There's no better way to celebrate July Fourth than with an all-American cookout. Two popular food writers come up with some crowd-pleasing recipes that are both festive and no-fuss.
The result is a delicious roundup of dishes -- from build-your-own fajitas to a perfectly patriotic dessert -- that will allow you to declare your independence from the stove top and still create a tasty summer celebration for everyone to enjoy.
FIESTA FAJITAS WITH FRESH PINEAPPLE SALSA
Grilling mom Judith Fertig, who's coauthored six cookbooks about barbecuing, offers this tasty twist on fajitas that replaces hard-to-find skirt steak with equally appetizing pork tenderloin. The Fresh Pineapple Salsa adds a kid-friendly kick to the dish. Once the meat and veggies are grilled and sliced, you can leave the rest of the preparation to everyone else.
For the marinade:
1/3 cup canned pineapple juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
For the fajitas:
2 pork tenderloins (about 2 pounds), trimmed of silver skin
2 large red onions, cut into 1-inch-thick slices and threaded lollipop-style on skewers
2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into quarters
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into quarters
Olive oil for brushing
8 flour tortillas, wrapped in foil
1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large Ziploc bag, then add the tenderloins and toss them to coat. Place the sealed bag in the refrigerator and allow the tenderloins to marinate for at least an hour, but preferably overnight.
2. Prepare the grill for cooking. Brush the onion skewers and bell peppers with olive oil. Grill the vegetables until they are soft, about 20 minutes, and the tenderloins, turning them occasionally, until the centers register 145 degrees, also about 20 minutes. Transfer all the food to a baking sheet and allow the tenderloins to rest for 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, remove the onion slices from the skewers. Chop them and the bell peppers, then arrange the vegetables on one side of a large serving platter. Slice the tenderloins into strips, then arrange them beside the vegetables.
4. Heat the foil-wrapped tortillas on the coolest part of the grill, turning them several times until they are warmed through. Serve the grilled vegetables, tenderloin strips, and tortillas with small bowls of the Fresh Pineapple Salsa, guacamole and sour cream. Serves 8.
FRESH PINEAPPLE SALSA
2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or less for a milder taste)
Place all of the ingredients but the salt in a blender or food processor and pulse until the ingredients are mixed but still chunky. Transfer the salsa to a bowl, salt it to taste, then cover and refrigerate it until ready to serve. Makes 2 cups.
BASIL CHICKEN BURGERS WITH PESTO MAYONNAISE
Ken Haedrich, cookbook author and FamilyFun contributor, came up with this extra juicy burger that's made with ground chicken -- often a leaner alternative to ground beef. Pesto, used both in the burgers and in the special sauce, adds a savory, garden-fresh flavor to his version of a cookout classic.
For the burgers:
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken
3/4 cup grated sharp Cheddar or 1/2 cup finely grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons pesto (store-bought or your favorite recipe)
Oil for brushing the burgers
6 burger rolls
For the Pesto Mayonnaise:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons pesto
1. Line a medium-size baking sheet with plastic wrap and set it aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground chicken, cheese, salt and pepper, gently tossing the mixture with your hands or a large fork, until evenly blended.
2. In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise and pesto, then add it to the ground chicken mixture and combine until evenly blended. Shape the meat into six 1/2-inch-thick patties, placing each one on the lined baking sheet as you go. Cover the burgers with plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 30 minutes to firm them. (Note: The patties will be softer than traditional hamburgers.)
3. While the meat is chilling, prepare the grill and make the Pesto Mayonnaise (just combine the ingredients in a small bowl). Then brush one side of each of the burgers with a little oil and place them on the grill, oiled side down. Lightly brush oil on the other side of the burgers and cook them for 5 minutes on each side, turning once, or until the meat is no longer pink inside. Serve the burgers on the rolls, dressed with the lettuce, tomatoes and Pesto Mayonnaise. Makes 6 burgers.
CUCUMBER AND GRILLED TOMATO SALAD
Ken came up with this simple salad as a way to take advantage of both summer's bounty and the fiery flavor of the grill. The result is a jazzed-up version of the traditional cucumber and tomato salad that's a great accompaniment to any grilled meat.
3 English cucumbers, seeded and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little extra for brushing the tomatoes
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3 large ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons red onion, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped Pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup crumbled feta
1. Put the sliced cucumbers in a large bowl, sprinkle them with the salt, then set them aside for 30 minutes. Spread the cucumbers out on a double layer of paper towels, pat them dry, then put them back in the dried bowl.
2. Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, mustard and sugar in a small bowl, then pour the dressing over the cucumbers and toss until the slices are evenly coated. Cover the mixture and place it in the refrigerator.
3. Prepare the grill for cooking. As the coals are heating, halve each tomato and scoop out the seeds. Slice a bit from the rounded end of each tomato half, so that it can sit flat. Brush the tomatoes with olive oil.
4. Over the hottest coals, grill the tomatoes until they're lightly charred, about 60 to 90 seconds per side, turning once. Transfer the tomatoes to a plate to cool.
5. Coarsely chop the tomatoes into large chunks, then add them to the cucumbers, along with the onion, parsley and pepper. Toss the ingredients to blend them evenly. Transfer the salad to a serving dish and top it generously with the feta. Serves 8.
COCONUT CHICKEN WINGS
This Asian-inspired recipe straight out of Ken Haedrich's kitchen may be the perfect cookout finger food. It's got a sauce that's sweet and savory, it's easy to make, and it works as a main course or an appetizer.
