Those of you who have been around a while know that I’m constantly planning. Constant planning requires constant tweaking, too. Right up until I walk out of the market, my plans are open for interpretation. Who knows what might catch my eye at the very last minute?
I love that my extended family can count on me for three things at every pot luck – at least one appetizer, one salad and one dessert. This year I am seriously considering a Grand Old Flag theme all the way around. A flag cheese spread for the appetizer, a watermelon and feta cheese flag salad and my usual Flag Cake dessert. It wouldn’t be the 4th of July without a flag cake. This time I’m going to use raspberries instead of strawberries. Raspberries don’t bleed the way sliced strawberries sometimes do. And the berries are more uniform in size, giving the cake a cleaner look. Besides, I’ve been making my strawberry flag cake since the 1990’s, it’s time the cake got a new look.
Cheese Spread Flag with Crackers
8 oz Cream Cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon Taco Seasoning
1/4 cup Mexican Cheddar Jack Cheese, shredded
12 Olive Slices
1/4 cup Thick and chunky Salsa
Crackers for serving
Let cream cheese soften by removing the cheese from the refrigerator and letting it rest on the counter for about 30 minutes or so. Place in a bowl, sprinkle with taco seasoning and stir to blend. You want just enough to flavor the cheese without changing the color.
Place cream cheese between 2 sheets of waxed paper. Roll out to 6-inch by 4-inch rectangle with rolling pin. Remove top sheet of waxed paper. Cover the top and sides of cream cheese with shredded cheese. Press lightly to adhere. Cover with plastic wrap and place back into the refrigerator to firm up for about 30 minutes.
When the cheese is firm, transfer to a serving platter. Invert onto serving plate so that the side with shredded cheese is now the bottom side. Remove waxed paper.
Arrange 3 rows of olives in top left corner of cream cheese rectangle for the “stars” of the “flag.” Using the rounded end of a 1/4 teaspoon, make 4 (1/4-inch-deep) rows, leaving a 1/4-inch-wide space between the rows. Fill rows with salsa. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serve as a spread with crackers.
Watermelon Feta Flag Salad
The Vinaigrette Dressing
1 tablespoon Lemon Zest
1/4 cup Red Onino
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/8 teaspoon White Pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
Zest the lemon, set lemon zest aside. Finely chop red onion and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and white pepper.
Gradually whisk in the olive oil until blended. Add the lemon zest and red onion. Set aside until ready to use.
Note: If the dressing has separated, whisk one final time before using.
The Watermelon Salad
6 cups fresh Arugula (about 5 ounces)
1-1/2 cups fresh Blueberries
1 slice Provolone Cheese
5 cups cubed seedless Watermelon
8 oz Feta Cheese
Rinse and spin-dry the Arugula. In a large bowl, lightly toss the Arugula with 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette. Arrange evenly on a large rectangular serving platter.
Place the blueberries over the Arugula at the top left corner. Cut small circles or stars from the Provolone Cheese and arrange over the blueberries to create the stars with a blue background.
Cube seedless watermelon and set aside. Cut Feta Cheese into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside.
Arrange the watermelon and Feta Cheese in alternating rows to create the red and white strips of the flag.
Cover and chill until ready to serve. Just before serving, drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.
American Flag Cake
The French Almond Cake
6 large Eggs
2/3 cup Vegetable Oil
2 Boxes French Vanilla White Cake
2 cups Water
2 teaspoons Almond Extract
Heat oven according to instructions of baking pan or 325 degrees if uncertain. Coat an 11-inch by 15-inch half-sheet cake pan with cake release or lightly butter and dust with flour. Set aside.
Place eggs in the bowl of a standing mixer. Beat eggs until pale yellow, about 2 minutes. With the mixer running, add the vegetable oil in a steady stream. Continue to beat until frothy. Turn mixer off, add box cake mix, water and Almond Extract. Beat on low for 30 seconds, then medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Pour batter into the prepared cake pan. Lightly tap on counter to release any air bubbles.
Bake cake according to pan directions. This is important – the pan baking temperature and times may vary from the cake mix or scratch recipe. For best result, follow the guidelines of your baking pan and not the cake recipe. It may be necessary to adjust baking time according to your oven – some ovens bake a little quicker than others. Mine is at 325 degrees, about 34 minutes – I start checking for doneness at about 28 minutes, keeping a sharp eye on the cake for best results.
Let cake cool 10 minutes in the pan. Invert onto large cutting board, then invert again (right side up) on cake board. Allow cake to cool completely. While the cake is cooling, make the buttercream frosting.
The Almond Buttercream Frosting
1/2 Cup Solid Butter-Flavored Vegetable Shortening
1 1/2 Cups Butter, Softened
2 teaspoon Almond Extract
8 Cups sifted Powdered Sugar
6 tablespoons Milk, Cream or Light Corn Syrup
Note: The easiest way to sift powdered sugar is to use a large kitchen strainer. Simply place strainer over a large bowl. Sift powdered sugar, 2 cups at a time, using a wooden spoon to stir powdered sugar in strainer. It is quick and easy. Sifters are fine for dusting purposes, but when large quantities of ingredients need to be sifted, using a strainer will produce the same results in less time, with less effort.
Cream butter and shortening with electric mixer. Add Almond Extract. Gradually add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl between additions and after the last of the sugar has been added. When all sugar has been mixed in, the frosting will appear to be dry.
Add milk or other thinner one tablespoon at a time and beat a medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep frosting covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
Note: Whole milk, 2% or Heavy Cream equally work well as thinning agents. Heavy Cream gives a creamier, thicker texture to the frosting; there is no discernible difference between whole milk or 2% milk. For a smoother finish with a bit of a sheen, the frosting may also be thinned using clear corn syrup.
To Create Flag
1 Pint Blueberries
2 Pints Raspberries
Cover the entire top of the cake in thin layer of buttercream frosting. This is the base and does not need to be piled on thick as more frosting will be added. Spread smooth over the top and down the sides of the cake.
Place the frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a ribbon tip. Pipe a square in the upper left corner for the blue background of the flag. Arrange blueberries for the flag’s blue background.
Create alternating rows of red and white with raspberries and pipped frosting to create the strips of the flag.
Switch to a star tip on the pastry bag. Add stars on the blueberries. If there is enough frosting remaining, trim the base of the cake in stars as well.
Waive your flag with sense of community pride and have a wonderful 4th of July everyone!