Monday, July 15, 2013

Independence Day With An Accidental Side Of Starfish

First off, I really want to thank those of you who participated in the OU Cookbook Tornado Relief Drive last month.  The money you raised has been sent to those who need it.  So thank you again for your generosity.  Your help is much appreciated!

I don't know about you, but the 4th of July has slowly become one of my favorite holidays in my adult years.  Oh, I loved it as a kid too, because there was always a cookout with my family, followed by the men in my family having a few beers then lighting explosives on fire.  So you know, good times.  However, after I grew up and moved away from home, Independence Day just lost it's luster for me.  Suddenly, I realized that I missed going to the fairgrounds, mom spreading out a blanket and setting a paper grocery bag full of popcorn in my lap, and the crowd "ooh" and "ahhhh-ing" in unison after each firework exploded across the night sky.  There was a time in my adulthood when I realized that there were no cookouts, no drunken uncles setting the yard on fire, and no real sense of tradition, which I learned was a very important ingredient in enjoying the holidays - any holiday.

So, I decided to create traditions - cookout, fireworks, fun.  And the only fire in the yard is the controlled one inside the fire pit on the patio.  Now, I host the cookout for lunch every year.  I don't do the grilling, but I do the hunting & gathering, side-dishes, and themed trays.


Yes, yes I did.  And we all know how much I LOVE themed things!  I get tickled to death about making themed foods, so Independence Day is something I look forward to these days.  I get excited about seeing what I can come up with that differs from the year before.

This year I decided to sketch out some theoretical food tray ideas, back in June. Nothing too fancy, just themed and fun!

The one on the left is supposed to represent the American flag filled with cheese and veggies.  I took a large baking sheet and covered it in aluminum foil, then laid down a sheet of wax paper...  Wait, wait - time out...

IMPORTANT NOTE: First thing to do whenever you are making a fruit or veggie tray is to thoroughly wash all of your produce and set it aside until it is needed.  

Ok, now that I've covered my important safety announcement, let's continue.  To begin putting this tray together, I sliced up some provolone, pepper-jack, and Vermont sharp white cheddar.  You can use any kind of white cheeses - Havarti, mozzarella, Gouda, etc.  Then I sliced up 2 red bell peppers and picked out some cherry tomatoes.  I layered everything in the form of the flag's red and white stripes then as follows:

  • Provolone
  • Red peppers
  • Pepper-Jack
  • Tomatoes
  • White Cheddar
  • More red peppers
Then I got some blue corn chips and put a couple of handfuls of them in the square of the upper left-hand corner to finish off the American flag look, and ta-da!

The sketch on the right in the concept drawing above was an idea I had for fruit.  I wasn't sure if the fruit tray was going to work, and honestly, I was leaning toward really thinking that it wouldn't.  But, I gave it go.  The first thing I did was slice up some strawberries and laid them down in a border pattern on a round, plastic tray, in order to crate the outline of the star.  Then I put a small ramekin in the center, to hold the place where the dip was going to go.  I then carefully spread blueberries all around the ramekin, inside the strawberry star boarder until it was filled up.  Then, I cut a block of softened cream cheese in half and put one half of it in a small mixing bowl.  I added about a teaspoon of sugar and about a half of a teaspoon of vanilla...then maybe a little more vanilla ;)  Now I'm not talking about that imitation vanilla crap, I mean the real extract, just so we're clear.  Don't use the crap, you're just cheating yourself.  Ok, so then I mixed it all together and spooned the mixture into the ramekin.  Viola!

I had my doubts, but I think it turned out pretty good.  Ok, well, it looks more like a starfish than a star, but hey, I free-handed it so that's the best I could do.  Starfish are pretty too. (Even plastic ones like this one)

Thanks for reading, and if you have any 4th of July themed dishes that you made this year, and would like to share, please put them in comments below.  Recipes and pictures are always welcome.

Oh, I almost forgot!  Every year I make a cherry pie too with a different pastry symbol in the middle.  This year I decided to stick with the starfish theme.  I haven't mastered (or even gotten close really) the weaving of the crust strips, but it's something I'd like to work on for the future.  Anyway, here's a pic of it:

I hope you had a wonderful 4th!