The Birth of a Nation – An Independence Day Celebration in Food

Every 4th of July, my family, like most families across America, gets together to barbecue and eat all day. The kids can hardly wait for the sun to dip below the horizon, and as the last strands of golden light begin to fade, they eagerly line up to receive their sparklers. With squeals of delight, they dart about the yard, their happy faces illuminated in the soft, smokey glow of their prized sparkler. As darkness fully sets in, everyone finds a seat, be it on the ground or the line of lawn chairs set up on the driveway, to watch the “show”. The teenagers, especially the boys, strut their stuff in a right of passage from spectator to “Light Master” of the fireworks extravaganza set up in the middle of the street. Depending upon location, we’ve even been known to block off the street, invite all the neighbors and have a whopper of a 4th of July celebration, complete with games and a Bike Parade where every child receiving a ribbon. The biggest reason we returned to California was to be closer to family, especially during the holidays throughout the year.

In our extended family, each household brings their own burgers and dogs. The host is generally in charge of the grilled foods such as chicken or ribs (check out Country Ribs with Golden Eagle Barbecue Sauce for a great rib recipe) as well as the usual condiments – ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato and whatnot. Since my family is big on eating, everyone contributes a side or beverage to share. Regardless of who is hosting, my yearly contribution has always been the dessert – a flag cake with fresh berries that I’ve been baking and serving without fail for more than twenty year. (This year I’m considering something different, and if I do, it will be an after 4th of July post).

While we were living out-of-state, I missed our big family gatherings so much that I recreated them with our adopted family – a small group of our closest friends and their children. Since I was the stay-at-home mom of the bunch, instead of having a potluck, I usually made everything myself. (In case you haven’t noticed by now, I love to entertain!) The menu that follows was my standard 4th of July crowd pleaser.

If you’re putting on the 4th of July spread yourself, this menu is complete with everything from Beverages to Dessert. If you’ve got help, you can divvy up the dishes as need be for a pot luck celebration. If nothing else, perhaps the menu will serve as good starting point from which you can build – add, subtract or replace with your own family traditions and favorite Independence Day dishes.

Depending on time, and my busy schedule (chasing Kiddo when he was younger, building our home, being active in our parish and so on), desserts and some of the sides were either made completely from scratch or “doctored” from a  store-bought springboard. In the recipes that follow, I’ve included the cooking from scratch recipes and the “cheaters” version for both the baked beans and the cake. Take your pick, whatever your schedule and time allows.

Depending upon refrigerator space, the macaroni and potato salads can be made a day or two in advance. The cake can be made a day in advance as well, all the way to the point of applying a light crumb frosting.  Then all you need to for the dessert on the day of your celebration is decorate it. When using fresh berries, it’s always best to place the berries shortly before serving. Generally, I’ll finish the cake just before guests arrive.

If room allows in your refrigerator, make the lemonade and iced tea the day before. They will be well-chilled by serving time. There are a number of attractive dispensers on the market these days for chilling and serving large quantities of chilled beverages. I like to make a basic iced tea, and then one or two of the “flavored” teas – usually lemon-strawberry and lemon-orange. It’s just as easy to make a batch of basic, with lemon wedges on the side for those who like their tea with a bit of lemon.

As for the chicken, it’s actually on the grill just long enough to absorb some of that nice grill flavoring and to have those attractive grill marks. From there, it’s finished in the oven. This is great when you are also grilling burgers and dogs as it frees up valuable grill space.

The directions for corn on the cob is one I’ve shared before, but it’s worth mentioning again here. The corn is actually “cooked” in a camping cooler. The beauty of this is that you can make huge amounts of cob corn without crowding the grill or filling the house with a lot of steam from boiling pots of water. The corn will also keep nicely in the cooler, giving even late arrivals a piping hot ear of corn. (By the way, cooler corn works well for picnics, just boil the water at home, pour it in the cooler, load that into the car and by the time you arrive at your destination, the corn is ready).

