boiling, stirring often. Remove from heat. Remove pods, split open and scrape out seeds. Place seeds in half and half, set aside.
Place egg yolks and sugar in mixer bowl. Whip using whip attachment on low/medium speed 30 seconds or until well blended and slightly thickened. Continuing whipping on low/medium speed very gradually add the warm half-and-half and mix until blended.
Return mixture to the saucepan over medium heat stirring constantly until small bubbles form around the edge of pan and the mixture is steamy. DO NOT BOIL.
Transfer the half-and-half/egg mixture to a large glass bowl and stir in whipping cream and salt. Cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly, at least 8 hours or overnight.
Pour into your ice cream maker and process as directed or until desired consistency.
To serve soft, immediately transfer to serving dishes. For harder ice cream, freeze in an airtight freezer container at least 2 hours.
Garnish as desired or serve “naked”.
*** Sliced Watermelon ***
Don’t forget the watermelons. Nothing says summer like a cold, refreshing slice of watermelon. Personally, I like to sprinkle a little salt on mine. That’s the way Dad eats his, it’s the way we grew up eating ours. The only other person I’ve ever met who puts salt on a watermelon hailed from Oklahoma, just like Dad. Maybe it’s an Okie thing . . .
Happy grilling everyone!