3 tablespoons vegetable or light olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon mild curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup coconut milk
3 pounds chicken wings
1 cup flaked sweetened coconut
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the first seven ingredients, then whisk in the coconut milk. Reserve and refrigerate 1/2 cup of the mixture divided evenly in two containers.
2. Cut off the tips of the wings (reserve Red, White, and Barbecue! them for stock or discard), then halve the wings at the joint. Place them in the bowl and toss them with the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least an hour, but preferably overnight.
3. Just before grilling the wings, toast the coconut in a medium-size skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Pour the flakes onto a plate and allow them to cool, then lightly crumble the flakes with your fingers and set them aside.
4. Prepare the grill for cooking and oil the grates. Grill the wings 8 to 10 minutes per side, turning once, or until the meat is no longer pink inside. Use one container of the reserved marinade to baste the meat at each turn.
5. As the wings finish cooking, warm the other container of reserved marinade in a small saucepan until heated through.
6. Transfer the cooked wings to a platter and coat them with the warmed marinade. Sprinkle the wings with the toasted coconut and serve them immediately.
Serves 6 as a main dish or 12 as an appetizer.
GRILLED PACKET POTATOES
Versatile and delicious, this grill-top recipe created by Judith Fertig is about as easy as they come. Almost as satisfying as the taste is the fact that the dish requires no cleanup.
8 red or russet potatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
8 green onions, chopped with some of the green, plus more for garnish
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1. Prepare the grill for cooking. Place two 18-inch-long pieces of heavy-duty foil on a flat surface. Divide the potatoes, green onions, and garlic between the two pieces of foil, keeping the mixture in the center of each sheet. Drizzle the potatoes with the olive oil and season them to your liking. Gently toss the ingredients on the foil, then fold and crimp the foil along the sides to make a flat packet (make each packet a uniform thickness for even cooking).
2. Grill the packets for 15 minutes, then turn them over and grill them for 10 minutes more. The potatoes can be served directly from the foil packets, sprinkled with additional green onion. Serves 8.
RED, WHITE AND BLUE DELIGHT
Packed with kid appeal, Ken's culinary nod to Old Glory is made by layering strawberry sorbet and vanilla and blueberry-flavored ice cream in a loaf pan, chilling each layer until it's firm. Served with homemade blueberry sauce and fresh fruit, it's a sweet, summery ending to any Independence Day meal.
For the blueberry sauce:
1 pint fresh blueberries, rinsed
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
For the dessert:
1 pint strawberry sorbet
1 (1 1/2 quarts) container vanilla ice cream
Fresh blueberries and strawberries for garnish
1. Combine the blueberries and the water in a medium-size saucepan. Partially cover the pan, then bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Continue simmering the berries until they begin to break down, about 2 minutes. Stir in the sugar and cook the berries until they become soft, about 1 to 2 minutes more.
2. Stir together the lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl until evenly blended. Stir the mixture into the berries, then cook them at a low boil, stirring constantly, for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and transfer it to a medium-size bowl. When the sauce is cooled, cover it and place it in the refrigerator to chill.
3. Line a 9- by 5-inch metal loaf pan with two sheets of crisscrossed plastic wrap, leaving a 3-inch overhang on all sides, then chill the pan in the freezer for 10 minutes.
4. Place the container of sorbet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to soften, then spoon the sorbet into the pan and mold it, using a sheet of plastic wrap to smooth the top as needed. Cover it with foil and freeze it for 2 hours. The last 30 minutes, soften the vanilla ice cream in the refrigerator. Remove the pan from the freezer, add half the vanilla ice cream, mold it, cover it with foil and freeze it and the remaining ice cream for 30 minutes. For the third layer, mix the remaining ice cream with 3/4 cup of the blueberry sauce and add it to the pan. Freeze the dessert for one more hour.
5. Chill a platter in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Right before serving, thin the remaining blueberry sauce with a spoonful of water or orange juice. Invert the dessert onto the platter, unwrap it, and garnish it with fresh berries. Use a sharp knife to slice the dessert, and serve it with the sauce. Serves 10.
To add to the festive mood, create some of these simple Fourth of July table settings to really add a splash to your summer get-together. This would be a great project for kids to help with -- just assign an adult to direct the project while you man the food.
STARLIGHT-SPANGLED NAPKIN RINGS
You can make a patriotic place setting for each of your guests using this simple technique.
Tape or glue
White poster board or heavy paper
Starlight mint candies
1. Tape or glue a strip of white poster board or heavy paper (ours was 1 inch wide and about 7 inches long) into a ring.
2. Fix a row of Starlight mint candies (in their wrappers) to the ring with double-sided tape.
3. Stuff the ring with a blue napkin and one set of utensils.
PATRIOTIC PUNCH CUPS
Look-alike plastic cups have a way of losing themselves in a crowd. Reduce mix-ups (and waste) with guest-decorated designs.
Large and small star stickers (red, white, and blue)
1. Add a large red, white or blue star sticker to each cup, along with a few smaller stars for decoration.
2. Next to an assortment of markers, set up a placard directing guests to choose a cup for the event and write their name on it.
Judith Fertig is the co-author of "300 Big and Bold Barbecue and Grilling Recipes" (Robert Rose). Contributor Ken Haedrich is the author of "Pie" (Harvard Common Press) and numerous other cookbooks.
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