One final note: The sides will easily feed a crowd. As for the “main attraction”, each recipe will yield 8 servings. Since most 4th of July gatherings begin late in the afternoon and continue well after dark, I usually plan one serving of each per person: 2 pieces of chicken, 1 burger and 1 dog. Generally speaking, the guys will eat that much, the ladies and children won’t so do a head count and plan accordingly. Any of recipes can be easily doubled or even tripled as needed.

On the Menu

Beverages:
Vintage Lemonade
Snapple Inspired Iced Teas

Main Attraction:
The Ultimate Barbecued Chicken
Easy Onion Burgers
Grilled Hot Dogs

On the Side:
Macaroni Salad
Potato Salad
Baked Beans
Corn on the Cob

For Dessert
4th Of July Flag Cake

 

*** BEVERAGES ***

Vintage Lemonade
10 lemons
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.

This recipe has been around since the turn of the century. It is a bit more labor intense than simply juicing a few lemons, takes a bit more time, but the flavor cannot compare. Makes 1/2 gallon of lemonade.

Snapple Inspired Iced Tea
2 quarts water
3 Lipton Tea Bags
3/4 cup sugar (or 1 16 oz. bottle light corn syrup)

Lemon Iced Tea
1 Batch Snapple Inspired Iced Tea (above)
1/3 cup + 2 tbsp Lemon juice
Lemon slices to garnish the glass

Lemon-Orange Iced Tea
1 Batch Snapple Inspired Iced Tea
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 Teaspoon Orange extract
Orange Slices to garnish the glass

Lemon-Strawberry Iced Tea
1 Batch Snapple Inspired Iced Tea
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 Teaspoon Strawberry extract
Strawberries to garnish the glass

For any of the flavors, boil the water in a large saucepan. When the water comes to a rapid boil, turn off the heat, put tea bags into water and cover. After tea has brewed about 1 hour, pour sugar (or corn syrup) into a 2 qt. Pitcher, then add the tea.

The tea should still be warm so the sugar or sweetener will dissolve easily. Add the flavoring ingredients (plus additional water if needed to bring the tea to the 2 quart line). Chill.

*** THE MAIN ATTRACTION ***

The Ultimate Barbecued Chicken
2 qt water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
¼ cup brown sugar
2 Garlic Cloves, smashed
4 sprigs Fresh Thyme
8 chicken legs & thighs, still connected, bone in, skin on

For the brine, in a mixing bowl combine the water, salt, sugar, garlic, and thyme.

Transfer the brine to a 2-gallon sized resealable plastic bag. Add the chicken, close the bag and refrigerate 2 hours to allow the salt and seasonings to penetrate the chicken.

Meanwhile, make the barbecue sauce.

Barbecue Sauce
1 slice of bacon
1 bunch Fresh Thyme
½ Onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Cups Ketchup
¼ Cup Brown Sugar
½ Cup Molasses
2 Tablespoons Red or White Wine Vinegar
1 tablespoon Dry Mustard
1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
Freshly Ground Pepper to taste

Wrap the bacon around the bunch of thyme and tie with kitchen twine so you have a nice bundle.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the thyme and cook slowly 3 to 4 minutes to render the bacon fat and give the sauce a nice smoky taste.

Add the onion and garlic and cook slowly without coloring for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, give the sauce a stir, and turn the heat down to low.

Cook slowly for 20 minutes to meld the flavors. Once the sauce is done cooking, remove about 1 1/2 cups of the sauce and reserve for serving alongside the chicken at the table. The rest of the barbecue sauce will be used for basing the legs.

To Barbecue the Chicken:
Build charcoal fire. Take a few paper towels and fold them several times to make a thick square. Blot a small amount of oil on the paper towel and carefully and quickly wipe the hot grates of the grill to make a non-stick surface.

Preheat oven 375 degrees F.

Take the chicken out of the brine, pat it dry on paper towels. Arrange the chicken pieces on the preheated grill and cook, turn once mid-way, and cook for a total of 10 minutes.

Transfer the grill marked chicken to a cookie sheet.  Place into the oven. Cook the chicken for 15 minutes, remove it from the oven and then brush liberally, coating every inch of the legs with the barbecue sauce.

Return to the oven for 25 to 30 more minutes, basting the chicken for a second time half way through remaining cooking time. Serve with extra sauce.

The chicken can be served still joined together or separated and placed onto a large serving platter, legs on one side, thighs on the other.

Easy Onion Burgers
4 lbs Ground Beef
2 Envelope Dry Onion Soup Mix
6 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
Salt & Pepper to taste

In a bowl, combine ingredients until well-mixed. Divide meat mixture into four parts, divide each part into 3 balls. Form each ball into hamburger patties. Separate patties with waxed paper, stack on tray, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

All Those Burger Toppings
3 Steak Tomato, sliced
Lettuce leaves
12 Hamburger Buns
Sliced Cheddar Cheese
Mustard
Mayonnaise
Ketchup

Sliced tomatoes, onion and prepare lettuce leaves. Set aside until ready to use. Prepare grill 15-20 minutes before ready to cook.

Grill hamburgers over hot coals until cooked through, turning once. Season meat with hamburger seasoning. Tent and keep warm

Grilled Hot Dogs
8 Hot Dogs
1/2 White Onion, finely chopped
Dill Relish
8 Hot Dog Buns
Mustard
Mayonnaise
Ketchup

Chop onions for hot dogs, set aside until ready to use. Grill dogs until cooked through. Tent to keep warm until buns are ready.

*** ON THE SIDE ***

Macaroni Salad
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.

Potato Salad with Eggs
3 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes
4 Eggs, hard-boiled
1 Red Onion, minced
2 Celery Stocks, minced
1 Tablespoon Bacon Drippings, warm (Optional)
¼ Cup Parsley
1 Cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoons Mustard
2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar plus a sprinkling for potatoes
Kosher Salt & Fresh Black Pepper to taste

The Night Before:
Peel and slice potatoes into large chunks. Place potatoes in a stockpot and cover with 1-inch of salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are just tender but not soft, about 10-15 minutes. Drain well. Sprinkle LIGHTLY with red wine vinegar and set aside in refrigerator to cool.

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:
In bowl, combine onions, celery, bacon drippings, parsley, mayonnaise, mustard and red wine vinegar. Whisk to combine. Taste dressing and season with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Chop 3 eggs. Add to dressing. Cut V marks in 4th egg to create two tulip flowers. Reserve 1 flower, chop other and add to dressing. Taste dressing a second time, adjust seasonings as necessary.

Place potatoes in a large bowl. Pour egg dressing over potatoes 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, sprinkle lightly with paprika. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until well chilled.

Easy Cheater’s Baked Beans
2 Large Cans Baked Beans (Bush makes a good base)
6 Slices Bacon
1/4 White Onion, finely chopped

Cook bacon until partially cooks, releasing about 1/4 cup of drippings. Remove 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.

Note: Guy Fieri makes an awesome Old School Baked Bean found in the refrigerated section of Costco. Although a bit more expensive than “canned” baked beans, no “Doctoring” is required, simple warm in a crock pot a few hours before serving. These beans are packed with bacon and onions, with a wonderful sauce and awesome flavor.

Crock Pot “Baked” Beans with Bacon
3 Cups dried pinto beans
1 pound thick cut Hickory-Smoked Bacon
1 medium yellow onion
6-8 cups water
¼ cup molasses
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Chili Sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Fresh Ground Pepper to taste
Sea Salt

Sort through the beans and discard any that are old, shriveled or look mishandled. Using a colander, rinse beans well under cold water.

Place rinsed beans in a large crock pot and cover with about 2-3 inches of water. With the pot off, cover and leave beans overnight to soak. This can also be done in a large stock pot.

Drain the soaked beans well. If soaked in the crock pot, rinse the pot as well. Return beans to the crock pot and set aside.

In a skillet, fry up the bacon. Drain on a paper towel, let cool and then crumble.

Drain all but about a tablespoon or so of the bacon dripping from the skillet (if you’ve got any Southern roots in you at all, you know those drippings are saved for a variety of uses).

Peel and coarsely chop onion. Fry in the reserved bacon grease until lightly browned, just enough to help the onion soak in that smokey bacon flavor.

Place onions and bacon into the crock pot. Add all remaining ingredients EXCEPT the salt. (Salt will toughen the beans, so it’s always added last, after the beans have cooked and softened). Stir to blend, and cook on high for 8-10 hours. (Note, cooking time can be reduced to the lower end of 8 hours by placing everything in a large stockpot on the stove. Bring to a rolling boil, let boil for about 10-15 minutes, then CAREFULLY transfer beans to the crock pot to continue to cook).

Just before serving, add salt to taste.

Cooler Corn on the Cob
12-24 Ears of Corn
Boiling Water

Husk, clean and trim ears of corn. Place corn in a clean camping cooler. Bring several kettles or pots of water to a boil, enough to cover corn.

Pour boiling water over corn, close lid and let steep for 30-45 minutes.

*** Dessert ***

4th of July Flag Cake with Buttercream Frosting
Cake From a Box:
2 Boxes French Vanilla White Cake
6 Eggs
1 Cup Vegetable Oil
Water according to cake package

Preheat oven to 325-degrees

Prepare 13×15-inch cake pan with cake release. Set aside until ready to use.

Place eggs and oil in mixing bowl. Beat until light and foamy. Add water and cake mix. Mix on low for 30 seconds, increase to medium speed and beat for 2 minutes.

Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth top with back of spatula. Tap on countertop to release any trapped air pockets.

Place cake in oven and bake 35-40 minutes or until golden and tester comes out clean.

Place on wire rack and cool 10 minutes in pan.

Line cutting board with parchment paper. Invert cake onto cutting board. Quickly invert cake again onto second large cutting board, remove parchment paper. (Cake will now be top-side up)

Let cake cool completely. If large “crown” exists, use cake cutter to level top. Invert final time to cake board. (Cake will now be top-side down)

Cake from Scratch
2 cup Butter
4 Cups Sugar
12 Eggs
4 Cups Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
2 Cups Buttermilk
1 Cup Vegetable Oil
In a large bowl, sift flour and baking soda together, set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time and gently mix with each addition until blended. Add flour mixture and buttermilk to the batter, alternating between wet and dry in four additions without mixing. Slowly mix to incorporate, then increase speed and mix well.

While the mixer is running, add oil.

Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth top with back of spatula. Tap on countertop to release any trapped air pockets.

Place cake in oven and bake 35-40 minutes or until golden and tester comes out clean.

Place on wire rack and cool 10 minutes in pan.

Line cutting board with parchment paper. Invert cake onto cutting board. Quickly invert cake again onto second large cutting board, remove parchment paper. (Cake will now be top-side up)

Let cake cool completely. If large “crown” exists, use cake cutter to level top. Invert final time to cake board. (Cake will now be top-side down)

Buttercream Frosting
1 Cup Solid Butter-Flavored Vegetable Shortening
1 Cup Butter, Softened
2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
8 Cups sifted powdered Sugar*
6 tablespoons milk**

Cream butter and shortening with electric mixer. Add vanilla.

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 one tablespoon at a time and beat a medium speed until light and fluffy.

*For thinner frosting, add 3-4 tablespoons light corn syrup. Corn Syrup will also create a frosting that is smoother. Keep frosting covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.
Once cake has cooled, frost entire cake with a thin layer of frosting. Set aside until ready to decorate.

Decorations:
2 Baskets Strawberries
1 Basket Blueberries
1 Container Strawberry Glaze

To Assemble and Decorate Cake:

Arrange Blueberries in upper left corner for “blue background”, leaving space between berries for piped “stars”.

Dip strawberries into the glaze, this will create a layer between the fresh fruit and the sugar in the frosting. Sugar naturally draws out the juices of the strawberries and without a barrier, the fresh berries tend to bleed. Arrange Strawberries to create red “stripes”. These can be whole berries or sliced, it’s a personal preference thing. Whole berries “dip” easily into the glaze, sliced berries lend themselves more easily to the “strip”.

Fill pastry bag fitted with star tip. Create stars between blueberries and stars for white stripes of flag.

Here’s to American Independence! Hope you all have a Safe and Happy 4th of July!

3 thoughts on “The Birth of a Nation – An Independence Day Celebration in Food

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